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Barr declines to recuse himself from probes. TRANSCRIPT: 5/6/19, All In w/ Chris Hayes.

Guests: Ian Bassin, Carol Lam, Ted Lieu, Dexter Filkins, Jelani Cobb, RuthBen-Ghiat, Jason Stanley

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  And that really is HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.



MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP:  Individual Number One is President Donald J. Trump.

HAYES:  The President`s co-conspirator reports to prison.

COHEN:  There still remains much to be told.

HAYES:  As Donald Trump says the public should not hear from Robert Mueller.


HAYES:  Tonight, why nearly 500 former federal prosecutors say the President would be charged with felonies if he wasn`t in office.  Then the Treasury refuses to turn over Trump`s tax returns and the Justice Department scrambles as House Democrats move to hold Bill Barr in contempt.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  To Barr`s moment of accountability will come soon enough.

HAYES:  Plus, the authoritarian impulses of an InfoWars president.

TRUMP:  I will not let you down.

HAYES:  And is John Bolton about to take America to war?


HAYES:  When ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES:  Good evening from New York I`m Chris Hayes.  While Michael Cohen was reporting to prison today to begin serving his three-year sentence, his co-conspirator, the man behind Cohen`s criminal hush-money scheme according to prosecutors was still at large, comfortably ensconced in the White House.

This morning, Cohen turned himself into a federal prison 70 miles north of New York City to serve his sentence for a number of crimes including the ones he committed together with the President of the United States.  The President identified over and over again as Individual One in court documents was effectively Cohen`s unindicted co-conspirator.

They conspired together to cover up damaging information that could have jeopardized Donald Trump`s campaign for president.  And here`s the thing, it worked.  The public never learned that information before casting their ballots.  And so now because in part the conspiracy succeeded, because the president eats out an electoral college win by just over 100,000 votes in three states, the President has a legal and constitutional force fuels protecting him from prosecution.

You can`t indict a sitting president.  The only way to pierce that force fields is with the two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove the President from office.  And with our polarized politics, it`s hard to imagine anything clearing that threshold.  Senate Republicans seem willing to give the president a pass on just about everything.


TRUMP:  They say I have the most loyal people.  Did you ever say that?  Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn`t lose any voters, OK.  It`s like incredible.


HAYES:  The hush-money scheme is just one of two separate distinct criminal conspiracies that we know of that helped elect this president.  The other one which was carried out by Russia was the subject of volume one of Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s report.  Volume two detailed the President`s own efforts to impede or shut down Mueller`s investigation of the election conspiracy.

The Special Counsel emphasizing that from the beginning he determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the president committed crimes.  But according to hundreds of former federal prosecutors, that is exactly the judgment Mueller would have reached if again, he`d been investigating anyone other than the guy who is the president.

More than 500 former prosecutors including career employees and political appointees from both parties signed a statement asserting the president would have been charged with obstruction of justice if he were not the president.  Once again, Donald Trump shielded from prosecution by the office he occupies.

Of course, the man who cleared the president of instruction Attorney General William Barr argued a president effectively can`t obstruct justice, that he can do whatever he wants within the scope of his awesome Constitutional powers.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  In this situation of the president who has constitutional authority to supervise proceedings, if in fact a proceeding was not well-founded, if it was a groundless proceeding, if it was based on false allegations, the president does not have to sit there constitutionally and allow it to run its course.

The president could terminate that proceeding and it would not be a corrupt intent because he was being falsely accused.


HAYES:  We are right now in the process of creating an extremely dangerous precedent that the president is functionally above law.  And if that`s the case if the presidency itself is what is protecting him from legal accountability, from prosecution, well then this president and every president hereafter has every incentive to keep trying to shut down investigations and to do what takes to win reelection and stay in office.

Ian Bassin was associate White House Counsel of President Obama, is now Executive Director of Protect Democracy which spearheaded the statement by former prosecutors the President would have been charged with instruction, and MSNBC Legal Analyst Paul Butler is a former Federal Prosecutor and one of more than 500 who signed that statement.

Now, Ian, let me start with you.  How did this letter come about?

IAN BASSIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PROTECT DEMOCRACY:  You know, we had several former prosecutors reach out to us because Protect Democracy is an organization that was founded in part by former White House attorneys, DOJ attorneys saying that they felt in their judgment they would have indicted here, and they felt their colleagues would have as well and invited us and asked us if we could help spread the word to other prosecutors.  We did that, the response was overwhelming.

And the message of this letter basically is if you or I or any of the viewers at home engaged in the conduct that`s detailing another report, we would almost certainly have been indicted.  And in our system of government, just because you`re the president, you don`t get treated any differently.

HAYES:  Why did you sign a letter, Paul?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  I became a prosecutor because I wanted to uphold equal justice under the law.  My specialty was public corruption and the ethos in the department at that time was that no person is above the law.  And when you look at the details and the Mueller report, it is not a closed case whether the president committed obstruction.  There was voluminous evidence.

