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Trump pushing to save Chinese company. TRANSCRIPT: 05/15/2018. All In with Chris Hayes

Guests: Neera Tanden, Jeff Weaver, Annie Snider, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Lu, Michael Isikoff, Francesca Chambers

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: May 15, 2018 Guest: Neera Tanden, Jeff Weaver, Annie Snider, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Lu, Michael Isikoff, Francesca Chambers



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I could actually run my business and run government at the same time.

HAYES: The President promotes jobs in China as the Chinese invest half a billion into a Trump property.

TRUMP: As you know, I have a no conflict situation because I'm president.

HAYES: Tonight the ethical and national security backlash. Then, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, and the Ukrainian politician who's about to face Robert Mueller and the search for "traitors and cowards inside the White House."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, has the White House apologized to John McCain.

HAYES: The incredible self-inflicted firestorm over White House leaks.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: It's not so much leaking as using the media to shiv each other.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES: Good evening from New York, I'm Chris Hayes. Tonight a new details that might help explain why our America first president is inexplicably focused on rescuing a Chinese telecommunications company whose products our own national security agencies have called major cybersecurity threat. You'll remember this was the tweet Sunday Morning. "President Xi of China and I are working together to give massive Chinese phone company ZTE a way to get back into business fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done. Get it done, Commerce Department. Get ZTE back into business fast." Which is weird because it was the Commerce Department that just last month barred American tech firms from doing business with ZTE for a period of seven years. So why now is the President so gung-ho to save a company his own administration punished for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea? It's hard to believe he cares about saving Chinese jobs.


TRUMP: A real unemployment is anywhere from 18 to 20 percent. Don't believe the 5.6. They can't get jobs because there are no jobs because China has our jobs.

We're living through the greatest jobs theft in the history of the world. They're stealing our jobs. They're stealing our companies. They're taking our money.


HAYES: OK. So, let's rule out the President is very concerned about Chinese jobs. Today there are a number of possible explanations for Trump's brand-new position. One is that this could be part of a potential trade deal. A Chinese delegation visited with Trump officials today to continue negotiations. Now, according to Washington Post, the President has been told in recent days that relaxing restrictions on ZTE was a prerequisite to get the Chinese to engage in substantive discussions. But here's the thing about that. Yesterday, the President's own Commerce Secretary told reporters ZTE would not be part of trade talks with China.


WILBUR ROSS, SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: It also wouldn't surprise me if they would bring up the ZTE but our position has been that that's an enforcement action separate from trade.


HAYES: Within hours, the President directly contradicted his own Commerce Secretary tweeting, "ZTE, the large Chinese phone company buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies. This is also reflective of a larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi." So which is it? Who knows. Another possibility is the President is trying to curry favor with Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of next month's summit with North Korea. Now, the U.S. may think it needs China to help it keep up the pressure on North Korea to come to the table and get an actual deal and preparations for that summit just in a major snag today when the North abruptly suspended is talks with South Korea denouncing joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. So maybe that's why the President cares so much about keeping the Chinese happy. Or maybe, just maybe it has something to do with the fact that last week just three days before the President started tweeting about ZTE, his business partner on a massive development project in Indonesia which includes Trump-branded hotels, condos and a golf course announced the project has secured up to $500 million in U.S. dollars in, wait for it, Chinese government loans, according to the AFP. Now, we don't know if that's the real story because the White House won't talk about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Explain the administration's perspective on A, how this wouldn't violate the emoluments clause and B, how it wouldn't violate the President's own promise that his private organization would not be getting involved in new foreign deals while he was president.

RAJ SHAH, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: I'll have to refer to you the Trump Organization on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but I mean, the Trump Organization can't speak on behalf of the President as the president, the head of the federal government, the one who is responsible and who needs to ensure the American people and you don't have that responsibility.

SHAH: You're asking about a private organization's dealings that may have to do with a foreign government. That's not something I can speak to.


HAYES: Today the White House canceled its daily press briefing without explanation. I'm joined by Senator Richard Blumenthal, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of dozens of Democratic lawmakers suing the President for allegedly violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Senator, the deal that was just announced in Indonesia in which the Chinese government is going to give those half a billion dollars in loans, is that to your mind a violation of the Emoluments Clause on its face?

