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Whitaker denies interfering in Mueller investigation. TRANSCRIPT: 2/8/2019, All In w. Chris Hayes.

Guests: Steve Cohen, Tara Dowdell, Primila Jayapal, Ben Wittes, Nancy Gertner, David Farenthold, Asawin Suebsaeng, Megan Twohey

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: February 8, 2019 Guest: Steve Cohen, Tara Dowdell, Primila Jayapal, Ben Wittes, Nancy Gertner, David Farenthold, Asawin Suebsaeng, Megan Twohey



REP. JERRY NADLER (D) NEW YORK: In your capacity as Acting Attorney General, have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the Special Counsel?

MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up and so --

REID: Donald Trump`s Acting Attorney General finally faces the public.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: We`re all trying to figure out who are you, where did you come from, and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice.

REID: Tonight what we learn from Matt Whitaker about the Mueller probe.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: Would you say special -- the Special Counsel`s investigation is a witch-hunt? Are you overseeing a witch-hunt?

REID: And family separation.

REP. PRIMILA JAYAPAL (D), WASHINGTON: Do you know what kind of damage has been done?

REID: Then new allegations about blackmail and the National Enquirer and why it could mean trouble for the President.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`ve always said why didn`t the National Enquirer get the Pulitzer Prize --

REID: And a Washington Post blockbuster report.

TRUMP: I`m going to end illegal immigration.

REID: On a pipeline of undocumented workers from Costa Rica to Donald Trump`s golf course.

TRUMP: With immigration, you better be smart, and you better be tough, and they`re taking your jobs.

REID: ALL IN starts now.


REID: Good evening from New York, I`m Joy Reid in for Chris Hayes. When, the President appointed Matt Whitaker to be the Acting Attorney General last fall violating the Justice Department`s order of succession and possibly the Constitution. Democrats feared it had nothing to do with Whitaker`s qualifications which were severely lacking and everything to do with his loyalty to Donald Trump and with his public hostility to the Mueller investigation.

In his combative often evasive testimony today before the House Judiciary Committee, his first public appearance in Congress, Whitaker did little to ease concerns that he`s nothing m re than a political hack installed to run interference for the president.

The Acting Attorney General defended his decision to not recuse himself from oversight of the Mueller investigation despite having been advised to do so by ethics officials. And he denied interfering with the investigation or discussing it with the president. But given the opportunity to declare the legitimacy of the Special Counsel`s work, Whitaker declined to do so.


COHEN: There been guilty pleas from Flynn, Manafort, Gates, Papadopoulos, and Michael Cohen, and dozens of ad items including 13 Russian nationals, three Russian companies and Roger Stone. Would you say special -- the Special Counsel`s investigation is a witch-hunt? Are you overseeing a witch-hunt?

MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: Congressman, as I`ve mentioned previously, the Special Counsel`s investigation is an ongoing investigation and so I think it would be inappropriate for me --

COHEN: But you wouldn`t oversee a witch hunt would you? You`d stop a witch-hunt wouldn`t you?

WHITAKER: Congressman, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation.


REID: Whitaker also insisted that despite having interviewed for a job at the White House as lead attorney dealing with Mueller`s probe, his personal views on the investigation just never came up with anyone inside the President`s orbit.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Did they talk to you about your prior opinions about the Mueller investigation.

WHITAKER: No, we did not discuss it. We discussed about my background as the United States Attorney and my legal practice.

You`re asking me whether or not I talked with anybody essentially in the President`s circle at the White House about my views of the Special Counsel`s investigation when I was a private citizen not at the Department of Justice.


WHITAKER: No, I did not.

REID: But the clearest evidence of how Whitaker understands his role as Donald Trump`s Acting A.G. was his attitude toward the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.


NADLER: Have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the Special Counsel?

WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up and so --

COHEN: You said that you`re not interfering with the Special Counsel`s investigation, have you denied him any funds he`s requested at all?

WHITAKER: Congressman, I can tell this is an important issue for you --

COHEN: It`s an important issue for the American public and for the whole world.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: And it must be restored.

WHITAKER: I`m sorry, what was your -- I don`t know if your time is restored or not.

LEE: Mr. Attorney General, we`re not joking here and your humor is not acceptable.

WHITAKER: Just five minutes for lunch.


REID: Wow, Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said that he`s not done hearing from Whitaker and threatened to subpoena him to get the answers the Democrats demand. My next guest is a Member of the House Judiciary Committee who questioned Acting Attorney General Whitaker today Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee.

So Congressman, first of all I just have to get your reaction to that testimony you heard today both to his demeanor and in many cases his refusal to answer yes and no questions.

COHEN: Well, he came in to stonewall us. That was his purpose. He wasn`t -- he had an audience of one which was Donald Trump. And when he was a football player and I could certainly see him as a football player, he was a tight end and that`s generally a blocker in the Iowa program. He was a blocker today too. He`s still in the same role he was when he played for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

He didn`t show me anything to say that he should be the United States attorney general. I`ve met many and been with people at justice, and this man does not measure up to them in any way whatsoever. He was just treading water and stonewalling.

