Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: March 8, 2018 Guest: Paul Butler, Shannon Pettypiece, Tara Dowdell, Nina Khrushcheva, Ben Smith, Christopher Hill, Shibley Telhami, Natasha Bertrand, Ned Price, Heather McGhee, Randy Bryce
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Good evening from New York. Breaking news again, I`m Chris Hayes and some big news from the White House tonight. Just hours after the President unexpectedly popped in the pressroom to say there would be a surprise announcement on North Korea, South Korea`s National Security Adviser walked outside the White House which itself was somewhat odd, to announce that North Korea`s Kim Jong-un invited President Trump to nuclear negotiations and the President has accepted.
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CHUNG EUI-YONG, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR, SOUTH KOREA: President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: NBC`s Hallie Jackson was there for that moment and joins us live from the White House. Hallie, how did this come about?
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Quickly and as a surprise to a lot of folks even inside the West Wing, Chris. So let me sort of take you through the evening and there was going to be policy implications to this because the policy implications are real. And as you mentioned, we have now learned that the White House, the President has accepted the invitation to meet Kim Jong-un. We expect to know more in the next couple of minutes.
I actually think that we could talk more perhaps later in the hour with some new details from the White House, from security administration officials so we will be bringing that to you when it happens. But let me start sort of where that picture picked up off. President Trump, he said in the briefing room which may be generous. It was like half a shoulder and half a head as it pops his head in to say that there was going to be -- you see it there -- announcement, on a big subject tonight. The President have never done this. I have never covering this administration since moment one have never seen the President come out into the briefing room door like that.
He clearly wanted to talk, he clearly wanted to share us some information with the reporters. That set off what was roughly a 90-minute scramble by staffers who were huddling inside the West Wing to figure out who`s going to present at this briefing by the South Korean Security Adviser. As you ultimately saw, where it would happen, presumably they knew what would be said at least at that point. NBC News quickly confirmed that there was a letter that Kim Jong-un wrote to President Trump, a letter delivered via the South Koreans to the President. And we now know that presumably, that letter indicated a desire to meet with Donald Trump. The White House is going to make that happen. As this announcement was happening from the National Security Adviser, yet a number of aides who were standing outside when the South Korean Adviser said that the President would be meeting in May. We still don`t know exactly when Chris. We still don`t know where this is going to happen and that is really a big question here.
And we don`t know sort of who knew about this because I`ll tell you what, in Ethiopia this morning, you had guess who, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who was asked about negotiations with North Korea and said they were still a long way off. May is not that long off, Chris. We`re -- what, first we go March here, you know. So there`s that piece of the puzzle. For me, policy perspective, this is significant because you remember, you just had that South Korean Delegation come back from Pyongyang, that first meeting in roughly ten years in which they got face- to-face with Kim Jong-un coming over to debrief for example H.R. McMaster and others including the President and Vice President about what had happened, and that`s where we`re learning this news, Chris. So, I`ll tell you what, it`s been a roller coaster three hours here at the White House and I expect it is not over just yet.
HAYES: All right, Hallie Jackson, thank you for that. I appreciate that. And joining me now by phone, the former Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill. He was Chief U.S. Negotiator with North Korea from 2005 to 2009, now at the University of Denver. Well, Ambassador, what do you make of this?
CHRISTOPHER HILL, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: Well, it is in a word extraordinary. First of all, it`s not extraordinary that the North Koreans invite the U.S. Head of State. I think they have done that a number of times. What`s amazing, of course, is the U.S. Head of State apparently has said yes and it`s also kind of noteworthy that the North Koreans has said, don`t worry about those annual military exercises, we`re fine with that. So this is quite a change, hard to know what to make of it. Certainly, for regular members of the Republican Party, it must be pretty shocking because when George W. Bush had me doing this, he took a lot of grief on the subject of actually talking to the North Koreans, I mean, John Bolton and everyone else was quite upset on the Republican side. So this is quite a change. And needless to say, it`s not at all clear where we are with this.
I mean, so far North Korea has talked about a moratorium but that`s not going to cut it. So we have to see whether they really will get to de- nuclearization and there are several steps to that process, you know, including getting international people in there to take the (INAUDIBLE) material out. And so, I don`t think we are anywhere near there. So I think there needs to be -- how to put it -- a lot of diplomatic state work before this really happens.
HAYES: The first question I had was where will this happen? Because that seems like the first issue to negotiate if there is going to be a face-to- face meeting with the President of the United States and Kim Jong-un for the first time ever right, in the history of North Korea and the United States, where is it going to happen? It seems -- what`s the answer to that?
HILL: Well, I don`t think -- my advice would be the President should not journey to Pyongyang nor should he invite Kim Jong-un to Washington. So you know, they tried different things in the past. We`ve had ship summits, the summits on ships with Gorbachev, you recall? One of the reasons we had the Balkan deliberations in Dayton, Ohio was that no one wanted them to come to Washington and see the whole process of blow up. So maybe we can do it in some out of the way place in the U.S. or a third country. So it`s kind of -- I think no one has really given that thought but I`m sure they can come up with something that will work for both parties. And by the way, that wouldn`t be China because I think the North Koreans want to show they can deal with the U.S. and not through China.