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It stinks. It fails to pass the smell test and on its face, it violates the Emoluments Claus. In fact, there's no need for quid pro quo for it to violate the Emoluments Clause. Indeed, we've already included that Indonesian deal in our lawsuit. And that lawsuit Blumenthal versus Trump, I'm the lead plaintiff, was filed a year ago almost to the day, June 14th of last year and it will be argued in court June 7th. We're going to add these additional details to that lawsuit and I think they will figure prominently in this legal action.

HAYES: If the White House was set on convincing you there wasn't anything stinky about this, that it wasn't a quid pro quo, what could they do to convince you of that?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, the President for one has to come forward to the Congress and actually provide the details. So far, he's refused to do so. The Congress has to consent to these kinds of foreign benefits or payments and this deal is only one of numerous such deals that we name in the lawsuit that involve the President violating the Constitution. There's no question that the President of the United States is defying the Constitution and breaking the Emoluments Clause. But the mere fact that we're asking these questions shows how he has shattered the ethical norms and violated basic principles of law by failing to come to Congress and seek its consent and I hope the judge will agree.

HAYES: What was your reaction to the two ZTE tweets?

BLUMENTHAL: My reaction was that this kind of reversal of the United States banning this company which is so clearly betrayed the trust of our government and the norms of international law is unconscionable and inexplicable. I found it difficult to believe. Now we have some explanation. The timing and circumstantial evidence points to some kind of quid pro quo so we can't really know.

HAYES: You think that's plausible? You think it's plausible the President of the United States just straight up one for the other invests in my deal, I will get your company back on the good side of the U.S. government?

BLUMENTHAL: I hope and I really do hope that that kind of suspicion problems to be untrue. But the only way we'll know is for the President to come forward with the details. And so far he's refused to do so.

HAYES: I should note that one of the President's nominees for top counterintelligence office testified today on the security threat of ZTE. The intelligence community and federal law enforcements is on the record with this committee and the American people with respect to the threat posed by China telecom. He was asked if he would ever use a ZTE phone, he said, I would not, Senator and I would not recommend anyone else would use it. Do you think the fears are justified?

BLUMENTHAL: The fears are certainly justified. We found to be not only that ZTE's products could be hackable by the Chinese, could be a security threat to our troops and others if they use them but also that ZTE has actually concealed evidence about its supposed compliance with an order that its separate senior personnel responsible for the betrayal. So I'm hoping that we will have our day in court for the sake of the American people, that we will show these Emoluments could have easily been avoided had the President simply divested himself from the Trump Organization. He continues to own the Trump Organization. And that's the kind of Emoluments violation that the Founders sought to directly stop and they regarded Congress as representatives of the American people in enforcing the Emoluments Claus. We're the only one who have standing to enforce it.

HAYES: All right, Senator Richard Blumenthal, thanks for joining me.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

HAYES: For more on the President's conflicts of interest, I'm joined by MSNBC Political Analyst Nick Confessore, Political Investigative Reporter for the New York Times, Chris Lu, former White House Cabinet Secretary and Assistant to President Barack Obama. And Chris, let me start with you. What do you think of this>

CHRIS LU, FORMER CABINET SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: Well, look, Senator Blumenthal talked about how much this stinks and the conflict of interest that's inherent in this. There are two other norms that the President is violate here. One is that presidents do not get involved in enforcement actions particularly enforcement action that your Secretary of Commerce has really stuck his neck out on. And what's ironic here is that not only did ZTE trade with Iran and North Korea, when they were caught on this they ended up lying about it and gave bonuses to the employees who were involved in this. And so it's the exact reason why you don't get involved in this precisely at a time when the President is re-imposing sanctions on Iran and companies that do business with Iran. So that's another norm that's been violated. The other norm is you don't issue policy pronouncements by Twitter. You do it after an orderly policy process. And by all accounts, the White House Press Office, as well as Secretary Ross, were caught off guard by this announcement.

HAYES: You know, it also brings to mind how little -- excuse me -- how little we know about the scope of the President's businesses. That one press conference, they show it all the folders with empty pages and that's it. That's all we've basically gotten.

NICK CONFESSORE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, look, and in fact, we have actually have seen quite a lot and every time we get a glimpse of the President's business or his in-law's businesses it's disturbing. So consider the pattern. We have the Kushner family trying to raise money with visas in China for the real estate developments. You have a trip to India by the Trump kids in conjunction with other things happening in the administration and now this. So every time a new deal pops up, you see people in the Trump family making real estate or financial deals on the margins of administration policy and that pattern is what is so striking and we can't responsibly connect the two. But the fact that it keeps happen is striking.

