STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are one month from Iowa and the candidates are going to spend it frantically pleading their case to voters out there. For Biden, though, every poll that looks like these two is probably the best closing message he`s got.
That`s HARDBALL for now. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a perfect call.
HAYES: Damning new evidence about the President`s orders in the Ukraine scheme.
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Get over it.
HAYES: Tonight, what we`re learning from newly unredacted Pentagon e- mails, why Democrats are calling for more impeachment evidence and witnesses, and will Republicans plow ahead with the cover-up? Plus --
TRUMP: This will never ever be a Benghazi.
HAYES: What we know about what happened at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, and why the President`s policies are being blamed. Then, as another candidate leaves the race, new fundraising numbers that show wild enthusiasm for the Democratic field. And debunking one of the President`s most repeated and brazen lies.
TRUMP: We pass veteran`s choice. We just passed choice.
HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Good evening from New York. A very Happy New Year. I`m Chris Hayes. And we have new government documents tonight that give us more information about just how directly involved the President was and what was likely and unlawful illegal withholding the military funds to Ukraine.
Of course, that`s at the center of the impeachment that looms over the president. The documents are the heart of why he is being impeached. And these documents are super incriminating on both the merits, and also for what they show about the cover-up, because they show new evidence of a cover-up that was actively occurring as recently as two weeks ago.
We have these documents because Just Security, a blog associated with NYU Law School, viewed unredacted copies of e-mails that have just been redacted and released before Christmas. I should tell you, NBC News has not independently verified those e-mails.
Three things though stand out to me. One, it appears the e-mails were redacted not for some national security reasons, but clearly as part of an effort to cover their tracks and cover it all up. Two, the e-mails are damning, showing the president personally directed the hold on the funds. And the people who are carrying out this scheme, President Trump and his inner circle knew it was sketchy and illegal.
They did not tell the truth to other people in the government. They did not give explicit reasons. They hid the ball. They did not tell the public. They did not tell Congress. Now, after they`ve been caught, Trump and his allies have been trying this audacious line of defense, everything is fine, nothing you see here, the Ukraine call is perfect. That is not how they have been behaving up to and including right now.
They are still stopping Congress and the American public from reading other documents and from hearing other witnesses. And the reason they`re doing that is because they know it was wrong, and then they got caught.
And the third thing that we`re learning from these documents, that this is something that we here on the show have been banging on about. The hold on the funds, the military aid to Ukraine passed by Congress, the hold on that money does not appear to be lawful. The people inside the Department of Defense, the lawyers charged with dotting the I`s, crossing the T`s, they had a very important legal task, which is to make sure not to break the law, something lawyers tend to care about the President less though.
The e-mails viewed by Just Security show the people in the DOD raised red flag after red flag to the Office of Management and Budget, which is the office tasked with executing Trump`s hold on the aid because the folks at the Pentagon were worried that by executing the hold, by not giving the funds to Ukraine, even though they`ve been passed by Congress signed the president, that the Pentagon ran the risk of breaking the law, breaking something called the Impoundment Control Act.
The fun fact about that law was passed in 1974 in the wake of Richard Nixon`s presidency, a guy most know and of course, for resigning due to the Watergate scandal and being an absolute omnidirectional criminal. And during his presidency, what Nixon`s go-to moves was to just not spend money allocated by Congress because of his own petty political feuds.
So Congress had to step in and reaffirm the constitutional imperative that indeed Congress has the power of the purse, and then appropriations be spent as intended. That`s what the law says. It`s what the Constitution says.
In fact, thanks to the Just Security report, we learned that DOD officials were so aware of this law that the Deputy Defense Secretary prepared a draft letter to the Acting Director of OMB saying, "we have repeatedly advised OMB officials that pauses beyond August 19, 2019 jeopardize the Department`s ability to obligate Ukraine aid funding prudently and fully consistent with the Impoundment Control Act." Or when you decode it in non-bureaucrat, what you`re doing is illegal, and we don`t endorse it.
Then, when the Ukraine aid freeze was publicly reported at the end of August, the OMB General Counsel center on talking points, saying, "no action has been taken by OMB that would preclude the obligation of these funds before the end of the fiscal year."
The acting Pentagon comptroller, a woman named Elaine McCusker responded, "I do not agree to the revised talking points." In other words, that`s B.S. "The last one is just an accurate from a financial execution standpoint, something we have been consistently conveying for a few weeks." In other words, your talking points are a lie. We know they`re a lie. And we`ve been telling you that for a few weeks, and now you`re trying to lie back to us.
For some reason, her response which does not seem like a revelation of classified information or a security compromise, that response was redacted in a document released last month. Interesting. Perhaps the most damning evidence about President Trump`s coordination of the freeze came at the end of August.
After meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and President Trump, that meeting that we just learned about last week, the political appointee coordinating the aid for ONB told the DOD Comptroller "Clear direction with the President of the United States to hold."
