Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: April 18, 2018 Guest: Cory Booker, Jennifer Rodgers, Harry Litman, Robert Menendez
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CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a hoax.
HAYES: As Trump ramps up attacks on the Special Counsel, Republican leaders stonewall a bill to protect Mueller.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We'll not be having this on the floor of the Senate.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: I don't think it's necessary.
HAYES: Tonight, a handful of Republicans are standing with Democrats. Senator Cory Booker joins me on his bipartisan bill to defend Mueller.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will come a time when you will be tested.
TRUMP: Michael Cohen is a very talented lawyer. He's a good lawyer in my firm.
HAYES: We'll look at the history of shady deals done by Trump's fixer and why it may have the White House worried.
MICHAEL COHEN, LAWYER, DONALD TRUMP: I want to tell you about the real Donald Trump.
HAYES: Plus, why Trump pulled the plug on new Russia sanctions.
TRUMP: Does everybody like Nikki? Otherwise, she can easily be replaced.
HAYES: And why more Republicans are headed towards the exits.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a big wave coming and you know, some members have to get off the beach.
HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.
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HAYES: Good evening from New York, I'm Chris Hayes. The President and his allies are stepping up their assault on the Justice Department and the rule of law in the wake of last week's FBI raid on Trump fixer Michael Cohen. Tonight, in a press conference with the Prime Minister of Japan, the President once again quite pointedly and clearly did not rule out firing the Special Counsel or the man that supervises him, the Deputy Attorney General.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you concluded that it's not worth the political fallout to remove either Special Counsel Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.
TRUMP: I can say there -- that there was no collusion and that's been so found as you know by the House Intelligence Committee. As far as the investigation, nobody has ever been more transparent than I have instructed our lawyers, be totally transparent. As far as the two gentlemen you told me about, they've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months and they're still here.
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HAYES: They're still here. Meanwhile, bipartisan efforts to shield Mueller and his investigation are now moving forward in the Senate, interestingly enough after much delay. Today, Republican Chuck Grassley, he's the Chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee announced his panel will vote on a bill to protect Mueller potentially as soon as tomorrow. That puts Grassley on a direct collision course with the Senate Majority Leader who says he will not advance the bill to a final vote.
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MCCONNELL: There's no indication that Mueller is going to be fired. I don't think the President is going to do that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously a number of your colleagues fear it enough to say it should be in there as an --
MCCONNELL: Yes, but I'm the one who decides what we -- what we take to the floor. That's my responsibility as the Majority Leader and we'll not be having this on the floor of the Senate.
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HAYES: Now, it's possible McConnell just doesn't read The New York Times which has reported on two separate occasions when the President has already tried to order Mueller fired. In one case backing down only after his own White House Counsel threatened to quit over it if he went through with it. Tonight, concerns about Mueller being fired are apparently urgent enough, a police commander in Pittsburgh just ordered detectives to bring riot gear to work in case people take to the streets. So that's happening in America. On Capitol Hill, a handful of Republicans have signed on to a House version of the Mueller protection bill in just the last few days. It is worth noting that of the six GOP members we know, half have already announced they're retiring from Congress.
Meanwhile, some of their colleagues are taking what could be considered the absolute opposite approach. Get this, today in a letter to the Attorney General and other senior officials, 11 House Republicans called on the Justice Department to prosecute a long list of the President's political foes including James Comey, Hillary Clinton, and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Of course, we've seen these kind of extraordinary breach of American political norms from the President himself but never before from members of U.S. Congress. And their move was hailed by the President's associates on Trump T.V.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a welcome change herein Washington. It looks like Members of Congress are trying to finally bring to the American people the justice which they deserve. Hopefully, the Justice Department will look into Jim Comey lying under oath in front of Congress. I don't understand why you've got a person who's now been gone for almost a year that has not been followed up with or prosecuted for that potential crime.
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HAYES: Democratic Senator Cory Booker is a Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the sponsors of the bill to protect Mueller is good enough to step out of an event in D.C. to join us live. Let me start on that. What do you make of Members of Congress writing a letter explicitly calling for members of the FBI, the Justice Department and political foes of the President to be prosecuted?
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This is to me really a bad sign in our democracy. I think it starred in the last presidential election where you hear a whole convention center chanting "lock her up," which tome is things that dictators do, that autocrats do. They go after their political enemies, not through the mechanisms of democracy but threating to arrest them, starting threatening to throw them in jail. This is a very dangerous sign and to me, it is very anti-democratic that people want to try to be pushing to lock up their political opponents.
HAYES: So you're on the judiciary committee. What -- explain to me what the state of play is with this piece of legislation?
