Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: May 8, 2018 Guest: Noah Shachtman, Julia Ioffe, Emily Jane Fox, Adam Schiff, Bob Kincaid, Hooman Majd, Beatrice Fihn, Lawrence Wilkerson
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The President spoke today at 2:00 p.m. Eastern was not the candidate who promised so loudly and relentlessly he would stop this endless push for stupid wars. And that is HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. It is another astonishing night of news with big primaries happening right now in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia. The polls are close so we`ll be bringing you results as they come in. Also today the President of the United States announced his decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Deal with some of our strongest allies, a move likely to destabilize both the Middle East and U.S. relationships with Europe. But we begin tonight with astonishing reports that the President`s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company controlled by a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin. Allegation first emerged in a report posted online by none other than Stormy Daniels` lawyer claiming that half a million dollars was transferred to Cohen from a company-owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian tycoon with ties to Vladimir Putin. according to that report that was posted, the funds went to the same bank account that Cohen set up to make the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. Financial records obtained by NBC News appear to support that account. The transactions were corroborated by the Daily Beast and other outlets as well. Now, Vekselberg, who we were just talking about last night is already known to have ties to Trump world. He was at an R.T. gala in Moscow with Michael Flynn in 2015 and in January 2017 he attended the President`s inauguration which an associate in the U.S. reportedly helped bankroll. Mother Jones has reported the head of Vekselberg American subsidiary, also his cousin donated a quarter of a million dollars to the President`s inaugural fund and another $30,000 to his campaign. Now it appears that all of this has already caught the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller because according to another report tonight, Mueller`s team has questioned Vekselberg specifically about these payments to Cohen. Reached by NBC News, Michael Cohen declined to comment. To help try to make sense of all this, I`m joined by Julie Ioffe, Contributing Writer for the Atlantic, Noah Shachtman, Executive Editor for the Daily Beast, Ari Melber, Host of MSNBC`s "THE BEAT" every night here at 6:00 p.m. All right, Ari, let me start with you. What do you make of this starting with Michael Avenatti of all people publishing a PDF saying here`s a bunch of bank transactions.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: He is less credible to some because he`s an opponent of Michael Cohen. He`s more credible to some because he`s engaged in litigation with Michael Cohen and he may have contact with the FBI that has brought him into basically seeing what they`re looking at, either through questioning or maybe he`s seen a subpoena, a bank record subpoena, might have numbers on it that you could then track and follow. So Michael Avenatti who is known to be an opponent and like the attention also is known to have gotten things right and maybe very close to this action.
HAYES: So you -- I mean, the question that`s been going through my mind is how does Avenatti have this information? We didn`t know before this that he had access to Michael Cohen`s bank transactions.
MELBER: And as you mentioned in your reporting at top, part of this is already been verified by the Daily Beast as well as NBC getting aspects of it, which would suggest this is right. If this is right, meaning in full, then what are we learning? Number one, that Putin linked oligarch was sending large amounts of money to the President`s fixer Michael Cohen during the period when Donald Trump was President in a manner that probably violated federal and state law, which has major implications for Michael Cohen. That Michael Cohen who like Donald Trump has talked about being wealthy. He`s known to live in a $9 million home in New York may not be wealthy at all, maybe broke or in debt which would explain some of these decisions, and that ultimately, did break any of those laws, including state laws. There`s a tremendous amount of pressure on him to provide information to cooperate that cannot be undone by a presidential pardon.
HAYES: That is extremely helpful summary of where we are right now. Let me -- so let`s try to figure out a few parts of this because there the Vekselberg-Russia angle and then another part of this which you mentioned in terms of whether he violated any laws. So Noah, starting with you. Your reporting confirms basically the contours of this story.
NOAH SHACHTMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, that`s right. We had for a long time that Cohen had received payments of up to a million dollars from Viktor Vekselberg`s cousin, a guy named Andrew Intrater. They have a company together called Columbus Nova and that company later tonight confirmed that they were paying Cohen.
HAYES: So the company itself has said -- is now on the record saying yes - -
HAYES: -- we`ve done it. They`re saying what about why they paid him?
SHACHTMAN: Oh, you know, consulting, blah, blah. I mean --
MELBER: No, we don`t know.
HAYES: We don`t know why they paid him.
MELBER: Isn`t that the problem?
HAYES: I mean, we don`t know why they paid him. We know what anyone is saying why they paid him. Julia, can you -- you were writing about Vekselberg earlier tonight. What is his deal?