President Trump says to hold the aid. So now here we are. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is held back turning over the Articles of Impeachment in the Senate. In the interim, we`ve learned more and more incriminating information about the president and his inner circle thanks to some incredibly good reporting.
Last week, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she was disturbed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell`s statements that he was coordinating the trial with the Trump White House. Just two days ago, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who happens to be up for reelection this year said she would be open to calling witnesses at the Senate trial.
So now the question is, as damning reports like this continue to trickle out, will the Senate Republicans plunge ahead with the cover-up or not? Joining me now is the coeditor in chief of Just Security which broke the story, Ryan Goodman, also a law professor at NYU, previously served as Special Counsel to the General Counsel of DOD which is right in the heart of this. What is the significance of these documents to you?
RYAN GOODMAN, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JUST SECURITY: So I think everything that you outline is correct. The one significance is it just fingers the president. There`s that e-mail that says the President of the United States has a clear direction, hold the aid. And this is after that draft letter that basically said to OMB, we need to go forward with the aid otherwise, we`re acting illegally.
And their response is not it`s legal. It`s the President of the United States clearly directs you to hold the aid. And this is also --
HAYES: That`s -- by the way, that reveals a lot in and of itself. Because you have lawyers saying the law controls here. We want to not break the law. So, FYI, we`re about to break the law. And the response is not we`re not going to break the law, it`s no, the President wants you to break laws, essentially.
GOODMAN: It`s difficult to read it any other way. And we have all of the completely unredacted e-mails so we know if there`s something`s missing from that. That`s their response. And DOD is consistently telling the OMB this is illegal, and if we don`t move forward with the aid, we will not be able to fully deliver the aid to Ukraine.
HAYES: One of the things that comes through in this is that it`s other piece with everything we see in the Sondland texts and Bill Taylor. Every time that we see communications around this issue, there`s all this cloak and dagger, subterfuge. There`s all these people, these cast of characters who are civil servants or even high-level political appointees who are just trying to do their job trying to make sure the law is fulfilled, and they`re just not getting the full story because the people who are running the scheme are being super sketchy about it.
GOODMAN: Super sketchy. And the e-mails revealed that. And this one particular senior, a very senior member of the Defense Department, the comptroller is basically calling them out on that. She says at one point that the general counsel of the OMB is consistently mischaracterizing the internal process. And then another time she says he`s consistently appears to misunderstand the process.
And then as you pointed out, there`s another point in which the general counsel of the OMB circulates talking points in response to political breaking that the Ukraine aid was on hold, and she says your talking points are just not accurate, that`s the quote, and we`ve been consistently telling you this over weeks, so you know it.
HAYES: There`s this crazy gaslighting they try to do which is -- which reminds me of the infamous Gordon Sondland text where he said to Bill Taylor, like we said no quid pro quo, there`s nothing afoul here, where she gets an e-mail saying, as you know, the President wanted a policy process run to determine the best use of these funds. If you`re unable to obligate the funds, it will have been DOD`s decision that causes the impoundment of funds.
So after DOD has been saying for weeks, we`re going to break the law, you`re breaking the law, we can`t do this. They turn around and try to say it`s your fault.
GOODMAN: That`s right.
HAYES: And she writes back, you can`t be serious, I am speechless.
GOODMAN: That`s right. That`s -- in fact, we were -- we were thinking that we might lead with that e-mail response by her because it`s just such a bombshell. The New York Times on Sunday seems to have some of the e- mails unredacted as well, and they had that one too.
The fact that she says back to him, I`m just totally speechless, and she is because now we understand the context, she`s been telling the same person over at OMB the entire time, we will not be able to give them all the funds, which ends up actually happening.
They violate the deadline and they have to actually go back to Congress in September to get $35 million back to be able to give it back to Ukraine.
HAYES: There`s so many kind of sociopathic here. I mean, they`re -- DOD is saying, hello, hello, this is wrong, this is illegal, hello, hello. And they`re saying, don`t worry about it. Don`t worry, the President wants it hold. And then they try to turn around and say, it`s your fault. Why don`t you tell us about this?
GOODMAN: That`s right. And they`re also doing that in an e-mail to try to -- so there`s a record that it was the DOD`s problem, and it obviously is not. And the comptroller actually comes out looking very good in many ways. It`s not embarrassing to the Pentagon. It`s highly embarrassing to the White House and the OMB when you get these fully unredacted documents. And like you say, as well, there`s no like, provision for redacting the embarrassing parts.
GOODMAN: There`s provisions for redacting classified or national security provisions within these texts, but not this.
HAYES: It seems to me very clear based on the -- if you look -- if you compare the redacted documents that were released to what you acquired at Just Security, that they redacted out things that were embarrassing or incriminating?
