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All In with Chris Hayes, Transcript 6/7/2017

Guests: Brian Schatz, Francis Rooney, Lawrence Wilkerson, Asha Rangappa, Jill Wine-Banks

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: June 7, 2017 Guest: Brian Schatz, Francis Rooney, Lawrence Wilkerson, Asha Rangappa, Jill Wine-Banks

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HARDBALL HOST: Why all this talk about immunity and taking the fifth amendment and exercising executive privilege if you`re not hiding something? Why ask the FBI Director for a loyalty oath if you`re not afraid of him investigating something? Well, that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.



JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The President said, I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.

HAYES: James Comey on the record.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Comey quotes the President, I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.

HAYES: The fired FBI Director`s sworn testimony about his conversations with the President is released.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia.

Hayes: Tonight, based on what Comey says, did the President commit obstruction of justice? Plus, the White House responds to the direct contradiction of the President.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner.

HAYES: And what we know about what James Comey may be holding back for tomorrow morning`s hearing. All that and the incredible scene at this morning`s hearing.

ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Why are you not answering our questions?

MICHAEL ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: Because I feel it is inappropriate, Senator.

KING: What you feel isn`t relevant, Admiral.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. We are just 14 hours from the most anticipated Congressional Hearing in recent political memory. Tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m., the former Director of the FBI, James Comey, will testify in front of the whole nation that the President of the United States repeatedly pressured him over the Russia investigation before firing him abruptly last month. In written testimony released today by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the former FBI Director describes in detail a series of six one-on-one interactions with the President going back to the transition, which raised serious red flags. Comey`s account confirms some of the most explosive allegations reported by the press, that the President demanded the FBI Director`s loyalty during a private dinner at the White House. That he explicitly asked Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn after telling other officials to leave the room. And that Comey pleaded with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prevent the President from continuing to communicate with him directly. Comey`s account of the President`s request regarding Flynn, in particular, directly contradicts the President`s own statement in public on the record.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn and also -

TRUMP: No, no, no. Next question.


HAYES: Comey`s written testimony does back up one claim by the President, that the FBI Director informed him on three occasions he, the President, was not personally under investigation. According to Comey, the President repeatedly pressed him to publicize that information. The President went on to say that if there were some satellite associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn`t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren`t investigating him. And that came during a previously unreported phone call from the President on March 30th. That`s just days after Comey had revealed for the first time that the President`s campaign was under investigation for possible links to Russia`s election sabotage.

During that same call, according to Comey, the President described the Russia investigation as a cloud that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to lift the cloud. The President`s outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, responded to Comey`s written testimony in a statement. The President is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the President was not under investigation in any Russia probe. The President feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to move forward with his agenda. I`m joined now by Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii. And Senator, let me ask you first, do you agree with the President`s lawyer that the testimony submitted by James Comey vindicates the President entirely?

SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ (D), HAWAII: I think it`s preposterous. I think if you`re arguing that that testimony vindicates your client, your client may be in trouble. You`re right, Chris, in your lead-up. This confirms all of the reporting of the Washington Post and The New York Times over the last several weeks and months, and I think on a common-sense level, this is - this is becoming obvious. This is exactly what it looks like. You have a President who intervened with the Director of National Intelligence, with the head of the National Security Agency, and with the head of the FBI six to nine times to basically tell them to knock it off, to stop this investigation. So it`s increasingly hard to argue that this isn`t exactly what it looks like.

HAYES: I want to get your reaction to a few parts of this, and this is a particular one we`ve previously reported but now on the record from Comey himself. The President saying to Comey at that dinner, I need loyalty. I expect loyalty. Comey saying, I didn`t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. He then said, "I need loyalty." I replied, "You will always get honesty from me." He paused and then said, "That`s what I want, honest loyalty." I paused and then said, "You will get that from me. How would you characterize that?"

SCHATZ: Well, I think he was trying to get the FBI Director to behave as though he was a political patron of the President. I don`t think it`s really unclear at all. Even in Comey`s accounting, I thought he was sort of generous to say, well, we may have had different understandings of what they met by honest loyalty, but I don`t think that`s true. I think what the President wanted was for the FBI Director to kind of understand what side his bread is buttered and to take care of the President in the way the President wanted to be taken care of, which was specifically to knock it off when it came to investigating what Michael Flynn was up to.

HAYES: And so I guess the question to you, Senator, is what does that add up to? The President requesting the Director of the FBI lay off his close aide, apparently, it appears, deceiving us, the press and the public, about that request or misremembering it, I suppose is the most charitable interpretation. Then firing the FBI Director when he did not essentially heed that request from the President. What does that add up to you, Senator?

