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Trump lawyers: Presidents can't obstruct justice. TRANSCRIPT: 06/04/2018. All In with Chris Hayes

Guests: Jeff Merkley

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: June 4, 2018 Guest: Jeff Merkley

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



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- simply put, does the President believe he is above the law?

HAYES: The President claims absolute power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The claim in the letter is I am the law. I`m the king.

HAYES: Tonight, the fallout from the President`s claims on pardoning himself.

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: He has no intention of pardoning himself but he probably -- it doesn`t say can`t.

HAYES: And the astounding parallels to Richard Nixon.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.

HAYES: Then --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said he did not dictate, the lawyers said he did.

HAYES: White House caught in a massive lie over the Trump Tower meeting with Russians.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have no more respond to the letter from the president`s outside counsel.

HAYES: And this is what child separation looks like.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: American citizens are funding this operation.

HAYES: Senator Jeff Merkley goes to Texas.

MERKLEY: I`m a U.S. Senator.

HAYES: To investigate the Trump policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

MERKLEY: Can I go in with you please.

HAYES: and he`s back to tell me what he found when ALL IN starts right now.

MERKLEY: I`ve now been asked to leave the property.


HAYES: Good evening from New York I`m Chris Hayes. The President of the United States is asserting absolute authority to shield himself from legal liability, a power grab at least in what is being asserted the likes of which we have not seen since Richard Nixon. And this is exactly the kind of constitutional crisis experts have been warning about. And well now it looks like we are in the thick of it. It`s happening right now before our very eyes. The President tweeting this morning, "As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to pardon myself. But why would I do that when I`ve done nothing wrong?" Now it`s not clear which legal scholars the President`s referring to, most seem to disagree with his conclusion. And the last time the Justice Department officially weighed in on this very question in the waning days of the Nixon administration. As the walls were closing in on Richard Nixon the DOJ`s office of legal counsel ruled that "Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case the President cannot pardon himself."

Three days later, Nixon announced his resignation from office. But according to this president and his legal team, there are no constraints on the chief executive`s power to intervene in a federal investigation including an investigation of which he himself is a subject. As is they would have it the President cannot commit obstruction of justice when exercising his vast powers as head of the executive branch. In a letter delivered to Special Counsel back in January and published by the New York Times on Saturday, the President`s lawyers argue that his actions by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer could neither constitutionally nor legally constituted obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself. Think about that. And that he could if he wished terminate the inquiry or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired. It`s a similar argument to the one Nixon famously made after leaving office.


NIXON: When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.


NIXON: Exactly.


HAYES: In interviews over the weekend Rudy Giuliani who joined the President`s legal team after the letter was sent to Mueller acknowledge the potential political consequences if the President were to pardon himself.


GIULIANI: President Trump is not going to do that. He`s obviously not going to give up any of his pardon powers or any other future presidents pardon powers but under these circumstances, he`s not going to do that. The President of the United States pardoning himself would just be unthinkable and it would -- it would lead to probably an immediate impeachment. You know you get -- the House now send it beyond tremendous pressure. President Trump has no need to do that. He didn`t do anything wrong.


HAYES: Nevertheless, Giuliani has continued to assert increasingly ludicrous hypotheticals claiming the President could have shot James Comey and still not be indicted for it even under those circumstances according to Giuliani. The only penalty would be a political one. "Impeach him and then you could do whatever you want to do to him." Ask today if the President considers himself to be above the law, the White House had a tough time answering.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the President believe that he is above the law?

SANDERS: Certainly not. The President hasn`t done anything wrong --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) that there`s anything wrong, I guess the question is does the President believed the framers envisioned a system where the president can pardon himself, that the president could be above the law?

SANDERS: Certainly the Constitution very clearly lays out the law and once again the President hasn`t done anything wrong and we feel very comfortable on that front.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a moment ago you said it`s not it`s not that clear so. I guess it simply put does the President believe he is above the law?

SANDERS: Certainly no one is above the law.


HAYES: For more on the President`s claim he can pardon himself I`m joined by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And we`ll start with start with that first claim. Can the President pardon himself?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Nobody seems to think so and particularly not the Department of Justice. This has been one of a series of five different assertions that they`ve made that take us into I guess kind of a legal bizarro world where the President can`t be subpoenaed, the President can`t obstruct justice, the President can`t be charged with any offense, the President can pardon himself, the President can shut down the investigation, and oh, by the way, the whole Mueller investigation is unconstitutional. I think -- I think they went 0-6 on all of those.

HAYES: Would you -- what is your action as someone who has the oversight authority on a committee of the United States Senate that is there to hold the executive to account to these kinds of claims being made even if not if not in the commission of acts. He`s not actually pardoning himself in a sort of general conceptual sense.