GOODMAN: That`s right. We went through the redacted versions and then the fully unredacted versions, and it`s not like they`re saying none of this the public can see, they selectively disclose parts for the public to see and those paints a very different picture and a very misleading picture because you just don`t have all of these bombshells otherwise.
HAYES: Just to be clear, these were disclosed under FOIA right. There was -- there were some FOIA filings for these documents. The law doesn`t allow you to selectively redact things that are embarrassing.
GOODMAN: That`s right. There`s no like provision for the embarrassing parts --
GOODMAN: -- as a basis for FOIA reductions. And it`s a court-ordered FOIA release, so the Justice Department releases it to the Center for Public Integrity which sued the Justice Department, the OMB, and DOD for these documents. And then they on December 20th, released them in this highly redacted blacked-out versions, but selectively leaving in some of the texts that was favorable to them.
HAYES: It`s really wild when you consider that we -- every time that we get new documentary evidence, it shows more and more how much this was at the direction of the President and how incriminating the entire thing is.
HAYES: Ryan Goodman, thank you very much. Great work.
GOODMAN: Thank you.
HAYES: Joining us now for more on the case against President Trump are Jennifer Rubin, Opinion Writer of The Washington Post and Betsy Woodruff Swan, Political Reporter for The Daily Beast, both are MSNBC Contributors.
Jennifer, you wrote about this sort of logic of witness testimony. And I have to say, you know, two big pieces, I did not expect over these two weeks to learn new material facts. We learned about from that New York Times story, we learned about a meeting, a sort of intervention with the president by some of his most senior political appointees and principals saying you can`t do this. And now we have these documents. It really does seem to me to push for more information, and documents, and witness testimony.
JENNIFER RUBIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. The notion that we should simply put our fingers in our ears and hum, disregard all of this information because it came out after the Articles of Impeachment were voted on, simply puts the Senate in the position of facilitating the cover- up.
Of course, this information has to come forward. And it didn`t come forward because the government, the President was concealing it. So I think there`s one of two things has to happen. First of all, kudos to Nancy Pelosi for not sending those articles over.
One, she either has to insist that all of this information be set forth in a Senate trial or secondly, hold the articles herself, open up new hearings, have this testimony heard, revise or supplement the report that was done at the end of the impeachment, and potentially draw up new articles of impeachment.
There is a violation of the Impoundment Control Act, there is a violation of the FOIA act, there`s a violation of a court order to put forth these documents. There`s lots of other potential crimes here. And now that we`ve discovered them, the notion that we should simply brush it all under the rug is preposterous.
HAYES: You know, Betsy, one of the things that`s so striking here also is the one thing that we still don`t have, like a real definitive account of is the blocking of the aid, right? And this gets us closer to that. But even in this, it`s clear that they`re hiding the ball even with the people in their own government. If the whole thing was aboveboard, you got to ask like, why not tell them why you were blocking me aid.
BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: One detail from the New York Times huge, very detailed story about this that came out earlier this week that I think people shouldn`t overlook is they reported that Mick Mulvaney used to leave the Oval Office when it was just Trump and Rudy Giuliani and they were talking about Ukraine.
And that would indicate that the President and his personal lawyer felt that the conversations they were having about the U.S. relationship with that country, were both very sensitive, they didn`t want them to leak, and potentially also deeply meaningful to the -- to the future of the U.S. relationship with both Ukraine and Russia.
One thing that this whole episode also highlights that I think is really significant, I was chatting with a former Trump administration official earlier today who said that their view of Trump is he never changes his mind. He makes up his mind, he decides what he wants, and then he just keeps pushing for it. And the longer he`s in office, and the more of the people who he sees as being loyalists to him, he has installed throughout government, the farther he`s able to push to get what he wants done.
And that`s what we`ve seen in the case of this Ukraine episode, the president get incredibly close to successfully pressuring a vulnerable democracy into giving him a political gift.
HAYES: And the culture clash, Jennifer, I mean, this is -- this is the ghost -- the foundation of it. I mean, you have throughout the government, these are people in some cases appointed by the president who were volunteers, some are civil servants, some are not, some are higher levels, who are just trying to do the job of like lawfully conducting American constitutional governance, and being essentially bullied away from that by the -- by the President and his cronies.
RUBIN: Exactly, and gaslighted, that accused of being the one who are perpetrating it. We saw this in the impeachment hearings with top-level people from the State Department. We saw this to a degree with the ambassadors, the revolving door of ambassadors who came and left from Ukraine, and now we`re seeing it with the Pentagon as well.
And I think there are two points to keep in mind here. One, there is no excuse for these people not to testify, the comptroller, the general counsel of OMB, for example, there`s no privilege other than this cockamamie absolute immunity scheme that`s already been shot down by the courts.