We`ve all prosecuted many people for crimes like this and the -- what we say in the letter is that we could get a conviction, we could sustain a conviction.  And again, the only reason that President Trump is not under indictment now is because he`s the president.

HAYES:  What do you say to people who say this is essentially kind of post hoc rationalizing, this is fundamentally partisan, or ideological, or political to sort of look at a set of facts and be like oh yes, we would have indicted him.

BASSIN:  You know what`s so interesting about this is just how nonpartisan it is, and that`s not just because of the people who sign this letter which include people like a former federal judge who was appointed by Ronald Reagan to be a U.S. Attorney, and George H.W. Bush to be a judge.  I mean, these are people from both parties, career civil servants.

But the other aspect of it and maybe this is a hopeful thing is after the 2016 election there was some research that showed that of the factors that motivated a cohort of Trump voters to support Trump was that in their minds if they had done the things that Hillary Clinton was accused of, they would have been prosecuted.

And they felt that if it`s -- if Hillary you know, is not being prosecuted and they would have been, that`s fundamentally unfair.  Well, now it`s the exact same situation in reverse.  And so one question is I think, I hope we will now see both maybe some Trump voters and Hillary readers come to an agreement on this fundamental principle of American law, which is if it`s illegal for me, and it`s illegal for you, it`s illegal for the president.

BUTLER:  Which the Mueller Report points out.  So the Mueller report is 400 pages.  Every word is purposeful.  So there is a section that says that the President can be indicted after he leaves office, and Mueller adds, one reason for all of these hundreds of pages is I want to preserve evidence.  I want to collect evidence.  Well, memories are still fresh.  So 2020, 2024, when Trump leaves office, there could be an indictment.

HAYES:  It does seem though perverse to me the situation we found ourselves in, and I`m not even sure that the alternative is better.  I mean, I can find all -- I can think of all ways that indicting a sitting president could be abused by rogue elements within a Justice Department, right?  I mean, people that have a political ax to grind and they decide they can take this down.

I understand the constitutional provision that would put this in the hands fundamentally of a kind of democratic choice.  But the situation we have now does seem to be that we have created a force field around the guy where -- I mean, he`s today -- he is watching Michael Cohen report to prison for a thing they did together.  That`s not even contested they did together.

That`s admitted to that`s in the court filings.  Michael Cohen admits it.  It is a felony.  He`s going to do some time for it.  And the President, sits there you know, watching this footage.  You know he`s watching it on T.V. being like there before the grace of God or there before my return address 1600 Pennsylvania.

BASSIN:  Well, what is the bad news for him, right, is it`s important to remember that it`s not that the President cannot legally be indicted, it`s just that there`s a piece of paper that were issued by government lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel holding that as a non-binding opinion.

So word to President Trump, that`s not a great defense.  In fact, let`s just assume that it`s true.  What Mueller says in the introduction of volume two of the report is he basically implies that I`m kicking this over to Congress right, because he says at one point one of the reasons that he`s choosing not to indict is because he doesn`t want to interfere and other possible political avenues.

And I think now it goes to your point of, now it`s up to "We the People."  So right now we`ve got more than 500 former prosecutors who signed at  If you`re a former federal prosecutor, you can still sign on now because it`s up to us to build the pressure on Congress to act and create accountability.

HAYES:  It`s -- there`s also a deeper kind of conceptual issue here which you hinted at, Paul, to me which is this fundamental like we say this in a hairy sense like no one is above the law, but in like in a real sense.  Like it is the law actually a binding constraint on people or is it essentially just the way that we dress up power relations in a society?  And this is basically it.  Like this is where the rubber hits the road on that question.

BUTLER:  Yes.  And this is where we rely on some kind of basic integrity with the people who lead our government.  There was a scary moment in that hearing last week with law.  When Senator Harris asked him, has the president directed you to prosecute anyone, he refused to answer that question.

HAYES:  I want to talk a little more about SDNY in just -- in just a moment, but I guess like the next question here is do you view this in terms of legal sense of fundamentally on Congress.  You just mentioned Congress.  It is a Congress question, not a democratic question.

BASSIN:  It is on Congress, but it`s on everyone who took the oath that the president took in.  Every federal employee takes this oath right, to appalled the Constitution.  And I think this oath is actually the cord that shoots through everything because the president took a special oath.  He took an oath to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Mueller report is the very end of volume two where Mueller responds to Bill Barr who has made the argument that as you just showed on television that while the president would be totally within his rights to shut down an investigation, Mueller rejects that and he says no, the Founders gave the president under Article Two the power to execute the law faithfully.  If he acts in bad faith to for example protects himself, he`s violating his oath.

And Congress needs to look into that because Mueller looked at criminal activity.  Congress was looking at whether he`s abused his power and violated his oath, different standards.

