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Trump cancels congressional trip. TRANSCRIPT: 1/17/19, All In w/ Chris Hayes.

Guests: Michael Rothfeld, Jeff Merkley, David Cicilline, Jennifer Rubin, Natasha Bertrand, Bob Bauer

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  -- in grounding the speaker`s plane is the same chief executive power he showed in grounding the American government.  He is the one getting blamed.  He is the one the buck stops with.  And that`s HARDBALL for now.  "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think I will do a better job than anybody because I`m really a great negotiator.

HAYES:  The Trump shutdown continues.

TRUMP:  I am proud to shut down the government.

HAYES:  As the President cancels the Democrats` trip to visit troops in a war zone.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA:  The President`s decision to disclose a trip that the Speaker`s making to a war zone was completely and utterly irresponsible.

HAYES:  Tonight, the Democrats respond.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D), MICHIGAN:  This is the President essentially being a man baby.

HAYES:  As suffering from the Trump shutdown continues.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Maybe he thinks it`s OK not to pay people who do work.  I don`t.

HAYES:  Then --

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP:  I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.

HAYES:  Former White House Counsel Bob Bauer on the stunning admission from Trump`s lawyer.  Plus the President`s fixer admits to rigging polls for Donald Trump.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP:  I`ll do anything to protect Mr. Trump.

HAYES:  Shocking new details about the scale and scope of the Trump child separation policy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It`s not a policy.

HAYES:  When All IN starts right now.


HAYES:  Good evening from New York I`m Chris Hayes.  Even two full years into the presidency of Donald J. Trump, there are still days where you just cannot believe that this guy is running the country.  Today was one of those days.  At first, Trump had been uncharacteristically restrained in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi telling him not to deliver his State of the Union address to Congress until he agrees to reopen the government.  There were no personal attacks, no pointed tweets, just his normal lashing out in the style of a Breitbart commenter without a spellcheck.

You know, "The left has become totally unhinged.  They no longer care what is Right for our countrty."  Just typical Donald Trump stuff.  And then came this afternoon an Air Force bus had pulled up to Capitol Hill to take Pelosi and a small group of lawmakers on an unannounced trip for security reasons to visit U.S. service members in Afghanistan.  Some of those lawmakers were already in their seats when Trump released what he seems to have thought was an absolute knockout punch, a letter telling Pelosi that he was canceling her trip to visit the troops until after the shutdown ended.

Trump definitely appears to have written the letter himself.  For one thing he told Pelosi she could still fly commercial if she wanted to into a war zone.  And he also referred to the trip as a public relations event that would be inappropriate during the shutdown.  Which is really rather revealing not about the nature of this congressional delegation but about how the President views his own actions and those around him.  Because he views a trip like that as a photo op, he assumes everyone else does as well.

He literally cannot conceive of anyone behaving out of some sense of substantive duty to public service.  Pelosi`s spokesperson noted that "the purpose of the trip was to express appreciation and thanks to our men and women in uniform for their service and dedication and to obtain critical national security and intelligence briefings from those in the front lines."

By the way, on the fifth day of the shutdown, you may remember, Trump himself went to Iraq to visit U.S. troops in a war zone.  You know, the exact same thing that Pelosi was planning on doing.  Asked about Trump`s decision, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer summed up the Democratic consensus.


REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  -- and demeans the presidency as almost a daily occurrence.


HAYES:  This is now the 27th day of an extraordinarily damaging shutdown, the longest ever, the one that Trump proudly proclaimed belong to him and him alone.  And here`s the thing.  He is for all the world to see utterly boxed in.  His approval rating is down considerably even among his base.  57 percent of registered voters now say they would definitely vote against Trump in 2020.  And amid reports that his shutdown could nudge the U.S. towards an actual recession, the President is stewing in the White House watching coverage of what he has wrought and complaining that "we are getting crushed according to the New York Times."

Meanwhile, Pelosi is watching her numbers go up as she passes bill after bill to reopen the government sitting for Mitch McConnell to take up and humiliates Trump over and over again. 


PELOSI:  Maybe he thinks it`s OK not to pay people who do work.  I don`t and my caucus doesn`t either.

He thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money, but they can`t.


HAYES:  Joining me now, one of the leaders of the Democrats in the House, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline.  Congressman is it not unfair to cancel congressional delegations given the state of things in the country in the shutdown?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND:  Well, good evening. Chris.  This was a trip that the Speaker of the House is taking to a war zone not only to express gratitude for the -- for the work the troops are doing but also to get very critical national security briefings from the military leaders on the ground.  I think the President`s cancellation of that trip shows that this is a very thin-skinned, petty and insecure president who sees and perceives everything as a personal sleight to him.

The Speaker of the House said look, it does not make sense to do a State of the Union while the government is partially shut down.  We need to reopen govern first because the State of the Union is shut down.  I think that makes perfect sense.  It wouldn`t have been appropriate to do a State of the Union as if everything was operating fine.  She does that apparently in response to that very responsible decision, he cancels a trip to visit U.S. troops, American heroes who are fighting in a war zone to protect the national security interest of our country.  It`s disgraceful.