And the second point is the excuse that some people including John Bolton was using not to step forward was the pendency of a lawsuit run by his counsel for another client, Charles Cooperman, that case was dismissed. So there`s no other fig leaf that a John Bolton or others can hide behind that says no, no, you don`t have to testify. They are willfully now engaged in the cover-up, they need to come forward, or Congress needs to pursue them.
HAYES: And Betsy, on the note of more information, you reported about Lev Parnas, of course, the indicted associated Rudy Giuliani who is apparently volunteering his iPhone to Congress.
SWAN: That`s right. Parnas` letter -- Parnas` lawyer sent a letter to a federal judge asking that this judge authorized him to share more material with Congress that he hasn`t yet sent to the Hill. There`s currently a court order that blocks Parnas from sharing any of the evidence that prosecutors with the DOJ seized from him with anyone besides himself. They`re asking the judge to change that court or so that Congress can receive an iPhone 11 that Parnas was using and the window of time he was interacting with Giuliani, as well as a pile of documents that DOJ seized from Parnas` home.
So they`re really pushing to try to be able to get potentially a large new tranche of material to the House Intelligence Committee.
HAYES: That is really well. Jennifer Rubin, Betsy Woodruff Swan, thank you both. Up next, just over 30 days until the first votes are cast in the Democratic primary. Today, the field narrows and fundraising numbers show tremendous enthusiasm on the Democratic base. Which candidate posted the biggest number so far, after these two minutes.
HAYES: We`re now just 32 days away from the first actual votes being cast in the 2020 presidential race, the Democratic field has shrunk yet again. Julian Castro officially suspended his campaign today, former mayor of San Antonio and Housing Secretary under President Obama, was the only Latino candidate in the Democratic race.
We also learned today Marianne Williamson, the spiritual author and lecturer has laid off her entire staff according to a report from WMUR New Hampshire. And today is also a big day for fundraising news. In fact, the first bits of news and that are not coincidentally timed. We`ve got totals the candidates raised in the fourth quarter of 2019 being made public today.
Senator Bernie Sanders did better than any other 2020 Democratic candidate, raising close $35 million. Pete Buttigieg took nearly $25 million, Biden raised close to $23 million, Andrew Yang raised $16.5 million which is a lot of money. The other campaigns have not yet released their fundraising totals.
But what these numbers tell us is that for all of the floating and non- localized sense of dread that seems to hand over the Democratic primary, particularly recently, there continues to be tremendous enthusiasm demonstrated here by millions of people giving money to a variety of candidates across the spectrum.
To talk more about this, I`m joined by Neera Tanden, President and CEO of Center for American Progress and former Senior Advisor of President Obama and Hillary Clinton`s presidential campaign, and Maria Urbina who`s the National Political Director for Indivisible.
Maria, let me start with you on that note. I was sort of just struck by -- I hear a lot from -- there`s a lot of anxiety among Democrats, a lot of nervousness, a lot of dread because they don`t know what the outcome is going to be and they`re worried that Trump will be reelected. All of that said, these fundraising numbers to me in total really do say something about the level of investment, enthusiasm. What do you think?
MARIA URBINA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, INDIVISIBLE: Absolutely. These numbers are massive and they are powerful. You know, when you look back at the start of 2019, you heard from folks in D.C., they`re saying, there`s no way that we`re going to be able to keep up this momentum. And as you see not -- you know, every single quarter, almost every single quarter, these candidates have continued to increase their fundraising totals.
And so, you know, this news today is really powerful. And it shows how much our folks are increasingly paying attention and how motivated they are to take on Trump.
HAYES: You know, Neera, it`s interesting that one of the arguments, the meta-arguments in this primary has been actually about fundraising, right? So there`s been a sort of line of division about big-dollar fundraising and bundlers versus swearing off big-dollar fundraising and just doing grassroots funding raising. Warren and Sanders have done that, Buttigieg and Biden have been doing bundlers and big-dollar fundraising. Do these numbers mean something for that debate to you?
NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I mean, I actually thought Buttigieg numbers were very impressive for where he is, as we`re Bernie Sanders. His numbers are very impressive as well. Obviously, he outraised the entire field. This is the kind of numbers he brought in 2015 and 2016, but also obviously very impressive.
But I think the -- I think the crucial question here is we`ve actually had a debate in the debates about fundraising. And I think one of the big questions that Iowa will tell us is whether fundraising matters more the way you raise money matters more than electability itself.
HAYES: Well, here`s the question. A slightly different version of that to me on this is the inputs versus the outputs, right? So raising money is both a sign of candidate shrink, but the money isn`t just for like to put points on the board right, Maria, like it`s to spend.
And the question, I really have a genuine question, I don`t know the answer, and I`m curious to hear you both weigh in on this. It`s like, what does the marginal dollar get you in persuading these primary voters whether it`s on T.V. or digital? What do you think that money goes to? Where do you think there`s the most opportunity, Maria?