SCHATZ: Well, I think I`m going to be one of the last to opine on this because I think it`s really important that we all understand where we`re going. Every day it looks more and more likely that members of the United States Senate are going to be sitting in judgment of this and other questions. And so I think we ought to be precise with our language. I think we ought to be expeditious and aggressive with our investigatory processes. But I think members of Congress ought to be precise with their language. I will say this. For those who are arguing that it isn`t what it looks like, it becomes sort of a vanishingly small island to stand on. It is really difficult to come up with a charitable explanation of what just happened. Whether it meets some legal standard of obstruction of justice, I don`t think we`re there yet. But I will tell you that it is a lot easier to argue that it is obstruction of justice than it is to argue that this is something benign. You read that memo or that testimony from James Comey, and it`s pretty clear what just went on. The other thing I`ll add for your viewers because they don`t live and breathe - some of them do live and breathe politics, but some of them may have just gotten home. Read the testimony. It is beautifully written. It is interestingly written, and it really tells the story of what has transpired over the last three or four months, and it is shocking.

HAYES: All right. Senator Brian Schatz, thanks for joining me.


HAYES: Joining me now Republican Congressman from Florida Francis Rooney. Are you OK with the President of the United States contacting the FBI Director nine times and explicitly leaning on them to end an investigation into a member of his campaign slash administration?

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: Well, I haven`t read it that closely yet. I scanned it, and I saw where Director Comey made clear that the President was not under any investigation. Personally.

HAYES: Right. But are you OK with the other parts? I`ll read you part of it.


HAYES: This is - this is Comey talking to the President of the United States. He described the Russia investigation as a cloud that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and has always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what he could do to lift the cloud.

ROONEY: That sounds perfectly logical to me. The whole Russia thing and the Comey thing have become such a huge distraction from pursuing the tightening up of our foreign policy, the developing a tax return program that will get our country moving again, all that kind of stuff.

HAYES: Are you - are you a family man, Congressman Rooney?

ROONEY: I absolutely am.

HAYES: Does it strike you as strange that the President`s response to an accusation that he hired prostitutes is not, I`m married, and not, I`m not a bad person, but, rather, I knew I was being taped?

ROONEY: Well, I just assume that there`s - I don`t know the background of that or the context. I just assume there`s been some allegation that they tried to frame him or something. You know, it`s very common in intelligence to try to frame people using human shields.

HAYES: So you think that there`s some attempt to frame the President for this behavior?

ROONEY: No, I don`t know. I don`t know any of the context about why that comment would have been made or not made. But, you know -

HAYES: Let me - let me ask you this. I mean, and I understand the sense, the frustration that you have and others in your party share about the sort of distracting nature of this. You guys are still able to of course to pass the AHCA in the House. It looks like the Senate is trying to do that but on this sort of core legal question of obstruction of justice, I mean you would agree that it is possible for a President to commit obstruction of justice, right?

ROONEY: Well, we had one back in the `70s that apparently did.

HAYES: Right. I mean twice articles of impeachment have been drafted against a President for committing obstruction of justice, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. So you think that is something that the President - that would count as a high crime and misdemeanor?

ROONEY: But I haven`t seen any fact that comes anywhere near what Nixon did. What we`ve got here is a President calling for what did he say? He wants his people to be honest or something or -

HAYES: Loyalty. He demanded loyalty.

ROONEY: Yes. Intrinsic values that you would want out of everybody you`re associated with. That has nothing to do with alleging a crime or anything like that.

HAYES: Well, but it goes a little past that, right, because we have James Comey saying the President explicitly told him to lay off an investigation into Michael Flynn, an investigation that had been precipitated by Flynn lying in a conversation with FBI agents, which looks on its face a contravention of federal law. The President explicitly telling the FBI director, don`t investigate my campaign staff and then firing them when they continue. What would you call that?

ROONEY: Well, see, this is where as an outsider, a business guy, I kind of sympathize with the President. You know, there`s always all these political nuances and overtones to every word that you say in this business when, you know, he might have just been saying -- intending. I don`t know what his intent was. He might be saying look, we already beat this guy through the weeds, he`s not getting the job. He was a general, did serve our country. Let`s get him out of here and move on.

HAYES: So you think it`s fine with the President - I wonder if the inverse would be true. Would it be OK for the President to tell the FBI Director explicitly to go and investigate someone and open a criminal investigation?

