The impeachable offense of abuse of power. TRANSCRIPT: 3/4/19, All In w/ Chris Hayes.

Guests: Chris Murphy, Alyssa Mastromonaco, Ted Lieu, Gabe Sherman, AngeloCarusone, Aisha Moodie-Mills, Wajahat Ali

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

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CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight on ALL IN.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  We`ve seen abuses of power in obstruction of justice threats to the Mueller investigation.

HAYES:  Brand new allegations of Presidential abuse of power as Democrats begin to lay groundwork for impeachment.

NADLER:  We can`t depend on the Mueller investigation for this.

HAYES:  Tonight, the Trump orders to block a media merger.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I`m going to regret this speech.

HAYES:  And the vast probe Democrats are launching into corruption, obstruction, and abuse of power by the President.  Then --

TRUMP:  Do we love Sean Hannity by the way?

HAYES:  Blockbuster new reporting on the cable news channel running America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sean Hannity and Trump speak regularly almost every night after his show.

HAYES:  Gabe Sherman on the President`s symbiotic relationship with Trump T.V.

TRUMP:  Thank you to my very good friend Rupert Murdoch --

HAYES:  And as the Democratic presidential field swells --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We`re facing a crisis that threatens everything we stand for.

HAYES:  Why the 2020 primary is actually two races rolled into one.

SEN.BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  We`re not going to concede one state to Donald Trump.

HAYES:  When ALL IN starts right now.

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HAYES:  Good evening from New York.  I`m Chris Hayes.  After two years it does get harder and harder to be shocked by the ways this President tries to abuse the power of his office.  The latest example nearly revealed by The New Yorker is truly an appalling violation of the country`s democratic principles.

According to the magazine, the President pressured his administration to intervene in a proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner, the parent company of CNN whose coverage the president regularly attacks.

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TRUMP:  CNN is fake news.  I don`t take question -- I don`t take questions from CNN.  CNN is fake news.  I don`t take questions from.  John Roberts of Fox.  Let`s go to a real -- let`s go to a real network.

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HAYES:  The New Yorker reports that in the summer 2017, the President summoned then-economic advisor Gary Cohn and then Chief of Staff John Kelly into the Oval Office saying I`ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing`s happened.  I`ve mentioned it 50 times and nothing`s happened.  I want to make sure it`s filed.  I want that deal blocked.

Cohn reportedly told Kelly as they left, don`t you dare call the Justice Department.  We are not going to do business that way. 

But here`s the thing, the Justice Department did sue to block the murder.  We don`t know if the President`s order is having to do with it.  According to reports at the time, DOJ was actually demanding AT&T sell CNN as a condition for the deal.

Ultimately, a federal judge ruled in favor of the merger over the Department of Justice`s objections.  This would not be the first time the president tried to use his power to retaliate against coverage he doesn`t like.  Witnesses many tweets attacking the Washington Post and its owner Jeff Bezos along with the salacious coverage and alleged blackmail attempt on Bezos by the Trump allied National Enquirer.

It`s the kind of thing you might expect in countries where the press isn`t free, where the rule of law as weak, and strong men can do whatever they want.  And it is also completely consistent with the president`s behavior throughout his time in office marked by frequent attempts at abuse of power only tempered by how often they seem to be stymied.

His requests James Comey to let Michael Flynn go, his public browbeating of Jeff Sessions over Sessions recusal and his refusal to investigate the president`s political foes.  His insistence that his son-in-law get a security clearance even after Jared Kushner was flagged by intelligence officials as a danger, and then his repeated lying about it.

The abuses of power have become so routine as to be banal like for instance the President`s tweet just this Saturday just touting his Scottish golf course as a benefit diplomacy with the U.K.  He`s using his position as president to promote his private business right there in that tweet right in front of all of us.  That is on its face and abuse of power.

Many of these abuses don`t qualify as prosecutable crimes but they`re exactly the kind of conduct that the impeachment process was designed to address.  You know, after this show on Friday night, I had a conversation with Elizabeth Holtzman, former member of Congress who sat on the House Judiciary Committee when it introduced articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.  And Holtzman told me something that`s been sticking in my head ever since.

She said we`re all too focused on the president`s potential crimes as defined by the U.S. Criminal Code, but that`s not she said, what impeachment is about.  There were crimes Nixon committed she said, that weren`t in the articles of impeachment and there were articles of impeachment that probably could not have been prosecuted as crimes.

The way Holtzman and her colleagues looked at it, high crimes and misdemeanors were abuses of power committed from on high, from the lofty perch of the Oval Office.  And that`s what`s now at issue in the case of our current President Donald Trump.

Fudging your assets to avoid taxes as Michael Cohen just alleged may be a crime but maybe it`s not impeachable, probably not.  On the other hand, it may not be a crime to send the Justice Department after media outlets that you don`t like, but it might be a high crime or misdemeanor in the context of impeachment.

Just so happens that the current chair of the Judiciary Committee, the same committee that Holtzman sat on, the one responsible for starting the impeachment process sees things in very similar terms.

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NADLER:  Crimes and impeachable offenses are two different things.  They can be crimes that are not impeachable offenses and impeachable offenses and not crimes.  They`re just two different tests.  So we can`t depend on the Mueller investigation for this.  The Mueller investigation, number one, we don`t know when it`s ending despite lots of rumors.  Number two, it`s focused on specific crimes, and we have to focus much more broadly.

