Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: March 22, 2018 Guest: Michael Schmidt, Carol Leonnig, Rachel Dretzin, Phil Bertelsen, Steven Clemons, Chris Murphy, Richard Painter, Sam Seder, Neal Kumar Katyal
CHRIS MATTHEWS, ANCHOR, HARDBALL: That`s "Hardball" for now. Thanks for being with us. "All In With Chris Hayes" starts right now.
CHRIS HAYES, HOST, ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. Major breaking news tonight that has a lot of people very, very worried.
President Trump naming John Bolton, the former UN Ambassador known for his extreme and inflexible foreign policy views to the most senior national security post inside the White House.
Trump tweeting a short time ago, "I`m pleased to announce effective April 9th, 2018, Ambassador John Bolton will be my National Security Adviser. I`m very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job and will always remain my friend. tthere will be an official contact handover on 4/9."
McMaster was seen within the foreign policy establishment at least, as someone who could potentially constrain some of the President`s worst impulses. He had argued, for instance, against tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran without a plan for what follows. John Bolton is the opposite of a constraining figure.
The longtime Fox News fixture has called for the US to declare a war on both North Korea and Iran. Even within conservative circles, he`s viewed as one of the most radical, hawkish foreign policy figures in the country.
Joining me now, MSNBC contributor Steve Clemons. Washington editor at large of "The Atlantic" and "National Journal" and Steve, I wanted to talk to you immediately as this news happened because I think I met you first back in 2005 when you.
STEVEN CLEMONS, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE ATLANTIC: Bolton watch.
HAYES: You were the person. You were the leader of the John Bolton resistance. There was a broad ideological coalition to stop his nomination to be the UN ambassador. It was successful. They ultimately had to recess appoint him. You led that effort. Why did you do it then and what is your reaction today?
CLEMONS: I did it then because George Bush had beaten John Kerry in an election, and George Bush had gone to Brussels and given a speech that said we need you to get out of this unilateral this moment. We needed you to begin thinking about restoring our partnerships and our trust with other nations, and I gave President Bush a lot of credit for that speech.
And I got a lot of heat for that. And moments later, after that, he nominated John Bolton to serve as our Ambassador to the United Nations and I couldn`t believe it, and I felt so betrayed by the moment. and I felt -- I had known John Bolton, had been focused on his positions on North Korea for many years, I had watched him as he was Assistant Secretary for International Security and Arms Control and just was very familiar with him.
I probably knew as much if not more about John Bolton than anyone in Washington and I just thought it really was a fragile moment. And the other thing is that just like today, Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House and I felt as if there was an opportunity to split Republicans on what a principled American internationalism meant and John Bolton was the antithesis of that.
HAYES: And you were successful because Bolton`s views are so extreme. Is it fair to call them extreme?
CLEMONS: That`s right. There were people like George Voinovich, Lincoln Chafee behind the scenes, people like Chuck Hagel, Lisa Murkowski. While they didn`t take overt steps, particularly Hagel and Murkowski, they had real problems with Bolton and how he was known to sort of take raw intelligence, not intelligence that had been processed through the system, and try and use it to justify the ends.
He was cooperating with Dick Cheney`s office in leading probably the more renegade parts of the administration and that was when he was serving under Colin Powell. So, there were a lot of splits and divisions within the administration, a lot of split and divisions within the Republican Party and he was beaten not by Democrats, he was beaten by Republicans.
Republicans who did not want to see that person define what American internationalism was. He did get a recess appointment. That`s how democracy works, but he did not go to the UN with power and a mandate and that was very important, but unfortunately in this role, this is not a Senate-confirmed role that he`s gone for, so he will be able to take this position.
HAYES: Well, what does that mean?
CLEMONS: Well, that means that the President -- my concerns about Ambassador Bolton, and I try and treat him respectfully. He has served the country, but we have different views, but John Bolton is known to try and fire people who disagree with him, not to act as the convener of alternative and contending views.
The National Security Adviser of the United States, that role is to process different agencies, different views, and structure decision making processes to give the President the best information and options possible. If your National Security Adviser comes loaded and biased with a perspective, and squelches out those that disagree with that perspective, then you begin sissy railroading toward, I think very potentially, very dangerous potential actions. You see band-wagoning in the White House towards dangerous decisions.
And we already know John Bolton`s views which may not reflect the President`s, but they`re -- let`s take a preemptive strike at North Korea. Let`s take a preemptive strike at Iran.
I remember when he was engaged in, you know, the call for a preemptive strike against Cuba for their meningitis B labs down there, you know, concern that they were about to engage in a big biowarfare attack.
HAYES: But he wanted us to strike Cuba before they could release.
CLEMONS: I was worried about Cuba building bioweapons in what turned out to be a meningitis B vaccine laboratory, which I had visited in fact, and it was a ridiculous moment.
