Democrats investigating whether Whitaker lied. TRANSCRIPT: 02/19/2019, All In w. Chris Hayes.

Guests: Richard Blumenthal, Barbara Boxer, Harry Litman, Tom Hamburger, Stacey Abrams, Michelle Goldberg, Alicia Menendez, Joe Bruno

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: February 19, 2019 Guest: Richard Blumenthal, Barbara Boxer, Harry Litman, Tom Hamburger, Stacey Abrams, Michelle Goldberg, Alicia Menendez, Joe Bruno

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sanders` challenge may be steeper though. He`s got a solid floor of support. The question now is whether his detractors in the Democratic party will succeed in building a low ceiling over that floor. That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ask acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to change the leadership, the investigation into your former personal attorney Michael Cohen?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, not at all.

HAYES: "The New York Times" report Donald Trump attempted to interfere with the Cohen investigation.

TRUMP: I know who gave you that.

HAYES: Tonight, new reporting on the President`s attempt to place an ally in charge of the investigations into his company and his inauguration.

ANDREW NAPOLITANO, CONTRIBUTOR, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: That is an effort to use the levers of power of the government for a corrupt purpose.

HAYES: Then --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think the President is a threat? Is that what that means?

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, FBI: I think it`s entirely possible.

HAYES: New reporting on the FBI`s secret plan to protect the Trump-Russia probe. Plus --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I`m Bernie Sanders, I`m running for president.

HAYES: What`s different this time around as Bernie Sanders enters the race. And the latest from the election fraud hearing in North Carolina and Stacey Abrams on today`s voting rights hearing.

STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, GEORGIA: Let`s be clear, voter suppression is real.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Good evening coming to you from Los Angeles California all this week, I`m Chris Hayes. After two-plus years of the Russia probe, it gets harder and harder to keep track of all the many ways the President has tried to discredit, undermine, and outright obstruct the investigation into his own conduct and the conduct of his associates.

A new account of those efforts published today by New York Times reveals yet another previously undisclosed attempt by the President to interfere with investigators, perhaps his most brazen to date. This one aimed not at the special counsel but at the federal prosecutors in New York in Southern District, the ones who indicted the president`s former lawyer Michael Cohen.

As those prosecutors were building a case against Cohen late last year according to The Times, the President made a call to his newly installed acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally could be put in charge of the widening investigation according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.

Berman, an appointee of the Trump administration or at least his favored candidate there is recused from the Cohen probe which has been overseen by Berman`s deputy who is a career prosecutor. And that office has come the closest so far to directly accusing the President of committing a crime identifying him in effect as an unindicted co-conspirator in Cohen`s campaign finance felonies.

Now, we don`t know what Whitaker did with the President`s request to intervene. There`s no evidence that he tried to follow through. But according to The Times, Whitaker privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to "jump on a grenade for the President." Interesting definition of the role. He also said that prosecutors in New York required "adult supervision."

Either way, this new report appears to contradict what Whitaker just told Congress in sworn testimony under penalty of perjury.

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MATT WHITAKER, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: I can assure this committee that before appointing me to this position, the President did not ask for and I did not provide any commitments, promises concerning the specials of counsel`s investigation or any other investigation.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Did the president lash out to you about Mr. Cohen`s guilty plea?

WHITAKER: No, he did not.

CICILLINE: Mr. Whitaker, did the president lash out to you on or about December 8th, 2018 to discuss the case before the Southern District in New York where he was identified as Individual One?

WHITAKER: No, Congressman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: The Times reports that House Democrats are now examining whether Whitaker who`s reportedly still working at the Justice Department may have lied under oath. Asked today about The Times` allegation, the President denied it unequivocally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ask acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to change the leadership, the investigation into your former personal attorney Michael Cohen?

TRUMP: No, not at all. And I know who gave you that. That`s more fake news. There`s a lot of fake news -- there`s a lot of fake news out there. No idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Those comments brought to mind another unequivocal denial by this President back when news of those hush money payments by Michael Cohen first got out. Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payments to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. What else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to her allegation?

TRUMP: You`ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you`ll have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Flat unequivocal denial and we now know the president was lying through his teeth. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is also the former attorney general of that state. He`s been calling out the president`s obstruction in plain sight. Senator, what do you make of The Times reporting tonight?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: This Times report is an absolutely stunning, petrifying tableau of an unrelenting effort, a brazen attempt by this President to interfere with the rule of law with his own law enforcement agencies on a scale that is unprecedented. In fact, the effort to obstruct justice that is part of a pattern and practice here indicated by corrupt intent is unprecedented.

