Pressure Building on Scott Pruitt. TRANSCRIPT: 04/05/2018. All In with Chris Hayes

Guests: Niall Stanage, Cheri Jacobus, Aswin Suebsaeng

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: April 5, 2018 Guest: Niall Stanage, Cheri Jacobus, Aswin Suebsaeng

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: -- this country including an opposition and right now looking at the toadying Republicans, we barely have one. And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can`t speak to the future of Scott Pruitt.

VELSHI: Engulfed in scandals, Trump`s EPA chief is on thin ice.

ED HENRY, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: You`re renting it from the wife of a lobbyist.

SCOTT PRUITT, ADMINISTRATOR, EPA: Who has no business before this agency.

HENRY: Hold on a second.

VELSHI: Tonight, new reporting on what that lobbyist was up to and whether Pruitt can hang on.

HENRY: Have you made mistakes?

PRUITT: I think this is something that needs to be corrected.

VELSHI: Then the President`s first comments on Stormy Daniels.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No.

VELSHI: Why that denial could create more problems for the President.

TRUMP: Michael`s my attorney and you`ll have to ask Michael.

VELSHI: Plus, new details from Robert Mueller`s investigation and reports the President is ignoring his staff.

TRUMP: This was going to be my remarks. It would have taken about two minutes, but what the hell.

VELSHI: ALL IN starts now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Good evening from New York, I`m Ali Velshi in for Chris Hayes. Things are not looking good for Scott Pruitt. Amid an avalanche of scandals, there are multiple signs the White House is getting fed up with the EPA Administrator and could cut him loose. Pruitt did get a few encouraging words today when President Trump on a very windy tarmac, responded to shouted questions about whether he still has confidence in Pruitt with the words "I do" and followed up with this on Air Force One.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think that Scott has done a fantastic job. I think he`s a fantastic person. You know, I just left -- I just left a coal and energy country, they love Scott Pruitt. They feel very strongly about Scott Pruitt and they love Scott Pruitt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: But Trump has offered kind words for plenty of top aides, right before they`ve gotten the ax. And Trump seems to be cooling on Pruitt. Officials familiar with the President`s thinking tell NBC News that as recently as last week, Trump had been considering firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replacing him with Pruitt. But a source said that is now unlikely in light of Pruitt`s ethical lapses. And Pruitt, for his part, just keeps on making the situation worse. In an absolutely disastrous interview yesterday, Pruitt insisted there was no problem with his sweetheart deal to stay in a condo, co-owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist for 50 bucks a night. Because that lobbyist, he said, had no business before the EPA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: You`re renting it from the wife of a lobbyist.

PRUITT: Yes, who has no business before this agency.

HENRY: Hold on a second. So Williams and Jensen, major lobbying firm, ExxonMobil is a client.

PRUITT: Mr. Hart has no clients --

HENRY: ExxonMobil have business before --

PRUITT: Mr. Hart has no clients that has business before this agency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That was not even remotely close to the truth. The Daily Beast reported today that, "Hart was personally representing a natural gas company and airline giant and a major manufacturer that had business before the agency at the time he was also renting out a room to Pruitt. And that one of his clients is currently battling the EPA in court over an order to pay more than $100 million in environmental clean-up costs. According to the Washington Post, the White House has instructed Pruitt not to participate in interviews, even with friendly media outlets like Fox, but Pruitt ignored that advice, a move that likely did not endear him to his boss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: You said some pretty tough stuff. You said about the President, "this is in 2016, I think he`s an empty vessel when it comes to things like the Constitution and rule of law." You said that about Donald Trump.

PRUITT: Look, that was -- I was misinformed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Now, The Post reported that the White House does not find Pruitt`s excuses credible, particularly his claim that he was uninvolved in a move to bypass the White House to give big raises to his favorite aides and the White House is making its displeasure known.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is Scott Pruitt`s future?

HOGAN GIDLEY, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can`t speak to the future of Scott Pruitt. I can just talk about where we are now and that is that the White House is aware of these reports. We`re obviously looking into those. We don`t have any announcements to make as regards to staffing right now, but we`re aware. And, you know, we believe that some of these questions need to be answered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Well, we don`t know what Scott Pruitt`s future is, but yesterday we learned that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had warned Pruitt that the scandals needed to stop and asked what other shoes, if any, were going to drop. Today we got an answer. Politico reporting that Pruitt fell behind on payments for his $50 a night condo rental and had to be pestered for payments by that energy lobbyist for $50 a night! He got the sweetest deal in America and still stiffed the landlord. Also today, an EPA ethics official said he did not have all the factual information when he signed off on Pruitt`s sweetheart lease. That`s important because Pruitt is hiding behind the fact that EPA ethics folks said the deal was kosher. And The New York Times reported today that at least five officials at Pruitt`s EPA, four of them high-ranking, were reassigned or demoted or requested new jobs after they raised concerns about Pruitt`s spending and management. The concerns included unusually large spending on office furniture and first-class travel, as well as certain demands by Mr. Pruitt for security coverage, such as requests for a bulletproof vehicle and an expanded 20-person protective detail. The EPA told NBC News that it disputes the veracity of the accusations. Joining me now is the co-author of that story, New York Times Investigative Reporter Eric Lipton. Also with me, Daily Beast Legal Affairs Columnist, Jay Michaelson who authored a piece yesterday entitled "Too crooked to fail: Why Scott Pruitt still has his job for now." Gentlemen, thank you for joining me. Eric, let me start with you. Your reporting is that five employees of the Epa, four of them senior, have been moved, demoted, or left because they took issue with the way Scott Pruitt was doing things?