HAYES: Well, the -- I guess my question to you Nick, to follow up on that, as a reporter who works with documents and financial records, what would you need to see to be able to kind of actually report out and know whether things were on the up and up.

CONFESSORE: You would have to have in-depth documentation of when the discussions began for some of these projects, the terms on them. But really you would actually have to have some inside knowledge of discussions and channels in which the President and his team and the President's family. And you'd have to know what was happening in that interest between you know, official action and private action on the family's part. And it's very hard to get.

HAYES: Well, and Chris, one of the things the President said in that transition press conference with the prop pages of paper which remains one of my favorites, was that he wasn't going to talk to any the kids about -- his adult children about the business. And then later he's contradicted that. There no -- is there any way to enforce that? I mean, I guess he could just do whatever he wants to do on this score.

LU: When that's what we've learned is that these norms are basically invisible guardrails and that functionally if you have a President who is intent on running over those guardrails particularly when you have a Congress that is not going to be a coequal branch, no, there is no way of enforcing all this. And the hypocrisy on this pretty incredible. I remember in 2009 when we had the $800 billion stimulus program. President Obama gave funding for clean energy projects and Republicans were howling about how we were picking winners and losers among different companies. Hey, we were at least picking among American companies as winners and losers. We were not picking Chinese companies which had serious national security issues.

HAYES: Well, and there's the Uranium One story which was a favorite on Fox News in like forever in which it was a Russian acquisition and the acquisition had to go, to Chris' point, through an actual process with aboard that evaluated and unanimously said this acquisition is OK and the allegation was pay for play and Clinton's people could say look, they ran the process and the process came through this way. In this case, he is overriding what the process produced in terms of ZTE's status.

CONFESSORE: I mean, it's worse than I think, Chris. Look, of all the concessions the President could make to China in what might be an important trade negotiation, to pick the one concession aside from say steel tariffs that also raises a concurrent national security implication to pick that one and knowing that the Chinese suggested that it's a prerequisite, if they care so much about protecting this one phone maker's access to the U.S. market and U.S. parts, it should make him wonder why they care so much about this and maybe listen to his own bureaucrats on this question.

HAYES: There's also the question, Chris, is, however, it's being receive in the White House what the Chinese are thinking when the go-ahead is given through a government-backed loan essentially a $500 million to a project they know is connected to the President.

LU: Well, that's a problem. I mean, look, the Indonesian project maybe completely separate from what's happening with ZTE, but the optics of this stink. You said that, Senator Blumenthal said it and it's exactly why we have divestment rules and why you don't have previous president who have business interests because anytime the President takes action, you're going to question the legitimacy of it.

HAYES: Final question for you, Nick, slightly adjacent to this. You have a story in the New York Times you broke with your colleague about the FBI now investigating Cambridge Analytica, the sort of notorious firm that was hired by the Trump Campaign run by conservative billionaire Robert Mercer or backed by him financially. What have you learned about that?

CONFESSORE: So what we've learned is that the FBI and the Justice Department have opened what may be a separate investigation from the Mueller probe into Cambridge Analytica and concurrent with an investigation by the U.K. version of the FBI. And they're looking at financial practices, at data practices, at violation of European data laws on the U.K. side. And this appears to be new. They've been making the rounds of financial institutions that have done business with Cambridge Analytica talking to ex-employees. So we thought the chapter was over for this company. They're now bankrupt and going out of business. But in fact, their hard journey is just beginning it seems.

HAYES: And from my -- from my gloss of your reporting, the article I read before I came on air, it seems like a fairly serious inquiry.

CONFESSORE: That's right. Look, It's not just the FBI making some rounds and talking. There's an actual person who is heavily involved in cybercrimes at Justice who's involved in this. So that suggests they are further along than just making the rounds and checking boxes.

HAYES: I'm going to need to get one of those like full like bird watching books to write down all the criminal inquiries and keep track of them when I spot hem. Chris Lu and Nick Confessore, great to have you both.

LU: Thank you.

HAYES: Next Michael Avenatti is tweeting. That's not good news for Michael Cohen or Donald Trump, generally. His latest is a doozy. We're still trying to make sense of that story which you want to see. It's coming in two minutes.