WHITEHOUSE: Well it`s probably the kind of thing that we should look into. I`m hoping that there`ll be some hearings on this so we can explore it a little bit. But it just seems -- again what I said before, this is not regular law. This is sort of bizarro law. If his lawyers really believed all this stuff, why weren`t they saying it a year ago? I think we have kind of squid ink lawyering happening as potentially the President approaches his interview by Mueller or his subpoena from Mueller and they`re stirring the pot as much as they can with whatever theory they can come up with to try to put as much squid ink into the water as they can before they have to face that what probably will be a debacle of an interview. These are constitutional doctrines and theories, criminal law theories that if they were real, there`s -- these lawyers would have raised them a long time ago, and all coming up now is just very suspicious.

HAYES: You know, it`s interesting to hear you talk, Senator, because what I`m hearing from you, there`s two ways to interpret this. One is that this is a dangerous sort of power grab by an executive that`s kind of feeling its oaths, right? That it`s asserting larger and larger vistas of presidential power.

WHITEHOUSE: Yes, I don`t see it that way.

HAYS: Yes, they`re operating from weakness is what you`re saying which is desperate.

WHITEHOUSE: I think -- this feels to me more like weakness and desperation and grasping at straws and being terrified at having to answer questions under oath in a grand jury.

HAYES: Senator Chuck Grassley had this to say. He sits on your committee. He chairs your committee and you`ve worked with him for a while of course. This is what he had to say asked about whether the President could pardon himself. Take a listen.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If I were President of United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I`d hire a new lawyer.


HAYES: It doesn`t seem to be selling to Senator Grassley.

WHITEHOUSE: No, it doesn`t seem to have made the sale. You know, this is -- if you -- if you`re a lawyer, if you do this stuff, if you do this stuff pretty regularly, if you`ve watched it for years on the Judiciary Committee like Chairman Grassley has, this is a little bit -- I don`t know how to say it any other way -- this is bizarro law, not real law.

HAYES: Do you anticipate -- can you anticipate a world in which they actually put teeth in this? I mean, part of what`s been so strange about this is there`s even assertions from the White House, there`s been trial balloons, there`s been flags they`ve been running up, they`re giving these pardons and all this sort of question is everyone`s circles about what they`re going to actually do. Do you think they`re getting messages from Capitol Hill about what they can actually get away with?

WHITEHOUSE: I suspect so. I think, as I`ve said before, one of the biggest unanswered questions is what is the relationship between the Trump legal team at the White House and the staff particularly on the House Intelligence Committee who`s been doing the work here. How much has all of Nunes`s stuff been scripted by the White House and isn`t even legitimate congressional oversight, it`s just the White House legal arm acting through its legislative colleagues? So there`s an awful lot that we still need to learn about how this all connects, but that`s the biggest and baddest question out there. Has the White House been driving the House Intelligence Committee? What are the connections been between the staff? Has Nunes been operating under instructions from the White House? So you touch on a really important point but I think it goes to that bigger point.

HAYES: All right, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thank you for your time.

WHITEHOUSE: Of course.

HAYES: To help bring them the significance of this moment and the parallels to Nixon I`m joined by MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST Jill Wine-Banks and Nick Akerman, both former Watergate prosecutors. And let me start with you, Nick. It was interesting to me what you -- know, there are different to view this and Senator Whitehouse is just like this is -- this is nonsense. This is flailing desperate nonsense. What do you think of that?

NICK AKERMAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Oh I think it is. I mean, this would be great arguments if the year was 1750 and we were talking about King George, yes, these arguments would hold some water. But no, I think this really -- if you look at this memo and a first-year associate giving me this memo, I would have fired the person on the spot. I mean, these are just the weakest arguments that you could possibly raise: the idea that the President can`t be subpoenaed. I mean U.S. v Nixon makes it very clear that the President, all people have to give evidence. The Paula Jones case makes it clear just by virtue of your office of being president doesn`t mean you have some special you know, exception to being governed by the law. I mean, the Supreme Court has already ruled on almost everything that`s in that memo. I don`t see -- this was just designed as a promotional piece that they could use with the public to try and hoodwink them and as part of what Donald Trump does in his usual sales pitch on snake oil, this is snake oil put into a different package. That`s all it is. It`s legal snake oil.

HAYES: Jill, do you agree?

JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I agree. I would also say that the President is exerting powers that are not only non-existent for the President but are more like that an emperor who has no clothes might claim because it is ridiculous to have said any of these things. And it`s very much like what Richard Nixon said when -- as you quoted him tonight if I do it it`s not illegal. But I would like to point out that Richard Nixon didn`t say that until after he had been forced to resign and so it`s much more dangerous to have a President who is actually in office now saying that he has that power. That is very scary. It is delusional thinking of a would-be dictator.

It is not appropriate for the President`s lawyers to be saying that. One big difference here that`s important between Nixon and Trump is who is running the show in Congress. And it seems to me the legal argument they`re making which isn`t really legal arguments but it`s political arguments, primarily is there is a single and lone constitutional remedy for the conduct of the President in office and that is impeachment and he can do anything he wants and the only card he runs up against is impeachment and go ahead if you think you`re going to get these Republicans to impeach this guy.

AKERMAN: Yes. And there`s no way the Republicans are going to impeach him.

HAYES: So it`s not that -- it`s not that dumb an argument. I mean, it may be legal hogwash, it maybe squid ink or snake oil but from a political standpoint it`s basically saying, look we`ve got our base. We control the levers and come at us.

AKERMAN: Well, they certainly control the impeachment levers that`s true. But it there`s always a question about whether or not he could be indicted and I truly believe that --

HAYES: You think that`s not as close to cases.

AKERMAN: I don`t think it`s a closed case. I think if you have a very strong case, if you can actually prove that this President committed treason, that he conspired with the Russians to get himself elected, to me that would be --

HAYES: Over bar.

AKERMAN: That would be the bar to overcome.

HAYES: But there is this political question, Jill, I mean, when you guys were working back on Nixon, I mean, the political lay of the land was different with the Democratic Congress.

BANKS: It was. And we also had a special prosecutor at the time who really believed that impeachment was the politically correct way to proceed. That doesn`t mean that I personally or many members of my team on the obstruction case did not believe, we did. We believed that the President could be indicted and we thought that he should be indicted, that justice demanded that he face the same consequences as his --

HAYES: Really?

BANKS: Yes, absolutely. But we actually had Leon Jaworski appear before the grand jury to explain why he didn`t think they should indict because the grand jury agreed with us and they wanted to indict the president. The evidence was quite clear. We chose the path of naming him an unindicted co-conspirator which meant that the evidence of things he had said would be admissible. It was very important for that reason. We also turned over a report which was a roadmap of impeachment to an existing committee that actually we felt we could trust with the information. I have to say now that no matter how strongly worded the report is, I fear that the Republicans will ignore it. At that time, the Republicans in -- at the time of Watergate the Republicans and Congress are the ones who went to Nixon and said you must resign. We`ve seen the evidence. You will be convicted. It was the Republicans who took that upon themselves. And that`s what we need is some Republicans with some backbone to stand up to this president.

HAYES: Well that is not on the horizon right now.

AKERMAN: No, no, absolutely not. I mean, that`s the big difference. I mean, what Leon Jaworski did is he asked the entire staff to actually give him memos as to their position on whether or not Richard Nixon should not be indicted.

HAYES: Wow. All right, Jill Wine-Banks and Nick Ackerman, that was really illuminating. Thank you. Great to have you both. Next the White House and Don Jr. both caught in a major outright lie open-and-shut case, black and white about the aftermath of the infamous Trump Tower meeting. What this means for the Mueller investigation in two minutes.


HAYES: The White House is caught in a major lie tonight concerning that now infamous Trump Tower meeting the Don Jr. convened to get Russian government dirt on a Hillary Clinton. You remember that meeting. One that came after Russians offered documents they claimed would "incriminate Hillary" and Don Jr famously jumps to the opportunity writing "if it`s what you say I love it." As news that the meeting was about to break, but before we knew the whole story in the public, the White House went into crisis mode and the President and his advisors huddling on Air Force One to craft some sort of explanation. What emerge you`ll remember was a statement purportedly from Don Jr saying the meeting had been primarily about Russian adoptions and making no mention of the real goal of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump`s lawyer insisted that Don Jr. on his own had written that misleading statement. Well, White House later said that dad might have helped out but that the statement was largely Don Junior`s work.


JAY SEKULOW, LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: I do want to be clear that the President was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.

SANDERS: The President weighed in as any father would based on the limited information that he had. He certainly didn`t dictate but you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.