And this new information about the attempt to persuade Matthew Whitaker to put Geoffrey Berman, his acting United States attorney in charge of the Southern District investigation is as deeply troubling as any news that we have seen.

Remember, Geoff Berman recused himself because he was a Trump campaign contributor. He engaged in a one-on-one interview with Donald Trump before he took this job. He was a former partner of Rudy Giuliani and there were very solid reasons why Berman as a confidant of Trump or at least connected to him should not be in charge of this investigation and why Trump wanted him to be in charge of the investigation.

HAYES: I should note, Senator, if I`m not mistaken, I believe that the Times reporting on this is slightly erroneous insofar as the recusal didn`t come from Berman but from a senior Department of Justice official which is why he was taken off that case. But I take it by your comments that you do not -- you believe the Times reporting, you did not believe the President`s denials and do you think Whitaker was truthful in his testimony your colleagues in the House?

BLUMENTHAL: Whitaker was at best misleading and deceptive. Whether he committed perjury is something that we still don`t know for sure at this point. and the House properly is considering whether or not that should be referred.

But there is clearly an effect of Trump`s attacks on the Southern District, on the FBI on the Department of Justice, on the rule of law because it undermines the morale of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. It has an impact on their credibility when they testify in court and when they interview witnesses.

So this kind of pattern and practice of attacking law enforcement is really the kind of reporting that is so powerful from the Times.

HAYES: Let me ask you -- I want to give -- present a glass half full, glass half empty interpretation of the facts as we now know them. The glass half empty is that the president has undertaken this very public and private assault on the independence of the Department of Justice in every possible way. He tried to get sessions to resign. He tried to get Berman placed back in that position so he can control the investigation. And this is all bad news for the rule of law and the independence of the Justice Department.

The glass half full is he hasn`t succeeded, right? The Southern District of New York proceed with this investigation. Whitaker apparently didn`t act on this. The orders to fire Mueller were rejected by his White House Counsel. Do you take some -- the system is working solace from the facts as we know them?

BLUMENTHAL: You know, Chris, that`s a really important point and all too rarely made that these professionals, dedicated law enforcement officials of the Department of Justice and the FBI come to work every day, they do their jobs despite the demoralizing effect of the President`s denunciation of law enforcement. Think for a moment of any other president who is engaged in this constant attack on these dedicated professionals but they are continuing to do their job.

That Southern District of New York investigation is going to move ahead and represent an even greater threat do this President, maybe then the Mueller investigation. But that Special Counsel in Greece is going forward as well. There is revelations about Roger Stone and his connections to WikiLeaks and to the GRU indictment. This mosaic is beginning to fill out and walls are closing in on Donald Trump despite emphasized -- despite his efforts to obstruct.

HAYES: All right, Senator Richard Blumenthal, thank you so much for making some time tonight.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

HAYES: The latest New York Times bombshell report comes just as we`re learning more from former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe about how the obstruction of justice probe into the president got started. Now, there`s this from The Associated Press reporting the FBI had a back-up plan in place to save evidence in the Russia probe in case the president intervened.

For more on what`s happening inside that Hoover Building in Washington where the top brass was under siege from the president, we turn to the FBI`s former Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi who worked with Robert Mueller for years. Frank, your reaction the reporting in the A.P. that there was a kind of dead man switch secret plan in place to make sure things were preserved should the president go ahead and basically try to get rid of everyone working on that investigation.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, FBI: So it`s troubling to hear that FBI officials have to actually think like that and have a contingency plan but it`s not surprising at all that they did. That`s the planning that goes on in government. You learn about continuity of operations, continuity of government.

There are always plans for building takeovers on where you`d store material and what safes and how you could preserve data within a network if necessary so not surprising to me. Disturbing of course that that kind of discussion had to even take place.

HAYES: How -- you know, as you listen to McCabe and as you look at "The New York Times" reporting which puts both new reporting and a lot of things we already knew sort of in one place, there`s a -- there`s been complicated and in some senses fraught relationship between the FBI in the White House for years. Obviously, J Edgar Hoover running the place for years in collecting blackmail on all sorts and political folks, the sort of complicated ways in which the DOJ is and is not independent.

Where -- what you`re learning now, where does that rate in the scale of sort of precedented unprecedented?

FIGLIUZZI: Yes, The J Edgar Hoover times were times that we would not want to repeat but we almost have that going on in reverse, Chris, right?

HAYES: Interesting.

