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Inside the Russian troll factory. TRANSCRIPT: 2/19/2018. All In with Chris Hayes

Guests: Adam Davidson, Adrian Chen, Rosalind Helderman

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: February 19, 2018 Guest: Adam Davidson, Adrian Chen, Rosalind Helderman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The media can either play its part or not. To paraphrase Walter Cronkite, that`s just the way it is. And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn`t this indictment disprove what Mr. Trump has been saying all along?

HAYES: President Trump lashes out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be very careful if I were President Trump here.

HAYES: Tonight in the wake of indictments, why the President is attacking everyone but the Russians.

Plus, inside Russia`s troll farm with the reporter who saw this coming three years ago.

ADRIAN CHEN, REPORTER, THE NEW YORKER: Maybe it`s some kind of really opaque strategy of like, electing Donald Trump to undermine the U.S. or something.

HAYES: Then, as the White House calls the Florida massacre a, "reprieve," my interview with the students who are fighting back.

EMMA GONZALEZ, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: If all our government and President can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it`s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.

HAYES: And the New York Times reports another story of another extramarital affair with Donald Trump, and another elaborate attempt to cover it all up when ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. Three days since Special Counsel Robert Mueller unveiled an indictment, 13 counts of Russian nationals for waging what they called information warfare against the U.S., the President of the United States has yet to announce any new steps to punish Russia for those activities. He has not directed his administration to prevent interference in future elections, including the one this year. He has not even gone so far as to condemn Russia`s efforts to subvert American democracy. Instead, the President apparently spent much of the weekend parked in front of the T.V. at one of his properties in Florida, tweeting furiously and lashing out at a number of targets, from Oprah to the FBI to his own National Security Adviser, seemingly everyone except Vladimir Putin. The President spent the long president`s day weekend at Mar-a-Lago about 40 miles north of Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week.

And because of that proximity just hours` drive away, the President`s aides kept him off the golf course for part of the weekend, fearing it wouldn`t look good. And so despite the beautiful weather in Florida, the President stayed indoors and tweeted instead. Just after 11:00 p.m., he tied the school shooting which his own staff called a, "reprieve" from the many White House scandals to the Russia investigation. "Very sad the FBI missed all the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. There is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud." That tweet distorting the FBI`s mission that it did not follow up properly on a tip about the gunman did not sit well with the survivors of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas. I`ll speak with those students, two of them later tonight.

The President wasn`t done. At a security conference in Germany on Saturday, his own National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the indictment revealed on Friday showed incontrovertible prove of Russian election interference to which the President retorted, "General McMaster forgot to say that the results for the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only collusion was between Russia and crooked H, the DNC, the Dems, remember the dirty dossier, Uranium speeches, e-mails, Podesta Company!" Friday`s indictment did not make a judgment either way as to whether the election was impacted and we won`t even begin to fact check the litany of other false claims and conspiracy buzz words in the rest of that tweet. Suffices to say it`s not accurate.

The President kept going into Sunday, taking shots at Hillary Clinton, Congressman Adam Schiff, Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee among others. And then there was this. "If it was the goal of Russia to create discord, disruption, and chaos in the U.S., then with all the committee hearing, investigations and party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart, America." That one at least was consistent with official White House talking points.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the Russians are trying to do as outlined by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein was create chaos in the American election system and I`ll just say this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are two groups that have created chaos more than the Russians, and that`s the Democrats and the mainstream media who continued to push this lie on the American people for more than a year.


HAYES: That same clip was later promoted by none other than RT, the international T.V. network funded by the Russian government. The President staff were unable to keep him off the links for a third day in the row. So he got two-thirds of the way through the weekend without golf as a kind of show of solidarity with the victims. And this morning he finally got to make the short trip over to the golf course but he still found time to tweet later writing Obama was President up to and beyond the 2016 election so why didn`t he do something about Russian meddling? We know of course that President Obama tried to do something but was blocked by Senate Majority Leader then -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as former Vice President Joe Biden recounted last month.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: Mitch McConnell want no part of having a bipartisan commitment that we would say essentially Russia is doing this, stop, bipartisan. Why don`t we put out a bipartisan warning to Russia? Hands off, man, or there is going to be a problem. Democrat and Republicans, well, they would have no party -- they would have no part of it. That to me hanging around that body up there for a longer than any of you were around doing it meant to me that this was -- the dye had been cast here. This was all about the political play.