HAYES: What I`m hearing in your voice is someone who is a veteran of this very difficult and seemingly intractable problem for many years is you seem genuinely pleased, pleasantly surprised by this. Am I characterizing that correctly?
HILL: Yes. I wouldn`t go that far but I would say that no one has had any really good ideas about how to solve this problem, a maximum pressure, that`s fine. But if the North Koreans really want to do away with their nuclear weapons, if that is really what is going to happen at the end of this process I think a presidential meeting is appropriate to be part of that. But I think we`re a long way away from just a declaration that they want to get rid of things because they made declarations before. The question is whether they would agree to have international people take their weapons away.
HAYES: Let me just follow up on that. You know, typically in these kind of international diplomatic talks there`s sort of a kind of ratcheting up - - in these talks, it seems to me there`s -- often the pathway is ratcheting up of confidence building measures on both sides, each side sort of showing the other they`re serious and culminating in a sort of head of state summit. Are you saying there has to be steps taken before these two heads of state get together?
I think we may have lost the Ambassador or he may have lost his phone. either one. All right, thank you, Ambassador Christopher Hill for taking some time with us tonight. And turning to the latest in the Mueller probe, Paul Manafort will now face two separate criminal trials later this year, another thing that happen in this crazy news day because everyone is. The former Trump Campaign Chairman appeared this morning which feels like three days ago, in federal court today in Alexandria, Virginia where he pleaded not guilty to tax and bank fraud charges. A judge set his trial date for July 10, four months from now.
Now that`s a separate case from the one in Washington, D.C. involving money laundering and other charges related to Manafort`s work in Ukraine. Now, here`s the thing. Manafort has refused the opportunity to merge the two sets of charges which means he`ll have to face a separate criminal trial in Washington. That one was already set to start in September. It also means that Manafort who`s under house arrest now has to wear two ankle monitors, one for each jurisdiction. We`re not sure what the protocol is for that. Do you stack them both on one ankle or one monitor on each? A protester outside the courthouse today tried to see for himself.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Show us your bracelet. Hey traitor, here is your flag, Russian flag. Traitor! Traitor! You`re selling out America to the Russians.
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HAYES: Meanwhile, Manafort`s predecessor on the Trump campaign Corey Lewandowski was on Capitol Hill today to testify before the House Intelligence Committee whose Russia probe has been hampered by political stunts and uncooperative witnesses. The top Democrat on that committee Congressman Schiff told reporters he was not satisfied with Lewandowski`s testimony.
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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We have requested that he be subpoenaed to return to answer certain sets of questions he was unwilling to answer today that were very pertinent to our investigation. Whether that will be granted by the majority or not, I cannot say. They`re taking it under consideration. But we feel it very important not only to getting to the truth in terms of our investigation but also in terms of the broader precedent that it sets that we not allow witnesses to come in and tell us what they`re willing to answer and what they wont.
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HAYES: Schiff also announce today that he wants to bring another witness back before the committee, that will be the Blackwater Founder Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and unofficial adviser to the Trump campaign and the transition. According to the Washington Post, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has gathered evidence that a meeting Prince attended in January 2017 the Seychelles Islands is part of an effort to set up a back channel between Trump world and the Kremlin. But when that meeting was first reported last year, Prince insisted the face-to-face with the manager of a Russian sovereign wealth fund, Kirill Dmitriev was merely a chance encounter.
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ERIK PRICE, FOUNDER, BLACKWATER USA: Happened to be there and met a Russian.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who did you meet?
PRINCE: Some fund manager, I can`t even remember his name.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A fund manager but you don`t remember his name?
PRINCE: I don`t remember his name. We didn`t exchange cards.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long was it? The meeting, do you remember?
PRINCE: It probably lasted about as long as one beer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That`s also what he told congressional investigators last fall in sworn testimony under penalty of perjury. "The Emiratis I`d just met with previously said, there`s an interesting guy from Russia you should meet if you have any business in the commodities space, which I do. I look at minerals and oil and gas so I met him at the bar and had a drink." There is just one problem with that account. An associate of those Emirates, the people who set up prince`s meeting in the Seychelles is now cooperating with Mueller`s investigation and he is telling them something different apparently. We`ve talked before about George Nader and adviser to the leadership of the United Arab Emirates who`s already testified before Mueller`s grand jury according to the Washington Post.
And Nader has told investigators that the Seychelles meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries. A back channel, in other words. And if you look at the timeline, just what`s been reported publicly, it sure seems consistent with that account. Remember, this was all happening during the transition. The same period when Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner were holding secret meetings and phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. We know that in December 1st, 2016, the Ambassador meets with Flynn and Kushner at Trump Tower, he snuck in somehow so the cameras don`t see him, reporting back to Moscow that Kushner had proposed a secret back channel to the Kremlin according to the Washington Post last year.
