IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Flynn, Treason, Sanctions and Syria. TRANSCRIPT: 12/19/2018, All In w. Chris Hayes.

Guests: Marcy Wheeler, Natasha Bertrand, Darren Samuelsohn, Hakeem Jeffries, Ruth Conniff, Charlie Pierce

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: December 19, 2018> Guest: Marcy Wheeler, Natasha Bertrand, Darren Samuelsohn, Hakeem Jeffries, Ruth Conniff, Charlie Pierce

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC SHOW HOST: That`s HARDBALL for now. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC SHOW HOST (voice-over): Tonight on ALL IN.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: The Russians said -- the Russians, I`m sorry, the Republicans --

HAYES (voice-over): One day after questions of treason about the president`s former national security advisor --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no sympathy for Mr. Flynn. He lied.

HAYES (voice-over): The president switches up Russian sanctions and declares victory on ISIS in Syria.

SEN. LINDSEYT GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He did it himself, which he has every right to do, but he needs to own it.

HAYES (voice-over): Tonight, what is the president doing and who is it benefitting?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Whoever advised this did the president a terrible disservice.

HAYES (voice-over): Plus, the reality of Paul Ryan`s legacy as he finally bows out of Congress.

PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I am the same person now that I was when I arrived.

HAYES (voice-over): And remember this desperate mid term campaign promise?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On this one we`re doing a pure 10 percent tax cut for the middle class.

HAYES (voice-over): We have an update on that. "All In" starts right now.

Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. One day after a federal judge floated allegations of treason against the president`s first national security advisor, the White House has made a variety of foreign policy moves that leave one asking whose interest is the president of the United States serving?

You`ll remember in federal court yesterday, Judge Emmett Sullivan referenced the fact that Michael Flynn was secretly and illegally working for the Turkish government, taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from them and he questioned whether Flynn could have be charged with treason.

While serving as a campaign advisor, Flynn reportedly had a plan to kidnap a lawful permanent U.S. resident, a Turkish cleric who the government dislikes and he pushed to postpone a big bombing offensive against ISIS in order, it appears, to please the Turkish government. And Flynn was texting about a private nuclear business deal with the Russians and the Saudis during the inauguration.

And that`s important context for what we saw happen today. Today, the president announced a sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, taking basically everyone by surprise, and his administration is leveling new sanctions on some of the Russian intelligence operatives implicated in the 2016 election interference, but crucially lifting sanctions on three massive Russian corporations controlled in part by Oleg Deripaska.

That of course is the Russian oligarch who worked so closely and love (ph) with Paul Manafort for years. And because of what we know about Michael Flynn and what he was doing and why he was doing it, and his actions during the campaign, the transition, because of what we don`t know now about our president`s own financial entanglements, because of the report just yesterday that Trump had signed a letter of intent for a Moscow business plan while running for president and lying about it.

Something Don, Jr. testified about before Congress. It is impossible, impossible to evaluate whether today`s foreign policy decisions and announcements made by the American head of state and defensible on their merits were done for American interests or whether they are some secret deal or some other reason for the president`s action.

Joining me now is Marcy Wheeler, independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties, Glenn Kirchner, former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Colombia and now an MSNBC legal analyst. Glenn, I`ll start with you. You were in the courtroom yesterday when the judge floated treason. What was the reaction in that moment and what did you think about it and make of it?

GLENN KIRCHNER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, Chris, I think when we heard the judge raise the possibility or the question of the prosecutors about, you know, whether there was any potential for General Flynn to have been charged with treason. We were all kind of taken aback, but -- and I don`t think treason necessarily applies to General Flynn`s situation.

I don`t think he was engaged in sort of an attempt to align himself with the enemy in a violent over throw of the U.S. government, which is sort of what the constitution contemplates. But here is why I am somewhat forgiving of Judge Sullivan raising that issue. When you have a cooperating witness what you ordinarily do when you are bringing that witness on board, is you try to get the witness to tell you every crime he`s committed.

Then you decide what to have him plead guilty to. As we know, Mueller`s team had General Flynn plead guilty only to one charge of false statement. But when a judge has to assess what the right sentence is for a cooperating witness, one of the things he has to know is, OK, what is every crime that this cooperating witness has committed because that will inform --

HAYES: Right.

KIRCHNER: -- what kind of a sentence I should give him on the one charge he pled guilty to. So Sullivan was pushing the outer boundaries and it was a little bit of a reach, but I don`t think it was a wildly inappropriate area of inquiry.

HAYES: You know, Marcy, you wrote about this and you and I are I think on the same page in that. I think, and people throw the word treason around far too often and as Glenn said, it`s something that is contemplated in the constitution, very narrow grounds. You wrote a piece though about him saying that and you said this which caught my eye.

"It should gravely worry the Trump people that Sullivan`s comments about whether Flynn`s behavior was treasonous came from someone who just read about what the Mueller investigation has discovered. What do you mean by that?

