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Corporate Cohen payments raise legal questions. TRANSCRIPT: 05/10/2018. All In with Chris Hayes

Guests: Lanhee Chen, Maya Wiley, Jason Kander, Nayyera Haq, Tim Shorrock, Rosalind Helderman, David Corn, Ian Bassin, Benjamin Wittes, Betsy Woodruff

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: May 10, 2018 Guest: Lanhee Chen, Maya Wiley, Jason Kander, Nayyera Haq, Tim Shorrock, Rosalind Helderman, David Corn, Ian Bassin, Benjamin Wittes, Betsy Woodruff

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.



The President weighs in n his attorney`s secret slush fund.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER, STORMY DANIELS: He was selling access to the highest office in the land, at best that`s what he was doing.

HAYES: Tonight why the best case scenario for President Trump`s lawyer is looking less and less likely.

Then as the White House echoes a former president --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it`s time to wrap it up.


HAYES: The latest Devin Nunes stunt to stop Mueller.

Plus, like Sheldon Adelson is having the best week ever.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it`s fine. I like Sheldon a lot.

HAYES: And what to expect as the time and place for the summit with Kim Jong-un are now set.

TRUMP: We want to thank Kim Jong-un who really was excellent to these three incredible people.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. I don`t know anything about it. That`s what the President of the United States told his attorneys Tuesday night after news broke that his long-time lawyer, fixer, and bagman, Michael Cohen, has received millions of dollars in corporate payments, and that`s according to Rudy Giuliani in an interview with Time Magazine. Now, those payments flowed through the same shell company that Cohen had used to pay off the President`s alleged mistress before the election. Asked if the President had directed Cohen to take all that money, Giuliani told Time, I have no idea. I doubt it. He joins much of Trump world in trying to minimize revelations about Cohen`s lucrative side hustle, denying that it cross any legal or ethical lines or the President played any role whatsoever. But of course, the President also said on camera, as you`ll recall, that he didn`t know anything about the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels.


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


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

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

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

TRUMP: No, I don`t know.


HAYES: That claim, we now know, is false. The President did know about the Stormy Daniels` payment though he still hasn`t come clean about when he found out about it. And Rudy Giuliani has been saying a lot of things lately we have reason to believe are not true. And just today, he resigned abruptly from his law firm amid tensions over some of his recent statements. And based on everything we`ve learned about Cohen`s activities in the last couple of days, we keep getting new information as recently as a few hours ago. The most charitable interpretation is that he was simply engaging in a cursor, more secretive, more vulgar version of standard Washington influence peddling. Michael Cohen gets to profit off his ties to people in power. And the companies that hired him like AT&T and pharmaceutical firm Novartis pony up for access. The same kind of thing that Cohen`s former boss railed against a candidate.


TRUMP: I know the game. I mean, I understand it. And so many people have come up, lobbyists. I said I don`t want money from lobbyists. The system we have is broken because a guy like Bush, a guy like Walker, all these people are controlled by people who give them the money. It is time to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.


HAYES: All right, that`s the best case scenario of what Cohen has been up to. But here`s the thing. There are numerous reasons to believe that scenario may not be the truth. For starters, let`s start with this. Prior to taking money from corporate clients, let`s remember that Cohen`s LLC, Essential Consultants was being used to pay hush money to the President`s alleged mistress and somewhat unexplainably to a former Playboy Playmate who said she got pregnant after an affair with a top GOP donor. The business, Essential Consultants doesn`t have any public presence, it doesn`t even have a Web site. And then there`s Columbus Nova, a frim linked to the Russian oligarch allegedly paid Cohen half a million dollars. That oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg attended the President`s inauguration, but company now denied he had anything to do with hiring Cohen. Columbus Nova has now scrubbed its Web site in order to distance itself from Vekselberg. And Cohen`s contract with Novartis, the pharmaceutical firm, that also raises a number of questions. The company says it paid him $100,000 a month for a year, even after realizing he couldn`t deliver what they had offered. They apparently took one meeting. And during that same year, according to the Daily Beast, listen to this. Novartis` formal payments to outside lobbying firms averaged under $12,000 a month, less than an eighth of what it paid Cohen to do zero work. The total of $1.2 million Novartis is paying Cohen exceeds any single lobbying contract in all of Washington last year, according to analysis by Politico. And if you want evidence of Michael Cohen`s so-called consulting work might not have been on the up and up, look no further than the fact that the special counsel`s contact on some of the companies that hired him and crucially a magistrate judge and the upper levels of the Department of Justice signed off on a warrant to raid Cohen`s office and residences. I`m joined by two journalists who are hot on the trail of this story. Rosalind Helderman, Politics Reporter for the Washington Post and David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief for Mother Jones. Rosalind, let me start with you because you`ve got a new scoop about the AT&T contract. What did you learn about what AT&T paid Michael Cohen for?

