Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: July 20, 2018 Guest: Phil Rucker, Julia Ioffe, Josh Barro, Cornell Belcher
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening and coming to you tonight from Asheville, North Carolina, I`m Ali Velshi in for Chris Hayes. The big news tonight. We now know that federal investigators are in possession of secret recordings of Donald Trump with potentially very serious legal implications. The recordings were seized during the FBI raid on the offices of Donald Trump`s longtime fixer Michael Cohen and at least one of them concerns former Playboy model Karen McDougal who says she had a nearly year-long relationship with Trump in 2006 shortly after Trump`s son Barron was born. This is to be clear not about Stormy Daniels. It`s a different alleged affair with a different adult performer involving a different hush money payment.
In August of 2016 shortly before Election Day the parent company of the National Enquirer AMI paid McDougal $150,000 for the story of her alleged affair with Trump and had her sign a nondisclosure agreement. But The Enquirer never ran the story. The deal appears to have been a so-called catch and kill designed in this case to keep McDougal`s story from coming out before Election Day. And that brings us to today`s revelation which was broken by the New York Times and confirmed by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Federal investigators seized a recording that Cohen secretly made of a conversation with Trump before the election in which the two men discussed the payment to McDougal and talked about purchasing the rights to her story from The Enquirer. A person familiar with the President`s legal strategy tells CNBC`s Eamon Javers that the President was unaware that he was being recorded and CNN is reporting tonight that when informed about the reporting -- the recording, Trump said I can`t believe Michael would do this to me.
Federal investigators almost certainly have more tapes in April. The Washington Post reported that Cohen`s sometimes taped conversations with associates and was known to store the conversations on digital files and then replay them for colleagues. The White House is not commenting on the McDougal tape tonight though Giuliani is offering some pretty amazing spin. But before I get to that, I want to bring in one of the reporters who broke the story. Matt Apuzzo is a Reporter with The New York Times. He`s a Co- author of the report that broke the news about Cohen`s secret reporting. Matt, good to see you. It`s been many hours since this broke and you and I talked earlier today. Do we now know anything more about what was actually said on that tape?
MATT APUZZO, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well we know that the story from the Trump team has changed a little bit since we first broke this story. This morning when we spoke to Rudy Giuliani he said that the discussion on the tape was about whether Michael Cohen himself should make a payment to Ms. McDougal. Then about a couple hours later, he said I want to clarify that. What we were really talking about is whether Cohen should try to buy the rights to MacDougall`s story. Again, this is especially important not just because the legal ramifications which I know we`re going to get too but let`s remember that Joe Palazzolo and the watch -- and the Wall Street Journal broke the existence of this secret deal, this deal to keep the story quiet few days before the election and the Trump campaign said we know nothing about it. And now we find this tape exists and suddenly they`re talking all about it.
VELSHI: Right. A real substantive conversation actually occurred. You`re right, we`re going to get to the legal implications in a moment. But first I want to talk to you about what Rudy Giuliani`s interesting spin has been on the contents of the tape. He said in this big scheme of things it`s powerful exculpatory evidence. That may not be the same conclusion that everybody else who sees this or listens to this will come to but what do you think he means by that?
APUZZO: Well, his view is that the president was saying, well, if you`re going to make a payment, you should make the payment by cheque and not by cash so there`s a record of it and that proves that he wasn`t trying to be sneaky about it which I mean may be true but doesn`t get around the fact that the FBI is investigating whether or not this payment was an illegal campaign contribution and the Trump campaign told the Wall Street Journal we don`t know anything about this. So I just can`t --
VELSHI: We don`t know anything about it. That`s right.
APUZZO: We can`t square that. We just -- we have a hard time squaring that with what we know today.
VELSHI: OK, so there are a few different issues here, one of which is who paid whom for what exactly, the other of which is what you just pointed out. If money changed hands with the goal of keeping a scandal out of the press that would be a violation of election finance laws.
VELSHI: What`s the main issue here? When these investigators have these tapes, what`s the thing that they can do with it? Is it meant to put more pressure on Michael Cohen? Is it meant to possibly bring an elections charge? Is it meant to put pressure on Donald Trump to say what did you know about this actually?