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HAYES:  Under Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee is now launching a massive investigation of the President requesting documents from 81 entities and individuals close to him.  And they`re targeting the exact category of conduct that yielded articles of impeachment against Nixon, abuse of the president`s power.

To help understand what that category means, how we should evaluate this president, I`m joined by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Senator, I`ve already seen colleagues of yours including Chris Van Hollen expressing their shock and dismay about the reports about the president lobbying his administration to file suit to block that merger.  What`s your reaction to it?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT:  Well, I think as you correctly pointed out, this is a long line in abuses.  The fact of the matter is it may be that that merger was worthy of high level of scrutiny whether or not it was because of the malevolent motives of the president, but it`s just more and more proof.

Listen, you`ve got -- you`ve got a couple different avenues here.  You`ve properly identified impeachment as a means by which you can try to control a president who has gone far afield of ethical norms, but you can also take powers away from him that were granted to him through the legislative process.  Approval of mergers would be one of them.  You could -- you could put more boundaries around the President`s ability to influence that decision.

Right now in the Foreign Relations Committee, we`re talking about sanctioning Saudi Arabia because the President has refused to do that, has violated the law and not given us a report on the culpability of the Saudi regime that he`s required to do.

And so Congress can also take steps to just handcuff the President, to take powers away from him, to do more ourselves if we find that the abusers are maybe short of impeachment but still worthy of being addressed.

HAYES:  You know, you just mentioned Saudi Arabia.  I want to follow up on that because that`s a place in which you know, Jared Kusner is meeting with MBS.  He has the security clearance granted by the president over the objections we now know of almost everyone in that White House including intelligence agencies, his chief of staff and his White House Counsel.

And new reporting that the body of the Washington Post columnist that was apparently hacked to death was burned in an oven at a Saudi diplomat`s home, and a briefing today that you walked out of frustrated that you got no more information.  Where is the administration, where are we on this situation?

MURPHY:  So we had another briefing on the Khashoggi murder behind closed doors briefing today that was so devoid of any relevant information that the chairman of the committee, Jim Risch who`s been a reliable supporter of the president asked all of us Democrats and Republicans to stay behind after the briefing was done to talk about what to do next.

And I think there`s a growing sense on this issue from Republicans and Democrats that Congress is going to have to take the reins of the U.S.- Saudi relationship ourselves because the President is unable to get it right.

Now,1 we are going to do everything in our power to try to figure out why Trump has the Saudi relationship so backwards.  We`ve got an emoluments lawsuit in court right now that may seek to divine whether the president has financial connections.  Clearly the House will have some ability to find out those answers as well.

But as we try to explore those links between the President and the Saudi government, Congress may be in the process of just taking back some of the reins of foreign policy and you know, that`s probably a good thing for the long run of democracy anyway.

HAYES:  Here`s another example of that right?  So when you`re talking about abuse of power, how to rein in a President who many feels abusing power.  The vote now that the House kicked off to essentially withdraw the President`s declaration of emergency about the southern border, something that seems facially preposterous since he said he didn`t have to do it himself.  It now looks like the Senate has the votes to pass that revocation of the emergency declaration.

MURPHY:  Yes.  And you know, Rand Paul who maybe isn`t always the best vote counter in the United States Senate claiming today that there are at least ten Republican votes which you know, gets you a little bit closer to a veto-proof majority.

You know, listen, again, there are so many different ways that you can check a president the Free Press checks the president, the Judiciary checks him, and Congress checks him.  But you are also right that the ultimate check is impeachment.  And what know is that the President`s behavior has already crossed the threshold of what was brought for impeachment before the House in the Nixon administration and the Clinton administration.

In fact, he crossed those thresholds in the first weeks or months of office.  And so that is another means if these other means fail to control this president.

HAYES:  You know, in all of those cases right, so when you`re talking about it may be an override on the Saudi sanctions, you`re talking about possibly getting to a veto override although I think that seems unlikely in the case of the national emergency declaration or were you to talk about removal of film office pursuant to impeachment in the House.

You know, those all require a degree of bipartisanship.  They do they require essentially margins that so far have been very difficult to muster except for a few Russia-related pieces of legislation.  I guess the question always is, is that changing?

MURPHY:  Well, I think that that`s why somebody like Mark Warner who`s the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee was you know so careful to try to you know, maintain bipartisan agreement as they went through their Senate investigation.  Because he knew that if they uncovered something impeachable, if Mueller did as well, he needed to be able to still work with Republicans.

I also think that we all overestimate some of the informal ways that Republicans check this president.  I complain just as much as everybody else does about their general silence.  But I think Mitch McConnell and others have made it pretty clear behind closed doors to President Trump that if he actually did try to fire Mueller that there would be consequences.

HAYES:  Right, yes.  It`s a good point.

MURPHY:  And I think the only reason that Mueller is going to be able to deliver a report that I think will ultimately see the light of day is because Republicans have quietly made sure that he gets to do his job.