JULIA IOFFE, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: So Vekselberg is an oligarch who made his fortune in the 90s, primarily in oil and aluminum which was the privatization of the Soviet aluminum industry was one of the bloodiest privatization battles and he came out on top. So that tells you something. And then to keep his money in the era of Putin, he had to play it by Putin`s rules which means that when you are asked to do something on behalf of the Kremlin and you say how high. So, for example, he purchased about $100 million worth of Faberge eggs back in 2004 and gifted it to the Kremlin. He was asked by the Kremlin to run Skolkovo which was a really hand fisted boondoggle Russian government-run Silicon Valley type of thing. He ran that. He`s -- so you don`t want to say he`s close to Putin because he`s not really close to Putin. He plays by Putin`s rules to keep his money.
HAYES: I thought the 2004 Faberge egg collection which you pointed to is interesting just in so far as essentially he was kind of a straw purchaser for the Russian government basically.
IOFFE: Well he was trying to curry favor with the Kremlin by kind of repatriating this Russian cultural heritage at a time when Putin was just starting to make Russia great again.
HAYES: So here`s what I find fascinating about what we are --what is emerging into the light. Michael Avenatti says that there were these payments from the foreign associate with the Russian oligarch that went to Michael Cohen. He says maybe it was reimbursed from Stormy Daniels, there`s no evidence to say whether that`s the case and the money doesn`t match up. But now the best case scenario for Vekselberg is that they were just buying influence like everyone else including the following, AT&T, four $50,000 payments between October 2017 and January 2018, $200,000 when they had business before this administration including anti-trust net neutrality. Novartis, $400,000 paid to Michael Cohen. They got to meet with him at Davos with this big dinner with pharmaceutical executives. What are the legal implications of the President`s lawyer running this sort of weird off-book consulting firm where you pay to hang out with him?
MELBER: Well, one question is whether they were trafficking and influence and whether Michael Cohen was promising things that government could do which raises bribery implications and again, other things that go beyond the initial scope of what happened in 2016 but that can be very much in the purview of federal investigators. Two other points here as we dig in, one is there was a lot of discussion about whether Bob Mueller had effectively handed off this whole thing into New York because it wasn`t really collusion anymore. That always seems to be an oversimplification of a complex jurisdictional situation and now to the extent this is true is we`re learning totally blows that up because this is collusion, this is 101 collusion type question of Putin money coming in. And two is the question of what does it mean to be a co-conspirator and accessory, A lot of these things are discussed. Well, either there was a high-level collusion like a handshake in a briefcase or there`s no collusion, right? And in the middle -- and if I may, with your blessing, no greater legal authority than Young Thug has said --
HAYES: Of course.
MELBER: I didn`t kill anybody, but I had something to do with that body. And there are ways you could be wrapped up in a criminal enterprise without being the person pulling the trigger. And I think the question tonight that Michael Avenatti has put in front of America is what role did Michael Cohen play in potential Russian collusion that spanned in 2016 and into the pendency of Donald Trump presidency, these payments in 2017.
IOFFE: Chris, can I just say something real quick?
HAYES: Please, Julia.
IOFFE: Two points, one is this sounds like the thing that Donald Trump ran his campaign on and attacks Hillary Clinton on which is pay to play. This looks a lot like pay to play.
HAYES: Like literally.
IOFFE: It`s literally pay to play. The second thing is to me, this is -- you know, we talked a lot in the first phase of the investigation about hackers, about trolls, about troll factories, to me, this is the part that smells and tastes and looks the most like Russia. Really weird money flows to weird places, basically corruption and dark money. And that`s -- and that`s where Russia world meets Trump world very kind of seamlessly it seems.
HAYES: That`s an interesting point.
SHACHTMAN: And there may be a quo to this quid pro quo. So Vekselberg`s company Rusal was sanctioned in April and at the end of April, those sanctions were relaxed and rolled back until October. So Vekselberg may have gotten something in return. You know, all of a sudden his company that he owned 26.2 percent of, the other big portion was owned by Oleg Deripaska who was Paul Manafort`s paymaster, those sanctions have now been rolled back until October or have been delayed until October allowing them to get the money out.
HAYES: I just also want to say as a final point on the social consulting. There`s a lot I want no know about essential consulting now. Like it`s this business that pays off the woman accusing the President of having extramarital affair, the hush money, it`s also the business that Novartis writes $400,000 checks to and $200,000 from the AT&T and the Korean industry and the question I would like to know is, does any money flow from essential consulting back to the President of the United States because we know money goes into the other direction, thanks to Rudy Giuliani. The President reimburses Michael Cohen for a payment he makes there. Does any money that goes into Michael Cohen ever go back to the President? That is an interesting questioning among many others that I would like to see pursued. Julia Ioffe, Noel Shachtman, and the one and only Ari Melber, thank you all.
MELBER: Thank you.