HAYES: Now a year and a half later, after we`ve learned so much more about what happened in 2016 after Robert Mueller released a 37-page indictment laying out the Russian conspiracy in detail, at least one small part of it, and after as the intelligence chiefs has told Congress under oath that Russia is already gearing up to interfere in the midterms, we are right back where we started with no consorted government-wide strategy to counter Russia sabotage. Only this time it is because the Commander in Chief himself refuses to act. Jill Wine-Banks is a former Watergate Prosecutor and an MSNBC Legal Analyst. Paul Butler, a former Federal Prosecutor and also an MSNBC Legal Analyst. I`ll start with you, Paul, as you`re sitting right here. As a prosecutor, what is your reaction to watching the President react to these indictments?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So the indictments on Friday lay the predicate for collusion, that the Russians tried to throw the election to Trump. It`s a speaking indictment, what prosecutors do when they want to show off how much they know about our criminal case in order to scare possible subjects and targets to coming forward while the getting is still good. Prosecutors certainly would not reveal all of their cards this early, including whether there are Americans who are also involved in this conspiracy to obstruct justice or conspiracy to defraud the United States. They wouldn`t because it`s an on-going investigation. So think of three parts to this investigation, one is collusion that the Russians tried again to subvert our democracy. That`s established in detail. Part two is whether Americans were involved in that effort and part three is obstruction of justice.

HAYES: And Jill, I mean, the President sort of obsession with lashing out at people around this issue I think is charitably chalked up to him taking offense that it takes away from his victory but it could also be the case, we do not know, that he is angry about it because he continues to cover something up.

JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I think it`s far more likely that it is because he is obstructing justice and covering something up. That he knows what went wrong. He knows what he did. He knows what other people did. I think this indictment is a very major step forward. It`s the first of what I think will be many indictments to deal with the core issue that Mueller started with, which is the meddling of the Russian government in the election for 2016. I think there will be more. This deals only with the social media aspects of with rallies that were created through social media, with advertising. And you can`t say it didn`t have some effect unless you say that advertising is a waste of money, that no one should advertise products or policies or campaigns because it has no effect.

Of course, it has some effect. And we know that Americans read these ads. We know they attended rallies. And so it may have had an effect and I`m sure that`s bothering Donald Trump. But I`m also sure that he is worried about what other evidence will come out. And I would say that this indictment with its detail suggests that there is someone embedded in the activities that are set forth there who may know a lot more about who the persons known and unknown that are named in the indictment. You have certain -- you have three organizations and 13 Russian citizens who are named. But it also says that there are others named and unnamed. There is also the American who was indicted and he says in his plea that there is other knowledge that isn`t set forth, that everything he says is true. t that not everything he knows is there and he will tell more.

HAYES: Speaking of more evidence, we also got further reporting this weekend that Rick Gates, who is one of the people who pleaded not guilty along with Paul Manafort is about to plead guilty. For folks who don`t remember Rick Gates, he`s a sort of business partner of Paul Manafort who was, of course, the Campaign Chair. Both of them were indicted on very similar accounts having to do with money laundering, moving money from Ukraine and parts of the former Soviet Republic to the U.S. Gates now appears ready to plead guilty. What`s the significance of that?

BUTLER: So here`s is a data point for Mueller`s bio that I think is very revealing. He left a cushy job as a partner at a firm making a lot of money to be a homicide prosecutor in D.C. in the `90s. He`s going after people like Mueller, I mean, he`s going after people like Papadopoulos and Flynn like he thinks they`re low life thugs like he used to prosecute back in D.C. so I think he had a little sit-down with Gates where Gates said OK, I can give you information about Manafort. And Mueller is like I got that case. That`s easy to prove. That`s a paper case. It`s like failure to report, money laundering, he`s got that case. Mueller says to Flynn -- Mueller says to Gates, I need more. What else you got? And again I think that`s why we see this guilty plea.

HAYES: That`s an interesting point. So your point is that cooperation on the charges as stipulated against Manafort isn`t even that helpful because so many of the charges are you say paper case. Either he did or didn`t do the things as documented. You think the fact that he`s willing to plead guilty and that that might be accepted suggests there might be more to tell.

BUTLER: Mueller is aggressive and he is tenacious and detailed. He`s charged five Americans with crimes. Four out of the five have already plead guilty or like Gates will plead guilty.

HAYES: Yes, Jill, where do you think this goes next based on what you were able to glean from this indictment?

BANKS: Well, one thing that I would say is that this is an impeachable offense because Donald Trump has not lived up to his constitutional duty to protect America. And we have a real threat to democracy with the interference in our elections. And we need some leadership here. Donald Trump should be asking Congress to pass new legislation that will protect the 2018 election. And he has done absolutely nothing. He has been totally silent on this. In fact, if anything, he has despite his recent statements that well, it could have been Russia, he has many times said it`s not even Russia. And we need him to take some responsibility for this. I think that this is the first step toward an impeachment because this is an impeachable offense.

