Democrats grill Homeland Security Secretary. TRANSCRIPT: 3/6/19, All In w/ Chris Hayes.

Guests: Roger Krishnamoorthi, Harry Litman, Melissa Murray, Caleb Melby,Tom Perez, Nanette Barragan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight on ALL IN.

COHEN:  Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it.

HAYES:  Michael Cohen returns with receipts.

COHEN:  In his way, he was telling me to lie.

HAYES:  Tonight, reports of new evidence backing up Cohen`s claims.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have no deals in Russia.

HAYES:  And new reporting on a Trump world campaign to keep Cohen from flipping.  Then, as federal prosecutors investigate the Trump inauguration --

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE:  That doesn`t have anything to do with the President or the first lady.

HAYES:  New reporting that the president was intimately involved.  Plus --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will Fox News get at least one of the 2020 Democratic presidential debates?

HAYES:  The head of the Democratic National Committee joins me with his decision tonight.  And Kirstjen Nielsen faces Democrats --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  When you saw those pictures of babies in cages, what did you do?

HAYES:  And the unanswered questions about child separation.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), MISSISSIPPI:  Are we putting children in cages?

HAYES:  When ALL IN starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did you go how outrageous that sounds?

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HAYES:  Good evening from New York I`m Chris Hayes.  Congress now has the documents.  They have the evidence in their hands as of today, evidence of possible wrongdoing by the White House.  Here`s Michael Cohen wheeling it into his closed-door house Intel meeting this morning.  You may recall that one of the numerous crimes that Michael Cohen is going to prison for is lying to Congress and it`s a specific lie.

That lie the -- when Cohen testified before Congress last week that he consulted with the President`s lawyers about that lie.

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REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D), MARYLAND:  Which specific lawyers reviewed and edited your statement to Congress on the Moscow Tower negotiations, and did they make any changes to your statement?

COHEN:  There were changes made, additions.  Jay Sekulow for one.

RASKIN:  Were there changes about the timing, the question of --

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE:  The gentleman`s time has expired.  You may answer that.

COHEN:  Well, there were several changes that were made including how we were going to handle that message.

CUMMINGS:  Will you finish?

COHEN:  Yes.  So the message, of course, being the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Today the documents, the testimony, and the edits by Trump`s lawyers about the message, the big lie of the campaign no business in Russia, no dealings with Russia, Russia has nothing over me, that is now in the hands of congressional investigators.  And that`s not the only thing.

Tonight, ABC reports that shortly after the FBI raided Michael Cohen`s home and office last spring, two attorneys claiming to be in close contact with Rudy Giuliani who is, of course, Trump`s current personal attorney reached out to Cohen.  And again, according to ABC, the attorneys who have no known formal ties to the White House urged Cohen not to leave the joint defense agreement, the sources told ABC News, and also offered a plan B.

In the event, Cohn opted to exit the agreement they could join his legal team and act as a conduit between Cohen and the president`s lawyers.  Sources said there was an implicit message that if Cohen hired these lawyers, it could preserve or increase his chances of a pardon down the road.  OK.

For his part, Cohen revealed plenty in a statement to ABC about he -- about how he couldn`t comment.  He says, unfortunately, this topic is something that`s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York and I`ve been asked by them not to discuss and not to talk about these issues.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has obtained six more checks that President Trump or his trust paid to Cohen while Trump was president.  Checks Cohen says were reimbursements of course, for the hush money he paid Stormy Daniels on president`s behalf before the election.  And as experts warned, the existence of these checks puts Trump at risk of criminal prosecution once he leaves office.

The Times reports the following.  Some people close to Mr. Trump have privately predicted he will ultimately choose to seek a second term in part because of his legal exposure if he is not president.

Joining now Congressman Roger Krishnamoorthi who`s a Democrat from Illinois.  He sits on both the House Intelligence Committee that heard from Michael Cohen privately today and the House Oversight Committee that heard from him publicly last week and got to ask him some questions.

So the documents your committee got today, what is their significance?  What do they mean for what you can now learn?

REP. ROGER KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS:  Well, thanks for having me on, Chris.  I think the significance of the documents is that they help to corroborate his testimony.  I think that whenever you have written testimony to bolster oral or verbal testimony, I think you just come across as more credible and I think that`s how Michael Cohen came across.

HAYES:  Don`t you think that the -- I mean, there`s a real question about a cover-up here, right.  I mean, there is a -- just a factual question of what edits were made by which lawyers when pertaining to the lie that he pleaded guilty to Congress or relying over.  That`s something that is now fairly resolvable based on the documentary evidence you have in your possession, correct?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Potentially.  I can`t get into the specifics of the testimony as you know in this closed-door setting.  But sufficing to say that the documents do shed light on a lot of these types of questions and I think they also point to why the investigation needs to continue and more witnesses need to be questioned quite frankly.