MARCY WHEELER, INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST: Well, even on the docket itself it references an ex parte version of Flynn`s cooperation with the government. So, the government knows stuff about what Flynn told them that he doesn`t fully understand. And they shared that with Sullivan. And then Sullivan started yesterday`s hearing -- I wasn`t there in the courtroom so I could actually yell at him when he raised treason because like you, I think I don`t want people to use that word inappropriately.

But he started that hearing yesterday by saying there is a great deal of non-public information in this docket and if I happen to slip and say something, please somebody tell me. And so he made it clear that he knows all of the details about what Flynn has told the government and we don`t.

So, I mean, even for example, the nuclear deal that he was plotting in the middle of the inauguration, that`s not in any of the documents that have been made public on the docket but we know that`s the kind of thing that Sullivan would have reviewed and would know the full breadth of. And so to have somebody like -- Sullivan is like the first person outside of the Mueller team to read everything he has on at least Flynn --

HAYES: Right.

WHEELER: -- ant the first thing he says is, well, foreign agent or treason, which is it, General Flynn?

HAYES: Yes, that`s a good point, Glenn. The other issue here, I think, and what Sullivan was getting at and what relates I think to how we evaluate foreign policy even in the announcements today, is that here`s an individual who is part the so-called America First campaign who was just manifestly working for other foreign interests.

I mean, they were paying him to pursue their interest while he was essentially pretending to represent American interests, Glenn. And you could tell that was at a kind of almost emotional level. That`s what got the judge so fired up.

KIRCHNER: Yes. And there really is no more dramatic or dangerous crime that the national security advisor two-timing with the Russians, acting as a foreign agent for Turkey, all the while lying to the FBI, lying to the vice president, lying to perhaps others in the administration. I mean, it doesn`t get any more dangerous. And governmental conduct, misconduct, doesn`t get any more grave than that, Chris.

So that`s why I think Judge Sullivan was, in my opinion, something of a hero yesterday when he said, look, I understand that he has given the prosecution a lot of useful evidence, perhaps against Trump and others, and that is what prompted the Mueller team to recommend a very low sentence, zero to six months including a possible sentence to probation.

And of course the defense wants nothing more than zero to six months and probation. Sullivan said, not so fast. These crimes don`t really get anymore egregious. Your recommendations to me are only advisory. He`s looking it up to five years, and I`ll tell you, it was very ominous when he said, I cannot promise you a non-custodial statement if we go forward today.

HAYES: Yes.

KIRCHNER: And if you come back after your cooperation is complete, guess what, I still cannot promise you a noncustodial sentence.

HAYES: Marcy, something you`ve been writing about and I think obviously was sort front of mind yesterday because in some ways, the most egregious sort of proved definitive activity of Flynn has to do with the Turkish contract he signed.

Is the idea that, you know, this begins as an inquiry into what the Russians did and whether there was essentially collusion, but there is lots of public evidence suggest there were other foreign interests manipulating this group of people, both in the campaign and the transition over and above the Russians.

WHEELER: Yes, and I don`t think it`s going to stop with just the Turks and the Russians. I expect they`ll see some Middle Eastern countries named as well. Wait, I mean, the whole point was that Flynn literally did not come clean with the fact that he had been in the paid employ of the Turkish government and he knew about it until December 1st of 2017.

So, all the way through the time he was in the White House, he was hiding that. And really importantly, this was at a time when he was trying to figure out how the Trump administration would be involved in a Russian/Turkish peace plan for Syria.

HAYES: Exactly.

WHEELER: That`s one of the things that`s redacted in his 302. And he was thinking precisely the time he sat down with the FBI of how the United States was going to be part of the Russian Turkish-backed Syrian plan and here we are today.

HAYES: And here we are today with an announcement of U.S. withdrawal that plays deeply into the intrusive of those countries. Marcy Wheeler and Glenn Kirchner, thank you both.

Joining me now is Ned Price, former spokesperson and senior director of the National Security Council and special assistant to President Obama, now an MSNBC national security and intelligence analyst and Natasha Bertrand, staff writer at "The Atlantic" who covers national security and the Mueller investigation.

Ned, I`ll start with you on Syria. I want to be clear here because I think withdrawal from Syria is an entirely defensible and indeed could be under certain circumstances praiseworthy foreign policy decision that is rarely undertaken by American presidents, who are always advised by the National Security, who state, of course you can`t withdraw, things will go to hell.

That said, the manner in which this has been done -- I want to read this remarkable senior administration official unnamed to Jake Tapper, "senior officials across the administration agree the president`s decision by tweet would recklessly put American and allied lives in danger around the world, take the pressure off of ISIS allowing them to reconstitute and hand a strategic victory to our Syrian, Iranian, and Russian adversaries. It`s a mistake of colossal proportions. The president fails to see how it will endanger our country."

