CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening from Washington, I`m Ali Velshi in for Chris Hayes. Tonight, new reporting from the Washington Post on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein`s tearful plea to keep his job and the assurances that he gave the president during the Mueller probe. Plus, as the president spoke to the National Rifle Association, there was blockbuster new reporting on the absolute chaos happening inside one of the nation`s most powerful lobbying groups.
We`ll have that incredible story ahead but we begin the show with today`s extremely dangerous rhetoric from the President of the United States. Donald Trump inflaming his supporters before an adoring audience at the NRA effectively characterizing Robert Mueller and members of the U.S. Intelligence Community as traitors intend on staging a coup.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They tried for a coup, it didn`t work out so well. And I didn`t need a gun for that one, did I? Corruption at the highest level a disgrace, spying, surveillance, trying for an overthrow, and we caught them. We caught them.
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VELSHI: That is the President of the United States suggesting that those engaged in legitimate oversight and investigation. Investigation which found significant wrongdoing and potentially impeachable offenses are traitors to attempting -- who are attempting to illegitimately overthrow the government.
But that wasn`t it. While criticizing the Mueller investigation, Trump defended a man who led an actual armed revolt against this nation, Robert E. Lee. Now, let me provide the context. You`ll recall that yesterday in announcing that he was entering the presidential race, Joe Biden cited Trump`s defense of white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville saying Trump`s words helped him understand that we are in "a battle for the soul of this nation."
Asked about his Charlottesville comments, Trump made it crystal clear which side of that battle he stands on.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you still think there were very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville?
TRUMP: I`ve answered that question. And if you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly. And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument of Robert E. Lee, a great general. Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals.
I`ve spoken to many generals here right at the White House and many people thought of the generals they think that he was maybe their favorite general. People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.
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VELSHI: Robert E. Lee, the man Trump holds in such high esteem tried to destroy this nation. As Adam Serwer writes the Confederate commander was "responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South`s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they are black.
And as for white nationalists in Charlottesville that Trump continues to defend, this is them. They had a March. They had a much larger agenda than simply defending a statue of Robert E. Lee.
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AMERICAN CROWD: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!
Blood and soil! Blood and soil! Blood and soil!
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VELSHI: It may have been hard to hear that at the end. They were chanting blood and soil, blood and soil. Blood and soil has a very specific meaning. It`s a Nazi rallying cry. These are the so-called fine people that Trump continues to defend.
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TRUMP: But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacist by any stretch. And you have some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group -- excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of to them a very, very important statue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: All right, let`s discuss the president`s comments. Joining me Sherrilyn Ifill, the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Reverend Al Sharpton, Host of MSNBC`s "POLITICS NATION" and Founder and President of the National Action Network. Thank you to both of you for being here.
Sherrilyn, the President earlier today said that he answered that question perfectly. It could be right. He could have answered it perfectly because he does not seem to be making a mistake about what he intends to say about those demonstrators, those marchers at Charlottesville. He seems to be very clear on the fact that they, in his opinion, constitute a group of very fine people.
SHERRILYN IFILL, PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND: Well, Ali, it`s really important that we not get sucked into this game that the President tries to play. This is now two years after 2017 and we were certain in August 2017 that the president knew exactly what he was saying and said what he wanted to say.
As you recall, he had three different opportunities over the course of about 48 hours, and each time he doubled down on his belief that they were very fine people on both sides, many fine people, and he insisted on characterizing the Unite The Right Nazi rally as a rally about -- as though it were a rally of the Charlottesville Historical Society interested or interested in the military tactics, an acumen of Robert E. Lee.
And that`s why we have to not get distracted with the conversation about General Lee and the civil war. We know what that rally was about, the people who sought the permit were white supremacist. We saw what they said. We saw what the Tiki torch marched looked like. The idea that somehow there was a quiet protest that evening. Those were the words that the president used. So he knew exactly what he was saying.
We`re here two years later, and Ali, in the intervening two years, we`ve had the president`s actions to confirm that he knew exactly what he was saying. And so actually what he said today in some ways was even worse because he now knows that there are people who listen to what he says and some of them are violent.
We know about the Coast Guard lieutenant. We know about the man who was planting the pipe bombs and targeting people including people on this network who he regarded as enemies of the President. So he knows that his words have this kind of power. He knows that there is an element out there that is following him and yet he still makes these comments. But more importantly, his policies are consistent with his words.