HAYES:  All right, Senator Chris Murphy, thank you for your time tonight.  For more on how the president tries to abuse his administration`s power, I`m joined by Alyssa Mastromonaco, former Deputy Chief of Staff and Assistant to President Barack Obama.  She has a new book out So Here`s The Thing: Notes on Growing Up, Getting Older, and Trusting Your Gut.  And MSNBC Legal Analyst Nick Akerman, former Assistant Special Watergate Prosecutor.

Let me start with you Alyssa.  Imagine a situation in the Oval Office that the President decides to reach into some antitrust questions for the Justice Department to go after say Fox News or 20th Century Fox because he doesn`t like what they`re reporting about him.

ALYSSA MASTROMONACO, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF AND ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  That would never happen.  You know, I think about it when I listened to Senator Murphy speak.  The first day -- first or second day we were in the White House, the president was very clear that we serve the people not his post-presidency or anything like that.  And so when we talk about sort of what Trump -- whatever his offense is, he`s putting his own wealth and his own success ahead of the American people.

HAYES:  And in this case maybe even his own grudges about the coverage, right?

MASTROMONACO:  Right.

HAYES:  I mean --

MASTROMONACO:  He`s putting his ego, he`s putting his wealth, he`s putting everything above that of the American people including those who voted him in.  This this revelation today you know, it`s -- there are few things striking about this one, Nick, is one is at the time the big question was, was this done for improper reasons?

I mean, that was the first line in all of the coverage of it.  And number two we`re just finding out about now.  And number three it does seem to be an abuse of power on its face.

NICK AKERMAN MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  It does.  I mean, this is actually no different than what happened in Watergate.  This is history again repeating itself.  Back then, there wasn`t AT&T, it was ITT, the International Telegraph and Telephone company where there was a similar allegation about a misuse of power with respect to a merger in a whole series of items with IT&T.

I mean, even the Attorney General who succeeded John Mitchell who went to jail and was convicted of obstruction of justice, Richard Kleindienst pled guilty to lying to Congress about his dealings with ITT.

HAYES:  About his intervention in their case on behalf of the President.

AKERMAN:  Yes, exactly.  So this is not something new.  I mean, this is the exact same thing that happened 45 years ago or more.

HAYES:  Are you -- when Chris Murphy says that he already crossed the threshold for impeachment in the first few months, I mean Chris Murphy`s not a you know, sort of wildly out there in his rhetoric.  Does that surprise you to hear that from the U.S. Senator?

MASTROMONACO:  No.  I do think that people have for the most part been pretty measured.  I personally don`t think impeachment is a good thing.  It`s not good for the country, it`s not good for the Democrats.  I think that it`s always better for a president to be voted out than it is --

HAYES:  Why do you think that?  Why do you think it`s not good?

MASTROMONACO:  In this case, I think -- and other instances it`s maybe different but I think that the way just in the speech that Trump gave at CPAC, that the way that he tries to really beat his base is dangerous.

HAYES:  Because why>

MASTROMONACO:  Because he incites them.  He gets them all worked up.  He says that the people who don`t agree with him are their enemies, that the press is the enemy of the people.  Those are not I disagree with you and you disagree with me statements.  Those -- that is him inciting action.

HAYES:  So you think there`s -- the impeachment precipitated some kind of crisis for the country.

MASTROMONACO:  I do.  I do.

AKERMAN:  I would agree with that to an extent, but I think it depends on what Mueller finds.  If you get a situation just like you have with the Stormy Daniels where you`ve got Individual Number One as the conspirator in chief -- and that comes up in the Russian matter where he is shown to join that conspiracy to release documents during the campaign with the Russians, then I think your impeachment territory.

MASTROMONACO:  I totally agree with you.

HAYES:  But let me push back on that because I mean, part of the point here right, is it like the abuses of power have happened.  They`re happening in front of our face all the time.  What is the check on that other than the fact which I guess you can arguing on the other side is that the only check is that he seems pretty incompetent in abusing his own power and can`t quite get people to carry out his orders.

MASTROMONACO:  He`s not subtle.  He doesn`t really have -- right, he doesn`t have the skill set.  I think it`s almost that exact thing though that he`s doing it in plain sight.  And so, it`s not that -- you know, some of it is definitely hidden, but some of what he says it`s just so outrageous and obvious, and says to the public that I think that maybe the average person thinks, maybe it`s not that bad.  Like if he`s saying it out loud, maybe it`s not that bad.

AKERMAN:  Yes.  But at the end of the day, this is a political process, impeachment.  You not only have to get a majority of the House which you could to vote articles of impeachment, but you have to get two-thirds of the Senate which means you need a number of Republicans that feel strongly enough that what he`s done is off the charts.

HAYES:  To remove him -- but there`s also the case -- there`s also a case we made -- I mean, and people made this -- have made this case in the previous -- in the -- in the three previous instances in the case of Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, very, very different fact patterns in all of those cases, that part of it is just defending constitutional principles.  Like the president going around saying you should prosecute my political enemies is a kind of redline thing that needs to be fought against.

AKERMAN:  But that`s what Nixon did.  He had an enemies list.

HAYES:  Right.  I know.  But I`m saying, this guy is --

AKERMAN:  But he was not going to be impeached for that.

HAYES: Right.

AKERMAN:  He was going to be impeached because he was trying to use the CIA and the FBI to cover-up the Watergate matter.

HAYES:  So is the question here like efficacy?  Like the president is not as good at abusing his power?