HAYES: So, this is a moment of particular peril that strikes me. The Iran deal is coming up for renewal. We know Bolton hates it, despises it, is committed to destroying it and apparently negotiations with North Korea, which Bolton says he`s happy to have negotiations because then they can fail and then we can go to war. How dangerous is this?
CLEMONS: I think it`s very dangerous. I think the world was fragile before this happened. I think it`s much more fragile today and I think that when you look at what the President`s concerns are, have been with Rex Tillerson, with H.R. McMaster and others, a lot has had to do with their views on the Iran deal.
So, if there`s any foreshock, genuine foreshock that the United States is withdrawing from the JCPOA or the Iran deal, this is it, and I suspect now in May, we`re going to see a very different split and that`s going to have enormous ramifications for our transatlantic relationship with our European partners and I think it`s going to have a lot to do with the kind of diplomacy, if you want to call it that, that we`re going to see from this White House because it`s going to be much more hard edged.
I should also add another dimension here which has not hit the press. A couple of John Bolton`s close associates are people like Pam Gellar, people like Frank Gaffney, who have been leading some of the Islamic phobia charges against certain people in the government and did that very actively during Obama -- but even in this administration.
So, there`s going to be a very vile pugnaciousness that if it wasn`t already there enough, it`s going to be much more in the coming tenure of John Bolton.
HAYES: All right, Steve Clemons, thanks for your time tonight.
CLEMONS: Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and he joins me now. Your reaction to this news?
CHRIS MURPHY, US SENATOR, CONNECTICUT, DEMOCRAT: Yes, I can`t imagine a more reckless, more dangerous pick. I can`t say it any better than Steve Clemons, the idea that a person whose first in and first out of the Oval Office on national security measures and matters openly roots for preemptive war against North Korea and Iran with no Congressional vote is you know, just incredibly troubling.
And to think about a President who is desperate to try to turn the news away from the myriad of scandals under which he is buried is going to have someone who is going to eagerly recommend to him that you go around Congress and start what could be catastrophic war with North Korea and Iran.
You know, it`s something that we should all be super concerned about right now.
HAYES: I just want to -- in case, people think you`re being hyperbolic in the views you`re ascribing to John Bolton, I just want to be clear here. This is the op-ed in the "Wall Street Journal," February 28th, "The legal case for striking North Korea First. That by-line there, John Bolton. This is him in the "New York Times" on Iran in 2015, "To stop Iran`s bomb, bomb Iran."
So, I mean, those are quite frankly his views. I want to play you what he has said about Iran in particular, because this is something that you have spent a lot of time thinking about and talking about, the Iran deal, and preserving it and protecting it from its many enemies.
Here`s what John Bolton had to say about Iran and regime change.
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: The President should get out of the nuclear deal with Iran, should resume all of our previous sanctions, putting increased economic pressure on the regime. We should provide material financial support to the opposition if they desire it. We should work with intelligence services from other countries -- Saudi, Israel -- to provide more pressure. There`s a lot we can do, and we should do it. Our goal should be regime change in Iran.
HAYES: What do you think of that?
MURPHY: So, let`s be very clear about what he`s talking about. He is talking about the United States being involved militarily in the overthrow of the Iranian government.
If you want chaos in the Middle East that makes like what happened in Iraq and Syria seem as if child`s play, then get the United States involved in an effort to militarily overthrow the Iranian regime.
What he is talking about is nonsense. The idea that the United States could reapply economic pressure when none of our European partners are going to go with us is pure fiction. At a time when the United States and Europe are separating because of Trump`s rhetoric, pulling out of the Iran agreement would make that even more catastrophic.
And the idea he would be recommending to the President that the United States either engage in preemptive military strikes against Iran or try to foment revolution from within would be catastrophic for US national security.
HAYES: There`s additional context here, and I wanted to get your thoughts on this. There is a struggle in the region between basically Saudi Arabia and UAE and this sort of access that they have, and allied really frankly with Israel, that view Iran as a sort of regional threat, and they have been fighting proxy wars in Yemen. They have been fighting proxy wars in the American press.
I mean, it is everywhere you can look, this sort of battle and the forces that are the most anti-Iran are very aligned with Jared Kushner. We have got reporting about attempts to essentially co-opt him to possibly use investment opportunities. Do you have concerns essentially that they`re watching a sort of successful operation by a foreign government to push the US in one direction?
MURPHY: Well, listen, it`s hard to imagine this administration being any more in the pocket of Saudi Arabia. They have given them an absolute blank check in the region and proposed a massive record-breaking military sale to the Saudis.
But when you look at the combination of Mike Pompeo, who has been historically very hawkish on Iran and very supportive of the Saudis and John Bolton, you know, you can see a United States getting even more deeply involved in this disastrous war in Yemen.
We just got 44 votes in the Senate the other day to pull the United States fully out of a war that has killed 10,000 Yemeni civilians, and the people that are now being installed in the national security cabinet may be proposing to get the United States even more deeply involved in that conflict.