It`s been reported that just two weeks later, George Nader of all people shows up for a meeting at Trump Tower with Kushner, Flynn and Steve Bannon along with Nader`s patron the Crowned Prince of the United Arab Emirates who`s known as MbZ. Within weeks sometime in January, before Trump`s inauguration came the Seychelles meeting set up by none other than one and the same George Nader and MbZ, the guy from that Trump Tower meeting and attended by Erik Prince apparently representing the Trump campaign and the fund manager for the Kremlin representing the Kremlin. Shibley Telhami is a Senior Fellow at Brookings Institute Center for Middle East Policy who`s known George Nader for two decades. And what do you make of this story?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY: Well, it`s really hard to make of it and let me say I have not heard from George Nader since 2002. Certainly, when he was very active in Washington in the 1990s he was an effective interlocutor. He published Middle East Insight magazine in which I was a contributing editor. I actually contributed a piece perhaps to the last edition of that in 2002. I didn`t know the magazine went out of business. Nobody even sent me an e- mail. And then you know, he disappeared and I haven`t heard from Mr. Nader since then. I heard rumors he was in Iraq until he you know, appeared again in this particular case.
But I can tell you something about what we know of him. He is an incredibly effective interlocutor. He leverage relationships very well. He makes himself useful. He is non-threatening. He is very discrete. He keeps things to himself. He`s not a backstabber. People liked him and liked to work with him. In the 1990s people really didn`t know if he was just in it to make money, if he was -- he had a political agenda or if he was on the pay of someone, but no one cared because he was useful to all at a time in the 1990s when it looked like there was a prospect for Middle East peace and he was bringing Syria and Israelis together. It looks to me like his core influence from the outset was with Syria.
In fact, if you look at the entire process that led to his influence, it all started having connections with the Syrian regime, the Assad regime and leveraging that to build relations even influence with the Shia in Lebanon, even with Iran, he went to Iran in the late -- in the late 1980s and met with Ayatollah Khomeini. And then when he came back to Washington, he leveraged that relationship at a time when Israelis were trying to make peace with the Syrians and behind the scenes he helped broker certain deals like for the media and then joined with the Ron Lauder, the American billionaire who was very close to then-Prime Minister Netanyahu in 1998, the Prime Minister of Israel who went to Damascus about 16 times and he joined him in that effort.
So he had relationship, as you know Ron Lauder is also close to the Trump administration. He`s had links, but all these links seem to emanate initially from his influence in Syria which he leveraged and then built independent relations. And even in the case of the UAE, we don`t really know how he started his relationship with the UAE and the Crown Prince. In fact, it looks like he had an independent relationship with Russia. Today on monitor reports that he may have helped broker an agreement between the prime minister of Iraq and the Russians, an arms deal agreement in 2012. And what is I think common between the Iraqi government -- Shia government -- Shia led government and Russia is again they both have good relations with Syria.
So it`s hard to know how he connected ultimately with the UAE and we know that he connected with companies that did business with the UAE. And frankly, what`s interesting about the Seychelles meeting is that the Emiratis don`t need him for Trump. They have -- they have cultivated very close relations with Trump people. Their Ambassador in Washington is incredibly well connected, possibly one of the most effective foreign envoys in Washington. So the question is, was he there as sort of to run errands for them rather than to bring this meeting together. It`s not clear.
HAYES: All right, Shibley Telhami, thanks for your time tonight.
TELHAMI: My pleasure.
HAYES: Natasha Bertrand covers the Russia investigation, the Staff Writer for the Atlantic, Ned Price former Spokesperson for the National Security Council under President Obama. Ned, what do you make of this bizarre triangle?
NED PRICE, FORMER SPOKESPERSON FOR THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, Chris, I think you have to remember the key point that you raised in your introduction. We heard about the strange Seychelles summit -- I tried saying that three times fast -- but this was not the first attempt at a back channel on the part of the incoming Trump administration at the time. You have to remember that Jared Kushner talking with Sergey Kislyak the month before the Seychelles meeting, proposed that the Trump team actually use the Russians clandestine communications system housed within the Russian Embassy in Moscow.
And so, the question is why? You only pursue back channels when front channels aren`t good enough. And you know who has the best covert communication and secure communication systems in the world? It`s the United States. And why was Washington`s systems not good enough or not secure enough or not proper for the Trump team? That is the question. There are very few innocuous or charitable explanations that would explain this insistence on pursuing back channels.
HAYES: There`s a line of reasoning I`ve seen, Natasha that says, well, if they were setting up a backchannel, they didn`t have a back channel. If they didn`t have a backchannel, then they couldn`t have been colluding. What do you make of that?
NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, it`s an interesting argument. But we, of course, don`t know whether this was just the beginning of a back channel that they were trying to establish or if it was just part of broader set of communications that they already been having. So I think one thing to remember that`s really important is that Erik Prince, of course, had very long-standing ties with the Emiratis. He`s known George Nader for well over a decade. He essentially runs a private military force on behalf of MbZ, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. So the idea that he would have had to fly to the Seychelles in order to meet with the Emiratis is just it scratches all credulity.
He obviously had to travel there for another reason. And what that reason was from everything that we`ve seen is that he -- they were trying to arrange this meeting with the Russian fund manager. Now whether or not -- like I said, whether or not that was actually the first instance of a back channel that they were trying to establish is very unlikely given all of the other contacts that we`ve seen between Trump`s associates and various Russians. But it is -- it does raise questions about what aspect of that backchannel they were trying to further develop.
HAYES: How anomalous is something like this, Ned, for an incoming administration in transition?