APUZZO: Yes, and I think it goes down to like what does it meant, right? Because the FBI didn`t know this tape existed and Donald Trump didn`t know this tape existed. When they did the raid on Michael Cohen, what they were looking for was all evidence of your conversations with Donald Trump and his campaign and all records related to payments to women in the you know, in the run-up to the 2016 election to keep those stories quiet and this is the perfect storm confluence of those two -- of those two requests. Here you have Donald Trump and Michael Cohen talking about payments to a woman who claimed an affair and was trying to keep that story quiet. And I think that that`s super important to the FBI`s investigation about campaign finance because if this was ultimately about the campaign, if they said on the tape and we don`t know this they said on that tape oh it`s really important that we just tamp this down for the next you know, months before the election then it is a campaign issue and a campaign finance issue and I think that`s really important.
VELSHI: Real quick, Matt. Do you have any sense of why Donald Trump through Michael Cohen would even want to buy the rights to the story if AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer was already protecting the president?
APUZZO: Well, right. I mean, if you own the rights to a story then it`s your story and you can make sure it never gets out. I mean, that`s one explanation. But ultimately the rights were paid by AMI, the National Enquirer. They never ran the story. And if not for you know, the story in the Journal we wouldn`t have known before election day that this allegation even existed. And now we`re learning more of the story today.
VELSHI: Matt, good work from you and your colleagues on the reporting on this. Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times, thanks for being with me again today.
APUZZO: Thanks, Ali.
VELSHI: I`m joined now for more on the legal implications of all of this by MSNBC Legal Contributor Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney. Also with me former Assistant U.S. Attorney Juliet Sorensen, Professor at the Northwestern University School of Law and NBC News National Security Contributor Frank Figliuzzi, former Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI. Thanks to all three of you for helping us work this out. Barbara, let me start with you. What are the potential legal risks here for Donald Trump?
BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it depends on the content of this recording and also all of the other facts that the FBI might know about this case. You know, prosecutors often think of pieces of evidence as pieces of a puzzle and standing alone it`s difficult to know exactly what its significance is. But when you look at other things in context other correspondents, e-mails documents, other messages, you can begin to fill in the other puzzle pieces around it and a picture comes into play. But depending on what those other facts are, this could be evidence of campaign finance violations. If there was some scheme to defraud Karen McDougal by fooling her into agreeing to this deal with AMI there could be a fraud charge. If they used financial transactions to conceal the origins of those payments there could be money laundering charges. So really it`s going to depend on the other facts but I think it`s very significant. I also think what -- it`s very significant that there is this recording because it suggests that if there`s one recording perhaps there are others and the FBI no doubt wants to get their hands on those and take a look at them.
VELSHI: So let`s just go down that road a little bit, Juliet. If the feds have a recording and maybe other recordings, does that increase or decrease the likelihood of Michael Cohen`s potential cooperation with the Southern District of New York because we`ve been hearing noises about that since Michael Cohen sort of had his coming out party and decided to talk to the media a little bit.
JULIET SORENSEN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, as Barbara said it really depends on the content of the recording. If it is inculpatory, that is to say, incriminating as to Michael Cohen, yes, I think it substantially increases the likelihood that he will cooperate with federal agents. If on the other hand, it`s largely irrelevant, then it`s neither here nor there. I don`t think it`s irrelevant if only because the fact that the tape exists was leaked and if the tape were a nothing recording of two people talking about the weather that wouldn`t have happened.
VELSHI: Frank, who`s got tapes like this? How does this work? The FBI was involved in this, the Southern District of New York. Mueller is not leading this investigation but he sort of pushed it toward the Southern District of New York. What happens here?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: So these tapes are sitting in the evidence room of FBI New York. They`re the lead field office in this case. They`re being jointly reviewed by the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and it`s quite likely in fact probable that if Michael Cohen was taping this conversation, he was taping others. All reports are indicative of that and I think that means that Michael Cohen is far more likely to cooperate. We can`t rule out the possibility that he`s already cooperating with the feds or in discussions about what that kind of cooperation would look like and as Barbara said, you`re piecing together now all of the pieces of the puzzle that include numerous tapes probably. And now you`ve got more solid evidence. And as Barbara said if they were talking about fictitious accounts being set up to pay the Playboy model it`s unlikely they were writing a check out that said Trump Organization on it. This money had to go through somewhere and that in itself could create separate violations.
VELSHI: Barbara, let`s go back to that whole idea about what the potential offenses could be here. If this wasn`t about Donald Trump running for election if it wasn`t about keeping a story out of the press at a particular time when it would have been influential to voters in the United States it sort of gets a little bit more less serious. The issue here, the thing that that that investigators mostly want to know and the thing that I think the country wants to know is did Michael Cohen as alleged with Stormy Daniels, did he do something that was meant to keep the public from discovering that there was a scandal afoot?