HAYES: For the past few days, Stormy Daniels lawyer, perhaps you heard of him, a nonstop Donald Trump antagonist Michael Avenatti has been teasing a bombshell story tweeting out images showing a Qatari investor entering Trump Tower with Avenatti claiming that that investor Ahmed al-Rumaihi later bragged about bribing Trump administration officials. That's the claim. A spokesperson confirmed to NBC News today that al-Rumaihi really was indeed in that elevator. He did he meet with Trump transition officials in Trump Tower during the transition December 2016. And then just a short time ago we got this, the Daily Mail reporting, I'm quoting here, Michael Cohen asked Qatari investor for millions of dollars which he said he would pass to Trump family members at that Trump Tower Meeting. Now, that is obviously a huge deal if it's true. We don't know if it is yet. The story I should note is sourced to a single unnamed Kuwaiti source and the Daily Mail which is a British tabloid has a somewhat mixed record. It wasn't always hued to the facts, it did break some important stories including Trump -- Rob Porter's spousal abusal which led to Porter's resignation. With me now to make sense of this and a whole bunch of other stuff in the news today, newly minted MSNBC Legal Analyst Mimi Rocah, former Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. Also with me, Yahoo! News Chief Investigative Correspondent Micheal Isikoff, co- author of the bestselling Russian Roulette: the Inside Story of Putin's War in America and the Election of Donald Trump. And Michael, let me start with you. That Daily Mail story is sourced to a single anonymous Kuwaiti official recounting a conversation he said he had with this individual after the meeting in Trump Tower. What do you make of it?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: Hard to know. Look, as crass, as Michael Cohen has been and it's hard to imagine that even he would advertise the fact that he was going to pay off Trump family members to a foreign national. I mean, you know, Cohen clearly you know, works at the edges, was pretty crude in the way he shook down American companies, but you know, advertising he's going to you know, funnel funds to the first family seems -- something even he would know is not advisable.

HAYES: Yes, what I would say is I would need a lot more confirmation to believe the story. What it does seems clear is that it seems totally possible and almost sort of obvious that Michael Cohen was probably hanging a lot around Trump Tower a lot during that period trolling for business now that weigh learned his M.O.

ISIKOFF: Right. And look, you know, there is a significant and potentially ominous development for him this week with the news that this former Ukrainian lawmaker Andrey Artemenko who devised this pro-Russian peace plan that was going to offer an opportunity for the Russians to lease Crimea from Ukraine for 50 to 100 years, that he is going to testify before Mueller's grand jury. For one thing, that shows that you know, the legal troubles facing Cohen are both not just in the Southern District but also continuing in the Mueller investigation itself. And the fact that a foreign national like Artemenko would be willing to accept a subpoena and testify suggests that he is in some way cooperating with Mueller's investigation. He doesn't have to fly over to Washington to testify before a grand jury. You know, Mueller doesn't have compulsory power to force him to do so. So I think that's probably an ominous development for Cohen, as well.

HAYES: As someone who is a Prosecutor in the Southern District, what do you think of that?

MIMI ROCAH, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's right, you know, and It's interesting that sort of each little fact that comes out is you know, we get closer and closer to it being verified. As you said, this is only one source about this claim about the millions of dollars, but you know, first it started with the photograph, now have confirmation --

HAYES: That he was in the building, right?

ROCAH: Right. And we have confirmation from Artemenko that you know, he's being subpoenaed and in fact he did meet with Cohen. So you know, we're trying to connect the dots and we only have about three dots. Mueller's connecting the dots and he's got a lot more to connect.

HAYES: How hard is it to get -- I mean, what does it mean when -- I was surprised too when I saw that Artemenko, again, this Ukrainian politician who sort of pitch this had peace plan that would lift sanctions that was carried through Michael Cohen back to the Trump White House. How hard is it or how unusual is it to get someone like that to fly in for grand jury testimony?

ROCAH: Well, Michael is right. There's no grand jury compulsory process in another country. But if he ever wanted to come here again which it sounds like he does for business and other purposes, he could be served with a subpoena then. So you know, to me --

HAYES: You're not without leverage if you're Mueller miss it.

ROCAH: Unless he never wants to set foot and do business here again and it doesn't sound like he's that kind of person. So you know, it was going to -- it sounds like it probably would have happened inevitably anyway. I mean, obviously, look, he might have other leverage over him. We don't know but it certainly that's one way to get someone who is out of the country to come now on your timeline is look, if you ever want to come back here, you're going to have to do it then so you might as well do it now.

HAYES: The other thing about Artemenko, Michael, coming to the grand jury is that you know, the White House has tried very hard to say look, they've already gotten to the collusion stuff. There's no collusion. Now there's all this talk about obstruction. Artemenko flying to the U.S. on a Friday to talk to the grand jury doesn't really square with that.