HAYES: The dereliction that you see here.

BANKS: It is a dereliction of duty, absolutely.

HAYES: Jill Wine-Banks and Paul Butler, thank you both. Adam Davidson is a Staff Writer for the New Yorker who`s reported extensively on the President`s web of foreign deals. And I wanted to get your response. I thought this was a very interesting tweet from the President in this tweet storm this weekend. "Funny how the fake news media doesn`t want to say the Russia group was formed in 2014 -- that, of course, is the sort of propaganda network -- long before my run for president. Maybe they knew was going to run, even though I didn`t know." Which seems dangerously close to leading people to a theory of the case that`s very associated with the infamous Steele Dossier, the idea that Russia was cultivating him from the jump.

ADAM DAVIDSON, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Yes, it was -- there was a lot of odd tweets this weekend. I mean, I think you know, the word "unhinged" has been associated with Trump tweets for a long time. But this weekend I think really was unbelievable level of desperation and just seemingly coming from a confused mind. But absolutely, the idea that the Russian operation started in 2014 is not good news for Donald Trump. This means that there was a well-planned, at least according to the U.S. law criminal enterprise. And that doesn`t mean that he had to be colluding or be involved from the beginning. But the fact that that enterprise existed and that we know for sure his campaign had some interaction with it. We don`t know the full extent, that is not -- this is not good news. I don`t know why he thought it would be something to celebrate.

HAYES: And it sends you back to this sort of fateful -- there`s a great article in your magazine, The New Yorker, about the Moscow pageant. It sends you back to that sort of moment and Agalarovs who you have looked into who are of course the intermediary through which the first one of the points of contact was made. This is amazing. This is a tweet back in 2013 after Miss Universe from an Agalarov aide. "I`m sure @RealDonaldTrump will be great president. We`ll support you from Russia. America needs ambitious leader." Like, that`s back in 2013.

DAVIDSON: Absolutely. And I also reported on his business dealings with a variety of Georgians who also incidentally have been close to the Agalarovs and they arranged a series of meetings for him in 2010, 2011 with President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia in which many people then in this former Soviet Union world were saying, oh, look, Donald Trump sure is presidential. Now, I have no reason to think there was some organized conspiracy back that far but certainly the idea that he might be a figure on the world stage, that he might be a political figure seems to be deeply tied with his relationship with Russia and the former Soviet Union.

HAYES: Having been embedded on this beat and looked at the President`s business ties for a long time and thinking about this, what is your takeaway from where we are right now and what has been revealed by the indictments thus far?

DAVIDSON: So the way I see it is -- the information seems to obviously strongly show or strongly suggest that certainly by 2014, the Kremlin, Putin had a very strong and organized effort to sow discord in the -- in U.S. political process as well as political processes all over the world. I think for him, my hunch is it was a lucky break that the man who became the Republican candidate happened to have a so many deep, deep, deep ties with cronies of Putin. Now to be fair to Putin, I don`t know if that`s the right phrase, but Trump`s ties were generally with lower tier Russian oligarchs, former Soviet Union oligarchs, but people fully under Putin`s thumb. And so it was this lucky break. And we know from the Don Jr. meeting, from Papadopoulos, from others that Putin took advantage of this by reaching out to Trump again and again. We don`t yet have the missing link --

HAYES: Sure.

DAVIDSON: -- but we have an awful lot of information.

HAYES: Yes, it`s like I think with the Sistine chapel picture of God and Adam where we`re sort of at this point in the investigation at this point. The fingers not, not quite touching yet. We`ll see what will happen.

DAVIDSON: It`s almost there.

HAYES: New Yorker`s Adam Davidson, great to have you.


HAYES: Next, the amazing details from the Russian troll farm operation interfering in the election. What an employee says it was like on the inside working there on the 12-hour shifts. And I`ll talk to reporter who saw it coming years ago in one of the most prophetic pieces of journalism in recent memory. That`s in two minutes.


HAYES: A clearer picture of the scope and the scale of the actions of the troll factories charged with election interference, among other things. The internet research agency is a propaganda outfit charged by the Justice Department on Friday. The Washington Post managed to speak with someone who once worked there who described it as, "some kind of factory to turned lying, telling untruths into an industrial assembly line. I immediately felt like a character in the book 1984 by George Orwell, a place where you have to write that white is black and black is white. The foreign employee also talks about clogging internet newsfeed of all kinds of fake information appeared to work so well at promoting discord here in the U.S. Americans aren`t used to this kind of trickery.

