Cohen to tell all. TRANSCRIPT: 1/10/2019, All In w. Chris Hayes.

Guests: Mazie Hirono, Pramila Jayapal, Elizabeth Holtzman

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: January 10, 2019 Guest: Mazie Hirono, Pramila Jayapal, Elizabeth Holtzman

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, back in Washington there`s some big news about Michael Cohen.

HAYES: The President`s fixer will face the public.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not worried about it at all.

HAYES: Tonight, Michael Cohen agrees to testify to Congress in public.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: He directed me to make the payments.

HAYES: What he may say --

COHEN: The man doesn`t tell the truth.

HAYES: What questions will be asked.

COHEN: It`s said that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.

HAYES: Why this could be a John Dean moment for the President.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I began by telling the President that there was a cancer growing on the presidency.

HAYES: And what it all means for Donald Trump.

TRUMP: Michael Cohen is a very talented lawyer.

HAYES: And as the President prepares to stage an emergency --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the buck stops with you over this shutdown?

TRUMP: The buck stops with everybody.

HAYES: Why Donald Trump`s shut down over a wall isn`t about a wall at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s what we`ve got to restore is Western civilization for the world, Tucker.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Good evening from New York I`m Chris Hayes. It is a new era and that will become very evident on February 7th just four weeks from today. Because that is the day that Michael Cohen will appear before a Democratic- led House Oversight Committee and testify under oath in public in front of the American people about what the President of the United States and his former boss asked him to do.

Keep in mind,1 we have not had anything like this basically from most of the Trump era since fired FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee back in June 2017. In truly gripping testimony, Comey said that the President told him he needed his loyalty, that the President directed him to let go of Michael Flynn`s investigation. But the President fired him over the Russia investigation and that the President was untrustworthy, that the President lied quote plain and simple.

Since then and probably not coincidentally, Republicans have kept testimony behind closed doors or in the case of the House GOP completely failed to provide any true oversight of this President. With Democrats now in charge, that all changes. Michael Cohen will testify under oath about the man identified in court documents as Individual One, Donald Trump, who Cohen says told him to make criminal hush money payments to two women, campaign finance law violations, felonies, a conspiracy to evade campaign finance law in order to win the election.

"In particular and as Cohen has now admitted with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual One. That would be the president showing up in that court filing there. Cohen will testify under oath before the House Oversight Committee publicly on camera and answer questions about the nature of Individual One, his former boss, the President. This is the beginning in a whole new chapter in this story.

And let`s bring in NBC News National Political Reporter Heidi Przybyla and MSNBC Political Analyst Tim O`Brien, executive director of Bloomberg Opinion. Heidi how did this come about?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, apparently according to his lawyer who spoke earlier today on NBC, Michael Cohen is in fact looking and hoping that you know, when he goes to prison which is going to happen either way in March, that at some point through the legal process perhaps you can come back and get a shorter sentence somehow. And so it is in his interest to cooperate and to provide as much information as possible and to look like he`s providing -- he`s being helpful.

Now, it`s -- you know, we don`t know if that`s actually going to be successful but he`s got a strong, a very powerful motivation to be as helpful as he can. And by the way it`s not just going to be this one appearance. This is just going to be the opening curtain here. There are many other committees that want to also talk to Michael Cohen before he does go to jail in March.

HAYES: The President today Tim O`Brien appearing to be unperturbed by this news. Take a listen what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Back in Washington there`s some big news about Michael Cohen. He`s agreed to testify before the House Democrats next month. What do you think of that? Are you worried?

TRUMP: I`m not worried about it at all. No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: What do you think of that?

TIM O`BRIEN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Cool as a cucumber, not, right? He`s been tweeting at Michael Cohen over the past year. Anytime he`s been worried that Michael Cohen might offer Robert Mueller`s investigators or the Southern District of New York information that creates problems for the President. So the idea that he`s calm and collected about this is absurd. I think he`s got to be profoundly worried about it.

And in fact I think his Cohen`s testimony starts to roll nearer as we get closer to February 7th, I imagine you`re going to see the President on Twitter inveighing against Michael Cohen.

HAYES: Yes. One of the things, Heidi, that we know is that Michael Cohen has some evidence. He`s already supplied that infamous tape and then discussing it. And we also know that he`s wrapped up in a lot of different things. What is -- what is House Oversight -- what is Elijah Cummings interested in as far as we know?

PRZYBYLA: So the rules, the ground rules for this are that he cannot reveal anything that would be related to Mueller`s investigation. Of course, the investigation may be at a different stage by that point. We`re not talking about February. But for right now, that still leaves a lot of other areas that they`re going to probe, right? Just that issue alone of the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal is going to be very revealing because it will be on the record in front of the American people.