ROONEY: I don`t think the - I think the FBI is an independent agency that has to do what it needs to do regardless of who tells it to do anything.

HAYES: Right. So you can understand why exactly that`s the issue, right? The President - we don`t want the President ordering someone to investigate someone, say his political enemies and we don`t want the President telling the FBI to not to investigate a political ally when the President numerous times leans on the Director of the FBI to do precisely that. You can understand why that`s problematic, right?

ROONEY: Well, I mean, if it was as aggressive as you`re implying, maybe perhaps. But I`m not hearing those kind of words or reading those kinds of words in what I`m seeing. I`m seeing some comments that might have been misconstrued. I`m seeing some references to wanting intrinsic values of honesty and integrity out of his team. Same things that I`m used to asking out of my teams in my company.

HAYES: I just want to read you one more portion of the former Director`s testimony just so that I can get your reaction. He talked about a one-on- one dinner. He says my instincts told me that the on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was at least in part an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly given the FBI`s traditionally independent status in the executive branch. Do you think the traditional independent status of the executive branch of the FBI is important?

ROONEY: Of course it`s important. But I must be the dunce of the week, but I`m not connecting up those words with the implications that you`re saying. I might have to read that and study that some more.

HAYES: Yes, I mean, the President did contact James Comey nine times in four months. He says he only had two conversations with President Obama during his entire tenure, and during some of those nine conversations, it was an explicit ask that he stop investigating someone.

ROONEY: Yes, I can`t totally understand why the President didn`t get rid of Comey the day he took office after the way he botched that Clinton deal. I mean, obviously, Comey was on his mind as a problem from day one.

HAYES: So, I guess, here`s my question. There`s a lot of people who basically feel the Republican Party sort of in for a penny, in for a pound with President Trump, whether they personally support his agenda, they feel personal loyalty, he`s a member of the party, that there`s basically nothing that could come out that would cause them to reassess that or to move towards impeachment. Is that true? Is that a fair characterization?

ROONEY: No, no, I don`t think that`s a fair characterization. If there`s something that comes out that`s tangible, that implies elements of a crime, that would be a whole different deal. But I`m not seeing anything anywhere near that right here.

HAYES: But you`re keeping your mind open is what you`re telling me?

ROONEY: I think we`re all supposed to have - need to have an open mind about everything. But I`m just thankful that Donald Trump is President and we have the chance to drive the kind of agenda that we`re driving and that we`ve got Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

HAYES: All right. Congressman Francis Rooney, it was a great pleasure. I`m really appreciating the time.


HAYE: Joining me now, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Colonel, you`re someone who has navigated the halls of power in Washington, D.C., kind of understands both the sort of explicit rules and the unwritten ones. And I`m just curious your reaction to reading what Comey has laid out.

LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO FORMER SECRETARY OF STATES COLIN POWELL: Chris, my reaction to what Comey wrote for his prepared statement for his hearing tomorrow and what the Senator from Hawaii said earlier are almost diametrically opposed. I`m not stunned at all. I know the Senator was speaking for political impact as well as other things but I`m not stunned at all because this seems to be indeed, probably is the nature of the Trump administration. It`s like a mafia family. And what Comey`s testimony - prepared testimony read like to me was someone from the outside with some integrity commenting on the nature of a mafia family. I mean that`s essentially the way I view President Trump now, as a godfather, as a member that orchestrates everything within his team and expects loyalty, honest or otherwise. It just seems like that`s the way it is and it`s going to take a while for my political party because they think, as the other spokesman just said, they`re going to accomplish all these goals while these guys running around the White House because he`s Republican. It`s going to take a while for them to realize they aren`t going to accomplish a thing, that what they`re doing is hurting this country.

HAYES: You know, I want to ask you about that characterization. Do you ever - I mean, you worked in the Bush administration, and you`ve been around other politicians and leaders in Washington. The kind of way in which the President is approaching Comey here and we now have multiple reporting about having everyone leave the room and the one-on-one ask. Is that the kind of thing you`re familiar with, is this - or is this distinctly different kinds of norms of behavior?

WILKERSON: Well, of course, I`ve seen -I won`t say I`ve seen the same thing, but I`ve seen similar activities and taken some umbrage about them myself. I`ve always been involved in activities like that. For example, one of the places in Comey`s written statement that I took some exception, but I had to kind of check my own shame in that regard was when he said honest loyalty because that`s essentially what I provided for Colin Powell when I prepared him for the 5 February 2003 presentation at the United Nations. So I`ve seen these kinds of situations before, but this one is bizarre enough and yet in character enough that it makes me deeply concerned for the integrity of the White House, the integrity of our institutional process, and ultimately the danger in presents to this country because this is going to happen again and again and again and probably in far more serious situations than the one we`re talking about now.