HAYES:  Kevin Baron who is a Defense One`s Executive Editor, has covered the Pentagon for a long time.  He said Trump just caused an unfathomable amount of disruption and cost the U.S. Air Force and other services by his last-minute refusal to the codel`s travel.  Truly immeasurably but enormous man-hours, intelligence assets, vehicle and air allocations, prep, security.  Stunning.  What do you think of that?

CICILLINE:  Yes.  I think there`s no question.  This is a president who has shown tremendous disrespect for the men and women in uniform, for our military, for their operations.  As you said, even in the letter, he describes it as a photo-op or a P.R. excursion which really is how he perceives apparently those kinds of exchanges, all those kinds of events.  This was an important trip.  It was one in which the Speaker of the House would learn important information as well as other members of the Congress.  And the fact that the President doesn`t even understand the disruption he caused is very, very sad.

HAYES:  You know, every day I come to work and even before work I read headlines about what`s going on.  That there is food not being inspected, the air traffic controllers are working without paychecks, that there are people -- the absentee rate at TSA airports is twice what it should be one wonders what that would do to security.  And I get an increasing sense of dread in the pit of my stomach.  Do your fellow lawmaker share that?  Do you understand and is it understood across in both parties that you are -- you are rolling the dice and firing the trigger on Russian roulette every day this goes on.

CICILLINE:  Absolutely.  Look, I met with TSA workers and air traffic control is at my airport here in Rhode Island and heard it firsthand.  This is causing incredible heartache and anguish for federal employees.  Imagine being told to come to work every day, to show up, to work hard but you`re not going to be paid.  It is causing -- you know, and in the name of keeping America safe, Donald Trump is making us less safe both in terms of air travel, in terms of security at the border, in terms of food safety.

So you know, in this effort to -- this claim that he`s actually doing this to keep America safe, he`s making us less safe.  But the impact is having on real people`s lives is hard to describe.  These are heartbreaking stories of people who are doing their work, expect to get paid, and can`t pay their rent, can`t pay their mortgage, can`t buy food.  It`s a disgrace.  And the important thing is we should open the government immediately.  We have voted nine times to fund the government.

It is never appropriate to shut the government down if you have a policy disagreement.  This is the only place in the world that happens.  And Donald Trump has done it.  He should open the government.  We can have lots of debate about the best way to secure our border.  But it`s never right to shut the government down.  It`s not fair to the people who are doing the work who aren`t getting paid.

HAYES:  All right, Congressman David Cicilline, thanks for being with me.  For more on Trump, Pelosi, and the shutdown, I`m joined by MSNBC Contributor Jennifer Rubin, Conservative Columnist for the Washington Post and Joy Reid, Host of MSNBC`s "AM JOY."  The President -- one of the interesting things happening is the President`s polling is going down.  And the reason that`s interesting is it`s rather stable.  I mean, all sorts of crazy stuff happens in the news and it doesn`t really move.


HAYES:  This is moving it, they`re watching it tick down day after day, and you got to think that does start to get in their heads.

REID:  Right.  Because you know, I think that Donald Trump had this conception that you know, federal employees means a bunch of Democrats who work in D.C., but it also means people in Oregon and Colorado and Kansas and Texas and some of them are civilian military employees, people who are employed either as contractors or in that kind of work who may have a relative in Afghanistan, who you know what might have like to have a congressional delegation come and show them some appreciation as they`re in an America`s longest war.

So the idea that his petty a tit for tat which he thought was so clever he`s harming those troops in a way as well, right?  They don`t get to have you know, this visit that was first of all supposed to be secret.  So he also compromised operational security by what he did.  But he doesn`t care just like he clearly doesn`t care about the pain he`s causing including to probably a lot of people who voted for him.

HAYES:  I thought, Jennifer, the public relations line in the letter was so revealing and it made me think of this.  When the President had a bunch of T.V. anchors in to talk before his Oval Office address which can anyone remember that even what a single thing that happened in that.  No.  He said he`s talking about his border visit.  He told them -- he tells the reporter sitting in the room, it`s not going to change a damn thing but I`m still doing it.  The trip was merely a photo opportunity he said.

Because this how he views it, he literally doesn`t understand that other -- and this is not a partisan point.  I`m talking about Republicans, Democrats, all kinds of people, all kinds of ideological you know, dispositions, want to go to such a place to find out what`s going on there.

JENNIFER RUBIN, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST:  Right.  You know, he thinks that someone took something away from me so I`m going to take something away from her as if this is like what Nancy Pelosi longs to do is to go to war zones in her time off.  Of course, that`s not what`s going on.  It`s disrespectful to the troops.  And we haven`t talked about the stop that she was going to make on the way which there`s in Brussels to reassure our allies who are scared out of their wits given that the president keeps talking about pulling out of NATO.