Many lawmakers are I have a piece of that issue. And then it`s possible that he could also be cleared, this will all be negotiated in advanced with Mueller, but he could be cleared to talk about some things like the Trump Tower in Moscow.

HAYES: Right.

PRZYBYLA: He could be cleared to talk about some aspects for example of the Trump Tower meeting. And so that will all be a negotiation between Mueller and Congress. But there`s a lot that they can get into. And by the way Chris, if all else fails, I`ll bet you, he knows a lot about what`s in David Peckers vault. David Pecker, of course, is the owner of the National Enquirer who is said to have a secret vault of secrets. And you know, Michael Cohen worked for Donald Trump for 10 years so he may know a lot about what`s in there.

HAYES: It`s a great point, Heidi. And he`s going to be under oath and he`s at the core of this. I mean, one of the things that we lose sight of I think because of all the craziness of Trump is that the President has already been implicated in the commission of a felony and being a part of a conspiracy ordering the commission of felony that was in furtherance of his own election that criminally violated a lot to get him elected.

O`BRIEN: And not only involved with orchestrating it giving direction to the people who were in it. You know, the sentencing members that came out just before Christmas, and the issue the prosecutors focus not about Michael Cohen lied to Congress. And that that was among the more offensive things that he had done. They indicate that what he said in Congress came at the direction of another person whom they didn`t identify.

HAYES: That`s a great point. Right. He consulted essentially about what to tell the truth and what to lie about.

O`BRIEN: And he was sort of practicing the story spreading around getting coached. There`s nothing to prevent members of Congress while Michael Cohen goes now there is a who gave you guidance before you came and testified to us and lied, and can you be specific about that guidance. And if that gets back to the President, that that ends up contributing to a fact pattern on the President`s behavior.

He`s the one who dictated the memo in the summer of 2017 about the cover-up of the Trump Tower meeting. He`s the one who we have on tape talking about the payments of Stormy Daniels, telling Michael Cohen to speak to his accountant Allen Weisselberg. And then you have perhaps this third episode where Michael Cohen goes down to Congress and lies to them possibly the direction of the President.

HAYES: And we should note, Heidi, the President has lied flatly about all this from the beginning. Here he is. This is as recently as August 22nd, 2018 talking about whether he knew beforehand about what Michael Cohen was up to. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the payments?

TRUMP: Later on I knew. Later on. But you have to understand, what he did and they weren`t taken out of campaign finance, that`s a big thing, that`s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign. They didn`t come out of the campaign. They came from me. And I tweeted about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: That`s just one of many lies along the path. There will probably be many more. Heidi Przybyla --

PRZYBYLA: Well, remember where we started as well which was the lie on Air Force One that he don`t even knew anything about it in the first place.

HAYES: Exactly. And he says no. Heidi Przybyla, Tim O`Brien, thank you both. For more on the potentially massive legal implications, I`m joined by MSNBC Legal Analyst Danny Cevallos, a Criminal Defense Attorney and MSNBC Legal Analyst Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. Picking up on something that Heidi was talking about, the kind of deconfliction between Mueller`s folks and Congress, how do you imagine or see that working, Barbara?

BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I would imagine that counsel to the committee would be talking with a member of Mueller`s team to try to find out areas that are off-limits. You know, I imagine that Michael Cohen has shared with Robert Mueller everything he knows of value in an effort to get a substantial assistance reduction in his sentencing. We don`t know all that stuff yet and I think the public is very hungry to hear all of that.

But if by doing so it would damage Robert Mueller`s investigation by tipping off other witnesses or helping people get their stories straight, that would not be a good thing for our country. And so I imagine that the counsel to the committee will meet with members of Mueller`s team to talk about some areas that may be off-limits so as not to damage that investigation.

HAYES: You know, Danny I wanted to have you here because you`re a defense attorney and I was thinking about what the thinking for someone who`s representing Michael Cohen from a legal perspective would be walking into this because he is someone who he`s already pleaded to five evasions attacks -- five counts of tax evasion, two counts of campaign finance violations, making false -- he`s already pled once to making a false state to -- statement of Congress. They are going to -- the Republicans on that committee are licking their chops I think a little bit about how they can go after him and impeach him.

DANNY CEVALLOS, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: There`s a mechanism under the federal rules that allows a defendant to cooperate before his sentencing but also after his sentencing. It`s much more rare and you don`t get the same reduction as you do for that pre-sentence corroboration, but that is clearly what Michael Cohen has in mind. And it means subjecting himself to the withering cross-examination of Congress.