HAYES:  I want to play for you just because what -- at the center of all this of course, is the President`s contention throughout the campaign back in 2016 that there was no business relationship with Russia at all.  This was a central contention and it was central enough that Michael Cohen chose to lie under oath about it.  I just want to give you a flavor of what the president was saying during the campaign.  Take a listen.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I mean, I have nothing to do with Russia.

I mean, I will tell you right now, zero.  I have nothing to do with Russia.

I have no relationship to Russia.

I don`t deal there.

I have nothing to do with Russian, folks, OK.

I have nothing to do with Russia, folks.

I have no dealings with Russia.  I have no deals in Russian.  I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we`ve stayed away.

I have nothing to do with Russia.  I have -- John, John, how many times do I have to say it.  Are you a smart man?  I have nothing to do with Russia.  I have nothing to do with Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Is it significant that that`s the core lie here?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  I think that definitely seems to be a falsehood based on the three days of testimony that I`ve heard from Michael Cohen.  And you know, during this Cohen trilogy so to speak, you know it`s clear that even in the oversight hearing which was open to the public, you know, the negotiations with the Russians continued not through just January 2016 which was the initial lie, but it continued all the way through June 2016 at the least.

And according to Rudy Giuliani, it might have gone all the way up to the election.  So when President Trump says that he had nothing to do with Russia during the election, I think that`s just a plain falsehood.

HAYES:  I want to get your reaction of this story from ABC.  Again, it`s not independently confirmed by NBC and the details of it are strange.  I don`t even quite know what to make of them.  But the idea I guess is to lawyers approaching Michael Cohen is essentially claiming to be intermediaries of the president`s legal team about essentially coordinating in some way.  Is that something you would like to know more about?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Absolutely.  I`d like to know more about this.  You know, during the Oversight hearing, one question that I asked Michael Cohen is when was the last time that Donald Trump or any of his advisors contacted Mr. Cohen, and he said just a couple months after the raid which is highly unusual timing as you can understand and your viewers can understand.

And so we need to get to the bottom of why that happened.  He wasn`t willing to tell us during the oversight hearing because he said the Southern District of New York is investigating it.

HAYES:  That`s right.  That was -- your line of questioning was the President or his agents basically, when`s the last time you talked right after the raid.  Tell me more about that.  And Mr. Cohen says, I can`t because the Southern District is actually looking into that, which is the same thing he said in responses ABC story.

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Yes, sir.  Yes, sir.  And then I asked the follow-up question which you may have tracked which was, is there any other wrongdoing or illegalities that we haven`t discussed this afternoon that you can tell us about.  And he said, yes.  I asked him again what is it, and he said again, I can`t talk about it because the Southern District of New York is investigating.  So those might be connected, I`m not sure, but we need to get to the bottom of it.

HAYES:  And you have not learned anything further on that specific question since you asked that question at the hearing?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Well, I can`t get into the specifics of the closed-door testimony but I don`t have all the answers yet.  The one thing I can say --

HAYES:  It`s not a no.

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  The one thing I can say, Chris, is you know we and Congress have to get to the bottom of this because unfortunately we can no longer trust that the U.S. attorneys who are operating under the supervision of William Barr, the new Attorney General are actually going to turn over the findings of their investigations just as Mr. Barr has intimated or hinted that he`s not going to turn over the Mueller report which is completely unacceptable in my opinion as well.

HAYES:  All right, Congressman Roger Krishnamoorthi, thank you very much.  For more on the gathering legal storm facing the President are Harry Litman, former United States Attorney and Melissa Murray, a Professor of Law at NYU.  You know, they`re -- it`s like the oldest cliche and it comes out of Watergate about it`s not the crime, it`s the cover-up.

And that was ultimately -- it was the clumsiness of the cover-up the Nixon engaged him that did him in.  And we`ve got two different evidence, pieces of evidence about possible cover-up here, one of them is the lawyers making edits to that document.  How significant is that?

MELISSA MURRAY, PROFESSOR OF LAW NEW YORK UNIVERSITY:  Well, I think it depends on whether when making the edits the lawyers actually have knowledge of what they`re doing right so that they`re actually making the edits for the purpose of shielding information from the public or for encouraging Michael Cohen to lie before Congress.

HAYES:  Meaning -- and this seems crucial, the lawyers themselves could think the truth is that the deal talks stop.

MURRAY:  Yes.

HAYES:  And if that is the case, then it`s less egregious -- in fact it`s not wrongdoing on their part.

MURRAY:  Right.  I mean, it really goes -- what really matters here is what they knew when they knew it --

HAYES:  The lawyers you`re saying?

MURRAY:  Right.  And what they knew when they were making these edits.  And that`s the stuff we don`t yet know.

HAYES:  What do you make, Harry, of this story, the ABC story, two guys approaching Cohen setting this a screenshot at one point of their talks with Giuliani as intermediaries essentially basically saying don`t leave the joint defense agreement, but if you want to, we can kind of be a back- channel which does sound a little like what it looks like may have happened with Paul Manafort.