ERIC LIPTON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, what`s so interesting is that these objections started way back in March of 2017. Way before the public, reporters, or anyone knew that there were these issues relative to you know, his desire to take first-class flights or expenditures on special security or a special bulletproof desk, which is something that was considered or a bulletproof car. And all -- and there were many -- there were three different deputy chiefs of staff. One of whom was a Trump campaign advance man as very popular with Trump and was praised by Trump personally at a rally, in Delaware. And these are -- you know, these are also people that served as early as for George W. Bush. They`ve been in the EPA all that time and helped with George Bush`s transition, bringing people in. And repeatedly, these three different folks who are deputy chiefs of staff, two people in a security detail were saying, something`s wrong here. We are concerned about these requests for these expenditures and each one of them then found themselves demoted, asked to be transferred or pushed out. And, you know, this is way before there was really any press coverage of it.

VELSHI: Jay Michaelson, reading that litany of things that Scott Pruitt has allegedly done, it`s like comedy if it weren`t actually real. It seems strange, given that Scott Pruitt has a mission at the EPA that is very different from prior administrators of the EPA. And that is largely to dismantle it.

JAY MICHAELSON, LEGAL AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, DAILY BEAST: Right, to roll back the administrative state. And I think the smart way to do that would be to keep your head down, undo a bunch of regulations, and do it in a way that, in a way respects the process. But Scott Pruitt`s done the opposite of that. He fired all the scientists, he hasn`t responded to freedom of information act requests, he`s gone after a lot of headlines. And now with this flashy stuff, you know, I mean, Scott Pruitt seems to think he`s Batman, I mean, who wants to fly in a chartered jet and have a bulletproof car. That`s not the way to not draw attention to yourself.

VELSHI: Speaking of that, I want to show you a tweet from Chris Lu, Eric, which says, "Criticism of Pruitt`s $50 a night housing deal is unfair. There`s a place within walking distance of EPA for that amount. Granted, it`s a youth hostel and you have to sleep with nine other people and share a bathroom, but breakfast is included." This -- Jay and I were talking before the show, this stuff that he`s getting into trouble for seems amateurish and sophomoric. If you are -- if you have a mission to deregulate the United States government starting with the EPA, why make stupid mistakes like this?

LIPTON: It`s hard to understand. This is a guy who was in the state legislature in Oklahoma, he served as attorney general for six years in Oklahoma. I mean, he`s a very smart person. He knows the environmental regulations quite well. He`s battled the EPA in court, while he was serving as attorney general. It`s just unclear as to why he would have so many fumbles and distract from his mission because, in a way, the EPA like the Department of Interior is one of the most effective players in Trump`s strategy to roll back the administrative state. So, you know, again, I think it is sort of a distraction. And I think that to some extent, you know, the President is getting a lot of -- a lot of pressure from conservatives and from dark money groups to keep Pruitt just where he is because, in fact, he`s been so effective in rolling back rules, but he keeps causing a distraction. And that`s the -- so there`s this tension as to how long they can allow this distraction to keep playing out.

VELSHI: Jay, Scott Pruitt says that it`s all from the left. There are, I think, three Republican members of the House now who are calling for Scott Pruitt to go, but that`s not a groundswell.

MICHAELSON: No, but I think it`s crazy to say that this is some sort of left-wing conspiracy when Chris Christie goes on television and says his days are numbered, you know, and White House staff people say, we don`t -- we can`t comment at all. And even what President Trump said, you know, as he mentioned, he says kind things about people before he fires them.

VELSHI: It`s like the kiss from The Godfather when he kisses Fredo.

MICHAELSON: Exactly. And you know, we`re all waiting until Friday afternoon when these firings tend to happen. And who knows? I think it`s notable that what President Trump did not say is that he`s innocent of all of these allegations.

VELSHI: What do you make of that, Eric? Is this now passed the point of no return for Scott Pruitt and what happens next?

LIPTON: Yes, it`s still impossible to predict, particularly with this administration, as to what`s going to happen with personnel. I do think that Pruitt himself has acknowledged that some mistakes were made, with respect to particularly to raises to given to two employees. And I think that now the ethics officials at the agency have sort of pulled back on their clearing of the condo rental. So, I mean, there`s some culpability here as to whether or not it`s efficient to result in his being forced out. That`s unclear. And I think that to some extent, it`s going to depend upon how much pressure the administration is getting from the coal industry, the oil and gas industry, and outside players that want to see Trump kept -- I mean want to see Pruitt kept where he is.