ROSALIND HELDERMAN, POLITICS REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, that`s right. We obtained internal company documents from AT&T that laid out the scope of work that Michael Cohen was supposed to undertake for $50,000 a month or $600,000 for the year 2017. And it turns out it was the issues that were most pressing for AT&T in front of the federal government. He was supposed to specifically focus on corporate tax reform, a major Trump Campaign issue and on the Time Warner merger. This had been announced by AT&T in October just before the election, and Donald Trump had come out on the campaign trail and said that he was opposed to it. So that was a major problem for AT&T. And lo and behold, it`s right there in the document that we obtained that the Time Warner merger is something that Michael Cohen was supposed to focus on in this deal.

HAYES: David, you`ve also been tracking the Columbus Nova part of this. What did you learn about them and their protestations that they don`t have very much to do with Viktor Vekselberg at all?

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Yes, Columbus Nova, a U.S. based company put out a statement trying to distance itself from Viktor Vekselberg and then terms about $500,000 payment to Michael Cohen. Well, myself and Dan Friedman, one of my colleagues at Mother Jones did a deep dive into SEC filings. And boy, these things are hard to figure out. But what we did see was that Viktor Vekselberg was intimately involved with many aspects of Columbus Nova. He`s not only the cousin of the guy who runs Columbus Nova who`s an American citizen named Andrew Intrater, they have each have shell companies in these very opaque deals that work together. So even if the Columbus Nova statement is true, that Vekselberg does not own the company, it is a very much a part of his gigantic transnational business empire. And that`s very key here. So the question is, what are they paying Cohen for, and how can he be getting anything from a company connected to an oligarch particularly at that point in time.

HAYES: Rosalind, you even -- I think, if I`m not mistaken, you`re reporting places Intrater, the guy who runs Columbus Nova, his cousin Viktor Vekselberg and Cohen together at the inauguration, is that right?

HELDERMAN: Yes. That`s right. Intrater gave $250,000 at the inauguration. Viktor Vekselberg who had met three previous U.S. presidents but never before attended an inauguration came to Washington for Donald Trump`s inauguration and we understand that there was a moment when Cohen, Intrater, and Vekselberg were together in a group at the inauguration.

HAYES: You know, David you`ve been reporting on Washington on influence in Washington, on money in politics in Washington for decades and you and I have worked together. And I know you know how Washington works well. So I want to ask you what you make of an argument (INAUDIBLE) that like maybe this was a little crasser than what usually happens but this is just how the game works.

Well, it`s a lot crasser. I mean, we have seen Trump people form companies, consulting companies and try to cash in and really just you know, be as swampy as you can get. But Michael Cohen is now the biggest swamp monster we have. And the question also is whether he was delivering any real services for the money he got. There are questions where he`s bribing them, there may be questions raised about fraud and we have one company saying well, we paid him for a year and didn`t have him do anything. So I mean, this is the type of thing that if you had a Congress that was doing its job would start oversight hearings immediately because it may not be criminal but it certainly is wrong.

HAYES: Rosalind, Novartis has interestingly as David mentioned gotten out ahead of this a little bit to say look, we sign this had contract, we met with him. He had nothing to offer so we just stuck in the contract and never used him. What does AT&T say about what work product the man produced for $600,000?

HELDERMAN: Well, they say that he provided insights into the Trump Administration. I should note that the CEO of Novartis sent an e-mail to their employees today apologizing for this contract and saying that it was poorly handled by the company but we have not seen anything like that from AT&T.

HAYES: And we`ve got -- am I right that they haven`t produced anything more specific than that statement, that he was providing insights?

HELDERMAN: Yes, that`s right. When we came to them with the documents that we have received that kind of laid out specifically exactly what he was hired to help with, they declined to comment about that.

HAYES: All right. Yes.

CORN: That`s also true with Columbus Nova. We don`t have a clear idea what he was hired to do for them.

HAYES: It seems like a pretty simple question that everyone should be able to answer. I mean, working at a large corporation, people aren`t signing off on $1.2 million, $600,000 contracts willy-nilly and then not getting anything in return willy-nilly. Like someone`s flagging that internally and there`s some answers somewhere about what this guy did or did not do that I would like to see. Rosalind Helderman and David Corn, thanks for joining me.

CORN: Thank you.

HAYES: For more on the potential legal jeopardy that Michael Cohen faces, I`m joined by MSNBC Legal Analyst Barbara McQuade, former Federal Prosecutor and Ian Bassin, a former Associate White House Counsel and Executive Director of the non-profit Protect Democracy. Barbara, I want to start with you and I want to play you an interview with Sam Nunberg, former inner circle member of Trump -- former member of Trump`s inner circle talking about his testimony before the grand jury, and this is what he had to say about Mueller`s team focusing on Michael Cohen. Take a listen.