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Yes.  It`s very kind of cloak and dagger and ham-handed, but just ham-handed enough to be potentially you know, a Rudy Giuliani signature move.  You might think it`s just clever enough to dangle it.  It`s very vague at this point, Chris, and it`s been designed to be very vague.  But obviously what SDNY is interested in is this dangling of pardons.  We`ve talked about it before.

If that`s what they have in mind in terms of sculpting is testimony, that would be an obstruction crime.  If I can just briefly turn back to the other point.  I agree with Melissa, but I think to surmise here is probably Sekulow -- it`s not just Sekulow by the way, it`s Abbe Lowell, the attorney for Ivanka and Don Jr.  They may not know and the -- and remember, the draft they got, Cohen has already said January so there`s a lot of edits but if you look at Sekulow`s statement and Cohen`s, I think they`re probably not directly to the timing.

The real issue here is not what they knew and when they knew it, it`s what Cohen and Trump and others knew and when they knew it about letting this go forward.  It`s quite possible that the lawyers were innocent here but it wouldn`t matter in terms of piercing the communications and learning about the knowledge of the other parties to the like Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and the president.

HAYES:  Well, and that brings us back to the questions that we know the President has already answer from Mueller which may pertain I think they do the ones that we saw materially to this.

MURRAY:  Well, sure.  But I mean, again, while it doesn`t really matter for purposes of the larger conspiracy if you will, if the lawyers would actually know at that time.  It does matter for the purpose of the lawyers are part of the conspiracy --

HAYES:  Right.

MURRAY:  -- which is one of the suggestions.

HAYES:  Possibilities, right.

MURRAY:  Yes.  And I think that`s a big question whether they`re also implicated in this.  Obviously, Michael Cohen is spinning a tale where this branches out and has tentacles that exceed even the president or his immediate family but also the inner workings of Trump world.  And so, the lawyers and what they know I think is actually quite relevant to what he`s presenting.

HAYES:  There`s also the fact -- we`ve now got these checks and there`s this sort of shocking fact that they you know, that the President of the United States, he and his trust are cutting these checks as he`s in -- I mean, as he`s in the Oval Office.  And I guess my question -- this is such a basic question but I want to ask both you.  Like if you are a lawyer anywhere in the vicinity of the President of the United States and knew this was happening, what would you be saying, Harry?

LITMAN:  You know, I`d be -- I`d be too busy having trying to put out the six different fires that happen that day.  I`d be saying, are you crazy and it was -- you know, it felt maybe to Weisselberg to say are you crazy, but you know nothing like evidence.  It just paints this vivid picture of taking a phone call, signing a dirty check, having a meeting, signing a dirty check.

So it`s just got this vividness to it.  But the whole -- this is the follow through on the whole dirty deal, it shouldn`t have been made that way in the first place.  So you know, they should have arranged for somebody somehow to sign the checks reimbursing him.  But they wanted to keep it remember in this small circle.

It`s basically at this point Weisselberg, Trump and Cohen.  And you know, those -- at those -- at that time to Trump our trusted soldiers.

HAYES:  Right.

LITMAN:  Cohen is gone now and Weisselberg, you know, he`s going to get immunity and man he`s not the kind I think willing to take a bullet at age 71 for the president.

MURRAY:  Well, this goes to show that from the beginning this was not your standard political operation right?  This wasn`t operating the way any other White House would have operated.  It was operating like a small family business.  And with the president --

HAYES:  Of dubious -- of dubious legality, we should also know.  Like -- or of dubious compliance, let`s just say.  Like not real compliance nerds up in there.

MURRAY:  This is not what was happening in the Obama White House for sure.

HAYES:  No.  No, I know that for a fact, yes.

MURRAY:  So I mean, again, it`s all a little kind of Sopranos-ish.  I mean if this is not business as usual.

HAYES:  But then the question becomes like what`s the bar, right, for what that trespass means in a sort of constitutional sense in a criminal sense?  In a criminal sense, Southern District has already implicated the President an Individual One in conspiring with or directing these illegal payments.  In a constitutional sense, and you`re someone who does constitutional law, like there`s a Constitution question of like what rises to the high crimes and misdemeanors threshold?

MURRAY:  I mean, again, not clear that this is it.  I mean, we`ve never been in the situation before.  The Constitution doesn`t specifically lay out what would constitute a high crime or a misdemeanor.  But again, the President writing checks to cover up the fact that he`s had affairs with adult film stars probably not something the constitutional framers had in mind.

HAYES:  Clearly.  I think -- I think that`s --

LITMAN:  I would especially say -- I`m sorry, one thing they certainly wanted to see impeachable crimes that`s that in order to gain office in the first place.  That`s famous in the convention.  That`s the George Mason quote.  So remember, this isn`t just paying off film stars, this is to try to rig the election and that is serious.

HAYES:  That -- and this is the key thing to always remember about this election which is what`s been established.  Criminal conspiracies are criminal conduct, two of them in parallel both benefiting Trump.  One undertaken by the Russians and perhaps Americans though we only have indictments of the Russians, one of them undertaken by Michael Cohen and perhaps the direction of others both to the benefit of the sitting president of the United States.  Harry Litman and Melissa Murray, thank you both.