And Chris, this is why this is so exciting. You just asked Barbara about compromising potentially the Mueller investigation. OK, so we carve that out. He doesn`t talk about that so as not to anger the Mueller team. What remains is the entire universe of bad things that Michael Cohen has ever done. He does not have any Fifth Amendment privilege concerns because he`s already been convicted and sentenced on all those crimes. He was never part of the executive branch so he`s not going to claim hey these are executive secrets, there`s an executive privilege. No, he`s a private citizen.

So -- and then thirdly, the rules of evidence don`t apply at Congress. They can ask about anything in the world they want to ask about and no one`s going to stand up, no defense attorney and shout objection relevance.

HAYES: So there`s this one more thing to about him, Barbara, which is the degree to which he`s been entirely truthful, and there`s two sort of data points here. So Michael Avenatti of course who sued Michael Cohen and got some of the ball rolling on what would eventually unravel here says Michael Cohen will never be John Dean. Cohen is trying to act like a hero in reality. His crimes are significant reason why Trump was elected. He continues to refuse to fully cooperate with prosecutors with SDNY at the same time he helps Trump in Stormy`s case fraud.

And then there`s this item about the fact that Cohen having denied he was in Prague and the possibility according to McClatchy that there`s some cellphone data indicating otherwise. All of which I guess adds up to the question of do we know that Cohen is telling the full truth at this point even as he heads to Congress?

MCQUADE: Yes. I think it`s very difficult. He has a lot of baggage with him. What a prosecutor would do in that scenario is sort of the old Reagan line of trust but verify. Ask a question but only use that testimony if you can corroborate it with independent evidence.

In a Congressional hearing, it`s a little different. You`ll listen to his testimony but I don`t know that they perceive that there`ll be any action taken on it unless that can also be corroborated. I think everyone will take with a grain of salt that which Michael Cohen has to say. But at this point after he has been convicted of various crimes. He may feel that he has no reason to continue to lie if he has lied in the past but nonetheless I do think that his credibility is in question.

HAYES: When you`ve got folks going before a congressional committee nominee particularly or others, they do a kind of a lot of intensive prep murder boards. They you know, they have folks play various members the committee. Would that be what you were undertaking at this with your client about to go before Congress?

CEVALLOS: Absolutely because the crimes that Michael Cohen can still commit are lying in Congress.

HAYES: Right.

CEVALLOS: He`s already been --

HAYES: Don`t do it again, buddy.

CEVALLOS: On all the bad things he did before but now he can create new bad things every time he raises his hand before whatever committee he testifies in front of because there will likely be more than just this one. So he has to be prepared exhaustively. He met for over around 70 hours with the Special Counsel, with federal investigators so he has been questioned for a long time.

He`s left a long trail of facts. His attorneys have to sit down with him and make sure that he`s going to get the facts straight in Congress because people are going to study his words for potential lies and he needs to know what is truth, what is fact, and what he does not know.

HAYES: It`s interesting because this is someone Michael Cohen and the President I think who have both operated in a very factual grey zone for a very long time are now sort of in a -- in a whole new world. Danny Cevallos and Barra McQuade, thank you both. Next, what it means to finally have public accounting of facts about the President`s alleged crimes. Former Congresswoman Liz Holtzman, a veteran in Watergate hearings on why a public hearing is such a big deal next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: For nearly two years of the Trump era, we`ve essentially had two kinds of investigations into Donald Trump. There`s been of course the Mueller investigation. A black box with few leaks if any, I`d say probably none. Occasionally we get a blockbuster publicly legal filing from them and occasionally we will hear wild speculation sometimes from lawyers sitting across from Mueller and his group. But Mueller himself appears to have his team locked down. So that`s the Mueller folks.

Then there`s the second kind of investigation by a GOP controlled Congress with what appeared to be a legitimate but very non-public probe in the Senate and a largely non-public and largely illegitimate sham undertaking in the House.

Here`s what`s been missing so far. Any kind of real sustained public accounting of the facts of what Donald Trump is alleged to have done until now. Now the Democrats controlled the House and are starting to hold public hearings that could matter tremendously. Remember, a lot of the details about Watergate weren`t known pretty clearly even very early on, but it was not until the public televised Watergate hearings began in the Senate in May 1973 that Nixon`s approval ratings started to really plummet until he finally resigned.

Here with me now Elizabeth Holtzman, a former Democratic Congresswoman from New York who served on the Judiciary Committee in the House that voted to impeach Richard Nixon. She`s also the author of The Case for Impeaching Trump. How do you see this? How significant important is it to have Michael Cohen come testify publicly?

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN (D), FORMER REPRESENTATIVE, NEW YORK: I think it`s huge. And I want to go back to Watergate to help explain that. As you said, the American people really didn`t understand the facts until they saw the televised hearings at the Senate Watergate committee held. John Dean came before that committee, other top aides of Nixon came before the committee.