ISIKOFF: No, and let's remember why this is potentially significant. Artemenko gives this peace plan for the lifting of sanctions in exchange for you know, these various concession to the Russians to Felix Sater, the long-time Trump business associate who then gives it to Cohen, who then allegedly gives it to Michael Flynn. Now, why are those characters still of interest to Mueller? Remember, it was Sater and Cohen who were trying to do that second Trump Tower business deal while Trump was running for president. They were pursuing this business arrangement to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Something the American voters knew nothing about but we learned well after the election. And also, remember, this is February 2017. This is during a period when the -- when the Trump White House is pursuing the idea of lifting sanctions on Russia without any concession on the Russians' part. And you know, the fact that that came right after the election after everything that happened during the election, clearly Mueller is trying to connect those dots.

HAYES: All right, Mimi Rocah and Michael Isikoff, thank you both for being with me.


HAYES: Coming up, why the President is calling members of his staff apparently traitors and cowards, a fine-tuned machine of the White House next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) need to apologize to Senator McCain.

TRUMP: Really successful. The doctors were incredible. So Walter Reed (INAUDIBLE). thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator McCain apology, Mr. President?


HAYES: Senate Republicans are reportedly furious and openly seething over the White House's treatment of John McCain. So today's closed-door meeting with the President was a perfect opportunity for them to bring it up to his face. That is the insult by one of his staffers in a meeting except no one did. Republicans only asked two questions, neither about that comment about McCain's impending death. Five days an ago an aide to Trump said they didn't need to get a vote from John McCain on the CIA Director Nominee because the Senator who has brain cancer "is dying anyway." That story was quickly leaked to the Hill. And Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasted staffers for the McCain leak telling them "I'm sure this conversation is going to leak, too. She was right. It did. The White House has yet to issue a public apology. Instead, the President tweeted yesterday, "the leakers are traitors and cowards. I want to bring in Jennifer Ruben, Columnist for the Washington Post, and Francesca Chambers, White House Correspondent for the daily mail. Francesca, let me start with you. Why does the White House leak as much as it does?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, DAILY MAIL: Well, Kellyanne Conway pointed to this yesterday when she said there are some people who just seem to want to shiv their colleagues. But of course, there are also people in the administration I think as it pertains that this one who might candidly be very upset about what said about what was said about Senator John McCain, which is a fellow Republican and perhaps wanted to force the White House into a position where they had to do something.

That, of course, hasn't worked so far, because Kelly Sadler, I was told today, still has a job at the White House. She still has not, as far as we know, apologized publicly as of this time for the comment that she made, and Raj Shah, the deputy White House press secretary told reporters in the press briefing yesterday that the White House wasn't going to comment on this any further and refused to say whether or not he thought it was an inappropriate remark.

HAYES: Jennifer, I can't imagine them apologizing over anything, certainly not this.

RUBIN: Right. Frankly, it's almost a direct quote from President Trump who has always disparaged John McCain and just about everybody else and everything else.

The reason that these people behave in this fashion and use this kind of language is because the fish rots from the head. That's what the president does and he sets the tone. They emulate it.

The other reason I think they are leaking is that this is a slowly dying administration in which scandal and incompetence and dishonesty are going to be what is it's known for. And everyone is scrambling to distance themselves so that they're painted as somehow purer than the next guy to get their position out so that the blame falls elsewhere.

They're not traitors, that's something far different. But in one sense they are cowards. If they really don't believe in this administration, they know this president is so dishonest and so corrupt, they should leave but they don't have the nerve to do so.

HAYES: Yeah, this -- it's interesting you said, this is the Axios source, Axios which runs a ton of anonymous and blind items, sometimes in helpful bullet form, says that part of the reason they're leaking is to make sure there's an accurate record of what's really going on in the White House.

Do you -- Francesca, does that square to you?

What Jennifer's saying, whcih I'm not sure I necessarily agree with or think is right about the sort of sense of impending doom, things are closing in, implosion in that White House. Is that how it feels there, do you think?

CHAMBERS: Well, I think that she makes a very good point about the fact that sometimes things are leaking out into the public from the White House because various staffers want to get their position in front of the president and think if they can get it into the press, then the president will look at that point and listen to it.

But sometimes the White House is purposefully leaking information, because they want to get a reaction from the public and we've seen that several times in this administration before they've put out plans. And you repeatedly have the White House saying these are anonymous leaks and none of these things are acxtually happening and then of course they move forward with those plans so we doubt shortly afterwards.