MURRAY:  Thank you.

HAYES:  Next, new reporting tonight on one of the investigations related to President Trump that despite denials from the White House, the president was deeply involved with the inauguration that is now under scrutiny.  I`ll talk to the reporter with the details in two minutes.

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HAYES:  Among the many investigations that Donald Trump and his circle are not facing is the active criminal probe into Donald Trump`s inaugural committee, how it raised a record $107 million and where exactly all that money went.  Federal prosecutors in New York, New Jersey, and Washington D.C. have issued subpoenas as part of an investigation into a range of issues including whether foreign donors illegally donated to the inaugural committee in exchange for influence and political favors as well as whether donor money was funneled into the Trump Organization through inflated fees for rooms, meals, and event spaces.

House Democrats are also investigating.  Now, the White House maintains that Trump himself could not add anything wrong because he just simply wasn`t involved.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS:  On the inaugural committee, that doesn`t have anything to do with the President or the First Lady.  The biggest thing the President did and his engagement in inauguration was to come here and raise his hand and take the oath of office.  The President was focused on the transition during that time and not on any other planning for the inaugural.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  No idea what`s going on, very little interest, totally checked out.  A new report suggests that claim was false.  Bloomberg reporting today that Trump was actively involved in planning the inauguration and fussed over everything from tablecloths to a performance from the Rockettes.  The reporter who wrote that story Caleb Melby of Bloomberg joins me now.  Good to have you here.

CALEB MELBY, REPORTER, BLOOMBERG:  Thanks for having me.

HAYES:  What did you learn about the level of the President`s involvement with the inauguration?

MELBY:  Our sources tell us that he was intimately involved.  As you said, from everything from d‚cor, to the performances, but also, more importantly, we`re told that Tom Barrack, his longtime friend who was Chairman of the Inaugural Committee told staff President Trump -- president-elect Trump wants to know everything about the finances.  And keep that in mind when you`re making your budgets.

And during a lot of those planning meetings, he would call up Trump in real time so Trump could weigh in and help with the decision-making process.  And again, that was on a whole gamut of topics and issues.

HAYES:  What is the decor one?

MELBY:  So there were going to be these white -- really retro white leather tables at Trump`s candlelight dinner and he was shown photos of what those table settings were going to look like and he said he needed tablecloths.  He could not imagine a black-tie dinner without tablecloths, and he got his tablecloths.

HAYES:  I got to respect that.  And the Rockettes, he wanted to make sure they were locked down to perform.  This was like a presidential-elect imperative.

MELBY:  Yes.  As you may recall, they had been announced just before Christmas, but then some of the Rockettes were unhappy about performing for Trump given his politics, they had political differences.  So he was really concerned.  Trump is like the Rockettes for decades.  And --

HAYES:  He`s just found to be the most powerful man in the world just stressing the Rockettes, are they coming to my inaugural party?

MELBY:  They`re great performers.

HAYES:  They are.

MELBY:  And yes, he called to make sure hey, do we -- do we have the Rockettes on?

HAYES:  All right, so he`s consulting on the tables, the performers of Rockettes.  He`s getting -- he`s giving patched-in live to conversations about planning.  Barracks says he intimately connected the finances.  Barrack, of course, says -- I think says he`s cooperating with the investigation.

MELBY:  Barrack has said that, yes, with the House Judiciary in all the subpoenas.

HAYES:  OK, so he`s got subpoenas happening.  Do we know if the president played a role in fundraising which seems like one of the key nexuses here?

MELBY:  We don`t know that yet.  So there was actually multiple fundraising efforts going on at this point in time right?  So there`s the inaugural one which raised a record $170 million.  But the same time there`s like the Trump victory fund, right?  And there`s other -- there`s other teams raising money for other purposes at the same time.

HAYES:  What are -- what do we know about what investigators are looking at with respect to the inauguration?

MELBY:  It`s -- so far, it is incredibly broad.  As you said, they`re looking at how money was raised, who it was raised from, how it was spent in conversations with donors about A, as you said whether or not there was any expectation for anything in return.  And we don`t -- we don`t know where they`re going across that entire spectrum of information.

HAYES:  One of the things we do know though is that in terms of regulation inaugural funds are kind of wild-west, right?

MELBY:  Absolutely.

HAYES:  There are essentially no regulations although obviously bribing people is illegal in any circumstance.  But you can take a son -- you could take any amount of money from anyone that -- as long as they`re not a foreign nationals?  Is that basically the rules --

MELBY:  That`s right.  If they`re -- if they`re a U.S. citizen or a U.S.- based company, its fair game.

HAYES:  And we already also know that at least one foreign individual had a straw purchaser to come to the inauguration right?

MELBY:  Yes.  So Rick Gates who is deputy chairman of the inaugural who had, of course, worked with Paul Manafort on the campaign and before that in Ukraine.  Another one of their associates a guy by the name of Sam Patton uses straw donor to donate $50,000 on behalf of a Ukrainian oligarch.