MCQUADE: Yes, and you know, some of these things are legally significant and some of them are politically significant. If there`s campaign finance violations or wire mail fraud or money laundering that`s a criminal violation. But I think the other question is, what are the political ramifications of this? We`ve got President Trump you know denying any knowledge of this and then perhaps recordings that contradict that. And so you know, at some point there`s the political consequences of it. There are even some theories that lying to the American public could constitute grounds for impeachment. I suppose it depends on the topic of that deceit and the seriousness of it.
VELSHI: And later in the show I`m going to be talking to Tom Steyer who has been leading that movement for the impeachment of President Trump. But let me ask you, Juliet. On April 9th after the raid on Michael Cohen`s office in New York and his hotel room in his home, Donald Trump responded this way. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, good man and it`s a disgraceful situation. It`s a total witch-hunt. It`s a disgrace. It`s frankly a real disgrace. It`s an attack on our country in the true sense. It`s an attack on what we all stand for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Juliet, it`s just few sentences but he says a lot of things in there. He says they broke into the offices. They did it in an illegal way. He said it`s disgraceful. He called it a witch-hunt. He does that several times a week. But it`s an attack on our country in a true sense, an attack on what we all stand for. That becomes harder to defend. The President`s response to the search of Michael Cohen`s office at home now becomes harder to defend when something that the president denied happened is allegedly on a tape.
SORENSEN The President`s statement on April 9th is incorrect in a multitude of ways. First of all, this wasn`t an illegal break-in. It was done pursuant to a search warrant. Search warrants are provided for in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The search warrant was reviewed and signed off on pursuant to a finding of probable cause that they likely exist as evidence of a crime in Cohen`s hotel room. And so it was entirely legal. It was reviewed and signed off on by a member of the federal judiciary and it`s also important to remember when President Trump talks about a witch-hunt that Michael Cohen has yet to be charged with any crime. This search was made public. The investigation is ongoing but there exists a presumption of innocence, that applies to Michael Cohen along with everybody else.
VELSHI: And I guess, Frank, it`s important to point out from somebody who has spent time in law enforcement and investigation that those kinds of warrants don`t just drop into your lap. They`re not the simplest thing to do and anybody who`s the subject of it is going to work very hard with their lawyers to get anything that he seized thrown out of court. Michael Cohen has not been all that successful in that particular effort.
FIGLIUZZI: So first, obtaining a warrant to search a lawyer`s office is extremely challenging and has to go all the way up to DOJ headquarters usually for approval, number one so there clearly there was evidence there. Secondly, it -- we`re heading toward a cooperative agreement of some sort with Michael Cohen. And by the way the existence of this tape and the likely existence of similar tapes makes it even less likely that the president will offer to sit down with Bob Mueller. There`s just too much out there for him to get hung up on during an interview and I think -- I think it`s far less likely to happen as a result of these tapes coming into existence.
VELSHI: Frank, thank you as always for your analysis. Barbara and Juliet, thank you for joining us to give us some legal context around this. Coming up on the day that we found out that federal investigators had recordings of Michael Cohen talking to Donald Trump, we also found out that Michael Cohen had a long breakfast meeting this morning with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Rev. Al will tell us about what Trump`s former fixer told him next.
VELSHI: All right, today we were suddenly hit with the revelation that Trump`s personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen recorded a conversation with Trump about payments to a former Playboy model who claimed a longtime affair and that federal investigators now have that recording. Also today, separately, our own Rev. Al Sharpton happened to be with Michael Cohen having breakfast, a meeting which Cohen himself initiated. Cohen tweeted "I have known Reverend for almost 20 years, no one better to talk to. Rev. Al Sharpton, Host of "POLITICS NATION" here on MSNBC joins me now. Rev. good to see you. Thank you for being with us.
REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: Thank you.
VELSHI: What are circumstances by which you came to be having breakfast with Michael Cohen today on the very same day that this news dropped?