HAYES: I want to ask you about another piece of news, and I don`t know if you have seen this, but it strikes me as important. It`s a piece in the "Daily Beast" that basically says that Guccifer 2.0, which was this sort of online persona that was sort of shopping leaks around for a while, and I think assumed to be a third party or cut-out who was in touch with military intelligence was actually just a GRU officer.
That`s just a straight up GRU officer was Guccifer 2.0, who was interacting with Roger Stone and others in direct contact with the Trump campaign.
MURPHY: I haven`t seen that report and I`m sure that that will be part and parcel of Mueller`s review. But listen, we have known for a very long time that the potential -- the attempted manipulation of both elections in the United States and Europe has come with direction from the top levels of Russian leadership. It shouldn`t be news that this is directed from the highest levels of the Kremlin.
That`s why ultimately 13 people got wrapped up in Mueller`s investigation already with Russian connections and let`s remember that John Bolton in 2016, coming back to him, was one of the individuals out there casting doubt on whether the Russians were actually trying to affect our election. He has been a cheerleader for this idea that there is some question as to whether or not Russia was involved and he will be feeding those instincts of the President when he walks into the Oval Office.
HAYES: That is an excellent point. Final question on North Korea, obviously, this happens, you`ve got the Iran deal as background, you have got North Korea, which John Bolton has been writing and advocating a first strike on, which estimates are -- there could be 100,000 casualties in the first 30 minutes if something like that happened, and then a summit with Kim Jong-un in a month. What does this mean for that?
MURPHY: Well, maybe a summit. I mean, we`re not sure if that`s happening, and you know, our worst-case fear was always that Trump was going to go into this summit with the North Korean leader unprepared. He was going to walk out with nothing, and then he was going to wipe his hands of diplomacy and move towards a military strike.
And so now that he has someone who has been openly cheerleading for that strike, it raises the possibility that that is exactly how this is going to go and let`s just be clear about how extreme John Bolton`s views are here. What he says in that piece is that the President has the power to launch a military strike against North Korea because the mere possession of serious strong weaponry by the North Koreans presents an imminent threat against the United States, not necessitating Congressional approval.
If that`s the case, then any country that has weapons that could potentially hit the United States in the future can be attacked by the President without a Congressional vote. That is a Pandora`s box that has no end to it.
HAYES: We should note that that piece that the Senator is citing is February 28th of this year. That`s not an old view of John Bolton, that was published, I guess, less than a month ago, three weeks ago. Senator Chris Murphy, it`s always a great pleasure. Thanks for joining me.
MURPHY: Thanks, Chris.
HAYES: And joining me now, Richard Painter, who served as chief White House Ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush when Bolton was US Ambassador to the United Nations and Sam Seder, MSNBC contributor host of "Majority Report" and longtime John Bolton watcher and critic.
Richard, let me start with you because I saw you tweet something about Bolton when his name was being surfaced as something about the most dangerous person that was in the bush administration with you. Why did you say that?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, I didn`t work with him, but I talked to people who worked with him, and he`s not only a hawk, he is extremely reckless. He wants to go to war first, diplomacy second.
I didn`t understand why we sent him over to the UN because I thought you were supposed to try diplomacy at the UN and he didn`t do very well over there. That was a disaster.
But having him as the national security adviser could really be a terrible situation, put us into a nuclear war. He could go after North Korea, and that would result in millions of people being killed and I wouldn`t put it beyond him to try and drag China or Russia into it and then in the Middle East, he`s trying to go after Iran and get us more deeply involved in the Middle East.
Now, it`s been over 16 years since 9/11. We have been over in the Middle East. We have fought the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war. I think the vast majority of the American people want our soldiers to come home from the Middle East. We have done what we can over there and John Bolton is going to go the exact opposite direction and get us into even more trouble in the Middle East.
And he`s just the wrong person; and on top of that, I have to say that despite all the criticism people can make of President Bush, he was a man with a level head. He would at least listen to different perspectives before making decisions and Donald Trump just flies by the seat of his pants and he tweets out this and says that and the other thing.
We don`t know what Donald Trump is going to do. He`s a hothead and then you put a hothead into the national security job and it is a recipe for a war. And that`s a very bad situation. On top of, of course, this trade war that President Trump has accelerated, sending the stock market down in the toilet.
SAM SEDER, CONTRIBUTOR, MSNBC: Well, with all due respect to President George W. Bush, we have John Bolton today because George W. Bush appointed him during a recess appointment because a Republican Senate found this guy to be too extreme, even to be an ambassador to the united nations, where you do not have some type of authority over the broad national security apparatus.
HAYES: The entire national security process in the White House.
SEDER: And we`re doing this also at a time, let`s remember, our State Department has been gutted.
SEDER: Pompeo may have been chosen as the nominee, but he is not necessarily the one who`s going to be confirmed or has been confirmed, but even if he is, there is -- we have, I think, like of the nine top positions in the State Department, maybe two or three of those are filled at this point.