HAYES:  If the standard is whether the man has violated the oath to take care the laws faithfully executed, it just seems obviously overwhelming that he has fallen short about it.  Ian Bassin and Paul Butler, thank you both.

For more on the legal and constitutional stakes of the president`s functional immunity, I`m joined by MSNBC Legal Analyst Benjamin Wittes, Editor in Chief of Lawfare and Carol Lam former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California and former Superior Court Judge in San Diego.

Carol let me start with you as someone who once ran a U.S. Attorney`s Office.  This item has been brought -- resurfaced in attention last few days.  And I want to read two things and get your response.  One is that we know from reporting the President talked to Matt Whitaker when he was the sort of custodian head of DOJ basically about the SDNY case that has resulted in Michael Cohen`s prison time.

The House Judiciary Committee believes it has evidence that President Trump asked Whitaker whether Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman could regain control of his office`s investigation of Mr. Trump`s former lawyer and his real estate business essentially, can we get this back under control of people that I trust.

And then this item that earlier this year New York federal prosecutors had notified the Trump Org.  They wanted to interview additional executives, but have yet to follow up on that request according to people familiar with the matter.  Do you have trust that that part of the Department of Justice is being preserved and protected from political influence?

CAROL LAM, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Well, that is one of the most concerning things frankly about the way things have rolled out here.  As we know there were 12 investigations that were referred by the special prosecutor`s office that we don`t know about yet in terms of what the subject matter is.  And those prosecutions and investigations all roll up to the Attorney General.  He`s not recused from any of them.

And so we don`t know what kind of dialogue is going on in the Justice Department about what should be pursued, what theories should be pursued, what people should be pursued.  And frankly, at this point, I think people would be justified in having concern that certain aspects of certain cases might be shut down.

I really have no reason to believe that at this point things are going to take their normal course as they would as they certainly would have I think when I was U.S. Attorney.

HAYES:  Ben I -- what Carol just said is something I`ve heard echoed by a bunch of people who were sort of longtime DOJ institutionalist, Chuck Rosenberg and Walter Dellinger, Carol is just there, a lot of people that sort of I think two or three weeks ago they would say look, we don`t really -- or even four or five six weeks ago, we don`t really think that the place is being operated in bad faith who now are just really concerned that it is.

BEN WITTES, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Yes.  Well, so you know, count me as one of them.  I wrote a piece suggesting that we should all give Bill Barr the benefit of the doubt on the matters of the redactions of the Mueller report only to find that he had you know, quite dramatically mischaracterized what`s actually in that document both in his letter and in the press conference the very day he released the document.

So I think there is reason to be concerned about the integrity of the Justice Department senior leadership.  I do think I have a certain amount of confidence and it`s weird to say confidence in leaks, but I do have a certain amount of confidence that if the Southern District of New York were not able to conduct the investigation that it means to conduct and wants to conduct and thinks it is ethically required and legally required to conduct, that the people in that office would sort of find a way to make that clear.

And so I am not alarmed yet that that investigation is being substantially interfered with, but I do think we have to be vigilant on the point.

HAYES:  You know, Carol, it strikes me as worth taking step back to consider the fact that today is a day that the President`s longtime associate, lawyer, bagman, fixer is going to federal prison in part for a crime he committed with the President according to this individual.

LAM:  Well, he did -- he did implicate the president, but again, he pled guilty and people who want to support the President can say well, you know, you can say anything when you bring guilty because you`re pleading guilty right.  He didn`t go to trial.  It wasn`t -- there was no verdict from a jury.

But yes -- I mean, the point was made earlier that there is a little bit of a protective dome around the President once he`s elected president.  No person is above the law, theoretically, that`s true but a lot of things are different when you`re talking about the president as a potential criminal defendant.

You know, you have to -- you have to consider the fact that even if the OLC memos didn`t exist, if you actually indicted the president, what if you lose that case.  I mean, you know, you don`t want to have -- you don`t want to have too many situations or potential situations where things are just going to shake up so much.

You know, the thing is that when you have people who have different views of the law, it`s -- that -- those different views can coexist as long as everyone`s operating within certain norms, certain precedents, everybody understands where things are going.  I think what`s happened here is the president has taken things to such an extreme that it has forced everybody to go to an extreme in terms of their positions.

Bill Barr was a perfectly fine attorney general back in the early 90s, but now his views, he`s had to push some very extreme views.  And the problem is there`s no precedent for a lot of things that are happening today and everybody is having a little bit of trouble finding the guardrails to stay within. 

HAYES:  It`s well said.  Ben, you`re just nodding your head.

WITTES:  Indeed. I mean, I think the -- you know, we have a set of understandings that -- of the parameters of debate you know, and they`re pretty broad.  I mean, people believe very different things about the law, but the nature of the law is that it does discipline those conversations.