HAYES: What do you make of the defense that Congressman Rooney sort of offer, and I`ve seen - I`ve seen other people offer a variation, which is basically this, the President is acculturated to New York real estate and deal-making. It doesn`t have the same etiquette basically of Washington, and he just doesn`t understand what he`s doing. He doesn`t know where the lines are. Maybe he`s a little clumsy, but cut him some slack.

WILKERSON: I think there`s some truth to that. I think his gross inexperience reflects that. But I also think there are institutional webbing - there is institutional webbing around him. Everything from the Attorney General to the whole Department of Justice to all the other departments within the inner agency group and he ignores them. He pays no attention to them. He does policy by tweet. This is absurd, and it`s dangerous as I indicated before. The institutional checks and balances can`t operate on an individual except in a draconian way like article two impeachment, if he`s operating in this sort of inexperienced and yet drive- ahead way. So I take that characterization as probably accurate, but it needs to change, and it needed to change the day he raised his hand and took the oath.

HAYES: Well, so then what is - I mean, you make a great point here, that the recourse here, draconian, extreme, article two impeachment. People have talked about the 25th amendment. I mean really extreme constitutional procedures to attempt to bring to bear the kind of institutional norms. Is there anything short of that?

WILKERSON: There`s the institutional check itself, which is already happening. I`m watching it happening from the State Department where the Ambassador in London had to sort of modify the President`s impacts with his tweets about the Mayor of London. To our Ambassador in Qatar who had to - had to make some remarks today about the President`s really inept tweets with regard to the situation - very dangerous situation, I might add, between Qatar, to Saudi Arabia, the other members of the GCC and so forth. So, yes, there are some institutional checks and balances that ought to wrap him up and keep him from doing more dangerous things. Let me say this, though. I think our founding fathers would have thought that they afforded us in the article 2 impeachment clause the ability to throw some scurrilous dude out about every generation, and I think every one of them - every single one of them would be utterly surprised that we have not done so and that on most attempts to impeach, we have been rather feckless. Bill Clinton, Andrew Johnson and the only successful one we`ve was one of the articles of impeachment were so strong against Richard Nixon, he chose to resign. I don`t think it`s catastrophic for the country to take that action. I think it`s healthy for the country to take that action.

HAYES: I want to ask your reaction to this finally, again, because of your experience sort of mitigating and negotiating these different power centers. This is Comey pleading with Jeff Sessions basically, do not leave me alone in the room with the President of the United States. He says, I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the A.G. that what had just happened - him being asked to leave while the FBI Director reports to the A.G., remained behind - was inappropriate and should not happen. He did not reply. It seems that Sessions at some level is somewhat implicated in the kind of unraveling of these norms you`re talking about as well.

WILKERSON: I think so. I think that`s an extraordinary display of cowardice in the face of his duty and cowardice in the face of leading his subordinates the way he should. I`m reminded of Dwight Eisenhower`s statement as a matter of fact, apocryphal or not, I don`t think it was. I think it was accurate. I think Andy Goodpaster and others have verified it. When Eisenhower had figured out how dangerous a man Allen Dulles was about the seventh or eighth year of his Presidency, he said, don`t ever leave me alone in the office with that man. That`s the kind of thing that Comey was telling Sessions, and Sessions just ignored him. Just ignored him.

HAYES: All right. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, it`s always a pleasure to have your time and I appreciate it.

Up next, based on what we now know from James Comey`s prepared testimony, is the President of the United States guilty of obstruction of justice? What legal experts are saying after this two-minute break.


HAYES: Strong words today from legal experts on former FBI Director James Comey`s planned testimony. Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, the New Yorker, tweeted Comey`s statement establishes obstruction of justice by Trump, period. Lawfare`s Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey`s we should note, wrote that his statement is the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes. And Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, a critic of the President tweeted, when Comey repeats it under oath on pain of perjury, the die will be cast.

Joining me now is Asha Rangappa, Associate Dean at Yale Law School, former Special Agent at the FBI Counterintelligence Division and Jill Wine-Banks, former Assistant Watergate Special Prosecutor, former General Counsel of the Army. And Jill, let me start with you. I have to show the Nixon articles of impeachment which quite explicitly talk about obstruction. This is something you were very closely involved with. The interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations. That`s one of the things that`s right there in that article of impeachment that was drafted. Based on your experience, if the Comey testimony is true under oath, he`s going to swear to it, does it meet the standard?