Is that a crazy thing for someone in the administration to say?

NED PRICE, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: In any other administration, Chris, it certainly would be and this one, not so much. I think it`s fair to say what this decision today, that it`s left more questions than answers. And I`m not talking about question for us. I`m talking about questions for Trump`s closest advisors. People like Mike Pompeo and people like John Bolton who have made an enduring U.S. presence in Syria as a way to counteract Iran`s regional influence.

A staple of their public remarks as recently as this month, you had senior State Department and Department of Defense officials saying that no, we would be in Syria for the long haul both for the counter ISIL campaign and for Iran. So, I think when you assess what was announced today, you have to remember that we have a president who isn`t ideological when it comes to these things.

This is a president who seeks to strategically shift the news cycle, a president who on at least one occasion just before the mid-terms has used the military for political purposes and a president who doesn`t always act in our national interests, including with Russia and Turkey, two countries who are applauding this move today including Russia very publicly in Twitter.

HAYES: That`s what -- see, that`s what`s so maddening about the situation, Natasha, is that it is impossible to independently sort of evaluate these decisions on the merits precisely because the entanglements are unknown. So Russia, yes, likes this. U.S. decision to pull its troops from Syria creates good prospect for political solution in the Arab country.

Turkey also quite happy about this. We should say probably Iran as well, which is clearly no big friend of the Trump administration, but what hangs over this, Natasha, is that this is the kind of thing that Michael Flynn was working on, the kind of thing the Kremlin has been seeking for a long time. The kind of thing Jared Kushner apparently was talking about in the secret conversations with Kislyak, and we don`t know what hangs over them all.

NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Right. And that`s especially true because Trump seems to have made this decision all on his own.

HAYES: Right.

BERTRAND: He seems to have just woken up this morning and said, I want to withdraw from Syria. Now, do we know whether or not that was the result of some conversation that he had with a foreign leader who perhaps flattered him into making this decision as we know foreign leaders often do with the president. They appeal to his ego. We just don`t know. I think there is further reporting to be done on that.

But the fact that the Pentagon was left in the dark about this essentially, they had these negotiations over the past few months, kind of debating whether or not and for how long the U.S. is going to stay in Syria, but they didn`t know that the president was going to take this drastic action today.

That just shows that the president was in a particular state of mind whether it was wanting to distract from the news cycle about Michael Flynn, whatever it may be that led him to make this impulsive decision. And that, I think, is what we should be really worried about. We also saw today that the Treasury department announced that it was going to lift sanctions on the core of the companies owned by this Russian billionaire oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.

Why today? What did they announce today that it was going to be, you know, the sanctions were going to be lifted within 30 days and why was that decision made if not to essentially award Oleg Deripaska with his massive, massive lobbying campaign and say, look, you can pretty much lobby your way out of these sanctions.

HAYES: And we should note on that, Ned, that Deripaska of course is the person that Paul Manafort worked for. The first person he wanted his -- now, indicted associate, Konstantin Kilimnik to get in touch with when he became campaign manager. He offered a private briefing to Oleg Deripaska.

He owed him tons of money at a certain point. He asked about getting made whole. Once again, one has to ask, like, is this a decision made independently by, you know, in good faith on the merits or is there something else there?

PRICE: Well, the decision to roll back the sanctions or at least to have Deripaska divest from some of his companies so that the companies themselves could be delisted is an interesting one. But it is also interesting as to just how Deripaska came to be subject to these sanctions. It actually happened by accident. It`s not something that the administration wanted to do.

"The Daily Beast" reported just a few months ago that in January when Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin went before Congress to talk about the so-called oligarch`s list that Congress had mandated the Trump administration to write and brief to them. He was asked if any of the oligarchs on this list would be subject to sanctions. And apparently he didn`t knew the answer so he just said yes.

And so that forced the administration to it seems very clumsily and handedly enact sanctions on Deripaska in a way that sent the aluminum market -- he`s an aluminum magnet -- into turmoil. And so this is how we got to where we are today, where the administration is trying to walk that back in a way that even the Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a rare statement issued today, seem to suggest they won`t be able to do. At least it will be a solution that will take I think in their words, careful monitoring to enact.

HAYES: Natasha, this strikes me as, again, the question always, are these people crafty and devious or they just look absolute clodish idiots in the way that they are conducting themselves.

BERTRAND: Yes. I mean, there is really no way to know at this point. I think we do need to take into account though the absolutely just massive lobbying campaign that Oleg Deripaska waged here in Washington. He hired this massive P.R. firm, Mercury Public Affairs. He hired three high-powered law firms.

And essentially, he said that, you know, make contact with the White House. Convince them that these sanctions are bad for the companies, bad for the global aluminum market which has Ned said, kind of tanked as soon as the sanctions were imposed. And in return I will cut my shares, my stake in the company from 70 percent to 44 percent, which doesn`t -- it seems like kind of a joke, right? I mean, he still owns a lot of that company.