HAYES: For more on what this story means for Michael Cohen and the Russia investigation, I`m joined by Emily Jane Fox, Senior Reporter for Vanity Fair and MSNBC Legal Analyst Jill Wine-Banks, a former Watergate Prosecutor. Emily, let me start with you because I know that you have reported on Michael Cohen for quite some time. I -- how -- what is he -- where is he right now?
EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: Well, I presume he`s home probably watching the coverage of this. This is a man who in the month now since the raids has gone through initially surprise, has been disappointed by his former boss, someone he considered family and completely isolated and alone from the people in Washington who running the show. Look, Donald Trump made a very good show of distancing himself from Michael Cohen`s businesses a couple of weeks ago. Michael Cohen was caught off guard by those comments. Last week Rudy Giuliani further kind of distanced himself from Cohen. Now, these reports come out. I wonder, is there another opportunity where the President is going to have to again, distance himself and leaving Michael Cohen feeling further isolated and further alone and as one person close to Cohen put it to me over the weekend, that is a very dangerous place for Michael Cohen to be in for Donald Trump.
HAYES: Meaning in terms of what he would do vis-a-vis cooperating or what he would be inclined to do?
FOX: Whatever mental state you are in when someone you consider like family then puts extreme distance between the two of you and someone who has put potential leverage, that is a space that Michael Cohen could be entering.
HAYES: Rudy Giuliani said there`s nothing to worry about because there`s no -- he doesn`t have leverage because he doesn`t know anything. Although gosh, there`s so many questions that I have just about essentially consulting LLC. Jill, you know, the famous line in all the President`s men is follow the money. And I think people forget what that was about. So maybe a little refresher because it does seem like we`re having a little deja vu here.
JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: We are. And to follow the money in Watergate was because there were $100 bills found on the burglars at the Democratic National Committee and the money could be traced back to an illegal campaign contribution to the committee to re-elect the President and the President didn`t want that to be followed so he was trying to get the CIA to tell the FBI that national security was involved and they shouldn`t follow the money trail. And obviously following the money proved that cash came from the White House and from the committee to re-elect the President to pay for this break-in. It was a very big connection to the underlying crime. And today`s revelations are more breathtaking even than that. We`ve gone from the Steele dossier to the Avenatti dossier. AT&T has confirmed that it did pay Cohen so that confirms at least one element of this. And the connection to Russia, to collusion, is becoming more and clearer. It makes it harder to understand why Mueller transferred it to the Southern District because it does seem like a really good link to collusion and it does look like money that probably was going from Cohen to the President for access.
FOX: I will say that two people familiar with the situation told me over the weekend that a lot of the questions that you have about essential consulting and a lot of Michael Cohen`s businesses and bank accounts and loans and mortgages and all of that information, there is -- there are people who have answers to those questions because those documents were seized from Michael Cohen`s office a month ago. So the search warrant, of course, it included things about Stormy Daniels about the Access Hollywood tapes, about all of the things that have been reported. But according to these two people, it also included everything we need to know or everything people want to know about essential consulting as well so --
HAYES: Which would make sense. And again my position on all of this just to be clear is -- whatever the facts are, if they are exculpatory, that`s great to. Like -- I would just like to know, Jill, I mean, what does it mean that there was someone this close to the President, associate of the President, friend of the President, the President`s lawyer who`s taking these very big payments from entities that clearly have interest before the President of the United States.
BANKS: Obviously it`s a very bad situation and does look very incriminating. And you are right, we don`t know, but I`m willing to bet that Robert Mueller knows. He has the documents and someday we will all know when those documents are revealed in a court of law. And in the meantime, the court of public opinion, this could be the moment that turns people`s attention to what is really going on. And I think Julia said it in the last segment, this is exactly what we`ve been talking about. This is not draining the swamp, this is pay to play. That is exactly what it looks like. It`s hard to explain any other way. I don`t know how Michael Avenatti got these documents and it has been -- I heard the suggestion that it was through the search warrant and through his participation in that. It doesn`t matter whether the money went to Stormy Daniels, whether that`s what paid -- it is the fact that the money went into --
HAYES: Right --
BANKS: -- Michael Cohen`s account and your question of did it then go directly to the President.
HAYES: Well, that`s --
BANKS: That`s what seems likely and I think that`s the question that needs to be researched.
HAYES: Yes, again, we don`t have any evidence but if any of the money --we do know the money flowed in one direction, right? We do know the president reimbursed Michael Cohen for Stormy Daniels. The question of if money to Michael Cohen through this entity, does it end up in the President`s pocket?
FOX: These are all questions that we have to figure out.
HAYES: All right, Emily Jane Fox, and Jill Wine-Banks, great to have you both.
BANKS: Thank you.
HAYES: Coming up, we`ve got the top Democrat in the House Intel Committee who reacts to this breaking to Michael Cohen news. My interview with Congressman Adam Schiff in two minutes.