VELSHI: And not only that, but Reverend Al, the President today at the NRA expanded on that. He talked about a coup, an attempted overthrow, how we beat them. So there`s an audience for his language, his rhetoric and that rhetoric, Rev. Al, you`ll know is familiar. It is -- it is rhetoric we have seen around the world usually from dictators. The idea that legitimate interests who oppose the government are not legitimate and they are trying to stage coups and they are trying to -- trying to overthrow the elected government of the United States.
AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: First we must understand he said what he meant and he meant what he said, and his policies and how he has presided over this nation reflects that. When you can call traitors of people that are doing investigations on whether a foreign adversary interfered or in any way was part of trying to affect an American election, and you try and call them traitors while you praise a traitor who caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people that are of this country and they were fighting for the right to keep blacks property, they were fighting to overthrow the government, and even say that there are some generals that sat in the White House and said he was a fine general like he was a general in the U.S. Army, he was a general in an "overthrow the government Confederate army, Confederate government," then we know we are really fighting not only for the soul of the country but fighting for what the country is going to stand for.
And I think that when you look at the fact that he is now facing the House of Representatives and he`s saying I`ll defy them which means he`s really dealing with we`re not going to have co-equals of power, executive, legislative, and judicial branch. The president is now autocratic in his mind. I`m above all of that. When you put that all together, praising a traitor, calling legitimate investigators are traitors, and then says and I am not even going to answer you, I will fight to be an autocrat. Clearly, he is consistent with autocrats and dictators around the world in his train of thinking and his dangerous rhetoric.
VELSHI: But Sherrilyn, that is chilling. If that is true, for two to half years we`ve known where Donald Trump stands on this stuff, but we know he`s got a base of people who continue to believe the ideas that he puts forth. Now, when he exerts this autocratic authority the idea that people who are summoned to Congress are not going to be allowed to go and testify before Congress, before a co-equal branch of government stated in Article One of the Constitution.
At some point, at some point, it has to worry right-minded Americans who say we have seen this play out in history before where law enforcement, media, and the judiciary were undermined by an official, a leader, and it leads to bad things.
IFILL: Ali, I`ve studied and I`ve written about this. I`ve written about Nazi Germany. I`ve written about Rwanda. I`ve written about white supremacy here in the United States. We are at a very perilous moment in this country. And you know, you intuitively say right-minded people have to stand up. But are they standing up? Are a majority of Americans standing up and fighting for this country?
I`ve been calling out my own profession. There are wonderful lawyers, many of whom regularly appear on this network who are speaking truth to power, who are speaking about the rule of law that undergirds our democracy and who are recognizing that the president is not only himself a dismissive and violative of the rule of law but he is now encouraging and indeed demanding those who work for him to violate the rule of law as well.
But my profession contains many lawyers. Many of whom are very prominent in this country who have been silent. And I really believe we are at the moment when if not now, when. This President is making his intentions perfectly clear. He is demonstrating quite clearly his intention to defy the rule of law, that he believes that he is above the law. He is also grooming the population, his followers.
He is grooming a set of people to believe what he says, to not understand what the rule of law is, to believe that he is a victim and to believe that anyone who comes against him is part of a plot. This is extremely dangerous stuff. And I think that some people are thinking we`re kind of automatically going to come out of this, that there`s something inevitable about our ability to come out of this as a democracy.
It is not inevitable. It requires each of us to stand up to speak and to demand that the president comply with the law.
VELSHI: It is -- it is not, Rev. Al, inevitable that we come out of it, and it is not inevitable that we do not slip deeper into this. Sherrilyn mentions Rwanda, a perfect example of a place in which authority was undermined and incorrect messages, hateful messages, racist messages were spread through the media. 1933 Germany that looked very similar.
These are examples in which people thought you can`t really -- society is not going to come apart because of the nonsense of a rhetorical you know, a rhetoric from a leader. But Rev. Al, you`ve seen it. It does.
SHARPTON: I`ve seen it. I went to Rwanda. I saw it firsthand. And let me say the real danger is we are normalizing this rather than really saying that we are at a moment where this country is going to decide not on a new president, but whether the presidency becomes an autocratic leader.
We are talking about whether or not we redefine how this country is in fact enforced in terms of its laws and whether we have an executive, chief executive that has all-consuming power at his discretion and he alone will make that decision.