HAYES: Right.

BERTRAND: And interestingly, the entity that will step in to take over the shares that he is giving up is VTB Bank, which is under U.S. sanctions. So it all just seems very convoluted. It seems like none of it was very well thought out, but Deripaska of course is going to benefit from this.

And not only is he going to benefit from it, the Kremlin is going to benefit from it because -- and that is the key because these are Russian companies. It hurt the stock market. It hurt the economy there exponentially. The ruble now is rallying on the news that these sanctions are going to be lifted. And so that I think is where the problem really lies, is that these were designed to punish Russia and now we are going to get back into a place where they are not being held accountable.

HAYES: Ned Price and Natasha Bertrand, thank you both. Next, the bizarre story of a Mueller proceeding that was so top secret, they cleared an entire floor of the courthouse. We now have some details about what that was all about. I`ll tell you in two minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: We now know a bit more about the super secret court proceeding in the Mueller case that has captivated Mueller watchers for weeks. On Friday the D.C. Circuit Court heard top secret arguments in a filing that related to a subpoena from the Mueller group that had been challenged. They were so intent on keeping it secret they cleared an entire floor of the courthouse while a bunch of journalists snuck around trying to catch glimpses of who the relevant parties were.

Then yesterday, a partial and the mystery -- the court issued a three-page opinion. The subpoena it turns out was to a foreign government-owned company. That unnamed company fought the subpoena in court saying they were immune from Mueller`s reach. Bad news for the mystery company and country yesterday, the D.C. Circuit Court said they had to comply.

Joining me now to try to figure out what exactly is going on here and how it fits in the Mueller investigation, MSNBC legal analyst Maya Wiley, New School professor and senior vice president for social justice, and Darren Samuelsohn, senior White House reporter from "Politico" which broke the story linking the subpoena of the Mueller team. Darren, this had been this big mystery. Tell me about how people sort of first found out about it and what we`ve learned.

DARREN SAMULESOHN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, there are a lot of cases that are sealed before the district court and the -- with the primary jurisdiction for the Mueller investigation is happening. So we were watching a lot of different cases. We got a wind of one where there was a deadline where something had to be turned in by hand.

So I actually physically went up to the Court of Appeals office, the clerk`s office, and sat there for a couple of hours. This was back in October waiting to see if I recognized anybody who might come in from the Mueller team. A couple of people did come in who I kind of just assumed were probably either couriers, maybe dropping something off.

And as we`re getting close to that noon deadline, I overhead someone else come in publicly announce that he was there to pick up one of the documents that the special counsel had just filed. And my ears perked up. I followed this man out of the room, asked him who he was, who he represented.

He wouldn`t tell me his name. But we did see about two hours later something get filed by the mystery appellant who was trying to stop this subpoena from happening. That was one of our big clues to put this connection to Robert Mueller.

HAYES: So there are some pretty interesting legal questions here, Maya, right. Foreign owned -- a company that`s owned by a foreign government being subpoenaed by a U.S. investigation. What are the relevant issues?

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the relevant issues that got played out in this was could the company since the company is saying basically we`re a sovereign nation --

HAYES: Because we`re owned by the sovereign state.

WILEY: -- because we are owned by the sovereign state. You don`t get to tell us what to do.

HAYES: Right.

WILEY: So you can`t tell us we have to comply with the subpoena and give you whatever you`re asking us for. The district court said, no, because you`re acting like a commercial entity, you`re not acting like a state. So, you can`t hide behind that sovereign immunity that we are a state, we have jurisdiction over ourselves if what you`re really doing is being a commercial entity engaged in commercial activity.

HAYES: So that`s right. That`s the heart of the issue here, sovereign immunity obviously and like long legal tradition, right. Mueller couldn`t subpoena the Kremlin obviously.

WILEY: And some say Putin.

HAYES: They`re like, no, no, that`s not the way it works.

WILEY: And Putin, we`re going to tell you what you have to give us.

HAYES: Right. So the question is like, is this state-owned enterprise more like a state or more like an enterprise basically and the court finding more like an enterprise.

WILEY: Right. And there was a second argument which was, well, you know, even if you don`t buy that one, judge, under the criminal procedures of your -- of the United States, you can`t make us do something unreasonable and in this case you would be making us break one of our own laws. And so, it was --

HAYES: Interesting. That`s interesting.

WILEY: So, and the judge said, OK. Obviously when that happens, it`s the responsibility of that party to explain what their laws are and for a court to see if they have met their burden of saying, yes, you`re right. OK, it sounds like we would be asking you to violate your laws, and that court said, whatever that law was and we don`t know what it was because we don`t know what country it is, whatever that law was, the judge has basically said that does not make sense.