SAM NUNBERG, FORMER AIDE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: During the voluntary interview, as they go through all these issues and then they go through your history - - they wanted to know my history, my interactions with Michael. They wanted obviously Trump Tower Moscow, which I had nothing to do with. I never met Felix Sater, was a major issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anything about Michael Cohen and payments?

NUNBERG: And payments to whom?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Payments to anybody.

NUNBERG: Yes, sure. Like I told you, they asked about what his role was going to be and they asked if I had any knowledge about payments, which I didn`t.


NUNBERG: So I mean, certainly, it was -- certainly an area of interest for them.


HAYES: What`s the significance there, Barbara?

BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it does sound like Robert Mueller`s team was aware of all of this information long before the public was, which is probably not surprising, in asking about areas. You know, a lot of times when you`re trying to corroborate information that you have, you might ask a witness about his awareness of things. They may end up knowing nothing about it, they may be able to tell you a lot about it. And so it`s not unusual to learn information from one witness or set up documents and ask other witnesses to answer those questions. But it seems, based on the reporting, that Robert Mueller`s team has interviewed representatives on some of these corporations, stopped Viktor Vekselberg at the airport and interviewed him there, that they`ve known for a long time about this things. And of course, they have subpoena power to get their arms around all of these documents, to see these payments. And so no doubt they`re trying to make sense of them by asking witnesses like Sam Nunberg, questions at the grand jury.

HAYES: Are you buying the stories coming from AT&T and Columbus Nova on those folks?

IAN BASSIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PROTECT DEMOCRACY: Look, they knew -- they knew what they were getting into here, right? Michael Cohen does not have any expertise on telecommunications or health policy. What he offers is access to the President. And this is what`s so dangerous about what`s happening here is we`ve seen things like run-of-the-mill corruption in Washington before. Matt Yglesias a great piece in Vox during the transition calling it venal corruption, right? someone tries to lie in their own pockets by selling access. But what we`re looking at here, something that looks a little more like systemic corruption where the President is publicly saying he`s going to potentially intervene in regulatory matters that DOJ is undertaking or other agencies are undertaking, sending signals that he might change the regulatory landscape for companies like Amazon, that he doesn`t like, cost them a fortune. You know, when you`re a CEO and you see that the President can knock $55 billion off Amazon`s market capital in a single tweet. Your thought is I got to pay someone here to keep them off my back. And once that happens --

HAYES: That`s a really great point.

BASSIN: -- you really get into a situation that looks a lot more like how Vladimir Putin runs Russia or el-Sisi run Egypt which is where it`s -- what we`ve been calling in Protecting Democracy autocratic capture. Where you essentially need to pay the autocrat in order to survive in the regulatory stay and when that happens, democracy itself is in danger.

HAYES: Barbara, there`s something you want to say?

MCQUADE: Oh, I was just wanting to you know, chime in on whether these payments are genuine. You know, if you look at the breadth of the expertise that Michael Cohen was paid for, tax consulting, accounting, real estate, health care, anti-trust, you know, someone who`s had one client for the past 17 years, it seems amazing that they would have the kind of expertise to be able to consult with all of these companies and so there is at least some suspicion, I think, likely among the prosecutors, that this is pretextual and instead it was access and influence that he had to sell and not expertise.

HAYES: Extend that metaphor for a second because in other place, this is really a common model and I said this one with the tariff decision which is it`s a great setup for corruption when you say blank a tariff and then one- off deals to get lifted from it, right? So then countries can come in and say I can give you this, I can give you this. Ok you`re -- that is the way it works in a place like Egypt, right? Intense regulatory barriers to say, start a new business but if you pay off the right people. In those places, the money tends to ultimately flows back to the autocrat.

BASSIN: The money flows to the autocrat and it flows to the industry titans because in those countries, being a successful business person and being a supporter of the regime become one in the same. And the danger is that when elections come around, the powerful industry titans keep the regime in power because they know where their bread is buttered. They`re getting an advantage in the regulatory marketplace over others and want to keep that advantage.

HAYES: Now, we should -- we should note here, DOJ is still block -- attempting to block the AT&T merger, right? So I want to be very clear that -- you know, it`s almost -- it`s a progressive position. I mean, a lot of anti-trust people on the left think it`s the right thing to do and they haven`t been flipped by the $600,000 in Michael Cohen`s pocket.

BASSIN: And this is the problem. You can actually have a legitimate public debate on whether it is a good anti-trust prosecution because everyone`s wondering what`s the motivation is? Is it actually a policy motivation or is this some corrupt motivation coming from the President?

HAYES: Barbara, quickly, what did you mean by pretextual??