So I don`t think we have ever seen quite so clearly how self-absorbed narcissistic this president is that he literally does not care about anyone other than himself.  And perhaps he`s right to be concerned because his presidency is at this point kind of going down the tubes.  And we haven`t even talked about the Russian stuff yet which is also swirling around his head.  So you got to sense the wheels are coming off the bus, the windshield wipers are flying, you know, the steering wheel is going --

HAYES:  OK, but here`s the thing.  That`s been happening for years since.  It`s been literally happening since he came down the escalator.

RUBIN:  Right.  And I`ll tell you what`s different.  What`s different is just as Joy said.  Those people in Colorado, those people in Missouri that have big for example IRS processing centers, those are people who are not getting paid.  And I think it`s a little different when it`s their family, it`s their contractor, it`s their store that usually feeds the people that come out of the government buildings at lunchtime.  Oh well, it`s in our backyard, well, that`s a completely different problem.

HAYES:  Well, here`s also I think what`s different.  This strikes me as maybe the most dangerous moment of the presidency so far for this reason which is he kind of just wants to be a pundit.  He just wants to -- he really does.  He doesn`t want to be President.  He wants to -- he wants to give us his takes on Twitter.  He wants to look at the T.V. in yellow Fox News.  That`s what he wants to be. 

But right now -- and a lot of times that is the saving grace that he doesn`t have the actual ambition to get into the guts of the government to change that.  The problem is the status quo now that he has locked himself and the Democrats into he`s a failure point. 

REID:  And the Republicans because --

HAYES:  They`re all locked in, right?  He has locked them all in.

REID:  Everyone is trapped, right?  So the way that you could read Mitch McConnell, either Mitch McConnell is trying to teach him the way that you teach a child and you just let them keep crying, right?  You can`t keep picking them up.  Sometimes you have to let them keep crying.

HAYES:  Right.

REID:  Is he letting him keep crying by saying I`m not going to reopen the governor make you come to a realization yourself that you are more powerful than Ann Coulter.  I`m going to let you do that or he`s afraid of him and afraid I don`t know maybe Matt Bevin might look at his -- at the poll numbers for Mitch McConnell and run against him and so he`s terrified right so he won`t act.

If you look at Donald Trump, you can think, well, maybe he`s just so afraid of Ann Coulter.  He`s so afraid of Rush Limbaugh that he feels paralyzed and can`t act or he`s so narcissistic that he somehow thinks if he just hurts enough people, harms enough people, makes enough people broke and lose their apartments, maybe somehow he`ll make Nancy Pelosi cave in. 

But the one person that you cannot misread, that is very clear, that Nancy Pelosi is teaching Donald Trump about the Constitution every day.  She`s saying my office is powerful.  I, unlike Mitch McConnell, are using my power.  It`s my prerogative if I let you speak in a chamber the House.  But you Donald Trump now have responsibility for these millions of people and you are hurting them.

HAYES:  But he also -- Jennifer, I mean, like we used this quote last night but I think it`s really important to understand the dynamic here.  This is a Democratic Senator talking to me.  We won`t move.  We cannot.  If this worked for Trump, the country will border on governor.  This is the reason that he is locked.  He has -- he has foreclosed the possibility of negotiation by his actions with the Democrats who cannot reward the behavior else they create an incentive structure that is completely untenable.

RUBIN:  That`s right.  We`ll never have another budget again.

HAYES:  Right, exactly.

RUBIN:  We`ll never have Congress again.  This is like prom, well be gone you know, the to the Parliament.  So he does this in so many different instances.  Because he doesn`t know what he`s doing and he lashes out and he thinks he`s smarter than everybody, get the troops out of Syria.  Well, we had four brave Americans who died this week because of his rash decision.  Shut down the government.  Well, how was plan to eventually reopen it?  He doesn`t have one.  He doesn`t have a plan and he doesn`t really understand how to operate in the presidency.

But Joy is right.  Nancy Pelosi does.  And it`s like Lucy and the football.  And Donald Trump goes flying up in the air every time and splat lands on his backside because she understands that at this point she`s on the side of the people, the poor people who aren`t getting their jobs, aren`t getting their paychecks.  And what is he for?  He`s for a wall that no one wants.  So she has completely boxed him or he`s boxed himself into this position.  And the people around him now are of such low quality and such incompetent they can`t really even suggest anything.  Not that he would take it.

HAYES:  No, this is -- this is a perfect point because honestly what has to happen now is someone needs to come up with a creative magical solution that allows the president out to say --

REID:  Take it out.

HAYES:  That is literally the only way out.

REID:  It`s correct.  That`s right.

HAYES:  And so someone smart around him has to -- and I don`t care who it is, but literally that`s what has to happen.

REID:  Well, somebody either has to go and convince Ann Coulter to let Donald Trump do his job right.  This used to give him permission, affirmative permission to reopen the government, or somebody has to go to Mitch McConnell and say we Senators are going to bail on you if you don`t - - you know, Cory Gardner, and say I`m done.  I can`t get reelected if my state is in peril.