John Dean testified that the President -- that he told the President there was a cancer on the presidency and that hush money was being paid, pardons were being offered, and people could see his testimony, judge his demeanor, judge whether he was lying or telling the truth. But the most important thing was that they could see what the arguments were, what the contentions were.

Here, Dean was saying the President was told about a cover-up and he did nothing. The President said, oh he`s lying. Well, then, of course, you knew that there was this contradiction but you didn`t know the parties, you didn`t see the testimony. He didn`t get the granularity, the detail. And that`s what`s going to happen and this is going to unfold the way you peel an onion. You`re going to peel the facts away and Michael Cohen is particularly important because he knows the whole range of misconduct fraud, deceit, criminality that Donald Trump has been involved in for a very long time.

HAYES: You know, it strikes me that even when you look at the (INAUDIBLE) transcripts and you think about the quite traumatic two moments in which Michael Cohen has gotten up in federal court there`s a very big difference in public perception between that with courtroom sketches and transcripts and actually watching the man say it.

HOLTZMAN: Right. Because he`s also going to be questioned not only by friendly questioners but by hostile questions. The public is going to get a sense is this guy really telling the truth? And it may bring out some details that we haven`t heard that give more credibility to what he`s been saying. He`s going to be asked about Donald Trump`s reactions, those haven`t come out in the press, those haven`t come out really fully in court hearings. So the testimony about Donald Trump, the kind of person he is, the kind of what he was telling his fixer to do in private, that`s what`s going to come out.

HAYES: There`s so much we don`t know about what -- even just when you take the little -- the relatively thin slice of the story of what he was doing with those hush money payments and what he knew and whether there were other payments that were made etcetera, it would be useful to know that just to get that part of the story nailed out.

HOLTZMAN: Correct. That`s one part of the story that`s surely going to come out and come out in much more detail. What Donald Trump said? Was Donald Trump in the room? Where there were various other conversations for example with the publisher of the -- of the magazine that was going to took the story and squelched it. I mean, there`s going to be a lot of that`s coming out, but they`re also going to be other facts.

For example, did Donald Trump know beforehand about the Trump Tower meeting and did he approve it? What did he know? It won`t be just did he know beforehand. What exact -- how do you know that that was the case of you -- if he`s going to allege that and what exactly happened. So it`s going to be detailed in a way that the American people get a much better understanding of what has gone on here.

HAYES: Here`s the Pew polling on Nixon which I think is really interesting if we take a look at what happens. He starts to go down sort of early in in 70 you know, three after the inauguration, right? So that always happens. You get inaugurated, you go down. But where he surely starts to plummet is after those hearings happen as he dives towards that 24 percent he ends up with. what is it about the publicness that allows people to fix their attention?

Because I think right now we`re in a moment where people even make jokes, people I know make jokes to me about like I can`t keep all these names straight. There`s -- you`re giving me two more Ukrainians. Like what am I supposed to do with all this?

HOLTZMAN: Right. Well, I mean ultimately, sitting in front of the members of Congress who are asking tough questions is a way of getting to the American people what the facts are. And it`s not just the facts, it`s his sincerity, it`s his credibility. Those are vital things to know. And the American people are good judges of that. And that was one of the things -- that`s why those hearings was so important. Because Nixon said I never said those things and then when the special prosecutor wanted to get the tapes to prove whether Nixon was telling the truth or Dean was telling the truth, that`s why the public understood those tapes are so important.

HAYES: Well, there`s a tantalizing possibility of other tapes here as well. Elizabeth Holtzman, thank you very much for your time.

HOLTZMAN: Thank you.

HAYES: Still ahead, the President is already flailing under the pressure of a Democratic House. What to expect as he starts facing escalating congressional oversight after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Well, the President was at the border today, a trip that he himself reportedly called just a "photo-op." His Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was on Capitol Hill briefing lawmakers about the Trump administration`s plan to lift sanctions on companies linked to Russian oligarch and friend of Vladimir Putin Oleg Deripaska. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not pleased with his performance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This perceived competition mind you was one of the worst classified briefings we`ve received from the Trump administration. The Secretary barely testified, answer some questions, but he didn`t give testimony. They had an intelligence briefing which I won`t go into, and then they read a document which was unclassified wasting the time of the members of Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Now, Mnuchin`s testimony was the first of what promises to be many escalating oversight actions by the newly empowered House Democrats as we saw today with the news that Michael Cohen will testify next month leaving the President ever more desperate to change the subject.

Joining me now to talk about this dynamic, Matt Miller MSNBC Justice and Security Analyst, former Chief Spokesman for the Justice Department and Wajahat Ali Contributing Op-Ed Writer for The New York Times. Matt, let`s start on the Mnuchin testimony which I think was probably one of the bigger stories on Capitol Hill today other than the shutdown and other than Michael Cohen. That you`ve got the Treasury Secretary coming to justify why in the world they`re lifting sanctions on this guy who is at the center of much of what has been investigated by Mueller.