PRICE: Well, it`s entirely anomalous for a very simple reason. The state department avails itself to incoming administrations during the transition period. They make -- they make their secure communications systems available, they make their analyst available, the intelligence community make its products available so that incoming administration team members don`t go into these meetings or phone calls entirely blind, that they can actually leverage the assets of the bureaucracy. But the question is why they pursue this? And to go back to the original point, there`s one other similarity here, Chris, between these two attempts of back channels, Mueller I think actually has more insight into both because he has sources into both.
PRICE: He, of course, has George Nader into the Seychelles meeting and we have to remember that Michael Flynn was involved in this December meeting between Jared Kushner and Kislyak where this other back-channel attempts came up and as part of this plea agreement, Michael Flynn has at least pledged to tell all he knows to the Mueller investigators. So presumably much more is known about this on the inside than we know today.
HAYES: Natasha, there`s also just the problem of the pattern of deception, emission or outright lying if the reporting on George Nader testimony to be believed in terms of Erik Prince, in terms of Jared Kushner leaving the Kislyak meeting off his SF 86. This seems like there was a lot that was dissembled about in that period of time.
BERTRAND: Right, and the question is why did all of these associates of the President feel the need to deceive investigators about the nature of their contacts with the Russians during the campaign, the transition and even during the administration? It`s also going back to you know, what this back channel may have been about. The Trump administration tried to lift sanctions on Russia at least twice in the first couple months of Trump`s -- right after Trump`s inauguration.
So, the idea that perhaps this was just you know, maybe the beginning of something between Erik Prince who the Emiratis and the Russian did think was representing the Trump campaign and at that time the Trump White House, that the idea that that was just the beginning of a back channel really doesn`t make much sense giving everything that we`ve already seen about Flynn`s contact with Kislyak, about Jared Kushner`s meetings with Sergey Gorkov, the sanction -- the bank CEO in Russia, and it really kind of you know, makes you wonder whether or not this was just another part of a back channel that had already been established well prior.
HAYES: All right, Natasha Bertrand and Ned Price, great to have you both.
PRICE: Thank you.
HAYES: Next, after sticking with the President for over a year, Republicans apparently have found their breaking point. That`s after this two-minute break.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thank you for the opportunity for what you do.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your father is Herman?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Herman, sir, yes, sir.
TRUMP: Well, your father Herman is looking down. He`s very proud of you right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he`s still alive.
TRUMP: Oh, he is? Hey, then he`s even more proud of you. Daddy is even more proud.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: With steel and aluminum workers on one side and a few surviving members of his economic team on the other, President Trump followed through on this afternoon on his vow to set 25 percent tariffs on imported steel and 10 percent tariffs on imported aluminum.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The tariffs don`t go effective for at least another 15 days and we`re going to see who is treating us fairly, who`s not treating us fairly.
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HAYES: Trump also said he was immediately exempting Mexico and Canada from tariffs at least temporarily. But many in his own party are sharply criticizing the President`s decision concerned about a potential trade war that damages the U.S. economy. Joining me here Heather McGhee who is President of Demos, action advocates economic policies to benefit working- class families and former Ironworker Randy Bryce, a Democrat who is in the district challenging Paul Ryan in the 2018 midterm election, though he does have a primary before he gets to that. It`s good to have you both here.
I want to read for you Paul Ryan`s statement on tariffs and get your response. "I disagree with this action and fear its unintended consequences. I am pleased that the President has listened to those who share my concerns and included an exemption for some American allies, but it should go further. We will continue to urge the administration to narrow this policy so that it is focused only on those countries and practices that violate trade law."
RANDY BRYCE, FORMER IRONWORKER: It`s pretty amazing that finally Paul Ryan comes to speak out against Donald Trump for anything. And he didn`t do it when we were talking about mighty fine people on both sides in Charlottesville. He wasn`t calling him out when talking about sexually assaulting women on a bus. It tells me that they`re worried about their donor base and that this tax scam that was just recently passed is all going to go up in smoke.
HAYES: It is remarkable to watch them like everyone get a conscience now about this, which again like I don`t think it is personally particularly good policy but in the scope of what Donald Trump has done like they`re really worked up about this. Grover Norquist is like super upset.
HEATHER MCGHEE, PRESIDENT, DEMOS: Well, and that`s the point. And I think Randy said it really well. You know, follow the money with all of these issues. The donor base has not been that upset about the racism and the sexism. They know that it worked for him politically at least with you know, the majority sadly of white voters in this country. And so they sort of tacitly are OK with that dog whistle strategy. But they are not OK with him bucking the conservative economic orthodoxy. Now, I actually think that you know, we shouldn`t say the sky is going to fall because of these tariffs but I think it`s actually a bad move for progressives to not understand that something needs to be done to stand up for American manufacturing. And I think it`s actually kind of a trap for Democrats to you know, sort of follow Republicans into the like you know, the sky is falling --
HAYES: Yes, although it also seems there`s a trap on the other side which is to sort of decide that if Grover Norquist doesn`t like something you must, right, because that`s the other thing. It`s like, well, Grover Norquist from the donor class don`t like this ergo I am all in on this deal on aluminum tariffs.