HAYES: So, OK. So, that`s the sort of legal issue. In terms of who this is, Darren, there are lots of speculation, right? So VTB Bank is owned by the Russian government. Rosneft is owned by the Russian government. They are in the Middle East where the Emirates, the Qataris, the Saudis own a ton of government enterprises. Are there any indications or clues like what this is?

SAMUELSOHN: No, not really. We know that it is a foreign company owned by a foreign government. We`ve been speculating for, you know, pretty much since we broke this story on who it could be. There is obviously some speculation it could be President Donald Trump himself --

HAYES: Right.

SAMUELSOHN: -- that got knocked down pretty quickly. Other people have been filling my inbox with other ideas from Vice President Pence to Donald Trump, Jr. Obviously, we do have a little bit more detail and hopefully this will be unsealed at some point in time. The court did indicate that they are going to be issuing a more thorough opinion at some point in the future.

So we`ll get a chance to see there. And if this gets appealed up to the Court of Appeals or to the Supreme Court, there is a chance down the road we will get a little bit more detail on this, but really the recipient of the grand jury subpoena will have to come forward and really give us a clear indication of who it is.

HAYES: Yes. I guess the question is how long can the appeal process play itself out in secret?

SAMUELSOHN: It certainly moved pretty quickly so far.

WILEY: Well, they can play it out in secret as long as they want. Meaning, if it`s sealed, it`s sealed, and it`s sealed until they unseal it.

HAYES: Right. But I mean, like can you argue if you went up -- let`s say it went up the Supreme Court because the legal issues here are so novel which I`m not sure because we haven`t seen the actual filings, we don`t know. But can you have a secret argument? I don`t think you have a secret argument in front of the Supreme Court?

WILEY: You can`t have a secret argument. You could have some sealed documents before the Supreme Court. But I think this was the pointers (ph). Parties will have to make a decision about what they`re going to do about the appeal if it goes that far. I will throw in one I heard today is China --

HAYESS: Yes.

WILEY: -- which actually if you think about it, so the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is actually the largest tenant in Trump Tower New York.

HAYES: That`s true.

WILEY: Interesting.

HAYES: And they also have a lot of state owned enterprises.

WILEY: Correct.

HAYES: There`s a big question to me Darren about if this were to be a Russian firm versus let`s say it were a Middle Eastern firm. Like, if it were a Middle Eastern firm that would represent a scope, a frontier having been opened to the Mueller investigation that as of yet hasn`t fully entered the kind of public view, right?

SAMUELSOHN: Yes. If they go into the Middle Eastern sector, if it goes into China, then we have certainly taken a totally different turn in the Russia investigation than where Mueller was originally, you know, sent off to go investigate. You know, without really knowing which country it is, I guess we have to sit back and wait here.

Obviously, if it is a Russian bank that would indicate to us that they are looking into, you know, Trump organization finances and that Rudy Giuliani the other day was indicating, you know, that they`ve been digging into his tax deals or into his finances going back to the early `80s, which you know, it seems to be maybe a hint that Rudy knows something else that we`re kind of going to be learning about soon enough.

But that could be a sign of where we`re headed. Again, there are just so many possibilities. We have gone down a lot of rabbit holes trying to figure this one out. You know, you could spend a lot of time with this.

HAYES: All right, Maya Wiley and Darren Samuelsohn, thank you very much.

Coming up, as Paul Ryan bids farewell to Congress, a look at his signature achievement, a massive Republican con job.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: House Speaker Paul Ryan is retiring from Congress and today, the Wisconsin Republican gave his farewell speech in which he offered more of the shtick he`s been honing for decades. He`s a think tank intellectual, a policy guy, a problem solver who rolled up his sleeves to fight again the corrosive influence of politics.

Paul Ryan has built an entire career around what has been for Republicans a very successful con. Since before Ronald Reagan, the GOP has insisted it is the party of limited spending, balanced budgets and low deficits. That has never actually been true at all.

But Ryan managed to convince a lot of Americans otherwise, including a lot of reporters. Here`s the truth, Ryan began his career pushing for more spending, not less, during George W. Bush`s first term, he even mocked the green eye shade austerity wing of the party that fears increases in the debt.

Ryan was an enthusiastic backer of Bush policies that exploded the deficit and debt, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Bush tax cuts, both rounds, which Ryan argued weren`t big enough.

He was also, get this, the deciding vote for Bush`s costly expansion of prescription drug benefits. And then, something changed -- I don`t know -- oh, right, Barack Obama became president. And suddenly Paul Ryan became an evangelist for fiscal discipline who earnestly cast the debt as an existential threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) WISCONSIN: If you take a look at the chart, the red tidal wave of debt. Sean, this is the most predictable economic crisis we`ve ever had in this country. It`s a debt crisis. Our debt literally gets out of control, and it ends the American dream as we know it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Ryan`s solution, of course, was to dramatically cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. He never succeeded. But once there was a Republican back in the White House, so weird he became a lot less worried about the deficit and debt.