VELSHI: I was going to say, I was going to make note of that, Jay. Scott Pruitt is a darling of the oil and gas industry.

MICHAELSON: He`s really one of them. I mean, he meets with them all the time, The Times earlier pointed out that he meets with representatives in the industry more than anyone else. But I actually want to quibble with this a little bit. Scott Pruitt is not the only Scott Pruitt in town. We`ve talked about Andrew Wheeler who, you know, worked for Robert Murray and helped draft probably that 16-point plan of regulations he would like to see undone, all of which were then undone, already processed. You know, there are other people with these ties and at this point, I think the folks in the fossil fuel industry, in the dark money groups, want to start thinking about Scott Pruitt as more of a liability than an asset.

VELSHI: All right, thanks to you guys both Eric Lipton, Investigative Reporter For The New York Times and Jay Michaelson, Columnist at the Daily Beast for your reporting and analysis tonight. All right, with me now is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. Aloha, Senator. Good to see you again.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Aloha, Ali.

VELSHI: Tell me what your take is on this. Every week we tend to be discussing some other senior administration official who`s on the line for something. What`s your take on Scott Pruitt?

HIRONO: I don`t think he`s long for his job. However, he`s just one in a long parade of administration appointees for whom the words "conflict of interest," "ethical violations," "breach of the public trust" do not seem to enter their minds at all as they brazenly do the things that have come to light regarding Scott Pruitt. I didn`t vote for him, by the way.

VELSHI: Do you need to do anything about this, or is this one of these things that on a weekly basis, someone comes to light and it gets talked about in the ether and a Friday afternoon or some time thereafter, Scott Pruitt disappears?

HIRONO: We`ve certainly seen enough of this parade of really terrible administrators and secretaries depart, and that`s why I think that Scott Pruitt is not long for his job. And even Chris Christie has said he should never have been put there in the first place. And while he may be doing the bidding of the gas and oil interests, even for them, I would say that maybe this is too much.

VELSHI: Well, Jay Michaelson made that point --

HIRONO: But I don`t expect -- I don`t expect --

VELSHI: I`m sorry. Sorry to interrupt you.

HIRONO: I don`t expect that it ends with Pruitt. There are others. Ryan Zinke comes to mind and there are others who have various kinds of ethical and other issues that arise as to them.

VELSHI: What do you -- part of the issue here whether it`s with Ryan Zinke in Interior or it`s with Mick Mulvaney at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or Scott Pruitt at the EPA, there is something similar here. These are people at the heads of agencies there with the intent of essentially dismantling what many Americans would think those agencies or bodies are there to do. The EPA is thought of by most Americans as an agency which protects us from the excesses of corporate America that would dirty our water and air if they didn`t have regulation. That`s not Scott Pruitt`s worldview.

HIRONO: That`s exactly right. And then let`s add people like Betsy DeVos who doesn`t even believe in public education. So I have not voted for very many of President Trump`s nominees, because oftentimes, they are antithetical to the mission of the department`s and agencies that they`re being asked to run. And it`s all coming to light. And in addition, what I finding particularly telling is how brazen they are about using taxpayer money for all kinds of personal expenses and furniture and airplane rides and all of that. It`s just so brazen that it`s --it makes your head spin.

VELSHI: It`s a bit strange, though, because it`s brazen and it`s obvious and it would be something that a good chief of staff could explain to you that you shouldn`t be doing this stuff. If you`re intent is to dismantle government agencies or to, you know, to have a big effect on policy, why get in trouble for the kind of stuff that Scott Pruitt is getting in trouble for?

HIRONO: Well, I think that they also take a page from the top and you have a President who lies every single day. You can`t even rely upon his pronouncements and positions from one day to the next. And maybe they think that they can get away with this kind of stuff, running their agencies. As long as they`re dismantling the agency, as Scott Pruitt is doing, as long as Zinke is doing what he`s doing over there in interior and you name it, I think that one of the telling things about this administration is their behavior that very much runs contrary to the public trust.

VELSHI: Senator, always good to talk to you. Thank you for being with us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

VELSHI: Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. I should tell you, by the way, in this whole thing, the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has found that the condo that we`re all talking about does not have a business license to operate as a single-family rental. The owner got a notice of infraction and could be fined $2,034, which is a lot of $50 a night nights. Coming up, the President speaks about the Stormy Daniels payout for the first time and her lawyer says it`s only making Stormy`s case stronger. What Trump said aboard Air Force One in two minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: For the first time, President Trump addressed the Stormy Daniels scandal, telling reporters today on Air Force One that he had no prior knowledge of the payment his lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to the adult film actress just weeks before the 2016 election. Listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. What else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why Michael -- why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to the allegation?