And then you have somebody like Trump come around and you know, just operate wholly outside of the parameters of the normal discussion, and that forces everybody to make a decision are you defending the general parameters in which we have this discussion or are you willing to tear the whole thing up on behalf of Donald Trump.

HAYES:  Ben Wittes and Carol Lam, great to have you both tonight.  Next, breaking news tonight in the fight to release the president`s tax returns as Steve Mnuchin rejects the request from House Democrats to turn them over.  We`ll talk about that and the President`s attorney general scrambling to avoid being held in contempt in two minutes.


HAYES:  We have breaking muses evening.  Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin missed today`s deadline to turn over the President`s tax returns telling Congress "in reliance on the advice the Department of Justice, that would be William Barr`s Department Justice, I`ve determined the committee`s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.

This comes as the Attorney General the United States and the Department of Justice are scrambling to avoid their own imminent contempt of Congress citation for the Attorney General who has refused to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee and blown off the committee`s formal subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report.

The Judiciary Committee is now planning a contempt vote for Wednesday.  Now tonight, Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler has announced the DOJ has proposed a meeting with his staff tomorrow to begin to negotiate an acceptable accommodation.  But there is still another possible shoe to drop if House Democrats subpoena Barr`s testimony.

Meanwhile, the President has done a 180 on whether Robert Mueller should testify.  It looks like the Department of Justice may move to actually block Mueller from appearing before Congress.  Joining me now a member of the committee chasing after the man who guards the Mueller report, Congressman Ted Lieu, Democrat from California, member of that House Judiciary Committee.

And let`s start first with the business before your committee.  It is notable to me that the Department of Justice, the Attorney General appeared to want to avoid this contempt citation.  How do you read their behavior?

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA):  Thank you, Chris, for your question.  I`m not going to really look at what the Department of Justice wants to do.  I want to know if Bill Barr is going to provide the unredacted materials and the underlying evidence which 420 members of Congress on a bipartisan basis voted to get, and also Bill Barr is going to show up in committee hearing.

So right now this is just a bunch of talk from the Department of Justice.  And my view is if the Trump administration is going to engage in maximum obstruction of justice, then we have to be prepared to engage in a maximum response and that includes contempt.

HAYES:  What about the question before Congress right now about the tax returns.  Obviously, that`s in a different committee than yours.  But again, you are a member of this of Congress which is having its nose thumbed at.  I want to read the Ways and Means Chair Representative Neal who said that Secretary Mnuchin notified me.  The IRS will not provide the documents I requested.  I will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response.

What do you make of this refusal?

LIEU:  So there are two different legal theories happening.  Bill Barr violated a congressional subpoena last Wednesday.  Secretary Mnuchin is violating an actual statute that says you got to provide the tax returns to the House Ways and Means Chair.  It is black and white plain letter law so I don`t see how Steve Mnuchin gets out of this.  And if he doesn`t provide it, then I think we`re going to go to court and we will prevail in the court case.

HAYES:  Yes.  I mean, is that where you understand the ultimate arbiter of this power struggle?  I mean, right now you`ve got a whole bunch of stuff happening right.  The -- whether the Mueller report will be provided unredacted, whether a subpoena will be issued to Barr and if you would appear if so on the tax returns.  Is -- do you trust essentially the courts will ultimately end up being the one to resolve these disputes?

LIEU:  I do trust of course because they actually have to rely on facts.  And so if you look at the statute and their tax case, it is very clear the House Ways and Means chair gets to get the tax returns of their president.

And if you look at congressional subpoenas, courts throughout our history have upheld the power of congressional subpoenas.  In Watergate, they upheld the power of congressional subpoenas.  I believe they would do so again.

But let`s say the courts don`t do that.  Congress itself has inherent contempt power that the Supreme Court itself has upheld.  And so Congress can also take action without having go to the court.

HAYES:  OK, so what does that mean?  What does contempt of Congress actually mean?

LIEU:  If the Judicial Committee in the House votes to hold Bill Barr in contempt, it triggers two things.  One allows us to litigate the issue in court, second it triggers inherent contempt power which means we can take actions through our internal congressional processes such as levying fines on individuals without having to go to court.

The Supreme Court has said we have that power.  And look, it should not be our first option.  But if the Trump administration is going to engage in all this norm and role in law violating then we have to look at all options.

HAYES:  What is your understanding status?  I`m confused about a special counsel Mueller.  The Department of Justice, there`s some noise being made that they may block him from testifying and he is still an employee of that department and they can do that.  But why is he still there under the DOJ and how can you get him before your committee if the DOJ blocks it.

LIEU:  So the Trump Administration has made some arguments that senior advisors to the President should not have to testify before Congress.  There is no legal defense for the department justice to hold Robert Mueller from testifying.