BOOKER: Well, back in June, Lindsey Graham and I started talking about hey, this is a problem not just in this moment in history, this moment in time but for the long-term. If you have a President that's under investigation or has principal members of their team being indicted, that that president should have a common sense check and balance on their ability to fire a special counsel. It just makes sense that you should not have -- that you should have checks and balances, that you shouldn't have a president that can be above the law or that could obstruct justice. So this is just a very common sense pragmatic idea. Lindsay and I started working on it, Thom Tillis and Chris Coons came up with their version. We've now married the versions. And I'm very excited that Chuck Grassley understands that this is a bill of merit not only for now but in the ages. And as -- and not only held hearings on it but now, tomorrow, I hope is going to go forward and mark this bill up and vote it out of committee.
HAYES: What do you think has changed? It seemed there was a sort of -- a lot of interest last summer, I remember covering this. I think we may have even had you on to talk about it, that interest waned. It sort of seemed stalled. I was -- if you'd asked me to bet on whether it was going to get a vote on committee, I would have said no. What's changed?
BOOKER: I think that there's a lot of folks of good conscience saying well, we've now seen at least two separate occasions where we're hearing reports that the President was going to move to fire Mueller. We've seen consistent with his behavior that it can be impulsive, that it can be unpredictable. I think that we need this back stop for our democracy as opposed to lurching us into a constitutional crisis. So I think sober minds see this as not at indictment of the President but as a sign of the times and something we're worried about and a responsible thing for us to do as stewards of the republic, as stewards of our -- of our democracy. And look, I would be -- I want to state it plain, clearly, there are Republicans now that are worried that this eventuality might happen. And I think that's why we're getting good people, good heart, good nature stepping up to say let's just do some things and create an insurance policy against a constitutional crisis.
HAYES: Isn't Mitch McConnell just going to put this bill on the part of his office where he stored the Merrick Garland nomination?
BOOKER: You know, I think that that is a well-earned skepticism might say that. But this is something that I think is gaining momentum. And I think that Mitch McConnell is right -- is within his rights to say and do what he's doing right now but he's also within his rights to change his mind. And as we get more bipartisan support, as more activism happens around the country and if Trump continues with the kind of bluster that we've been seeing, here's a President that has been undermining the special counsel, attacking his integrity, undermining the investigation. I think at some point people are going to have to choose from a tribalism party politics between that and sort of a faithfulness to their country and our institutions. And I'm hoping that Mitch McConnell will come around. But right now, we're step by step. We wrote a bill. We got the bill hearings. We got the bill now ready to go into committee. Every step of the way as you yourself said people, didn't think we could make it the next step. I have a feeling that we might be able to get this to the floor.
HAYES: Do you think the President is a criminal?
BOOKER: Look, I'm one of those folks that says let's go where the evidence leads. And right now, we have a special counsel that is doing a thorough investigation. Let's not get ahead of our skis. Let's make sure we support the special counsel's investigation. If the President, like he says he has nothing to worry about, he should backing off on the rhetoric, backing off on the things he's doing to undermine the investigation and let it take its course. And then let's draw our conclusions from the evidence that's gathered. I think it's politically perilous the way we are throwing things around and getting ahead of this investigation. I think we need to let this prosecutor, let the special counsel rather do their job and draw our conclusions after the evidence comes forward.
HAYES: Is that a reference to talk of impeachment when you say politically perilous?
BOOKER: Yes, look, I think that we undermine our position as Democrats if we are reaching out now for impeachment which is just going to whip up more of the political divisions, the political debates. And I know I'll take criticism for that but that's OK. We need sober minds, fact-based conclusions, concussions drawn from evidence as presented. This -- if we protect are the special counsel especially, this investigation is going to come to a conclusion and there are going to be facts and we can base our actions based upon those facts.
HAYES: All right, Senator Cory Booker, all let you get back to your event. Thank you for making time tonight.
BOOKER: Thank you very much. Thank you.
HAYES: All right, for more on the threat to the Justice Department's independence, I'm joined by two former federal prosecutors, Jennifer Rodgers who worked in the same U.S. Attorney's Office investigating Michael Cohen and Harry Lipman, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania who also worked at the DOJ. Let me start with you. I mean, you kn0w, the President very pointedly didn't say no, I'm not going to fire them. They're fine and I'm innocent. You know, he could have said that.
JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: He could have but he likes to keep us guessing, of course. And you know, if he flat out said I'm going to do it, I'm going to fire him, then you know, maybe they hurry up and pass this bill and that puts them impediments in his way.
HAYES: Or if he -- of if he said I'm not going to do it, stop worrying. I mean, what he said was very kind of coy like, you keep saying this and they're still there. But he said no I'm not. They're going to do their job.
RODGERS: Yes, of course. And the White House said that before. Sarah Sanders had said that before and now she's kind of backing off of that which is getting some people nervous.
HAYES: Harry, I want to ask about some of the -- there's all these sort of machinations happening as we watch this sort of bear down. One of them is that Adam Schiff is introducing a pardon bill, he's introducing legislation to prevent abuse of presidential pardons which I understand the impulse particularly as there's some evidence that perhaps the President might be dangling them or some fear at least he might be dangling them in front of people that could incriminate him. But does that have a chance? Is that even constitutional?