MCQUADE: Well, that the payments are not in fact for his expertise perhaps but instead for access or influence. You know, one of the things we sometimes see in a municipal governments, we`ve had it here many years ago in the city of Detroit with the former mayor. You had to pay to play. So if you wanted to be on the do business with the city, you had to pay consultants and experts and others, contractors a fee that was then ultimately shared with the mayor for him to make decisions in awarding contracts. And so, that was on a micro level, something perhaps we may be seeing at a larger level and the federal level.

HAYES: Ultimately shared with the mayor. I want people to keep that in mind when they think about what is emerging here. Barbara McQuade and Ian Bassin, great to have you both. Next, Vice President Pence channeling his inner Richard Nixon tells Robert Mueller time to wrap it up. That and the latest stunt from Devin Nunes in two minutes.


NIXON: As you know, I have provided to the special prosecutor voluntarily a great deal of material. I believe that I have provided all the material that he needs to conclude his investigations and to proceed to prosecute the guilty and to clear the innocent. I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.


HAYES: During the 1974 State of the Union Address, more than a year into the Watergate investigation, President Richard Nixon said enough is enough. Eight months later, Nixon became the only U.S. President to resign from office. Today marks exactly a week before the one-year anniversary of Robert Mueller appointment as special prosecutor. And as we found today during an interview with Andrea Mitchell, Vice President Pence shares the same internal clock as Nixon.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: What I think is that it`s been about a year since this investigation began, our administration has provided over a million documents. We fully cooperated in it. And in the interest of the country, I think it`s time to wrap it up.


HAYES: The Vice President isn`t the only one interested in ending Mueller`s probe prematurely. Wait till you hear until what Devin Nunes is up to today. Joining me not to talk about the ongoing efforts to trip up the Mueller probe, Benjamin Wittes, Senior Fellow at Brookings and Editor- in-Chief at the Lawfare blog and Betsy Woodruff, Political Reporter with the Daily Beast. Ben, let me start with you on the -- on the latest Nunes back and forth. I think this is something you`ve been tracking at Lawfare very carefully. He subpoenaed the Department of Justice for information on a person that the Department said if it was revealed would essentially reveal sources and methods, Nunes said no, no, no, I was never interested in any individual. We`re interested in documents that should have been given to us last fall. And then the Washington Post got its hands on the document and it`s very clear Nunes was looking for an individual. Today he went over and met with the DOJ. What`s going on here?

BENJAMIN WITTES, EDITOR IN CHIEF, LAWFARE: Well, I mean, I guess the latest is that it does seem that maybe he is backing down. Although, it`s always premature to say that about Devin Nunes. Look, this is an extremely upsetting situation. And you know, every time you think that there is -- you`ve reached the low with the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, you know, he finds a way to knock at you from below that. And, you know, going after information about an intelligence source is a violation of the most sacred trust that the intelligence oversight system has with the intelligence agencies. You know, if the government cannot protect this material, there is simply no reason why anyone would cooperate with the CIA, why anyone who would volunteer to help the FBI when doing so might endanger their life or safety. These are agencies that, you know, have to protect sources and part of the function of the House Intelligence Committee is to do oversight in a fashion that`s consistent with that. And so what Devin Nunes is doing here is really very similar to what those of us who were, you know, upset about, for example, Edward Snowden, were concerned that he was doing, right? Only this is somebody who has sworn an oath to the Constitution of the United States, to participate in oversight in a fashion that protects that material.

HAYES: Betsy, it`s interesting to me that in this dispute, escalating dispute between Devin Nunes and the Department of Justice, and he was over there today and appears to as Ben said, climb down, Paul Ryan got Devin Nunes` back on this which is I think that`s surprising to a number of people. Take a listen to what he has to say.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think this request is wholly appropriate, it`s completely within the scope of the investigation that`s been ongoing for a while with respect to FISA. I actually think that this is something that probably should have been answered a while ago. I`ve spoken with Chairman Gowdy, I`ve spoken with Chairman Nunes, I`ve spoken with the Deputy Attorney General on this. I expect that we will be able to have an accommodation to honor this request.


HAYES: Surprised by that?