HAYES: Well, and also, I mean, we should note my sense is the president talks to the press off the record all the time. He is one of the leakers, par excellence. He certainly has a record of doing that back in the New York tabloid days. There's also, it seems to me, Jennifer, the issue that usually White Houses convey information to the president through a closed process in which people produce briefing books, they produce memos. They work their way to the president, the president reads them and that's how he gets a lot of his information.

That does not appear to be the case in this White House. If you want to get something before the president, the surest way to do that is to leak that to the media that he is obsessively consuming all the time.

RUBIN: Yes, or go on Fox & Friends and talk directly to the camera to get his attention. But that is the problem. He does not read. He doesn't know what good advice is, so he doesn't seek out knowledgeable people. He has eliminated anybody who he perceives as less than sycophantic to him, so you have people like HR McMaster who was replaced by John Bolton. You have a whole series of firings for people who are insufficiently loyal to him.

And right now you have a closed circus -- closed circuit and a circus actually of people who will not tell him bad news, who not argue with him, who simply confirm his judgment. So, if there's someone within the bureaucracy who feels desperate to try to get his attention, this is in fact one way to do it.

HAYES: Is it understaffed in that White House, Francesca? It strikes me that it must be.

CHAMBERS: Well, the White House would say that they don't need as many staff for President Trump. I mean, you look at the communications director position which remains empty at this point. They'll say that the president is his own best communications director, so he doesn't need someone to be running point on communications directly and that they have plenty of other White House staffs, like Sarah Sanders and Raj Shah at the White House, as well.

HAYES: Jennifer Rubin and Francesca Chambers, thanks for joining us.

Still to come, the urgent health concern that the EPA and the White House do not want you to know about it because it would be a, quote, "public releases nightmare." The reporter that uncovered the story just ahead.

Plus tonight's Thing One, Thing Two starts next.


HAYES: Thing One tonight, you may remember former Texas congressman Blake Farenthold from this infamous image taken back in 2009 of then candidate at a pajama party in a ducky print onesie, or you may remmeber him from this fairly disastrous 2016 appearance on this very show.


HAYES: If a tape came out with Donald Trump saying that, saying I really like to rape women, you would continue to endorse him?

BLAKE FARENTHOLD, FRM. TEXAS CONGRESSMAN: I -- again, I'd -- that would be bad. And I would have to -- I'd consider it.


HAYES: It would be bad.

Or you may remember Mr. Farenthold from the most recent time he made headlines just last month when he resigned just as the House ethics committee was about to rule against him in a sexual harassment case? Well, our old friend, Blake Farenthold, is back in the news today. It's actually good news for him. He's got a new job, lobbying for a port in his home state of Texas, a port that got over $2 million in federal money a couple years ago thanks to Farenthold.

And he's going to be pretty well compensated, reportedly making $160,000 a year. That's more good news from Mr. Farenthold, because he has some outstanding debts, namely $84,000 of public money used to settle a sexual harassment case against the former congressman, which he promised to pay back.

Well, you'll never guess what he Farenthold had to say about that promise today. That's Thing Two in 60 seconds.


HAYES: Now former congressman Blake Farenthold made a big promise to taxpayers last year. He pledged he would pay back every penny of the $84,000 in federal funds he spent on set ling a sexual harassment suit.


FARENTHOLD: I'm doing my best and I'm going to hand a check over this week to -- to probably Speaker Ryan or somebody and say look, here's the amount of my settlement. Give it back to the taxpayers.


HAYES: Well, that would have been really nice if he had done that or if he had taken the suggestion by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to give the $84,000 state to cover the cost of the special election to fill his seat. But it's been six months and he hasn't done that either.

And so if you're out there holding your breath for a collecting from Congressman Ducky Jams, let it go. Today he told ABC, quote "I have been advised by my attorneys not to repay that."


HAYES: The Trump administration is going to war with itself. After the White House warned of a public relations nightmare if a federal study is released about contaminated water supplies near certain chemical plants and military bases nationwide.

According to an email obtained by Politico, an unidentified White House aide wrote "we," Department of Defense and EPA, "cannot seem to get the HHS agency for toxic substances to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be."

More than three months after that email, that crucial report has still not been made public. Annie Snider is an environmental reporter for Politico who wrote that piece based on newly obtained emails and she joins me now.

Let's start, Annie, with what the report is and where did it originate?