Now that we see not only senior advisor to Donald Trump, he was a guy investigating Donald Trump.  And so case precedent and what we`ve seen in our history is that in Watergate the special prosecutor Leon Jaworski testified before Congress.  During the Clinton Administration Ken Starr testified before Congress.  There is really no legal reason to keep Robert Mueller from testifying before Congress.

HAYES:  Ultimately then, is that something you would also have to pursue in the courts?

LIEU:  Potentially if it resorts to us having to issue a subpoena.  It`s not clear to me -- and you have a good question why Robert Mueller is still an employee at Department of Justice.  At some point, I believe he`s not going to be employee because he finished his report and then we can get him in as a private citizen.  But even now, I don`t see any legal basis to keep him from testifying before Congress.

HAYES:  All right, Congressman Ted Lieu who sits on that House Judiciary Committee which is in the midst of the parry and thrust with the Department of Justice on all this, thank you very much.

LIEU:  Thank you, Chris.

HAYES:  Ahead, is Donald Trump`s National Security Adviser about to take America to war?  New alarms about what John Bolton is up to next.


HAYES:  Over the weekend in a typically bellicose statement, the always bellicose infamously mustachioed National Security Advisor John Bolton said that the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime.

Now, here`s the thing.  According to the Associated Press, this was not actually some big policy change.  The A.P. reported "the order to the carrier group would get the Abraham Lincoln to the Middle East about two weeks earlier than initially planned following exercises in the Mediterranean region.  In other words, it was already headed there.

But Bolton along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others in the administration has been making lots of noise about the possible use of American military force just about wherever they can manage to get away with it.  They`ve been saber-rattling over Venezuela and now Iran and Lord knows where else.

In a new profile, Bolton in The New Yorker Dexter Filkins writes, during the past two decades Bolton has established himself as the Republican Party`s most militant foreign policy thinker, an advocate of aggressive force who ridicules anyone who disagrees.

So, is the Trump administration going to follow Bolton into a disaster?  Here with me now is New Yorker`s Dexter Filkins, the writer of "John Bolton on the Warpath."  It was a great piece.  Thank you for coming.

What do you make of what has happened in the Iran theater in the last day or two?

DEXTER FILKINS, NEW YORKER:  Well, I think the important thing to say is we don`t know, because we haven`t seen the evidence.  You know, all we have are statements from the White House basically.  So what the White House says is that the Iranians -- they`ve seen indications that the Iranians are engaged in escalatory behavior.  They`ve indicated that there are preparations to possibly attack Americans or American interests in the region.

But honestly, we don`t know because we don`t know what they have.  And so they deployed, you know, they`re clearly trying to send a message to the Iranian regime.

HAYES:  I have to say, the message sending -- and I want to play Mike Pompeo basically making that point over the weekend, and then get a reaction to it.  Take a listen.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE:  We have continued to see activity that leads us to  believe that there is escalation that may be taking place, and so we`re taking all the appropriate actions both from a security perspective as well as our ability to make sure that the president has a wide range of options in the event that something should actually take place.


HAYES:  OK.  So that was today.  I`m just -- you`re being very diplomatic in you`re a straight report, that`s fine.  I`m  just going to say -- you`ll forgive me if I`m slightly jaundiced and skeptical that  they are being honest about what the actual intelligence says, given the preexisting desire to confront Iran and get out of the deal that we have -- from day one.

FILKINS:  Well, you`re right about that.  I mean, they`re very up front about this.  They`ve said we -- our goal is not regime change.  We`ve tried that.  It doesn`t work so well.  But we are trying to collapse the Iranian economy.  And if we do that, and the Iranian people want to take action against -- against their government, that`s fine with us.

And so I think this is -- if you look in the larger context, this is -- they have -- the White House strategy against Iran is very aggressive.

HAYES:  It`s also -- the other thing I can`t help but note is the timing here, right?  And this is part of what I find worrisome.  You`ve got two spheres in which Bolton has been very active and Pompeo very bellicose, Iran and Venezuela.  And it almost seems like they kind of alternate between the two.  Like, so a few days ago it was the U.S. clearly coordinating with the opposition leader to have this call to arms to have the military shift its loyalties, and basically nothing happened.

FILKINS:  Nothing happened.

I think what -- Pompeo said something interesting about Iran, which is we`ve been working on this for awhile.  And I don`t know what that -- that`s a very curious statement.  I don`t know what it means, but it suggests that this is something they`ve been thinking about.  And so that makes me wonder, OK, then what was it that happened yesterday or did it happen a month ago?

HAYES:  You`re saying with Iran?

FILKINS:  Yeah, about Iran.

And so if we take them at their word, they`ve been kind of working on this for awhile.

HAYES:  Right.

but my point is it seems to me the timing of the announcement is right after the Venezuela...

FILKINS:  Right after it collapsed.

HAYES:  Exactly.