REID: And in a lot of people`s eyes, making a mistake of being pretty disrespectful to the chair, declaring his time up and repeatedly saying an answer to questions rather than answering them. I can see this is a very important issue to you. Did you feel he was there just to stonewall and stall for time or did you think that he was being openly disrespectful to the panel as a way of performing for Donald Trump?

COHEN: Well, it`s hard to say. It was kind of like you know, would you say Luca Brasi was being disrespectful or Luca Brasi just kind of didn`t understand things. And he was kind of Luca Brasi-esque. I don`t think he`s very swift. And he did even with the Republicans sometimes have the same stock start to his answers of saying, Congressman, I really thank you for asking that question. And then finally David Cicilline said, you know, let`s get through the thank-you stuff. Don`t say thank you.

And it was all a time killer and they coached him. And they coached him I guess with I know that question is important to you because he used that to Mr. Jordan on the Republican side and others as well. I just think he was given certain talking points and he stayed on -- stayed on message.

REID: Well, Chairman Nadler indicated that he doesn`t feel he`s done hearing for Mr. Whitaker and that he might want to recall him again. Given the performance today, you think there`s any point in calling him again?

COHEN: Well, he`d be under oath again. It`d be a deposition and we could ask him the questions and I don`t think he`d be -- I think he`s going to start to realize the fact that he could have -- he could be in jeopardy. He didn`t answer the questions forthrightly. It`s hard for me to believe that Donald Trump didn`t ask him as he did Jim Comey and others about the investigation and to have loyalty and be easy on Flynn and those type of things.

He was upset with Sessions, he said -- he didn`t have his own attorney general. He wanted his consigliere as he would probably think about it, and he wanted his own guy. And this Whitaker comes out of nowhere. He wasn`t in the line of succession which Ted Deutch made clear goes through all a group of officials who`ve been approved by the Senate and he was not one of them. So it was an aberration there.

And then somebody brought up his (INAUDIBLE) and most of his jobs had not been in the legal sector and then what he`d had in the political world had been abject failure and he`d had some encounters where he headed up some charity group where he got $1.2 million when he came to Washington to do some work and there was the suggestion that Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican contributor and friend of Trumps might have been the person that gave that $1.2 million to him.

You know, for this guy out of Iowa who didn`t really ever do much to show up in Washington, they get paid $1.2 million. That`s just talks about the influence of money in Washington and the pernicious nature of it and how he`s been a willing subject to it.

REID: Congressman Steve Cohen, thank you very much. I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you. And for more on the Acting AG`s extraordinary testimony tonight, I`m joined now by MSNBC Contributor Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney and former senior official at the FBI. So Chuck, the testimony today was interesting but some of the things that -- some of the areas that were gone into was what you just heard from the Congressman, his background.

Before as you know, before Mr. Whittaker became the Acting Attorney General, he did write this op-ed in which he said that the Mueller probe was going too far. Did you hear anything today from Mr. Whitaker that disabuse -- that would disabuse you of the notion that his -- that his goal in being Acting Attorney General is to interfere with that probe?

CHUCK ROSENBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, let me just take a step back and then answer your question. I thought his performance, Joy, was disgraceful. I`ve testified many times in Congress. Sometimes the questions are good and thoughtful, sometimes they`re compound and incomprehensible, but you have to answer everyone with a degree of civility and dignity and that was sorely lacking.

Your question, so look, I don`t know that he`s the right guy for this job. In fact, I know he`s the wrong guy for the job. I`m heartened by one thing. The Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney`s offices are primarily if not exclusively staffed by career civil servants. If someone was messing with their stuff, if they were trying to undermine their work, torpedo their cases, you would hear a human cry from those men and women, and we haven`t. It seems like cases are proceeding and that gives me hope and he`ll be gone soon.

REID: And did you get the sense you know, that what he was doing, this tactic of saying I understand it`s very important to you and sort of being snarky and you know, I think you could say disrespectful, that this is just coaching. Is this the way that people are -- how are people coach generally if you know you`re going before Congress where maybe half that paneling is going to be you know tough on you, what are you told to do?

ROSENBERG: Right. Half as antagonistic and half as friendly and that`s fairly typical regardless of who`s testifying and where are they testifying. People handle it in different ways. I`ve never seen anyone handle it like that. What he did today as I said was disgraceful. You have to treat every member with a degree of civility and kindness and dignity.

Here`s why. He`s not representing Matt Whitaker. I mean, if you were representing Matt Whitaker, he didn`t do a particularly good job. He`s representing the United States Department of Justice, right? He`s speaking on behalf of more than 100,000 men and women working 24/7 around the globe. They saw their leader today behave like an infant and that is really deeply disheartening to me.