HAYES:  So there`s just one example but that`s the one that`s been pinned down.  And we do know that Rick Gates is cooperating with federal investigators with the Mueller team, correct?

MELBY:  Yes.

HAYES:  So there may be more to learn from that.  Caleb Melby, thanks for being with me tonight.  I appreciate it.

MELBY:  Thanks for having me.

HAYES:  The DNC has had it with Fox News today announcing the network is barred from hosting any democratic debates.  DNC Chair Tom Perez on the tipping point next.

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HAYES:  In just under two weeks, ALL IN will present MSNBC`s first Town Hall of the 2020 campaign as presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand joins me in Michigan to talk about her vision and take questions from voters.

And then it`s really just around the corner because in June, the first Democratic primary debate, NBC News and sister networks MSNBC and Telemundo will air that one.  CNN will host the second one in July.  After that there will be ten more.  But so far the DNC has only awarded programming rights to those first two.  And it had been a question for a while now whether Fox News would get one of those other ten debates.

That`s even though the network has not hosted a Democratic primary debate in more than a decade.  Here`s what DNC chair Tom Perez said on Fox News last month when asked about Fox News`s chances of hosting a 2020 primary debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL:  You have scheduled 12 democratic debate, six this year, end of this year, six at the beginning of next year.  Will Fox News get at least one of the 2020 Democratic presidential debates?

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DNC:  We haven`t made that decision yet.  We have made the decision on the first two debates and what we`re doing in the first two debates, Chris, is unprecedented two nights making sure we have random draw.  And here`s our goal --

WALLACE:  You know it will also be unprecedented giving us a debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  So thirsty, Chris Wallace.  Well, as of today we know that`s not going to happen.  In the wake of Jane Mayer story about Fox`s efforts to coordinate with and boost Trump including killing a story they had about Stormy Daniels right before the 2016 election because and I quote, Rupert wants Donald Trump to win, the DNC said it has decided against letting Fox News host a primary debate.

In a statement to the Washington Post today, Perez said that "recent reporting The New Yorker on the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News has led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates.  And DNC chairman Tom Perez joins me now.  Good to have you chairman.

PEREZ:  Always a pleasure.

HAYES:  First question I guess is was it really the Jane Mayer reporting?  I mean the Democratic -- the DNC has not given Fox News a debate in long time.  I remember this being a fight ten years ago, the Network was fighting against it.  Did you really need to be tipped over by the Jane Mayer piece?  Was that what did it?

PEREZ:  Well, there were two North Stars, Chris, as we have been preparing for these debates. Number one, I want to make sure that as many people as possible see our candidates, because I believe that our views, our vision command the respect of the majority of the American people, including people who watch Fox News.  People -- Republicans, Democrats, independents have pre-existing conditions and believe that they ought to be able to keep their health care, including people who watch Fox News.  So we reached out to all of the media outlets, including Fox News as we were preparing for  these debates.

Our second north star principles in this these debates is to make sure that whichever network runs them ensures that our candidates are treated fairly.  Now, you had the video before of Chris Wallace.  I have great respect for Chris Wallace, and my concern is not about Chris Wallace, it`s about people above Chris Wallace, because what we have seen now, and it`s been really most recently now in The New Yorker story, is that at the highest levels of Fox News, they`re not playing it straight.  And again, this isn`t about Chris Wallace.  I have respect for him.  But I do not have the confidence that we need to take such an important part of the nomination process, these debates, and trust them to folks who, at the top levels, are consulting Donald Trump before they do anything.  I couldn`t do that.

HAYES:  You know, as the field grows, it strikes me, these debates are extremely important.  I mean, they have this kind of breakout potential.  They will be the subject of tremendous number of eyeballs and attention, lots of people are going to watch them. And we saw, of course, the way in which Donald Trump manipulated that attention, I think, in the Republican primary, to his benefit.

Tell me about the rules that you`re undertaking here to try to make sure that it is an even playing field for all candidates.

PEREZ:  Well, in the first two debates, Chris, we have set forth unprecedented sets of rules.  And you pointed out, by the way, there`s an unprecedented partnership for this first debate, not only NBC, but MSNBC, Telemundo, you can live stream it, however you get your news, you can watch it.

In addition, we have put in place a system whereby it`s not only polling that will determine whether you can get on the debate stage, but also grassroots fund-raising.  So if you raise -- if you can demonstrate that you have received donations from 65,000, at least, unique donors, including at least 200 donors from a minimum of 20 states, that`s another way to get on the debate stage.

And we did that because we want to encourage people to get out  there and talk to the grassroots.  We modeled this after the campaign finance laws of 1971 and we modernized them to fit today`s world. 

And the most -- one of the most important things is, again, if we have 14 people who qualify, we`ll do it two nights in a row and it will be random selection.  We want to make sure people get a fair shake.  And we want to make sure, Chris, that we`re talking about the issues.