Because there was all this, you know, they very clearly have applied maximal pressure to Venezuela.  They have -- Shanahan is studying -- the acting head of DOD.

FILKINS:  Yeah, we had a meeting at the Pentagon.

HAYES:  Who was running Boeing, who was -- studying options, possible military options.  And you know, that`s, you know, they keep talking very loosely about the possibility of American troops there.

FILKINS:  Well, they keep -- all options are on the table.

HAYES:  Right.

FILKINS:  He made that very clear.

But I -- yeah, the Venezuela clearly it was a misfire, clearly it was a misjudgement.  They thought the army was going to rise up.  Nothing happened.  So that`s off the screen now.

HAYES:  Right.  Exactly.  Now we`re talking about Iran.

What do you think -- how much sway does Bolton have?  I mean, one of the things that happens in this administration often is the thing that the president`s least engaged with gives the most amount of space...


HAYES:  ...for determined and knowledgeable staffers or principals to pursue.

FILKINS:  Definitely.

HAYES:  And this seems like the perfect example of that.

FILKINS:  It does.  I think the question you just asked is the most important one, and I think there is a -- there is, it seems to me, a fundamental divide in the White House.  You have Bolton, whose reputation as you say, he`s the most aggressive hawk in the Republican Party.  He`s been that way for years. 

I don`t -- I`m not sure Trump really has bought into that.  I don`t -- I don`t get the impression Trump wants a war.  He doesn`t want to be blamed for American deaths.  He certainly doesn`t want to  spend the money.  And so where does that leave them?  Either you can see them not -- their minds not meeting on any number of policy options, but the question is, does Trump just say, you guys deal with it.

HAYES:  This is your portfolio. 

Or do -- you know, he`s also known, and this comes through in your piece, this sort of master  bureaucratic infighter.  Does he create the conditions that corners the president into taking some sort of action that he wants already.

FILKINS:  You know, again...

HAYES:  That`s...

FILKINS:  ...really good question.  What was interesting about the statement that Bolton put out last night is that it came out from Bolton, not the president...

HAYES:  I noted that adds well.

FILKINS:  ...not the White House.

And, you know, the national security adviser historically has been -- his office is right down the hall from the president.  He doesn`t speak in public.  He doesn`t go down to Miami and give speeches about Venezuela.  He doesn`t pound the table.  He`s not a political guy.  And Bolton has proved to be very much otherwise.

HAYES:  All right.  Dexter Filkins, a piece in the New Yorker this week on John Bolton -- or last week, I think, great piece.  Thank you very much.

FILKINS:  Thank you.  Thank you.

HAYES:  Coming up, the Infowars president will talk about the way he cultivates the ugliest and most authoritarian impulses ahead.  And tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two starts next.


HAYES:  Thing One tonight, as you may have heard, there was a big controversy at the Kentucky Derby this weekend when the apparent winner, a horse named Maximum Security, was disqualified after the race.  Officials ruled the jockey had broken the rules against interference and so a different horse, Country House, was named the winner.

This, of course, caught the attention of the guy we elected to watch TV and tweet stuff, quote, "the Kentucky Derby decision was not a good one.  It was a rough and tumble race on a wet and sloppy track, actually, a beautiful thing to watch.  Only in these days of political correctness could such an  overturn occur.  The best horse win did not win the Kentucky Derby.  Not even close."

To be clear, the president thinks that politically correct people run the Kentucky Derby, and that the horse, which broke the rules to cross the finish line first, is the real winner because of political correctness.

Maybe he could invite that horse over to the White House to eat garbagy cold fast food in protest. 

In the meantime, Trump did have a tiger over today.  We don`t know what the president fed him, but he did give him the presidential Medal of Freedom, and that`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.


HAYES:  Since he`s become president, Donald Trump has loved to give out goodies to his friends like when Omarosa got a job in the White House doing nobody really knows what or the time he pardoned Sheriff Joe or when he gave Sheldon Adelson`s wife the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  That was a memorable day because he gave one to Elvis, too.


TRUMP:  Our final Medal of Freedom, and here`s another one who is just very incredible, today goes to one of the most beloved artists and most enduring cultural icons that has ever lived, the King of Rock and Roll, the true king -- and you have to say that -- Elvis Aaron Presley.


HAYES:  Kind of a deep cut there made for an awkward moment for White House history.

Today, the president moved the ceremony outside for the latest recipient, Masters Champion and Trump golf buddy, Tiger Woods.


TRUMP:  This is the Rose Garden, for those of you that don`t know, and we use it seldom, but this is one of the times we`re using it, Tiger.


HAYES:  Ah, yes, the obscure and seldom used Rose Garden that he hasn`t used since Thursday.  Tiger returned the great favor by showing him what it would look like if a professional athlete worse that same suit.