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: DOA. The pardon power is plenary. It's a very interesting theory by the way that the dangling of a pardon might constitute obstruction because the sort of secret I'll pardon you, just keep quiet now, wouldn't be subject to the one check we have on pardons which is the political check that they're in in plain air. But there's -- the pardon power, more than even the discharge power which at issue in the Booker bill, is completely within the president's control subject only to as has happened here arguably, improper purpose and it being the possibility of obstruction. Ditto, by the way, on the Booker bill, there are going to be constitutional arguments on either side notwithstanding the precedent that the Senators rely on. And I actually think if it passes, this will all kind of play out at the district court level in the first instance and whether the district court will enjoin the bill or not until it goes up. Because if the district court says let's keep it as it is, that law is in place, that will be four, five, six months till the Supreme Court decides. That's four, five, six months for Mueller to really make a lot of hay.
HAYES: Yes, that's a really good point about in sort of concrete terms, is there even a legislative statutory solution to this, Jennifer?
RODGER: Right, I mean, some legal scholars argue Alan Dershowitz is one and that lot of them on right argue the President has a constitutional power under article two to fire anyone in the executive branch essentially so that you can't undermine that power by statute or any other reason. So that will be the battle if this gets passed. They'll be duking it out in court.
HAYES: So, another piece of legislation to try of sort of -- again, this sort of legal gamesmanship to protect. Eric Schneiderman wrote a letter to New York lawmakers urging state lawmakers to consider to close New York's double jeopardy loophole to present -- prevent those pardon by the President from evading potential state prosecution. Harry, what do you think of that?
LITMAN: Well, my understanding of that loophole is that it only applies as double jeopardy would once somebody has actually stood trial. So if there's either-- now, Schneiderman knows better. Jennifer probably knows better being from New York, but my sense of it is, it comes into play only when somebody is first put in jeopardy in the federal system. But if that happens, it would apply to many of the crimes, the very financial crimes that it looks as if Cohen, Manafort, and others are going to have to stand trial for.
RODGERS: So it attach as soon as someone either pleads guilty or a jury is sworn in a trial. So Flynn --
HAYES: You're saying double jeopardy does.
RODGERS: So Flynn, you know, he's already pled, Gates has already pled, so for them, if they're pardoned by the President, then the New York double Jeopardy Statute would prohibit Schneiderman or any other New York prosecutor from bringing charges against them.
HAYES: And so, this would rectify that in view of Schneiderman?
RODGERS: It would. It would. And so, New York is along with about half the states with a stricter double jeopardy policy than is strictly necessary so there's no constitutional reason or other reason that they can't pass this and scale back that extra protection.
HAYES: You know, it's interesting to watch everyone try to figure out you know, how to sort of shore up all this. And then there's -- the civil suits happening. And one thing that happened today is Karen McDougal was released from her settlement with AMI, American Media Inc. which is the parent of National Enquirer basically saying you can tell your story. And I wonder, does that -- do you see that as having effect on everything that's happening in the sort of lane of Michael Cohen and Robert Mueller, Harry?
LITMAN: Totally. It's quite a story really. Everyone has been focused to date on Mueller, understandably. He's got the big guns. He can really you know, bring the biggest charges against Trump. But in the meantime, Trump is fighting and losing on these different fronts in individual courts where he has to, in fact, you know, stand in front of the law and the law bites back and says look, I don't care if you're the president. And so far, Judge Wood, Judge Otero and I think McDougal, the National Enquirer read the writing on the wall. These -- what we had seen as sort of nuisance suits, in fact, are proving very potent especially if Cohen is right, by the way. That's a fact question that the Stormy suit actually was instrumental in the search warrants being served on Cohen.
HAYES: And Karen McDougal's lawyer as I just learned from looking at the return underneath the monitor here is going to be on Rachel Maddow so I'm going to watch that. Harry Litman, Jennifer Rodgers, it's great to have you both. Next, after the bizarre 72 hours of back and forth over whether the White House is, in fact, enacting Russian sanctions, the President halted his departure from the press conference with the Prime Minister of Japan to weigh in on public feud. That story in two minutes.
HAYES: Tonight President Trump called the Russia investigation a hoax repeatedly claiming is as he often does anytime this comes up, no collusion. At the same time, the President appears to be blocking his own administration's efforts to sanction Russia. Over the weekend, the White House informed surrogates it would impose specific additional sanctions against Russia in direct response to Moscow's support for Syria leader Bashar al-Assad in the wake of the Syrian government's chemical weapons attack on Syrians in the rebel-held town as the U.S. alleges they did. Now, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced the sanctions on Sunday. But when the President saw her comment from T.V. he reportedly grew angry and yelled at the television. The White House then insisted there were no new sanctions throwing Haley under the bus claiming she had just been confused. Tonight at a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump offered a cryptic response when asked about the sanctions.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are sanctions on Russia, sir, why did you delay the sanctions?