JILL WINE-BANKS, WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I think that before I answer your question, I want to say listening to all your guests has been very enlightening, and I`ve enjoyed it, especially as a former - in addition, I was an organized crime prosecutor. So it`s like watching an episode now of House of Cards. But, yes, the answer to your question is yes. If we look at what Richard Nixon had the articles of impeachment about and what all of his top aides went to jail for, there`s a lot of similarities to what we think Comey will testify. But it`s a question of putting the case together. It`s not one thing standing alone. It`s not just the request to can`t you leave Flynn alone? But it`s the asking Sessions and Vice President Pence to leave the room before he had that conversation. It`s the other possible conversations that he had. So you put together a compilation of the evidence, and it does look like the kind of obstruction of justice, the abuse of power that happened in the Nixon administration.

HAYES: Asha, the defense here seems to be essentially ignorance. As far as I can tell - and it`s interesting to me, the President`s personal lawyer`s response to these seven pages of written testimony is not to say that is untrue. James Comey is not telling the truth. Instead, it`s to say he`s vindicated because of a very, very narrow portion of that. If they stipulate to the facts and they defend the President by saying, he just didn`t realize that any of this was inappropriate or untoward, does that work?

ASHA RANGAPPA, YALE LAW SCHOOL ASSOCIATE DEAN: Well, I think what the lawyers are trying to get at is that he didn`t have the intent to corruptly influence an ongoing proceeding, which is what would be required under the obstruction of justice statute. And unfortunately for President Trump, that`s just not going to hold water because even if we were to credit that fully and say, he just didn`t know what he was doing when he was approaching Comey with these requests, Comey`s opening statement, which was released today, states that in the very first meeting, he explained to the President the historic independence of the FBI and the Department of Justice, that these kinds of communications between the President and the Director of the FBI are not - are not appropriate, that that`s there to protect both the integrity of the agency and also the President. So even if he were ignorant of this, he got a lesson in civics and how these institutions work. So I just don`t think that that`s going to hold water.

HAYE: To that - to Asha`s point, Jill, it`s interesting to me that Comey notes, that, I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person, never on the phone. And I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months, three in person, six on the phone and ultimately after working him over multiple times one-on-one, he fires him, which we should not lose sight of the firing here as a huge part of what the sort of facts on the table are.

BANKS: That is exactly right. That is one of the key issues that leads to a compilation of evidence. But I would also point out that he can`t get away with saying, I didn`t know. A big campaign issue for him was when President Clinton got on Attorney General Lynch`s plane. There is no evidence there was any conversation about an ongoing investigation, but the candidate Trump complained bitterly about how wrong it was for him to get on the plane and to have any possible conversation about an ongoing investigation. That shows that he knew the law. He knew that what he was doing was wrong, and he excused people from the room so that he could have this conversation in private. That`s another indication that he knew he was doing something wrong.

HAYES: So Asha, let me ask you a question I`ve asked Jill before, which is this, there`s two tracks here, right? There`s the underlying first-order question of the scandal vis-a-vis Russia, election sabotage and the possible complicity or collusion on behalf of anyone in the Trump orbit. That`s one. Then there`s a second order question of whether the President obstructed the investigation into that first order issue. And my question to you is can there be obstruction without the underlying facts being established or even being established against the President or his campaign? Can you obstruct an investigation that would have cleared you?

RANGAPPA: So just to clarify your question, you`re asking if there was an investigation on him in the first place, could he obstruct it?

HAYES: I`m saying if basically - if the underlying - if we don`t know the underlying facts of what the campaign is accused of or it turns out the campaign did not collude with Russia, is it still possible to obstruct the investigation?

RANGAPPA: I believe so. That`s an ongoing proceeding. There are several different obstruction of justice statutes. They don`t actually have to apply to something that comes to the point of prosecution.

HAYES: Right.

RANGAPPA: So if that was - if there - these on-going investigations and he tries to stop them then that would definitely count. And I think we need to also point out here that there are two different attempts that were being made as described in Comey`s testimony -- or opening statement, which is, one, that President Trump wanted him to lift the cloud over him personally in terms of any association he might have to this underlying investigation, but then there was this very direct request with regard to Mike Flynn.

HAYES: Right.