But Woods was genuinely emotional and humble as he received our nation`s greatest civilian honor, even if it comes from a guy who regularly commits golf`s greatest dishonor by driving his cart on the greens.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How great is that?  That`s the only place you can drive on the green, right, your own golf course.

TRUMP:  Somebody`s club.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That`s mine.  I`m going to need it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There`s another putter in the grass.

TRUMP:  Hey, fellas.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What`s happening?

TRUMP:  You doing good?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everything good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everything`s terrific.

TRUMP:  Security, fellas.



HAYES:  After Facebook announced it was kicking off a variety of bigoted and conspiratorial  cranks from its platform, the president, himself a bigoted and conspiratorial crank, rose to the defense of his fellow bigoted and conspiratorial cranks by retweeting a bunch of bigoted and conspiratorial cranks.

Perhaps most revealing to me anyway, was a tweet from a Canadian far right figure who defended her extremist fellow travelers and warned her peers on the right that there just wasn`t much of a difference between them and those banned.

"LMAO at establishment conservatives who think they won`t be labeled the new dangerous extremist voices when those to the right of them are all banned.  Good luck with that one, guys."

She ended with an OK symbol, which has recently been appropriated by white supremacists.  And, for her trouble, got a retweet from the president of the United States.

Of course she`s kind of got a point that the ideological distance between, say, Infowars, which has flogged Sandyhook conspiracy theories so unremittingly it`s being sued and led to the grieving parents of at least one murdered child to have to move seven times for safety, and, you know, the white nationalist congressman Steven King or, say, the president of the United States.  That ideological distance isn`t that vast.

In fact, if Donald Trump weren`t president, does anyone doubt he would almost certainly find himself in danger of being banned from the social media platforms he loves?  And therein lies the danger, when the most powerful man in the world with the biggest platform in the country is using the power of that platform to cultivate the ugliest and most authoritarian impulses.

We`re going to talk about that next.



TRUMP:  Just stick with us.  Don`t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.  And just remember, what you`re seeing and what you`re reading is not what`s happening.


HAYES:  Trump did not invent the alternate reality machine that exists on the right, but he has  used the megaphone of the presidency to expand and legitimize it, prompting warnings of creeping authoritarianism or worse.

Joining me now to discuss where we are, Yale University Professor Jason Stanley, author of the book "How Fascism Works," also with me New York University Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, whose forthcoming book is "Strongmen: How They Rise, How They Succeed and How They Fail," and Jelani Cobb, a professor at Columbia University School of Journalism and a staff writer at The New Yorker.

So let me start with you, Ruth.  I mean, at one level, I feel torn when the president goes for one of these like Twitter jags, which he is retweeting all kinds of people, because on one level it feels small and kind of almost like impotent and trivial, right, that he`s -- here is this guy with all this power, and what he is doing is retweeting, for instance, Howard H. with 92 followers who is mad that Andrew Napolitano is saying mean things about the president.

But when I read someone like you or some of the other people at this table, you see it as something much more menacing and darker.  Why?

RUTH BEN-GHIAT, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY:  Well, always look for the end game, and always ask why is he doing this?  And tweeting people who it`s not random people who have no followers, it`s usually some extremists or Neo- Nazis or people who have already tweeted violent videos against the press and Islamophobic things.

So that actually builds his populist profile that even a little person can feel heard by the president.  But there is always a bigger logic in what he is doing.  And he is really -- he is a marketing master.  He is very dangerous because he knows exactly how to communicate and the principles of propaganda are saturation, repetition.  And he has done that very effectively for a few years now.  And we`re seeing the effects.

JASON STANLEY, YALE UNIVERSITY:  So he`s breaking down factuality.  Like the goal is to break down any kind of connection to reality and create this us-them narrative by tweeting really out there conspiracy theories like wildly Islamophobic conspiracy theory he tweeted right before basically on the eve of Ramadan.

He`s trying to introduce into public discourse stories that detach us from reality.

HAYES:  Right.

JALANI COBB, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY:  And I think there is another point to this too, which is that when you look at the way authoritarians tend to function, they anthropomorphize the state.  They take over quirky, oddball aspects of their character, things that people would never care about.  But, you know, there is Gadhafi with his ode to Condoleezza Rice, or there is the weird things about Saddam Hussein, or these kind of individuals who have these strange personality attributes that somehow or another become aspects of the state`s actual day to day existence.

So we`re having to deal with questions that should never rise to the level of national conversation.

HAYES:  That`s one of the tyrannies, right, of living in a state that is run by a strong man is that like their bizarre idiosyncrasies and character traits filter down through the state in all sorts of ways that you then have to deal with as just a subject.

BEN-GHIAT:  And another mechanism is that -- and I`ve seen it with Berlusconi when I was living in Rome when they brought the neo-fascists to power, I`ve seen it over and over again, the fringe people, the extremist people who had no power, who, again are, again, lunatics, conspiracy theories, they actually get into the mainstream and there is no better legitimizer than the president of the United States.