ANNIE SNIDER, POLITICO: So, this is a toxicology profile being conducted by an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. It's meant to be purely scientific look at the dangers of certain chemicals in this case it's for florinated compounds that were used broadly in fire fighting foam, in Teflon for their anti-stick properties. So, this is meant to be purely a scientific assessment of what are the dangers of this and at what level of exposure. And that's the key.

How much of this stuff can we be exposed to without seeing health effects and at what point do we have to start worrying?

HAYES: So, this report is written based on scientific data by someone in HHS that says here are the thresholds for when you should start to be worried about this. Is it surprising? Is it more people than previously thought might have to be worried?

SNIDER: So that's good question. So, this is actually a review of previously published research. So, it's not new research that's being conducted. And it is in fact lower than what EPA has previously said. So, EPA put out a health advisory for this class of compounds for a couple of them in 2016. But this is an area of rapidly developing research. And in fact shortly after that EPA health advisory came out, some new research came out finding effects at even lower levels of exposure, particularly related to the immune system and immune system effects.

So this study found that for particularly vulnerable populations -- children, infants, breastfeeding moms, that in even lower level of exposure than EPA had previously said could be dangerous.

HAYES: All right, so that he seems like a pretty important thing. Lower levels of exposure to this chemical in the water for children and babies and moms who are breastfeeding, that could be harmful.

Now, this makes its way to the White House, and I want to read from the unidentified White House aide in analyzing this. The public media and congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge. The impact to EPA and Defense Department is going to be extremely painful. We cannot seem to get them at HHS to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.

What has happened since then?

SNIDER: So there has been -- well, first of all, the study has not come out. So, nothing has happened on the administration's front. The emails indicate that there had been some reluctance at the HHS agency to reveal all of the information. This agency is known for being very slow, but there are strong indications that there was pressure exerted on the agency not to release the study in a timely manner.

In the time since we've reported this, though, there's been strong reaction on Capitol Hill. These compounds are in pretty much every American's blood and there are known contaminations of water supplies near a lot of military bases -- it was used in firefighter foam by the military -- and near factories and plants where these things were produced. So, there's strong concern from constituents and lawmaker who represent them.

HAYES: Yeah, you noted today that Mike Turner was the first Republican to call for the release of the, quote, nightmare chemical assessment the Trump administration sought to block. He is on armed services. His Ohio district has a lot of this, or has this chemical in the drinking water.

So do you think we'll see more of that?

SNIDER: Absolutely. So in the time since then, we have seen a couple of other Republicans come out with statements. So, Senator Capito of West Virginia who is on the Senate appropriations panel where Pruitt is testifying tomorrow, has also expressed some concerns. She and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia have been very outspoken on this issue, very concerned about it in West Virginia.

We've also seen statements from Thom Tillis of North Carolina who notably was one of the two Republican who's voiced opposition to the Trump administration's nominee, now failed nominee, to head the chemicals office at EPA. He was a former industry consultant and his nomination did not proceed because he couldn't get the votes largely because the state's twos Republican senators opposed it.

Their state is dealing with some huge chemical contamination crises, including a related chemical to the ones we're talking about here, another flourinated chemical, called GenX, in the Cape Fear River.

HAYES: All right, Annie Snider, this is a fantastic piece of reporting. Thank you for doing it.

SNIDER: Thank you.

HAYES: After the break, primary night in America in the age of Trump. What new voters want to hear and what are they hearing? The races to watch next.


HAYES: It's primary night in four states: Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon, and notably Pennsylvania, which is a new court-ordered congressional app, and a currently all-male congressional delegation. The outcome of tonight's races should help provide some idea of what's really moving voters now. Early reporting suggests it's not the dizzying Trump-driven news cycle. Politico reporting, for example, among others, Democrats running on health care, response to voters' worries about rising premiums and shrinking coverage.

To help analyze what's moving voters in 2018, Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress; and Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign, author of "How Bernie Won: Inside the Revolution That's Taking Back our Country and Where We Go From Here Out Today."

Neera, I saw you this morning in Washington, D.C., at the Cap Ideas festival.


HAYES: Well, thank you very much. It's very kind of you. I enjoyed the panel a great deal. We talked about the rule of law, Sally Yates, Amy Klobuchar and Ted Lew (ph), but one thing that struck me was Amy Klobuchar, who is up for reelection, talking about what her message to voters is, what they care about, and sort of doing two things at once. I want to play that sound to get your reaction. Take a listen.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) MINNESOTA: I believe progressives can do two things at once. We can, one, focus on that optimistic economic agenda and what needs to be done there, and then secondly protect our democracy.