This is -- I want to play you Mnuchin`s reaction and to get your sense of what you think transpired. Take a listen to what Mnuchin had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN MNUCHIN, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY, UNITED STATES: I was somewhat surprised to see the Speaker`s comment. I was available and not only did we accommodate them and waited while they were voting, but we sat through and gave them close to an hour and a half and answered all their questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: What do you think?

MATT MILLER, MSNBC JUSTICE AND SECURITY ANALYST: I think Secretary Mnuchin is about to find out that if he didn`t satisfy them in private, he`s going to satisfy them in public. Next time he had to explain himself in public and that`s a much more difficult, much more awkward setting because obviously the cameras are on, the lights are on. And instead of being able to deflect some of these questions in private, you`re going to be doing it in front of the full glare of the spotlight and the American people. and I think that`s something that all of the Trump administration officials are going to have to get used to over the next two years.

They have gotten used to being able to go up to the Hill and basically blow off requests from members of Congress. They don`t respond to letters for the most part. When they do go up they face friendly audience from Republicans. They refuse to answer questions knowing that the Republican chairman would not follow up with a subpoena. They would oftentimes you know, make this kind of phony executive privilege claim where they`ve refused to discuss any conversations with the President and then not have the Chairman actually try to force them to do so. And all that has changed now.

And I think what you`ll see our Democratic committees which now bring -- can bring two things to the table. One, evidence that they can gather in the form of subpoenas and witness interviews, and two eyeballs in the forms of very dramatic public hearings. And we`re going to see the first big one on February 7 when Michael Cohen takes the Hill.

HAYES: You know, Waj, as the president was down doing this sort of stunty border trip today, which he himself characterizes as a stunty photo op. But Rachel Maddow said this to me the other night as we were covering the, I think, somewhat stunty Oval Office address, which is that a lot of this may just revolve around the fact that he is desperate for the attention to be on him now when he, for the first time, has like a kind of attentional competition in the city of Washington, D.C.

ALI: Yeah, I think he`s fond of Game of Thrones. So, in honor of President Trump, and let me do a new meme, subpoenas are coming. And now that we have a blue wave/tsunami, we`re going to have, as Matt said, a lot of hearings, a lot of subpoenas. Adam Schiff, House Intelligence Committee, we`re going to have Elijah Cummings who, with bipartisan support by the way, filed 51 letters. But now that Democrats have actually taken over and actually care about oversight, they`re going to issue those letters, right.

And so Donald Trump goes back to what he knows best, which a kind of a white nationalist, white racial anxiety, right, sorry, economic anxiety, my bad. And he doubles down on this manufactured border crisis. And I always want to say that when I get on television that there`s no crisis. It`s manufactured.

And he`s desperately trying right now, especially with Michael Cohen now coming up February 7, right, the Mueller investigation, plummeting approval ratings, the fact that the trade war is not going that well. All of this is going against him, and tomorrow he`s going to break the record or he`s going to tie the record, sorry, 21 days of the government being shutdown. That last record was held in 1995, under the Clinton administration. He`s most likely going to break that record, 800,000 federal employees are going to miss their paycheck.

And guess what, it doesn`t matter if you are a Republican or Democrat, you like to eat food and pay your bills. And unfortunately it`s going to take some immense pain and suffering. And what we`ve already seen from this great New York Times article that came out where they interviewed a corrections officer in Florida. She said I`m still supporting Trump, but he`s hurting me now and he`s not the right people.

So now Americans are going to get hurt. And some of those Americans, Chris, are Republicans who voted for Trump. And guess what, when they miss that paycheck, that`s going to be pain, and they don`t want a wall. I guarantee they would want a paycheck over a wall. So, that`s what I`m hoping for.

HAYES: Well, but it`s also the case, Matt, that this is a fight that he`s in now on the shutdown fight that is a fight that`s a different fight than fighting with congress over whether they`re going to comply with subpoenas. And in a weird way, as bad as the shutdown fight is going for him, and I do not think it has been a political winner, it is preferable to lots of protracted fights over your cabinet members being subpoenaed and having to turn over documents or witnesses.

MILLER: You know, it`s one of the weird things about this administration. So, I was in the Obama administration when the House changed hands in 2010. And all of a sudden we had to deal with a bunch of aggressive investigations by the Republican House. You might remember fast and furious, which what it ides, it not only -- not only does it drag information out of you and it`s a distraction to you, but it prevents you from focusing on what your agenda is for the country.

Now, one of the weird things about this administration is, they don`t really have much of an agenda for this country. I mean, what is the housing agenda at HUD that Ben Carson is going to be tied up and not to focus on because he`s going to be responding to subpoenas from members of congress? I have no idea.