HAYES:  Yeah.  Let me ask you a question.  So random selection, right?  So you don`t have the kids` table and the grown-up`s table, right, which was another weird part of the last go-around, because, obviously, it segments things in a certain way.  This is a very technical question, but it proved to be an important one.  Does the person polling at the top get the middle of the stage?  This was -- I think this was a sort of understated part of Donald Trump sort of ability to sort of get the attention in that he was always in the center, because he was always polling with some plurality lead.

PEREZ:  Right, those are the things we`ll work out with you all, but, again, our goal is to make sure that everybody is treated fairly and everybody has a fair shake.  That is what, I think, is going to separate us from what has happened in the past and I think the fact that we`re having that random selection for the first two debates, and we`ll figure out what we`re going to do in September and thereafter, after we`ve had these first two debates, but I think.  And I appreciate that you`re doing these town hall meetings, because I think our candidates are spectacular.  And what I want to do is let the American people see where they are on the issues.

HAYES:  Well, you`re the chair of the DNC, you better think that. 

Why the first two debates?  There`s going to be ten, but the rules do change after the first two.  Is there a reason?  What`s the thinking there?  Is this a sort of, like, let`s see how this goes situation?

PEREZ:  Well, we`ll re-evaluate.  I mean, over the course of time, you need to demonstrate that you`re getting traction.

HAYES:  I see.  I see.

PEREZ:  So in past cycles, you have seen the rules get revised in subsequent debates.  So this is no different than that, because, again, people, our candidates are talking to the American people now, some are going to connect and take fire and these first two debates are going to give them that chance to do it.  And others, for whatever reason, may not do so well.  And that will be what we`ll take a look at the end of July and make an appropriate judgment.

HAYES:  So as the campaign kicks up, the candidates are front and center as sort of avatars of the Democratic Party.  Right now, the congressional House Democrats I think, are, they control a body of government, there`s been a tremendous amount of attention paid to the freshman class, particularly some of the younger members, particularly Ilhan Omar with comments she`s made over the past week that were possibly going to be the subject of a kind of censure or resolution, which now looks pushed back, critics called them anti-Semitic.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who basically makes up about 50 percent of all the Fox programming these days, a good thing or a bad thing for the Democratic Party for attention on this freshman class and these new members of congress?

PEREZ:  Well, listen, I`ve -- I`ve campaigned for so many of them.  I think the entire freshman class is spectacular.  They reflect America.  How many people served in the military?  Look at that.  Look at the diversity, the first two Native American women.  And what we need to do is to make sure that the American people see the entirety of the freshman class, because they are, indeed, spectacular.

You know, frankly, if you watch Fox News, you would think there were only two Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Now, I have great respect for those two members and they are fighting for really important things.  What we want to do is make sure we put forth everybody and what we`re fighting for.

And what everybody has in common, every member of that freshman class has in common, is they want to make sure that if you have a pre-existing condition, you can keep your health care.  They want to make sure that we know climate change is real and we`re doing something about it.  They want to build an America for everyone.  They`re all going to support HR-1, which is our democracy reform bill. And that`s what we`re going to get back to.  That`s what we need to be focusing on every single day, are those nuts and bolts issue about how we make America work for everybody, not just the few at the top and how we make our democracy work.

I take my hat off to my friend, Congressman John Sarbanes, who`s been one of the lead sponsors of HR-1.  That is a game changer.  We`ve got to take money out of politics.

HAYES:  All right, DNC chairman Tom Perez, thank you so much for making the time.

Just ahead, the woman charged with executing the Trump child separation policy met Democratic members of congress for oversight for the first time today, and it was not a pretty scene.  We`ll show you what happened ahead.

And Ivanka gets a seat at the table.  That`s tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  Thing One tonight, there`s been a lot of talk about Ivanka Trump and clearance lately.  And it`s not just about the slashed prices on her made in China fashion stuff.  No, it`s the new report that says that Ivanka got her security clearance as a special gift from dad.

According to CNN, President Trump pressured his then chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn to grant his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka a security clearance against their recommendations after red flags were raised during her background check process.

It`s the same thing he reportedly did for his son-in-law, Ivanka`s husband, Jared Kushner, who Trump says is a good boy and so he has top secret security clearance.

That is just one of the ways that it`s weird, really weird, really weird to have Trump`s family working in the White House, but there are other weirder ways, and that`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  Remember that time when President Obama held a meeting with top business executives and called one of his senior female advisers honey in front of everyone, and he weirdly grabbed her hand and wouldn`t let it go and it was all just a little bit awkward and inappropriate?  No, of course not, because that would never happen, because Barack Obama didn`t make his daughter, who has zero experience in government, a senior presidential adviser.  Donald Trump did that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IVANKA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP`S DAUGHTER: We are taking advantage of this incredible moment to ensure America retains its leadership role.  And now, Mr. President, I turn the floor over to you.

TRUMP:  She`s so formal.