So, there`s no pushback of any of this and so, this is, I think, very broadly catastrophic. I mean, it has the opportunity.
SEDER: I really do think so and I am not convinced that these things that are happening with Trump in terms of the Russia investigation and what could possibly happen on a national security front are necessarily in separate silos.
HAYES: It`s a very good point.
SEDER: You know, it is a long-standing practice of administrations using national security crises, creating crises to avoid some domestic problems and so, I i think this is extremely dangerous.
I would also add to the long line of things that John Bolton has called for, he also has a domino type theory for Central Latin America that he built during the Reagan administration.
I would also add this is a guy who is a member of the Project for New American Century, which was the bedrock of the neo conservative movement, which according to candidate Donald Trump was very problematic in regards to Iraq.
But you know, it`s clear he`s untethered and there`s no one there to push back against this stuff.
HAYES: Richard, this position is a very -- I mean, you worked in the White House, obviously, in the White House Counsel`s Office, it`s not the NSC, but the position is a very powerful one. I mean, it is a person that is essentially coordinating, if I am not mistaken, right, the process by which the President makes national security decisions.
PAINTER: Yes, it is. It`s a very important position and when it comes to making a decision about whether to go to war, whether to attack North Korea, whether to attack Iran or launch some other military operation, the national security adviser is going to be a very important part of that decision making process, and if you have someone like General McMaster in there, you have someone who understands our military capability and the limitations on our military capability.
And also, can explain to the President the likely casualties that will ensue on the battlefield and for civilians. You have someone who is a hothead like Bolton who just, you know, everything for him is theoretical, and he has all these theoretical constructs that have nothing to do with reality. He`s going to encourage the President to go to war.
Yes, President Trump is looking for a distraction and there`s only so much sex stuff on TV we`re going to listen to and now he`s going to want to start a war in order to distract us from Bob Mueller.
And that`s what`s going on, I agree with that conclusion. Those are not two unrelated issues.
SEDER: I would add that this is a guy who in his first national security briefing, was asking why can`t we just keep -- why can`t we just use nukes? I mean, so his baseline is to be, I think, sort of susceptible to something that Bolton is saying.
And frankly, to the extent that he`s getting other advice at this point, I`m not convinced it`s mostly Sean Hannity. And I am not saying that facetiously.
HAYES: No, no.
SEDER: I think that`s -- I think the fate of the omnibus, how it was covered on "Fox and Friends," I think the fate of whether we go to war or not could be in the hands of whoever he`s watching and make no mistake, there`s not going to be any other McMasters who will join this administration. This is it, and every bit of house cleaning he did on the National Security Council, we`re going to get back those people plus worse, I think.
HAYES: That`s the other question, who does John Bolton bring into that very important NSC. Richard Painter and Sam Seder, thanks for spending time with us.
SEDER: Thank you.
HAYES: Ahead, more on tonight`s breaking news, Trump`s decision to put John Bolton in the White House, replacing H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser and the other major departure today. Trump`s top lawyer in the Russia probe resigns as a faceoff between Trump and Mueller looms, that`s after his two-minute break.
HAYES: The President`s legal team is unraveling. As the Mueller investigation bears down, the President faces numerous legal battles over sex scandals and conflicts of interest. He`s losing the one member of his personal legal team with a reputation as an experienced defense attorney.
John Dowd resigned today as the President`s lawyer in the Russia probe telling the "New York Times" "I love the President. I wish him the best of luck. I think he has a really good case."
With Dowd`s departure, the President of the United States is now being represented by two attorneys who are known primarily as right wing activists and media pundits.
Jay Sekulow runs a Christian legal nonprofit and host of a daily talk radio show, where he takes shots at federal investigators.
While Joe Digenova who was brought on this week spelled conspiracy theories about the so called deep state on Trump TV.
JOE DIGENOVA, LAWYER TO DONALD TRUMP: There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and if she didn`t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime. The FBI and senior DOJ officials conspired to violate the law and to deny Donald Trump his civil rights.
HAYES: First of all, there is no evidence of that. Second of all, if they wanted to do that, they could have just leaked that the President`s campaign was being investigated by the FBI, which they never did.
But that`s who now has to go toe to toe with Robert Mueller and his team of some of the top prosecutors in the country. John Dowd`s departure comes as the President takes an increasingly aggressive approach against Robert Mueller, especially following a report last week that Mueller subpoenaed the President`s business, demanding documents about Russia.
It also comes in the midst of negotiations over a face-to-face encounter between the President and Mueller`s team, which Dowd has reportedly tried to limit as much as possible. Today, the president claimed once again, he`s eager to face down the Special Counsel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you still like to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sir?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would. I would like to.
HAYES: Neal Katyal was the acting US solicitor general under President Obama and Neal, what`s the significance of this move to your mind?