MCGHEE: But the good thing is that progressives have been championing us having a real industrial policy for a long time. Like actually the Democrats put out a real infrastructure plan this week that would actually strengthen by America provisions, it would close the loopholes that you know, we`re just blown wide open in the GOP tax scam, that encourage companies to offshore their jobs, so -- and profits. So there is a progressive vision for restoring some of American manufacturing and even more importantly for making jobs that are here good jobs the same way that manufacturing jobs are good jobs.
BRYCE: And I think that`s what we need to make an important point. Who is this being done for? Is it for the American worker? No. Because the American worker, the way it`s set up now are we`re going to -- you know, we`re going to be the ones paying more for this tariff. If you are serious about having some kind of help with the steel industry, we should have done something a long time ago when like Bethlehem Steel was really doing something good. Now we`re talking about reopening some shops. I heard about one reopening in Illinois. It`s going to take months to get that even started. And you know, while the CEO of that company does he really put his trust in Donald Trump to go and hire a factory full of people to come and work only to have to lay them off in a couple of months.
HAYES: That`s an interesting point. Does this -- does this play in your district? I imagine it does.
BRYCE: To an extent it does. But right now, I mean, the first district used to be a manufacturing center, have a lot of car jobs. Those are all gone. And now we have a lot of retirees now that are pre-ticked off that all their jobs are gone and there hasn`t been anything to replace.
HAYES: What about -- there`s this -- I want to ask one more follow up which Harley Davidson is in your district if I`m not mistaken, right? So the E.U. basically said in response to this we`re going to go after bourbon from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell and we`re going to go after Harley Davidson from Paul Ryan`s district. Like if that were to happen, what would -- what would that mean for you and what would that mean for the people in your district in terms of how they understand what`s happening?
BRYCE: Well, just the fact that -- I mean, we can`t imagine Harley Davidson being gone. You know, a few years ago we built a museum, but that`s just another aspect of American workforce that`s being neglected and being, you know, like a poker chip in this big grand scheme that they are playing and it shouldn`t be like that. We`ve had too much time where the American worker has been neglected.
HAYES: Do you worry about where the economic policy of this administration goes now? Because for so long it really was just doing a class unorthodoxy, now he does this. And then it`s like it`s really anyone`s guess, or maybe not, I don`t know.
MCGHEE: Well, I mean, I think it`s a good question, right? I mean, there`s always been this faux populism and yet he committed to a couple of big things. He said I`m going to do a big infrastructure policy which again, it was actually an infrastructure plan instead of an excuse to sell off America`s assets to the highest bidder which is what he unveiled a month or so ago. Then you know, you would actually see potentially a major political realignment to where you could say that a Republican president did more for the working middle class and to invest in our economy and our infrastructure than you know, a Democrat was allowed to with a Republican Congress for six years. But I actually think that this little gesture is a weak gesture, something that would be much more powerful would be something that he doesn`t want to do, which is let the dollar fall back into alignment, because that`s not a strong dollar. He doesn`t like things that aren`t strong, literally. And so you are not going to get sort of a rational effective economic policy out of this president.
HAYES: Right. And it may all -- as you said, that`s a great point about like if you are planning -- if you`re a CEO planning on this, like, who knows if it goes away in two weeks once the last person in the room, Mike Pence, talks him out of it, which makes -- I mean, again, it relates back to the North Korea meeting, too, like who knows in two weeks about any of this.
Heather McGhee and Randy Brice, thank you both for being here.
BRICE: Thank you.
MCGHEE: Thank you.
HAYES: Coming up, a former Russian spy is poisoned with a nerve agent, an attack that left another 20 people hospitalized. That unbelievable story next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HAYES: Here is a quote, "he was actually a British spy working for MI6," that was the shocking tweet from the Russian embassy in London after a Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned in broad daylight. Sergei Skripal, who has been living quietly in Salisbury 90 miles west of London since a spy swap in 2010, and last weekend he and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by a nerve agent and found unconscious on a public bench frozen in place. 19 other people needed medical treatment, including one of the first responders, a police officer who remains hospitalized in stable condition from his exposure.
The Skripals are still in critical condition. The Russian government denies any involvement, although they are widely suspected to be behind the attack, as BuzzFeed detailed last year. There have been at least 14 deaths on British soil all potentially connected to the Russian state.
Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, which has been intensely reporting on all of this, and Nina Khrushcheva is professor of international affairs at New School, the granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev.
Let me ask you first. What do you make of this story?
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, NEW SCHOOL: The prince of the Russian government is all over it. My concern, a slight doubt, is that it is very strange timing because the Russian elections, the presidential elections are coming in 10 days. And so I`m wondering who would need that story before the elections, because you kind of want to go quietly into the sunset and get elected as Vladimir Putin would want.
On the other hand, there are opportunities for showing what Russia can do if somebody or someone goes against the state even if the man already has been in England for a long, long time.
HAYES: This is -- I mean, we should be clear here this was someone who was apprehended from Russian authorities because he was in Russia spying for the Brits. He was part of this spy swap and went to Britain.
And there is this crazy kind of wink, wink, nudge, nudge of the Russian embassy tweeting that out today. Like, you know --
BEN SMITH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BUZZFEED: They`re gloating.