TRUMP: Yes, we'll do -- we'll do sanctions as soon as they very much deserve it. We will have -- that is a question. There's been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.
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HAYES: Joining me now someone who's been all over the story, MSNBC Political Analyst Philip Rucker, White House Bureau Chief for the Washington Post. So lots of press back and forth about the sort of personal dynamics. You know, Nikki Haley says there's sanctions, then they get withdrawn. Kudlow says that Nikki got out ahead of her skis, ahead of the curve. Nikki Haley clamps back and says you know, I don't get confused, whatever. But it's still unclear like there was a policy that got reversed, right?
PHILIP RUCKER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Chris, and as with a lot of things in this administration. The reason for the reversal is the President himself. There was an agreed upon preliminary plan developed last week to impose these sanctions as an economic component of the broader campaign in retaliation for the Syrian chemical gas attacks. There were the military strikes on Friday. There were to be these economic sanctions against Russia this Monday. And sometime over the weekend, the president decided to hold back on the sanctions, not to impose and not to authorize them in part because he felt like Russia had not retaliated against the United States for that military strike on Friday.
So he didn't want to antagonize Russia too much. There was some -- something didn't happen in the translation there. It's unclear based on my reporting exactly when the president changed his mind whether he did so before Ambassador Haley went on T.V. Sunday or whether he did soon after. But the White House did not announce that change in policy until Monday and the agreed upon message was to blame Nikki Haley.
HAYES: This is very similar to another incident that you reported in the Washington Post about his anger at the scope of Russian diplomatic expulsions or you know, spy expulsions according to U.S. government. There were I think 60 that were named and you said the President was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia. He got very angry when he learned that France and Britain were kicking out I think only four personnel, the U.S. was kicking out 60 and was yelling at his staff about it.
RUCKER: That's right, Chris. President Trump was willing to expel those Russian diplomats a few weeks ago but he did not want to be seen as taking the lead as having the United States be at the forefront of this. He felt like this was a problem for Europe. He wanted the European allies to be more aggressive with Russia. And he was willing to sort of go along. So his advisers said look, if the U.S. expels 60 diplomats, Europe will expel 60. For some reason, Trump didn't realize they meant Europe collectively. There was a global effort, all of these European countries contributed a certain number of diplomats that they would be expelling from their countries. And Trump just got furious when he saw the side by side comparisons between the U.S. at 60, you know, France and Germany at four each. That really irritated him and he was cursing at his team.
HAYES: What -- OK, so what is going on? I mean, why is this -- I mean, the president is at war and at odds with his own administration over Russia policy. He hates when they're aggressive. He gets essentially like overruled or outplayed or they have to kind of like keep it hidden from him and then like spring it on him. The whole thing seems totally dysfunctional and unhealthy. But like, what is the deal? What's going on?
RUCKER: Well, he's ratcheted up the aggression a little bit with Russia over the last few months. Certainly, the Donald Trump of 2017 probably would not have agreed to expel any Russian diplomats, would not have agreed to close the consulate in the Seattle. But he says he's the toughest ever and that just doesn't pan out. And clear -- it's clear when you report inside this administration that almost everyone to a T in the administration, those in the cabinet, those on the National Security Council are in agreement with a very aggressive and adversarial posture with Russia. And it's the president that time and again they're having to try to convince to come along and authorize these moves.
HAYES: Philip Rucker, thanks for being with me tonight.
RUCKER: Thank you.
HAYES: President Trump today crowed about the man he nominated to be Secretary of State CIA Director Mike Pompeo. We now know traveled to North Korea over Easter weekend to meet Kim Jong-un directly even though he has not been confirmed by the Senate.
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TRUMP: I think Mike Pompeo is extraordinary. He was number one at West Point. He was top at Harvard. He's a great gentleman. I think he'll go down as truly a great secretary of State. By the way, he just left North Korea, had a great meeting with Kim Jong-un and got along with him really well, really great.
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HAYES: Joining me now is the top Democrat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey who said today he would vote no on the Pompeo's confirmation. Senator, let me first start for your reasons for coming to that conclusion.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ), SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, I don't think Director Pompeo will be someone who will be a strong advocate for diplomacy as the first line of defense. I think he rounds out what is becoming to the President's war cabinet. I'm concerned about his past statements about regime change both in North Korea and Iran just to mention a few, and I'm concerned about his record on what he has said about people of the Muslim faith, about the LGBTQ community, and others, and democracy and human rights around the world which the United States promotes starts here at home. So those are many of the reasons why I don't believe that he will work to stop the President's worst instincts.
HAYES: Are you supportive of efforts to engage in direct talks with North Korea like Pompeo going there and possibly setting up a head to head summit with the President?