REID: And we know that there`s going to be a confirmation hearing for the gentleman that Donald Trump would like to have the job permanently.


REID: Barr. And given what you saw today, what would you counsel him to do differently besides everything -- this confirmation hearings.

ROSENBERG: Bill Barr doesn`t need my advice on that. Bill Barr is a grown up. I may not share his views politically but I do believe he`s an institutionalist and I do believe he understands the Department of Justice. And oh by the way, Bill Barr had new trouble denying that the Mueller probe was a witch-hunt, nor did Chris Wray the Director of the FBI, nor did Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

So that doesn`t seem to be a big lift for most adults. I`m shocked it was a lift from Matt Whitaker, but Bill Barr is going to be fine.

REID: Yes, all right, Chuck Rosenberg, thank you very much. I really appreciate you tonight. Thank you very much. Well, for more on what we`ve learned from that hearing today, I`m joined by MSNBC Contributor Sam Seder, Host of the Majority Report and Democratic Strategist Tara Dowdell. Thank you both for being here. I really appreciate it.

Well, indeed. I mean, there have been -- it panned all around to be honest. I haven`t heard anything but people panning this performance, Tara, by Mr. Whitaker. You are a political strategist, you`ve done political strategy, could you sense in that performance today any strategic idea or goal or was he just in a mood?

TARA DOWDELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, Joy, thank you so much for the --

REID: I understand this is very important to you.

DOWDELL: No, first of all, he was putting on the show as you stated. He was putting on the show both for Trump, but I think he was also putting on a show for himself. Remember this person used to be on T.V. and so I think that he`s looking for a future back in that space after this is all said and done.

One of the things that I would say about people who are sort of drawn to Trump is that they`re not just drawn to Trump because they want to be a part of Trump and all the chaos and the divisiveness, they`re drawing the Trump because they want to hitch to his wagon to chart their own course in terms of media and growth.

I saw it on The Apprentice. People have said to me why people on The Apprentice had issues. I know people when I was on the show who wanted to sue him, right? And now they you know they`re supporters --

REID: Right.

DOWDELL: Full-throated supporters. And people would say to me -- I`ll get this question all the time -- why would they support him now after all of this? Because they want to be just like him. And I think that is reflective in his administration as well, and that`s what he wants.

REID: Yes. He wants people who want to reflect in his -- reflect themselves and be mini Trumps. You know, Whitaker`s previous job, obviously, Sam, was bit sketchy but I think for a lot of people`s at least reading of it a conservative nonprofit with weird roots undisclosed funders, $1.2 million in money that sort of went in.

If this was a performance, Donald Trump at this moment can`t help him, right? He can`t get him -- I guess he could get him under Fox News, but I don`t understand what he gets out of this. Because at the end of the day, that Democratic panel, you can see the Democratic House, they`re not going to let him undermine the Mueller probe.

SAM SEDER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I mean, I think there were two things that I took away from this. One was there was a sense that the scrutiny he got on day one when he was appointed Acting Attorney General, we don`t know what his intentions were. It`s very hard to look at that guy and say oh, he was the best candidate for the attorney general`s office.

But he didn`t do at least in terms of what he said today, and he would have been a pretty precarious thing to him to lie about that. He did not set up any obstacles for the Mueller investigation. So one thing that I took away from that was that the scrutiny on him seemed to work or at least you know, left us at the baseline.

But the other is this is a guy from the conservative movement. I`m a little bit more cynical about the way that these guys behave I think than other people who anticipate these type of folk to have respect for the institution. He`s going to go out. There`s a lot of that money sloshing around out there. This is a guy who`s just set himself up to be running any one of a number of conservative so-called think tanks or movement groups or independent expenditures --

REID: Independent expenditures that make money.

SEDER: There`s Fox News, there`s a -- there`s a huge industry out there that someone like him can walk into right now if he doesn`t -- if Trump doesn`t turn around and give him another job in the administration.

REID: Well, you made a good point because he did a performance on television where Donald Trump could probably see it. So if that was the goal, then he -- then he did it. It was an audition, yet another audition. Let`s talk about what the Republicans for just a moment, because sort of it seems that no matter how far off the rails, I mean, it`s universal the panning of this performance, but Republicans are still seem to want to protect even him.

Here`s a in exchange where Republicans tried to stop Democrats from questioning the qualifications of Whitaker for the job.


REP. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: It`s my understanding that before you move to the Department of Justice that you were the executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic and Trust?

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Mr. Chairman -- Mr. Chair I have a point of order. Mr. Chairman.

BASS: A could set the fact--

COLLINS: Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order.

BASS: -- that Conservative Ethics watching or he may full --

COLLINS: I have a point of order.

BASS: -- or he made full use of the opportunity to call for investigations of multiple Democrats.