RANGAPPA: Which was a concrete investigation that he knew existed.

HAYES: Yeah.

Jill, you look like you wanted to answer as well.

WINE-BANKS: Well, my answer is yes. There`s no question in my mind that if you interfere with an investigation, even if ultimately the investigation would have proved there was no underlying crime, you have still interfered with an investigation.

HAYES: Right.

WINE-BANKS: So you can`t do that, period.

HAYES: All right. Asha Rangappa and Jill Wine-Banks, I thank you both for your time.

Up next, the fireworks from today`s hearing, not tomorrow`s hearing, today`s hearing, where the senate intel committee got stone-walled by top security officials. What happened after this quick break.


HAYES: With former FBI director James Comey set to testify before the senate intelligence committee tomorrow morning, four top national security officials testified today to that same committee. Among them, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, who when asked about a Washington Post report that the president asked him to talk to Comey, to quote, get the FBI to back off its focus on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and its Russia probe, said he, quote, never felt pressured to intervene, but pointedly declined to deny that President Trump made the request.

Similarly, while NSA director Mike Rogers said he had never been pressured to do anything illegal or unethical, he declined to discuss his conversations with the president, who according to The Post, asked Rogers to publicly deny any Russia collusion.

After the hearing, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the committee, expressed frustration with those responses.


SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) VIRGINIA: The question was, did the president ask them to back off the FBI investigation or to downplay the FBI investigation? We still don`t have that answer.


HAYES: When we come back, much more from that hearing, including some remarkably contentious exchanges involving an increasingly frustrated group of senators on both sides of the aisle. That`s next.



WARNER: Did the president -- the reports that are out there -- ask you in any way, shape, or form to back off or downplay the Russia investigation?

ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: I`m not going to discuss the specifics of conversations with the president of the United States, but I stand by the comment I just made to you, sir.


HAYES: Joining me now to discuss the refusal of top national security officials to discuss their conversations with the president, Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, member of the House intelligence committee.

And congresswoman, you`re sitting on the House version that is running its own investigation, parallel to the Senate version. I want to get your response to a few moments in this hearing because they were, I thought, important.

First, this moment with Senator Heinrich and Dan Coats. Take a listen.


SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH, (D) NEW MEXICO: You`d clear an awful lot up by simply saying it never happened.

COATS: I don`t share, I do not share, with the general public conversations that I have with the president or many of my colleagues within the administration that I believe are -- should not be shared.

HEINRICH: Well, I think your unwillingness to answer a very basic question speaks volumes.


HAYES: This was the senator asking him to knock down this report the president went out to him and said, can you get the FBI to back off Flynn?

What`s your interpretation of that exchange?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER, (D) CALIFORNIA: Well, I think it`s painful to watch because it`s pretty obvious to anyone who is viewing the testimony that these were national security representatives who are highly placed, who are walking a very tight rope and do not want to necessarily offend the president, but clearly are not going to perjure themselves either. And that is why you heard the kind of response you did and the dance that they all engaged in, which was pretty transparent, I think, to the public.

HAYES: Yeah. I guess my other question is how normal is this, this kind of answer from these sorts of officials to their oversight committee in an open hearing?

SPEIER: Well, what`s interesting about this one -- and it was Angus King who made the point - if you`re not saying that this is classified, then you have no grounds on which not to answer the questions we`re posing to you. And I think that was very compelling when he made that particular statement.

Under closed session, they always are forthcoming. They`re a little less forthcoming in an open hearing, but, again, they weren`t being asked questions about classified material, and that`s why it was very frustrating for everyone. They should have been able to answer those questions.

HAYES: The point about Angus King is well taken, not just classified, but he specifically says, look, are you invoking executive privilege to keep these conversations sort of out of our purview. I want to play that exchange, because it illuminates what you just said.


SEN. ANGUS KING, (I) MAINE: Is there an invocation by the president of the United States of executive privilege? Is there or not?

ROGERS: Not that I`m aware of.

KING: Then why aren`t you answering my question?

ROGERS: Because I feel it`s inappropriate, senator.

KING: What you feel isn`t relevant, Admiral.

Mr. Coats, same series of questions. What`s your basis for refusal to answer these questions today?

COATS: I`m not sure I have a legal basis.


HAYES: That`s a pretty remarkable answer from the director of national intelligence.

SPEIER: And you can be assured that the president is going to ream him out about that too.

HAYES: You think so?

SPEIER: I think so.

HAYES: So what does this mean for the ability of congress to actually effectuate oversight, particularly on this particular topic that obviously we know the president is extremely sensitive about?