SHARPTON: Well, I had happen to run into him several weeks ago. We just spoke to each other because I`ve known him down through years. Whenever we would have differences with Mr. Trump on social justice issues and have different I would say combative kind of meetings, Michael Cohen was the ones who would arranged a meeting. He was the one that would try to get all sides together usually unsuccessfully. But he always was a straight honest kind of person. I received a text from him several days ago saying he wanted to meet. We agreed to meet very public restaurant where he`s staying and we talked for over an hour. And I really sensed that he was very troubled. He felt that he was being in many ways cast wrongly. And I feel that he was saying that he was -- had been abandoned by Mr. Trump. He kept saying to me over and over again, Rev, I`m going to do what`s right for the country. I`m going to do what`s right for my family. He was very, very adamant that he was opposed to some of the things Mr. Trump was doing like attacking the media. He felt that that was wrong and it was a very, very serious Michael Cohen that I met with this morning about he was in a situation he feels he was unfairly thrust upon.
VELSHI: So Rev., as a man of the cloth, you know that that idea of doing what`s right for your country and what`s doing right by your family aren`t always the same thing. Was there any sense of what he meant by that because doing right by the country is coming out and telling him -- telling everybody exactly what happened and doing right by your family is the thing that`s going to keep you out of jail?
SHARPTON: Well that`s exactly what would I counsel then I think that is exactly what he said he was going to do. We didn`t get into what that truth is but clearly I got the impression that whatever he knows he`s going to be forthcoming. Now how that will be whether that`s cooperation with those that are saying that Mr. Trump has done things and not we`ll see. But I think the fact that, Ali, out of all of the people that he could have reached out to reaching out to me in and of itself was sending a signal to President Trump and probably the prosecutors that he was not one that would not deal with someone who`s been fighting Donald Trump for decades on social justice issues.
VELSHI: So what does this do? I`m trying to get a sense of this, Rep., because you -- everybody who knows you knows where you stand on political issues and where you are and that`s generally not in the same place that Donald Trump is but Michael Cohen has reached out to you. He reached out to George Stephanopoulos not a lot of people but interesting choices. What do you think was behind this outreach?
SHARPTON: I think that part of it is sending a signal that he is not the guy that`s going to just be lockstep with Trump. Stephanopoulos was a leading Democratic operative. I`ve been -- since he`s known me and remained a leader of a civil rights organization as opposed a lot of what Trump did when Trump was a Democrat he used to come to our civil rights organization and Michael Cohen knows that. I think he was sending that signal and I also think he wanted to talk to people that he had conferred with even if we politically disagree down through the years to give them a since he was a decent family guy and that he was going to do what was right and we`re going to see what that is.
VELSHI: Rev., I got to ask you not to be colloquial about it. Was he looking for your blessing?
SHARPTON: I don`t know that he was listening -- looking for my blessing as much as he was looking to explain himself. I was looking to find out -- first of all, I didn`t know what to expect -- I was looking to find out what he wanted to say and eventually say that we were available to help him do that in public and we said we would stay in touch. I told him that I was going to tweet publicly that we had met because I wasn`t doing anything that I was not going to make a public record or even though there were many people in the restaurant that knew who we were and he even tweeted about the meeting. So what his motive was, I don`t know. I know what he said and what I sense from him was he really is trying to be very clear that he`s independent of Mr. Trump and that he`s going to tell the truth whatever that truth is and he`s going to protect his family and he wants to stand up for the country. He kept saying that over and over again. He said the country is very divided. He says this is awful and I want to stand up and I don`t want to be remembered as one that tried to do anything other than the right thing.
VELSHI: What a remarkable set of developments on a day that was already full of remarkable developments. Rev., good to see you as always, sir. Reverend Al Sharpton whose show "POLITICS NATION" airs this Sunday at 8 a.m. Thanks for making time tonight.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
VELSHI: All right, the fallout over the President`s visit with the Russian president is showing no signs of slowing down. What we know about the Kremlin`s response to Trump`s invitation to Vladimir Putin and the chaos that that`s causing next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can that tone totally be explained by you wanting to be the best things for the country or is there some under -- is there something underlying that?
TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia. I never did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s totally just -- in your -- in your view --
TRUMP: It`s called the Democrat hoax. It`s a big fat hoax.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: The President on the defense of over his deferential conduct toward Vladimir Putin in Helsinki earlier this week siding with Putin against the U.S. Intelligence Community as it relates to Russia`s 2016 election interference. And now the President has extended Putin the honor of a visit to Washington this fall and offered the prevalent the Kremlin says it`s ready to discuss. As much as the President insists he has nothing to do with Russia, his performance this week has convinced observers on both sides of the aisle that as the President himself might say there`s something going on.