NADLER: Gentleman will state his point of order -- gentlelady was suspend. The gentleman will state his point of order.

COLLINS: My point of order by the very statement from the gentlelady is not outside the scope of an oversight investigative hearing of the Department of Justice.


REID: You know, if you think of the Donald Trump presidency as sort of a television show rather than a presidency, right, everyone is performing for a purpose to the point that Sam just made. What is the purpose for Republicans at this point? They`ve just gotten a shellacking in the House. They can look at the poll numbers and see that the places where they`re losing support are precisely the places they would need to retain the White House to be blunt where Senate seats are up.

What is the point at this point of so jealously guarding Mr. Whitaker? What does he mean to them?

DOWDELL: They made the political calculation that in any way going against Trump is more costly than actually speaking out and being -- and showing some degree of integrity even with the losses that they took in 2018. They think that if they go against Trump, the electoral results will be even worse.

SEDER: All those people you`re talking about are there despite the fact that they were supportive of Trump. I mean -- or because they were surprising about Trump.

REID: Right.

SEDER: I mean, the ones who are going to lose have lost. These people are there because their supporters support Donald Trump. And so that is the problem ultimately that the Republicans have long-term is that they cannot separate themselves from Donald Trump because ultimately their voters, the vast majority of the Republican Party still very supportive of Donald Trump. He may look -- you know, what happened today may look like a freak show to 50, 60 percent of the country but there`s 30 to 40 percent of the country that thinks yes, that`s our guy.

REID: Yes. It looks great to them. Sam Seder, Tara Dowdell, what a show. Thank you guys very much. Up next, one of the most impassioned moments of today`s hearing came when Congresswoman Primila Jayapal made Matt Whitaker answer for the administration`s policy of family separation. The Congresswoman joins me right after this.


REID: One of the many things that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker had to answer for today was his tenure as chief of staff for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Trump zero-tolerance policy of separating children from their parents started under Sessions. With that in mind Congresswoman, Primila Jayapal lit into Whitaker about whether the administration has a way of tracking these separated families.


JAYAPAL: Before after the zero-tolerance policy was put into place, and I call it the zero humanity policy, did the U.S. Attorney`s track when they were prosecuting a parent or legal guardian who had been separated from their child? There`s only one answer to this. It`s gone through the courts.

WHITAKER: You know, did we track it?

JAYAPAL: Did you track when you were prosecuting a parent or legal guardian who had been separated from a child?

WHITAKER: I don`t believe we were tracking that.

JAYAPAL: You were not tracking it. That is the correct answer. And when parents are prosecuted and sentenced, they are in DOJ custody, correct?

WHITAKER: Correct. They are trained -- their custody is transferred to the U.S. law.

JAYAPAL: So these parents were in your custody, your attorneys are prosecuting them, and your department was not tracking parents who were separated from their children. Do you know what kind of damage has been done to children and families across this country children who will never get to see their parents again? Do you understand the magnitude of that?

WHITAKER: I understand that the policy of zero tolerance --

JAYAPAL: Has the Justice Department started tracking parents and legal guardians who were separated from their children at the border?

NADLER: The time of the gentlelady has expired yet the witness may answer the question.

WHITAKER: Congresswoman, I appreciate your passion for this issue and I know that you`ve been very involved in the frontlines of this --

JAYAPAL: This is about more than my passion. This is about the children`s future Mr. Whitaker.


REID: Joining me now is Congressman Primila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington State. Congresswoman, thank you so much for being here tonight. I appreciate it.

JAYAPAL: Thanks, Joy.

REID: Just watching that exchange between yourself and acting Attorney General Whitaker, there`s this incredible contrast between how impassioned you are and we`re talking about children who may never see their parents again, and kind of the weird sort of indifference dismissiveness just the way that he was looking away. I don`t know, did you? And then his answer about oh I know this is important to you. Did you feel condescended to? What was your reaction to just his attitude?

JAYAPAL: Oh absolutely. And it started from the minute he walked into the hearing. He was arrogant, he was dismissive, he was disrespectful. And then when it came to this, I actually think he didn`t quite know what to do. First of all, he knew nothing about this. I mean, earlier I had said, did you know about family separation? He said it didn`t happen. I said there was a memo. There was a memo. And he said -- he said no, that that didn`t happen.

And I said there were four Pinocchios to that statement that the Washington Post is afforded to this. And by the time we got to the end, I think you know, this is such a compelling issue, Joy. You and I have talked about it before. Republicans and Democrats agree that this was a heinous crime that has been committed against thousands of children.

And I think he really didn`t know what to do and so he tried to be dismissive and say oh well, I respect your passion which is a way of saying you know, you`re getting kind of emotional about this. And then I had to make it very clear that this is not about my passion, this is about the future of the children.