They live in a society in which accepted to answer for your words. The existence of the agency and its methods is not a new discovery. The journalist Adrian Chen profiled the internet research agency in an investigative piece for The New York Times Magazine all the way back in 2015 calling it "a shadowy organization in St. Petersburg, Russia that spreads false information on the internet." In a podcast interview later that year, again, all the way back in 2015, Adrian Chen made this rather staggering and prescient observation.


CHEN: I created this list of the Russian trolls when I was researching and I`d check in once and a while still, and a lot of them have turned into like conservative accounts, like fake conservatives. I don`t know what`s going on, but like tweeting about Donald Trump and stuff. I feel like maybe it`s some kind of really opaque strategy of, like, electing Donald Trump to undermine the U.S. or something, you know, like false flag kind of thing. That`s how you -- that`s how I started thinking about all this stuff after being in Russia.


HAYES: With me now is the reporter you just heard there, Adrian Chen, Staff Writer from the New Yorker and Rosalind Helderman from The Washington Post who`s been reporting on the Russian internet agency -- research agency. And Adrian, let me start with you. I listened to that interview and I read your piece in time. I`d come back to it since then and in that like one sentence, it`s like you stumble upon what appears to basically have been the plot, which appears to you in the moment as a joke almost. Like, what do you think about it now?

CHEN: I mean, I think it is wild that that seems so prescient because it was really just a joke at the time, you know. Trump`s campaign seemed like a joke, and also just the idea that that would somehow be a strategy that anyone would think would work was also just ridiculous.

HAYES: Rosalind, I thought it was interesting that you talked to -- that your reporters have talked to people that worked there and talk a little bit about the conditions they describe.

ROSALIND HELDERMAN, POLITICAL ENTERPRISE AND INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I mean, they very much describe sort of a factory of disinformation, much as Adrian found in his really excellent piece. I mean, they talk about 12-hour shifts, 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and then overnight. They work in rooms of you know, with banks of computers, 20 computers in a room with the shades drawn on the windows, having to hit sort of quotas of how many posts they get per hour, per day. One thing I thought was really interesting is they would talk about how sometimes they would purposefully fight in the comment sections of articles. Two people would take one position and a third person would take the opposite position and then eventually the third person would declare ah-ha, he had been convinced.

HAYES: And so there is division in the agency, according to this individual and others between like what`s happening domestically in Russia where a lot of this is focused on that and then the kind of elite English unit. In fact, one of the employees who talks to the Washington Post says he couldn`t get into the elite English unit which pays more because his English wasn`t good enough. The English unit though has this very weird almost uncanny valley way of communicating.

CHEN: Yes, I mean, they are -- you know, the English department, but they`re not all that good at English. If you look at their posts very closely, there is a lot of you know, weird syntax errors. They don`t quite understand you know, the dynamics of the U.S. political system. They might advance, you know, various positions that you`d be why is that kind of person with that kind of politics you know, going for that? And so I think they, you know, had a certain very bare bones understanding of what they were doing, and they were just going off of this.

HAYES: But there is a huge amount of volume, right? I mean, that`s part of the thing here. It`s like it`s a fair amount of labor power and a lot of volume, right?

CHEN: Yes. I mean, it`s a kind of amazing how many -- you know, it was 90 people in the American department. And so they were tasked with doing posts all day, every day. So they could -- they could turn out thousands of comments doing that. And it would be interesting to see like where did they target them exactly and how much could they actually you know, overwhelm legitimate comments on say, a news site or something.

HAYES: Rosalind, I was -- it was interesting to me this individual spoke on the record with his name. And you know, because you think about Putin`s Russia, you think about the fear that people have about dissent there and the criminalization that we`ve seen of it. What do you take away about the relationship of this place to the government and people and how open a secret it is?

HELDERMAN: Well, there`s been a tremendous amount of news coverage of the internet research agency in Russia, as well as here, more obviously in Russia. There`s been some lawsuits filed against it by former employees. So there is sort of this pool of aggrieved former employees out there who want people to know that they think that this is bad and shouldn`t be going on. This is something that is very closely linked with the government. That was not in the indictment. Bob Mueller did not allege that this was government-directed. However, The Washington Post obtained a classified or portions of a classified NSA report that was filed just in December where they concluded that this very operation was almost certainly known about and probably directed by the Kremlin.

HAYES: Is it your sense this is on-going?

CHEN: I do believe that it`s on-going, yes. I mean, I`ve had some off- the-record conversations with some people who have been claiming to still work there. And, you know, I think that it`s still going on, yes.