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, DAILY BEAST: You know, it`s interesting because it indicates there was a lot of political support on the right behind Devin Nunes. Nunes himself seems to be quite close to the White House and the fact that he`s pushing forward with this, with the help of Paul Ryan, is telling. Look, part of the reason that`s important is that it indicates if Paul Ryan has to choose between standing by the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee and standing with the Justice Department, he`s going to choose the former. And let`s remember the nature of the investigation that Nunes is undertaking here. What he`s looking at is this question of the wiretap of Carter Page. That`s something that`s been well established as very much within the legal bounds. There`s been all sorts of hand-wringing and hair pulling over on Capitol Hill about this. This is what the entire #releasethememo, kerfuffle unfolded over several months ago that your show covered quite closely. The reality is that this isn`t something that concerns serious watchdogs. People who are in the position to be able to say whether or not what we know about the government indicates there was wrongdoing, have not found good evidence that there was wrongdoing with the Carter Page wiretap. We should all be skeptical about these things, right? It`s good to ask questions but the answers to Nunes` questions are no, this one looks like it was pretty much OK. At the same time though, Nunes is using this as an excuse to go after senior officials at the Justice Department and essentially to take on President Trump`s biggest political enemies and that`s something that`s quite significant.

HAYES: Well, Ben, I mean, a lot of people think that this is essentially pretextual. It`s an escalating ladder of asks until he gets a hard no that gives then gives a kind of cause to go after Rosenstein. What do you think of that?

WITTES: Oh, I think that`s you know, that`s clearly part of what`s going on here, that there`s a --you know, an effort to push and push and push until the Justice Department cannot say yes, cannot accommodate and then use that as a pretext or as a spark for a confrontation. And you know, the problem with that is that, you know, there is a Justice Department to run and there is -- you know -- you know, this isn`t the way these interactions are supposed to work. And it does, on a day-to-day basis, it sends a message to those people who would cooperate with law enforcement that the Justice Department cannot and will not protect you. And, you know, it also sends a message to the men and women of the Justice Department that the Justice Department cannot protect you either. And that message is being sent every day and it is incredibly corrosive.

HAYES: All right, Benjamin Wittes and Betsy Woodruff, thank you for making the time tonight. I appreciate it. Next, the assorted story of how Sheldon Adelson cut a $30 million check to save House Republicans and protect Donald Trump.


HAYES: Are you having a great year, viewer? Well, I don`t know if you are, but do you know who is having a great year? Thanks to Trump and the Republican Party, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson not only did his company notch a first-quarter windfall, that`s one-fourth of the year of $670 million as a result to the massive Republican tax cut, he also scored big in his foreign policy interest. Trump scuttle the Iran deal as he hoped that he would and is going to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, also a big Adelson priority. So last week, Republican Speaker of the House went to Las Vegas to meet Sheldon Adelson and collect a reward for all his party`s efforts. A $30 million check made out to GOP aligned super PAC with one hilarious caveat into how it was acquired. "As a federally elected official, Ryan is not permitted to solicit seven-figure political donations. When Ryan left the room, Norm Coleman , chair of the Republican Jewish coalition, made the ask and secured the $30 million contribution."

I want to bring in former assistant U.S. attorney Maya Wiley, Jason Kander, president of voting rights group Let America Vote, and Lanhee Chen, a former adviser to Senator Marco Rubio`s 2016 presidential run.

Lanhee, I`m going to start with you on Donald Trump`s view on how Sheldon Adelson`s giving works back in 2016 about the candidate you worked for, Marco Rubio. Take a listen.


TRUMP: I like Sheldon a lot. He has been a person that I`ve known over the years. We have a very good relationship. And you know I`m self- funding. I don`t want anybody`s money. But if Sheldon gives to him, he will have total control over Rubio, and that`s the problem with the way the system works.


HAYES: Seems kind of accurate.

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER RUBIO 2016 AID: First of all, he didn`t self-fund. So, you know, let`s just get that out of the way.

HAYES: Well, that part isn`t accurate, yes, agreed.

CHEN: But with respect to how this works. Look, in politics -- I hate to say it, Chris, but I think the role of money in politics is far too great. And I think we see what happens on both sides -- it`s not just a Republican problem, Democrats have this problem as well. And so I would like to see less of a role for money in politics, but obviously it does raise serious questions on both sides.

HAYES: Well, there`s a concentration here, too, I mean partly because the big -- this chart is a favorite chart of mine, Jason. This is the estate tax part of the tax cut. Now the estate tax hits a tiny, tiny percentage of people. These are big donors heirs for the Republican Party who literally got billions of dollars to their estate value on a small provision that doesn`t impact a lot of people in the Republican tax cut and I think there`s a reason that one if you`re just basically purchasing this from the government.

JASON KANDER, PRESIDENT, LET AMERICA VOTE: It`s a pretty basic return on investment here, right.

HAYES: Oh, it`s like the best return on investment I`ve ever seen in my life.

KANDER: Even for a guy in the casino business. You know, $10 million and gets $670 million back. I guess he has decided to invest three times as much so the Republican congress will maybe give him three times as much back.

I think this math is rather simple, actually.

HAYES: I thought Norm Coleman asked too low. I mean, you just -- you`re up 670 in the quarter. Cut us 100 here? We`ll take half.