In an op-ed in the New York Times, Congressman Will Hurd, a vulnerable Texas Republican argues that Congress needs to check the President who`s being manipulated by Putin. Hurd writes, by playing into Vladimir Putin`s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad. Hurd by the way, sits on the House Intelligence Committee and served as an undercover officer in the CIA and his concerns were echoed by Democratic Senator Mark Warner who`s the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee who didn`t mince words by the way about the president`s performance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: He got played for a fool. And he embarrassed our country and frankly embarrassed lots of my colleagues across the board, Democrats and Republicans alike. So we are going to need to figure out ways to put some constraints.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: All right, for more on the continued fallout from Helsinki, I am joined Julia Ioffe, correspondent for GQ Magazine, and MSNBC political Phil Rucker, White House bureau chief for The Washington Post. Welcome to both of you.
Phil, the president appeared to be trying to change the subject later today with a tweet about the NFL and the National Anthem this evening. It does not seem as likely to work this time.
PHIL RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, well that`s one of his go-to get out of jail free cards, if it will. He likes to bring up the NFL controversy whenever he wants to distract from some damaging headlines, but I don`t think this Russia issue is going to go away for the White House in part because those inside the U.S. government are still -- it is now Friday, a full week after the meeting on Monday in Helsinki, they are still now trying to learn exactly what was discussed between President Trump and President Putin in their one-on-one when they were not joined by any aides.
You have conflicting accounts coming out of Moscow that conflict with what White House officials are telling us here in Washington. And I think this is going to be something that goes on well into next week to try to get to the bottom of.
VELSHI: Julia, a lot of people change their mind about things on Monday because there are a lot of people who just didn`t really understand why the president would be so favorable toward Russia.
But you wrote something interesting. You said after that Trump and Putin met in Helsinki, many pundits and politicians struggled to understand what it is they saw, to rationalize it, to explain it away, to speculate on what kinds of kompromat the Russians could have on Trump, when the answer, like infidelity or death, was staring them, us, in the face. Yes, putin has something on Trump. He helped him win. That`s the kompromat.
That is an interesting take. Its not maybe that Putin has tapes of Donald Trump in compromising positions, Putin wanted Trump to win. He helped Trump win. That`s the deal.
JULIA IOFFE, GQ MAGAZINE: I can`t imagine a president, any president, let alone one as vain and narcissistic as Donald Trump, say you know what you are right. This guy helped me win. My victory, therefore, was illegitimate, therefore my entire presidency is illegitimate. No politician would do that.
And I think part of it is his doubling down resisting what many are calling on him to do, which is to call out Vladimir Putin, recognize the election interference, which again goes to the very -- I mean, that is one of his sorest spots. Remember, the first public briefing that his first press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave was all about lying about the crowds at the inauguration. His victory continues to be such a sore spot, and I think that is kind of -- I think that`s the rub.
We keep ilooking for something that is hidden, something that is...
VELSHI: In plain sight.
IOFFE: But, it`s all been looking at us -- yeah, in plain sight. You had Trump as a candidate saying Russia, if you`re listening, hack Hillary Clinton. I mean, it is all there.
VELSHI: Phil, it is kind of an amazing -- I mean, look, I think Julia is right, it is right in front of us. There is no opportunity the president takes to not bring up Hillary Clinton, the election, the electoral college. He uses that as an answer when he is not actually being asked anything about the election.
RUCKER: That`s exactly right. And he talked about it in his press conference with Putin on Monday, and he has been talking about it all week privately with advisers, with friends, with associates and aides. He has been really frustrated with the media coverage coming out of that Helsinki summit. For example, he doesn`t understand why the issue of the Democratic National Committee server has not been covered more thoroughly in the press.
I mean, he gets fixated on some of these issues because he can`t bring himself to fully acknowledge the extent of the Russian influence campaign to help him win, because as Julia said, he worries that it will lead people to believe his victory was somehow illegitimate.
IOFFE: Well, and some of these that he is focusing on -- hi -- some of the issues he`s focusing on are, you know, they are red herrings, they`re conspiracy theories, like the DNC server, like the Pakistani gentleman he referred to.
I also have to say that if he had been prepared, if he had been prepared, this didn`t have to happen. I think this was totally predictable to anybody who knows anything about Russia. This is how they work. Some meetings happens, and then for the next couple of weeks, you have news trickling out of Russia seemingly to kind of poke the U.S. in the eye and say, by the way, your president promised us this, did you know that? And he also promised us that, did you know that?