As House speaker, Ryan passed spending bills he didn`t pay for, pushed through tax cut for corporations and the rich the CBO projected would add 1.9 trillion dollars to the national debt. And the numbers don`t lie, when Ryan became speaker in 2015, the deficit was $438 billion. This year, with unified Republican government, it`s up to 779 billion.

And next year, thanks in large part to Paul Ryan and his party, it`s expected to hit nearly 1 trillion.

Joining me to discuss Ryan`s legacy, Charlie Pierce, writer at-large at Esquire; and direct from Ryan`s home state, Ruth Conniff, editor at-large of the Progressive Magazine.

Let me start with you, Ruth, Paul Ryan crafted this image in D.C. as a kind of wonk, as the rare wonk, as a person who really genuinely believed in what he was doing. I wonder what his reputation is like in Wisconsin? And what is he going back to?

RUTH CONNIFF, EDITOR AT-LARGE, PROGRESSIVE MAGAZINE: That`s a really good point, Chris. Because Paul Ryan really had two images. One was in Washington where he was celebrated as a boy genius, and back in Wisconsin he would run ads on television saying things like he opposed trade agreements that exported jobs. In his district of Janesville where the GM plant closed, you know, they have lost 50 percent of manufacturing jobs, so this was very important to his constituents but those TV ads had nothing to do with the votes he cast, which supported every single trade agreement that came before him.

So, he had two completely different images.

He`s seen as a friendly guy. He`s very easy to talk to. He -- I have watched him give these PowerPoint presentations in his home district where he flashes up these bar graphs and people sort of try to follow it. And he very quickly explains how trickle down economic is going to save us and voucherizing Medicare is not going to be a problem. And his constituents are kind of left reeling. And what they`re left with is, wow, this guy is really good at math. I can`t follow this presentation. A few grandmas in tennis shoes come out in protest, don`t voucherize our Medicare, and then people kind of see him as a nice guy and he`s willing to talk to them, so that`s kind of the package you get with Paul Ryan.

HAYES: That package, I think, Charlie, is part of what helped him sort of kind of cultivate a lot of reporters in Washington. I think with him it`s a little of the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, which is to say that he actually did have significantly more grasp of policy details than the vast majority of the Republican caucus, though maybe that`s not saying much.

CHARLIE PIERCE, EDITOR AT-LARGE, ESQUIRE: I think perhaps you`re right. He certainly had academic patter down a lot better than a lot of them did.

To me, and I grew up in Massachusetts, Paul Ryan is the biggest fake I`ve ever seen in politics. I mean, nobody`s close. If he`s not doing this, you know, phony wonk thing, you know, where he`s -- he`s putting together his budgets with magic asterisks, he`s going down the old Jack Kemp trail about how he really cares about poor folks.

Paul Ryan cares about one thing and only one thing, shoving as much of the wealth of the United States up to the very, very top of the food chain and making sure it doesn`t trickle back down again. That`s the summation of Paul Ryan`s legacy.

HAYES: I mean, that`s a much clearer through line than deficits and debt I think. If you were to say, like, look at what he`s done. Although, there is something that I think is interesting in his career, Ruth, which is the Ryan budget. And I think that`s the place where in some ways he got put in charge and he was too honest about his vision. And in some ways it was a high point for honesty, so in 2010, 2011, 2012, yeah, we want to cut -- we want to voucherize Medicare, that was the sort of big ideas in there. And we want to cut a lot of government spending. And there was no political constituency for it. It wasn`t popular at all.

CONNIFF: Right. I mean, and this is where the grandmas in tennis shoes came out to say enough is enough with Paul Ryan. He may seem like a nice guy, but this is really dangerous stuff presented with a smile. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called him out on that budget, and said it was the gospel of Ayn Rand. The faculty at Georgetown actually called it the Gospel of Ayn Rand, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it does not represent the morality of the Catholic Church in which Ryan is a member, in which he brought up in promoting these massive cuts for programs that benefited the poor.

He also promised an earned income tax credit and went on a very cynical poverty tour, visiting with poor children, and somehow that never showed up in his budget. So, there was a lot about that that seemed very cruel, really gratuitously cruel to a lot of people.

HAYES: You know, one of the things, Charlie, about Donald Trump is he recognized more than other Republicans the political peril of Ryanism. This is a tweet in March 2012 that I think holds up well, "Paul Ryan`s budget is very dangerous to Republicans just before the election, be careful." And he was right.

PIERCE: No, there`s no question about that. I mean, you know, my abiding memory of Paul Ryan will be Joe Biden laughing at him during a debate, which as far as I know is unprecedented in American political debating. That was the -- you know, it was an economic discussion that brought out the word malarkey, which again had never appeared in a presidential or vice presidential debate before.

Yeah, I mean, yeah with the Donald Trump thing, you know, there`s a story about a blind pig and an acorn, but I think, you know, with his kind of feral predator instinct for political danger...

HAYES: Exactly.