I mean, the president`s agenda some days it seems like it`s to tweet and to go on Fox and Friends. And there`s not a big policy agenda that he has left other than the wall, really. So the wall is it. We`re going to deal with that one way or another it seems in the next month or so, probably by this emergency declaration, if he does pull the trigger on that.

But after that`s over, there`s not much left on the table for him, so there really is, I think, you know -- there`s not going to be a lot going on...

HAYES: It`s a vacuum.

MILLER: ...other than these investigations. That`s exactly right.

HAYES: Matt Mill -- and Wajahat, what did you want to say?

ALI: You know, I know it`s not sexy when you hear about subpoenas and hearings, but I do think that these hearings are going to cripple Donald Trump in the next two years, especially when they investigate the financial trail to Russia, to Saudi Arabia, to UAE. I know it`s not sexy, but I think that`s what`s ultimately going to cripple him going up to the 2020 election.

HAYES: Matt Miller and Wajahat Ali, thank you both for joining me.

Why the president`s fight over the wall has nothing to do with the actual wall. Making sense of Steve King, his defense of western civilization and Trump`s wall next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: The president was down at the border today for just the latest in a series of stunts. He is trying to work himself out of this political quagmire.

Now, last night we reported that the ratings for Chuck and Nancy part of the show, the response to Trump`s Oval Office speech, actually got higher ratings than Trump`s speech itself, but those were just the preliminary overnight ratings. It`s the top markets.

When it was all said and done, the president did manage to eke out a national ratings victory over his rivals, although not on the cable channels.

The speech has not, however, achieved any sort of political win for the president. And it`s hard to imagine any photo op today that is going to top this. Exclusively -- this one exclusively obtained by MSNBC`s Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley, it`s one of Trump`s steel slat prototype border walls with a gaping hole in it, the result of a DHS test that found that steel could, indeed, be cut through with a commonly available saw.

The 2017 test showed all eight of President Trump`s prototypes were vulnerable to breaching, that`s according to an internal CBP report.

But the reason that we are in the 20th day of a government shutdown is not because of anything actually happening at the southern border. It is certainly not about an actual policy to build an actual wall. Remember, the wall originated as a device to jog the president`s memory to make sure to remind him to cater to the most xenophobic part of the base of the Republican Party, because, there is a cluster of people in the Republican Party who catapulted Trump to his win in the primaries who hate and/or fear immigrants. And not only that, these are people who define their political life by stemming and stopping the invasion of people who do not look like them. The wall is just a symbol to tell those people who feel that way I am on your side.

And if you think this is overstating things, consider this, 500 miles away from the border in Tarrant County, Texas, there is a vote happening right now. It is a vote about whether county Republicans will remove their party`s vice chairman, a Republican, for no other reason than he is a Muslim. That`s it. He`s the vice chairman for the party. They want to get rid of him because he`s a Muslim. That`s the only reason.

Now, prominent elected Republicans officials in Texas have come out against this, and that`s fine, but the deeper issue is that there are people in the base of the Republican Party, we`re talking about activists who attend county party meetings, who want that, who want to get rid of a guy just because he`s Muslim. And Donald Trump knows that`s his rocket fuel. Those are his people. And they are what has propelled political career.

Now, the person who best figured this out before Donald Trump, the guy who is the original wall fetishist, that`s this guy, Congressman Steve King of Iowa. Here he is with then DHS secretary nominee John Kelly the week before President Trump was sworn in.

King brought that same model wall to the House floor way back in 2006. This is a guy who says he told Trump, quote, "I market tested your immigration policy for 14 years." He`s quoted in that same New York Times article today saying, quote, "white nationalist, white supremacist, western civilization. How did that language become offensive?"

How did it become offensive? King latter realized I think what he had said, or that he had said it out loud, released a statement denouncing white supremacism. But this is hardly the first time he shared similar views.

And this brings us to the crux of the problem. Donald Trump is at the border and shutting down the government over this entirely ridiculous enterprise, because he almost most certainly correctly thinks his political fortunes are dependent on the Steve Kings of the world and the people who love him, people animated by bigotry and fear, people who have come to view their identity as existentially under threat from desperate Honduran moms in flip-flops.

Those people cannot be appeased, because what they want is not policy, what they want is an ethically pure America, and that`s why this impasse can`t be solved in any normal deal making terms.

Joining me now, Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington who was at the southern border last month helping migrants seek asylum and who worked in -- with immigrants and immigrant rights before she came to congress.