MASTROMONACO:  Yes.  I mean, I just think -- I actually think he`s not that smart.  And I think that he is  --I mean even from the security clearance process you know, the fact that we talk about oh he was -- he gave Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance.  Top-secret, we`re overlooking the fact.  Top secret is not even adequate for what he`s doing.  It`s not the highest --

HAYES:  He did not give him the highest clearance --

MASTROMONACO:  He did not give him the highest clearance.  He doesn`t have codeword clearance.  Like he doesn`t -- it`s -- but that`s the thing.  We`re like oh, he gave him a top-secret clearance but that`s not even half of the story.

HAYES:  But -- well then, what does that say to you about this presidency and how it does or doesn`t work?

MASTROMONACO:  I think that it is a chaotic whirlwind of garbage that we can`t possibly keep up with.

HAYES:  Right.

MASTROMONACO:  You know.  And then and when you look at the things that he`s doing, it`s like well, I mean, do I really care that much about Jared Kushner`s clearance?

HAYES:  Right.  But this gets us back to this thing and I seen this defense and I think you were going increasingly see this defense which is that essentially what we`ve seen it already marshaled in favor of the President as allies in Russia and we`ll see it now which is that essentially they`re too incompetent to rise to the level of committing serious offense.

AKERMAN:  Yes, but they haven`t been that incompetent.

HAYES:  That`s my point.  Yes.

AKERMAN:  I mean, absolutely not.  When it comes to Russia --

HAYES:  The DOJ brief got filed for the record.  It got filed.  He may have rancid 50 times and Comey has said yes, I do, but someone got it done.

AKERMAN:  Right.  It got done.  We don`t know how it got done and that`s going to be an investigation and hopefully we`ll find out what that was about.  But if it is true that he conspired with the Russians, that they were able to help on the campaign, that he agreed to and take away the sanctions in return for that, I mean -- and keep it -- you know this -- to this point, where it hasn`t been totally revealed, that`s pretty amazing.

HAYES:  Well, that I will agree.  I would also say that we just learned this thing about the order of Cohen now.

MASTROMONACO:  Right.

HAYES:  Right?  Not everything leaks at the time it`s happening.  Alyssa Mastromonaco and Nick Akerman, great to have you both.

MASTROMONACO:  Thank you.

AKERMAN:  Thank you.

HAYES:  Next, Democrats take the first real steps towards potential impeachment today launching an extensive investigation that President, the people around him from Donald Trump Junior to the NRA.  Congressman Ted Lieu on who his Judiciary Committee wants to hear from and why in two minutes.

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HAYES:  Today Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee unleashed an incredibly sweeping and wide-ranging investigation into President Trump and his many associates.  The opening salvo in an inquiry that seems like it will very likely move towards impeachment at some point.  So this is it.  This is the thing Democrats said they were going to do in which the President really fear which is to legally compel document production.

Now, they are not subpoenaing yet but they can.  And reading through the list of 81 people in organizations is like reading a compendium of presidential scandal, corruption, and abuse of power.  Like Viktor Vekselberg, remember that guy, the Ukrainian born Russian oligarch who showed up at Trump`s inauguration and whose investment firm just happened to pay Michael Cohen $500,000 through the same LLC that Cohen used to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels.

That`s Viktor Vekselberg.  Or Rhona Graff, Donald Trump longtime executive assistant at the Trump Organization who has been asked to turn over among other things all documents related to the contents of meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.  It`s been pointed out that while Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Jared Kushner on the list, Ivanka Trump is noticeably absent.

Politico though reporting tonight "it also won`t be the only document requests.  Chairman Jerry Nadler staffs said another round of letters will be going out soon and cautioned against reading into why some people didn`t receive letters on Monday.

Joining me now one of the members of the Congressional Committee behind the new investigation Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California.  What can you tell us about the logic of this list?  What unifies it?  Why these names and these entities?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA:  Thank you, Chris, for your question.  Let me first say that I hope our investigation exonerates Donald Trump.  I don`t want to think that our president is a crook but I fear that our investigation will not that.  We`re going to take the facts whoever it may lead us and we`re going to leave no stone unturned.  This is just a first salvo of 81 organizations and individuals that we want to get documents from.

And with regard to Ivanka Trump that you mentioned, I just want to note that running a business into the ground is interesting, I`m not sure that`s a crime.

HAYES:  Let me -- let me ask you this.  The argument that you are seeing from folks and allies of the President, Devin Nunes for instance, is that essentially there`s no collusion they haven`t found collusion and so they`re just going to go rooting around all of the president`s other stuff.  This is Nunes saying there`s no collusion.  All these investigations are in search of a crime.  Democrats have no evidence to impeach President Trump, ridiculous.

What do you say to the argument that this is fundamentally not a fact- finding mission but politically motivated where the facts are being reverse engineered around what you already feel about the president?

LIEU:  Based on public reporting, Donald Trump`s Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort colluded.  He gave the Russians internal polling data and he was working with the Russians based on the public reporting.  So the question of whether Donald Trump knew about what was happening, we don`t know yet.  The special counsel has not concluded his investigation, but it is a limited investigation Mueller`s investigation.

They just want to know did someone commit a crime related to Russia and appearance.  The House Judiciary`s oversight mission is far broader.  We want to know that Donald Trump or his associates or family members commit any crime.