And it continues to undermine the president and the U.S. And this could have been totally avoided if he had just done the bare modicum of preparation, but he is too arrogant to do so.
VELSHI: So very interestingly, Phil, this was in The Washington Post about the interview that Andrea Mitchell conducted yesterday with Dan Coats, in which the news come out separately that Donald Trump had invited Vladimir Putin to Russia (sic). And Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, didn`t know. And The Washington Post writes, "inside the White House, Trump`s advisers were in an uproar over Coats` interview at Aspen, Colorado. They said the optics were especially damaging noting that at moments Coats appeared to be laughing at the president, playing to his audience of the intellectual elite in a manner that was sure to infuriate Trump."
Again, if you`re talking, as Julia is, about unforced errors, that is one of them. They didn`t have to let Dan Coats being out there hanging out to dry when breaking news about an invitation to Vladimir Putin was put out.
RUCKER: Yeah, and that was some reporting that I did last night with sources in the White House. They were furious with Dan Coats, the DNI.
But thing is, this wasn`t some sort of gaffe by Dan Coats, he was just answering honestly. These were candid answers to Andrea`s very good questions. He`s not somebody who does a lot of interviews like this. You don`t see him on the Sunday shows. You don`t see him out all over the place parroting the pro-Trump White House talking points. He was acting -- he was responding in a candid fashion, and that`s what got the White House so upset, because it was so out of sync with the sort of message that President Trump has been trying to push all week on Russia.
VELSHI: It has been a remarkable week. And Julia, I will -- you made the reference to what President Trump in Helsinki, if I ever write a book about covering the Trump administration, I might just call it the Pakistani Gentleman. It is obscure and nobody understands what he was talking about.
Julia Ioffe and Philip Rucker, thanks both for joining me tonight.
This week revived some serious talk about impeachment. And there is one person who has been out in front of everyone else on that issue. Tom Styre, the billionaire activist who has long called for the impeachment of President Trump on what he thinks after the Trump/Putin summit. That`s next.
VELSHI: We are coming to you from Ashville, North Carolina tonight. And I want to thank the staff here at the Omni Grove Park Inn who have really gone out of their way to accommodate us.
Now, that was not an ad, but this is, you may have seen it on this chennel and others this week, a new ad paid for by billionaire activist Tom Steyer calling for the impeachment of Donald Trump. It`s part of his month`s long campaign urging congress to take action against the president. And this ad is updated to include Trump`s behavior with Putin.
Now, impeaching the president is an idea that might have seemed farfetched back in October of 2017 when Steyer began his push, but on a week like this one, you have to wonder how much traction this is gaining.
Joining me now is Tom Steyer. And Tom, good to see you. It seems that impeachment is still going to remain a difficult idea unless something dramatic happens in the 2018 mid-term elections just having to do with the makeup of congress, but that`s 109 days away. Talk to me what you are thinking. Is there impetus for impeachment beforehand, or are you hoping that it happens after the mid-terms?
TOM STEYER, ACTIVIST: Well, I think, Ali, we have been saying since October 20 and five-and-a-half million people have signed our petion, and 42 percent of Americans before this disgraceful behavior in Helsinki agreed with us that this president should be impeached and removed from office.
But what we saw this Monday was a president of the United States standing on a stage with a dictator who had authorized a cyber attack on the American Democracy, which the FBI believes is continuing, and watched our commander-in-chief deny what he knew to be the truth about that attack, to then say it is not ongoing. He does not believe it is ongoing. And then to say if we have problems between Russia and the United States, it is America`s fault.
VELSHI: So, we are seeing events last Monday that were as much of a show and tell as you are ever going to see as a commander-in-chief absolutely betraying his own country and walking away from his responsibilities to the American people.
Now who would ever have predicted that?
STEYER: Congressman Linda Sanchez, the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said this week that, quote, in order to prosecute a case for impeachment you have to have the underlying facts. She said, Democrats won`t act to impeach while the Russia investigation is still underway.
So, who are you hoping to influence with these ads and with the petition? Are you hoping to influence influencers, or congress, or average Americans?
STEYER: Well, what we are building -- what we are trying to do, the organization I started Next Gen America is the largest grassroots organization in the United States, empowering the American people to have conversations with each other about our politics.
What we are doing in this campaign to impeach and remove this president is trying to create a movement to try and enable the voices of individual Americans to get together.