MENENDEZ: Well, you know, ultimately, I worry about the President having a meeting without the deep preparation that has to take place primarily by our State Department and our defense people to maybe have a shot at having a good meeting. But you know what Kim Jong-un has done here is he set the terms and the time that he decided that he'll engage with us. He has received international recognition by the President himself agreeing to meet with him and being legitimized in that way. He has ultimately said that he'll talking about denuclearization but he's done that previous iterations never has it been followed through on. And lastly, it looks like he's going to get some benefit from China in enhanced economic interaction for easing the tension. So he's in a good place. And so, I worry that the President doesn't understand what is necessary and the underpinnings that's necessary to achieve the possibility of the goals of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
HAYES: There's a lot of back and forth in the last 24 hours about Russia and Russian sanctions particularly with regards to Nikki Haley saying -- announcing new sanctions, those then subsequently being rolled back the next day. People in the administration saying she got out ahead of the curve and then her saying no I did not. Do you understand what's going on with this administration's Russia policy?
MENENDEZ: No, I don't understand the administration's Russia policy except this. That President Trump can declare the court order of a judge to conduct a search warrant on his former -- or on his attorney an attack against our country but cannot say anything about Vladimir Putin's attack against our country in the presidential elections and attacks that are still going on in our election process as we speak for the 2018 elections. So it's mind-boggling. It's also mind-boggling and this is why I could understand where Ambassador Haley thought they were going in a different direction because the Congress overwhelmingly passed and the President he had to sign sanctions against Russia that are mandatory, not discretionary and no waivers for them, mandatory that he has yet to pass.
So ultimately, one has to wonder, what is it that the President has such a reluctance to do as it relates to Russia when they've attacked us in what would clearly be in any other iteration an attack on our country and when they not only have invaded Ukraine, committed a chemical attack against an individual on foreign soil, are engaged in other democracies throughout Europe and in Mexico as we speak and so many others. So it's just mind- boggling to try to understand that what the President is all about when it comes to Russia.
HAYES: Finally, the President ordered strikes on three different facilities that allegedly were involved in the production of chemical weapons controlled by the Assad regime in Syria. Two questions, did you support those? Do you support them and are you clear what the legal rationale is for those strikes?
MENENDEZ: Well, I think any sustained engagement in Syria outside of ISIL needs the authorization of Congress, number one. Number two, what Assad did is barbaric but we saw a strike a year ago, we see a strike now and at the end of the day, I don't know if this was carefully choreographed because you have a strike against three facilities. The Russians don't activate their defense missiles against us. The Syrians shoot their missiles after our missiles land. And you wonder, wait a minute, was this a choreographed kabuki show? What really is missing here is a strategy to end the disaster that is Syria.
HAYES: Let me make sure I understand that. Are you suggesting that the White House used some back channel to actually actively coordinate with either Russia or the Assad regime ahead of time before the strikes?
MENENDEZ: Well, I certainly have to wonder. The Russians have a very sophisticated defense system that they did not activate. The Syrians shot missiles after our missiles landed and the Russians were not hit at all in any of those chemical weapons sites. It's just too many questions that raise the concerns as did we act and show our indignation but was it choreographed or at least were the Russians told stay out of these sections and by the way, don't challenge us. And if you don't challenge us, then you know, everything will go as planned. I mean, look, the bottom line is, what's crying out here in Syria is a strategy, a strategy that isolates Russia and Iran through the Gulf partners through other countries in the world for what they're doing in Syria that ends the humanitarian catastrophe that gives assistance to the Syrians who are fleeing and that brings the process into a U.N. brokered system, not the (INAUDIBLE) process where Russia, Turkey, and Iran are deciding serious future and a good part of the Middle East.
HAYES: All right, Senator Robert Menendez, thanks for being with me.
MENENDEZ: Thank you.
HAYES: Next, why is Donald Trump so worried about the Michael Cohen investigation? We'll look at exactly what Trump's fixer has done for Trump after this break.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there any chance that he would end up cooperating, flipping?
STEVE SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: You know, so you mean like plea himself down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, something what Rick Gates has done.
SCARAMUCCI: ....turning states evidence over on somebody else?
UNIDENIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.
SCARAMUCCI: I don't see that. If you said to me, and I had to flip a coin is he going to turn on President Trump or turn on other people, I would say adamantly no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Two things about former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci's response there. First, a little unclear Scaramucci knows how a coin toss works. But second, the answer there is probably should it it doesn't matter whether Michael Cohen cooperates with investigators, because President Trump did nothing wrong, nothing illegal, nothing to hide.
But it's kind of funny that no one seems to be even pretending that's the case anymore.
WNYC's Trump, Inc. just aired a great entire episode on Michael Cohen's history, his relationship with the president. One of that podcast's hosts Andrea Bernstein joins me now.