NEAL KUMAR KATYAL, ACTING US SOLICITOR GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think it is very significant. It really just underscores, I think, the fundamental problem, which is the President`s legal team is ever shifting. I mean, OJ had effectively the dream team, and Donald Trump has effectively the nightmare team, the opposite.
And I don`t mean to besmirch the fine lawyers who joined his team recently, it`s just this is a major criminal investigation and his lawyers just keep on switching with every heartbeat.
HAYES: You know, there`s a funny part of the Dowd quote which said I think he has a really strong case. That struck me. It`s like, well, there`s no case yet, right? I mean, it was -- I don`t know if it was a tell or not, but it was interesting to even hear that from him that he has a really strong case, as if he`s someone who has already been indicted and about to face the jury.
KATYAL: Exactly, it did suggest that there`s actually, in his mind, more there. And look, I think that the problem with Trump, everyone who works around him comes to realize that Donald Trump does not -- you know, Donald Trump does not believe in the rule of law.
Donald Trump believes in the rule of Trump and that`s why you see these ever shifting changes all the time, and you know, look, I think the President should have good legal counsel. I think it`s the dream of any lawyer to represent the President of the United States. That`s the greatest calling you could have and yet, he`s had a lot of trouble finding anyone to represent him.
HAYES: That`s what`s so striking here. You have got Ted Olsen, who is a legal all-star. He`s probably, I don`t know, one of the top conservative litigators in the entire country. He declined to represent the President.
Another report says that four big firms, defense attorneys of large law firms are approached to join Trump`s legal defense team have turned him down. Why do you think that is?
KATYAL: You know, I think it`s because of one simple thing. I mean, I believe very much that everyone should have a right to a defense and you know, it`s a very strong belief of mine.
Look, I represented Bin Laden`s driver. But I would have trouble representing Donald Trump and the reason for that is very simple, which is, you know, the guy doesn`t believe in the rule of law.
And so, when you talk about the Ted Olsons of the world or others, I can`t speak for him specifically, but you know, that`s a very natural thing to worry about on behalf of your client. Is he someone who actually is going to tell the truth? Is he going to be straight up, or is he going to put you, the lawyer in jeopardy?
HAYES: What do you mean by that?
KATYAL: Well, I think just look at even what happened just recently with Dowd saying, "Oh, Mueller should be fired," and then having to backtrack on that. This was on Saturday. You know, you don`t know exactly what Trump has done, what the lawyer has done and the like. There have been other times when Dowd has taken the fall for stuff that looks like it was Trump`s. I mean, we don`t know, but things like you know, who wrote the account of the Russia meeting on the plane and the like.
It`s a tough thing to be a Donald Trump lawyer, which is why they keep on rotating around like bananas.
HAYES: Sometimes it`s hard to tell if -- it`s always hard to tell past the spin and the anonymous leaks about what`s what, but the picture of the reporting we have is that Dowd was concerned about the Mueller face-off, wanted to limit the scope but the President really wants to talk to him.
I don`t know if that`s true, but what is your sense of where those negotiations are at and what impact this has on them?
KATYAL: Look, we don`t know. We`re just reading some leaks in the newspaper and the like. I mean, Mueller obviously has the upper hand. If he wants to get the President to testify, you know, he can subpoena him, and the President almost certainly is going to have to.
So, the lawyers have been engaged in, at least according to the leaks, a variety of kind of ridiculous strategies like, "Oh, I`ll send you some documents, Mr. Mueller, if you promise to limit your inquiry." That`s, you know, that`s a joke. No responsible prosecutor is going to go along with that, and really, you know, the difference here is that the legal team by Mueller is really truly the dream team.
And Trump is running this kind of OJ-like strategy of attack the prosecutor, attack the prosecutor for being biased, but this is Mueller, who is, you know, a very decorated and legendary prosecutor appointed by a Republican president after Republican president.
HAYES: There`s then the question about obstruction and the terrain upon which this interview will happen. It really does seem to me that whatever the underlying possibilities or facts bear out about collusion or non- collusion, there`s a kind of prima fascia case for obstruction. Doesn`t mean he has committed it, but the reporting on the things they want to talk about in the interview would suggest that that is something that Mueller very much has front of mind and the President has a lot of exposure on. Does that track to you?
KATYAL: 100%. I mean, look, just even from the public reporting we know, this looks like a duck, it smells like the duck, it very well may be a duck. And Mueller has got the experience and the gravitas to bring that to light.
HAYES: Do you think there is an out here for the president?
KATYAL: Well, apart from resignation, I`m not really sure. I mean, I do think this looks very bad for the president. And this is an astounding thing. We`re talking about the President of the United States being, you know, possibly accused of conspiring, or members of his team, to manipulate, you know, the most sacred thing to us, which is our electoral system.
HAYES: All right, Neil Katyal, thank you for your time.
KATYAL: Thank you.
HAYES: After this break, with Trump`s legal team unraveling, his national security adviser leaving, I`ll speak with two extremely well sourced White House reporters about what is happening inside that West Hing. That`s next.