A special person.  And she`s worked so hard, as you all know.  And I want to thank you, Ivanka, for your devotion to the America workers, our great workers, and nobody has workers like we do.  So I just want to thank you, honey, because great job, really great job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  He called -- it`s -- that`s weird in a thousand different ways.  He called Ivanka "honey," which is to not the weirdest part of that whole back and forth, but it is weird than what he called Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Tim, you`re expanding all over and doing things that I really wanted you to right from the beginning.  I used to say, Tim, you have got to start doing it over here and you really have.  I mean, you have really put a big investment in our country.  We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security testified before congress today about the administration`s separation of migrant children from their parents.  And as she was doing so, we noticed something, she never answers a yes or no question with a yes or a no.  And I think that`s because if she did, she would have to say what we all know, that her department`s treatment of migrant children, the policy of ripping those children from their parents is indefensible.

Despite her evasiveness and her previous lies on the subject, and there have been many, Democrats still did their best to try to pin her down today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON, (D) MISSISSIPPI:  Are we still using cages for children?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY:  Sir, we don`t use cages for children.

THOMPSON:  Madame, madame, Secretary.

NIELSEN:  Yes, I`m being as clear as I can, sir.  Respectfully, I`m trying to answer your question.

THOMPSON:  Just yes or no, are we still putting children in cages?

NIELSEN:  To my knowledge, CBP never purposefully put a child in a cage if you mean a cage like this.

THOMPSON:  Purposefully or whatever, are we putting children in cages, as of today?

NIELSEN:  Children are processed at the border facility stations that you`ve been at.  Some of the areas...

THOMPSON:  And I`ve seen the cages.  I just want you to admit that the cages exist.

NIELSEN:  Sir, they`re not cages.

REP. KATHLEEN RICE, (D) NEW YORK:  Were you aware that the zero-tolerance policy would lead to minors being separated from their parents, yes or no?

NIELSEN:  As we increased consequences for those who break the law, just as everywhere...

RICE:  I have such limited time, madame secretary, I`m sure you can appreciate that.  Can you please just answer yes or no.

NIELSEN:  As a consequence of a parent going to jail, we in this country do not take the children to jail.

RICE:  So I take that is a "yes".

REP. JIM LANGEVIN, (D) RHODE ISLAND:  The president said that there were never so many apprehensions at the border in our history up until now.  Is that accurate?  Is the president -- was the president accurate?

NIELSEN:  Again, it depends on the context, because it depends on the type of migrant, sir.

LANGEVIN:  But it`s either -- the 400,000 figure is either accurate or it`s not.  If it`s accurate, the president was not accurate.  Is that correct?

NIELSEN:  Again, we`ve had -- we`ve had monumental high numbers in some areas of the border...

LANGEVIN:  I`m just trying to get a yes or a no.

REP. LAUREN UNDERWOOD, (D) ILLINOIS:  When you officially began family separation in spring 2018, were you aware of research showing it causes trauma that can do both immediate and long-term damage to children`s health?

NIELSEN:  The information that I was aware of at the time was that the trauma is part of the journey to come up to the border illegally.

UNDERWOOD:  OK.  So again, we`re looking for yes or no answers, ma`am.

REP. NANETTE BARRAGAN, (D) CALIFORNIA:  Do you know that two members of congress had to sleep overnight and spend 14 hours in the cold on the concrete at the Ote Mesa (ph) port of entry so that Maria, the woman who was tear gassed at the port of entry would be allowed to present herself, because she was on U.S. soil, and legally that`s what asylum allows.  Did you know that?

NIELSEN:  Ma`am, what I know is IU would ask you...

BARRAGAN:  Yes or no, did you know that two members of congress had to do that.

NIELSEN:  I know that we have a process.

BARRAGAN:  You obviously don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  That last congresswoman, Nanette Barragan, she joins me to help get to the bottom of all that spin next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARRAGAN:  You testified that asylum seekers are not being turned away at the point of entry, was that your testimony here today?

NIELSEN:  They are not turned away.  They are brought in.  I`m not sure if you are talking about the migrant protection protocol, but in that case...

BARRAGAN:  Any asylum-seeker who comes to a port of entry, you basically have just said...

NIELSEN:  They are allowed to make their claim.

BARRAGAN:  OK, well, let me tell you, madam secretary, either your lying to this committee or you don`t know what is happening at the border.  And I have been there firsthand, and I have seen it twice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Congresswoman Nanette Barragan of California challenged Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen today as Nielsen`s testimony repeatedly clashed with the facts.  And Congresswoman Barragan, a member of the joins me now, along with MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff who has doing great reporting on the southern border. 

Congresswoman, let me start with you on that question, is the Homeland secretary, is it really her claim that people are not being turned away from asylum at ports of entry?

BARRAGAN:  That is what she`s saying, and it is on the DHS website as a myth, which is why I pointed it out and why she had to be challenged.  The American people should know what is happening.

HAYES:  Which is what?