And yes, you know what, I will say I am so proud that I am passionate about this because anybody should be thinking about not only these children who don`t get to see their parents ever again, but the children that were separated for months and some of them I watched them come together with their parents. I heard their parents say the kids didn`t want to go back to their parents in some cases because they thought they had been abandoned.

If we all don`t have real passion, real commitment to figuring out what happened and making reparations, the U.S. government should make reparations for what we have done to these families.

REID: And in speaking of the idea of how long this has actually been going on, now the great producers here found some sound from March of 2017 which people may remember when it aired. This is John Kelly who at the time was Secretary of Homeland Security is before he was Donald Trump chief of staff. And this was before the policy officially began. Take a listen.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN: If you get some young kids who are coming in -- manage to sneak into the United States with their parents, our Department of Homeland Security personnel going to separate the children from their moms and dads?

JOHN KELLY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We have tremendous experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors. We turn them over to HHS and they do a very, very good job of either putting them in kind of foster care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United States. Yes, I am considering an audit to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network. I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents.


REID: In the course of all that obfuscation that happened today, were you able to get an answer as to how long this policy has actually been going on and actually how many kids are actually still missing because we now know that it`s probably -- there were probably many more than the 2,737 as of December 2018 who were actually separated, maybe thousands more.

JAYAPAL: Well, you know, the Department of Justice is only responsible for the prosecutions. We were supposed to have a hearing on Tuesday which has now been cancelled because of John Dingles funeral with HHS and DHS. And those were the questions that I have ready to ask them. But I will tell you that there are over a hundred kids that are still in custody from the ones that we originally thought were the first ones that we`re being separated.

And now HHS has come back and said we don`t know that we can ever separate them. You know, that`s a court order that they`re supposed to -- excuse me -- that we can rejoin them with their parents, reunite them with their parents. The court order is that they have to do that. And now they`re saying it`s not possible. On top of that as you said, there are the thousands that happened before.

And I`ll tell you something else, Joy. When John Kelly says we`re doing this to deter, that is actually illegal. The courts have ruled that you cannot detain and do what they are doing for deterrence purposes. So everything about this family separation policy, the zero humanity policy was so wrong and I really don`t know first of all, how we fix what we have done but then also how we make reparations.

I mean these kids are traumatized and the parents are traumatized. And we know from psychologists that that is real trauma, lasting trauma.

REID: Yes. Well, Congressman, if you can`t be passionate about that, and what`s happening to these children, I`m not sure what you can be passionate about. Congressman Primila Jayapal, thank you so much for joining us tonight. I appreciate it. And still to come. Is Matt Whitaker taking part in a plot to stop Robert Mueller? What we learn from the hearing about where the Special Counsel probe stands. That`s next.



WHITAKER: We have followed the special counsel`s regulations to a tee. There`s been no event, no decision that`s required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel`s investigation.


REID: That was the line from the Matthew Whitaker today, the acting attorney general, also testifying that he had provided no inside information about the Mueller probe to the Trump administration.

But Whitaker also refused to discuss his conversations with Trump, among many other issues prompting House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler to tell Whitaker he planned to try and force him to answer more questions.

Joining me for more on Whitaker`s testimony, MSNBC legal analyst Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of Law Fare; and former federal judge Nancy Gernter, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Law School. Thank you guys very much.

Ben, you know, there`s been pretty much universal condemnation of this testimony as ill-advised and ill-prepared, and ill-executed. But I wonder if there was anything in it that told you whether or not this gentleman poses an actual threat to the future of the Mueller probe?

BEN WITTES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF LAW FARE: Well, Joy, I see that your five minutes are up. I`m here under the five minute rule, and, you know, that`s how I agreed to appear on the show and your time is up.

REID: Well, touche.

WITTES: Before we get to the answer to your question,can we just pause a moment to think about like if one of your guests showed up on this show and behaved the way the acting attorney general behaved towards the chairman of the Judiciary Committee today.

REID: It would be a short segment.

WITTES: I mean, it`s an incredible thing.

All right, look, this was a disgraceful performance all around. But he did actually say a few things that are reassuring and he said them in a fashion that he can be held to account for. And one of them was that he had not involved participated -- he had not involved himself, he hadn`t interfered with or directed would or directed the outcome of the special counsel`s investigation in any way.

Now this is not a man I would trust to say the truth about anything. On the other hand, it is not insignificant when a person says something like that in a fashion before a congressional committee, even one that he`s, you know, directing as to which questions they can ask him. It`s not an insignificant thing he made that representation. And so, look, I don`t take a lot of reassurance from his testimony today on any points, but I don`t think that is an insignificant thing for him to have said.

REID: Right. And, you know, Nancy, I wonder if, you know, you subscribe to the notion that what we saw here today, somebody who seemed to be motivated to interfere in some way with Mueller`s probe, but who clearly can`t do it, right, either because he`s just not capable of executing the plan or because maybe there are still some guardrails that seem to be so -- you know, strong even now that it wouldn`t be possible.