URBINA: Well, first, I think it`s really important that candidates are being really clear on what their path to victory is, and understanding that the Democratic base is very broad, and it`s multi-racial, it`s multi- generational. And so, you know, in Nevada, for example, if Latinos and the API community, specifically the Filipino community is not being prioritized in really important ways, then you`re actually not serious about winning in Nevada.
And I also really appreciate the way that Julian Castro did talk about early on, the way in which these primaries are set up to over index white voters and perhaps dim the light on the prominence that voters of color should have. And so I think that`s one of my biggest takeaways is how much nuance is lacking when candidates or pardon me, when analysts are looking at people of color, their candidate preferences, and they`re under- representation and sort of traditional polling and how that informs a lot of these fundraising totals.
HAYES: Well, it seems to me, Neera, like to connect back to this dread idea, right, and electability, is that there is this just palpable kind of defensive crouch among a certain portion of democratic voters were just like, stressed out and they feel like Trump won the first time, and Joe Biden said this thing today about sort of what he was like, why won`t you be Hillary Clinton? And he basically said -- one of the -- one of his answers was Hillary face a lot of sexism, which is 100 percent descriptively accurate, but also seems a little uncomfortable as a like, normative self-endorsed about being a man, but that`s some of the twisted decision making that I think is going into people`s calculations right now.
TANDEN: I mean, we should be honest. We have a series of white men who are leading the pack and women are supporting them in the polls, people of color supporting them in the polls, and my analysis of this is that people who feel attacked are actually the most concerned about electability.
I think people who feel under attack by the Trump administration feel that it`s an existential issue to ensure Trump is not reelected. And so, I think it`s not surprising that lots of people are very focused on electability. And I appreciate -- I mean, I also am concerned about the lack of diversity in the process here and that we`re losing candidates of color.
But that`s also happening because of support of voters. And actually, people of color make up a large percentage, not a majority, but a large percentage of the Democratic electorate. And they are not supporting these candidates, which I think is a concern. I do think people think the country is racist and sexist. Democrats think the country`s racist, sexist, because we have Donald Trump as president and it is affecting their choice. And that is unfortunate, but true.
HAYES: Yes. That last line, I think is very true in terms of describing the psychology that`s happening here. Neera Tanden and Maria Urbina, thank you so much for joining us. Up next, some news, the violence cease in the American embassy. There are reports just now breaking news of retaliatory strikes perhaps by the American government that could be changing a lot. We`re going to bring you all that and the latest, what`s happening in Baghdad after this.
HAYES: We have hugely consequential breaking news at this hour. Iraqi- state TV is reporting that in a strike, the Iranian General, Qassim Suleimani was killed along with the head of an Iran-back militia in Iraq.
Qassim Suleimani is one of the most important figures in the Middle East, arguably the most important figure in Iran. He runs the Quds Force. He has been active in Syria. He has been active in the fight against ISIS. He has been active in Iran. He has been active in Lebanon with Hezbollah.
If in fact Iraqi-state television and other Iraqi officials who said that Qassim Suleimani has been killed, presumably by the Americans, if in fact that is accurate, it looks at this moment, like a lot of people are saying that, though not yet confirmed that is an almost incomprehensibly massive escalation in the current tensions with the Iranian government.
Imagine, for instance, the Revolutionary Guard assassinating David Petraeus in 2007, something on the order of that.
Joining me now just to talk about the latest reports and what we`re hearing is Cal Perry, who of course reported from Iraq during the war and thereafter.
Cal, what do we know here?
CAL PERRY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, we know yes, as you`ve said that Iraqi-state television is reporting that the senior Iranian Commander Qassim Suleimani has been killed in what they are saying as either a rocket attack or an American drone attack.
Various Iranian news outlets are also reporting that what we have not heard from yet is anything official from the Iranian government or indeed the American government.
But as you say, it`s an impossible almost moment to imagine. This would change irrevocably things between the United States and Iran. It would put the two nations on a track to a conflict. This is one of the untouchable figures, if you like, inside Iranian society.
I`ll give you an example. The Israelis on multiple occasions in the last 10 to 15 years had considered or had put plans in motion to maybe kill Suleimani and they were backed down by the Americans. This has always been seen as a man you do not touch.
He is a man who pops up in Iranian news footage visiting Hezbollah forces in Iraq, visiting pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and indeed in Syria. He is a huge figure in Iran. He is probably the second most powerful man in Iran.
So really, a potentially historic moment, and we will know tonight. This is the kind of strike, the kind of assassination that would dictate that we hear from the American President -- from President Trump, if in fact, this is true.
And again, looking at screens here of Middle East News Network, it certainly appears as though Qassim Suleimani has been killed in Baghdad.
HAYES: Cal, I want you to stick with us. I`m going to bring in Dan Benaim who worked at the State Department for Hillary Clinton. He was a speechwriter for John Kerry, also worked in the Vice President`s office on national foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, an area where you have a lot of expertise.