TRUMP: You have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you`ll have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: You obviously can`t hear a lot of that, but it`s important what the President said and why this may have an impact on this whole case. Joining me now is Attorney Elie Mystal, Editor of the Above the Law Blog, and Lisa Green, also an Attorney and Author of On Your Case: A Comprehensive, Compassionate, And Only Slightly Bossy Legal Guide for Every Stage of Woman`s Life. Thank you, both of you, for being here. Lisa, let me start with you. In fact, let me start with you, but I want to -- I want to play what Stormy Daniels` lawyer, Michael Avenatti said a little earlier to Ari Melber on "THE BEAT" about what this means.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER OF STORMY DANIELS: This is an undisciplined guy who, you know, he just -- he finally cracked. And we knew he would crack eventually. We`ve been patient, I`ve been waiting, and lo and behold, who would have thought that it would arrived on this Thursday, this glorious afternoon here in New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: He felt it was Christmas coming early. Tell me why. Tell me -- for those of us that are not legal minds, what was so significant about what the President said?

LISA GREEN, ATTORNEY: I think the only thing missing, the bow on the present for Michael Avenatti would have been if he could have rushed a court reporter and a bible and a judge on to that plane and had Donald Trump repeat that under oath, right? Essentially, what is the President saying? That there`s basically no grounds to enforce this contract. If there was no money changing hands, you need a meeting of the minds, it`s contracts 101. I give you money, you give me cable service. I give you $130,000, you agree not to talk about our night. You know, if there was no understanding on the party to the contract that the money was supposed to change hands, I don`t quite know what`s left other than just paper and ink.

ELIE MYSTAL, EDITOR IN CHIEF, ABOVE THE LAW BLOG: Yes, I mean, to quote Hamilton --

VELSHI: I love that.

MYSTAL: -- I`ve never seen somebody ruin their own life like Trump just did on this plane, OK. The whole point, the whole point Michael Avenatti has been trying to make is that there is an agreement between Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen, not in agreement between Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump. For that to be in agreement as Lisa was saying, you have to have something it`s called consideration. You have to have some kind -- so if I say, here`s $10, give me a sandwich, that`s a binding contract. If I say, give me a sandwich, that`s a gank. I just robbed you. You can`t enforce that. All Trump had to do was to shut up. All he had to do was to not say that. Instead, he has gone on and said that there was no actual contract between -- because he didn`t do -- he didn`t do anything. He didn`t give Stormy Daniels anything, so there was no contract between him and Stormy Daniels, which is all Michael Avenatti wanted him to say.

VELSHI: But Michael Cohen said -- Cohen says something else, his lawyer, these are lawyers of lawyers, he made a statement and he said in response to what the President said, this is an accurate assessment of the facts. This is exactly what I`ve been saying all along. Michael Cohen made the payment to protect reputation, family, and business. It had nothing to do with the election. This is from David Schwartz, a lawyer for Michael Cohen. So this complicates things a little bit more because he now said, he`s -- the payment to protect reputation, family, and business, but we still don`t have a clue as to what the there-there is.

GREEN: I`m going to go back to the agreement. The most you know, publicized nondisclosure agreement in the history of nondisclosure agreements. If you look at it, although he`s under a pseudonym, the President is a party. And to have Michael Cohen`s lawyer say "there`s nothing there," does make you wonder one more thing to add one more wrinkle to the legal analysis is, remember, the President joined a motion to remove the fight over this NDA to federal court. If he didn`t know about the payment, why is he at the same time joining the battle --

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: This is a very good question.

MYSTAL: The entire argument here is legally and intellectually incongruous, right? He`s saying that he wants to enforce an NDA that he claims --

VELSHI: Has nothing to do with him.

MYSTAL: Has nothing to do with him. Michael Cohen is saying that he paid hush money on Trump`s behalf without consulting his client. Look, I`ve got a lot of good friends and isn`t one of them going to buy me a drink in a bar if I`m not in a bar, right? But that`s just not -- that`s just not what happens, right? So what they`re -- their whole strategy right now seems to be to enforce an agreement that they don`t agree exists.

VELSHI: Right.

MYSTAL: It makes no sense.

GREEN: And if you wonder why our blood pressure is collectively rising to like the point, it`s -- this is sort of unheard of across the board, in conventional lawyering, right? I was willing to give Donald Trump and Michael Cohen the benefit of the doubt and say, you know, perhaps that`s an enforceable agreement. Maybe it ought to go to arbitration, Stormy Daniels got the money and they had an understanding, but after today`s developments, it`s really hard to make the argument with a straight face that she`s required to, wait, remain silent about what happened? Oh, she`s already talked about that, too.

VELSHI: So now what happens because we still have a situation where there`s arbitration versus the courts of law, what does this all amount to?