It's really good. What did you learn?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, HOST, TRUMP INC.: Well, one of the things that was stunning to us, and we went back to the beginning of Michael Cohen's career as a lawyer, is that he kept associating with people who were investigated, disbarred, committed of crimes. He himself was not so far as we can he's never been investigated until now, but he has a remarkable track record going back to people that he worked with in the taxi medallion industry, people that he worked with where he set up medical offices and people were later charged with insurance fraud.
And normally one wouldn't judge people by their associates, but there is a stunning and consistent history. And, of course, he is the president's lawyer, and therefore, is deserving of even more scrutiny.
HAYES: This is a guy who has gone through a number of businesses that I think it's fair to say -- like the taxi medallion business is like a sketchy business.
BERNSTEIN: The taxi medallion business -- I mean, one of the things about a taxi medallion, it's a license to drive a cab. And up until Uber, it was worth so much money.
HAYES: A gold mine.
BERNSTEIN: Peak it was worth $1 million. And even way back in the early 2000s, he said had he 200 of them. So, that's a lot of money. And that's what gave him the ability to, so far as we know, to start buying properties in Trump Tower. And he went from these very sort of poor places in New York City, where the businesses are falling apart and shuttered and people don't have locks on their doors to Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue in a very short length of time.
HAYES: Well, this is the thing, you get a picture today on Twitter of one of his law offices and a taxi garage basically, right, in Queens essentially. At a certain point the way that he runs into Trump, is he starts buying up a lot of Trump property. Is that right?
BERNSTEIN: This is what happens. I mean, it's -- we don't know how they me, but the first time they were ever publicly linked was there was a story in The New York Post, and it was a very unusual story.
HAYES: It's a weird story.
BERNSTEIN: It's about some guy, Michael Cohen, him and his family and his business partners buying up Trump properties all over the place. Soon after that, he goes to work for Trump as executive vice president. This is a guy who had an office in a garage not too many years before that.
HAYES: And he's buying a lot -- like, he and his family are buying a lot of property in dollar value of condos that are in Trump properties.
BERNSTEIN: Quite a bit of property. And I mean, this is the other thing about Michael Cohen is he's worked in these industries -- taxi medallions, medical insurance, diamonds, real estate. I mean, we'll just take real estate in particular. The federal government thinks that real estate is a way for people to launder money. This is the stated policy of the U.S. Treasury is that some 30 percent of real estate transactions merit scrutiny, because of possible money laundering.
HAYES: So, he becomes -- now, the role that he plays for Donald Trump is not lawyer, and that's key that comes here. What is his role?
BERNSTEIN: Right, it's really important to understand this. So, Donald Trump had lawyers who did litigation and.
HAYES: Tons from them, armies of them.
BERNSTEIN: Legal briefs and did all these things for him. What Michael Cohen did is he made deals. And one of the things in our podcast is we have tape of him announcing a very early deal or sort of a middle of his term in Trump world with Georgia. And he is somebody whose office was in a taxi garage, now standing next to the president of Georgia announcing a big deal. Well, this deal later collapses amid charges of money laundering and corruption and bank fraud.
And again you have this pattern wherever Michael Cohen goes that these charges are around him. Now, he is not charged.
HAYES: And I should say that in January 2017 he resigns from the Trump org to become the personal attorney for the president, which is interesting. And I think we're going to see that very relevant to the litigation that keeps going. Andrea Bernstein, it's a great episode. Thank you.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much.
HAYES: Still to come, even as the president's popularity consistently hovers in the same range, there are new ominous signs for Republicans in the so-called 2018 blue wave is growing. We'll talk about what's going on ahead.
Plus, the Republican candidate for Senate fresh out of prison. Tonight's Thing One, Thing Two starts right after this.
HAYES: Thing One tonight, remember this story for which The Washington Post just won a Pulitzer Prize? Roy Moore credibly accused of child molestation. The Republican Party had already nominated a bigot and aspiring theocrat, a lawless man, when a string of Post stories came out. In one instance allegedly Roy Moore picked up a 14- year-old girl outside her parents' custody hearing when he was a 32-year- old assistant district attorney.
And Republicans when this story came out, they had a hard choice to make. Much of the GOP machinery, both in Alabama and Washington, stuck with him. President Trump endorsed him after the allegations, rallied for him, took Moore's denials at face value. Steve Bannon appeared on stage with Moore. But then Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones and Republicans just stuck it all in the memory hole the time they all backed that person credibly accused of molesting children.
Well, now there's another problematic GOP senatorial candidate. This time it's a convicted criminal. That's Thing Two in 60 seconds.
HAYES: There is an embarrassment of riches, if you can call it that, in the GOP Senate primary in West Virginia. One of the candidates wants to blow up Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK MORRISEY, REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Let's take on Washington with our West Virginia conservative values. Let's not just change Washington, let's blow it up and reinvent it.
That's better. We'll take on Washington liberals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The other one is touting his close ties to the Trump administration, and the third is Don Blankenship. That would be the former coal company exec who got out of jail nine months ago after being convicted of conspiring to commit mine safety violations prior to a horrible explosion, which killed 29 people.