What is the significance of this?
DANIEL BENAIM, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR IN OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: I mean, this is just a seismic explosive development. Tensions between America and Iran since Trump had walked out of the Iran deal had been kind of at a slow boil, caught in between a war that neither side really wanted and a peace that they couldn`t quite consummate.
This is a whole new phase. This is a whole new level, and I don`t think there`s any real going back or, yes --
HAYES: Will the Iranians interpret this as essentially the declaration of a shooting war?
BENAIM: You know, I think that they probably still don`t want to get into a full-on bombing campaign shooting war, but they are going to try to cause a tremendous amount of pain in response to this, and probably view this escalation as one that they have to counter with an escalation and a pain point of their own.
And they have networks and outreach all across the Middle East that extend beyond the Middle East. Now Suleimani himself is a man who has blood on his hands, from people all across the Middle East and is responsible for a great many deaths including --
HAYES: Thousands of times over, literally.
BENAIM: Thousands of times over, including Iraqi protesters, peaceful protesters recently. He seemed to have traveled to the country in order to have killed by Iraqi militias.
So this is not a person who Americans should mourn in any way, but the question at the end of this is whether we`re now on a slippery slope toward a much greater conflict with Iran and whether this leaves the Middle East safer.
The Middle East is safer with Qassim Suleimani out of it, but the way that this has been done, if it`s us, if it`s accurate, if it`s true, could well lead us in a much more dangerous place than we were before.
HAYES: I think it is worth -- as people sort of processes news and the players to them are maybe a little opaque, just to step back and look at the context here.
I mean, President Trump ran on getting out of the nuclear deal with Iran. He then did so. One of the arguments that opponents of the deal said was, well, the deal is about nuclear weapons, but you haven`t dealt with all this other things the Iranians are doing and the Obama and others like yourself who worked in his administration said, yes, right.
We separated them out. But what it seems to me has happened since leaving the deal, all of the other stuff has gotten worse. I mean, there has been more provocation, more tit-for-tat, worst kind of relations and violence actually in the wake of the deal than there was during the deal.
BENAIM: You know, Iranian misbehavior in a lot of ways has been pretty steady throughout. You`ve seen it. You saw it in some cases after the deal was formed, and you`ve seen it now. And what`s really different is this backdrop.
I think there is an increase in aggressiveness and an escalation on both sides. And I think when you left the deal, what you had was people warning that you were going to have this kind of escalation.
I mean, some of President Trump`s own advisers, I`m sure told him that if you left this deal, you would risk having folks get killed in Iraq and risk having America thrown out of Iraq, it may yet happen.
HAYES: And this is one of the linchpins here, right, is that the Iraqi government is -- it`s a Shia dominated government. Those protests you mentioned, which have been happening over the last several months, largely have been of corruption and also Iranian domination of the government.
You also have got this sort of like architecture of militias that are officially kind of part of the state, but also sort of loyal to and backed by Iran, a very tricky situation.
BENAIM: Exactly. They`re kind of hybrid actors, and on the one hand, these were the young people who gathered from communities across Iraq to go fight ISIS.
HAYES: Yes, they wouldn`t -- I mean, let`s be clear, like we were on the same side as they rolled back ISIS.
BENAIM: And on the other hand, attached to that same name, Hashtashabi, the militias of Iraq are also people who reported to Qassim Suleimani and not to the Iraqi government. People who launched rocket attacks that killed not only Americans, but also Iraqis.
So Iraq has a chronic and serious militia problem that Iraq is going to have to deal with. It became an acute problem for the United States when we concluded it next to this max pressure campaign against Iran. This is going to be a problem that`s going to bedevil Iraq for a long time to come with or without Qassim Suleimani.
HAYES: Well, part of also what`s so breathtaking here is that this is an assassination it appears of am official state guest of Iraq. I mean, you`ve got Qassim Suleimani, you`ve also got the head of another militia who appears to have been killed in these reports.
I don`t even know if that`s legal under the AUMF that we just kill someone in another state?
BENAIM: Yes, it`s a great question. American troops are in Iraq at the invited presence of the Iraqi government.
HAYES: Iraqi government.
BENAIM: To fight ISIS and train Iraqi forces. Now, when you have Iranian- backed Iraqi militias attacking Americans and launching rockets that kill Americans, one can make an argument that this is a form of self-defense may or preemption.
But I think over time, the bigger question is if we lose that invitation from the Iraqi state, which as you said, is close to Iran, but also close to Washington, if this killing causes us to lose that we may be sacrificing our partnership with Iraq to pressure campaign against Iran.
HAYES: And Cal, as you know, having reported from Iraq, the sort of cross pressure of Iraq, which is next door to Iran, who`s -- it`s a majority Shia country, very, very connected to the Iranian regime, and sort of more so as the years have gone on.