I wonder if what you saw today informs you at all about what maybe should be asked of potential Bill Barr, right, whether or not this tells you that maybe even putting in a Trump crony as attorney general permanently might not actually pose as big a threat as people might have thought.

NANCY GERTNER, FORMER U.S. FEDERAL JUDGE: Well, there are two issues. One is interfering on the one hand, and the other is this issue of communication with the president. On the interfering issue, frankly, as long as Rosenstein is in place, who is essentially the guardrail between Mueller and the attorney general, then I feel reasonably confident there won`t be interference. When Rosenstein resigns and then there is a direct line between the attorney general and the special counsel, I would have some can concerns about that.

Now, I don`t have particular concerns about Bill Barr, but then you are talking -- then the opportunity exists.

The communication issue is very different. In my reading, if you recall in August of 2017, Whitaker becomes chief of staff to Sessions and it`s widely reported that Whitaker is in regular touch with the White House, so much so that The New York Times described him as, you know, essentially a partisan and a a spy in the attorney general`s office funneling information to Trump when he`s the chief of staff. It strains credibility to me that he did not communicate with Trump about what he knew about the investigation in the light of what he had done before.

The communication issue is a troubling issue, that`s a troubling issue. Affirmatively interfering, as long as Rosenstein is in place, I would tend to doubt it. Communicating with Trump about what`s going on, that`s a different matter.

REID: Well, Ben, let`s get to that a little bit. What kind of a matter might it be, because, Ben, the question would be, you know, what kind of risks would Mr. Whitaker be willing to take? And what are the risks if he were communicating, let`s say, funneling information that he was learning from the special counsel to the White House, what legal jeopardy could that place him in? And how would that even play out given the fact that he`s acting attorney general?

WITTES: Yeah, so I don`t think it would -- this is the scary part, I don`t actually think it would place him at risk if he did it in his official capacity as attorney general. You know, it would we wildly improper and offensive to the entire way the Justice Department is supposed to operate, but, you know, the executive branch is a unitarianity (ph), and the president does have the raw power to get information about investigations.

And so I agree that that is a serious concern that it could have happened, and I also think there probably isn`t a whole lot of remedy against it if it did happen.

REID: Wow, and very quickly to you, Nancy, before we go, what did you make of the fact that he wouldn`t answer the simple question of whether the constitution said that a president can be indicted or not, that he didn`t answer that?

GERTNER: Well, you know, he could have either -- he could have either answered along what the office of legal counsel has been saying. So, I mean, I think that that to some degree was a softball.

But when you step back from all of this, what the committee was trying to do here was to see if there was Trump obstruction, that`s why they kept on asking the questions about communication. So, I agree with Ben, that yes, there may be a sort of a general right to confer with Trump, but if Trump is saying, you know, tell me about "X" or do "Y" that`s a different issue.

REID: Yeah, Benjamin Wittes, Nancy Gertner, wish we had more time. Thank you guys very much for being here tonight.

And coming up, the tabloid that worked to help Donald Trump get elected president is reportedly under scrutiny by the SDNY for allegedly trying to blackmail the richest man on the planet and putting it in writing.

The latest on Bezos verses Pecker right after this.


HAYES: Yesterday, Amazon`s CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos revealed that The National Enquirer threatened to publish intimate photos of him unless he stopped investigating how it had acquired texts that exposed his extramarital affair, and unless he put out a statement saying that the Enquirer`s actions were not, quote, politically motivated.

Well, today the face off between the world`s richest man and the tabloid run by AMI chief David Pecker has riveted the media with headlines like this. And it`s raised serious questions about the National Enquirer`s tactics.

AMI, The National Enquirer`s parent company, released a statement which reads in part "American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos. Further, at the time of the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him."

It also said it would thoroughly investigate the matter.

But now, both Bloomberg and Associated Press are reporting that the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is looking into whether AMI`s actions may have violated its cooperation agreement, which states that AMI shall commit no further crimes.

And journalist Ronan Farrow tweeted, quote, "I and at least one other prominent journalist involved in breaking stories about The National Enquirer`s arrangement with Trump fielded similar stop digging or we`ll ruin you blackmail efforts from AMI."

MSNBC contributor Megan Twohey is an investigative reporter for The New York Times who has reported on the ties between Donald Trump and the publisher The National Enquirer; and Asawin Suebsaeng, White House reporter for The Daily Beast, who first reported that Jeff Bezos was investigating the Enquirer for publishing leaked texts. Thank you both.

Asawin, I`m going to go to you on this first. That Ronan Farrow tweet was intriguing to folks. Do you have anything more on whether or not there were -- because he says at least one other reporter -- on other reporters that may have been threatened by AMI.

ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, we at The Daily Beast will actually have more on what you were just talking about coming on soon. I`m sorry, I can`t get into it at the moment, but just to give your viewers a little bit of a back story on this.