Once again, the Republican establishment just doesn't know what to do. And now Blankenship, outspending everyone, is considered a real threat to win the primary and possibly hurt the GOP's chances of defeating the Democratic incumbent Senator Joe Manchin.
The chair of the National Senatorial Committee Corey Gardener told TPM, "I'm not sure if he can even vote. Do they let ankle bracelets get out of the house?"
OK, funny, cheeky. But just as it did with Roy Moore, the Republican establishment will only go so far. Senator Gardener adding, "the last thing West Virginians want is the senatorial committee telling them what they should want."
The GOP super PAC has now taken on Blankenship with an attack ad. But it might, very well, be too little and too late.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Criminal Don Blankenship, his company got caught pumping 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry, contaminating water supplies. Isn't there enough toxic sludge in Washington?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We have to get the best people. We need to get the best and the finest. And if we don't, we'll be in trouble for a long period of time, and maybe never come out of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: An update tonight on one of Donald Trump's best people, EPS Chief Scott Pruitt. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney telling a House committee today he will investigate Pruitt for spending $43,000 on installing a soundproof phone booth in his office in apparent violation of the law.
And tonight, ABC News reports on the FOIA they filed on Pruitt's controversial trip to Morocco last December, kind of an odd location for the head of the EPA. And they got that back with large portions of Pruitt's schedule entirely blacked out. You will recall, Pruitt allegedly promoted liquid natural gas exports on that trip, and at that time, well, there was only one U.S. company exporting liquid natural gas, a company whose lobbyist arranged the now infamous $50 a night rental for Pruitt in D.C.
Calls for Pruitt to resign escalated today with nearly 170 Democrats in congress demanding his departure. The resolution isn't likely to go anywhere unless Republicans sign on, too. But it does pile more pressure on Pruitt who is now the subject of, if we're counting correctly, a grand total of nine investigations.
HAYES: With just under seven months until the mid-term elections, the generic ballot, that's when you poll people are you going to vote for a Democrat or a Republican, the lead for Democrats is shrinking. Democrats with just a 4-point advantage used to be at 12 points, according to one poll, at least.
But the Cook political report, at the same time that is happening, also today shifted seven seats towards the Democrat. And 29 Republican House members are either resigning or retiring, among them, Pennsylvania congressman Charlie Dent who is candidate about his party's chances in November.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE DENT, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: Certainly the energy, the enthusiasm and the anger is on the Democratic side in this election. There no, there's no sugarcoating that.
So, you know a big wave coming. And, you know, some members are going to have to get off the beach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: With me now, Michelle Goldberg, columnist for the New York Times; Josh Earnest, White House press secretary under President Barack Obama; and Christina Greer, a political scientist, a fellow with the Nick Silver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research.
So, there is a weird -- there is something happening that I think is interesting at this point, right. So, we're seven months out. If you look at the congressional -- the generic ballot, the lead the Democrats have had looks like it has shrunk a bit. The president's approval rating is bumping around in the 40s, you know, but it's not the worst it's ever been. It's not like post-Charlottesville.
So, all the stuff on polling looks like bad but not catastrophic for Republicans, maybe even improving a little. If you look at all the other indicators -- fund-raising, Cook political reports, special elections, the behavior of people like Paul Ryan, it looks like a disaster.
JOSH EARNEST, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Candidate recruitment I think is certainly something that would also figure highly there. And seeing the quality and the number of candidates the Democrats have been able to recruit is really something that is hard to gauge now, but just based on sheer numbers and some of these stories that are out there, it's something that will really reap the benefits of come November.
HAYES: So, which of those do you think is accurate?
EARNEST: I do think the Democrats are in a good position heading into November. It's certainly not something that Democrats should be taking for granted heading into November, and it certainly is not a situation where Democrats should repeat the mistakes of the past, which is to say should not just be counting on getting by on running an anti-Donald Trump campaign. At every Democratic candidate is going to will to be in a position where they are making a proactive make proactive argument about what they're actually for, not just talking about what they're against.
And hopefully -- my hope is that voters and Democrats will respond to that. So much of the energy that we see out there -- these marches are all motivated by this desire of protesting and being against something. At some point we have to harness that energy in the direction of being in favor of something.
HAYES: I don't think you agree with that, Michelle Goldberg.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it's not even that I necessarily disagree with it. I mean, I think that is where the energy comes from. And I also -- I guess I don't worry about that as much, because with each of these special elections you have seen, in many cases, that the candidates have made this really affirmative pitch to voters. And they almost don't have to talk about Donald Trump, because it is implicit, right, like, Conor Lamb I think didn't talk very much about Donald Trump.
HAYES: No, very little.
GOLDBERG: I'm heading on Friday to Arizona to write about the special election in Congressional District 8, where again, you know, you have all these people motivated by anti-Trump animus, but doesn't figure at all in the Democratic pitch.