MAYA WILEY, FRM. ASSISTANT ATTORNEY: But there`s nothing new about this. I mean, we`ve got a long, long, long history of it. The real problem is that we`ve opened the spigots with the Citizens United case with the Supreme Court, which unfortunately made a bad situation worse in terms of unfettered corporate spending to get candidates elected.

HAYES: And particularly concentrated in the hands of the very rich, Lanhee. I mean, there is an argument that in some ways everyone is spending way too little. I mean, Sheldon Adelson is a great example, right. I you look at his bottom line, the guy -- I don`t know, write a billion dollar check. Like, there`s -- like, you know, right now have no limits on this sort of spending. And it just seems like we`re paving the path toward endless corruption.

CHEN: Yeah. I mean, it`s problematic for a number of different reasons. First of all, obviously, you`ve got massive individual donors on each side who are giving to these outside groups. And by the way, campaigns technically should not be coordinating with these groups. So campaigns they don`t have control over what these groups do.

Yeah, so campaigns shouldn`t be. I mean, obviously, I think...

HAYES: Wink, wink, nod, nod, yeah.

CHEN: There have been situations where you`re like, that`s an interesting coincidence. If you put that aside for a minute, obviously, the big issue here is the separation of the campaign itself and the message of the campaign from these massive outside groups that spend all of this money, these trends are, indeed, very, very troubling and they do end up sort of shining a spotlight on massive individual donors on both sides.

KANDER: Lahnee is doing a good job here, Chris, of getting the term "both sides" in here three times. I mean, I have to give him credit. If anybody was playing at home, like cross that off your bingo card, like Lahnee got in "both sides" three times.

There is a pretty big difference that should be pointed out here, and that difference is one side thinks this is crazy. One side says this is not how this is supposed to work. Yes, the rules exist and apply equally to everyone, but one side says we should change these rules.

WILEY: That`s right.

KANDER: I`m glad to be on that side.

HAYES: We should also note that to Lahnee`s point in terms of how the system works, the current system was created by a lawsuit by Mitch McConnell. And he said it`s one of the proudest things he has ever done in his life. And it is the position, it is the sort of ideological position of the Republican Party.

Lahnee, correct me if I`m wrong, it`s the ideology of the Republican Party that Citizens United is rightly decided and this is how it should work.

CHEN: Yeah, no, I think a lot of Republicans take that point of view as sort of -- if you want to call them first amendment absolutists that the notion is that corporate speech is just as protectable as individual speech, because corporations and individuals are indistinguishable. We`ve had this discussion on before on this show, I think, Chris.

But, look, I think it is the case that most Republicans believe Citizens United was correctly decided, not all, but most. That`s right.

WILEY: Can I just say this is really important? The fact that we call corporations people is actually one of the ways we did that was actually through one of the post Civil War amendments that was supposed to protect black people`s citizenships in this country. And what we have seen -- and there`s some research that shows that more Supreme Court precedent has gone to protecting corporations than black people.

So, at the same time that we have all this voter suppression, whether it`s voter ID laws or eliminating early voting or making it more difficult for people to register through motor voter or any of the other ways that actually opens up the avenues for democratic practice, at the same time we`ve seen a pullback from that, we`ve also seen the floodgates of essentially a very few, very wealthy people being able to influence politics in a dramatic way.

HAYES: There`s also a foreign policy component here. The rich donors might have different foreign policy priorities. Sheldon Adelson has very intense foreign policy priorities as it relates to Israel, you can imagine people having intense foreign policy priorities around Brexit or NATO, or Ukraine and Donblast (ph), right, just depending on what their particular interests are. But you get a U.S. foreign policy where you have to wonder what is actually guiding it.

KANDER: Well, there was a time when we would -- we had this practice that politics stopped at the water`s edge. And then we went through a period where it didn`t stop at the water`s edge anymore and then eventually people just quit saying that all together.

And now apparently we have to be concerned that one individual in Nevada, very potentially -- and no matter what you think about the policy decision, at the end of the day, no matter what that person thinks, they probably should not have that outsized influence over the foreign policy of the United States.

HAYES: Maya?

WILEY: Well, that`s clearly right. It`s also clear, and we should note it, that there are other factors that impact elections, including mobilization. Some of that money that is well spent actually goes to supporting people`s ability to actually engage directly in elections and, therefore, have their voices heard on foreign policy as well as local issues. And that money -- if the more money you have for mobilization and actual registration and access to the polls will actually translate into a greater democracy and that`s one of the things we have to focus on.

KANDER: But the point you made is a good one, which is a lot of this money on the Republican side would be used to try to stop that.

HAYES: We`ll see -- a lot of it is going to be spent on the air and on Facebook as well.

Maya Wiley, Jason Kander, and Lahnee Chen, thanks for your time.