As we first reported at last week, Jeff Bezos personally underwrote this private investigation headed by a guy named Gavin DeBecker (ph) who for years has been Jeff Bezos`s top security guy, into how exactly the leaked text messages got to The National Enquirer.

And, throughout the course of their investigation, their list of suspects became so narrow that in terms of who the leaker was, in terms of their top suspects, really only one name came to the fore, and that was Michael Sanchez, who happens to be the brother of Lauren Sanchez who is the Jeff Bezos mistress.

Now, Michael Sanchez is an interesting character here, because he just so happens to be a close associate, both business and personal wise, to peripheral Trump world figures like Roger Stone and Carter Page.

So as Bezos`s investigators look more and more into this, they started to suspect. Again, I`m not sure what the investigation has concluded and what concrete evidence they have to support this, but they started to suspect that political motivation was at the core of only at the core of not just the leak, but also the publication, so that all culminated, into what happened yesterday when Bezos put out that Medium post accusing AMI, the Enquirer and the Pecker tabloid empire, of maliciously blackmailing him.

REID: Right, so by political motivation, that translates to Trump, that that`s what was meant by political motivation?

SUEBSAENG: Well, Bezos himself in that Medium post strongly implied that it could be Trump and/or the Saudi regime, which has had close ties to David Pecker and the AMI empire.

So -- and again, I must reiterate that this seems to be speculation or educated guessing on the part of Bezos and his team. I don`t think they`ve presented publicly, at least, any solid evidence to confirm either way, but this is what he and his investigators are currently working with, they are plumbing political motivations.

REID: And reportedly telling his investigator spare no expense. Figure out whatever you can.

But let`s, Megan, talk about the way that The Enquirer operates both now and before. There was another tweet by a gentleman named Ted Brittes (ph), who is a former AP editor who said that we were warned, and he didn`t express who the we is, explicitly by insiders that AMI had hired private investigators to dig into the backgrounds of AP journalists looking into the tabloid`s efforts on behalf of Trump, never saw evidence of this either way, and it didn`t stop our reporting.

I`m wondering if this is kind of a feature, not a bug, of the way that AMI operates that they`re running sort of oppo research potentially on journalists?

MEGAN TWOHEY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That`s a great question. And the Associated Press, the journalists there, were some of the folks who were at the forefront of reporting and digging into the allegations that Trump was actually working with AMI to cover up potentially damaging stories that could come out about him during the presidential race. And so obviously there have been -- I mean Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for, you know, things that happened on this particular path. AMI itself actually entered into sort of an agreement. They cooperated with the feds as they end their investigation that led to Cohen`s guilty plea, and have actually acknowledged they were doing things to help influence the presidential race.

But they have also -- but at the time before this all came out, before the feds nailed that information, there were reporters who were trying to figure out and piece together that the pieces of that puzzle and there`s no doubt that AMI went after, like basically pushed back against those reporting efforts, not just at the Associated Press, but elsewhere.

REID: Right. I mean, the catch and kill operations obviously were to be helpful to Donald Trump. Were you in your reporting able to figure out why? What was the motivation? Or was there a revealed motivation from AMI to be so helpful? It`s just they`re political allies or was there something more to it?

TWOHEY: Right, so the relationship between the Pecker at AMI and Trump goes back to the `90s. They`ve enjoyed a close relationship. And it`s also, you know, and since then there has been additional reporting that has showed that David Pecker and AMI has benefited from its relationship with Trump. If Trump was able to basically get the AMI to help cover up damaging stories about him and to also promote negative stories about Hillary Clinton, that he in turn -- right, that AMI, that David Pecker in turn may have received some benefits from his close relationship with the White House, especially when it came to business pursuits that he was pursuing with the Saudis.

And so -- but, you know, listen, Trump is not the only person on whose behalf David Pecker has done favors and has like waded into sort of questionable -- and question whether or not a illegal tactics to help benefit them.

REID: This story is just getting more and more interesting by the day. Megan Twohey, thank you both. Asawin Suebsaeng, thank you both.

And up next, amazing new reporting from The Washington Post about a virtual pipeline of undocumented immigrants to find work at Donald Trump`s properties.


REID: So the thing that defined the Trump presidential campaign, more than anything else, the thing that most bonded him to the Republican base, was the notion that he would finally stop illegal immigration, that he would literally build a wall to stop those people coming in through the southern border, that he felt the same way about those brown line cutters that they did. In fact, Trump said so himself again just this week.


TRUMP: No issue better illustrates the divide between America`s working class and America`s political class than illegal immigration.


REID: Well, new reporting from The Washington Post shows just how much of a lie this entire foundation of Trump`s presidential campaign and presidency have been.

Thanks to some great shoe leather reporting from The Post, we now know that Donald Trump`s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey had a virtual pipeline of undocumented employees coming from a little town of Santa Teresa de Cajon in Costa Rica.