And also the fact that it is an ally extensively of the U.S. and has invited U.S. soldiers in, that`s been a very difficult thing for Iraq to negotiate. And if this report is true, it just got way more difficult.
PERRY: It puts Iraq and Iran in many ways up against the wall and in very difficult positions. Qassim Suleimani for all intents and purposes, for Americans, for American soldiers who served in Iraq was a top terrorist.
The Iranians were targeting Americans. This was one of the stories of the Iraq war. Since the Iran Nuclear Agreement fell apart, however, so did the communication in large part between the U.S. and Iran.
This is the most stark communication that we have seen from President Trump to the Iranians since tensions had risen and now, the Iranians are in a position. We`re certainly domestically, we`re certainly in the eyes of Iraq. We`re certainly in the eyes of Syria. We`re certainly in the eyes of Lebanese Hezbollah. They may feel like they have to respond.
I think, you know, it`s going to take some time for this to sink in. But certainly the Iranian government is going to have to sort of figure out how do they satisfy the domestic consumption? How do they respond? Who is the steady hand that is needed?
And right now, I think we can sort of all agree as we look at the geopolitics of what`s going on, there is not that steady hand to step in and get both sides to sort of back down.
Things were majorly ratcheted up tonight. And normally, it`s the U.S. that`s urging calm and is urging everybody to hold their fire.
HAYES: Yes, and with the other context here, of course, is that these -- this sort of, you`ve got increasing pressure on the Iranian regime because of sanctions being ratcheted up. There have been protests in Iran that have been met with incredibly intense force. There have been protests in Iraq that have been met with incredibly intense force -- deadly force. I mean, hundreds killed in the streets, by those forces.
You now -- you wonder about, you know, there`s always sort of this question about war as a means of sort of tamping down domestic complaint, right? That like you sort of focus people on external enemies and how that shapes the context of internal politics there, as this sinks in and sort of ripples out.
BENAIM: No, I think inside Iran, you can expect a big rally around the flag effect for Qassim Suleimani. I think inside Iraq, it`s going to be a much more complicated situation. He helped them fight ISIS, but he`s also responsible for the death of protesters.
Iraq in general dislikes being caught in the middle between America and Iran. One Iraqi said to me was, when the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled, and they`re caught in the middle here in a big way. And it`s not good for Iraq.
HAYES: Our own reporter, Cal Perry on the phone, Dan Benaim, at the Center for American Progress, formerly at the State Department in the Obama administration. Thank you, gentlemen, both.
And once again, the big news this evening, Iraqi-state TV reporting that the head of the Quds Force, the Iranian General, Qassim Suleimani has been killed in a strike along with the head of an Iraqi militia that was backed by Iran apparently in the same convoy. That`s what the reports indicate.
We have no hard confirmation of that being the case. Other folks speaking to reporters, our outlets, including "The Washington Post," have seemed to confirm that. We have no confirmation. We certainly have no official notice from the American government, no claim of credit for that strike. Although everyone assumes this was an American undertaking if in fact, it happened.
As I said before, Suleimani, who has been a ruthless, bloody figure throughout the crescent of the Middle East, also a very, very powerful figure in Iran, a very well-known figure publicly, and if in fact Iraqi- state TV is accurate on this, this represents a massive escalation in the military tensions between the U.S.-Iran with Iraq there. We`re going to continue to follow that story. We`ll be right back.
HAYES: There are downright apocalyptic images coming out of Australia right now as the country is battling hundreds of fires that have burned across the country for months now.
The fires are currently consuming an area the size of West Virginia. At least 17 people have been killed, 28 people are missing, thousands of people have had to be evacuated. More than a thousand homes and buildings have been lost. And this all comes amid a record drought.
Some areas in Australia are receiving their lowest levels of rainfall since 1902. This past year, 2019, was the hottest and driest year on record for the entire country.
This past month, December as one of the two hottest months in Australia ever, December also included the country`s hottest day on record coming in at 107.4 degrees.
Colleges from University of Sydney estimate that nearly half a billion animal have died, including the significant portion of the koala population.
The air pollution being thrown off by these fires is so bad, it`s made its way to Sydney where as of last month, the level of particles in the air are about the equivalent of 37 cigarettes being smoked in a day if you`re outside.
As we go into 2020, in this campaign, there is talk about the U.S. reclaiming leadership in the climate battle globally. And people talk about the plans and the critic stroke their chins and pretend to be very concerned about the costs of it all.
The costs of completely eliminating fossil fuel use in the next decade or two. But those people never talk about the cost of doing nothing. This what you`re seeing, this is the cost of the status quo. This is the cost of nothing.
All of this destruction, this disruption and death, this is what the status quo looks like. And it`s only going to get more common and the cost to prevent the worst that our future may hold, well, that`s a drop in the bucket compared to the other option.