Still to come, we now have a date and a place for the high stakes summit between the president and Kim Jong-un. What is a good deal for the U.S., for the world, for the Korean peninsula this look like?

And tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two starts next.


HAYES: Thing One tonight, with so much focus on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and all his high-class businesses we almost forgot about Cohen`s quasi client super landlord Sean Hannity. According to a Washington Post investiation, Hannity owns 1,000 rental properties in seven states through two dozen limited liability companies, the four largest apartment complexes are in Georgia with 613 units.

So, you might say there`s basically a Hannity town. What`s it like to live in Hannity town?


SHEMEKIA FLUELLEN, APARTMENT RESIDENT: My middle child used to wake me up sometimes and would feel like something was crawling on her and she would say she was itchy. I ended up experiencing a bed bug situation from living there.


HAYES: That`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.


HAYES: So a tenant says even after catching up with her late fees her rent check was rejected because she could not also pay the $1,050 cleaning fee for a bed bug infestation, according to a Washington Post investigation, which delved into the aggressive rate of evictions at Hannity properties. Quote, "Managers at Hannity`s four largest apartment complexes in Georgia have sought court-ordered evictions at twice the statewide rate and frequently have done so less than two weeks after a missed payment. And the tenants they sought to evict included a former corrections officer and her wife who fell behind while awaiting a disability determination, and a double amputee who had lived in an apartment with her daughter for five years, but did not pay on time after being hospitalized."

Hannity`s attorney told the post the evictions were appropriate and Hannity was not involved.

Now, Sean Hannity is obviously free to own properties and let his managers evict tenants as aggressively as within the law at twice an already high- state rate, properties which needn`t many of which were bought on the cheap back in 2013, according to a Guardian report, taking full advantage of the great recession foreclosures.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: And the dream of owning your own home has been made a nightmare under Obama for many Americans. The rate of those who own a home has now dropped several percentage points. Now, we also saw record numbers of foreclosures during his presidency.



HAYES: The nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA has resurfaced America`s use of torture during the Bush administration. And it`s prompted the pro-torture chorus to once again crowd out all the same old morally depraved, often circular arguments to argue that actually torture is a good thing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I supported it wholeheartedly. I still do to this day, prepared to defend it and debate it and argue it.

SEBASTIAN GORKA: Sometimes when there is a ticking time bomb, when you may be saving thousands of lives, then that decision may have to be taken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it were my call I would not discontinue those programs. I would have them active and ready to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the definitions the left wanted out there, standing for a long period of time, sleep deprivation, that sounds like a long day in the Secret Service where I used to work.


HAYES: One defender of these war crimes went so far as to invoke torture survivor John McCain who opposes Haspel`s nomination to argue for torture`s effectiveness.


UNIDENTIFID MALE: Effective is John McCain -- it worked on John. That`s why they call him Songbird John. The fact is that those methods can work and are effective, as former Vice President Cheney said.


HAYES: For the record, as Politifact, among others noted, there is no evidence McCain helped the enemy in Vietnam despite being tortured.

Haspel told senators yesterday that as leader of the CIA, she would not bring back the torture program she once helped administer, but she also pointedly refused to condemn that torture program as immoral.

And every senator right now who is considering her nomination should understand that the advocates of torture and the people who want the U.S. to engage in war crimes will view a yes vote for Gina Haspel as a green light. Whether you like it or not, senators, that`s what you are now voting on.

Coming up, President Trump welcomes three detainees free from North Korea, but can`t stop himself from praising their captor. That remarkable scene and the latest on the high-stakes North Korean summit right after this.



TRUMP: I want to thank Kim Jong-un, who really was excellent to these three incredible people. They are really three incredible people.


HAYES: Earlier this morning President Trump greeted three Americans freed from North Korean labor camps after up to two years in detention, thanked their captor Kim Jong-un for being, quote, really excellent to them.

Shortly after that, Trump announced he would meet with Kim in Singapore on June 12th in a high stakes summit in which the U.S. will attempt apparently to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear program.

Joining me now former Obama State Department spokesperson and senior adviser Nayyera Haq. Also with me, Nation correspondent Tim Shorrock who writes frequently about U.S. policy in Asia and the Korean peninsula.

Nayara, let me start with from the sort of U.S. perspective here. What do you think the priority for the U.S. government, U.S. policy is going into the summit to get from North Korea?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Right. So there`s the political reality we`re in right now, which is not having a summit at Mar- a-Lago is considered a success. And we`re dealing with a president who is operating under the madman theory where let`s see what happens when you throw two people together who aren`t really focused on diplomacy and the nuances of give and take and negotiation and see what happens. So that`s pretty high-stakes negotiation.