So we keep acting as if we`re in a normal election, we`re really selecting what kind of government we`re moving forward when you have someone as blatant as this that will come in and praise traders and normalize people talking about Jews will not replace us and using blood and soil, Nazi terms in open and public in the media.
I think that we really need to understand where we are in history and we must stand up if there are right-minded American people, the majority of them need to stand up not only from the legal profession but all the way across the board whatever profession because the future of this nation is at stake.
VELSHI: Reverend Al, the future of the nation is at stake. Well said. Sherrilyn, thank you for joining us tonight. Rev. Al, thank you as well. Be sure to check out Rev. Al special Not Just Black And White Race And The 2020 Election which airs tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC where the Reverend is talking to the presidential candidates about things they will actually do to remedy some of our problems with race in America.
I want to bring in NBC News Reporter Ben Collins to talk about what exactly took place at the rally in Charlottesville. Ben is my colleague who unfortunately dwells in the darkest corners of the web to find out what`s actually going on in there. Ben, you sent out a tweet that said that there`s been a concerted effort by far-right grift YouTube to say that the President calling Charlottesville rally goers very fine people is a false memory in the past few months. It is some psychedelic galaxy brain jujitsu but they realize it`s a problem for their main man. What are you talking about?
BEN COLLINS, NBC NEWS REPORTER: So in the past couple of months, there have been a couple of YouTube channels that are adjacent to Infowars I would say, that sort of space and Infowars picked up on this talking point later on that the idea that Donald Trump said that very fine people were on both sides at this rally referred to neo-Nazis wasn`t true.
Now, we know that`s not true. And the other thing is the most -- the most important thing that we know about this is the guy that filed the permit for this. His name is Jason Kessler is a white nationalist. That is true. And when Heather Heyer died, when she was murdered at that rally he said it was payback time.
So the idea that they were fine people over there who were walking along flags of swastikas, who walking along SS flags and didn`t decide to leave is not possible. But there is a -- there was an ecosystem on YouTube that exists to absolve the president of every wrongdoing. And it`s -- it feels very good for a lot of Trump voters to keep watching these things over and over again even though there are no facts there.
VELSHI: So if it`s incidental, Ben, as the President would have you believe that there might have been some white supremacists and neo-Nazis mixed in with a group of people who actually thought that tactically Robert E. Lee was just a great general and you shouldn`t take down a statue. Then it wouldn`t have been taken up as the cause that has been taken up as by the white nationalists and the neo-Nazis who are on social media.
COLLINS: Yes. After the rally, the Daily Stormer which is the -- I would say the most pivotal white nationalist publication, white supremacist, neo- Nazi publication, thanked the president for saying you know that he`s speaking to us. That`s what -- that`s what they said in return.
And in the run-up to the rally, the flyers were about how this was about white displacement. This was about white genocide. You know, in one of those things right there, you can see it, you will not replace us. That turns into Jews will not replace us at that Tiki torch ceremony.
All of those talking points by these people came into the rally, you heard them at the rally. If you were at that rally and you were talking about you know, how Robert E. Lee was great and how southern history should be preserved, you were at the wrong rally. That was not what was happening. This was a neo-Nazi rally.
VELSHI: Then -- and thank you for reminding us that this wasn`t a rally that had no consequence. Heather Heyer lost her life in a deliberate act by somebody who held these abhorrent views. Ben Collins, thank you for your insights tonight.
COLLINS: Thank you.
VELSHI: Alright next, breaking news tonight about rod Rosenstein`s conversations with President Trump during the Mueller investigation promising he was on the President`s team, begging to keep his job. The details of that report after this.
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ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: Some of the nonsense that passes for breaking news today would not be worth the paper it was printed on. If anybody bothered to print it was these days. One silly question that I get from reporters is, is it true that you got angry and emotional a few times over the past two years. Heck, yes, didn`t you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Rob Rosenstein taking a swing at the media last night perhaps because he knew that this Washington Post report was coming out which details the lengths Rosenstein went to in order to keep his job last year after the New York Times reported that he had suggested wearing a wire to secretly record the president.
According to the Post, Rosenstein got "teary-eyed in a meeting with Trump`s then Chief of Staff John Kelly although a DOJ official disputes that account. And then in a phone call with Trump sought to assure the president he was on his team and told the president he would make sure he was treated fairly.