HAYES: Which, by the way, let me just bracket that for a second. The special district opened up, if I am not mistaken, by the member of Republican House leadership who asked several female staff members to be a surrogate and carry his children and had to resign for that. Another big memory hole.
CHRISTINA GREER, NYU: But here is also the problem. We have to get through primaries first. And I"m always encouraging my students. I'm like, you know, you must vote. You must vote. And they turn around to me, and it's like for whom and why?
So, you know, take New York, for instance. Our primary for, you know, congress is in June. There are so many people who aren't paying attention. So, the person who actually goes on the ballot to go against a Republican in November, may be some one that, you know, in some cases isn't that attractive to a large percentage of voters. And that's also part of the frustrating piece that I find with younger voters that we keep saying, come in. Come in. And all the action happened in June, and they may miss it actually.
HAYES: I think it's interesting too, because Republicans say this all the time, particularly about Conor Lamb, that I saw a bunch of Republicans trying to saying well good luck getting a Conor lamb out of a Democratic primary?
EARNEST: Yeah, listen, the other part of this that matters is -- well, to go back to what I was saying before, they have to be in position where they're voting for something. And this is actually what I thought Conor Lamb did a good job of. Republicans after the election tried to spin the situation that, oh, Conor Lamb was just playing Republican light. That's actually not what Conor Lamb did, he actually was very affirmative. He made a point of clarifying his position on gun control to suggest that he was in support of background checks, very supportive of the labor movement. He took a pretty big risk in western Pennsylvania and talked about the need to confront climate change.
So, this is -- he is somebody who did run on an affirmative platform. He was an inspiring candidate. And he didn't spend all of his time running just against Donald Trump.
GREER: I think we also have to realize that we have to go district by district, because unfortunately, I think the Democrats are sometimes using a blanket strategy. And so when -- we have talked about this, when there are people of color, and when there are women of color especially in a particular district, we can't keep chasing this X percent of white men who left during the Reagan era to try and hopefully get them back into the party. It's love the people who actually turn out, who are registered Democrats, who have a proven track record in the past, three, four elections that will actually come out in a primary, but especially in a general, because they're already motivated to do so.
GOLDBERG: Well, we're going to have -- I mean, we are going to have a lot of women. I am not usually an optimistic person. I'm in a state of, you know, gloom and despair for the last -- but I think -- I mean, if you look at just the people who are running, right. You have so many -- you have record numbers of women, record numbers of women of color, right. So, you do have, I think, to some extent, a slate of candidates that reflects the Democratic base and slate of candidates who is willing to step up and run in places where often Democrats didn't even have a candidate at all.
HAYES: And were uncontested.
GOLDBERG: Right. And so they're will to pour all of their heart and soul, and force Democrat -- and force Republicans -- I mean, Paul Ryan, this district. I don't think that it looks that good for Democrats. But Republicans are having to pour like a $1 million into it, you know, Paul Ryan is hosting a fundraiser.
HAYES: In Arizona, yeah.
GOLDBERG: And they didn't even used to run anybody in this district. And so they're draining their resources.
GREER: But people are running in these districts, and I'm not confident that the Democratic Party is actually putting resources behind the candidates...
GOLDBERG: No, I'm not either.
GREER: ...to actually help them in these particular districts. We saw what happened when independent expenditure put in $1 million in the Doug Jones/Roy Moore race. It's like you get 98 percent of black women turning out. But you put $23 million to try and chase down white men who are, you know, are sort of on the fence.
So, I think we really need the institutional structure to financially support some of these people.
GOLDBERG: Right. And to catch up with where the grassroots are.
GREER: Yeah, because that's what is making it happen, right. These groups like Indivisible and...
HAYES: Yeah, and that's what you're seeing transmitted in the different races. When you bear down, when you look at like who is manning phone banks and who is writing small dollar checks.
GREER: Working family, parties across the country.
EARNEST: There are two other factors that we should also cover here. And you alluded to it: money. Republicans are actually going to outspend Democarts this time around. For all of the advantages that we do have around sort of the national narrative, we do not have the advantage when it comes to money, that is going to be a Republican advantage.
Where there is a Democratic advantage that typically is not enjoyed by the minority party, is we are going to be in a message environment where we are better organized. No one can be in control of the Trump Twitter feed. He is going to not -- he is going to make it very hard for Republicans to put together a coherent argument about why they need to be there, and not just be a source of distraction that typically is a problem for the minority party, but in this case it's going to be a challenge for the majority party.
HAYES: Final data point, a poll out of Texas today showed Ted Cruz only up 3 points on Beto O'Rourke who is challenging him, which is very interesting. That's going to be an interesting race to watch as it unfolds.
Michelle Goldberg, Josh Earnest, Christina Greer, thank you all.
That is All In for this evening. The Rachel Maddow Show starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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