FIGLIUZZI: We had -- we had allegations that Hoover was getting the dirt on officials even perhaps wiretapping certain members of the public or civil rights activists and storing that way and using it politically. So he was making a political animal out of the bureau in his own way. Now the tables have turned and we have the White House saying the FBI is politicized or at least forcing the FBI into a political posture that it clearly does not want to take.

So it`s troubling because when our institutions are eroded by allegations of bias, politics, when certain officials screw up, do things that cause the public to think twice about whether there`s objective of investigation going on. It`s very troubling and it erodes our institutions.

HAYES: Did you ever have a situation where you when you were at the FBI were so worried about the White House essentially cutting you off that you would have taken the kinds of actions that we`re now learning about in greater detail?

FIGLIUZZI: I think that`s what is so shocking about all of this is that what we`re hearing, what happened here, what we`re hearing from McCabe and many, many others is unprecedented right? So these short answer, Chris, is absolutely not did I ever go home at night and say you know what, I think the -- I think the White House might try to close my case. You know what, the White House has completely ignored the intelligence we presented today, the White House it may fire me because they don`t like what I`m saying to them in terms of there`s a threat that I`ve identified. Absolutely not.

HAYES: All right, Frank Figliuzzi, thank you for sharing your knowledge, expertise, and experience with us. I appreciate it.

FIGLIUZZI: Sure.

HAYES: For more on the legal and political implications of what we learned tonight from New York Times I`m joined right now here on set by former Senator Barbara Boxer, host of the Boxer podcast and former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman, Contributing Columnist for The Washington Post. I`ll start with you Senator Boxer.

One of the -- one of the new details in this piece as well, you know, we watched the president berate Jeff Sessions in public which I don`t think -- have you ever seen anything -- I mean, that was -- that itself was bizarre and unlike anything that I had ever seen in politics. Have you ever seen that happen?

BARBARA BOXER, FORMER SENATOR, CALIFORNIA: Oh no. And it`s his attorney general -- by the way, the first I think senator to support him. So he turned on him because he`s not used to having anybody say anything you know, that he doesn`t agree with. And so he has no idea of what democracy looks like. He has a lust for power. And anyone who stands in his way even in the smallest of ways is going to get trouble.

HAYES: You know, it`s funny you say that because if you read The Times article and clearly that you know, they go to the White House for comment. The White House sort of puts -- lobbies what their justification is. And there`s essentially two justification, Harry. One is well look, he was doing it all in public so it`s not a conspiracy right? And the other is that essentially that`s just Trump being Trump. He doesn`t actually understand propriety which is a weird -- excuse the behavior of the man.

HARRY LITMAN, CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, not only weird but you would never think it -- you would think it as a non- starter except one of the interesting aspects of the Times report is it`s kind of longitudinal sweep and events that back when McCabe was first documented them seemed stunning, unprecedented. Everything that Frank talked about have become oh, that`s a good old President Trump now and with this bizarre feature of it being somehow as if it`s domesticated.

HAYES: Right. He has normalize the behavior. He really has through repetition in public -- and being public about it.

BOXER: Well, not to most people I know. I mean, people seriously are calling me. People who were very political and not so political, ordinary people who never paid that much attention who kind of trusted me when I was in office, they`re just horrified at all this. So I just don`t think it`s true. I think there`s an angst in the country and this is not normal but it`s hard to know exactly what to say about it except this.

If you look at history and if you look at tyrants through history, the two things they set out to do is in plain sight, in plain sight is go after the press, OK. They want to control the media or turn the public against the media and take it over and go after the system of justice because then they have an enemies list and there it is.

This president -- and I mean, this is my last point because I know I can`t go on. But the fact is this president kind of sends a signal to the Supreme Court as to what he wants his appointees to do. That is a quid pro quo as far as I`m concerned.

HAYES: Totally. Yes, it`s a great point. It`s similar to the way he cannot -- it`s almost he`s incapable of understanding independent sources of authority and power. You know, like this -- by the Supreme Court of Justice. I did want to just to two pieces of in that Times piece which I want to sort of introduce the record one new and one old which is mind- blowing.

So one the new one is that he basically calls Corey Lewandowski and tries to get him at some point to lobby Sessions to resign which apparently is a bridge too far for Corey Lewandowski sense of propriety. And then the other one which is --

BOXER: Hooray!

HAYES: Right. Again, the system working I guess. The other thing -- and this I think relates, Harry, I`d like to hear you talk about it is the idea that these pardons were being dangled or discussed or they`re there in the air somehow in conversations the president`s lawyers are happening with two individual Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn.