And as I said, 5.5 million of them have signed our petition. We`re going directly to the people. Ali, I have been doing a 30 city tour of America to talk to people about it, to say the voice of the American people is what counts in our democracy, and we need to sign up together, raise our voices together and insist that this lawless president be removed.
VELSHI: All right, so in a lot of ways, you are in touch with a lot of people and their sentiments about this president. How do things like this past week, or maybe the last two weeks where he has gone and insulted our NATO allies. He has called Europeans our foes. He made a fight with Justin Trudeau. Nobody can make a fight with Justin Trudeau. He insulted Theresa May. He insulted Angela Merkel. And he`s threatened a 70-year-old alliance.
But I wonder, Tom, really, are those people who didn`t like Donald Trump didn`t like him before Monday, and those who say this is a witch hunt, or the press is too hard on him, or the enemy of the people, they seem to dig in as opposed to take it as more evidence that Donald Trump is a danger to this country.
Tell me what you`re seeing. Do people`s sentiments change, because of every new thing that Donald Trump does?
STEYER: Ali, I think that is a good point. And your basic point is that we have a very divided nation. And I think we all know that is true and that we all regret it.
But I think what we saw on Monday was truly extraordinary, which really was the commander-in-chief walking away from his own country, his responsibility to the American people and the constitution. And I think if you look even how the most committed Republicans have responded to that, whether it`s Congressman Hurd, or the polls that have come out, there is a much lower percentage of Republicans who support that kind of behavior than have supported anything beforehand.
And I think what we...
VELSHI: And yet, they`re not -- they didn`t come up to the forefront. There weren`t that many Republicans who said that was it, that was the last straw -- the insulting of our allies, the cozying up to . Vladimir Putin. So, what is it going to take to get Republicans to step up and say this is dangerous?
STEYER: Well, I think the point here is that -- this is a question about patriotism, not partisanship, Ali. This is a question of asking Americans, the Americna people, regardless of what part of they associate with, to put their country ahead of their party, to do what is right to protect our democracy, which is definitely under attack by this foreign country that has had electronic warfare -- that is what the head of the FBI described it as, electronic warfare against the United States and we need to step up and think about our democracy and think about our country and do what is right.
VELSHI: Tom, always good to see you. Thank you, sir. Tom Steyer.
All right, still to come with the wreckage of the Trump/Putin summit still moldering, and the prospect of Donald Trump recordings now confirmed, how next week actually promises to be worse for the president by way of the man who chaired his 2016 campaign. That`s coming up next.
VELSHI: As insane a week as this one has been, with some accusing the president of treason following his meeting with Vladimir Putin, and today`s revelation that federal investigators have an actual recording of Trump talking to his attorney about payments to a former Playboy model with whom he allegedly had an affairs, things are about to get even crazier. You`re going to want to circle this date on your calendar: next Wednesday, July 25, the trial of Donald J. Trump`s former campaign chairman begins, Paul Manafort, is set to go in front of a judge in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, facing 18 charges of bank and tax fraud, and potentially over 300 years in prison if convicted.
And, Special Counsel Mueller is ready, releasing a list yesterday of nearly 500 pieces of evidence that the prosecution may use against Manafort, including photos of his luxury cars, high end clothing, and a home in the Hamptons.
There will not be any cameras on the court room, but reporters will be allowed in. We have full coverage all week long, but before we get to next week, we are going to talk about the reaction to all of this week`s insanity right after the break.
VELSHI: Even by the standards of the Trump administration, the news this week was dire for the White House, from Trump siding with an adversary of this nation over our own intelligence community on Monday to denying Russian interference in the 2016 election, to frantic walkbacks of the president`s remarks twice in do two days, and today, the news that the president`s long-time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, secretly taped a conversation with Trump about buying the rights to the story of a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump. What a week. It feels like, I don`t know, seven weeks. As I said earlier, this is what it feels like to be a dog.
Here to help me process the deluge of news is Democratic pollster MSNBC political analyst Cornell Belcher and Business Insider senior editor and MSNBC contributor Josh Barro.
Guys, thank you for helping me, because I need all of the help I can get to get over the finish line this week. It is too much for my little brain to process.
Cornell, the prevailing wisdom among people who track voter sentiment for a living, and this is disappointing, is that the Trump/Russia scandal doesn`t necessarily move the needle the way that something maybe more visceral does -- health care or the economy. I mean, there was certainly a time a few decades ago when Russia was visceral.
But it has been four days since the president returned from Helsinki. Any indication to you that this week`s events are having any effect on voters?