HAYES:  And is that -- do you think about crime -- to go back to what Gerald -- Jerry Nadler was saying, and what Elizabeth Holtzman told me, do you think about crime in the sense that the U.S. Criminal Code?  Do you think about crime in terms of wrong actions?  Do you think about it in terms of the constitutional provision about high crimes and misdemeanors vis a vis impeachment?

LIEU:  Those are great questions.  So first of all, we want to know that Donald Trump, his family or his associates commit any crime.  Second, we want to know, did they commit any unethical misconduct whether or not it rises to the level of a federal offense.  And third, how do we prevent this from happening again and would it be transparent with American people.

If it takes us to impeachment, we`re going to go there, if it doesn`t, then we won`t go there.  But we have to build a record and share this with American people before we decide how to proceed.

HAYES:  How much are you willing to go to the map my.  Understanding is these are voluntary requests at this point.  Sometimes these are second letters that have been sent because they were sent in the minority.  But at a certain point, there`s a question about how much do you fight this?  Do you issue -- does the chair issue subpoenas?  Do you go to court over this etcetera?

LIEU:  It will depend on each individual company.  If you look at the letters we sent, they are not mass form letters.  They`re very detailed individual letters to companies and individuals with very specific requests related to their own set of facts.  And based on what we send out, we hope to get a lot of documents back.  And if people don`t want to send that, then we will negotiate with them.  And then if we have to, we will start looking at subpoenas.

HAYES:  Should we expect when you look at this list of individuals, you know, everyone from the NRA to Hope Hicks and Sean Spicer used to work there, too the Trump campaign itself, to Eric Prince who`s implicated in possibly trying to set up this back-channel and this sort of obscure meeting in the Seychelles.  Should we expect that these are also people that are going to come before the committee or be compelled to do so at some point?

LIEU:  So we want to talk to all these individuals.  At some point, we certainly want their documents.  Some of these individuals were like before a public hearing, some we can simply interview either with members or with our staff.  Again, it depends on the individual.  I`m glad you mentioned Hope Hicks.  So let`s give an example of Hope Hicks.

She lied to the American people basically saying repeatedly that Trump had nothing do with Russia and his associates, had no meetings with Russia.  What turns out now that that was just a lie and we want to know well, did Donald Trump tell her to lie, what does she know about, what happened, what kind of orders was she given or did she just make this stuff up at the time?

So that`s why we have all these individuals that we want to talk to because we want to connect the dots and really put out a narrative as to what happened, why it happened, how we prevent this from happening again.

HAYES:  All right, Congressman Ted Lieu who`s on the Judiciary Committee, thank you for taking some time.

LIEU:  Thank you, Chris.

HAYES:  Coming up, new reporting on the lengths Fox News went to ensure Donald Trump won the election and the codependent relationship between a cable news channel and the President of the United States.  Those details right after this.

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HAYES:  We have long known that Donald Trump and his allies were absolutely terrified of Stormy Daniels telling the world about their alleged sexual encounter with Trump.  And we know that because they went to extraordinary lengths to keep Daniels from telling that story with the famously tight- fisted future president even arranging for $130,000 hush money payment shortly before the election.

Today, we learned more about a second part of that effort.  Jane Mayer reporting in The New Yorker that Fox News knew about the alleged sexual encounter and the hush money payment before  the election, but killed the story their own reporter found in order to protect Trump.  It`s a story that Oliver Darcy of CNN first reported last year, but Mayer adds some new details.  She reports that in killing the story, the then head of Fox News.com, Ken LeCourt (ph), told the reporter Diana Falson (ph), quote, "good reporting, kiddo, but Rupert wants Donald Trump to win, so just let it go."

Rupert, would of course be Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch.  LeCourt (ph) denies making the comment, but does not deny killing the story, which did not break until a year after Trump became president.  LeCourt (ph) told Mediaite, the he didn`t do it to protect Donald Trump and insisted the story, which we now know to have been true, was nowhere near being something that would have passed muster, echoing a comment from Fox News last year.

The network declined to comment on Mayer`s new reporting.  The decision to kill the story came in October 2016, which you might remember also happens to be when The Washington Post published the Access Hollywood tape in which the president boasts about sexual assault.  Particularly in the context of that tape, the Stormy Daniels story could have been devastating for then candidate Trump, but because Fox News killed the story and the president paid hush money, the Daniels` affair did not get out until after the votes were cast.

Joining me now is MSNBC contributor, Fox News specialist Gabe Sherman, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair; and Angela Carusone, president of the liberal watchdog group Media Matters.

Your reaction on the new detail here from Jane Mayer, and you`re cited in this piece and quoted in the piece on them actually just spiking it with those terms.  Like Rupert wants him to win.

GABE SHERMAN, VANITY FAIR:  Can we just all revel in the fact that a Fox News producer saying a story doesn`t pass muster on a network that spews misinformation and lies every day, so that on its face shows you the lengths that they went to cover up to help Donald Trump win.

But we knew that in 2016 that there was this sort of alliance after Trump got the Republican nomination that Fox News was going to become what ultimately became state TV, that`s what the audience wants.  They were beholden to the Trump base, which formed basically the entire Fox News audience.  They had no power, even if they wanted to break with Donald Trump, that would be game over for their business.