Joining me now is Washington Post National Correspondent Phil Bump who contributed to that Rosenstein report. Philip, good to see you. In the report, I just want to read you a part about it. Rosenstein tells Trump, I can give the investigation credibility, Rosenstein said in the words of one administration official, offering their own characterization of the call. I can land the plane.
This, of course, coming on the heels of the reporting that Rod Rosenstein had offered to wear this wire. Rod Rosenstein gets called in he`s being told or it`s been suggested that is going to have to resign or he`s going to get fired and he`s now trying to convince the president you got to keep me, I`m good for you.
PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, that`s right. So the Post report goes into detail about what that moment actually looked like. And obviously, this is a moment that -- I mean it`s sort of hard to imagine having your boss hear these things about you and being a sort of person who`s very publicly going to call you out on it.
Obviously, there`s tension there, but I think in that moment too, there were two conflicting tensions within Rosenstein himself. There`s obviously the fact that he had this job and he wanted to keep his job, but he also had helped initiate this entire probe. He is the person who chose Mueller in part because of concern about how the Russia investigation could be protected.
And I think that it`s probably the case as well that part of Rosenstein was trying to ensure that they that he was still able to maintain that protection over the investigation as well. I mean, there`s you know, there is a lot of complexity here. And the article also goes on to note you know, that Rosenstein has been sort of generous to Trump even after he`s announced that he`s leaving which a lot of people were sort of surprised by. There`s a lot of complexity there. I think that moment encapsulates it well.
VELSHI: So I guess the question when reading that article, or listening to Rod Rosenstein last night, or seeing him behind William Barr the Attorney General when he was talking about holding the press conference about the Mueller report. Trying to understand who Rod Rosenstein is, what do you come away from?
Was he -- was he a guy who was desperate to save his job or not be sent out in disgrace and hence was saying things to endear himself to the president or what is his role in this thing because this was about the most important thing that Rod Rosenstein will ever have been involved in.
BUMP: No, no, I think that`s true. I mean, I think -- I think he recognizes certainly that this is his legacy, this investigation to a large extent. This is someone who had been working with the Department of Justice for well over 20 years. He is -- he is a lifer. He was an institutionalist. He served as a U.S. Attorney in Maryland prior to becoming the Deputy Attorney General. He`s someone who was very invested.
At this speech last night, you could hear, he was speaking to a room full of people who similarly had built. Many of them had held government jobs were learning, or attorneys, or U.S. Attorney`s, or professionals, or judges, and you could hear him talking about these institutions, and in expressing how he felt about them and how much they meant to him. And I think that is a primary motivation.
This is someone who you know, he explained. He`s standing behind Barr and everyone commented while Barr was giving out press conference, how stone- faced Rosenstein was. And he said last night, well, the reason I was doing this because my job is to stay in there and be stone-faced. And that is -- that I think encapsulate say decent amount of who Rod Rosenstein is.
He is the guy who if his job is to stand there stone-faced, he`s going to stand there stone-faced. And so I think that yes, it is the case that he was in this point of tension with a very unusual boss which I think anyone would acknowledge, but again, at the same time, he had this investigation that he really.
Did he wanted to land that plane? He helped that plane take off and he wanted to make sure it got back to the ground safely.
VELSHI: Philip, thank you for your reporting as always, Phil Bump of the Washington Post. Still ahead, blockbuster new reporting on the absolute chaos that is threatening to rip the powerful gun industry lobby apart. And William Barr is set to testified before Congress next week. We`re going to talk about what lawmakers want to know from the Attorney General as they return to the Hill for the first time since the Mueller report. That`s next.
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SEN. LINSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Article Three of impeachment against Richard Nixon, the article was based on the idea that Richard Nixon, as president, failed to comply with subpoenas of Congress. Congress was going through its oversight function to provide oversight of the president. When asked for information, Richard Nixon chose not to comply. The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day that he was subject of impeachment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: 1998 Lindsey Graham might have some thoughts for 2019 Lindsey Graham whose good pal, the current president, is launching an aggressive fight against congressional oversight.
Over the past two weeks, that congress has been in recess. The Trump administration has told officials to defy subpoenas in House investigations -- security clearances at the White House and the citizenship question on the 2020 census. It has stalled on a congressional demand for the president`s tax returns and is now threatening to block all witnesses in the Mueller investigation from testifying before congress, that includes former White House Counsel Don McGahn, a star witness on obstruction of justice, who has already gotten a request to appear before the House judiciary committee.