LITMAN: Yes. That part had not been reported with the kind of clarity that the Times really nails it on. And yes, it`s a very troubling scenario. As you say, dangling is really is the right word. It looks suspect arguably criminal if you just have the trade but there`s something even worse about saying on the Q.T., if you straighten up and fly right, there`ll be a pardon for you at the end of the day because then is all sort of hidden from view.

HAYES: And part of that too -- I mean part of the issue here and this I think is going to be ultimately what the Congress is going to have to deal with is that pardons are within the powers of the president, firing the FBI director, all these things are within the powers of the president and the argument that his defenders are making, Senator, is that look, if the president can do this, then he can do this.

BOXER: Well, look, the president has certain powers but he also oversteps a lot of his powers and we have a legal beagle here to tell us there even are restraints on pardons at some point. But we are witnessing something that is legal issues. I read that New York Times story. I printed it out 13 pages, can you imagine. And it documents this is not -- this is how many times he`s gone after the press, how many times he has done, all these things to attack you know, the FBI and all the rest. Yes, it just goes --

HAYES: Knock it on the door, know it on the door.

BOXER: Look, if he was stepped out here at the studio and somebody was beating someone up in plain sight, yes, they`re in plain sight but they`re beating a person.

HAYES: Right.

BOXER: So let`s not say because he`s doing this in plain sight, it`s OK. It`s horrible. And it even shows that he has no sense of what again democracy looks like.

LITMAN: I`m not even sure -- I`m not even sure he knows what it means for someone to be recused. I don`t know if he knows what the law is in many events but he`s just got ammo from back in the you know, New York dirty days that he -- that he simply applies. And he has drawn blood. I mean, I take your point that all in all the system has bent and not completely broken, but the -- there`s been an impact of these attacks on the FBI, DOJ as well.

HAYES: Barbara Boxer and Harry Litman, great to have you both here in studio.

BOXER: Thanks.

HAYES: Next, House Democrats open investigation after whistleblowers telling them about the Trump administration`s plan to transfer nuclear technology to the Saudis. The reporting on that incredible claim in just two minutes.

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HAYES: It is legitimately difficult to remember all of the many scandals that involved former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, of course pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and who is now cooperating with the Mueller investigation. One of the scandals that`s faded a bit from memory involves what Flynn was doing on his phone while he was in the crowd during Trump`s inauguration on that very first day.

According to a whistleblower who spoke to House Democrats back in 2017, Flynn had been texting a former colleague about their plan to work with Russia to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia.

Now, there`s a law preventing the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology to foreign governments without a very careful process for obvious reasons. That process never happened. Yet according to a new report from the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee who cite unnamed whistleblowers, Flynn`s proposal never died. In fact, it was discussed in the Oval Office as recently as last week.

The whistleblowers say that there has been an ongoing effort to rush the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia with parties standing to make billions of dollars from constructing the plants in closed and repeated contact with President Trump and his administration to the present day.

Top officials including former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster have repeatedly objected to their efforts citing legal issues and concerns about possible conflicts of interest and national security, a national security risk inherent in potentially handing Saudi Arabia the technology it needs to possibly build a nuclear weapon.

Washington Post Investigative Reporter Tom Hamburger has been reporting up the story all day. Tom, welcome.

TOM HAMBURGER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.

HAYES: All right. First I guess let`s start with what are the concerns about the deal that have been raised by whistleblowers and the House Democrats in their report?

HAMBURGER: Chris, there are a series of them that show up in this report starting with concerns about the process. The members of the National Security Council according to this report objected that General Flynn and some of his allies on the National Security Council, other political appointees were pushing this plan and they were concerned about it because General Flynn, they thought might have a financial interest in the pursuit of selling nuclear power plants to the Middle East.

And so their first concern was one about a conflict of interest. They were also concerned about whether the procedures were following the atomic energy laws which require very strict review of any distribution of nuclear technology, the countries overseas, and they were concerned that these review process and the law was being ignored.

HAYES: Now Flynn, was working for some -- was consulting for or was associated with an organization that was trying to make this deal happen that did stand to financially benefit from it right? That`s established.

HAMBURGER: Chris, it`s everything about this story is complicated, complicated and interesting. In the case of General Flynn, he disclosed on one of his financial disclosure forms belatedly that he was, in fact, advising one of these firms that sought to promote the sale of nuclear power plants to the Middle East.