But the problem that the Democrat -- and I think it`s absolutely right.  The Democrats cannot give in here.  You see what happens in March, debt ceiling.  If you allow Donald Trump to keep millions of hostages and destroy the economy and do all of this just to get one-fifteenth of what it would cost to build an unbuildable border wall that is never going to happen, the debt ceiling will be the next hostage taking and Democrats cannot allow not only Trump but Mitch McConnell to learn that lesson.

HAYES:  That would be -- that would be truly insane.  The President sabotage on debt ceiling, not putting it past him, but yes.  I mean, really the -- out here is that Mick Mulvaney needs to get on Photoshop or just take a picture of a wall somewhere and come in to the morning briefing and throw it on the President`s desk and say it`s been built, sir, we built it last night, reopen the government.

REID:  Absolutely.  And you know what`s so insane?  Donald Trump as much as he thinks -- as highly as he thinks of himself, he underestimates his own power.  He honestly believes Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Tucker Carlson are more powerful than he yes.  Rather than taking a chance --

HAYES:  Terrified of his base. 

REID:  -- and saying --  the base loves him.  If he told them --

HAYES:  Just tell them the wall is --

REID:  Just tell them there`s a wall.

HAYES:  I could not agree with you more on this.  I think this idea that if he doesn`t get the wall built, it`s kudos for Donald Trump.

REID:  He`s done.

HAYES:  It`s nonsense. 

REID:  It`s not.

HAYES:  And a con that they have sold him himself a con artists.  Jennifer Rubin and Joy Reid, thank you both for being with me.  Next, the collusion rewrite from the President`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani now admitting he can`t rule out some potential collusion with Russians during the campaign.  There`s even more hedging by Trumps lawyer that needs scrutiny and we`ll talk about that in two minutes.



GIULIANI:  I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes you`ve had.

GIULIANI:  I have no idea -- I have not.  I said the President of the United States.  There is not a single bit of evidence the President United States Committed -- the only crime that you commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.


HAYES:  OK.  There`s been a lot of reaction to Rudy Giuliani`s refusal to rule out collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.  But did you notice how he phrased the second part of those comments.  "There is not a single bit of evidence the President of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.  A lot of weird stuff in there.

First of all, I don`t think I`ve heard anyone claimed the President was actually conspiring ahead of time with Russia to plan and execute the DNC hack though Giuliani mentioned it makes me think maybe he did.  Second, that is by no means the only crime you could commit here as Giuliani put it.  Trump associates have already been convicted of were pleaded guilty to a bunch of other crimes including fraud and conspiracy against the United States.

And third, note that Giuliani doesn`t state definitively that the President did not conspire with Russia.  Instead, he hedges claiming only that there is not a single bit of evidence the President did so.  Nothing whatsoever about the underlying facts.  Just think how far we`ve come over the course of Giuliani`s tenure as a President`s lawyer.


GIULIANI:  There was no Russian collusion.  We`re now a year and a half, two years into this, no Russian collision, case over.

They never used it.  That`s the main thing.  They never use it.  They rejected it.  If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.

I`ve been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime.


GIULIANI:  Collusion is not a crime.

There is not a single bit of evidence the President United States committed.  The only crime you could commit here conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.


HAYES:  For more on the evolution of Giuliani`s defense, I`m joined by Natasha Bertrand, Staff Writer at the Atlantic covering national security and the Mueller probe and Bob Bauer, former White House Counsel to President Obama and a Professor at NYU School of Law.  Bob, let me start with you as a lawyer who knows a thing or two and you were in the White House.  Do you have a sense of what Giuliani is doing?  Is this just a kind of classic tactical retreat as the facts come in that you back up further and further away to defensible positions?

BOB BAUER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT OBAMA:  He certainly seems to be trying to redefine what he thinks the President`s vulnerability could be.  I thought he did it in an exceptionally clumsy way.  He probably went on the program to build the case against impeachment by attacking the press as he did by attacking Mueller as he did.  And then he was asked about the poll that Mr. Manafort gave to Mr. Kilimnik to the Russians.  And at that point, he got all tangled up in this denial that he had ever said there was no collusion between the campaign and the Russians only that the President had been colluded.

And by the way, I should mention at the end after having been repeatedly challenged about the President himself had said, Mr. Giuliani rather extraordinary said for a lawyer representing his client, well, I never said that.

HAYES:  Natasha, the Kilimnik piece of information that that came up in that interview that prompted that response as Bob just said, that was a big deal because it does show this sort of two sides touching for the first time confirmed aside from the Trump Tower meeting and we`re getting a sense that that figure Kilimnik is at the heart of this maybe more than we even realized.

NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC:  Yes.  It does seem that way.  I mean, I think the biggest question now is to what extent was Paul Manafort freelancing because he owed an extreme amount of money to the Russians and to the Ukrainians and he was trying to perhaps prove himself and show that he could still run a campaign and show that he could still have a campaign and be ahead in the polls.  Or was this something that was directed by the President.