HAYES:  You mean marketwise.

SHERMAN:  Yes, marketwise.  You know, back during the campaign when Megyn Kelly was feuding with Donald Trump, Fox News producers would see her ratings going down and other hosts` ratings go down when they aired critical segments of Trump.  The audience just did not want to hear it.

HAYES:  Angelo, that gets us to the relationship as it exists today, which Jane Mayer goes into in some detail here as well.  It`s described as symbiotic, it`s sort of a partnership.  It`s almost impossible to distinguish the White House operation now run by Bill Shine, the Comms operation who used to run Fox News and was Roger Ailes` sort of second in command and the White House itself.

ANGELO CARUSONE, MEDIA MATTERS:  Yeah, no, and I think just to underscore that, just to give one example, there was a time last summer where the Fox & Friends segment was actually an entire package built around one of the claims in Donald Trump`s tweet.  Donald Trump tweeted about that segment, seemingly disconnected from the fact that he was even the source of it, which I think was just amazing.  And it really gets to the...

HAYES:  He tweeted about the segment as if like oh here is some new information I just learned in my morning shows.

CARUSONE:  Correct.  And I think -- and I think to me, you know, that goes to show how difficult it is sometimes to tease out really who`s leading who.  But it gets to what I think was one of the key takeaways here, aside from the fact that it was more of a propaganda operation and that is that Fox is sort of afraid of its own audience too now.  So could they stop even if they wanted to?  And it doesn`t seem that way.

HAYES:  Well, that`s what happened during the shutdown, which was really interesting to me was at a certain point he`s trapped in a corner.  His approval ratings are going down.  Like it`s really bad politically for him and there`s no way out.  So he sort of cuts his losses.  And then it`s like you watch the Fox machine whir into gear to essentially defend it and sell it to a base that they`re both mutually scared of.

SHERMAN:  Yeah, yeah, exactly.  And you`re basically -- and, you know, this is why just looking at the Cohen hearing the other day, you know, what`s so dangerous about those is people can see these events with their own eyes.  And in moments like that, the Fox News machine has to  basically try to convince the audience, don`t believe what you are seeing, this is the reality in which we think you shouldn`t have it.

HAYES:  You know, there`s sort of a bunch of stuff in the article as to where precedents might be for this, and obviously there have been relationships between media moguls and executives and heads of state and people in power for a long time.  Is this new and distinct what we`re seeing in the last two years to your mind, Angelo?

CARUSONE:  I think it`s very important that, because there`s always been so much criticism of Fox News, right.  And I think it`s -- one of the things I think is really, really important to make sure we articulate now is that it`s not just the fact that they`re biased or the other critique about Fox is that they sort of became a political operation, this is very different and distinguishable and that it`s actual aligned propaganda, and that gets to what Gabe was mentioning before, the ability to completely transform reality for the key viewer, Trump, and the audience.

And the other example was last summer, you know I think just to rewind, when the Mueller was first appointed, in the 40 days after that, Jay Sekulow, Donald Trump`s lawyer, was on Fox News every single night.  He was practically Sean Hannity`s co-host.  That affects the ability for that -- I mean, this is the world we live in now, it`s different.

SHERMAN:  One other point I want to make is this is not just about politics, this is about big  business, right.  Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who controls Fox News, has a personal relationship with the president.  The Democratic congress might want to find out what favors, potentially, did the Murdoch family get because of this access.  I`ve reported in the past that Trump asked Rupert Murdoch to submit names for the FCC chairman.  Close Murdoch associate told me that, in fact, Murdoch - - Rupert Murdoch reached out to Donald Trump and asked if his ex-wife, Wendy Murdoch, was a Chinese spy.  And the allegation is that Murdoch -- that Trump talked to the intelligence agencies about her connections to the Chinese government.

HAYES:  Have you reported that?

SHERMAN:  Yes.  I mean, that`s what sources are telling me.  So...

HAYES:  Wait, but has that been in print yet?

SHERMAN:  No.

HAYES:  Wait, say that again.  I want to make sure I understand this.  The allegation is what?

SHERMAN:  That sources close to Murdoch told me that in a conversation with the president, he asked him if the intelligence agencies could look into whether his ex-wife was a Chinese asset.

HAYES:  And this is in the context of a divorce between the...

SHERMAN:  Yeah, they have already been long divorced.  But this was just, you know, saying, hey, this is my ex-wife, could you look into that.

HAYES:  That`s a crazy thing.

SHERMAN:  Yeah.  Now, I don`t know if Trump actually did follow through on that, and as Jane Mayer reported, Trump also, you know, vented about we should get the Justice Department to stop the CNN merger.  Nothing was followed up on that.

But the fact that these conversations and these mutual relationships are happening is something that crosses a line from just access journalism to whether there is an abuse of power.

HAYES:  Yeah.  And the conversations happening, which we know are just documented between Murdoch and (inaudible).

But let me just say one more thing, Angelo, because you talk about the propaganda.  I will say that having watched Fox News in 2003 and the run up to the Iraq War, that was state TV then, too.  I mean, it would have made North Korean programmers blush if you go back and look at what they were doing to sell the war at that point.