The firm itself led by a prominent group of generals and admirals has denied that they ever hired General Flynn. It seems to come down to this. General Flynn talked with them about a job, thought it`s significant enough that he disclosed himself as an advisor. He made some trips. The firm says we never paid him.

HAYES: But we also have him -- I mean, the thing that always struck out to me is you know, you`re sitting there, it`s inauguration day. You are about to become the national security adviser to the United States. It`s one of the most important jobs the American government (INAUDIBLE) governing and you`re -- and there`s a guy bopping around in an inaugural event yesterday who says he`s got a text from Flynn saying the nuclear deal is going to go through.

HAMBURGER: Yes. There was this report that the same committee, the -- Chairman Elijah Cummings when he was the ranking member of this committee did distribute that report from a whistleblower that General Flynn was boasting about the opportunities to make money coming in with the inauguration and selling nuclear power plants to the Saudis.

I wanted to add that the person who was identified as receiving those texts denied it at the time. I think the important thing to remember, Chris, about this is not just the historic parts of this report which presents some pandemonium, some arguments and the White House rules being violated, conflict of interest procedures not being followed, but in fact then taking it up to the present day.

This isn`t just a historic investigation. We`re looking at a big question. Should we sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia?

HAYES: And that is still a very much live issue in this White House as we`re learning. Tom Hamburger, thanks for being with me.

HAMBURGER: You bet. Thank you.

HAYES: Coming up, Bernie Sanders is back on the trail officially announcing his 2020 campaign today. The very different field that he`s up against next.

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SANDERS: Hi! I`m Bernie Sanders. I`m running for president. I am running for president because now more than ever we need leadership that brings us together not divides us up. Women and men, Black, White, Latino, Native American, Asian American, gay and straight, young and old, native- born and immigrant, now is the time for us to stand together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: It`s official. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is once again running for president. He got over 13 million votes and raised a lot of money last time around. And after his announcement today, Sanders` campaign confirmed they raised $1 million in just 3 1/2 hours. Senator Sanders also picked up his first endorsement from fellow Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy who endorsed Hillary Clinton last time around. But Sanders is facing a completely different primary terrain from last time.

No longer a binary choice between two dominant candidates. His core campaign issues have also been taken up by lots of other people, and he`s still facing some of the same challenges he had in 2016, including whether he can build a wide enough coalition of all the different parts of the Democratic Party. Sanders will also turn 78 this September.

To explore the campaign`s challenges and Sanders` position in this year`s Democratic primary field, I want to bring in Michelle Goldberg, op-ed columnist for "The New York Times," and MSNBC political analyst Alicia Menendez, co-host of PBS`s Amanpour and Co and contributing editor at Bustle.

Michelle, where -- I think this was largely expected that Sanders would get in the race again. What do you think has changed for him this time around?

MICHELLE GOLBERG, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think just what you said before about it being a binary choice. I mean, Sanders obviously has a hugely passionate following, you know, and has sort of played a major role in reawakening this left wing populist strain in American politics.

But that strain was not responsible for all of his support last time around. You know, there was quite a bit of data, exit polling, that showed that he was getting support not just from people who were to the left of Hillary Clinton, but also people who identified themselves as being to the right of Hillary Clinton. You know, he got -- he did much, much better among white men than he did among women, even though it`s not as if white men are kind of known in this country as being a demographic that is particularly committed to social democracy.

And so it`s not clear to me whether he kind of -- second time around in a much more diverse field, whether he can consolidate all of the support that he got vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton, which even then was not enough to get him the nomination.

HAYES: Right. The point that Michelle made, Alicia, about the sort of -- the very passionate support, that cashes out in money. I mean, he`s already raised $4 million today. And that is not a small thing, because it means that he has this kind of constant source of funding that can keep him in a race for very long period of time and not sort of subject to some of the same economic incentives and fundraising difficulties others might face if they falter.

ALICIA MENENDEZ, CO-HOST, AMANPOUR AND CO: Right. He has money. And he has some infrastructure that carries over for him from 2016. I think the question, as Michelle astutely pointed out, is whether or not he and his campaign staff are ready to address some of the challenges they had in 2016, namely the challenges they had with African-American voters with whom he underperformed wildly and whether they have put a plan in place to address those voters.

You know, and the question of the field more broadly. As you said, this is a very different field than the one he was in before. And I think the question is in entering this race, do the hard core Bernie supporters have a chance to support him if he goes on and he wins the nomination, that`s one thing. But if he doesn`t, does that give them an opportunity to have some sense of closure and to turn to some of the other candidates who are expressing a lot of the same policies -- Medicare for all, debt free tuition in public universities, and actually give them a chance feeling that, you know, the process has worked this time around.