MYSTAL: Well, here`s the thing, right? Trump still wants to enforce the agreement. And so as long as he wants to enforce the agreement, Avenatti has an argument to depose him under oath. All Avenatti I think wants at this point is to get Trump under oath so Trump can lie, so Avenatti can say, I`m the guy that got Trump caught up on perjury, right? The other thing that I think we have to consider, and I don`t want to sound like a -- I think we have to consider the fact that at this point, Avenatti and Daniels has only -- have only talked about things that generally we kind of already know. If Avenatti is able to get the NDA ruled non-enforceable, does he -- does she have more information about Trump that hasn`t come out yet, that they`ve been holding back --

VELSHI: You really want to hear more information about Trump?

GREEN: You know, it looks like --

VELSHI: The spanking with the magazine sort of --

GREEN: -- was plenty for you, right? I mean, it certainly reads like a form agreement. I think you`d agree if you`ve had the luxury of having time to read it several times. And of course, the second question I have is, if it was unenforceable as it relates to Stormy Daniels, and if, I`m speculating, it was ever used with other social friends of Donald Trump, is it enforceable then?

MYSTAL: That`s a nice way of putting it.

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: We`ll have to leave on that note. Good to talk to both of you. Elie Mystal and Lisa Green, thank you both for being here. All right, coming up, new evidence that Robert Mueller`s investigation is looking at a previously unknown angle in the Russia probe. I`ll explain after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: We`ve got new evidence that Robert Mueller may be pursuing a previously unknown angle in the Russia investigation, whether healthy Russians -- whether wealthy Russians illegally funneled cash to the President`s campaign or his inauguration. Now, according to a new report, Mueller`s team has been questioning Russian oligarchs who traveled to the U.S., stopping at least one and searching his electronic devices when his private jet landed at a New York Area airport.

Now, those details were corroborated by The New York Times, which reports that one such search and seizure took place about four weeks ago, according to CNN. At least two other Russian oligarchs have been questioned or asked for an interview with Mueller`s investigators. Harry Litman is a former Federal Prosecutor, now a Professor at UCLA law school and David Corn is Washington Bureau Chief of Mother Jones and Co-Author of the best-selling book, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin`s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. Thanks to both of you for being with us. David, let me start with you. The significance of this, the idea that you don`t get to be an oligarch in Russia if you`re not tight with Putin and probably not if you don`t have a business relationship with him. We`ve always known, with certain sanctions like the Magnitsky Act and other things, this is the way to Putin, to get to the oligarchs.

DAVID CORN,WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Well, excuse me, it is. And we talk in the book about how Trump connected with one oligarch to do Miss Universe in 2013. And it was through that oligarch that the Russian government reached out to the Trump campaign and offered them dirt on Hillary Clinton. So Trump has had a long-standing relationship with certain oligarchs that have been important to him on business and in terms of his political campaign.

And the fact now that Mueller is looking at whether any Russian money flowed into the campaign, into the Trump campaign or towards the Republican Party, I think is highly significant and can open up a whole new dimension for the inquiry.

VELSHI: And this is important, Harry, because that is -- this doesn`t seem to be a fishing expedition, it looks like Mueller is looking for something specific.

In particular, McClatchy has reported that the FBI is investigating whether Russian money went to the NRA to help Trump. Mother Jones has reported that Putin friendly oligarchs, top executive -- top U.S. executived donated $285,000 to Trump. So, he`s trying to find real connections to the Trump campaign or ways in which the election would have been influenced?

LITMAN: Yes, I agree. So, he`s not fishing, but he is casting a wide net.

On the one hand, he`s looking very discreetly at potential violations of election law by both Russians and people in the States. You can`t have foreign contributions to an election. It looks like the oligarchs here might have funneled money through think tanks, through possibly the NRA, through straw donors. So very specific stuff.

But then it`s generally part of the whole, whole mess of Russian money that he`s beginning to uncover more and more. It`s like, you`ve seen on TV in TV shows, the index cards on the wall. And I think that`s what we`re sort of having. You know, figures moving east, you know, Manafort and the Malik (ph) and Carter Page and now figures moving west from Russia -- Konstantin Kilimnik. If they meet and when they meet in the middle, there`s possible conspiracy, there`s possible collusion. He`s putting it together

HAYES: David Corn, you were working on this before this was a story, before anybody knew it was a thing. You are one of the original journalists who have uncovered the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign.

What Harry just said, the mess of Russian money, what`s the distance between there being a mess of Russian money and possibly some real intent on the part of Putin cronies and oligarchs to influence the outcome of the election and a connection to the Trump campaign?

CORN: OK, we know there was an attack. I don`t like to use the word meddling or intervention. We know there was a Russian attack on the campaign, right? That`s -- that`s clear. We also know that the intelligence community said it was done in part to help Trump. So the fact -- and we also know that Trump has relationships with oligarchs and we also know that Putin uses oligarchs to do his will around the world.