HAYES: Do you think that it`s going to -- I mean, like, it seems like in some ways it`s a remarkably effective model. In so far as if you just want to like mess with people, right? There`s this kind of -- there`s this kind of salt in the wound thing happening here, right? Like you don`t -- in terms of what the goals are, it`s not -- you don`t have to pull off some enormous thing. You just got be kind of be in people`s consciousness enough constantly in this sort of irritant way with 90 people you`re paying, you know, running an operation that doesn`t cost that much money. It does seem like it`s sort of good bang for your buck.

CHEN: Well, the effectiveness question which everybody is talking about now, you know, I -- it`s of my personal belief that it isn`t all of that effective. You know, it`s essentially a social media marketing campaign with 90 people, a couple million dollars, a few million dollars behind it, run by people who have, you know, a bare grasp of the English language and not a full understanding of who they`re targeting, what they`re targeting. I think if you think about that in terms of just a normal marketing campaign, that`s not going to be a very good bang for your buck. I think the paranoia aspect, right, the idea that there is this kind of all- powerful or you know, immense propaganda machine that is going on, and that anybody who`s tweeting something you don`t like or is you know, kind of causing trouble on the internet can be --

HAYES: Could ban agent.

CHEN: --could be connected to Russia, that is a very powerful thing that is going on and is really increasing now I think, in the wake of these indictments in kind of a warring way. There is not a lot of people saying well, let`s hold back, you know. Maybe it`s not all of that big of a deal.

HAYES: Adrian Chen and Rosalind Helderman, thanks for making the time tonight. Coming up, I`ll talk with a survivor of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, who along with many of her classmates is taking the national discussion on gun reform into her own hands.


HAYES: The official White House line last week is that the administration was focused solely on the Parkland school shooting, they`re even too busy to hold a press briefing for three straight days. On Friday, the President went to visit the community and spent roughly 35 minutes at the hospital there. He took a few photos like this one which he tweeted out. And shortly after, he went back to Mar-a-Lago to attend a studio 54-themed disco party that night reportedly polling Mar-a-Lago members who pay six- figure initiation fees about their thoughts on gun policy over the weekend. The White House said the President did not gulf on Saturday and Sunday to "respect the dead," that he was at his golf club today as some of the victims were laid to rest this morning around 40 miles away.

One White House official described news of the mass slaughter in a high school as a "reprieve from other administration scandals like, for instance, how an apparent serial domestic abuser who couldn`t get permanent security clearance became one of the most senior aides in the White House." That official told The Washington Post, for everyone it was a distraction or reprieve. A lot of people here felt like it was reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummelled. You can imagine how that feels, to get pummelled. Meanwhile, the most powerful voices to emerge in the wake of this tragedy have been those of the survivors themselves. Students organizing protests, a march on Washington, a school walkouts, and speaking out to save lives.


GONZALEZ: We are going to be the kids that you read about in textbooks, not because we`re going to be another statistic about mass shootings in America, but because just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting. If the President wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintains telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I`m going happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.


HAYES: I`ll speak with two survivors from that shooting, just after this break. Stick around.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aside from thoughts and prayers, which is what we heard from everybody, I got to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. I can walk with you. I can keep up.

Do you have any solutions at all besides thoughts and prayers? I mean, there must be something. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, praying for people, I don`t think you should diminish that.


HAYES: While politicians have in some cases literally run from questions about gun safety and gun control in the wake of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last week, students and survivors have been organizing protests, rallies and walkouts speaking out about the need for gun reform.

Sarah Chadwick and Sofie Whitney survived that tragedy in Florida last week. They`re both part of the Never Again movement and they join me now.

I want to just start, Sofie and Sarah, by asking you to -- I`ll start with you, Sofie, first -- how you are doing? How you are feeling? And how you are processing all of this.

SOFIE WHITNEY, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Well, that`s kind of a hard question, because obviously none of us are really OK, But now that we`re putting all of our energy into the movement. We`re feeling really motivated to make a change.

HAYES: How about you, Sarah?

SARAH CHADWICK, HIGH SHCOOL STUDENT: Well, everyone has a different grieving process. I think for us this is our grieving process. I don`t know about everyone else, but I can`t sit at home and do nothing. I have to go out there. I have to make a change. And that`s what`s going to make me feel better.

HAYES: How are you, Sofie, how are you organizing? It`s been remarkable to watch all of you come together and start essentially a movement in the wake of this horrific tragedy in such a short period of time. What is it like? What conversations are you having?