CARUSONE:  That`s true.  But the one thing I would point out that that makes that a little different is that a lot of places got sort of -- were sort of fell into the trap of bringing on military...

HAYES:  Everyone was broadcasting propaganda.

CARUSONE:  Yeah, I feel like unfortunately in that case that was more of a collective problem instead of a specific one.

HAYES:  All right, Gabe Sherman and Angelo Carusone, thank you both for being with me.

Still to come, how Democrats can distinguish themselves in an ever-growing field of presidential candidates.  In tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two starts next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  Thing One tonight, huge news about Trump TV that we haven`t gotten to yet, they have dumped one of their most powerful thinkers.  No, not Brian Kilmeade, this guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEBASTIAN GORKA, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER:  The era of the pajama boy is over January 20th, and the alpha males are back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Yes, the era of Sebastian Gorka at Fox News is over.  Gorka says he simply decided not to renew his contract with Fox, but the timing is terrible.  He just gave that amazing please boo speech at CPAC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORKA:  That is why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez...

(BOOING)

GORKA:  ...has introduced the Green New Deal.  They want to take your pickup truck.  They want to rebuild your home.  They want to take away your hamburgers.  This is what Stalin dreamt about, but never achieved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  I`m not sure Stalin was dreaming about your burgers, but Gorka is, as was, to be fair, like half of CPAC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA:  With this Green New Deal, they`re trying to get rid of all the cows.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS:  Let me say I support cows.  I hope to see PETA supporting the Republican Party now that the Democrats want to kill all those cows.

JERRY FALWELL JR., LIBERTY UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT:  As far as those cows you mentioned, I`ve got 100 cows.  You just let Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez show up at my house and try to take my cows away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I love cows, Jerry, they`re delicious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Welcome back to cow talk.

Trump Jr. loves him some cow as does his father, especially the kind you can get through a drive-through window.  That`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  The North Dakota State Bison are the FCS title winners in college football.  Now FCS used to be Division I-AA and usually that doesn`t quite warrant a presidential visit.  But Donald Trump`s new thing is to summon large groups of elite athletes to the White House and feed them piles of healthy fast food.

He first did this, of course, with the NCAA Division I championship winners, the Clemson Tigers.  His reasoning was that the government shutdown had closed the White House catering operation, but there was no need for a cover story today, just a giddy president and a small mountain of room temperature Big Macs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  We had the Clemson Tigers here and I did the same thing.  We could have had chefs, but we got fast food because we know what -- I know you people very well, OK.  And I`m going -- I`m going to finish this quick, because we`ve got to get that stuff, although it`s being kept pretty warm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  I know you lunking hunks of meat.

The president, whose idea of patriotism is to literally embrace the American flag as he did in CPAC on Saturday, just couldn`t stop talking about those great American burgers today, even though there was no exactly a mad rush for the fare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  And then we weren`t going to do this, because I`ve never done that before, before Clemson.  But we were during a shutdown and we had nobody working.  And somebody suggested -- I said, yeah, but we don`t have people working.  But the staff is so good, they would have come back.  But I said, you know, don`t worry about it, fellas,  let`s just go get some McDonald`s, Wendy`s, Burger King.  We have -- we like American companies, OK.  Chick- fil-a, they say.  Chick-fil-a.  Go grab yourself something we can eat right here.  In fact I would have one right up here, but I don`t think I want to do that because it will be too big a story for these people. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  As more and more candidates announce their intentions for 2020, we have an announcement of our own here tonight.  I will be hosting MSNBC`s very first town hall of the election season two weeks from tonight with 2020 hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand.  We`re going to meet in the all-important state of Michigan Monday March 18th to talk to some voters, take some questions, as the Senator from New York makes her case to be the Democratic nominee for president.

We`ll have more details in the coming week, including ways for you to come see it live if you`re in Michigan, so check back with us often.

Gillibrand is part of a field that so far includes governors, senators, mayor, and even private citizens, all of whom are trying to distinguish themselves as voters figure out who to back.

How the White House hopefuls figure that out is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  The newest entrant to jump into the presidential race this week, two term Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.  He follows another two-term governor, Jay Inslee, of Washington State who kicked off his presidential campaign on Friday.

And on Saturday, Bernie Sanders officially got things started the second time after his announcement video with a campaign rally in Brooklyn.  And there`s a report out today that former Vice President Joe Biden is trying to get his fundraising in line before announcing his much anticipated run himself.

And as the field expands, I think it`s helpful to think about the Democratic primary as essentially two different contests.  One is policy focused, a kind of ideas primary in which different constituencies and interest groups and voters will debate what Democratic priorities are from universal health care, to college affordability, to meeting the civilizational challenge of a warming plant.

The other race is candidacy focused, and candidate focused, where 2020 hopefuls are going to have to figure out a way to distinguish themselves in order to stand out.

To talk about the tension between these two different contests, how it all might play out, I`m joined by Aisha Moodie-Mills, she`s a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School of Institute and Politics, and Wajahat Ali, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.

Aisha, what do you think about this thinking about this very, very crowded field along these two axes, what -- there is a sort of substance to the policies, which I think are kind of like tugged at an fought over, and then there`s like -- what is you`re pitch to breakthrough the noise when there is maybe two dozen candidates?