HAYES: What was your takeaway from today of hearing a lot of prominent Democratic politicians talking at that conference about where the party is at and where its messaging is at right now?

TANDEN: I think Amy Klobuchar, Doug Jones, a whole range of politicians -- Phil Murphy, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders talked about issues that matter to voters and I do think that there is a bifurcation which is a lot of us care about the assault on democracy, and we expect our political leaders to defend our democracy from the assault that we see every day from Donald Trump and his entire administration. At the same time, voters are concerned about rising premiums and wage stagnation and a whole host of issues that affect their pocketbooks.

And I think what Amy Klobuchar was saying, and a lot of candidates out there, Conor Lamb, Doug Jones, a range of folks who were competing at a congressional or state level are saying we can talk about what affects people's bottom lines -- high gas prices, et cetera, at the same time that we say this is a democracy that is under assault from Donald trump.

And so I think we -- I think Donald Trump requires us to do both of those things: talk about what's affecting families, kitchen table issues, and protect our democracy from the assault on the judiciary and the free press.

HAYES: Jeff, you're nodding your head.

JEFF WEAVER, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I am. We do have to do both things at once. And I think, you know, as the book you mentioned, we discussed in the book, you know, when you poll voters, when you talk to voters no matter where they come from they have a very similar set of things they're looking for, right, they want economic security for their family.

They want to be able to have their kids have a better life than they do. They want to have a family that can live in dignity, social dignity. And so the question is are we articulating a platform or a program that speaks to those issues and at the same time speaks to the very different barriers that different communities face in trying to reach that sort of set of common aspirations.

And I think sometimes we fall down because either we -- and, you know, I'll use 2016 as a sort of microcosm of this. Bernie Sanders talked very much about a sort of aspirational view much more so than I think the focus was in the Clinton campaign. The Clinton campaign focused much more on the barriers that many communities faced, although Bernie talked about those, too. And I think we need to merge those so that we are talking at the same time about a common vision for America that uplifts all people while at the same time acknowledging many communities have different barriers and higher obstacles to reach that set of common aspirations.

And I think when you do that I think you'll put together the kind of coalition we need to win.

HAYES: Well, it's funny you say that. Because, Neera, it strikes me that when you get down to the grassroots level and you read -- if you talk to people in races, talk to people running, you report on what's happening in the Democratic Party. There's been some, you know, pretty pitched primary fights.

But it's not like those primary fights have been along particularly familiar axes. And, in fact, it doesn't strike me that there's a really intense balkanized Democratic base at this moment in 2018, particularly when you compare to 2010 when the Tea Party just came after a bunch of Democratic and Republican incumbents and just threw them out of office.

TANDEN: Absolutely. I would say the greatest irony is that during the Obama age, Republicans decided to go far right and they basically knocked out a bunch of moderate Republicans. In this age under Donald Trump, I think Democrats are concentrated, they're trying to think through who is the best candidate to win victory and sometimes that will be a very progressive candidate, sometimes that's going to be a moderate candidate.

But I think the kind of warfare we saw in 2016 in previous eras, you know, I people are pretty practical, they want to have a progressive candidate who can also win.

And I totally take Jeff Weaver's point about trying to build a coalition where you both marry the issues around racial injustice with economic injustice, and I think both of those issues together are uniting progressive candidates to take on what we see as a real assault on Democracy and a whole host of progressive values.

HAYES: And it's also going to matter where you're running, right.

WEAVER: No, look I don't think -- you know, every time I go on TV I hear this thing, do we want progressive candidates or we want candidates who can bring bring back the voters that we have lost to Trump? And that's absolutely -- entirely the wrong question. The question is, is that we have to move in a progressive direction in order to bring those voters back. I mean, if you look at the 2016 primary, Bernie Sanders won in rural areas. He won more conservative Democrats. The way to get to the people we have lost is to speak about a bold, progressive agenda.

HAYES: All right, Neera Tanden and Jeff Weaver, thank you very much for your time today. It was good to see you this morning, Neera.

Today is the day the first three episodes of "Why is this Happening?" my brand-new podcast, I mentioned it before, are now available for streaming. We have gotten some amazing feedback from people who have already listened. Thank you for that.

If you haven't checked it out, you should. You can go to tune in, whatever you use to subscribe and listen, and let me know what you think. There is three episodes up. They are all pretty interesting.

That is ALL IN for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.


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