HAYES: Right. I mean, it seems to me that like both the method by which this individual was attacked and that tweet this was not intended to be quiet.
SMITH: No. It`s certainly interesting, the series of deaths that we reported on, a suspicious deaths, and you have a guy whose body is found in a bath tub zipped in a bag and the police think, maybe -- the policemen say, oh, maybe he zipped himself in there and couldn`t find the lock and then you have a perfectly healthy guy who has betrayed the Russian state just kind of drop dead and there`s no -- there`s no serious inquiry. And the British government had been, you know, as we reported essentially covering up these murders for reasons that aren`t totally clear. They said that they didn`t feel they could have that kind of fight with Russia. And it`s almost like they became increasingly brazen. They`re saying like they`re -- they`re sort of taking of credit.
HAYES: Right. Well, it`s the brazenness. And the thing that was so striking about the great investigative reporting you did about these 14 individuals, was that it really did seem like the British state was trying to keep this quiet. And partly I understand because what this action, if it was the Russians, feels like an unbelievably provocative action from a state to state --
KHRUSHCHEVA: And I do think that`s what -- that also makes it possibly not the Russian state, but somebody who wants to set up theRussian state, or so it is the Russian argument, or it is really very much in a sense of Putin doing, look, I got away with all of these other things and you reported on 14 people but I actually started looking at all of the spies or double spies, so there have been eight people that are either in prison in Russia or has been exchanged for somebody, four of them died. So, you have four people out of eight spies died. And it cannot be not connected to the Russian state, because it is just way too many people dead.
SMITH: Yeah, and I think you know if you look more broadly at the larger Russian story, the influence on the U.S. election, and I don`t think Putin feels that that has been a PR disaster for them. And I think he looks incredibly strong. Our obsession with him is the best thing that ever happened.
HAYES: That`s like a -- that`s one of my questions, do you think Putin cares about getting caught? Like, if he did it -- I mean, he did do it. But --
SMITH: Let`s not to --
HAYES: Like, does he care -- I guess the question is, how public -- like there is this sort of wink, wink, nudge, nudge way that the Russians have gone about all of this, which is that they haven`t really totally covered fingerprints, but they also obviously haven`t claimed public credit. Like does he want people to know?
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, Ii think what I see regardless whether he did it or not let`s just even say regardless of whether they have elections or not, I think what really works for him, and he is a KGB man, is that he has this amazing reputation of that amazing (inaudible). And his hand, his fingertips are everywhere. And that really gives him strength as somebody who is not just going to the future, the current Russian president, the future Russian president, but also the man who can organize world affairs to the small thing like leaving these two people on a bench or helping American elections and allegedly bringing the president that really serves the Russians.
HAYES: Does that play well domestically?
KHRUSHCHEVA: It plays brilliantly domestically, because if you go across Russia and you ask people and they say, well, I may not be so particularly happy about the sanctions that were done against Russia, however, the economic sanctions, however, if something happens Putin is behind me. Putin is going to protect me. We are a great country. And for Russians being a great country often matters more than their individual lives. And that he plays incredibly well to.
SMITH: It was after the humiliation of the 1990s and the sort of sneering triumphalism of our country. I mean, I think, you know, there`s a lot of satisfaction --
HAYES: Yeah, and it is -- I mean, I`ve talked to folks -- people who are Russian here living in the U.S., Russian expats, about this sort of hall of mirrors like you about the hall of mirrors of watching America obsess over Russia, where it feels like, well, finally this is going in both directions because Russians have been thinking a lot about America for a long time and following American politics very closely and now, you know, someone was saying to me, you know I turn on the news you`re talking about Oleg Deripaska and I think to myself, wow, you`re talking about Oleg Deripaska. Like, look at that, something is --
KHRUSHCHEVA: Why would you know even know that --
SMITH: It is this incredible looking class quality, though, right. I mean, we are seeing this kind of distorted version. You know, there was a report that Putin had watched House of Cards and basically taken it for documentary. I mean, it goes both ways.
HAYES: Yeah, Ben Smith and Nina Khrushcheva, thank you both for being here.
Ahead, why Democrats aren`t going near the Stormy Daniels scandal. And the power of the pen in tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HAYES: Thing One tonight, the Stormy Daniels lawsuit against the president of the United States centers around her claim that Donald Trump never signed the nondisclosure agreement presented to the adult film star in 2016, so she is asking the court to declare it invalid.
Now, the lawsuit alleges that Daniels signed the document and that Trump`s lawyer Michael Cohen signed the document, but Trump never did.
And it is an allegation that almost seems frankly implausible. I mean, who in the world would ever have a document prepared for them and all teed up and ready to sign and then just forget to sign it? We know such a person. And that is Thing Two in 60 seconds.
HAYES: Adult film star Stormy Daniels filed a lawsuit against the president of the United States this week alleging that the nondisclosure agreement their lawyers agreed upon was null and void for the simple fact that Trump never signed it. And if true, it would not be the first time the president failed to sign something he was supposed to.
Just today at the signing ceremony, that`s what they call it, the signing ceremony for Trump`s order on tariffs, Treasury Secretary Ssteve Mnuchin had to remind the president he had to actually sign the order on tariffs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Would you like to take a picture in the Oval Office? I assume you have all been many times into the Oval Office. Come on, let`s go and do that. Let`s go and do that.
STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Are you signing it?
TRUMP: Yes. I`m going to do.
We`ll go into the Oval Office. We`re going to sign this up. We`ll go into the Oval Office, we`ll have a picture, OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: And that`s not an anomaly. It`s just the most recent time that Trump forgot to sign the document that everyone showed up to watch him sign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, was that your intention, Mr. President? Was that your intention, sir?
He sort of didn`t sign.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He did not sign it.
TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most important thing.
TRUMP: I`m only signing it, because it costs nothing.
TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, how do you respond to white nationalists whose stated (inaudible) because they support you?
TRUMP: They would like me to sign the bill here instead of outside so I think we`ll do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HAYES: Democrats are staying far away from the Stormy Daniels story. Huffington Post reporting congressional Democrats are sidestepping the issue entirely. But the reason Stormy Daniels` story matters, aside from the salacious allegations, is that it gives us a rare window into the cover up machine for the president, and it`s unclear just how much it might have been covered up with this payment when Stormy Daniels new lawsuit offering more clues. Perhaps more importantly, are there other hush agreements and more people who, like Stormy Daniels, may have dirt and therefore leverage on this president.
Shannon Pettypiece, White House reporter for Bloomberg; MSNBC legal analyst Paul Butler is professor at Georgetown Law; and Tara Dowdell, Democratic strategist.
So, there is the politics of this and there`s the law. So, I want to start on the law. One thought I had was someone raised this today, how many people have blackmail information on the president of the United States?
PAUL BUTLER, GEORGETOWN LAW: That`s a whole lot of potential payments. So, what we know the president of the United States is willing to have witnesses paid off to prevent them from telling the truth. He`s willing to engage in intimidation tactics for witnesses to prevent them from coming forward. And the president is willing to use his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to do some really fishy things.
So, the (inaudible) story, that sounds like it was a long time ago. But remember one of the names on the Enberg (ph) subpoena from Mueller was Michael Cohen.
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: And I think it`s important to know a little bit about Michael Cohen and who he is. He sort of fancies himself a Godfather character. He`s nicknamed the Pit Bull. He is a slick dresser. He`s made, you know -- there is an ABC interview in 2012 where he says if you don`t do what I like, I`m going to strangle you and not let go until I`m done.
He is not your Jones Day partner material. He is -- he got his start in malpractice law.
HAYES: I`m going to say, Jones Day people can get into some shady stuff as well, as we saw with the (inaudible) arts -- Scadam (ph) folks White Shoe Law Firm have one of their attorneys having pleaded guilty in this entire thing, but I take your point.
PETTYPIECE: Yeah, so I mean, there could be more to come.
TARA DOWDELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He`s Trump`s consigliere.
HAYES: Right. But it`s not just that he is there, it`s that -- to me it`s like, we have already watched a story unravel that was told, right. The story came out and it was like, no, we didn`t do this. And then it was like, well, we did. And then, oh, but the affair didn`t happen. And, you kknow, this is line that I keep thinking about, it`s a Steve Bannon on the record quote from "Fire and Fury" which I sort of take with a huge grain of salt for obvious reasons.
But, Steve Bannon says like how many women did Kasowitz (ph), which is another Trump lawyer. Like how many women did you take care of? It must have been 100. Right? So, like, what else is out there?
PETTYPIECE: Well, go ahead.
DOWDELL: Well, there has got to be tons of stuff out there. Trump has been sleazy for four decades.
HAYES: He was the mainstay of the gossip pages of the New York City tabloids as I grew up in this city.
DOWDELL: And he prided himself on getting on it. He talked about -- and you`ve talked about this before, how, you know, getting an STD was his personal Vietnam. And so --
HAYES: Avoiding it.
DOWDELL: Avoiding it.
Well, according to him avoiding it.
HAYES: But, no, in all seriousness, I mean, he has had a long track record. And the notion that there aren`t more people out there. I mean, even when I was on the apprentice, some -- just some of the things that he said to other women on this show that they refused to go public with, just is like a small window into his behavior.
BUTLER: So, but you want to say this is an issue between the president and the first lady mainly except for the ways that it shows something about his character and his willingness to do anything to prevent people from saying bad stuff about them.
HAYES: Or locking up secrets behind the walls of the --
PETTYPIECE: I know. And then you get into the politics of it, though, because is this a surprise to anyone?
PETTYPIECE: I mean, you were saying Donald Trump, we knew who he was from the 1980s and the New York tabloids. So, is this a surprise? People are going to -- you know, his supporters will say, yeah, we know what we were getting. We know he was a Hollywood guy. He was working the New York night club scene. This is -- and we voted for him anyway.
HAYES: OK, but here are the two things --
DOWDELL: And that`s why Democrats are not glomming on.
HAYES: Give me your theory on that.
DOWDELL: Well, because number one, Trump got elected after the Access Hollywood tape. So, the problem is there are a number of people in this country that are just going to overlook almost anything, especially the sexual impropriety portion of it. And the other problem is, Trump has two to three scandals a day. So, you have to -- if you`re going to make an impact from a political standpoint, you can`t chase every single Trump scandal down the rabbit hole.