HAYES: Yeah, that`s -- Michelle, that`s a big question about -- you know, the victim of his success in some ways in terms of the sort of issue agenda. You have some like Elizabeth Warren, you know, who has got a wealth tax, she had this comprehensive child care provision that she put out yesterday that makes the differentiation a bigger challenge I think it`s fair to say for Sanders this time around.

GOLDBERG: Right. And, you know, one critique of some of these candidates is will some of these candidates are kind of late in coming to positions that Bernie Sanders has been supporting for his entire career. I don`t think you can say that about Elizabeth Warren who has been, you know, entire public career has been about taking on consolidated corporate power, you know, the excesses of financial capitalism.

HAYES: You know, we should also say that he -- at least he hired think it`s an interesting hire Faiz Shakir today, who is -- used to work in Senator Harry Reid`s office, who was also at the ACLU. And I think it`s an interesting hire, because one of the real problems for the Sanders campaign last time around was sort of generationally speaking in a certain kind of mode of -- a certain kind of progressivism, even though he won younger voters, and sort of reaching out past the coalition that he had in Vermont and other places, it`s an interesting hire in that respect.

MENENDEZ: Right. Absolutely. And I think it shows some acknowledgment of where there were shortfalls in 2016. We`ll see if that actually comes to bear as he gets out there on the campaign trail.

I think one of the interesting contours of this is going to be what it means to be a progressive and how Democratic primary voters are evaluating a candidate`s progressivism. So, it stood out to me, for example, that you saw the majority of Democratic candidates who have already announced for president voting against the recent spending bill. And you had Sanders saying I have reservations about it, but I am going to vote for it.

You know, that is the type of issue that we could see become a quote unquote progressive issue out there on the trail.

HAYES: It`s also a great point, because it shows that there`s a kind of latitude that I think that he has from his supporters on these sort of kind of litmus test issues that it will be interesting to see what he does with over the next part of his campaign.

Michelle Goldberg and Alicia Menendez, thank you both.

Still to come Stacey Abrams joins me live tonight.

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

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HAYES: Thing One tonight. Mike Pence is the greatest vice president ever at sucking up Donald Trump. Luckily for the president, Pence never gives anything less than 100 percent performed devotion.

But when the VP takes the act out on the road, well, let`s say he doesn`t quite get the same reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ..proper ingredients from a great champion of freedom and a strong national defense who has worked with these members of congress to strengthen America`s military might and to strengthen the leadership of the free world, I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.

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HAYES: Ooh, on the official transcript to that speak they misspelled silence as applause. True story. It`s in there.

But that happens all over the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: We bring greetings from a friend to every nation gathered here, and a champion of peace and security in the Middle East, I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Hello. I`m sorry. Is this on?

It`s actually a bit painful. I mean, the guy got a better reaction introducing Space Force.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: President Trump will also sign a new space policy directive that will lay out our plans and our timeline to create the new sixth branch of the armed forces, the U.S Space Force.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: A U.S. Space Force update is Thing Two in 60 seconds.

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HAYES: New polling shows that most of the country is against President Trump`s manufactured national emergency, and now 16 states have sued him to stop it, but at an event in the White House today, Trump sounded quite confident that he and his wall would prevail.

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TRUMP: I think in the end we`re going to be very successful with the lawsuit. So it was filed. It was filed in the Ninth Circuit, and I actually think we might do very well, even in the Ninth Circuit because it`s an open and closed case.

I was put here for security, whether it`s Space Force, which we`re doing today, or whether it`s borders.

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HAYES: Space Force and borders. Boy, wouldn`t it by nice if he would just focus on the Space Force. Nobody really knows what the heck it is, but it does keep moving ahead. Today, Trump signed a new directive directing the Pentagon to draft legislation that would establish the Space Force as a sixth branch of the military.

Weirdly, he signed the directive with a giant black magic marker that looks exactly like Mr. Spock`s coffin in The Wrath of Khan, but that is the future.

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TRUMP: It`s the future. Where we`re going. I suspect whether we like it or not, that`s where we`re going. It`s space. That`s the next step and we have to be prepared. Our adversaries, and whether we get along with them or not, they`re up in space and we`re doing it and we`re doing it. And that`s going to be a very big part of where the defense of our nation, and you could say offense, but let`s just be nice about it and let`s say the defense of our nation is going to be.