The best that we could get would be a conversation in which they walk away to agree to continue talking. That`s the standard kind of thing you have when things haven`t been pre-baked in the way they normally would be. I think it would be ideal would be if we were to get the kind of deal we had with Iran, which is unprecedented access to nuclear sites, right.

In Iran, the IAEA had 12 people on the ground every day. They took apart 15,000 uranium enrichment facilities. That`s progress. That`s a big deal. To get to that in North Korea is going to be very, very challenging because there`s zero incentive for Kim to do that.

HAYES: Right. Well, Tim, I mean, North Korea first of all is already far more advanced in what they have than Iran, and also they just watched the Americans walk away from the Iran deal. I wonder how that -- how you think that will impact the dynamics going into this summit.

TIM SHORROCK, THE NATION: Well, first of all, I think it`s unfair to characterize the meeting as it was just characterized. I don`t think they`re just throwing them together and hope for the best. I think there`s been a lot of planning has gone on here. And the chief planner has been President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who has been very, very involved in this, you know, from the top, from January, from the time this diplomacy began.

And he`s going to be here on May 22 to meet with President Trump. And they`re going to go over very carefully what they want to accomplish and what Trump wants to accomplish at this meeting.

Second, you know, Mike Pompeo, who just became secretary of state, just came back from there last night with these prisoners from North Korea and he spent a few days there. The head of the CIA`s Korea mission center was also with him.

So there`s been a lot of contact between the two governments. And I think there`s been a lot of planning here. It`s not going to be some kind of haphazard meeting. And I`m actually quite optimistic about it.

I think that they have a clear deal on the table here, which is North Korea obviously wants to focus on its economy, believes it has a deterrent force against the United States and can negotiate from a principle of strength with the United States, and then they can start talking about ending their program and getting to the point where President Trump, the United States, the UN and other countries will lift sanctions. I think that`s the chief goal.

HAQ: Here`s the big challenge that we have in the United States right now is we don`t even have an ambassador to South Korea. So all of this conversation is really reliant upon South Korea`s leadership and their specific agenda for what needs to happen in the region.

We haven`t brought in China under U.S. auspices, and they`re critical to making sure that information and technology doesn`t continue flowing through North Korea. So there are several missing pieces that you would normally have involved in this negotiation and then entirely because of the Trump administration`s inability to staff with experts or confirm people in positions of authority.

HAYES: It also seems to me, Tim, that Moon Jae-in, who has been the leader in this, clearly has taken the lead in it, right? I mean, the announcement itself happens when the delegation from South Korea passes along the invitation to the White House, right?


HAYES: At a certain point, you wonder if there are diverging interests between South Korea and the U.S. I think it seems smart and altogether makes sense that South Korea`s taken the lead. It`s their peninsula. It`s their neighbor. They`re the ones most under threat. But one wonders when the actual Trump administration is there and people like Bolton and others are involved if they`re going to have different sort of red lines than, say, South Korea.

SHORROCK: Well, look, all last year the United States and many of the pundits here in Washington wanted China to be involved, wanted China to be the one who would be the interlocutor with North Korea and the intermediary between the U.S. and North Korea. It`s now South Korea. And that`s much better for Korea.

Remember, these are Korean people, you know, 50 million in South Korea, 25 million in North Korea, who want to end this Korean war that ended in an armistice. That`s why Moon has been so -- such an important force here and has been so strong on getting a peace agreement.

And I think all the pieces are there for a structured agreement, and I frankly think it`s a very good thing that China is not there at this point.

HAQ: Certainly we need to make sure that we don`t lose sight of the human rights elements in all of this, in trying to rush toward a deal that may or may not denuclearize. We don`t know what that definition is yet, that this is not at the expense of the people of North Korea and fixing -- and using United States leverage of sanctions to fix some of the atrocities that are have been going on there.

HAYES: All right, Nayyera Haq and Tim Shorrock, thank you both for being with me. Appreciate it.

All right, now for the moment I`ve been waiting for. For the last couple of months, I`ve been working on a new podcast. Have you heard of those? It`s called "Why is This Happening?" And in it I get to talk with people I think are some of the most fascinating and engaging thinkers and writers on a bunch of different topics and ask them to explore some of the big themes behind all the news stories that we churn through here on the news every day.

"Why is This Happening?" presented by MSNBC and NBC News Think. Oh, look at that. Isn`t that nice art? I don`t even wear a tie in that one. It`s a new podcast that will help you take a step back and think big about this incredible moment in time and try to understand better why this is happening.

The official launch is next Tuesday, May 15.

The good news is you can go to Apple Podcasts or TuneIn right now and listen to a little teaser trailer and then subscribe away so you can be the first person on your block to listen to our next episodes, which land on Tuesday, May 15. I cannot wait for you to hear it. That is ALL IN for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Ari Melber in for Rachel. Good evening, Ari.


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