HAYES: Like any father would do in widely incriminating e-mail when (INAUDIBLE) by his son`s activity. Even Don Jr. himself tried to cover for his dad telling Congress, and this was under oath, I will note, that he did not know if Trump was involved in drafting the misleading statement and claiming that "I never spoke to my father about it. So for nearly a year, let`s be clear here, team Trump claiming the President had little to no involvement. Now, in that newly released letter to Robert Mueller, Trump`s own lawyers say Trump himself dictated the misleading statement on his own which would seem to implicate the President in an effort to cover up his campaigns entanglement with Russia. Today Sarah Huckabee Sanders was repeatedly asked to reconcile her past claims at that very poor very podium in front of everyone like we saw on the tape with the new disclosure from the President`s own lawyers and she did not have much of an answer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you say from the podium that it wasn`t dictated by the President because his lawyers are saying something entirely different and contradicting. How are we supposed to know what to believe? How can we believe what you`re saying from the podium if the lawyers are saying it`s entirely inaccurate?

SANDERS: Once again, I can`t comment on a letter from the President`s outside counsel, I`ll direct you to them to answer it. John?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Literally you said he did not dictate, the lawyer said he did. What is it?

SANDER: I will not respond to a letter from the President`s outside counsel. We purposely walled off and I would refer you to them for comments.


HAYES: Joining me now MSNBC Contributor Natasha Bertrand, Staffer at the Atlantic covering the Russia investigation and Fordham Law School Professor Jed Shugerman who argued in Slate yesterday the letter from Trump`s lawyers amounts to an admission of obstruction. Natasha, let me start with you. The significance of this lie now being exposed, what do you think it is?

NATASHA BERTRAND, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, it`s always been fairly obvious that Trump played a direct role in crafting the statement. Now we have it in black and white which is actually kind of rare that we see this kind of -- it`s just this lie just so plainly out there. But the significance of it is that it could be considered obstruction of justice as Jed wrote in his piece for Slate. Of course, Trump was trying to perhaps throw Mueller off the scent of potential coordination between his campaign and Russia when they did meet with the Russians at Trump Tower or in the height of the election in June 2016. And of course, we know that the events surrounding all of that were extremely chaotic.

Trump dined with Putin the night before this bombshell story was released by the New York Times that they talked about adoptions which of course is code word for sanctions, for U.S. sanctions on Russia. And then the very next day he assisted on dictating this statement on behalf of his son that had to do with adoptions. And then you had Hope Hicks, the former Communications Director who was saying to Mark Corallo, the former legal spokesman that these -- that these e-mails would never get out and therefore they really had no reason to actually get out ahead of this and say that in fact the real reason that the President`s son campaign chairman and son-in-law met with the Russians was because they had offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. So there was just this whole chaotic swirl of things that were happening and the President was at the center of it.

HAYES: Yes. I want to get back to the timeline you just mentioned about the possibility that he literally talked about this with Vladimir Putin, but first Jed your argument. The memo makes this interesting. It says it is a private matter I believe is the cause they use that look, basically, they say the President can lie to whoever he wants about anything. That`s not a legal issue. The President can craft a misleading statement that`s a "private matter." Why do you think that`s not true?

JED SHUGERMAN, PROFESSOR, FORDHAM LAW SCHOOL: Well, it turns out Congress has passed a statute about witness tampering. And so that statute says that whoever corruptly persuades or engages in misleading conduct with the intent for influencing testimony, that`s a felony obstruction of justice witness tampering. So first of all, the statement was a lie, right? It was not about Russian adoptions. It turns out -- Hope Hicks thought the e- mails would never get out. I just want to be clear the reporting is that Hope Hicks told Trump, President Trump on the conference call.

So this team is meeting not just about you know, they`re not issuing a media statement about The Apprentice. They`re formulating a both a political and a legal strategy because this is what is going to play out in not only in the statement but in Trump`s upcoming -- Trump Juniors upcoming Congressional testimony that`s covered by the statute and it`s forced -- it`s not only foreseeable it`s inevitable that there will be an official proceeding. So that lie was part of a legal -- it was it was to corruptly persuade right and use misleading conduct to influence testimony. That is a felony under you know, under statutes that apply to everybody including the President.

HAYES: The timeline you mentioned here is so fascinating right? So I want to play the sound -- so the night before -- here`s the timeline. New York Times contacts the White House and they say we got this something about this Trump Tower meeting. Then the evening, Trump has a private chat with Putin, they`re sitting together at this international summit. They talk to each other just the two of them with no American translator and only a Russian translator and Russian note-taker and then you get the dictated statement for the President about adoptions. And when President is asked about that meeting with Putin, this is what he says when he`s talking the New York Times. Take a listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was that a long conversation but it was you know, it could be 15 minutes just talking about things. actually, it was interesting. We talked about adoption.


TRUMP: Russian adoption. Yes, I always found that interesting because you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him which is interesting because that was a part of the conversation that Don had with this meeting.


HAYES: So interesting, Natasha what a coincident.