Now, that might be a distinction without a difference the campaign you know colluding with Russia is what`s at issue here.  But I do think you know, it`s really interesting that we`re seeing Rudy present this as a possibility.  I mean, he`s done this before right, where he tries to kind of get ahead of the news.  He did it with Stormy Daniels, the payment that Michael Cohen made to her during the election.  He essentially said on Sean Hannity, look this was something that the President repaid Michael Cohen for.  That was new.  But then of course --

HAYES:  Yes, let me -- I just want to -- I want to play that clip since you bring it up.  It`s a great clip.  It`s him doing that basically saying let me let you let you in on a little secret.  Take a listen.


GIULIANI:  That money was not campaign money.  Sorry, I`m giving you a fact now that you don`t know.  It`s not campaign money.  No campaign finance violation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So they funneled it through the law firm?

GIULIANI:  Funneled through a law firm and then the President repaid it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, I didn`t know that he did.



HAYES:  So yes, and then it turned out that`s exactly what happened.

BERTRAND:  Right.  So another thing also is that Giuliani is now shifting the goalposts even further saying that the only crime that is possible to be committed here is that the -- is the hacking.  Well, look, if he wants to play that game we can play that game because right around the time that the DNC was hacked by the GRU which was in April 2016, George Papadopoulos was in London being told by a professor that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.  So if there was any kind of coordination that happened here, then it might have been in that area.  Paul Manafort is not the be- all end-all here.

HAYES:  That`s a good point.  Bob, you wrote a piece back in January 3rd.  You said coming to terms with the impeachment process, the case for starting a formal inquiry.  Starting a formal inquiry which I thought was a key part of that.  And it drives as something that`s in this new cover story in the Atlantic.  It`s time for Congress to judge the President`s fitness to serve.  Impeach by Yoni Appelbaum.  And the point both of you make is that impeachment is a process not a product and starting the process itself is important from a constitutional perspective.  What do you mean by that?

BAUER:  We have this or at least in some quarters you hear this horror expressed about impeachment.  But the impeachment process is as you say a process.  It`s a constitutional mechanism to prevent -- to protect the country against abuse of power.  It`s not a punitive measure, it`s a self- protective measure on a point of a democracy. 

And so the notion here is that we have a president who both in his treatment of the law and the treatment of his powers and his behavior toward the public with the incessant lying, after all we recently had his former Secretary of State saying it`s his instinct to continually push against the law and to complain what he can`t do with the law prohibits in those circumstances.

And given -- by the way since we seem to have all forgotten it, that he`s already been named as Individual Number One in a criminal prosecution.  It seems that there`s a fundamental constitutional obligation here to at least begin the inquiry, to have a dialogue, to produce evidence, and then to let a discussion begin that the public is very much a part of about whether he is fit and should continue to hold this office.

HAYES:  That point Bob, about the publicness, Natasha, strikes me as so central.  It`s  to something we`ve been very keen on here particularly since Democrats took the House.  Because the problem of course with the Mueller probe which you know it should be doing this keeping things in a black box is that we all watch it from the outside and there`s no this sort of buzz around Capitol Hill that it`ll be happening soon but we don`t know if it will, Natasha.

HAYES:  Right, exactly.  I mean, and one of the issues that was brought up during the Bill Barr confirmation hearing earlier this week is whether or not he would even allow such a report to be made public as whether he would even allow Mueller`s findings to go to Congress and then you know, be released to the American people.

Another question about what Mueller is going to you know, produce to the public is whether or not these are just going to be fruits of a crime that he includes in this report because that, of course, is his mandate.  I mean, it`s a criminal investigation.  Or whether he`s going to be able to include a lot of the counterintelligence stuff in there including things like was Trump compromised?

Has he been targeted by Russia?  You know, we`re there conversations that were not necessarily illegal but that were perhaps compromising?  I mean, these are all really important issues that might not rise to the level of a crime but that would be really important for Congress to determine whether or not this person is fit to serve.

HAYES:  Yes.  A defense from the Constitution and public for a public that desperately needs more information in a democratic republic.  Natasha Bertrand and Bob Bauer, great to have you both.  Still to come, it turns out the President was right.  Someone was trying to rig some of the polls around the election and that person was his own lawyer Michael Cohen. The story next.


HAYES:  Michael Cohen is many things -- he`s a fixer, he`s a felon, a liar.  He`s a man who`s going to testify before the whole country about his work for his erstwhile boss Donald Trump. 

But is he a sex symbol?  Well, he very much was according to this rather strange Twitter fan account @womenforcohen which was we now know, created by, drum roll please, Michael Cohen.

This is in this crazy Wall Street Journal Article about all the hi-jinx Mr. Cohen got up to working for Donald Trump paying people a Walmart bag of cash in a used boxing glove, and trying and failing to rig online polls for Donald Trump, one of which led then reality show host Donald Trump to tweet in 2014, quote, the CNBC 25 poll is a joke.  I was in ninth place and taken off politics.  No wonder @CNBC ratings are going down the tubes.

Beyond the ridiculous nature of some of these stories, there is also theoretically legal exposure for the president and his lawyer. 