So, it is not a far stretch of the imagination that oligarchs during the campaign or after the election, in terms of the inauguration and the Republican Party, falling on Moscow`s lead, wanted to support Trump in some way or another. And the story that I did last year with Dan Friedman, we found the cousin of Victor Vexelberg (ph), a very prominent oligarch, who runs a company here in the United States, who is an American, gave $250,000 to Trump`s inauguration. Why was that unusual? This guy had never given more than $2,000 to anybody else, once to a Republican, and twice to Democrats.

So where does heed a all of a sudden give this much money to Trump? It`s worth looking at.

VELSHI: Right. But, Harry, Bill Browder`s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, lost his life looking at these types of connections. It`s very hard to prove in Russia. If it`s hard to prove in America, it`s hard to prove in Russia. So let`s say Mueller finds out that there are these oligarchs like the reporting in Mother Jones by David that gave money to the campaign or gave money to the NRA. What`s the route from A to figuring out whether there was collusion when you`re looking at Russian oligarchs?

LITMAN: Yeah, I mean, look, we do still have the rule of law and we still -- we don`t expect anybody to take a poison needle. And Mueller is being very aggressive here. You think of the oligarchs and their private planes being stupefied when someone comes in with a search warrant and says give me your phone.

The immediate route is to try to get someone, especially a straw donor who is an American subject to the jurisdiction of the courts, who can be subject to real criminal penalties and get them to turn, same thing as you`ve done with Flynn, same thing as you`ve done with Manafort`s partner. And from there, begin to work your way back to the States.

VELSHI: And worth noting that there is an exception to -- for searches that take place at points of entry. You don`t need a warrant or probable cause for those searches.

LITMAN: I think that`s right, Ali, but I think they got one here, meanining a court did fine out of a surfeit of caution, I believe they got one and the court would have been -- found probable cause.

VELSHI: Good information. Harry, thanks very much. Harry Litman and David Corn, great to have you both on the show tonight

All right, coming up, Trump is now calling for more tariffs on China tonight, $100 billion worth, as the tit for tat continues markets are already responding. Are we headed for -- are we in a full-on trade war? Former U.S. Ambassador to China joins me after this quick break.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have great respect for the president of China, President Xi. He`s a friend of mine. And I`m a friend of his. And I like him a lot. But he`s representing China and I`m representing the United States of America, and it was time that we did something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Now, that something that Trump was talking about doing was potentially starting a trade war between the world`s two biggest economies. After he recently proposed tariffs on Chinese goods, China is now threatening tariffs of their own, including on many American farm products from the heart of Trump country. And now just moments ago, President Trump firing back yet again, threatening $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods or tariffs on $100 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Max Baucus, the man you see here, has seen U.S./China trade relations from the inside as a former ambassador to China and a former U.S. Senator. He joins me now.

Ambassador Baucus, thank you for being with us.

MAX BAUCUS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: You bet.

VELSHI: Who wins a trade war?

BAUCUS: Nobody. Both sides lose in a trade war. Both sides have to pay higher costs. Both sides lose. Both people in China and the people in the United States.

I think it`s important, though, for us to keep in mind that China is a -- they got a lot of bounce in their step. They think they have the wind at their back. They`re a very proud country. They think in the long-term. They`re very patient. They`ve got a plan here. And that plan is to be as strong as they can economically. They put together this China -- made in China 2025 program and they`re going to do all they can to accomplish that objective.

Now, some of what they do is unfair, and that`s what Trump is addressing, but I think he`s addressing it in the wrong way. China is going to take U.S. measure.

VELSHI: But he`s not wrong about that. You would find bipartisan support for the statement that China is not always a fair player. In fact, it`s often not a fair player. But President TGrump`s complaint has been that no one has done anything about it.

I`m not sure that`s entirely true. Tell me what you think of that.

BAUCUS: Well, it`s -- we`ve tried in the past administration, and in the one before that, to address some of these issues. But frankly, China has become much stronger in the last several years. And they are able to push back more easily than they have in the past.

Frankly, it is time for us to take China`s measure and to stand up against China. And we`ve not done that. But it`s going to take a really strong, thoughtful measure, part of our president, our country to think through a very strong strategic policy as we deal with China.

All these tariffs aren`t going to do it. And frankly, I think that China is going is chuckling a little bit now. This extra $100 billion that you mention, I think, ironically, it makes us look weak. Trump`s shooting from the hip. It`s not something that`s thought through.

China is going to stand up. China`s going to take care of itself. They had $3 billion worth of tariffs when we announced ours against aluminum and steel, then they announced their 50 when Trump announced ours. Trump announced 100 now. They`re going to come back.

VELSHI: 24 hours from now, we`ll probably have another announcement.

But listen, ambassador, Donald Trump has not been a fan of these trade deals for decades. We knew that going into it. In the last election, we knew Bernie Sanders wasn`t, and eventually Hillary Clinton came around to the idea that she, too, would have walked away from the Transpacific Partnership if she were elected president.