HAYES: Huge news on virtually every front today for this administration as Gerald Seib, Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal tweeted, "The Washington day in summary. Trump lawyer quits, new trade penalties announced, stock market drops 700 points, national security adviser departs."
With the latest shakeup in the White House today, I`m joined by two of the first reporters to break some of today`s major reports, The Washington Post`s Carol Leonnig and Michael Schmidt of The New York Times, both of whom are MSNBC contributors.
Michael, I`ll start with you. What is going on over there?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, in many ways, I don`t think it`s that surprising. The president had a lot of turmoil during his campaign, three campaign managers. He`s had a lot of turmoil at the White House -- two chiefs of staff, a bunch of turnover at the senior levels there. So when we saw the things happen, the legal team in the past few days, I didn`t find it that surprising.
This is a president who thrives on chaos. People underneath him tend to mimic his behavior. And that`s what we have seen play out.
So it didn`t strike me as that unusual to see such a dramatic thing where the president`s lead lawyer, the second lead lawyer he`s had in the special counsel`s investigation, is now moving on at such a critical juncture when they have to decide whether the president is going to sit down and speak to Mueller.
HAYES: You know, Carol, there are these two schools of thought on the president`s behavior. There`s sort of cunning and canny and full of guile sort of, you know, crazy like a fox. And then there`s impulsive and unable to control himself.
And I wonder about these moves. They are set against a backdrop of a remarkable array of legal troubles. I mean, you`ve got two, three lawsuits that you are currently staring down from various women, and Mueller, and whether essentially this is an attempt to change the conversation or this is a response to the pressure with the kind of chaos that he thrives on.
CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think one thing Mike said is so true: we are becoming kind of inured to chaos and drama. And the fact that two prominent people around the president and important in his life and in his protection legally are gone all in one day.
However, I would say that some of these cards really weren`t in the president`s hands to play. John Dowd essentially resigned, fed up this morning, according to the reporting that we`ve done. And now, the president is in an awkward situation because the chaos he seems to create makes him one of the most unattractive legal clients possible.
You know, as Neil Katyal said earlier, he represented bin Laden`s lawyer. There were a ton of blue chip law firms going to represent all sorts of Guantanamo detainees and terrorists suspects, but as we reported tonight in a story that just posted, there are multiple law firms basically saying we don`t want our people representing the president of the United States, because it`s just too controversial. And it`s -- and the lawyers are saying it`s a clients that may not listen to them.
HAYES: Yeah, and he`s had a hard time. He`s burned through lawyers in the past. He is notoriously been involved and embroiled in litigation on both sides in every direction. Like, Michael, do you think with the Bolton news, I think there`s a sort of desire to try to put these frameworks of sort of ideology or substance on personnel moves. And I wonder how sort of explanatory that is in this case.
SCHMIDT: I`m not sure how much the president`s ideology actually drives these decisions. I think the president is someone that is very interested in loyalty, personality, folks that he sees on TV. That`s what you see in Bolton, someone that`s been on Fox News many times during the president`s time in office. He`s never really gone after the president. He sort of supported him.
And you see that in the legal team. Joe diGenova, someone that has been on Fox News, who has pushed conspiracy theories about what the FBI manufacturing evidence to go after Donald Trump. So I see this more as about the president`s personality than his beliefs. I don`t think that the president looks add Joe diGenova`s view of executive power and the unitary executive and whether the president`s actions in terms of obstruction were within those lanes.
I think that he sees someone who will be out there on cable news pushing his views.
HAYES: I mean, let`s be clear here, the president watches a lot of TV. He gets a lot of his ideas and advice from TV. This is something I want to play, Carol, for you. This was all the way back in the summer of 2015. He just started running. And he was asked about who he seeks for military advice. This is what he said. Take a listen.
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CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Who do you talk to for military advice right now?
TRUMP: Well, I watch the shows. I mean, I really see a lot of great -- you know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows, and you have the generals, and you have certain people...
TODD: But is there somebody -- is there a go-to for you?
TRUMP: Probably there are two or three.
TODD: Every presidential candidate has a go-to.
TRUMP: Probably there are two or three. I mean, I like Bolton. I think he`s a tough cookie, knows what he`s talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That`s the foreshadowing in the first act of this play. The president likes John Bolton because he sees him on TV and thinks he`s a tough cookie. That seems like as good an explanation of this move as any.
LEONNIG: Yes and no. I mean, the president has also made choices based on his gut. He`s a person who really trusts his gut. I agree with Mike, too, about the lack of necessarily an idealogical drive here. It`s his instinct.
And I think at some point in the last several weeks, the president has become really frustrated by the fact that this probe is not really wrapping up by Thanksgiving or December or January, and it`s continuing. And his view is his counselors have told him it was going to all be hunky-dory if he cooperated. And it`s not in that situation.