SPEIER: I think that we`re going to be able to get to the bottom of this. It may be in closed session, but we will get answers to these questions. And I think the senate`s frustration today was obvious. They could have, I guess, held them in contempt for not answering their questions. I don`t think they wanted to go that far. So, at this point, they`re going to rely on closed session to get the answers they need to their questions.

All it does is postpone for the public access to what`s pretty obvious but not being said today.

HAYES: I want to be clear. The closed session/open session dichotomy exists in these committees because of classification, but what you`re basically saying for political purposes so as not to alienate the president, you expect more forthcoming answers in closed session having nothing to do with classification just because then the president won`t be mad at them?

SPEIER: Well, it won`t be public. So they can be saying this in a confidential setting and privately, yes.

HAYES: All right, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thanks for being with me tonight.

Still to come, the former top security official who says Watergate pales in comparison to what`s happening right now.

Plus, some creative suggestions for watching tomorrow`s Comey testimony in tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two after this break.


HAYES: Thing One tonight, the Watergate hearings began 44 years ago last month with all three networks airing live coverage of the testimony on Capitol Hill for all of America to see.


ANNOUNCER: Programs regularly scheduled for this time will not be seen today in order that we might bring you the following NBC News special report.

Here from Washington is NBC News correspondent Garek Utley.

GAREK UTLY, NBC NEWS: Good morning. This is the senate caucus room in Washington, D.C., and it`s jammed this morning, jammed with spectators, newsmen, senators and their aides. And the scene adds to the sense of drama as the Senate opens what is likely to become the most serious investigation it has ever made, the investigation of the American political system and the presidency itself.


HAYES: There`s Fred Thompson right there. And tomorrow, all three networks will once again air live Capitol Hill testimony with newsmen and women as will this cable channel when fired FBI Director James Comey addresses the senate intel committee.

But if you`d rather watch tomorrow`s testimony with friends and with booze, D.C. of course predictably has you covered. That`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.


HAYES: Someday you might be asked where were you the morning that fired FBI director James Comey testified on Capitol Hill. And for many residents of the nation`s Capitol, the answer might be a bar because a slew of them are opening their doors early. Shaw`s Tavern was first to announce it would start serving at 9:30 a.m. for the Comey hearing, offering $5 Russia vodka flavors, very cheeky, and airing the hearing on all five TVs with sound.

Duffy`s Irish pub is also opening early and serving up covfefe cocktails.

And Union Pub says it`s is buying a round of drinks for the house every time Trump tweets about Comey during his testimony.

But if the Comey testimony is too much handle, one bar made this announcement. Given the gravity of Thursday`s Comey hearings, Pug opens at 11:00 a.m. and will be showing HGTV and/or Law and Order reruns.


HAYES: Toward the end of today`s senate intel hearing there was a remarkable observation from Republican Senator John McCain after the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats refused to publicly talk about a conversation that was fully detailed in this morning`s Washington Post.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: You know, it`s -- just shows what kind of Orwellian existence that we live in. I mean, it`s detailed, as you know from reading the story when you met and what you discussed, et cetera, et cetera, and yet here in a public hearing before the American people we can`t talk about what was described in detail in this morning`s Washington Post.

COATS: Just because it`s published in The Washington Post doesn`t mean it`s now unclassified.

MCCAIN: Well, do you want to tell us any more about the Russian involvement in our election that we don`t already know from reading The Washington Post?


HAYES: If today was Orwellian, what on earth can we expect tomorrow when James Comey takes the stand? That`s next.



JAMES CLAPPER, FRM. DIRECTOR CIA: Watergate pales really in my view compared to what we`re confronting now.


HAYES: Strong words from James Clapper.

Joining me now, Susan Del Percio, Republican strategist; Jess McIntosh, executive editor at Share Blue, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton`s 2016 campaign.

So, from the Republican Party standpoint, they are - I think they are in for a penny, in for a pound, right. I mean, there`s no set of facts that could come out that will detach them from Donald Trump, correct?

No, I`m not saying that jokingly, I honestly believe that. Short of the fact that he secretly harbors a desire to raise marginal tax rates to 90 percent.

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLCIAN STRATEGIST: The Republicans for right now are in lock and step with the president. There`s no question, at least from a political and public front. Behind the scenes you hear them, as I do, everyone is complaining about the president`s actions.