The bottom line is, we knew we were getting out of the deal that was probably our best case for standing up to China, it was probably our best opportunity to stand up to China`s growing influence, to be the leader and a participant in the Transpacific Partnership. But we walked away from that opportunity.

BAUCUS: Yes, we did. It was a big mistake. And I was over there, the most important geopolitical matter to cross my desk was the Transpacific Partnership. I lobbied so hard in favor of that. I came back to Washington two months before the election, met with 45 members of congress, Republicans, Democrats, because I thought it was so important. Huge mistake.

We`re creating a huge vacuum as a consequence in East Asia and China is filling it. They`re smiling when we dropped off from that. It`s a big mistake when we dropped out.

VELSHI: All right, what happens next, ambassador? Because we keep talking about provoking a potential trade war. Looks to me like we might be in one, even though none of the ink has dried on any of these proposals.

BAUCUS: Well, neither country really wants a trade war. China really does not want that, because that harms their economy. We don`t want it, it`s going to harm ours.

And so during this next 60 days or so, it`s very important that cooler heads prevail. It`s going to cool the rhetoric here, start talking and find some way to get some resolution here.

But President Trump is correct that we have to find a way to deal with some of these unfair trade practices of China. I think China understands that, and China is going to give in just enough, that`s my experience in dealing with them, just enough to get America off its back.

VELSHI: All right, Ambassador Max Baucus, good to see you. Thank you for your time tonight.

BAUCUS: You bet. Thank you.

VELSHI: All right, still to come, new reporting that the chief of staff John Kelly is losing his influence over the president. What Trump unleashed looks like, coming up.

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VELSHI: Facebook is in full damage control mode after the company exposed the data of at least 87 million people to Cambridge Analytica, CEO Mark Zuckerberg will go before the House and the Senate next week to testify about what happened and what Facebook is going to do to protect user`s privacy.

In the meantime, Facebook has rewritten its terms of service to better inform people of exactly what data it`s collecting, which is the kind of transparency the leader of Apple, Tim Cook, called for when he sat down with MSNBC`s Chris Hayes and Recode`s Kara Swisher in Chicago last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM COOK, APPLE CEO: Everybody should know what they`re doing. Everybody should know what they`re giving up. And not only the specific data point, but the issue is more of the whole line that people can draw, right? It`s the -- when I know this plus this plus this plus this, I can infer a whole bunch of other things. And that can be abused, and it can be abused against our democracy, it can be abused by an advertiser, as well.

To me, it`s creepy when I look at something and all of a sudden it`s chasing me all the way across the web. I don`t like that.

CHRIS HAYES, HOST, ALL IN: Particularly when I bought it, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That`s a good discussion. You can catch more of it, all of it, with Chris Hayes and Kara Swisher`s exclusive town hall with Tim Cook right here tomorrow night. Revolution Apple: Changing the World, 8:00 p.m., tomorrow night, MSNBC.

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VELSHI: This week, President Trump signed an order to send National Guard troops to the U.S./Mexico border. He`s edged closer and closer to a trade war with China. Today, speaking in West Virginia, he resurrected the false claim that millions of people voted illegally. And ever since signing a budget bill that drew flak from his supporters, the president has sounded more like Trump the candidate saying the kind of things that often appeal to his base.

Meanwhile, Chief of Staff John Kelly is sidelined with the president increasingly trying to go at it alone. The Hill reporting that a source within Trump`s orbit said John Kelly -- John, I think is frustrated because his influence has been diminished and can`t control what the president does.

The author of that article, Niall Stanage, White House columnist for The Hill joins me now along with Cheri Jacobus, a Republican strategist and columnist at USA Today, and Aswin Suebsaeng, White House house reporter for The Daily Beast. Welcome to all of you.

Sherrie, let me start with you, what are you hearing about the influence of John Kelly within the White House, the John Kelly who so many people were relieved to have there because along with Rex Tillerson and Mattis and McMaster, that they were going to be the adults in the room that kept the president contained.

CHERI JACOBUS, USA TODAY: Well, that`s the thing. He`s not in the room. He`s not in the room when big decisions are being made and he should probably quit. Quite frankly, he`s on his way out. Nobody comes back from this sort of thing and I mean, there is great instability in this White House. It is alarming.

This is a president who does not want adults in the room. If you look at him like a racehorse where you have a jockey, you have a trainer, you have professionals, you also have a goat in the stable with the race horse for the sole purpose of keeping them calm. They are called comfort goats.

His chief comfort goat, Hope Hicks, is gone. I think Corey Lewandowski is a comfort goat, who he is trying to bring back in. These are people who will not say no. These are people who will not tell the president the truth. And he doesn`t want the truth. He doesn`t wanted advisers. He doesn`t want trainers. He doesn`t want jockeys. He only wants comfort goats and that`s what we`re going to get.

VELSHI: That`s like a bacon wrapped insult.