BERTRAND: Why would he volunteers that stupid information?

HAYES: That`s amazing.

BERTRAND: I mean, no one even knew that he had dined with Putin on that night until a geopolitical analyst Ian Bremmer came out and told the world about it because he had heard it from someone at the G20 summit and the White House didn`t even say that this dinner had happened. And then you have Trump telling the New York Times that he spoke about the very issue that was at the center of a meeting that he then later claimed to have known absolutely nothing about. I mean, that was his whole defense was that he didn`t know that the meeting had ever occurred. He didn`t know anything about it. But then the night before he was talking to Putin and all of a sudden this just came up when the White House had been briefed that very morning by New York Times reporters about the fact that they were going to move ahead and publish this story. I mean, it just seems like way too much of a coincidence that Putin would bring this up, that the Trump and Putin would talk about this and that it was absolutely totally unrelated and unconnected to the story that was going to be published the next day.

HAYES: Are they going to -- are the lawyers are going to regret putting this in the memo, this admission?

SHUGERMAN: I think they did this on purpose. So this is the question I was asked talking about today. Why would the lawyers make this kind of mistake unless it wasn`t a mistake? So understanding the context is for this letter we are -- Mueller can`t talk to Trump. You can`t subpoena him, you can`t get a direct interview. Why? One, it`s a legal matter, the President is above the law right? The Congress can`t touch him, Mueller can`t touch him. But on these specific questions, on these ten different obstructions of justice and Russian questions you have, we`ve given you all of the documents and because we`ve given you all the documents, executive privilege protects Trump because that has to be a last resort.

HAYES: Right.

SHUGERMAN: That`s correct, right? That -- interviewing a President should be a last resort. They`re saying we`ve already given you documents, you don`t need this interview. So I think this was a strategy to stipulate and cut their losses. So we`re going to confess, we`re going to concede to obstruction of justice.

HAYES: Right. Because they`re going to find it.

SHUGERMAN: They already know. Mueller`s already -- they already know. They`ve already -- they have the documents. They interviewed Hope Hicks. They`ve interviewed Mark Corallo. Why -- the reportedly why did Mark Corallo resign? Because he thought that they were involved with obstruction of justice. So they Mueller -- they`re not telling Mueller anything new. They`re conceding it and they`re saying because we`re conceding, the facts of obstruction of justice -- we`re going to say that the President can`t legal justice.

HAYES: Right, so here`s -- right, here`s the confession -- here`s a confession but you can`t get us.

SHUGERMAN: Because they`re petrified of a live interview.

HAYES: Natasha Bertrand and Jed Shugerman, thank you both for being with me. Next, the police are called to the scene as U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley tries to get into a Texas detention center housing immigrant children. We`ll play you that incredible video and the Senator joins us after this quick break.



SEN. JEFF MERKLEY, (D) OREGON: Hello, officers. Senator Jeff Merkley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing?

MERKLEY: Good, good. I called the number here on this sign, and the young lady said a supervisor would be very happy to come out and talk with me.


HAYES: On Sunday, United States Senator Jeff Merkley, who you saw there, went to an immigrant detention center in an old Walmart that`s been decommissioned in Brownsville, Texas to try understand why the Trump administration is ripping immigrant children from their parents at the border.

And here is what happened.


MERKLEY: Yes, hello there. Yes, this is U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley. And I`m here at Tasa di Padre (ph) facility for the children. I called -- my team called last week to arrange for me to be come and visit this facility. Can you please give me a tour of it?


MERKLEY: Can I talk to the supervisor who is here, because maybe they can explain to me...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, maybe. I can give you the number, but you cannot come in.

MERKLEY: I don`t really want the number, because we called last week. I wanted to actually talk to the supervisor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is -- right there is no information.

MERKLEY: Whatever individual is in charge would be great to come and share and talk with me.

Greetings. Is your supervisor coming out? Mr. Sanchez? You are the supervisor.


MERKLEY: I want to introduce you to my team here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`ll be with you guys in just a minute.

MERKLEY: Hello, officers. Senator Jeff Merkley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing?

MERKLEY: Good, good, good.

I called the number here on this sign and the young lady said the supervisor would be very happy to come out and talk to me.

I haven`t been asked to leave the property, but I`m guessing that`s about what`s to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that`s what they`re going for.

What is your name again, sir? I`m sorry...

MERKLEY: Senator Jeff Merkley. U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Merkley. How do you spell it? I don`t want to misspell your name.



MERKLEY: M-E-R -- yeah, M-E-R.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your date of birth, sir?

MERKLEY: Yeah, it`s October 24...


MERKELY: 24, 1956.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you say you`re a senator?