PIERCE: I think Trump was right. And, you know, every time Ryan would present one of these budgets, everybody else in the Republican caucus would hide behind the drapes rather than attach themselves to it because they knew what political poison it was.

HAYES: That`s exactly right. And you saw it as two moments, there`s the Bush Social Security privatization fight and the Ryan budget where there`s a sort of uncommon degree of honesty about the domestic political considerations of the Republican Party, and in both cases you saw massive political blowback. And so, Ruth, what you get instead is a lot of bait and switch which is basically what we got with the tax bill.

CONNIFF: Yeah. I think the other thing that`s important to note is remember Trump came to Wisconsin, held a huge rally in Janesville, Wisconsin, where Paul Ryan lives, and had the crowd booing at Paul Ryan.

HAYES: That`s right.

CONNIFF: The export of jobs, the collapse of manufacturing and this, you know, focusing on the so-called job creators while letting the jobs go overseas. So that was a very important moment.

I think the other thing about Paul Ryan, as much as he has separated himself from Donald Trump, it was really he and Reince Priebus, also from Wisconsin, who were sort of the young up and comers, very, very conservative in Wisconsin who transformed the politics of the state to a -- there was a lot of dog whistle racism in their rhetoric, talked about the safety net becoming a hammock. And that set the stage for Donald Trump, who is more of an Archie Bunker and really loud about it, but same politics and same message to white voters.

HAYES: All right, Charlie Pierce and Ruth Conniff, thank you both for being with me.

Still to come, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries on the rare good news from congress, but the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that passed the sentence.

Plus, hope you weren`t banking on that no class tax cut President Trump promised, because it`s in tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two and that`s not a good sign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Thing One tonight, in the last days of the 2018 mid-term elections, Donald Trump was absolutely desperate to save Republican control of congress, and so he invented a middle class tax cut and talked about it over and over and over again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We`re doing a pure 10 percent tax cut for the middle class. It`s going to be a tax reduction of 10 percent for the middle class.

We just passed a massive tax cut for working families and we will soon follow it up with another 10 percent tax cut for the middle class.

That`s all for the middle class, that`s on top of the tax cut we got for the middle class, and for business it`s going to be great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YAES: OK. Literally nobody had heard about this miraculous 10 percent middle class tax cut, including his own staff who had to scramble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m wondering about the logistics of this and whether or not you guys can actually do something like this before mid-terms. What`s the reality.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If anybody can get it done, it`s President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This can`t possibly happen before the mid-terms. Mid-terms are 13 days away and this has to be voted on and congress is not -- the House is not even in session.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Well, Washington moves a little bit too slowly for the sheer volume and velocity of the Trump agenda.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECOTR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Regarding the president`s new proposal, 10 percent reduction for middle class families, that`s doable. We`re just working through it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: We`re working through it.

Now of course Republicans got walloped in the mid-terms, so whatever happened to the middle class tax cuts he talked about over and over again? That`s Thing 2 in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Donald Trump was insistent that if you voted for Republicans in the mid-terms, you`d see a middle class tax cut.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We passed a massive tax cut, biggest tax cut, for working families. And we will soon follow it up with another 10 percent tax cut for the middle class.

10 percent tax cut for the middle class.

10 percent tax cut.

Another 10 percent tax cut.

We`re going to be doing a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class

10 percent.

10 percent.

Another 10 percent tax cut for the middle class.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Monorail.

Now it`s been almost two months since the president first started talking about this, but we still don`t know what the heck is going on with the 10 percent middle class tax cut.

Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin played along with Donald Trump before the mid-terms saying October 20 that we hope to have something soon on the middle-class tax cuts, looking into it.

And then he was asked yesterday about Trump`s promise in an interview with Bloomberg, and this is his real response, quote, "I`m not going to comment on whether it is a real thing or not a real thing. I`m saying for the moment we have other things we`re focused on."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Yet again a federal judge has smacked down the Trump administration for a flagrantly lawless power play. This time it`s a pet project of former attorney General Jeff Sessions who tried to make it nearly impossible for people fleeing gangs and domestic violence to gain asylum here in the United States.

Back in June, Sessions basically tried to redefine the U.S. criteria for claiming asylum, but Judge Emmitt Sullivan, the same judge who called out former national security adviser Michael Flynn yesterday, today said that Sessions` efforts were not permissible, writing, quote, it is the will of congress, not the whims of the executive, that determines the standard for expedited removal.

The judge further ordered the government to, quote, "return to United States the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with a new credible fear determinations consistent with immigration laws."