WHITNEY: It`s kind of crazy. We`re just a bunch of high schoolers changing the world from our a friend`s house in Parkland. It`s kind of surreal how we`re doing it. It`s definitely not what you would expect. It`s very all over the place, but we`re doing great.

And we have so many people supporting us. So it`s good.

HAYES: Sarah, I want you to respond. I know you tweeted to the president, if I`m not mistaken, before. And I wanted to get your reaction to a few things. You said, "Dear Donald Trump, I`m the 16-year-old who tweeted you and told you I didn`t want your condolences, I wanted gun control and went viral because of it. I heard you`re coming to my community soon. I would like to express my opinions on gun control to you face-to-face."

What do you want to say to him face-to-face, if you could?

CHADWICK: Honestly, I like I said earlier, say -- I just want to ask him why? I wanted to ask why a mentally ill 19-year-old was able to legally purchase a gun to here in Florida. And why he was able to come into my high school and shoot 17 people and kill them, honestly.

I also wanted to ask about stricter gun reforms, gun safety, gun laws, and just have a discussion with him about it. Because I feel like we -- I mean, if not me, a bunch of people just want to hear. We want to hear that things are going to change. We want to hear how things are going to change, and we want to hear that -- I mean, we`ve gone through this so many times before -- Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas -- nothing has been done. And we want to see that something is going to be done.

HAYES: Sofie, there is someone at the White House who talked about the shooting that happened at your school as a reprieve, and they meant in a very specific context. The White House had been getting a lot of bad press about scandals and so forth. But I just wonder how that strikes your ear have having lived through what you just lived through.

WHITNEY: Can you repeat the question, please?

HAYES: Someone in the White House referred to what happened in your school as a reprieve, an aide. And they meant it in a very specific context, that it was a reprieve from all the bad publicity the president and his staff had been getting after weeks of scandals. But I just wonder what it sounds like to hear someone that works in the White House characterize what happened in your school that way.

WHITNEY: I think it`s horribly insensitive because our school literally just got shot up, and the White House is making it about them when there are kids that are dead. And this is why marching, because we`re marching in Washington because we need them to hear us, and we need them to have a conversation with us.

HAYES: Sarah, there is some people I think I`ve seen who think that it`s a bad idea for you guys to organize so soon, that you`re still processing grief, that you`re young, that you`re students, that it`s too much, that people like myself shouldn`t be putting you on television. I`ve seen people express that thought. What do you say to them?

CHADWICK: Well, yes, we are high school students, but you have to know we know our limits. We have parents that are looking out for us. We have people reminding us to eat. We have people reminding us to rest. We know our limits. And I promise you, we`re not doing anything dangerous to ourselves that we`re going regret later.

And I feel like we are high school students, and we are the ones who are organizing this march. We are the ones who organized the Never Again movement. And I think that says something. I think it`s a lot more symbolic that high school students are doing this instead of adults. So I`m glad that high school students are the ones who are doing this.

HAYES: Sofie, you`re going to go to Washington, I imagine, for this march?


HAYES: Have you ever done anything like this before?

WHITNEY: Not ever even remotely. You would never think that we would have to do something like this, because we`re only in high school.

HAYES: I want to thank you guys for making time. And I want to just reiterate, I really do hope that all of you are getting some rest and getting adults that you can talk to and other folks you can talk to about what is going on. And I think the entire nation is looking at you with tremendous sense of admiration, so thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

CHADWICK: Thank you so much for having us.

WHITNEY: Thank you.

HAYES: All right. We`ll be right back right after this.


HAYES: Thing One tonight, our president is asking us or sort of hectoring us to have a great but very reflective President`s Day, sort of a hilarious admonition to remember the reason for the season, I guess, the true meaning of President`s Day.

Trump spent the day golfing. But yes, let`s reflect on this very solemn President`s Day, the day that America`s bachelor president James Buchanan invariably gets pegged as the worst president ever. Buchanan as a president widely regarded by historians as utterly inept in the face of secession by southern states, who accepted slavery as southern law and whose inaction allowed the nation to slide into a civil war.

All that is why scholars of all stripes rank him dead last when assessing the greatness of American presidents: until now, as historian Kevin Cruz put it, quote, on this President`s Day congratulations to James Buchanan on this President`s Day, "congratulations to James Buchanan on finally moving out of the bottom spot in the presidential rankings. Yes, another president has now hit rock bottom, lower than Buchanan. Can you guess who? There is no way you can." That`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.