HAYES: Are they worried -- here`s my question to you, behind the scenes are they worried that they do not know the facts at the heart of all this? That would worry me. Do you see what I`m saying? Like, they don`t know what happened. They don`t know who talked to what Russians.

DEL PERCIO: Well, yes. There are - and they will - there are some Republicans who have said this publicly, including Senator McCain, Senator Graham, what they`re concerned about is the role of Russia in our elections. That is very real.

And unfortunately, a lot of this has been overshadowed by crazy tweets, firing of FBI -- those are all significant things, don`t get me wrong, I`m not discounting them as not being significant. But there`s no way when you have these other things out there the Republicans can even get to that.

JESS MCINTOSH, DIRECTOR, SHARE BLUE ; Those things were done on purpose to make sure that Republicans couldn`t get to it.

DEL PERCIO: This all comes down to everyone -- what Republicans would really want and I think some of would even say on the record, just let the former FBI director do his special investigation, let us get off the hook about talking about this because the more we`re talking about it the more we`re losing. This is not a good issue for Republicans to hold the congress in 2018.

HAYES: Here`s the issue is that the Occam`s Razor theory that a lot of people on the left have and liberals and Democrats, is that they obstructed the thing because he`s covering up the thing he did wrong.

MCINTOSH: It`s obvious. We can all see what`s happening. And I think the fact that Republicans are not as in lock-step with the president as they could be is borne out by the fact no one, no Republican is standing up and saying this is going to blow over, this is nothing, the president did nothing wrong. There isn`t anybody who is doing that right now and that`s shocking.

DEL PERCIO: But there`s not a lot of people who are saying that the president necessarily colluded with the Russians directly.

MCINTOSH: No, but there`s no...

HAYES: No, there`s no one saying that. There`s...


DEL PERCIO: The problem is everything he`s done since he`s been president that seems like a cover-up of something.

MCINTOSH: Because it is.

HAYES: Not only that, no one`s contesting - to your point, Jess, just be clear here the president directed his FBI director to lay off an investigation of his campaign aide and associate, Michael Flynn. He lied to the American people about whether he did that, again, not contested. And then fired the FBI director. Those three facts are not contested by any of the relevant parties, including the White House or Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell.

MCINTOSH: And to - say it out loud enough that Republicans will eventually realize that he is so compromised that he can`t help them enact an Republican agenda.

HAYES: Wait, I`m going to flip that around, though - before you say that, because I`m going to flip that around. I think there`s also a case to be made that Russia right now is helping the Senate pass the Healthcare bill. I think that if there was more - I mean this totally entirely. They would rather do this in secret with no public scrutiny, with no coverage, which is what they`re doing, and try to flip out a bill in 48 hours and vote on it. And that actually, you say they don`t want to be talking about it, they would rather talk about this than their healthcare bill.

MCINTOSH: I think they would. And you can see when they only had to talk about their healthcare bill, even when they only had to have it up for the 24 hours they did, the dramatic response from the American people was overwhelming. It will be again.

HAYES: They would like to avoid that.

MCINTOSH: It will be again.

The American people can walk and chew gum actually better than Republicans in congress can.

DEL PERCIO: And more importantly, the American public cares much more about healthcare - the healthcare bill than they do about what`s going on in Russia. So, I think that they will start.

HAYES: OK. So, I actually - yes. And I do think - here`s the last thing about the politics of this. I do think there`s a degree to which the norms that have been transgressed here by the president vis-a-vis James Comey I think are quite important and quite shocking actually.

I also think they`re quite remote to voters. Like, there`s a little bit of educational opportunity for senators tomorrow on both parties to explain to people why it matters that the president doesn`t go around saying, he`s my buddy, would you lay off when you`re the president. Don`t you agree with taht?

MCINTOSH: Yes, yes. But what`s not remote to them is their own healthcare and the health of their families and the amount of money that they`re paying to make sure that they`re insurance. So, that`s why I don`t think they are going to be able to sneak this under the radar. And if they do, the political price they are going to pay in 2018 is not worth, the juice is not worth the squeeze on that one. These aren`t Republicans who need to hang their career on something that unpopular because Donald Trump is making it that unpopular. Like, they can - they can let him loose. They can cut him loose. They don`t need him.

DEL PERCIO: But I will say, one thing that Republicans could run away from is the ad campaign that the RNC has out tomorrow basically...

HAYES: Bashing Comey.

DEL PERCIO: Bashing Comey. And that is I think has very big political repercussions.

HAYES: That`s a good point. All right, Susan Del Percio and Jess McIntosh, thanks for making time.

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