HAYES: The Attorney for Stormy Daniels tonight published documents claiming that President Trump`s personal attorney Michael Cohen received large sums of money plan from an oligarch linked to Vladimir Putin. Now, NBC News can report tonight it has reviewed financial documents that appear to support Avenatti`s account in the transactions, some of the other things alleged in Avenatti`s report have been confirmed by other entities that apparently made payments to Cohen`s vehicle. Earlier tonight I spoke with Congressman Adam Schiff, the Ranking Democrat on House Intelligence about this bombshell reports.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING DEMOCRAT, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well they are quite intense allegations and if this is correct, if Vekselberg sent Michael Cohen half a million dollars, of course, the question is why. Now, in what Avenatti put out, he is just asking the question I think whether there was reimburse Mr. Trump or Mr. Cohen for paying hush money to Stormy Daniels but don`t know number one, at this point whether it`s confirmed that he made that payment to Cohen and number two, what that payment was for. But it would explain something that has been a question for me and that is this intense interest in Michael Cohen, both on the part of the special counsel but also the intense worry about the President, what is driving this is this really only about Stormy Daniels. I`ve always found that hard to believe that the Justice Department would be prepared to take on the lawyer to the President, a search of a lawyer at all is unusual but let alone the President`s lawyer if it is just about a potential campaign finance violation. So it would make sense both in terms of stopping Vekselberg at the airport to question him or seize his devices, but it would make sense in terms of the intense interest over that search in New York.
HAYES: Was Vekselberg someone on your radar and your team`s radar as you were conducting your own investigation on that intelligence committee?
SCHIFF: Yes. And I can`t go into the particulars, but this is someone who had come to our attention. But again, this was someone that the GOP on our Committee would not allow us to do a full investigation. So while he had come to our attention, we were not allowed to pursue the matter.
HAYES: The other people on your committee that you just mentioned, Devin Nunes, of course, being one of them, there are allegations that he is essentially been using his purse to share information with the White House to allow them to plot a legal strategy. Do you have an opinion on that?
SCHIFF: Well, there`s certainly good reason to believe that this is a coordinated effort between the committee or the Chairman and not just our chairman, but also members of the GOP on the Judiciary Committee Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan because what they`re doing is very much in lockstep. You see this escalating fight with the Justice Department where these Republican members and in the interest of defending the President are making a continuing escalating series of demands on the Justice Department, not because they particularly want the documents they are asking for and indeed our own Chairman has acknowledged he doesn`t read them, but because they`re interested in asking for more and more sensitive information until they get no for an answer. It`s the fight that they want. And when they get no nor an answer, you see the President immediately chime in as if on cue saying why won`t the Justice Department comply, as if the President cares about document production to Congress. So this is -- it looks choreographed, designed to prompt a fight, designed to give the President a pretext to either fire people or further bash the Justice Department.
HAYES: In light of what is being alleged this evening from Michael Avenatti, and again, I don`t know the source of the documents, the bank transactions he claims to know about, we don`t know yet -- hard confirmation of that. But in light of that, are you confident that the Justice Department, the Southern District, and the Special Counsel Office can all be protected from this political pressure being brought to bear to follow the leads to where ever they go?
SCHIFF: Well, I`m not confident because, at the end of the day, the ones that will protect the investigation are the members of Congress. Now the President has been threatening to fire Bob Mueller, at one point he tried to fire Bob Mueller. At another point, he evidently stayed his hand in terms of firing Mueller because he was assured by special counsel at least reportedly that they were not subpoenaing Deutsche Bank. I think the special counsel needs to subpoena Deutsche Bank. We need to know whether the Russians were laundering money through the Trump Organization via Deutsche Bank. We need to know whether Russia holds this lever over the head or the President of the United States. So I am concerned that Congress is not stepping up to its institutional responsibility to protect this investigation, to allow the investigators to follow facts wherever they lead.
HAYES: Adam Schiff, Congressman of California on the House Intelligence Committee. Thanks for your time tonight.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Chris.
HAYES: Up next, Republicans in West Virginia just choose Don Blankenship as their Senate Candidate. The polls are closed and Steve Kornacki has the early returns after the break.