HAYES: OK, so, but here`s the thing that I don`t -- that I still don`t get about this, which is I understand why Democrats are like, look there`s bigger fish to fry, or there`s more effective attacks on Donald Trump for us. But the White House is really squirrely about it.
And not just the White House, Michael Cohen was. Like $130,000 isn`t nothing. The guy hasn`t paid the contractors that paint his casinos.
BUTLER: But no credibility. Who could believe anything Sarah Sanders says anymore? And the way that she says, oh, he`s not a party to the agreement, but today she says, oh, he won the arbitration.
PETTYPIECE: Well, and this is two things. One, it`s a tabloid scandal about an affair and two, it`s a legal issue. And, so, if there were contributions made, was there a campaign finance violation? Where did those funds come from? And we have Robert Mueller in the background, he may have access to some of these emails from Michael Cohen depending on whether he can argue privilege if he`s not acting on the behest of his client, then that is not attorney-client privilege.
BUTLER: It`s also a violation of legal ethics. You cannot settle a case for a client and not tell a client about it.
HAYES: You cannot do that as a lawyer.
BUTLER: And you also really shouldn`t lie. Does anyone really think a lawyer spends 130k of his own money to help a client out? We don`t do that.
HAYES: Can I ask you about this paternity part of the -- this is part of the hush agreement. Daniels asked to keep this under wraps, intangible private information, like things that she knows, including without limitation TD`s business information, familial information or any of his alleged sexual partners, alleged sexual actions, or alleged sexual conducted related matters or paternity information.
Standard language, non-standard language?
BUTLER: I`ve never heard of that.
BUTLER: But, you know, you can contract away a lot of rights that you have. Sometimes with the judge thinks that the contractual agreements are too onerous or too -- someone is making too much of a power play, the judge can roll back their contrct.
So, part of this is just California contract law, you know, do you have to sign it. So, part of that will be resolved by a state judge.
But, you know, legally, Trump really doesn`t have much to gain, even if he wins the story is already out.
HAYES: That`s why I think the White -- this is my theory on why the White House is squirrely, the president of the United States is married. And we can all say well, it`s priced in, whatever. But he has a spouse, Melania Trump, the first lady of the United States. I don`t think she`s psyched about this story being (inaudible) every day. And so like they -- there are actual tangible costs. There may actually be contractual costs.
DOWDELL: He has a young son.
PETTYPIECE: There is also a child, too. That`s what I was going to say, too.
And again, swap out any other president`s name and, you know, you can do the game all day long but Barack Obama paid a porn star and cheated on Michelle Obama. I mean, the --
HAYES: But it`s not even a plausible, it`s not even a plausible -- like Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote this great essay about this, right, like it`s not even a plausible counter factual because the kind of individual that would do that would never have been elected as the first black president to begin with in the figure of Barack Obama. Like, who are we kidding?
DOWDELL: But I also think the White House is really squeamish about this, because it has the ability to go on for a very long time. Because look at Stormy Daniels. She has -- basically her career choice means she has nothing to lose and everything to gain and look at the publicity she`s getting and everybody knows when you get this level of publicity, you get appearance fees at nightclubs in Las Vegas. And those fees can be massive.
BUTLER: Although, technically, she has got $1 million to lose. If she`s in breach of contract.
DOWDELL: She can make that up.
HAYES: But here`s the thing, if she`s in breach of contract -- and I think what`s so fascinating about this power play is that they brought it out from the secrecy of arbitration and made it public for a reason, which is basically this -- I think a very crafty legal move, right? Which is that like ultimately does the law matter here? No. What matters is the relative costs and benefits of the two parties fighting over this. And it`s a dare to say president of the United States, please come sue me for breach of contract.
DOWDELL: -- and bad lawyers.
HAYES: That`s the other thing, Michael Cohen.
DOWDELL: Her lawyers seem a lot better than --
PETTYPIECE: Who is giving him advice on this?
BUTLER: Who would want to represent the president? I mean, you know, he`s -- I would represent anybody as long as they listen to me. The president does not listen.
HAYES: Well, that`s why sometimes maybe you have to make a settlement without consulting.
Shannon Pettypiece, Paul Butler and Tara Dowdell, thank you all.
Before we go, programming note, tonight I will be a guest on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We taped the show earlier this evening. We talked about the Mueller investigation and collusion. I told Stephen about one of the things I find most enduring about President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: You know, the thing that Tillerson has figured out, which is one of the great ironies of Donald Trump, a man who became famous on a show in which he said you`re fired as his catch phrase, is he doesn`t like to fire people. He`s a wimp about firing people. Of all the things for Donald Trump to turn out to be terrible about, he can`t fire people.
STEPHEN COLBERT, LATE SHOW: No, it`s one of the few things that I find positive about Donald Trump.
HAYES: I find it relatable. He`s like too much of a wimp to say like you`re fired.
COLBERT: Well, not even a wimp, if you like firing people you`re an (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: You can get to the whole interview tonight 11:35 eastern on CBS. It was awesome. I also got to meet Mindy Kaling -- that was cool. Check it out.
That is ALL IN for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END