MERKLEY: I`m a U.S. senator.


MERKELY: Yes. And U.S. policy is involved right now with children. Are you familiar with this policy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Negative. Actually, this is not something that we specifically deal with, you know what I`m saying? But just so I can ID it and advise my sergeant that you`re here.

MERKLEY: We`re hear. The supervisor is here. If he wants us to leave the property, he can ask, but he hasn`t asked yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, would you guys mind?

MERKLEY: I have now been asked to leave the property, and so I`ll comply with that.


HAYES: And Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, joins me now from Washington, D.C. It`s good to see you, Senator.

I want to just be clear on this, you reached out to DHS through your staff, through official channels, to arrange some sort of visit before going down there, correct?

MERKLEY: Well, I was seeking to get into three different places. One is a processing center run by DHS, the Department of Homeland Security. And I was given permission to do that. This third place is after DHS hands the children over to the Department of Health and Human Services, and it`s run by the office of refugee relocation. And so this was technically we reached out to that office to get into this facility, and they said no.

HAYES: And that facility, that is the blacked out windows -- that`s an old Walmart with blacked out windows that has children, both who come unaccompanied and also children who have been taken way from their parents who are then housed in that facility? Is that correct?

MERKLEY: That`s my understanding. I wasn`t able to get precise answers, but those who work with refugees there say that is the case, that there are roughly a 1,000 children inside behind those doors without adults.

HAYES: Now, you went to a facility in McAllen, right, and you got to see a kind of processing center. What did you see there? What did you witness?

MERKLEY: Well, the first room had a series of cages that look a lot like dog kennels in which people had recently arrived and been put into them. They were very crowded. The individuals had space blankets, so you had all these silver space blankets. No mattresses. And people looking very distressed and upset, a number of women holding children in their arms.

And then adjacent to that is a very, very large warehouse with much larger cages. And in those, the children have already been separated away from the parents. There is one cage that had children who -- young boys who were being lined up for food. And they started with the smallest in front, so you had a little toddle -- I don`t know, he must have been 4 or 5 years old -- up through youth that are 16 or 17. And they -- some of those may have been unaccompanied, others were undoubtedly taken way from their families, for families that are seeking asylum.

So these are families that are coming to the U.S., having gone through horrific circumstances abroad, having this vision of the Statue of Liberty and the fact that Americans, virtually all of us, have some member of our family tree at some point who came here escaping oppression, expecting that they finally made to it the shores of the U.S., and now they`ll get a fair chance to present their case for asylum, and instead they go through a new trauma with their children ripped out of their arms, sent away until they have no idea where, no idea where they are going, no idea how to contact their children. It`s hugely stressful for the parents for sure. But think of the trauma to the children who know nothing about this new land, except the security of their parents and they`re torn away from them.

HAYES: I want to play for you -- you know, the Trump administration has been a little coy about whether this is what they`re doing or not. And their line is we have a zero tolerance policy. We prosecute everyone who crosses the border. Here is what DHS Secretary Nielsen had to say in Arizona last week. I`d love to get you to respond to it. Take a listen.


KIERSTJEN NIELSEN, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It appears our critics want a two-tier legal system. They think illegal aliens should get different, perhaps better treatment, than U.S. citizens because they happen to be illegal aliens. No jail if they have family, no critical consequences if they have children. I`m here today to tell you differently. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, we will prosecute you. If you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you. And if you make a false immigration claim, we will prosecute you. The lawlessness has to end.


HAYES: What do you think of that?

MERKLEY: Well, Kiersjen should be absolutely ashamed of herself on this, because here you have families who are presenting themselves at the border and they are saying we are here. We have gone through these horrific circumstances. We are seeking asylum.

We have always treated such families not as illegals, but as people legitimately under international law seeking asylum while the children have been kept with the parents. There is no reason not to keep them with the parents. They`re going to go through an adjudication. If they are judged that they have enough documentation that they meet the standard, they`ll be granted asylum. And if they don`t, they`ll be returned to their host country.

But we never treat them by inflicting a new cruel tragedy on the children by ripping them out of their parents` arms. If that`s just the new unacceptable policy.

The administration is trying to change the topic in every possible way. But on this, they have no moral standing to tear these children away from their parents who are seeking asylum.

HAYES: All right, Senator Jeff Merkley, thank you.

MERKLEY: Thank you.

HAYES: Tomorrow, actually, the new episode of our podcast "Why is this Happening" is all about this topic, about the act of separating children from their parents, and what it is like for people seeking asylum in this country. Lee Gelernt is the lead lawyer on the ACLU`s lawsuit against the Trump administration to stop this very practice, and he gives some powerful context about what we are witnessing unfold.