David Farenthold, one of the reporters on that amazing story, joins me next.


REID: Reporter David Farenthold of The Washington Post has been tenaciously covering the Trump family businesses from Mar-a-Lago to Bedminster, New Jersey, where he and his colleagues at The Post recently uncovered at the Trump National Golf Club has been employing a pipeline of undocumented workers, many from the same small town in Costa Rica.

And joining me now is David Farenthold, political reporter at The Washington Post, and MSNBC political analyst.

And the headline of your piece, all -- "My whole town practically live there." That is the headline of your piece. Tell us how you found this town in Costa Rica, and how many people there are actually working for Donald Trump?

DAVID FARENTHOLD, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, this started back in December when The New York Times wrote about one woman who was an immigrant who was here in the U.S. undocumented and was working for President Trump at his Bedminster course. By talking to her, by talking to her lawyer, we heard about this much bigger picture, there were so many more people who worked in that course in landscaping, housekeeping, and other functions, who were undocumented, and we heard this amazing thing that there was actually a town in Costa Rica where they had come from, and some of them gone back to.

If you just went there, you could find you can find all these houses, all these lives built on money made illegally at Donald Trump`s course. So my two colleagues, Josh Partlow (ph), and Nick Miroff (ph), both former foreign correspondents, went down there to this down, Santa Teresa de Cajon, and as you said, it was there.

They talked to all these people who had mementos, photos, shirts, evidence of their time at Trump`s club and they talked about how, as you said, there had been this pipeline that started small and group, pretty large bringing dozens of people from that area, from Costa Rica, to work at Trump`s club.

REID: I guess like people would wonder was how wouldn`t somebody in the hospitality business know? I mean, eVerify exists. It`s used very widely in the hospitality business as in the agricultural business. Were any of these people ever -- did any of these clubs use eVerify?

FARENTHOLD: Some of Trump`s clubs do use eVerify, but this one does not. And as you said, that is sort of most obvious easy step. If you were Donald Trump the private businessman before he got into politics, and you really, really cared about illegal immigration, you thought it was immoral for people to give jobs to illegal immigrants, that was the readily available step for him to take to make sure he wasn`t contributing to that problem himself. He did not.

In fact, we talked to some of these workers who said it was obvious to their managers at the clubs, sometimes they even said it to their managers, said it in front of their managers that they were undocumented, nobody took any action at all.

REID: And what happened -- and what has happened to these workers? We know that there have been some instances where people who are undocumented have been quickly fired and hustled out the door, because Donald Trump -- it`s bad for messaging. What`s happening with these people?

FARENTHOLD: Starting with that New York Times story in December, the Trump organization seems to have done a real purge of its gold courses where they`ve gone and done a review of documents. In many cases, these are documents that the club has had on file for 10 years or 15 years. They are looking at those documents that have been in their files the whole time, discover these people are all undocumented and fired them.

So, there has been firings at lease five clubs, including Bedminster. But, remember, this is winter. And in winter time, golf courses, their staffs shrink from a few hundred down to 20 or 25. So, in some cases at one club in New York, Trump board has fired half of the entire winter time staff because they were undocumented.

The real test for them is going to be this summer, how do they find that pool of labor if they can`t use illegal workers?

REID: Yeah, and what are they going to pay them? You found undocumented workers at Bedminster earning less than $10 for licensed heavy equipment work that would pay $51 to $55 an hour, is that what your reporting finds this is about money?

FARENTHOLD: Yeah, and the workers, they paid these folks -- the wages they have paid to these folks who were incredibly small. As you said $8 an hour to operate heavy equipment to the illegal workers with no benefits, compared to what would have been $51 to $55 an hour for a legal American licensed worker operating the same equipment with benefits.

There`s a huge savings here. And you see the incentive to not look very hard to accept documents that you think may have some problems. You save so much money.

If the Trump organization is going to go all legal next year at all of its gold clubs and really try to screen out undocumented workers, their labor costs are going to go way up.

I`m really interested to see how that affects the whole business.

REID: Right. And your reporting also said that the head of security at Bedminster was actually told that there were workers that were potentially working there with illegal documents.

FARENTHOLD: That`s right.

So, one of the things the Trump organization has said in the last few weeks was, well, we didn`t know. We didn`t know there were all these people working for us. They fooled us.

Well, we found this police report from back in 2011 where a Bedminster PD cop is called to a hit and run at the course. The suspect is an undocumented immigrant who works at Trump`s course. The cop discovers all this and tells the head of the security, look, your employee here -- I`m here because you have an employee who was in this accident and was here undocumented. Nothing seems to have happened after that.

REID: Wow. David Farenthold, great reporting. Thank you so much. We really appreciate you joining me tonight. Thank you.

That is all for All In this evening. You can catch me this weekend on 10:00 a.m. Saturday and Sunday morning for AM Joy. The Rachel Maddow Show starts now.