Congress will be back in Washington on Monday for the first time since a redacted version of the final Mueller report was released to the public. And later in the week, the man who tried to spin Mueller`s findings before they came out, Attorney General William Barr, will face his first grilling on Capitol Hill, testifying before the Judiciary Committees in the Senate and the House.
I`m joined now by MSNBC legal analyst Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of LawFare, who just published a detailed, close reading of the entire Mueller report; and former Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat from California, host of the Boxer podcast. Welcome to both of you. Thank you for joining me.
And Ben I`m very grateful for you and people like you who have conducted a close reading of the 438-page Mueller report. But in it, if one conducts that close reading, you will see a specific reference to impeachment and several references to things that congress could investigate about the obstruction of justice.
There are arguments that people make that say congress should be compelled to follow those roads of investigation.
BEN WITTES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF LAWFARE: Yes. so, congress cannot be compelled to whether congress conducts impeachment inquiry or votes to impeachment inquiry or votes to impeach or does not do either of those things is entirely at the discretion of congress. The only thing that can compel congress to act in impeachment, or in most other things for that matter, is political will by members and political pressure by voters.
VELSHI: So the problem, Barbara boxer, is that there are people in the Democratic Party who think it would not be politically expedient to follow a road that leads to impeachment even though a lot people think impeachment is not a political possibility anyway, but there are those who are arguing don`t go down this road, it won`t bear fruit. Democrats can win another way and get rid of Donald Trump a different way.
BARBARA BOXER, (D-CA) FORMER DEMOCRATIC SENATOR: I side with Nancy Pelosi on this. She says let`s investigate and see where it leads.
I reread my little pocket constitution today. Impeachment is at the very beginning, really, of Article 1. Because the Founders were so afraid of a president who would overstep his or her bounds and would abuse power. Now, that`s what we see happening, even in the Rod Rosenstein situation, where I can`t believe this. He called up the subject of an investigation that he was overseeing to say let me land the plane. This adds more for grist congress. They have to look at this.
So, I don`t know what they will decide. I have been through impeachment trial. It was tough in the Senate. It was awful. It was one of my worst times I ever spent in the senate, it was so -- takes the air out of the room. We all know that. But you have to look this right in the eye, and if it leads you there, so be it.
VELSHI: Ben Wittes, as you read the Mueller report, you will -- most people will come to the conclusion that the first pass that William Barr took at explaining to us what was in it was a liberal interpretation.
WITTES: It was deficient.
VELSHI: It was deficient. Given what you have read, what basic question should congress be asking of Bill Barr when he appears, knowing that he provided a deficient explanation to start with?
WITTES: Yes, I guess my question to Bill Barr would be, why did you produce that account of this document, given that you knew you were making it public, and you knew people were going to be able to see what it actually said. Is this because you actually believed that that was a reasonable account of what was in it? In which case, I would have serious questions about his judgment and his ability to read and understand the text that was put in front of him.
Or as I fear is more likely, is the reason because he was actively spinning the document on behalf of the president? And I think the question of why he behaved the way he did, knowing that the document was about to become public, indeed the morning he himself was releasing it, bears a lot of examination between him and the committee.
VELSHI: Interesting, we had the screen up of that, the press conference in which Barbara Boxer -- William Barr held a press conference before releasing the document in which he continued to spin it in certain ways.
You said you agree with Nancy Pelosi. One of the things Nancy Pelosi is I think hoping to do is there are six separate investigations going on, oversight committees that are looking into various parts of what this -- what was really going on in the government, but just this week the president said that Stephen Miller cannot testify to congress on immigration policy. And everybody knows he`s the guy setting the immigration policy, it`s got nothing to do with the Mueller report. This president is simply saying that the Article 1 in your pocket constitution, the Article 1 responsibility of congress just don`t appear as serious to him and his administration as they are supposed to, or as they were to the framers of the Constitution.
BOXER: What we are seeing is obstruction of congress. I have never seen anything like that. They can`t get documents. They are going to fight every subpoena, Trump is. I have never seen it before. And it goes not only to the Mueller investigation, but Trump surrounded himself with people who are toadies. They are not acting on behalf of this nation. We are at a moment in time that I have never seen, and I have been around a while. And I think it is critical that there be investigations and let them go where they go.