HAYES: It`s primary night in West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina. Polls are already closed about an hour ago. The first numbers are trickling in. In Indiana, NBC News projected Businessman Mike Braun is the projected winner in the Senate Republican Primary race that was very hard-fought. In Ohio, Democrats and Republicans are choosing their nominees to run, to succeed outgoing Governor John Kasich. And in West Virginia Republicans are holding their breath worried that coal Baron turned convict Don Blankenship could, in fact, win the GOP Senate primary. Here with the big -- the latest in the big board, MSNBC National, and Political Correspondent Steve Kornacki. Steve, what do we got?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL AND POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is coming in slowly, Chris. We kind of expected that. We`re waiting for the pace to pick up because what you could see right now, there`s two things going on. If you look at this, you say, Blankenship is in trouble. He may be. That may end up being the story here. But what you`re looking at with Blankenship sitting here at 18 percent with you know, a scattering of votes coming in, we think that mostly what you`re seeing on your screen right here are absentee ballots. These are votes that were cast a while back, not yet votes that were cast today. So what we need to see -- remember, this is kind of the end of story here. The polling, the last public polling in this race about two weeks ago, Blankenship was in third at 16 percent. The thing Republicans have been warning about is that there was a surge over the final weekend of this campaign that put him in first place. So we want to see election day vote and see if he`s you know, doubling up this 18 percent. We see him getting here in the absentee. And by the way, the absentee really seems contrary. This is Monongalia County, Morgantown, West Virginia University, a lot of the absentee vote seems to be from there and also the second big place, Jefferson County, Eastern Panhandle almost getting the Washington suburbs there. So if that tells you anything about the nature of the vote, we talk about these college educated upscale Republicans a little bit. You might be more likely to find them there in again, in the absentee. So we`re going to see as the election day vote comes. And you could see a little bit more coming in there, if Blankenship makes a move, that`s probably the story of the next half hour or so as that starts to take shape, Chris. And very quickly, I can show you one other thing. It`s a bit of -- if I could get this to flip. Joe Manchin is a Democratic Primary about ten percent of the vote and he`s sitting about 70 percent. NBC News still say it`s too early to call Manchin leading, so it may be a little more strength at least early on for the environmental activist who`s running against him. Manchin seems in pretty good shape here, but you do see some discontent there on the Democratic side with him. But we`ll keep an eye on this one, Chris.
HAYES: And quickly Steve, what -- how is your sense -- I mean, it was very hard to sort of pars the dynamics of this race down the stretch because there was no public polling and everyone was sort of releasing these internal saying Blankenship is surging. How -- did you -- should we take that at face value? What was your sense of the actual dynamics?
KORNACKI: I -- this is an -- the ultimate test of it. When we start hearing about internal polls, this is a great test. If Blankenship flames out tonight, remember this for years to come, I would say, if Blankenship ends up in contention wins, then maybe those internal polls get -- we`re hearing multiple internal polls. The reason I`ve been -- I`ve had my antenna up the last few days is you watch two things happen. Number one was he dominated the coverage.
KORNACKI: Since about a week ago, this race has been all about Don Blankenship. And it`s been the dynamic he wants, the press nationally has been in here -- you know, a lot of critical coverage of him. He wants that. He wants the national press shining a bright light on him, drawing a negative attention to him in some cases. So, he wants that.
The other thing is, there was a debate last week. It was on the Fox News Channel, nationally televised. There was a moment in that debate that really stuck out at me, and I asked the candidates, raise your hand if you will vote for Mitch McConnell to be the Republican leader. Morrisey and Jenkins, they didn`t know what to do. They gave these non-answers. They kind of stammered their way through, and Blankenship literally ducked at the podium and said I didn`t want anybody to be confused how little enthusiasm I have for Mitch McConnell. The place went crazy.
And I think there is something in that sentiment, maybe, if he does move up here.
HAYES: Yes, the man that -- Blankenship calls somewhat inscrutably Cocaine Mitch.
Steve Kornacki, thanks for that.
Here with me from the Don Blankenship headquarters, Bob Kincaid of HeadOn Radio in West Virginia, a lifelong West Virginia resident.
Bob, how does this race look from where you are?
BOB KINCAID, WEST VIRGINIA RADIO HOST: Chris, good evening. In many ways this race is going to be as much as referendum on West Virginia Republican voters as it is on the candidates themselves. In particular, Don Blankenship has a long history of enjoying meddling in West Virginia politics and frankly it is -- it`s -- none of what has shocked the nation in the last couple of weeks with the bigoted xenophobic ads that he`s run have been shocking to anybody here in West Virginia watching it for the last several years.
The fact of the matter is, he would not have run these ads if they did not have a certain resonance with a significant portion of the Republican electorate in this state and it goes way back to as far as 14 years ago when he was using a victim of sexual who had been reoffended in his own right to bolster a supreme court candidate that he needed on the court in order to fix a judgment for him.
So we kind of expect this out of Don Blankenship.
HAYES: What is his -- I mean, when you think about Roy Moore who is the sort of one comparison in Alabama. That`s someone who was elected to statewide office. He had a political constituency and as a controversial figure. Did Blankenship have a political constituency, does he have a political constituency, prior to this race?