So his gut is telling him, let`s change the horses. And he tried to add some people, and he irritated Dowd along the way. On McMaster, he wanted to change horses, too, primarily because -- and remember, this is a president who doesn`t like being boxed in and told what to do. Both McMaster and Dowd were in different ways telling the president you`re wrong. Listen to me. Here`s my advice to you. And the writing wads on the wall. But that wasn`t going to last. Those relationships were not going to work out.
HAYES: You know, we`ve got some NBC News reporting tonight that at some point the president floated the idea of firing his chief of staff and not replacing him, just he would be his own chief of staff. And Michael, your colleague Maggie Haberman has sort of been talking about this theory that the president has this feeling that he`s kind of mastered the job. That he -- all these people they were there were boxing him in telling him, no, you can`t do that. Oh, you`re president of the United States, you can`t do that. He thinks, no, no, no. I got it figured out. I`ve been doing this. Does that jibe with your reporting? And is that what you think?
SCHMIDT: It`s the idea that the president is emboldened here. He is one of the few people that is still there that was there during the campaign, that has been in office the entire time, so he feels that he`s waited out these folks who tried to sort of box him in, and he thinks that he knows what he`s doing. He has a feel for the job. He has a more confidence in his decisions. And he can go forward without having to listen to these people that have deep expertise.
You have to remember with the president, he believes he is his best spokesman, his best national security adviser, and his best lawyer. And as these investigations intensify, these foreign policy questions become more severe, my guess is the president will revert to those things and will go with his gut.
HAYES: If you have read any history of anyone here, any presidents here in the U.S. or any leaders across the world throughout human civilization, leaders that don`t like people that tell them no and that trust their gut and think they know best always work out very well in the end. Carol Leonnig and Michael Schmidt, great to have you both.
Still ahead, an NBC documentary event 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I`ll talk with the directors of the new film, Hope and Fury, coming up.
And tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two starts next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Thing One tonight, remember when Donald Trump just made up a nickname for someone on the spot during the State of the Union?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Here tonight is one leader in the effort to defend our country, homeland security investigation special agent Celestino Martinez. He goes by DJ and CJ. He said call me either one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The CJ or DJ issue was never really definitively resolved, but the special agent`s name in question is Celestino Martinez, and very clearly he goes by CJ. As the White House official announcement stated, agent CJ Martinez, not DJ. But he might have to go by DJ for the rest of his life because that`s what the president called him.
The good news for DJ, or CJ, is that he now has a friend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Marilyn Lockheed, the leading woman`s business executive in this country, according to many.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That is Thing Two in 60 seconds.
HAYES: OK, so the Trump organization`s a family business, named after its founder, Donald J. Trump and currently run by his sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.
But here`s the thing, not all companies are run by people whose last name is the same as the company name. Take for example Lockheed Martin, a major defense contractor worth over $90 billion, which builds every from intercontinental ballistic missiles to stealth fighter jets. Their CEO is neither a Lockheed nor a Martin, she`s an engineer, the company`s first female CEO, and the first woman to crack the top 10 highest paid CEOs in the S&P 500. Her name is Marilyn Huson, and she was at the White House for Donald Trump`s announcement of new tariffs on Chinese goods.
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TRUMP: I may ask Marilyn Lockheed, the leading woman`s business executive in this country, according to many. And we buy billions and billions of dollars worth of that beautiful F-35. It`s stealth. You cannot see it, is that correct?
MARILYN HUSON, CEO, LOCKHEED MARTIN: That`s correct.
TRUMP: Better be correct, right? Marilyn, please say a few words.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Marilyn Huson, again, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, played it off graciously, like DJ or CJ, whichever it is. She did not correct the president about her last name or job title, which is just what you have to do when this president decides that your name is something that it is not.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Marilyn Lockheed, the leading woman`s business executive in this country, according to many.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Sacramento police have released bodycam footage of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Stephen Clark, in the back yard of his grandmother`s home. Police say they are responding to a 911 call Sunday about a person vandalizing cars in the neighborhood. A sheriff`s helicopter identified a man walking through backyards. The eventual confrontation between two police officers and Stephen Clark in a darkened backyard took just seconds. A warning, this video is disturbing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Show me your hands! Show me your hands. Gun. Gun. Gun. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shots fired, suspect down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s still down. He`s not moving. We can`t see the gun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That`s because Clark was not holding a gun, he was holding a cell phone. Police fired about 20 shots. Clark`s grandmother told the Sacramental Bee it was normal for Clark and others to enter the home from the backyard, because the front doorbell doesn`t work.
Stephen Clark was 22 years old. He is survived by his fiancee and two children.
His family says it wants answers. The officers are on paid leave pending an investigation.
And as police shootings come under heightened security, in part because of video evidence, a new NBC News documentary about Martin Luther King, looks at the relationship between the media and the civil rights movement.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The body of Michael Brown laying on that ground for four and a half hours shocked America back into its consciousness once again. It woke so many people up that thought Emmett Till was a figment of the past and not a very relevant figure of the present.