So, we`re seeing a very concentrated and dangerous form of this process that`s been repeated for 100 years with other dictators.

STANLEY:  And that`s the key to breaking down any sense of reality.  You break down the mainstream media as an authority source.  You go after the universities.  You say they`re not allowing free speech since they don`t allow these nutball conspiracy theories in.  This is what Trump did with birtherism.

HAYES:  Right, but there`s a bark and bite question, always, with this, right.  Because he always sort of fundamentally, I think, like bigger bark than bite and more like -- likes to talk a lot of trash and doesn`t like to actually throw punches.  Like he`s just -- that is who he is.  And so, yeah, he`ll rail against -- I mean, to me, it`s like you guys are ascribing intentionality to me which is like to me it`s like he isn`t that different from Howard H. who has 92 followers.  He is retweeting him because he like identifies with Howard H, and the two both watch Fox News and are mad at Andrew Napolitano.

COBB:  But they are the guys who are going to act on his behalf.  And so we see...

HAYES:  Yeah, that`s a good...

STANLEY:  And he does not denounce them.

COBB:  Right, he does not denounce them.  It`s a kind of tacit endorsement.  And it`s -- we say that people can be damned by faint praise.  It can work on the opposite too.  They can be praised by faint damnation.

So when you give these kind of half-hearted denunciation of things, what it actually does is encourage more of the same.

STANLEY:  Hannah Orrin (ph) discusses this.  She says you don`t denounce the unofficial vigilante violence, you don`t praise it, you just let it go.

COBB:  Right.

STANLEY:  And so therefore sanction it.

So these materials, and I don`t think this is innocent.  We don`t know.  It`s...

HAYES:  Oh, I don`t think it`s innocent.  I want to be clear about that.  I think it`s malicious and  nefarious, I just don`t know how powerful it is.

STANLEY:  It is making the information sphere into spectacle.

BEN-GHIAT:  But it`s also he signaled -- what authoritarians do, and they start this when they`re still on the campaign trail, when he did that quote in January 2016, he said I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone.

HAYES:  W e played it in the A block tonight.

BEN-GHIAT:  I saw that.  He was being very intentional.  He was giving Americans a message that he could be violent, that he would connect himself to violent people and he figured he was above the law, because it wasn`t just that he was going to shoot someone, it was also he would have no  consequences.

HAYES:  Right.

There is this -- the Falwell retweet where he sort of makes this dumb joke about reparations and the president, "Trump should have two years added to his first term as payback for time stolen by the  corrupt failed coup."  There is all this coup talk and now there`s this sort of like floating the idea running up the flag pole, like maybe the president gets two extra years.

COBB:  Erdogan.

Or, you know, we`re just going to go -- I mean, dictatorial heads of state have we seen who haven`t claimed there was an attempt for a coup.  It`s in the textbook.  It`s kind of like...

HAYES:  Although, Erdogan really did have a coup.

COBB:  But still, you start with page one.  You have to kind of empower your enemies and place them in a position of where they pose much more jeopardy than they actually do.

HAYES:  How much -- yeah, the stabbed in the back meta -- like sort of story, right, which is both sort of broadly cultural, but specific to the security services, right the FBI.

Here you have the -- I mean, you have the head of -- this is the Ranna Romney, head of the RNC, the establishment RNC, saying that Comey`s FBI sent undercover agents to spy on Donald T, stunning revelation the lengths the Obama administration went to, instead of a phony Russia collusion investigation, we actually need to investigate how this whole hoax started.

STANLEY:  Well, this is a structure.  This is a structure familiar from anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, that there is a secret global conspiracy of all powerful agents.  And of course that licenses, then, the kind of violence that you see because there is this connection between an all powerful link of media and deep state behind, well, who`s the ones arranging it.

BEN-GHIAT:  And it`s also -- it`s very important.  All of these right wing leaders over 100 years have had to pose as victims.  So victims of the deep state, victims of witch hunt -- and Berlusconi, Erdogan and Trump have used the term witch hunt a lot. 

And I even found in my research for my book "Strongmen" a poster from the late `20s of Hitler with his mouth tape upped like with duct tape.  And he`s saying -- the caption is like translating roughly but all the millions of people in the world, I`m the only person who is taboo.  And it was because there were speaking bans on him in the late `20s.  And they were done at the local level. 

And he convinced them right before the depression hit, he convinced some of these places to lift the speaking bans because he said he would work within the law.

So this right wing whining about being victims.

HAYES:  Deplatforming.

BEN-GHIAT:  Yes.  Is really old.

HAYES:  The original deplatforming, although it probably goes back further than that.

Jason Stanley, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, and Jelani Cobb, thank you all for being with me.

BEN-GHIAT:  Thank you.

HAYES:  That is ALL IN for this evening.  "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.  Good evening, Rachel.