Do you think a deal can be made, or do you think this is fundamentally existential and cannot be made?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL, (D) WASHINGTON: It is fundamentally existential if he continues to insist on a wall. And, you know, you just said it so beautifully, Chris, this has never been about a wall. He actually could have gotten funding a couple of years ago, or a year ago, for a wall. It was part of a deal that was proposed. Not all of us agreed with that deal, but it was proposed to him and he turned it down because his ultimate goal is, as you said, to make America pure in the sense of not having immigrants, not having folks of color here and shutting down every form of legal immigration, all to throw a bone to those people.

And the only thing I can hope is that the people that he`s throwing the bone to are actually a minority of people. What`s interesting, Chris, is if you look at where immigration fared in the 2018 elections, we actually found people turning away from this view that it was too racist, too bigoted, too xenophobic.

And, you know, people coming over because, you know, most people in America, I think, do remember that they are one generation, two generations, just a little bit removed. And they were uncomfortable to the level with which this has gone. And so I hope that this can backfire on him, and I hope it continue to backfire on him, because he has never been interested in being a president for the whole country, he`s only interested in throwing out red meat.

And I just have to say as an immigrant myself, it is so deeply offensive to see the harm that he`s causing to people across the country, people who are terrified, who don`t feel that they belong, the people who are seeking asylum who no longer can get in, even though it`s legal to seek asylum, and not just at a legal port of entry.

You know, all the people who have come to this country because of what we represent, the deep harm that is being done, and the violence that`s being committed against Muslims through hate crimes, against Latinos, against folks of color, there is real damage, not only to real people but also to our soul and our psyche.

HAYES: You made the point about the deal he rejected. I`m glad you brought that up, because it strikes me as key. There was a deal that was worked out, it was basically to give legal stat to the folks in DACA who are in a sort of strange legal limbo because the president took away essentially the authority, and there was a trade for some money for the wall or border security. And the response was that, yes, but you also have to reduce legal immigration to 1920s levels, which struck me as the tell, because when they talk about the border, they`re talking about unauthorized immigration, but what they really want -- I mean, is it your understanding and is it the understanding of your colleagues and everyone in that congress that what they really want is a reduction of all immigration?

JAYAPAL: No question about it. The proposal that they would have put forward would have dramatically cut legal immigration, would have ended family migration as we know it, would have ended -- you know, we`ve already seen refugee levels go down tremendously, now he`s shutting off asylum, he tried to ban asylum seeking at the border.

So, every single place he is cutting legal immigration. This has never been about undocumented immigrants coming across the border, it has always been about limiting legal immigration, unless, of course, Chris, you happen to be a housekeeper that`s working in Mar-a-Lago on his grounds and then maybe that`s different, but for the vast majority of the country what he wants to do is say that we`re not going to allow people into this country anymore.

That`s been the agenda of Steve Miller. It is a long-time agenda of these white supremacists who are fueling him at the base. And that is what is so disturbing.

That`s why it`s not about a wall, not about security, it`s actually -- it`s not even about undocumented immigration or comprehensive immigration reform, it is about the character and the nature of this country and who makes it up and what they`re trying to get to.

HAYES: All right, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thank you so much for making time.

Coming up, the hostages of the Trump shutdown: hundreds of thousands of federal workers will not get their paychecks tomorrow. We`ll show you how this is playing out around the country, and we`ll try and figure out where the heck Mitch McConnell is hiding next.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Personally, I want the wall, but not at our expense. We`re not the ones that come up with the decision. They should be the ones paying the consequences, not us. We shouldn`t have to not pay our bills because they can`t be grown up, mature enough to come to a decision.

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HAYES: Unpaid workers hit the streets around the country today to protest the government shutdown over the president`s border wall. Tomorrow, hundreds of thousands of government employees will not get their paychecks. And the longer the shutdown drags on the worse the fallout will get. It`s already reverberating far beyond Washington, D.C. all across the country where local news outlets have been covering the shutdown`s impact on their communities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Effects of the government shutdown are weighing heavily on employees of the federal prison here in Beaumont.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s right, they have not seen a paycheck in more than two weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The non-profit Light of Hope living up to its name, providing food to families affected by the government shutdown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are people that have to work. There are hospitals. There are air traffic controllers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The TSOs are supposed to get paid on the 11th, but if the shutdown continues they`ll get nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s going to affect us when it comes to mortgages, paying rent, day care, even food, gas, everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a basket case. I literally don`t know how I`m going to provide for my kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kim Mask (ph) of Millington has worked for the IRS for six years. The weekend before Christmas, she says employees were told to go home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There has been 18 government shutdowns in his time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it`s wrong, it`s just absolutely wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But Whorley says there is something different about this one.

DAVID WHORLEY: I`m starting to get scared. I`ve been a Trump supporter. I think he`s done a lot of wonderful things, but this is not one of them.