The episode comes out tomorrow on TuneIn or wherever you get your podcasts.

Ahead, the president got a nice envelope photo with North Korea while tensions are escalating with Canada. How the Trump foreign policy is faring.

But first, Scott Pruitt leaves the last S off for savings in tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two, next.


HAYES: Thing One tonight, Scott Pruitt is still employed. And not only that, the EPA administrator seems to be going for the all-time world record for ethical scandals by a government employee. There is, of course, the nearly $3 million we`re paying for his round-the-clock security, and his penchant for first-class travel, routinely spending thousands on airfare and staying in high-end hotels. He famously got a sweetheart deal on a D.C. apartment owned by an energy lobbyist who had business before his agency. And don`t forget the $43,000 soundproof phone booth that he got put in his office.

Scott Pruitt is now facing no less than one dozen investigations into his conduct. But what puts him in the top tier of corrupt Trump administration officials is that no grift is too small for the EPA administrator, spending $1,500 for a dozen pens is one thing. But can you go lower? How about, oh, I don`t know, getting a government employee to try to buy you a used mattress from Donald Trump? That happened, and it`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.


HAYES: The latest in a long list of scandals for Scott Pruitt involves the EPA administrator assigning government employees to do personal tasks for him, like apartment shopping for him and arranging a vacation for his family, or trying to buy him a used mattress from President Trump. No, not that mattress, get your head out of the gutter. This one was from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Scott Pruitt wanted to buy one used to save money, and he tasked one of his top aides with doing the dirty work. In addition to being the president, Trump of course sells mattresses. Of course, why not? He has tweeted about them here and there. And this a great deal for the president, because he already got paid once when the Trump hotel bought the Trump mattresses from Trump. And now Scott Pruitt comes along to pay Trump again for the same Trump mattress.

If you`re wondering, it was the Trump Home Luxury Plush Eurotop that Pruitt was after, which does actually sound like a really nice mattress, although I guess that depends on who`s been using it before you.


HAYES: Breaking news tonight that we just learned a few minutes ago, OK. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has just asked a judge in U.S. district court for the District of Columbia to revoke former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort`s bail.

Reuters reporting tonight the federal prosecutors say that Manafort tried to tamper with potential witnesses while out on supervised release, that he called, texted, and sent encrypted messages to two people in February to influence their testimony and to otherwise conceal evidence.

Now Paul Manafort is currently facing two trials this fall and is out on bail with two ankle bracelets, though perhaps not for long.



REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) WISCONSIN: It`s not too much to say that our enemies no longer fear us and too many of our allies no longer trust us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our enemies no longer fear us, and our allies no longer trust us.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: It seems we`ve gotten to the point where our allies don`t trust us and our enemies don`t fear us.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: Our allies don`t trust us. Our enemies don`t fear us.

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think our friends no longer count on us, no longer trust us, and our adversaries don`t fear us.


HAYES: Republicans railed against President Obama`s foreign policy, accusing him of abandoning America`s allies and placating America`s enemies. But that critique seems much better suited for where we are right now with this current administration. 17 months in the Trump presidency the White House has announced new tariffs on the EU, Canada and Mexico. It pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, enraging its allies in Europe, pulled out of the Paris Accords. And meanwhile, President Trump is getting letters from Kim Jong-un and planning to sit down with him next month.

With me here in New York is MSNBC`s newest political contributor Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser for Barack Obama who has a new book that goes on sale tomorrow called "The World as It Is: a Memoir of the Obama White House." It`s great to see you here. It`s a very well written.


HAYES: That -- that line was really a central idea of the critique of the Obama administration, particularly like the Iran deal. It`s like you guys are running around chasing the Iran deal, and you`ve alienated all our friends. What do you make of where we are right now between the red carpet being rolled out for North Korea while we`re giving Canada the metaphorical finger?

RHODES: Well, Chris, it is kind of a whiplash on a daily basis, because they would hurl that critique at us but Barack Obama`s standing among our closest allies in Europe and Asia was higher than any president in recent memory.

What they`ve done is profoundly alienate our allies, not just on an issue, but to the point where I think in Europe and Asia they`re beginning to fundamentally question their relationship with the United States. I mean, this is the actual crisis that they used to rail about happening before our eyes, and it`s not just on one issue, it really could be a drift apart between the United States and the countries that we count on the most in the world.

HAYES: Do you think -- so, I used to think that a lot of this was driven by both ideology and sort of interest group politics, right, in terms of these -- so that you`ve got certain -- you know, the Democrats have a coalition, the Republicans have a coalition. They have different interest groups.