I agree, is impeachment risky politically? I understand that. I won a lot of elections. I lost one. I know what it takes to win, and I know it`s hard, but this is a constitutional responsibility and if Trump continues to obstruct congress in its important constitutional duties, that`s another reason to go down the road of impeachment or censure or both, frankly.
VELSHI: Thank you to both of you for joining me on this Friday night. Ben Wittes and Barbara Boxer, it`s a pleasure to have you here, thank you.
All right, coming up, is the NRA losing its foothold? The internal power struggle and accusations of extortion in one of the nation`s most powerful lobbying groups, is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`m a champion for the second amendment, and so are you. It`s not going anywhere.
It`s under assault. It`s under assault, but not when we`re here, not even close.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Donald Trump spoke today to the NRA for the third straight time as president, but behind the scenes the gun lobby group is in shambles. The Wall Street Journal today reporting that the group`s long time leader, Wayne LaPierre, is accusing NRA President Oliver North of extortion, and of pressuring LaPierre to resign. Down to allegations of more than $200,000 of wardrobe purchases by Mr. LaPierre.
The dissension does so deep that the NRA complained about its own president in its lawsuit against the contractor behind NRA-TV, which by the way, is a different operation.
This comes on the heels of a New Yorker report this month detailing the organization`s deep financial disarray. Here with me now is Mark Follman, national affairs editor for Mother Jones who recently wrote about why the National Rifle Association is under fire like never before. Mark, thank you for joining me.
And I guess we have to start with this. The NRA is not some group or organization that is having certain trouble, the NRA is the lobby for the gun industry in the United States.
MARK FOLLMAN, MOTHER JONES: Yeah. Well, and this turmoil they are going through now with their leadership, it`s quite interest in terms of the timing, because it comes at a time when they are really facing all kinds of problems, and some of them related to this apparently their tax-exempt status is under scrutiny in New York. They reportedly have a lot of financial troubles with fund-raising and other things, and reports of lavish spending on executives.
And then there are other things, too, going on with congressional investigations in to them both in terms of political finances and political activity and their ties as well to Russian operatives.
You know, an interesting side note to today`s story is that Maria Butina was just sentenced to prison for 18 months and she has a multi-year relationship with NRA readers that still goes unexplained. So, there are many things arrayed against this organization right now, I think, that interestingly enough kind of lends credence to its long sort of political theater that we`ve seen for many years where they declare they`re under siege and everybody is out to get them, and, you know, we have to go against our enemies. So, now it`s actually seeming to take shape.
VELSHI: But here`s the interesting thing, some of the pressure has come on to them because Donald Trump is president and because people don`t fear -- Donald Trump, you just heard the clip at the beginning, Donald Trump saying your rights are not under pressure, nobody is taking your guns away. T hat is not a common refrain from them, so they`ve actually started to lose a common enemy, and they declined to continue down the road of being a sporting gun organization that focuses on training and safety. They are all about the Second Amendment and the threats to the Second Amendment by the boogie man that has, on some levels, strengthened because of some legislation and on the hand they have got Donald Trump who is their guy in the White House.
FOLLMAN: Right, it`s an interesting paradox for them. Because they claim that Trump is, you know, their best friend in the White House they`ve had in modern memory, and yet it seems hurts them in terms of raising money and motivating their base and it kind of takes away their boogie man argument that they had during the Obama years and against Hillary Clinton when she was running for president. So, it`s an interesting thing to watch them struggle with.
And to watch them also, you know, effectively double down now with this kind of extremist rhetoric of politics headed into 2020 and just, you know, working in lockstep with Trump. I mean, I think that`s the purpose of having him, you know, front and center again today. is to say this is where we`re headed politically and he`s our guy.
VELSHI: What`s happened here that is different from the tobacco lobby or the pharma lobby or the insurance lobby where you don`t ever hear about the politics inside that lobby? Why are there politics inside the gun lobby given that it`s largely funded by the gun industry?
FOLLMAN: It`s hard to say, but I think we`re going to learn about this soon. And, you know, my speculation would be that because they`ve come under so much pressure, the NRA, in recent years, you know, there`s this also happening against the backdrop of a big shift in the political landscape on gun violence with the era of rising mass shootings we`ve watched.