HAYES: So in a brand-new ranking of best and worst presidents in our nation`s history from a survey of scholars conducted by political science professors published today in The New York Times, the last spot, the very bottom, the worst president ever in the minds of the experts, drum roll, please, is, yes, Donald J. Trump. There he is, lounging in the basement underneath Buchanan.

Trump ranked only 36 spots lower than his predecessor, President Barack Obama, who is ranked eighth best president ever. OK. But that`s just a bunch of pinhead liberals, right? But no, the overall ranking was from a mix of Republicans, independent, and Democratic scholars. And yes, the Democratic scholars put Trump last. And yes, independents do believe he is slightly better than the guy who ushered into the civil war, President James Buchanan. The good news for Trump comes from Republican scholars who don`t say Trump is the worst, they say he is one of the top five worst presidents ever.

Yes, Republican scholars say there are four presidents, four worse than Donald J. Trump. Impeached Andrew Johnson, the pro-slavery Franklin Pierce, the president died 31 days into his term William Henry Harrison, and that loser bachelor who hastened the civil war, James Buchanan. So it`s not all bad.

For the record, we could argue it`s unfair to rank Trump as the worst ever after just one year. In fact, I would even argue that he is the worst after one year, because of what other presidents oversaw. I mean, he hasn`t gotten us into a great depression or a civil war, but clearly those scholars see in him great potential.


HAYES: Big update tonight on a story that could have profound consequences for control of the House of Representatives in November. Last month, you`ll recall, the Pennsylvania supreme court, that`s the state supreme court, struck down that state`s congressional map after Democrats charged that the 18 districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. They had a pretty good case. Even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state, Republicans hold a 13-5 advantage in congressional seats. And that`s because after the 2010 census, the GOP- controlled legislature drew up wildly gerrymandered districts like Pennsylvania`s 7th district, which is not so affectionately known as goofy kicking Donald Duck.

Now, the state supreme court gave both parties until last Thursday to agree to a new, fairer map. they could not agree. Republicans unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in a kind of hail mary effort to keep the old map. That didn`t work. And one even threatened to impeach the Democratic justices in the state court who made the initial ruling.

Today, after all that, the state supreme court issued a new congressional map, which eliminates a lot of the contorted gerrymandering that gave Republicans such an undue advantage.

Republicans will likely sue, but assuming the new map stands, it will be, or could be, at least, a huge boost for Democrats who need to net 24 congressional seats to take control of the House.

The new map in Pennsylvania cold net them at least four seats and possibly more, which puts them on track to win at least a sixth of all the pickups they need in that state alone. So that is very big news.

Also big news, revelations about a second woman reportedly paid more than $100,000 in an effort to keep her alleged affair with Donald Trump out of the headlines. That story right after this.


HAYES: We now know of at least two women who had allegedly sexual encounters with Donald Trump shortly after his son with Melania was born, each of whom were paid more than $100,000 in an effort to keep those alleged encounters from becoming public.

Now, first, of course, is adult film actress Stormy Daniels whose saga has taken a number of somewhat strange turns. Last week, Trump lawyer Michael Cohn released a cryptically worded statement saying he personally facilitated the $130,000 payment out of own his personal funds shortly before the election.

In Florida today, amazingly, because this is the world we live in, Trump`s motorcade drove by a gentleman`s club advertising an upcoming appearance by Stormy Daniels, along with a play on the president`s campaign slogan. Daniels, though, is not alone. New York Times and New Yorker have new reporting about a former Playboy model named Karen McDougal who four days before the election was allegedly paid $150,000 by the publisher of the National Enquirer for the story of her alleged affair with Trump, which the White House denies.

Only the story never ran. Here to explain why, New York Times investigative reporter Megan Twohey who co-authored The Times story on McDougal and the role of Michael Cohn plays in Trump`s life. Great to have you here.

MEGAN TWOHEY, NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me here.

HAYES: All right, so walk me through this. Who is McDougal? And how does she sort of come into the, you know, circle of Trump?

TWOHEY: Yeah, so Karen McDougal is a Playboy Playmate who says that she had an affair with Trump in 2006 around the same time that Stormy Daniels, the porn star, says that she had a sexual encounter with him.

HAYES: Which, literally at the same event they met? Is that right? Or is this right around the same time?

TWOHEY: Well, they certainly claim to have -- well, there is no doubt that they were both at the same celebrity golf event in Las Vegas where Stormy says that she met him for the first time.

HAYES: And so Karen McDougal makes this claim. What happens next?

TWOHEY: So, it`s interesting, in her case, in the case of Stormy Daniels, she ended up being paid directly by Michael Cohn 2016 during the presidential campaign. In the case of Karen McDougal, she ends up striking a deal with American Media, which is basically this parent company to the National Enquirer in a variety of other tabloid publications. And what we have -- what`s become increasingly clear is that Trump had a very close relationship with David Pecker, the head of America Media.