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HAYES: North Carolina State Board of Elections just wrapped up the second day of hearings into the most outrageous electoral fraud of this election cycle, one that benefited the Republican candidate in the ninth congressional district in that state. The Republican line has been that the absentee ballot discrepancies in that race were so small that they couldn`t have possibly affected the election.

Well, yesterday investigators said this was false, that at least 1,000 ballots were effected in a race decided by 905 votes. Republicans have also insinuated that the man at the center of it all, McCrae Dowless, was a rogue operator who attempted to rig the election without the knowledge of the Republican candidate Mark Harris or his campaign.

Today, the head of a consulting firm hired by the Harris campaign, which paid Dowless $130,000 for his services, said he never knew of any legality, but he said the candidate himself, Mark Harris, was responsible for hiring McCrae Dowless and, crucial, was in frequent contact with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How often would you communicate with McCrae Dowless?

ANDY YATES, RED COME GROUP FOUNDER: It was very frequently. He was somebody who was a needy person who wanted validation to know that Dr. Harris was happy.

My understanding is he was talking to Dr. Harris frequently as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Joining me now is a reporter who has covered this story closer and better than anyone else in the country, as evidenced by the Polk Award he just received for the his work on this today. Joe Bruno, political reporter for Charlotte, North Carolina`s WSOC TV.

Joe, what have learned in day two of this hearing down there?

JOE BRUNO, WSOC TV REPORTER: Chris, thank you so much, first of all, for that compliment. It`s a big deal that Andy Yates testified. This is someone that me and my team have been trying to get in contact for months, calling, emailing, texting him, going to his home and office, so it was great to have him answer some of these questions on the stand today.

Two things that stood out to me, one is he said that there were no red flags, in all of his conversations with McCrae Dowless, nothing stood out to him, that McCrae would potentially be doing anything illegal.

The other thing that jumped out to me is that he says he had no idea about McCrae Dowless`s extensive criminal history, particularly his convictions of perjury and fraud. He said if he knew about that, he would have demanded that Mark Harris remove McCrae Dowless from the campaign. And he even went as far as to say if Mr. Harris refused to do that, that he would have left the Harris campaign, because it`s just not worth it for him to be a part of something like this.

HAYES: My understanding is that he -- the line was that, you know, this -- that Harris hired this consulting firm, they hired McCrae Dowless. His testimony today, though, was that McCrae Dowless was hired before him, right, he preceded him on that campaign?

BRUNO: Yeah, that was new to me as well, because like you said up until this point the impression was that Red Dome hired this McCrae Dowless on behalf of Mark Harris, but today in his testimony he made it very clear that Mark Harris made the decision to bring McCrae Dowless on board before Andy Yates was even involved.

HAYES: Final question, what`s set up for tomorrow?

BRUNO: Two big people that I think that we could see take the stand tomorrow. Mark Harris, of course, and Cynthia Shaw. Cynthia Shaw is the former director of the Bladen County Board of Elections. There have been some allegations about early vote totals, early vote results leaking. She could possibly talk to that.

HAYES: All right, Joe Bruno who has been doing an amazing story of covering this, thank you so much for making some time for us.

When we come back, Stacey Abrams testifies about the real threat of voter suppression. She joins me to talk about that and more, next.

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HAYES: The protection of voting rights is a top issue for Democrats who took back the House last fall. Today, a House subcommittee took a field trip to Atlanta to hear testimony from Stacey Abrams, a Georgia Democrat who lost an incredibly close an suspiciously administered race for governor.

Abrams still hasn`t conceded the race she lost by fewer than 55,000 votes, a race she lost to Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, now the governor, the man who ran the entire election process.

Instead, Abrams formed a political action committee and filed a lawsuit against state elections officials, alleging they grossly mismanaged the 2018 election.

Today, she told the House subcommittee what happened in Georgia last fall was nothing short of an effort to suppress the vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STACEY ABRAMS, FORMER DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR GOVENOR, GEORGIA: incompetence and malfeasance operate in tandem, and the sheer complexity of the state`s voting apparatus smoothed voter suppression into a nearly seamless system that targets voter registration, ballot access and ballot counting.

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HAYES: And joining me now is Stacey Abrams.

I thought that point you made blurring the lines between sort of intent and incompetence was a really interesting one. Elaborate on what your big takeaway from your experience in Georgia was.

ABRAMS: So first of all, thank you for having me tonight.