Former federal elections commission chairman Trevor Potter told NBC News that a Cohen payment to a tech firm should have been disclosed once Trump announced he was running for president.  An NBC News search of NBC records showed no such disclosure. 

Joining me now are the authors of that Cohen article, Michael Rothfeld, investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal.  This is a great piece.


HAYES:  Love the details.

So, I guess let`s start with like what -- so one of the things this gives you a window is they`re planning this in 2014/2015.  They`re trying to lay the groundwork.  Cohen is the one doing it.  What kind of stuff was he up to?

ROTHFELD:  Well, he got this John Gogger (ph), who is a tech consultant who also works at Liberty University, which is run by Jerry Fallwell Jr. who had a relationship with Cohen and been doing like minor tech tasks for him for several years.  And so in 2014, Cohen says, hey, I want you to help the boss, Donald Trump, win this CNBC poll of the most influential business people.  And can you write a computer script to just vote for him a ton of times and, you know, make him win.  And Gogger (ph) tries to do it but he can`t do it...

HAYES:  Fails.

ROTHFELD:  Fails.   Trump doesn`t make -- he`s in the first 200, but he doesn`t make the second cut to the top 100.  And then as you`ve read, he complains about it.

HAYES:  He also tries to rig other polls, right?  This is a thing of like essentially trying to con your way into creating a the sense of a groundswell of grassroots love for Donald Trump.

ROTHFELD:  That`s right.  Just manipulate these online opinion polls, make it look like Trump is more popular than he actually is at the time.  He did later did a bunch of -- he got -- did well in the polls, but in this first Drudge Report poll in February 2015, which Michael Cohen also tried to manipulated, he asks John Gogger (ph) again just write this script and just vote for him, and he gets 24,000 votes.  He comes in fifth place, 5 percent, loses that too.  And so it didn`t work.

HAYES:  There`s this detail about him paying dash is he paying Gogger (ph) with the bag full of Walmart cash.

ROTHFELD:  That`s right, yeah.  So, after the second poll Gogger (ph) says, you know, this $50,000 for the work that I did.

HAYES:  So, right.  So, he says $50,000 bucks for this poll rigging, shows up in Trump Tower, right, to Michael Cohen`s office.  And Michael Cohen proceeds to try to pay him how?

ROTHFELD:  He gives him the blue Walmart bag full of cash with $12,000 to $13,000 in cash...

HAYES:  12 to 13, just doing the math here, yeah.

ROTHFELD:  And then he hands him a boxing glove, which was worn by a mixed martial art -- he says was worn by Victor Belfort (ph), a Brazilian mixed martial arts fighter who had once been affiliated with Affliction, which was an MMA venture Trump and Cohen were involved in like eight years earlier.

HAYES:  And that was worth $38,000?

ROTHFELD:  I don`t know if that was in lieu of the remaining.  He never paid the remaining $38,000.

HAYES:  Oh, he stiffed him?  I`m shocked.


HAYES:  Oh, so he stiffed -- he paid him 12 of $50,000?

ROTHFELD:  Yeah, but he did get reimbursed for...

HAYES:  This story is amazing.  They try to rig the polls, they hire the tech guy at Liberty University.  They fail to rig the polls, the thing they were doing was failing.  He promises $50,000.  He stiffs him on the payment, like none of this worked, basically.  Yet they got him elected president.

What`s the deal with women for Cohen?

ROTHFELD:  So, in 2016, as we know, Michael Cohen was a surrogate for Trump.  He`s on TV all the time, and he says to Gogger (ph), John Gogger (ph), hey, please elevate my profile.  I want you to create this Twitter account @womenforcohen, and it`s, hey, it run by women who love me and think I`m a sex symbol so that -- Gogger (ph) creates it and has his friend populate the Twitter account with tweets basically saying how sexy Michael Cohen is.

HAYES:  Snazzy looking and ready to MAGA us.


HAYES:  And this -- I  mean, is this -- what is your understanding of where this fits in the Michael Cohen portfolio?  Like what does this tell us about what Michael Cohen is going to tell us if and when he comes before congress.

ROTHFELD:  Well, I mean, he`s going to say that Donald Trump told me to do all these things.

HAYES:  Yeah, he says today, as to that article, what I did was at the direction, the benefit of Donald Trump.  I truly regret blind loyalty to a man who doesn`t deserve it.

ROTHFELD:  Right, so he`s going to take all these things -- the hush money payments, the poll rigging, you know, all of it and say all of this kind of underhanded secret stuff, this was what Trump had me doing.  He wanted me to do it, and so, you know, I was the bag man and, you know, it was all his fault.

HAYES:  I mean, it`s just such incompetent clownish nonsense. 


HAYES:  You`re a reporter, you can`t pass judgment.

ROTHFELD:  It certainly, you know, appears that way.

HAYES:  But it also shows you -- I mean, the Trevor Potter (ph) quote to me is that they didn`t really -- no one was running this through the compliance office or like checking with a lawyer to see, oh, should we report these payments.  Is this stuff legal or illegal.  And that`s been very clear from the beginning that no one has ever worried about breaking the law.