KINCAID: Well, of course he has, because he managed to leverage that supreme court victory back in the early aughts. And there have been people all along who have supported him and said that he was somehow put upon, or that he was a victim.
But to be fair there is a distinction between don Blankenship and Roy Moore. Roy Moore never got 29 people incinerated past recognizable as human beings.
HAYES: And what does that mean for your average West Virginia voter? The warning from Republicans is that this guy might win a primary, but he`s absolutely toxic even in a state that Trump won by 42 points. Do you agree with that argument.
KINCAID: No. No. Frankly given the toxic qualities of the campaign -- there is a through line nationally that runs from the Nixon`s southern strategy, through Lee Atwater and Willie Horton that -- and this is the naturally outgrowth of it.
This state apparently -- put some sort of value on the kind of bigotry and xenophobia and hatred that has been the cornerstone of this campaign. West Virginia might very well vote for Don Blankenship just to spite everyone.
HAYES: All right, Bob Kincaid, thanks for giving us your insight from West Virginia tonight. I appreciate it.
KINCAID: My pleasure, Chris, any time.
HAYES: Still to come, the massive implications for war and peace as Donald Trump chooses to withdraw, to leave the Iran deal. We`ll talk about what happens next.
Plus Scott Pruitt is becoming a real fixture in Thing One, Thing Two, next.
HAYES: Thing One tonight, Scott Pruitt, the Mary Lou Retton of the swamp Olympics, has travel expenses which are just legendary. And thanks, in part, to his decision to fly first class to avoid those unpleasant interactions that can sometimes happen in coach.
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SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Issues that arise in travel and there have been instances, unfortunately, during my time as administrator as I have flown, and I spent time -- of interaction that`s not been the best.
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HAYES: The official reason he gave for flying first class everywhere is the same reason he has for 24 hour security detail, and total security costs approaching $3 million, according to an EPA official, costs that include a 20-member full time detail that is more than three times the size of his predecessors. And the official justification for that enormous security presence? Well, what the EPA spokesman calls an unprecedented number of threats against Scott Pruitt.
Now, no one, absolutely no one, would begrudge, protecting a federal cabinet member in the face of an alarming spike of credible threats.
But is that the case? That`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.
HAYES: So thanks to a FOIA request by the New York Times, we now know just how many threats have been made to the EPA under Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt. There is a slight uptick compared to the last two years of the Obama administration, though the Department of Homeland Security as recently as February wrote that, quote, EPA intelligence has not identified any specific credible direct threat to the EPA administrator.
Now some of the instances were pretty scary: people writing aggressive and threatening postcards and emails and some of the threat investigations are decidedly less worrisome. This one, for instance, a Newsweek magazine cover taped to inside of elevator at an EPA building, quote, a mustache which is appears to be hand drawn, appears on the face of Administrator Pruitt.
Now the Newsweek cover was apparently this one from early this year. We don`t know exactly what it looked like with a mustache drawn on it, but our All In artist rendering shows the threat might have looked something like this.
That case was recommended by for closure by the case agent`s special agent. I`m quoting now. A review of the printout yielded that the printout did not contain any threatening information.
Well said case agent special agent. Well said.
HAYES: Now to a story that is making headlines across the world tonight, a decision by the president that some say marks the United States biggest self inflicted foreign policy wound since the Iraq war.
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TRUMP: I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
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HAYES: Donald Trump`s decision to unilaterally discard the 2015 deal in which Iran agreed to limits and inspections on its nuclear capabilities in exchange for a roll back of sanctions comes despite U.S. intelligence agencies own determination that Iran has been holding up its end of that bargain. The move paves the way for Iran to potentially restart its nuclear program and marks the U.S. turning its back on some of the closest allies, including the UK, France, and Germany all signatories to the deal.
It gives a tacit thumbs up to those eager to start a full-fledged regional war in the most explosive region of the world.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, how does this make America safer? How does this make America safer?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. This will make America much safer. Thank you very much.
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HAYES: Trump`s move prompted a rare condemnation from his predecessor Barack Obama for whom the Iran deal was a signature foreign policy achievement. In a statement, Obama called Trump`s move a serious mistake and said that without the deal, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear armed Iran or another war in the Middle East.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he would negotiate with the remaining signatories of the deal, which include China and Russia, about keeping the agreement in place, though it was unclear whether that is possible with the U.S. now poised to reinstate sanctions and impose new economic penalties.
Among those celebrating tonight are the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Middle Eastern nations that view Iran as an acute threat, and that have gotten very, very close to the Trump administration.
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BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel thanks President Trump for his courageous leadership, his commitment to confront the terrorist regime in Tehran and his commitment to ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons.