And it would seem that the publication, the media company, was basically willing to buy and bury stories that were potentially damaging to Trump. And Cohn, you know, what we realize in the course of our reporting over the last couple months is that while Michael Cohn, Trump`s personal attorney, wasn`t directly involved in that agreement between Karen McDougal and American Media. He was collecting details of it while it was happening from American Media and also from Karen McDougal`s personal attorney who we should point out is also the same -- was also the same attorney for Stormy Daniels.

HAYES: Oh, right. I forgot about that details. So, it`s the same attorney for both of these women, representing both of them, each of them end up with payments. In the one case, it`s $130,000 that Michael Cohn gives out of his pockets. In the case of Karen McDougal it`s $150,000 from American Media.

Now, normally -- I mean, the question you ask -- and you read this, and like Ronan Farrow has some great reporting in The New Yorker as well, a lot of it sort of corroborates the details. Why do you spend that much money for a story you kill?

TWOHEY: Well, that`s a great question. And American Media has said that it was not able to corroborate that story, but I think that there...

HAYES: Just pause there. Everyone listening at home, like think of what you see in the National Enquirer and make a determination for yourself whether that`s a credible explanation. Continue.

TWOHEY: Yeah, right. So, I mean, that American Media says it wasn`t able to corroborate the story, but it did, in fact, pay $150,000. It also said that it was going to basically give her a column, a fitness column and give her great publicity, put her on the cover of some of the publications. And what we realized is that she was increasingly frustrated after striking this deal. She actually turned to another lawyer seeking assistance saying she felt like American Media actually wasn`t following through on its side of the bargain.

HAYES: So what I think is fascinating here, you along with some other reporters of The Times broke the Harvey Weinstein story, and doing incredible reporting on that. And one of the things about the Weinstein story is that there`s entire structure of secrecy built atop his alleged misdeeds -- non-disclosure agreements, ways of wrapping things up -- here we only have two examples, but it does seem like these are both examples of an operation around Donald Trump that this is not the first rodeo for these folks in terms of burying news they do not want to come out.

TWOHEY: Yeah, what we found is that while the payment to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal has received a lot of attention, that there was an effort by Trump`s personal attorney Michael Cohn to cover up potentially damaging stories going back to 2015 when there was a hedge fund manager turned digital entrepreneur who came to Michael Cohn and said he had obtained several photos of Trump appearing to sign the bare breasts of a buxom blonde, which you could see would be not something that people would want to come out during a presidential campaign.

And so he goes to Michael Cohn and Michael Cohn says -- you know, blows up at him and threatens him and says if you publish those I`m going to destroy you and then the conversation turned to David Pecker at American Media and he steers this guy and his photos to National Enquirer, to David Pecker at American Media.

HAYES: Am I wrong -- I mean, you can`t answer this definitively, but am I wrong to have the question like how often did this happen?

TWOHEY: Well, I think that is a really great question. And I think it`s also important to note that these -- you know, while in these several cases we`re talking about people who claim to have consensual sexual encounters with Trump. Trump is also somebody that has during the course of the campaign basically been subject to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, about unwanted sexual advances and groping and assaultive behavior.

And so what is significant about this story is if there was kind of a machinery in process to try to cover up things that could be potentially damaging for Trump, you know, when it came to even allegedly consensual affairs, were there things done to silence other damaging stories that were much more significant and much more grave?

HAYES: And we should note that the women that have come forward, we know those women but it`s possible there are others that have not or that we have not heard from them.

TWOHEY: That`s exactly right. And one of the things that has come out in the process of this Me Too movement and moment is a lot more attention paid to these settlement agreements that can be struck with women who come forward, especially with allegations of sexual misconduct, that often times when it comes to making these allegations against powerful men, there will be lawyers who swoop in and help them secure settlements in which the women receive a payment but they are locked in silence. They can`t tell their stories.

HAYES: Megan Twohey of The New York Times, one of the best reporters working in America right now. I say that without hyperbole. Thanks for being with me tonight.

TWOHEY: Thank you so much.

HAYES: That is All In for this hour. Don`t forget you can find much more on our Facebook page, including new behind the scenes videos. Make sure you hit like while you`re there. Yes, we`re just asking you. And if you missed any of the show, you can download the All In podcast, available, of course, wherever you get your podcasts. But for now, stay right here because it`s time for The Rachel Maddow Show. Good evening, Rachel.