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL OF POLITICS:  Yeah, well, so, here is the thing, there was a poll that just came out that showed that Democratic primary voters actually most of them want people that have substance and some big bold exciting ideas, so it`s not just so much about which candidate can beat Trump, which is kind of resist mode that we came into 2018 on with those wins.  So, I think that this conversation around policy ideas and who has the biggest proposals that are really going to captivate the imagination and talk about where we go is actually going to be fun for the party to explore.

HAYES:  So, wait, let me just follow that, so you think actually those sort of policy ideas end up being a kind of like distinguishing aspect in this competition?

MOODIE-MILLS:  Sure, they do.  I mean, so many people are running on progressive ideals, but they`re going to have to distinguish themselves about how they get some of these policies passed.  You`re seeing people double down on economic disparities and figuring that out, you see people double down on climate change, you see people talk about Medicare for All.  I think that those are going to be driving factors, because a lot of lip service has been paid and these ideas, and now the voters are looking to see, well, who actually got a plan to get this stuff done and are stimulated by that conversation.

So, I think that that is really going to play out in a way that is fruitful for the party.

HAYES:  Waj, I thought Inslee`s announcement and sort of the way that he is pitching his campaign is interesting.  Because he really is just saying I`m a climate candidate, like I`m a -- this is the one issue that`s the most important issue by far, it`s the one that I`m focused on, it`s the one I`m running on, you don`t often see candidates sort of do that, and it`ll be -- it`s interesting to me as a way of shaking up the race, or sort of forcing different kinds of conversations.

WAJAHAT ALI, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Yeah, that Hickenlooper/Inslee ticket, that`s -- the kids are tweeting about that, raving about that ticket. 

Look, the good thing about Inslee, though, is he probably doesn`t have a chance in hell, but I do hope that whatever candidate actually takes the ticket actually takes his lead on climate change, that`s very impressive. 

I think you need policy.  Look, this is what shouldn`t happen, we don`t need a remake of 2004 and have this milk toast, mushy, you know, vanilla yogurty appeal to this invisible centrist, right, this magical unicorn, Rust Belt voter, the real American who drinks real coffee and has real economic anxiety, what you need is a bold progressive vision.  You need to be aggressive about it, double down on it.  And communicate that well.

I`ll give you one example, AOC talked about this, AOC, who is taking our hamburgers, if she takes our fish burgers, the Muslims will rise.  But AOC, the 70 percent tax on the 1 percent, right.  For the first week everyone was like this is insane.  She communicated it, and then Fox and Friends viewers actually supported it, and the hosts went apoplectic, right, they went crazy.

So because it was that raging socialist Dwight Eisenhower, that was his policy, by the way.

So, you need a bold progressive vision, number one.  And you also need the right messenger, Chris. Look at 2018 mid-term election.  People want to see a representative democracy, women, people of color, and that`s my slight concern about Biden and Bernie Sanders and Trump that 2020 is going to be like the ticket of Ben-Gay versus Vicks VapoRub versus Metamucil, not trying to be ageist, but at the same time, I am concerned as a person of color that I want to see that type of representation and that message, that progressive message boldly stated by messengers who look like the rest of us.

HAYES:  Aisha.

MOODIE-MILLS:  Yeah, the representations absolutely going to matter, and because we have such -- this is the most diverse presidential field ever, the message is also going to matter.  And I think that we`re going to look at some of these candidates who are diverse and try to figure out like where their platitudes stop and their real policy ideas start.  And that`s going to be the trick, because right now it`s nice to look at the picture of kind of the big umbrella tent of the Democratic Party and everybody will be standing up on the stage looking pretty and looking reflective, but then when people open their mouths we`ll actually start to see how deep folks are.

HAYES:  Yeah, it`s a great point, because there is a bunch of different vectors, right, so there is sort of policy and substance, like what are you campaigning on?  There is the sort of representational question, there`s the sort of just political charisma and being able to break through in terms of the message.  And I think, Waj, to your point, I think what we`ve seen so far is like left, liberal, sort of progressive ideas are pushing the agenda right now, but I think we`re going to start to see Hickenlooper`s entrance, maybe with Biden, people sort of self-consciously trying to go after a more sort of moderate or centrist perspective, because I think there`s perceived room there.  What do you think?

ALI:  Which is a huge mistake, because the American people are actually more liberal than the Democratic Party.  I mean, look at the platform, right, people want to combat climate change.  They want gun control.  They want to combat income inequality.  They want affordable health care.  This is very popular.  And look at the mid-term elections, 40 Democrats won.  That blue wave turned into a tsunami.  And I know this poll came out that said 46 percent of Americans love Donald Trump and people are freaking out, look, another way of framing that, Donald Trump should have low 60 percent approval rating with this bullish economy.  The most he`s ever gone is 40s, right.  He is a weak candidate.  He only one by 70,000 votes in three states.  So, they should bold, they should be hopeful, they should communicate that message, and be unapologetic about it.  And hope Biden, whoever else does not just court this mystical unicorn centrist voter.  That would be a mistake.

HAYES:  I think that -- I think perception is the president`s strength will actually end up doing a lot about how people think about what kind of risks they can take, which I think will be an interesting, complex dynamic as it plays out over the next two years.

Aisha Moodie-MIlls, Wajahat Ali, thank you for joining us. 

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