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but the truth of the matter is when you look at the polling, and CBC Poll just recently came out, and it shows a plurality of voters now have less confidence in the president sort of looking out for American interests and think that -- a plurality think that he`s too friendly with Russia. But then you look underneath that and you still see Republicans, you know, on the opposite side of that, right. He does not lose his Republican base of support, right. And that`s the problem.
So, you don`t see a lot of change, and you see some members of congress also see that -- you know, Republicans in congress see that. And they understand that he is more popular with the Republican base than they are. So you don`t see a lot of change.
I think what change what might happen is, and I think some of this is already baked in, is do you do see, particularly with women. You do see suburban women begin sort of pull away, and you do see some even blue collar women in the polling now begin to sort of soften and pull away from the president, and I think that is problematic when you look at the midterms, especially when you have all these suburban districts that are in play.
VELSHI: So, Josh, the interesting thing here is that some crazy percentage of Republicans seem to feel that the news is fake or don`t trust the news. And that`s fine. I get what all of the reasons are for that sort of thing. But do people think that this was fake this week, that that Helsinki think was fake, that the insults to our NATO partners are fake, that the trade war is fake, that, you know, all of this stuff is fake.
At some point why doesn`t it move the needles? Who are these staunch Republicans so mad at that Donald Trump really could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn`t actually matter to that 30-something percent of Americans who won`t budge.
JOSH BARRO, BUSINESS INSIDER: Yeah, I think -- and Cornell can certainly speak to this, but a lot of these poll questions when you ask how people whether -- how they feel about how the president handles something, or something that he did. People really just interpret it as a question that says how do you feel about Donald Trump and you offer them a negative statement about him, and people who don`t like him will agree with that statement and people who like him will disagree with it.
So, I think it`s partly that people are not really processing the content necessarily of what happened in Russia. They are just looking at it. They have a preexisting opinion about Donald Trump and they are applying that into their own evaluation.
And I think, you know, to your point, the Russia investigation obviously has dominated the news. And I think it is substantively extremely important, our relationship with Russia. But it doesn`t seem to be something that moves public opinion that much. And overall, the president`s poll numbers have been extremely stable, despite the extremely volatile news environment that we`re in, and the amazing amount of stuff that has happened over the last 18 months. It is really hard for him in the FiveThirtyEight tracking of his approval numbers to get under 38 or above 42. So
So, opinions about the president are just I think extremely rigid. And I think that they basically can`t be moved by almost anything.
VELSHI: Yeah, well, look, Cornell, I mean, some 20 some odd percent of Americans believe in UFOs, and 22 or 23 think that Barack Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim, so I guess he has got a strong base to start from there.
But McKay Coppins of The Atlantic tweeted this week that, quote, if Trump and company just pivoted to, quote, aren`t you glad Russia helped us defeat Hillary Clinton? Would there really be any serious blowback from his base? Well, would there be?
BELCHER: No. And that`s a problem, right? It is now Trump`s party, right? The remnants of the Republican Party are in shambles. I mean, this is Trump`s party. He is the most popular figure in this party. And it is a party with a love affair that`s going on in Russia.
You have 15 percent or 14 percent of Republicans who now see Russia as the enemy. That is incredible sort of -- this was once upon a time the party of Ronald Reagan and sort of our stance against Russia. That is completely flipped right now. It is the party of Donald Trump.
VELSHI: Josh, you mentioned FiveThirtyEight a minute ago. I just want to put up a quick poll that shows on a generic ballot Democrats are still doing better than Republicans, by a good measure. But that`s a generic ballot. People don`t vote generically.
How do Democrats talk to voters when there`s this kind of a news cycle? How do you cut through and craft an effective message that isn`t just I`m not Donald Trump and we are not crazy?
BARRO: Well, I think when you look at the messaging that is actually being put out by Democratic campaigns around the country, it is quite different from what you see dominating the news. They are especially eager to talk about health care. When they talk about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, they are very focused on these legal questions about whether the Affordable Care Act will be thrown out, and specifically whether the protections for people with preexisting conditions will be thrown out. So, I think that they try to focus on those issues and just assume that the Russia stuff will punch through on its own.
VELSHI: Guys, you helped me do it. We made it to the end. Have yourselves a great week. Sleep up. Eat your Wheaties. Next week is going to be big.
Cornell Belcher and Josh Barro, thanks for your time.
And that is All In for this evening and this week.
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