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HAYES: When we come back, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson on what all this means for the chances of war and the message Trump is sending to North Korea about U.S. credibility. Stay with us.
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TRUMP: Today`s action sends a critical message, the United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them.
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HAYES: Joining me now to discuss President Trump`s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Colonel, what does this decision mean for U.S. security and for the chances of war in the region.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Chris you may be familiar with an op-ed that appeared in the New York Times a few weeks ago by me that essentially said I see it all happening again. I indicated Nikki Haley as one of the ingredients of it happening again, neo-conservative par excellance at the UN. Now we have John Bolton, another neo-conservative as the National Security Adviser, and we have another sign post on a war with Iran.
We`re marching down the same route we took in 2002 and 2003 with regard to Iraq, but this time it`s Iran.
HAYES: Why do you say that?
WILKERSON: I say it because I think that`s what Mr. Netanyahu and his defense minister Avigdor Lieberman want. I think they want chaos in the region so that the Arabs can`t coalesce in any kind of unified way to attack Israel. And they want Persians gone. They want them out of their life in terms of a threat, particularly now that they have infiltrated Syria to the degree that they have.
And I can understand that strategic concern on the part of Israel. but they don`t want to do it themselves. They know they would get mired like they did in `82 when they invaded Lebanon. They want us to bail them out. And they see us as the only power that has the ability to affect a quick regime change in Iran, whether it`s through bombing or invasion or the two together. And that`s what they want.
And I think we`re maybe unwittingly right now -- because I don`t think this president wants that. But I think he is being led to it.
HAYES: You know, it was interesting, Netanyahu said in that clip we just played, the president`s commitment to confront the terrorist regime in Iran I think is what he said, and I think he sort of tipped his hand.
What I`m hearing from you, this is less about the technical details of the deal, whether it would actually contain nuclear aspirations, and more about a set of interests and allies of the U.S. that really want an open confrontation with Iran.
WILKERSON: Absolutely. It`s about a power struggle in a very critical region of the world that happens to have about 30 percent of Saudi (ph) oil in it, passing through the strait and elsewhere. It`s a region that we have been concerned with for a very long time.
Backing out of this agreement, leaving this agreement, will have two possible outcomes. If Iran is smart, and if Rouhani can manage it, Zarif can manage it, they will make us the isolated party in this if the Europeans stay in it solidly, they could do that.
But I fear Rouhani is going to have too much trouble with the hardliners in Iran. And so they`re going to wind up ultimately playing into Netanyahu`s hands. Netanyahu right now is already striking more targets inside Syria that are allegedly Iranian supplies and so forth.
So, we`re walking down a route that looks an awful lot like the route we walked down in 2003 with Iraq.
HAYES: Now, one of the grand ironies here is Mike Pompeo is going to the Korean peninsula where in the midst of this, the U.S. is going to create nuclear diplomacy apparently with North Korea. What is the effect of this decision on those talks?
WILKERSON: Well, apparently, Kim Jong-un met with President Xi Jinping of China today in a port city in China and talked about this, and if I can trust the translation that I got, Kim is not worried about it at all. And were I he, I wouldn`t be worried about it either. He`s implemented the exact same gameplan that his father implemented with Kim Dae-jong when he got the Nobel Peace Prize in South Korea in 2000, when peace was coming to the peninsula and the sunshine policy was breaking out everwhere. Kim is working off the same master plan. And I see no master plan at all with regard to the Trump administration, whether it`s Pompeo or Trump himself.
So, Kim has got all the advantages here.
HAYES: All right, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, it`s always a pleasure. Thanks for being with me tonight.
WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.
HAYES: With me now, 2017 Nobel Peace-prize laureate, Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; and MSNBC contributor Hooman Majd, author of a number of books about modern Iran.
The president made a number of big splashy announcements that upon further scrutiny or less than they appear. Is that true of today`s announcement?
HOOMAN MAJD, IRANIAN-AMERICAN AUTHOR: No, I think it`s worse. Today`s announcement was much worse than expected, I think, for many people following this issue. There`s a finality to withdrawing from the deal rather than saying, I`m not going to continue certifying the deal as he did in November or even continue to waive sanctions. To say we`re actually withdrawing and make a big production out of it and say we`re not going to be in this deal, it`s an unfixable deal, it`s over, it`s dead.
And what`s the plan B? We don`t know. So, it`s much worse than I think most people expected him to do.
HAYES: What does this mean for non-proliferation? What does it mean for your European allies?
BEATRICE FIHN, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE LAUREATE: I think it`s extremely serious and very, very dangerous. We have a situation where we are unraveling a deal that worked, where Iran has actually complied with the deal, which leaves it open for them to remove the inspections so we don`t know what they will be doing.