Emmett Till is Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and Eric Garner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Phil Bertelsen and Rachel Dretzin produced and directed the documentary Hope and Fury: MLK the Movement and the Media to air on NBC on March 24th at 8:00 p.m. and here on MSNBC March 25th at 9:00 p.m.
It`s a fantastic piece of work. And one of the sort opening conceits of it is talking about Emmett Till and talking about Philando Castile who of course was shot to death in a car as his partner streamed it live.
What is the project of this documentary in weaving together these two moments in the history of American struggle for racial justice?
PHIL BERTELSEN, FILMMATKER: Thanks for having us, Chris. We really appreciate it.
I mean, we were tasked with telling the story of how the media impacted the civil rights movement 50 plus years ago. And it occurred to us that the media still plays a role in addressing issues of justice and racial injustice. And so it seemed to us to be a natural kind of connection to talk about present day and the past. And the task was challenging only in that it`s hard to weave together 50 years of history. But at the end of the day, you know, the correlations were greater than we had hoped.
HAYES: I want to play this clip of Martin Luther King. And one of the things in the amazing sort of Taylor Branch chronology, the history of the civil rights movement and all those three volumes, one of the things that comes through there is just the savvyness of King and the intentionally about the media, and that`s something that you guys do a really good job of illustrating in the documentary.
Here is a clip. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: You are god`s children. We ain`t going to let nobody turn us around.
ANDREW YOUNG, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: One of the reasons why Martin Luther King was so successful was he understood television. We deliberately had demonstrations before 12:00 in order to get the film to New York. They had to leave by 1:00.
KING: We cannot in all good conscience obey such an injection.
JOSEPH BOYCE: Dr. King and his staff were very, very savvy. They knew exactly what was going on.
KING: You want me to just make a statement and not interview -- you don`t want to interview?
You got it.
BOYCE: And they strategized how they could use their coverage to their advantage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Rachel, I love that fourth wall moment with Dr. King sort of talking about the mechanics of how you talk to the press. Like, oh, is this off the record? Is this an avail? Because it shows, you know, we get him through this sort of filmic sort of iconic look, but this was someone who very much knew what he was doing and how he was talking to the American public through this media.
RACHEL DRETZIN, FILMMAKER: Absolutely. Dr. King was really, he`s so one- dimensionalized by and sterilized, I think, by history. And I have to confess that I was astonished at how much I learned in the course of making the film about how sophisticated he was and how much he played the media. You know, that`s not a cynical thing, that`s just one more example of his genius.
But there are these moments that we captured in our material that were just fantastic where you see him, especially in the early days when he`s 26 and he`s at the Montgomery busboy cot and he`s awkward and nervous and doesn`t know how to meet in the press, so it`s interesting to see the evolution.
HAYES: Phil, do you think there is a relationship between the way that that movement worked in the predominance of the medium and television and its emergence of the time, particularly network television, which had a tremendously wide audience, right? To now when you have a far, far more sort of Balkanized media landscape and the way in which a movement can or can`t talk to a wide swath of the American public.
BERTELSEN: No, that`s an interesting point. I mean, that`s one fundamental difference when Dr. King and the civil rights leaders of that era came of age, so came of age television.
BERTELSEN: today, it`s a much more sophisticated medium. And social media has taken really control over how activists, you know, control their message. And so I think much like 50 years ago was important to kind of control the narrative, now it`s become increasingly difficult, but ultimately, the control is in your own hands. And cell phone footage like that, which you showed earlier, can go a long way in activating a base and people who are willing to stand up against what`s wrong.
HAYES: Rachel, what do you feel like you sort of learned the most, or surprised you the most, when you were working on this project?
DRETZIN: How little has changed. I mean, certainly the means of communication and the mechanics of the media have changed profoundly, but the dynamics that we`re covering haven`t changed nearly as much as one would hope or think. And when you look at images from Birmingham, Alabama, images from like Ole Miss or Birmingham, Alabama next to images of Ferguson.
BERTELSEN: And Parkland.
DRETZIN: And Parkland, it`s incredibly arresting and depressing to see just how much symmetry there is. And that I would say is probably where I unfortunately learned most in making the film.
HAYES: You know, one of the things that I took away and something I`ve been thinking about and wrote a piece on this for Think on the MSNBC website is just reckoning with what comes after King and the backlash and depth and the ferocity of that to bring us to this moment where there are all these resonances that you guys so ably illustrated in Hope and Fury airing this weekend on NBC and MSNBC. It`s fantastic piece of work. Phil Bertelsen and Rachel Dretzin, thank you very much.
BERTELSEN: Thank you, Chris.
DRETZIN: Thanks for having us.
HAYES: Again, the documentary is called Hope and Fury: MLK, the movement and the Media. You can watch it this Saturday night at 8:00, 7:00 Central on NBC. I was fortunate enough to be in it while some other familiar faces from the network like Joy Reid. You know her. Do not miss it.
That`s All In for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END