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HAYES: Covers like that poses a growing threat to the president as the shutdown drags on with no apparent end in sight, how political gravity may be catching up with him right after this.

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SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, (R) TENNESSEE: I think it`s very important for the people of Tennessee to know that I believe a government shutdown is always the wrong thing to do. I was opposed to it under President Obama, I`m opposed to it under President Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Republican Senator Lamar Alexander today making it clear to his constituents, he wants nothing to do with the president`s government shutdown. Earlier, the senate had the opportunity to vote on reopening the government with Democrats asking for unanimous consent to bring up a package of spending bills, knowing they would pass, but that request was shot down by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

For more on where things stand on day 20 of the shutdown, I`m joined by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

Senator, I want to read you something the senate majority leader had to say. He says the Democratic leaders who have to find compromise with Trump and then deliver their colleague`s vote for that accord. I haven`t been sidelined. There is just no particular role for me when you have this setup. Do you think that is true?

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, (D) HAWAII: That`s one of the lamest excuses I`ve heard from somebody who has the power to bring the House passed bills to keep government open and who had no reluctancy to use those powers to force a vote on eliminating the Affordable Care Act for millions of people or to change the requirement for how many people it would take to put a Supreme Court justice on the court starting with with Neil Gorsuch and then Kavanaugh. He had no problems using his power to prevent Merrick Garland from being considered, and yet, and yet, he will say I have no power to bring these bills to the floor. That is so lame and that is the excuse he gave.

So, we are a separate branch of government. I don`t think I need to remind Mitch McConnell that the congress is a separate branch of government and what we should do and what he should do, because there are two people to stop the shut down right now, one is the president, who is a hostage taker, having taken 800,000 people hostage, not to mention the thousands and thousands of contractors. He is a hostage taker. We do not negotiate with hostage takers.

The other person who can end this shutdown right now is Mitch McConnell, because he has the power. He won`t do it.

So, everyone should be asking why aren`t you going to use the power that you had no problems using to force $1.5 trillion tax cut for the richest people in our country and basically screwing the middle class. Why don`t you do it? And he says, oh, because the president won`t sign it.

There is thing called overriding of a veto.

So, Chris, I know you have a lot of people who watch your show all over the country. I would say to every one of your viewers who live in districts represented by Republican senators, they should call up their senators and say go and tell Mitch McConnell to do his job, bring these bills on the floor, because we already in the Senate passed these last year and make sure that everyone gets paid. He won`t do it.

So it`s very clear to me who can end this shutdown. I do not rely on the president who is amoral, makes no distinction between right or wrong, nor does he care. So I`m not going to rely on this guy whose word is no good. But Mitch McConnell can do something about this.

HAYES: There seems to be, the president has been sort of, you know, running this up the flag pole that maybe he`ll declare a national emergency.

HIRONO: Yes.

HAYES: There is reporting indicating they are getting closer to doing that. It`s very unclear if that`s legal. Here is what they appear to be looking at. And I want to get your reaction to it. That Fox confirmed the White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to see if they can divert money to the border wall from disaster funding bill to cover wildfires in California, hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. What do you think of that idea?

HIRONO: You know, how much lower can you go? So, it`s bad enough that he`s preventing 800,000 people from getting their paychecks tomorrow. You know what, most of us live in a world where we actually need our paychecks, and now that is bad enough. But now, he wants to take money from victims of disasters?

See, there seems to be no depth to the cruelty of this president, the cruelty that he will impose on innocent people so that he can get his vanity wall. The person who can stop it is Mitch McConnell.

HAYES: Well, what`s the -- I mean, you got Lindsey Graham who basically is now urging the president to go the emergency route because I think he, like Lamar Alexander, doesn`t want to deal with it. It`s sort of a strange situation.

What is your plan? What`s the Democratic Party`s plan if tomorrow the president says I`m declaring an emergency and we`re going to order them to build the wall?

HIRONO: The only reason that he`s going to declare an emergency is that the president figures that since he can`t deal with the issue of the wall separately, he has to take people hostage is to declare an emergency and that he thinks is going to get him out of this corner that he`s in.

The rest of us do not have to buy into that. I think we should continue to focus like a laser beam and there will be legal challenges to him declaring an emergency and grabbing money from victims of disasters. There will be challenges. But the rest of us don`t have to wait around for this court challenge to wind it`s way. We can get Mitch McConnell to bring these bills to the floor.

And what I don`t get is why more Republicans are not finding their votes and consciences to do that. Because we already voted for these bills.

HAYES: You -- I think you sound confident you have the votes, and I think that Mitch McConnell is confident you would have the votes, which is why you`re not getting the votes. Senator Mazie...

HIRONO: That is exactly right. You`ve got it.

HAYES: Senator Mazie Hirono, thanks for your time tonight.

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