And particularly since Parkland last year, I think the political tide is turned in some major ways against this organization. And it`s probably no coincidence that it`s causing this kind of turmoil now internally because they`re just under intense scrutiny. And, you know, for a long time they were able to keep their operation kind of like a black box, but inevitably it`s starting to -- there are cracks in the wall now, so I think we`re going to learn more about why and how this is happening.
VELSHI: Mark, thank you for your reporting on this. Mark Follman is with Mother Jones.
\Still to come, what to make of Joe Biden`s fund-raising haul. How he stacked up compared to the competition and the primary w eek that was ahead.
VELSHI: Close political observers will tell you that Joe Biden has never been known as a prolific fund-raiser. As he entered the Democratic primary this week with a massive fund-raising deficit. Well, as of today, that no longer appears to be a challenge. The Biden campaign today announced it raised $6.3 million in its opening 24 hours, that`s the biggest first day haul of any 2020 candidate.
The campaign also said that 97 percent of online donations were below $200. But that`s some interesting math. It didn`t disclose the share of overall contributions that were below that threshold.
While Biden`s campaign is quick to highlight new and small money donors, it doesn`t look like it`ll be turning away any big donors. CNBC reporters New York Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to open up his fund-raising network to Biden, and that`s a network that includes movie mogul Steven Spielberg, Walmart heiress Alice Walton, and hedge fund titan Steven Cohen.
Biden is now the 20th Democrat running for president. And his competition has had a heck of a week on the trail. Where things stand now is next.
VELSHI: The Democratic front-runner finally made it official this week. Joe Biden announcing his presidential run with a video on Thursday one day later than expected. His team reportedly decided to delay his big announcement so it didn`t coincide with another huge 2020 event that day, the She the People presidential candidate forum featuring eight of Biden`s rivals.
To help take a look back at the 2020 democratic campaign this week, I`m joined by Tiffany Cross, co-founder and managing editor of The Beat D.C.; Dave Kanninen, Democratic strategist and Barack Obama`s former state director in Wisconsin; and Dorian Warren, president at Community Change and Community Change Action.
Welcome to all three of you. Thank you for being here.
Tiffany, good to see you again.
TIFFANY CROSS, CO-FOUNDER, THE BEAT D.C.: Good to see you.
VELSHI: And personal friend.
Talk to me about your sense of how this went. Joe Biden shoots into the top spot, automatically becomes a target for everyone. Hasn`t had a stumble free last couple of days. A couple of things came back to him that some think he might have had a better answer for.
CROSS: Yeah, I mean, obviously, the Anita Hill incident. This is something that I do think Joe Biden is going to have to get an answer a little tighter in this incident, because there are a lot of young voters, new to this process who are going to look at him through a 2019 lens for things that happened over 30 years ago.
So this is something that he`s going to have to adjust and give a better answer for. I think it sounded like Joy Bahar (ph) was trying to spoon feed him a better answer on The View.
VELSHI: It did not side like a gotcha interview on The View today.
CROSS: It wasn`t. They were trying to help him out and he still didn`t quite get it.
But listen, I don`t think we should get so caught up in all of these things too. I want to make it clear to everybody, look, this is not a battle between Joe Biden and Donald Trump at this point. They`re running against each other, so this is his time to make his case on why he`s the best candidate and you can expect people are going to swipe at him for other things.
That doesn`t mean he would not from day one make a phenomenally better president than the catastrophe we have in the White House right now or anybody.
VELSHI: That bar is low.
CROSS: It is an incredibly low bar, but I would say that with Joe Biden`s foreign policy experience -- I mean, listen, our global standing is scary right now. I mean, this is a man who strongly supports NATO and could get us back in good standing on a global stage. His domestic policy is something that I think quite frankly was a little more progressive than Obama`s.
If you remember, he was the first person to come out in favor of gay marriage and Obama, OK, trailed him on that. So, I think you have to look at the full picture here. Also, he rolled out a really very diverse staff this week that I thought was really impressive.
And saying all that, though, I do just want to point out that we like have this assumption, he`s the front-runner, like it`s all final.
VELSHI: Well, this is a good thing to remember, Dan, somebody who comes in often sucks a little bit of the oxygen out of the room, right. Mayor Pete has been doing it for awhile. Beto O`Rourke did it for awhile. Is there a danger? Because the one neat thing about this front-runner-less discussion until now, a lot of policy discussions.