And the dangerous part is that we`re doing this at the same time as we are also increasing the nuclear arms race in a way. We are actually boosting nuclear weapons, modernizing al the nuclear armed states and even European countries are saying that nuclear weapons are more important today than it`s been since the end of the Cold War.
And I think that that sends a very strong signal that you need nuclear weapons to protect yourself. It`s basically encouraging proliferation. So, it`s extremely dangerous.
HAYES: What has the reaction been like in Iran?
MAJD: Well, President Rouhani went on TV today in Iran, late night Iran time and said that he was -- Iran was going to try to stay in the deal as long as the benefits that it expected would accrue to it under the deal, could be guaranteed by the Europeans, the Chinese and the Russians.
Under those circumstances, Iran would stick with the deal. It`s hard to believe that that`s going to be possible.
HAYES: Just because the U.S. has just -- the U.S. has secondary sanctions on people such that people that are doing business, German firms for instance with Iran, if they get cut off because of the U.S., then the thing that the Iranians are getting is no longer there.
MAJD: Correct. And also I mean, even the new U.S. ambassador to Germany has said again today that you should not do business with Iran. She was in absolute violation of the deal, but now that they are no longer in the deal...
HAYES: I guess you can`t violate it, right.
MAJD: You can`t violate a deal you have already broken.
So, yeah, it`s going to be hard to imagine that that`s going to be possible. And in this winding down period that they`re talking about the sanctions actually taking affect, it`s 90 days and then 180 days. And if there`s no guarantee from the Europeans, Rouhani made it very clear that Iran would restart much of their program that had been shelved, in other words, more enrichment, more stockpiling, potentially a heavy water reactor starting up again, potentially -- all these are potentials.
And then what do we do?
HAYES: From the non-proliferation perspective, Netanyahu`s critique of the deal was that it put them on the path to the bomb, that this was -- that it wasn`t strong enough, that it wasn`t -- even if they didn`t violate it, the deal itself let them do too much such that they could at the end of the turn of the deal be like, presto, we have a weapon. What do you think of that?
FIHN: It`s just not true. I mean, the deal prevents them from developing nuclear weapons.
HAYES: You trust -- as someone invested in this specific issue, which is people not getting nuclear weapons.
FIHN: I trust the deal. And I trust the IAEA and I trust the inspections and I trust the U.S. government that said Iran is complying with this deal. They are complying with this deal. There`s no reason to break out of it.
Right now, we have no deal in that way. If Iran decides to pull out, we have nothing. That is definitely not better than the deal.
MAJD: And it`s important to note that even when the so-called sunset provisions expire in 2025, those are provisions on the JCPOA that expire, not the prohibition on Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Iran is going to stay. If this deal were to continue and be beneficial to all sides...
HAYES: Right, why leave it?
MAJD: Well, Iran would continue to be a member of the NPT, a signatory to the NPT, it would continue to abide by the additional protocols, so the inspectors that Beatrice is talking about, would be there forever.
HAYES: Go ahead.
FIHN: Yeah, I think that this is really key. I mean, Iran is prohibited from developing nuclear weapons like all the non-nuclear weapon states. Like this is really where also the European countries have a responsibility not just to make sure the deal continues and that Iran will stay in it, but also to show Iran that nuclear weapons is not an option. And the European has to do that by supporting efforts to disarmament.
HAYES: It always struck me as part of the disingenuous around this is that it was not really about the deal. I mean, the opponents of the deal, Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Isarel chief among them, view Israel -- view Iran as fundamentally a pernicious toxic player, that they have penetrated Syria, that they are on their borders everywhere, there`s Persian hegemony coming to the region...
MAJD: The empire is back.
HAYES: ...and they are serious about it. They really view Iran as a nasty, nasty player, and a big threat and the nuclear deal essentially took the U.S. off the kind of battlefield and they want it gone so that they can have a confrontation. What do you think of that analysis?
MAJD: Well, it made Iran stronger. There`s no question that the nuclear deal made Iran stronger. That was the point for Iran.
MAJD: Iran wasn`t making it to get weaker.
HAYES: You think that`s a valid critique.
MAJD: Well, it`s a critique that it made it stronger but Iran was going to get strong anyway, one way or another it was going to get stronger as time went on. There`s no reason to believe it was going to get weaker, because it wasn`t going to succumb to the sanctions and eventually sanctions don`t work, eventually sanctions will fall apart, and other people will stop implementing sanctions the way that the U.S. wanted to.
So, Iran was going -- Iran`s influence is not going to go away. It`s a country of 80 million people, very educated, powerful military. It`s not going away.
HAYES: Beatrice Fihn, and Hooman Majd, thank you both for sharing your insights.
That is All In for this evening. The Rachel Maddow Show starts right now.
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