But I sat there and I watched a crowd of people I think in Indiana chant "Nobel, Nobel," about Donald Trump and North Korea. And I thought to myself, well, maybe it`s just cult of personality, like whatever the opposite of Obama does they`re going to go for.

RHODES: Well, Chris, you know, in the book I go all the way back to the beginning on the campaign when I went to work for Barack Obama. The week I went to work for him he said in a debate that he would sit down with the leaders of Iran and North Korea and Cuba if it could advance our interests.

And you know, I describe how there was this explosion on the right of how dare he. How could he? He`s selling out America and he must be a foreigner if he`s -- you know, he must be un-American. He`s probably from Kenya if he`s willing to sit down with the leaders of these countries. That`s the worst thing we could ever do.

And he said, well, it`s common sense. We`ve gotten nowhere with Iran, nowhere with Cuba, I`m willing to do that if I can change the dynamic. And he did.

Now you have a Republican president doing the exact same thing and suddenly they`re chanting Nobel. It goes to show that this is not rooted in any ideology or any set of ideas about how America should act in the world, it really is just the R or the D next to the person who`s in the office.

HAYES: Did you come to internalize that in the White House? Did you come to -- I feel like there was a long trajectory, but by the end of the Obama White House sort of understood the world they were in in a different way than they began.

RHODES: We did.

I mean, one of the things that I write about is Cuba, where you know, essentially the only -- nobody could argue that our Cuba policy was working. You know, even if you think that we should apply maximum pressure on the Castro regime, it`s not like the embargo had worked the last 50 years.

And part of of what we had to do was say, we`re not going -- they`re going to criticize us no matter what we. So we`re going to do what we want to do. And that`s how you get a Cuba opening and an Iran deal and a Paris climate agreement because there was not an opportunity to bring them along on military intervention. They were all for intervening in Libya until the day Barack Obama did it and they were all against it. And you just had to realize that we had an opposition party that had no iterest in doing anything with Barack Obama.

HAYES: What do you think about watching this administration function? You know, I --we just got the news that Paul Manafort is -- Robert Mueller has filed in court to maybe revoke his bail and put him in jail, because they say he`s trying to influence witnesses improperly.

There`s the Mueller investigation. There`s the Russia issue, which hangs over everything. What has it been like to process this?

RHODES: Well, number one, they don`t operate in any recognizable way. As someone who was there for eight years, you know, the way they conduct themselves, their fidelity to the truth, the way they treat the news media, the way they treat allies doesn`t comport with any standard of behavior that I would come to expect in the White House.

The second thing is the corruption. You know, in foreign policy just the blurred lines with China and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between what might be financial interests for the Trump family and decisions that are being made about our foreign policy that is not getting any scrutiny. You know without congressional oversight it`s not going to get scrutiny. That to me is a threat that I would like to see people pulling on.

But the last thing is that they think they can throw a bunch of sand up in the air and put distractions out there to belie the actual issues. And what you see on a daily basis is you have an investigation about the most profound question imaginable: did a foreign adversary collude with the candidate for a major -- the nominee of a major party to win the election? But it`s got to be about some other issue every day. It`s always a conspiracy theory that they need to have directed at somebody else, sometimes it`s me., because they don`t want that to be on them.

HAYES: Why does -- I`ve asked you this before, and it was in the context of the Iran deal. You have become a poster boy for a certain kind of critique of Obama White House policy, arrogance. There`s this like real anti-Ben Rhodes cult that centers on you as somehow the mastermind behind what? Behind the fecklessness of the Obama regime? Like, what is it? Why do you -- why do you provoke so much animus?

RHODES: Well, first of all, it was interesting, in writing the book I had to go through this experience. You know, I was 29 when I went to work for Obama. I was 31 when I came to the White House. I was relatively anonymous. I was a blank slate. And what they did is when they figured out that I was a close adviser to Obama, personally close to him a few years in, I think they decided, well, we can turn this guy into whatever we want, because I had no established image, and so one manufactured scandal after another.

They kind of created this cartoon of me. You know, first it was Benghazi and leaks and then Iran. You know, and I think it was my proximity to Obama and I was seen as close to him, so it was a way of getting at Obama without necessarily hitting him directly. And it was the fact that, you know, I was this guy, they could invent whatever personality they wanted for me because I wasn`t John Kerry or Hillary Clinton.

HAYES: Right, yeah. It`s sort of useful to be a blank slate in those circumstances.

Ben Rhodes, whose new book "The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House," goes on sale tomorrow. Thanks for joining us.

RHODES: Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: That is All In for this evening. The Rachel Maddow Show starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.


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