DAN KANNINEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: A lot. And I think these candidates are showing they have to have more policy chops, deeper thought on their positions, their ethos for running in the first place -- why you, why now is a question he will get, especially in this moment in our politics.
I think on the fundraising numbers, you know, it`s interesting, he had a $6.3 million haul, as you said in the setup, but you know a lot of that, probably a bunch of that, was from high dollar donations. It remains to be seen if he can keep that momentum going through the whole quarter, which will be telling about his overall support.
But I think ultimately he`s going to have find a way, as will all the candidates, of not just having a policy position that`s progressive or centrist or appealing to some segment of the population, but to inspire. And the best thing that Barack Obama did was let moderates feel like he was acceptable and let the base feel like he was a liberal hero and had a way to communicating something that was authentic, but let everyone into that tent. And the winning candidate, whether it`s Biden or anybody else is going to have to do that at broad level.
VELSHI: You know, sometimes you get lost in the shuffle, but Elizabeth Warren drops policy once a week or every 10 days, and it`s well thought out, serious policy. I wonder whether she`s just sort of doing it to take fire or to have other people agree with or disagree.
Brookings came out and said that her colleague financing plan may not be as good for everybody as she`s advertising, but the point is she puts out policy that`s good enough that Brookings will take the time to analyze it.
Does Joe Biden address a different need than people with interesting policies?
DORIAN WARREN, PRESIDENT, COMMUNITY CHANGE: Oh, I don`t know. I think the verdict is out on what policies he`s going to offer. And, in fact, that`s for entire field. And that is one advantage, I think, Senator Warren has, no relation, by the way, to -- in this field, because she is -- she is the smartest girl in the class. And she`s done the homework. She`s done the study. She`s putting out not just incremental policy idea...
VELSHI: Correct, they`re fully baked.
WARREN: They are bold, transformational policy ideas. And she doesn`t just -- she doesn`t just do the wonky thing, she tells a story about why it matters for people`s lives. And so I think that`s what voters are going to want in the Democratic primary.
By the way, voters of color, especially women of color, and white voters -- and I just want to suggest we can walk and chew gum at the same time here in terms of how do you mobilize the base and persuade persuadables. And I think people want to hear a story that`s aspirational with some detail about what are you going to do to change their lives for the hell that people are catching in the last three years?
VELSHI: Mayor Pete was a guy we were talking about a lot recently. He said he`s swearing off lobbyist money. He says he`s going to return contributions that he`s already accepted from lobbyists, which his campaign says totaled $30,250 from 39 individuals.
Sort of par for the course right now. But the guy is interesting. There is a guy who most people couldn`t pronounce his name a month ago, and he`s capturing some interest. What do you think?
CROSS: He`s interesting. But this is what I want to say about Mayor Pete, I think, you know, there are some challenges with him. And you have to look at this -- so many of us get our news and form our opinions by this echo chamber of this 24 hour news cycle. And you look at who the media pays attention to, and they`re a little fickle.
And I would say a part of that is because a lot of the decision makers at cable news look like Mayor Pete. And so when he does something, it`s like, oh, let`s everybody pay attention to the new shiny object.
But when you dig a little deeper, one, how does Mayor Pete feel about anything? I don`t know, because he hasn`t put out any policy. Elizabeth Warren, I could tell you how she feels about things. Two, what does the economic inequality look like in South Bend? I`ve looked at it, Dr. Jason Johnson, an MSNBC contributor, went to South Bend, did some great reporting out there on how the black people feel about his leadership there. It does not echo what everybody else feels. And, three, I want to know about the secret tapes with Mayor Pete. What happened with you firing this black policy chief? I want to know what was on the tape, what was your thinking behind it. And I don`t think we`ve gotten a full explanation there before all this, you know, chatter about him.
To your point about Elizabeth Warren, I would say, I think it`s super important she has the most policy substantive campaign out there, for sure, without a doubt. Unfortunately for her, and for us, people tend to vote on personality. She actually has personality, though. But she doesn`t get the coverage that she warrants. I mean, she is an amazing candidate. And she, I think, of all the field, she`s one of those people who can say, look, I`m not new to this. I`m true to this. I`ve been fighting for these things a long time. And I`m not so sure everybody else can say that.
VELSHI: It has been great to have you guys here on a Friday night, thank you for joining me. I appreciate it.
Tiffany Cross, Dan Kanninen and Dorian Warren joining us tonight.
And that is it for this evening. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
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