The incompetence lies in the fact that there was poor management of the machines, poor distribution of resources, poor training of electoral workers, and the malfeasance was the purging of voters, the refusal to follow federal rulings that said that exact match the system of kicking out voters, largely people of color, because of typographical errors that could have been made by one of the bureaucrats working for the secretary of state that he used systems that were in place to intentionally harm voters and then he coupled that with an incompetence that left voter information free for hacking that failed to adequately maintain voter roles. And these pieces merged together into a system that led to thousands of people being denied the right to vote or facing unconscionable obstacles to disturb their ballots.

HAYES: What do you see as some of the federal solutions here? Obviously, you`re testifying before a congressional subcommittee, there`s legislation being considered by the Democrats and there`s still a big part of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court that has yet to be restored.

What are the solutions you see?

ABRAMS: Part of the intent behind the hearings is to lay the foundation for pushing for restoration of section five of the Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice Roberts and his decision basically stated there was no proof of racial malfeasance or reason to continue to oversee elections in states like Georgia. So I think part of the intent behind the sealed hearings is to gather the information and the anecdotal information, but also the testimony to support movement on the Voting Rights Act restoration that Representative Terry Seoul (ph) will be leading.

But I think the larger issue is making sure that there is a national conversation about voter suppression. HR1 is legislation that was introduced on the first day of the congress and that bill should move forward, particularly those pieces that provide uniformity in how elections are administered.

It makes no sense that we have a different democracy, not only in 50 states, but in the state of Georgia in 159 different counties that depending on the state line or the county line that you cross, your right to vote can be hindered by the act of one person or by an incompetent administration of an entire system.

HAYES: How much of is it an inherit conflict when you have a secretary of state who is tasked with administering the state`s elections running himself in a statewide election like was the case in your race?

ABRAMS: I think without question it was not only problematic, it was inherently unfair.

Kris Kobach, who would be accused by no one of being a champion of voting rights or of ethical behavior, he stepped down as secretary of state. And yet the secretary of state in Georgia not only administered the election, he falsely accused the Democratic Party of hacking to cover up his incompetence the weekend before the election and he systematically harmed voters over the course of a decade. He was not only the contestant, he was the scorekeeper and the referee, and there is no equitable system that allows that to be so. It was not fair. And that`s part of our argument.

What I want to make certain people understand is that my push for fair elections will not solve my immediate issue. I will not become the governor of Georgia simply by pushing this issue. The only thing I can accomplish is making certain that going forward, we have fair and just democracy in the state of Georgia and around the country.

There is no outcome that makes me the governor on November 6. And therefore, my only rationale for doing this is to make sure no one has to face what I faced.

HAEYS: What is the political conversation in your state like in the wake of what happened in that election?

ABRAMS: Well, tonight we saw the continuation of a hearing at the state capital. There is a bill that has been introduced by Republicans that includes a concession on a number of the issues that we raised in this election.

HAYES: Interesting.

ABRAMS: And it was not only standing room only, they had an overflow room for state legislative hearing. So you know this is an important issue.

The challenge here is that there are voting machines that are being sought by the governor, which would reward a company for whom his chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, used to work approximately six months ago, and that his executive counsel advised. And so we believe that this is not only bad for Georgia, because it`s a hackable machine that does not protect the vote, but it`s also procurement nightmare where we are going to see self-enrichment on the state level similar to what we are watching happen on the federal level.

HAYES: Wait, I`m sorry, just -- the voting machine contract to acquire voting machines to a company that was represented by the deputy chief of staff for the sitting governor six months ago?

ABRAMS: I believe he was -- I want to be fair about how soon I`ll give him a buffer of six months. It may have been six weeks; but yes, the deputy chief of staff for the sitting governor used to work for the very company that would be awarded $150 million contract if this procurement process is allowed to move forward.

HAYES: All right. Well, that raises some questions. I have some questions hearing about that news. Stacey Abrams, thank you so much for joining me tonight and we only had a few minutes right in this conversation, but this Sunday night, you and I are going to have a full hour. Stacey Abrams will be my guest for a special live recording of our podcast, Why is this Happening? Tickets for this event sold out ridiculously fast, I think because of Stacey Abrams, not yours truly, but we`re going to release the conversation as a regular Tuesday episode for all of our listeners, which means the entire conversation, if you cannot be there live, which most of you cannot be, will be available on Tuesday wherever you happen to get your podcasts. So make sure you subscribe now to Why is This Happening? And I`m going to be able to sit down in New York City for a full hour with Stacey Abrams. We can get into all of the things that have been happening and what your future holds, which is something I`m really interested in talking about as well.

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

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