ROTHFELD:  Well, you don`t pay -- first, Cohen denies paying cash.  That`s the one thing he did deny in our story, but, you know, you don`t pay vendors in cash, so that would suggest that you don`t really want anybody to know what you`re doing.

HAYES:  Yeah, or an MMA used boxing gloves.  Michael Rothfeld, great reporting, thank you.

ROTHFELD:  Thank you.

HAYES:  Ahead, breaking news on the Trump administration`s family separation policy tonight, we are learning that it was much worse than we thought.  There may have been thousands of more victims than was originally reported.  Details ahead.

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


HAYES:  Thing One tonight, if you think things are crazy in the U.S. Capitol building these days, you should check in on British Parliament and the total mess that is Brexit.

But even as the UK hurdles towards potential catastrophe, Parliament found 10 minutes for a timeout yesterday for a very important issue facing the people: the letter boxes are too damn low.

Vicky Ford, a conservative MP representing Chelmsford (ph) is proposing a ban on mail slots in new buildings being placed indoors below a certain height.


VICKY FORD, CONSERVATIVE MP:  I met communications workers union.  They told me the key issue for their members and it`s not Brexit, it is low- level mail boxes and dangerous dogs.

Now I am not asking homeowners to retrospectively change their existing letter boxes or replace their front doors, when it comes to front doors, Mr. Speaker, a lot of people are very fond of their knockers.


HAYES:  If you`re wondering how Parliament manages to keep order enough to get from Brexit to mail boxes and then back to Brexit again, well, they have got a guy.  And he`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.


HAYES:  Out of the chaos of the Brexit debate in British Parliament has emerged a new international star: the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.  Our friends at CNBC News put together this little highlight reel of the man who keeps the order.


JOHN BERCOW, HOUSE OF COMMONS SPEAKER (UK):  Order! Order!  Order.  Order!  Order!  Order!  I (inaudible) what I`m doing with keep point is persistent.  If the honorable -- order!  Order!  If the honorable gentleman wishes to press his amendment, he is entitled to do so -- yes, he is.  Oh, yes he is.  I`ll be the judge of that.

Order.  The house must calm itself.  Zen.  Restraint.  Patience.

Order.  People talk about respect in this house, but there`s a minister of the crown shouting.  Stop it.  You`re capable of much better than that.

This matter -- order -- I`m not interested in people (inaudible) for a secondary position today for obvious benefit or purpose.  I`m ruling on a matter and I require no assistance in the process in doing so.

Order!  Clear the lobby.


TRUMP:  If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at a the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really what really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody`s ever seen anything like this. 

What is your death count as of this moment?  17.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  16 certified.

TRUMP:  16 people certified, 16 people verses in the thousands.  You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together, 16 verses literally thousands of people.


HAYES:  It was clear at the time, even when he made that glib cringe- inducing boast that he was tragically wrong about the death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, that has long since been confirmed by a study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, which estimated in August of last year that Hurricane Maria and his gruesome and desperate aftermath caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people, and yet here we are, almost a year-and-a-half since the hurricane and there has been no sustained formal U.S. government inquiry into what happened to lead to the deaths of as many Americans as died in 9/11.

Seems fairly clear the reason for that is the president doesn`t very much care for Puerto Ricans.  Not content to simply throw paper towels at their suffering, he`s been working actively from the White House to make things worse.

The Washington Post reporting yesterday that Trump told then White House chief of staff John F. Kelly and then office of management and budget director Mick Mulvaney that he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico, because he thought the island was misusing the money and taking advantage of the government.

And then, just today, the White House issued an official statement of policy, objecting to the House-passed bill with $600 million for nutrition assistance on the island, calling it, quote, excessive.  That is, by the way, only 1/9th the cost of his wall.

If there`s a silver lining here in the cloud that is the president`s evident contempt for his own constituents.  It is the fact that American civil society is far more decent than the man in the White House.

Just this week, The Tonight Show was in Puerto Rico to cover and celebrate Lin-Manuel Miranda`s return as Hamilton in a production on the island to raise funds and draw tourists for a place that still needs help, compassion and solidarity.

Americans have a duty, it seems to me, to prove every single day that we are a better people than you might conclude from simply looking at the words and the actions of our president.


HAYES:  We`re learning more today about the scope of the Trump administration`s child separation policy, the policy, you might remember, that Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen said multiple times did not exist, but we know did exist.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general released a report finding that even more migrant children were taken from their parents than previously reported.  And the administration still doesn`t know exactly how many kids they took, quote, "thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017 before the accounting required by the court that HHS has faced challenges in identifying separated children.

The Department of Homeland Security disputed the thousands reported by the HHS inspector general, claiming the inspector general did not have evidence to back up the claim.

This comes as new documents surfaced, sent from a government whistle-blower to Senator Jeff Merkley.  Those papers list a draft of immigration, quote, policy options, some of which were ultimately implemented, and others even more severe and shocking that were contemplated, but not implemented, like expediting the deportation of children without their parents.

DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman responded to news of the documents with a statement which reads in part, "the Trump administration has made clear that all legal options are on the table to enforce the rule of law.  In part we were predicting and trying to prevent the exact humanitarian and security crisis we are confronted by now."

Joining me now is Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon who has made exhaustive efforts to bring the administration`s child separation policy to light from the start.

Senator, what have you learned from these documents about the nature of the policy they followed and what they contemplated?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY, (D) OREGON:  Well, what these documents show, Chris, is there was extensive planning to implement a strategy of criminalizing, families crossing the border at the same time the administration said it`s all about criminals, they were plotting to stop families from arriving.  And they said not only are they going to criminalize that, we`re going to separate the kids from the parents.

Now, many of us will remember that the Homeland Security Secretary said there`s no such thing as a family separation policy or a child separation policy, but this document says exactly the opposite.

HAYES:  I want to be clear about this, because it drove me absolutely nuts covering this story.  Time and time again, the White House and Kirsten Nielsen got up and said you are out of your mind, no policy exists.  And what you`re saying is this document is literally a policy document in which one of the policies they contemplated and ultimately implement is child separation.

MERKLEY:  Yes, a very first policy on that list, the document, is the one of criminalizing crossing the border.  And the second is to separate children from their parents.

And so it`s all laid out here, it`s a discussion, this document represents and discussion taking place between the attorney generals office and the homeland security office at the highest levels.

So, this is very much the road map has been laid out for what was later done.  The administration was absolutely lying to the American people when they said there was no such plan.

HAYES:  So did Kirsten Nielsen lie?


HAYES:  Then how can you trust them?  I mean, honestly, how can you trust anything -- I mean, we just read a DHS statement, and I see the DHS spokespeople quoted all the time, but I have to say, ever since covering that story, it`s very difficult to take anything they say at face value.

MERKLEY:  Well, that`s right because when it was absolutely clear that item after item was true and they said it`s not true.  For example, Jeff Sessions in his initial presentation over the strategy over child separation said it`s about deterring families from coming, it`s a deterrent strategy.  That is in this document, it lays it out very clearly.  But when Kirsten Nielsen was asked about it, she said -- I`m not sure what she said.  I`m embarrassed or that`s ridiculous or she -- it basically disclaimed it completely.

HAYES:  There is another way they are caught here.  And I think this is important, and we`ll talk about things they consider.  You were in the Tornillo Tent camp that had been (inaudible) and quickly expanded under sort of dubious regulatory oversight to put a ton, thousands of migrant children, minors, in it.

And one of the things you told me on this program was that the head of that said this place can be cleared out of here basically in a few days if they would get rid of the backlog of sponsors that want to take these kids.  And that ended up happening, but the backlog at the time was caused by a background check process for the sponsors that the DHS said was for security and safety, right?

Here -- reading from the report for Julie Ainsley, HHS adopted a policy to require anyone in a household who agreed to sponsor an unaccompanied migrant child to undergo an extensive background check.  Publicly, DHS and HHS said that this was to ensure the safety of children, but the draft shows administrators knew the potential for creating a backlog of children in migrant detention which later became reality and led to the creation of Tornillo tent city last year.

MERKLEY:  That`s right.  So much of this humanitarian crisis, it was created by the very policies of the administration being implemented.  They said there is a crisis, but the crisis was what they created with these strategies.

And what we learned down there at Tornillo was that of the 2,700 children, 1,300 of them already had sponsors who had cleared the background check, including the fingerprints, and so we held a press conference.  We called for those children to be released.  We called for Tornillo to be shut down, and shockingly to me, the administration a few days later, because it was just approaching Christmas so maybe they felt especially vulnerable about the awful things they are doing, they did release those children who had already cleared the background checks.  They did stop the full fingerprinting of every member of the family and they did proceed to start to shut down Tornillo and it`s now shut down.

HAYES:  Well -- go ahead.

MERKLEY:  There is another piece of this, which is they are taking the information they get on the background sponsors and giving it to ICE.  And as far as I can tell so far, I haven`t been able to get a definitive answer, it appears that they`re still doing that.

So, there is still basically deterring people from coming forward to be sponsors, have concerns about extended family members who could be affected by the connection to ICE.

HAYES:  Final thing, they considered -- they did not implement, but one of the policy options was basically separating the kids from the parents and then just deporting the kids, just literally without a parent back on a plane to, like, I don`t know, you just shuffle them off, a 4-year-old off a plane and back in Guatemala.

MERKLEY:  Yes, it appears that they were trying to find a way to essentially bypass the ability of children to apply for asylum, a right that`s well entrenched in international law that we are part of, and in our national law, but it was -- maybe we can quickly maneuver and kick these kids out.  And it`s not at all clear there was any plan to connect them back with the parents.

And so piece after piece of this comes from a very dark place in the heart of this administration.  The core is abusing children to send a message of deterrence to families overseas.  Just wrong.

HAYES:  Senator Jeff Merkley, thank you very much.

That is All In for this evening.  The Rachel Maddow Show starts right now.