BARRAGAN:  Which is people who are going to the port of entry, which is what the president said people should be doing, are not being processed like they should be under U.S. law.  Instead, they`re being told away this weekend I was there I heard a gentleman being told if you don`t have a visa, go away.  The secretary also said that people were told about their rights, where they can go get an attorney, get some assistance, where to get on a list, and that did not happen this weekend when I was there and we have heard many, many reports of that not happening.

Bottom line, Chris, is that people are presenting themselves at the ports of entry, like they should be.  It`s legal to do so.  They should be processed, and they`re not being processed.

HAYES:  Jacob, I want to ask you, because I think this relates to something that we`re seeing now with new data from CBP.  So apprehensions on the southern border since 2001, they have declined fairly steadily.  And then we`ve seen this increase and the new numbers out for January were enormous spike, according to CBP.  How do you make sense of those numbers?

JACOB SOBOROFF, NBC NEWS:  Well, we saw this at the end of President Obama`s term, too, the numbers did go up, I guess you could say substantially, but still within the context near historic lows, because President Trump comes in and he talks very aggressively about building a wall, that was during the campaign, so you saw people rush in before Donald Trump became president.

Now, again, as he talks about this national emergency and building again the idea of a wall and preventing people from coming in through the transitional ways that people have come into this country, people rush in.  And I think that the cartels are taking advantage of it.

HAYES:  That is interesting.

You think there is actually incentive from all of the tough talk, which is basically that some huge change is going to happen and you need to get in the door now.

SOBOROFF:  Yeah, in a weird way, he`s giving cartels this line that gives them increased business by threatening a policy that we know doesn`t work, which is deterrence.

HAYES:  Well, congresswoman, let me ask you this, is there any -- do we know -- do we know if the apprehensions or the spike in them is a result of the on the ground policy of turning people away at port of entry.  It seems to me like if you are turning people away at port of entry, you are going to increase between ports of entry apprehension, which will boost those numbers.  Do we have any breakdown from DHS about what is happening where?

BARRAGAN:  I don`t have a break down.  I haven`t seen them provide any.  It is something I wanted to follow up with the secretary on today, but didn`t have time.  I had way more questions than I had time, but that is something that we`re going to look into.

HAYES:  Was she truthful today before your committee under oath?

BARRAGAN:  You know, I -- to be honest with you, I -- either she doesn`t know what is going on, or she wasn`t prepared, or she was lying, because there were several questions you could tell she didn`t want to answer them maybe because she was under oath.  She was fiddling around, having a lot of semantics issues with not really coming forward, but I just couldn`t let her do that on the issues I grilled her about.

HAYES:  I want to ask you about a story that was just broken by our San Diego affiliate, and I want to ask you about this, Jacob, but I`ll give it you, congresswoman, CBP having compiled a list of 59 mostly American reporters, attorneys, and activists for border agents to stop for questioning when crossing the U.S./Mexican border at San Diego area check points, those are the ones that you have been around, and agents have questioned and arrested at least 21 of them according to documents obtained by KNSD TV and interviews with people on the list.  What do you think about that?

BARRAGAN:  I think that is outrageous.  I think this is the administration emboldened, feels like they do whatever they want.  They go after reporters.  In this instance we have heard stories of people being detained.

Look, when I was down there in December, my -- one of my staffers was with me crossed the border to basically go get something from my car and was detained at the port of entry, and I even had to ask the gentleman, hey, are you detaining my staff now as an intimidation factor?

HAYES:  Wow.

BARRAGAN:  It is sad to hear and -- to see the report.  I`m not surprised.

SOBOROFF:  Neither.  Don`t forget this is the same administration that didn`t want to let journalists into these facilities, and on June 13 of this summer, you know, we finally got into the Brownsville one, then we got into the McAllen one, but they never gave us pictures of those things.  They constantly are trying to limit the transparency about what`s going on -- go ahead.

HAYES:  No, I just want -- but I just want to hammer home how creepy this is, because it is one thing to say we won`t let you into our facilities, which is a decision you`re making about the level of transparency...

SOBOROFF:  No, this takes it -- I mean, they are monitoring...

HAYES:  It`s another too spy on journalists and to send ahead a list to people that are manning the U.S. border to a lawful U.S. citizen to say you should question or detain this person simply because they are practicing their first amendment right to cover the government.

SOBOROFF:  And is the same -- don`t forget, these same government, the same Department of Homeland Security, that would not answer any questions where are the children, where are the girls, where are the babies, and now they`re looking after those same journalists that want to ask those same questions.

HAYES:  Is there going to be more oversight that you`re going to get, or are you going to get more documents from DHS after the hearing today congresswoman?

BARRAGAN:  Absolutely, I know there is a number of written questions that are going to go out, although they have been very slow in responding.  This is I just think the beginning and we`ll see when we can get the secretary back and continue our oversight.

HAYES:  I would like to see those numbers, if anyone is keeping them, about what`s going on at the port of entry. 

Congresswoman Nanette Barragan and Jacob Soboroff, thank you both.

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