This administration appears to be doing everything it can to make life harder for people hoping to get away from horrific conditions, from trying to delay or even turn away people from legal crossing at ports of entry, a problem so acute, not one, but two U.S. members of congress this week waited with migrant trying to enter, to firing tear gas just last month at migrant, including women and children, including the Honduran woman pictured here, Maria Lila Meza Castro and two of her children. That family now, as of this week, is in the United States and soon perhaps others, once wrongfully turned away at our border, will join them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Some rare good news out of Washington, a pretty decent piece of legislation passed with broad bipartisan support, and is now going to be signed by President Donald Trump. It`s called the First Step Act, which targets federal mass incarceration and excessively long prison sentences. The final Senate vote was 87-12. It`s expected to easily pass in the House, which has previously passed a similar bill.

It`s the beginning of a corrective to the kind of tough on crime mentality and policy that was pushed to the extreme in the `70s, `80s, `90s, all the way through today. The law would modify sentencing laws and make thousands of inmates eligible for early release or reduction in their sentence, it also expands job training and other programs to help prisoners reenter society.

The bill passed thanks to an unlikely coalition of criminal justice reformers, progressive Democrats and the conservative senators and advocates as varied as the NAACP, the Koch Brothers, and Kim Kardashian.

It was also pushed by a guy in the White House who knows something about the criminal justice system, thanks to his incarcerated father -- or once incarcerated father, Jared Kushner, who is senior adviser to the president.

Joining me how, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from New York who originally co-sponsored the measure on the House side.

Congressman, a lot of people are scratching their heads, how could something decent come out of this congress? What is your answer to them?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D) NEW YORK: Well, sometimes good things do happen here in Washington, D.C. And it`s been a phenomenal journey, a coalition of the unusual suspects, Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, people on the left and on the right, the ACLU on the one hand, the Koch Brothers on the other, all working in partnership with the Trump administration, led by Jared Kushner, as you`ve pointed out.

I think what it boils down to is that there is now a consensus recognition amongst a wide variety of folks that the war on drugs has been a failure. We have an overcriminalization problem in America and a mass incarceration epidemic where we have 5 percent of the world`s population, and 25 percent of the world`s incarcerated individuals.

As you know, Chris, we incarcerate more people in this nation, 2.2 million, than any other country in the world. That`s outrageous, that`s a scandal, and finally congress is doing something about it.

HAYES: So, what they`re doing, though, in terms of the scale that your talking about, the vast majority of people behind bars in the U.S. are in state prisons, right. The federal prison is a fairly small part of that. And the number of people that are going to be directly affected this is still yet a fraction of this. Like, basically what do you say to people this is a drop in the bucket?

JEFFRIES: It`s the end to mass incarceration, it`s an epidemic that has been with us for almost 50 years. The failed war on drugs began in 1971. It`s going to take more than a single legislative magic wand to wipe it away, but you have to start somewhere. And this is the first step toward dealing with overcriminalization in America. We`re investing about $325 million over a five-year period of time to make sure that currently incarcerated individuals can get the education, the job training, the substance abuse treatment, the mental health counseling to successfully reenter society, dramatically reduce recidivism, and save taxpayer dollars.

Also, as you pointed out, on the sentencing side, we`ve got substantial reforms that will roll back some of the regressive, tough on crime laws that were first put into place in the `80s and `90s during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, and make some relief retroactive, so that people who are in prison on unjust sentences will be able to get out.

HAYES: So, the scope of the retroactive relief, my understanding is there was previous iterations of this bill under the Obama administration that did not get very far, that had a broader scope in terms of the retroactivity and that`s smaller under this. What kind of numbers are we talking about with this legislation?

JEFFRIES: Well, the federal system right now is about 180,000 folks who are currently behind bars. We`re talking about thousands of people that we believe will be impacted immediately as a result of the passage, and tens of thousands of folks that will be impacted in a positive way moving forward over time.

In terms of the specific retroactive application, in 2010, congress, under the leadership of Bobby Scott, passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the crack cocaine/powder cocaine disparity from 100-1, which was morally outrageous and not justifiable, to 18-1. But because Jeff Sessions and the Senate blocked it from being retroactive, that provision was not included in the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act.

The 2018 version of the First Step Act will make the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive so that the people who are impacted by these unjust crack cocaine sentencing laws will finally get some relief.

HAYES: What is your theory about why Donald Trump, with the world view he has, and the politics he has, and the rhetoric he uses to talk about criminals, and law and order, is going to sign this piece of legislation?

JEFFRIES: That`s a great question I get asked a lot about it. And when I was initially on this journey, I had to be convinced first that Jared Kushner was authentically committed to dealing with this issue. First, prison reform, and over time, sentencing reform, as well. And in working with him, along with tremendous leadership from the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric Richmond, I think we both concluded that there was an authentic commitment within the administration to deal with overcriminalization within America. Donald Trump would ultimately have to be convinced of that. Jared Kushner was an ally in that regard.

But also more importantly, prior to Trump coming to town, you had the Koch Brothers and the Heritage Foundation and Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich and the religious right, a wide variety of people, who were working with individuals like Doug Collins to lay the foundation to get something down.

HAYES: All right, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thank you.

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

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END