Aswin, let me ask you, the Associated Press is reporting something similar without using the term comfort goats. It says Trump has increasingly expressed fatigue at Kelly`s attempt to shackle him. Trump recently told one confidante that he was tired of being told no by Kelly and instead has chosen simply to not tell Kelly things at all.

ASWIN SUEBSAENG, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, Trump has actually been expressing that sentiment to aids and confidantes for several weeks if not many weeks and if not months now, it`s just that in the past couple of weeks or so, it seemed to be ramping up a bit. And it`s not only the president who is getting more frustrated with Chief of Staff John Kelly, it`s Kelly`s colleagues within the West Wing who see that the promise of John Kelly and his main selling points to why he should take over after the Reince Priebus area are kind of falling flat right now.

What were the main promises of John Kelly? It was that he would kill off the palace intrigue and factionalism. He would put a lid on the chaos and he would keep people away from the president in the West Wing and away from the Oval Office who more quote unquote serious people did not want near President Trump.

The chaos is still there. The factionalism is as bad as it ever was. And people, such as Seb Gorka, who John Kelly fired shortly after he got on the job, as we at The Daily Beast reported a couple of weeks ago was back in the White House residence dining with President Trump.

So all the things that John Kelly seemed to be promising with his new era of supposed stability seemed to have not at all come to fruition.

VELSHI: So, now the issue here, though, is that you may not care about the palace intrigue at the White House and the inner workings and whether Jared and Ivanka like John Kelly, but we have a brewing trade war with China. We`re about to rip up the Iran nuclear deal. We`ve got this spontaneous and unexpected summit with the North Koreans. We have the Russians saying that they were invited to a meeting in Washington, which we can`t confirm.

This is the world at stake, not the White House. Most Americans could careless if the White House implodes, it`s actually about the world and the country.

NIALL STANAGE, THE HILL: Yes, absolutely. And let me add one other issue to your list, Ali, Syria. What is this administration`s policy in Syria? We don`t know. And the reason that we don`t know is that a short time ago, the president apparently in an off the cuff manner, said oh we should get out very soon. Then he sort of gave him a milder version of that, then the White House press secretary came out with a statement that was intended to clarify and didn`t really clarify anything.

You have to think to bring this back to John Kelly, what does a retired four-star marine general think when there are 2,000 American troops approximately in Syria and no one really seems to know what the actual policy is.

VELSHI: And that they got conflicting views on this.

Cheri, I guess to your remarkably vivid comfort goat`s sentiment, the issue here is we kind of need somebody whispering into the president`s ear about these various things. And by the way the fact that we now -- we`ve got something going on on the southern border that we can`t understand either, someone to keep things straight.

So, what kind of person is that? The president doesn`t want to take instructions from people who seem to have a certain amount of self-discipline. John Kelly, by the way, raised eyebrows in the last several months about whether he is that disciplined guy, but the bottom line is what happens next?

Because Axios is reporting that to White House insiders, this is the most dangerous phase of Donald Trump`s presidency so far from the brewing trade war with China to the perilously spontaneous summit with North Korea, it`s a worry.

It`s going to probably be somebody that he doesn`t hire, it going to have to be somebody in congress, the congressional leaders who grow a spine. As we get closer to the midterms, they know that their members, their candidates running for reelection, and other candidates out there, are going to have to answer to some of this as they go home and particularly once you get out of primary and they`re no longer playing to the Trump base and they have to appeal to independents and Democrats who might be interested in them, they cannot defend this president.

So, it might be somebody from the outside who doesn`t really care about getting the approval of Trump and who Trump didn`t hire. Maybe they have to have a come to Jesus meeting where a bunch of them go down to the White House. That`s not unprecedented. I`m surprised it hasn`t happened many, many times so far, but I think that`s probably the only chance there is of breaking through. It`s not going to be somebody within the White House.

VELSHI: What do you think, Niall?

STANAGE: I think that one of the difficulties is that people expect a chief of staff to be able to make Donald Trump not Donald Trump. I think that`s where expectations got out of whack with John Kelly. I think that Donald Trump is particularly adverse to anyone telling him what to do and he will go to almost any lengths to prove that he cannot be reigned in in that way by anyone.

VELSHI: Aswin, do you think the elections will have a meaningful impact as we get into it and polling starts to show up or after the elections? What changes this trajectory?

SUEBSAENG: Well, if the 2018 midterms are a complete wipeout for Republicans, I can`t think that will change the trajectory for the president of the United States in some ways that say Republican leaders on Capitol Hill would like it, I think that would make him dig in even more to his position of, oh, all the people around me who have been trying to control me and been trying to control my message are keeping the make America great again message shackled to the point that it is costing us at the polls.

Trump could win and these losers, as the president so affectionately calls them, could not.

VELSHI: All right. Thanks to the three of you for being here. Niall Stanage, Cheri Jacobus, and Aswin Suebsaeng, thank you for your analysis and your help tonight. And that is All In for this evening.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END