Might 2020 be the year the world finally got its act together?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADAM DRIVER, PORTRAYING DANIEL J. JONES, THE REPORT: They claim they saved lives, but what they really did was make it impossible to prosecute a mass murderer like KSM because if what we did to him ever came out in the Court of Law, the case is over.
The guy planned 9/11 and in instead of going to jail for the rest of his life, the C.I.A. turned him into a recruiting tool for a war we`re still fighting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the former Director of the C.I.A. took to Twitter recently to offer a negative review of a new Amazon film starring Adam Driver called "The Report," which dramatizes the Herculean effort by a small group of staffers from the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a definitive and comprehensive report on the C.I.A.`s torture program in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The staffers led by a staffer for Senator Dianne Feinstein, a man named Daniel J. Jones, combed through more than 6.3 million internal C.I.A. documents for five years.
The document in excruciating detail the various forms of torture used by the C.I.A., its effectiveness or notably lack thereof, and the ways in which the C.I.A. consistently misled the public about the use of what euphemistically called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.
Despite obstruction and opposition from both the C.I.A. and many Republicans, a detailed executive summary of the report was released back in 2014. The full report remains classified to this day.
Secretary Pompeo took issue with the new film dramatizing all of this which includes disturbing scenes of torture, perpetrated by the C.I.A. Pompeo writing, "I watched "The Report." Fiction. To be clear the bad guys are not our intelligence warriors. The bad guys are the terrorists."
Almost immediately, a number of people disputed Pompeo`s claim the film was quote "fiction." The film`s director, Scott Z. Burns responded, quote, "I agree with Secretary Pompeo that terrorists are bad guys, as are the people who conducted barbaric and ineffective acts of torture in the name of Pompeo`s misguided notion of patriotism, and then misled Congress and the American people."
I`m joined now by the man Adam Driver portrays in the film, the guy who led the team that investigated the C.I.A. and compiled the report, Daniel J. Jones, thank you for being with me.
First, let me just get you to respond to Secretary Pompeo since you were there for the real life-events and have sort of watched the film come about, what would you say to the Secretary of State?
DANIEL J. JONES, FORMER CHIEF INVESTIGATOR SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, first of all, Chris, thank you so much for having me on. You know, largely, I think the Secretary`s views are -- it`s simplistic and uninformed.
The Senate spent seven years going through this program, 6.3 million pages of CIA records, as you said, came up with 20 findings and conclusions after those seven years that can be boiled down into three things basically.
The C.I.A.`s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, the torture was ineffective. It led to detainees providing basically fabricated responses to get the C.I.A.`s torture the stop. Second, the C.I.A. misled repeatedly over a number of years the Department of Justice, Congress and in fact the White House; and then finally, a major conclusion was that the program was grossly mismanaged by the C.I.A.
There was virtually no accountability for wrongdoing over the years the program was active.
HAYES: Yes, one of the most remarkable features of the report is the fact the C.I.A. just sort of threw $80 million at two guys to kind of like erect, like they`re from nothing, a kind of torture program. What did you find out about that?
JONES: Well, what we found was when the C.I.A. was given these authorities, and that was shortly after 9/11. On September 17, 2001, President Bush signed a covert action memorandum that allowed the C.I.A. to detain suspected terrorists. It said nothing about interrogation.
Over a number of months, the CIA explored what it should do with the detention of terrorists. Where should it put them? Should they bring them to U.S. soil? Should they be held on ships? Should they be held on a foreign U.S. military base?
And eventually what the C.I.A. concluded up until March was that this was not a job for the C.I.A. and the CIA had zero expertise in detaining people.
They weren`t even discussing interrogations formally yet, but when Abu Zubaydah, the first C.I.A. detainee who was captured at the end of March, when he was captured in Pakistan, the C.I.A. decided to take them into custody -- to C.I.A.`s custody and not provide Abu Zubaydah to another country for interrogation.
Now, initially, that interrogation was led by the F.B.I. and the F.B.I. obtained a significant amount of information from Abu Zubaydah, the first C.I.A. detainee using rapport building techniques.
But that changed when these two contractors who -- C.I.A. contractors at the agency of the time, went to the C.I.A. and said, we have a program that we can use based off of learned helplessness, which will allow detainees to provide secret information specifically information on the next attack against the United States and operatives inside the United States.
And this was basically built on an unfounded theory that was based on again learned helplessness, and this study was by Martin Seligman, who was at the University of Pennsylvania, and it was really about dogs.
HAYES: So you`ve got these two people now running this operation, which does include torture. It ends up being as -- the character who played -- Adam Driver plays you in the movie says, it essentially tanks the prosecution for some of the most significant mass murderers who are apprehended, but who have now existed in legal limbo, because no case can be brought against them because the evidence was obtained through torture.
JONES: That`s absolutely right. I mean, if you look at the trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, that is not even supposed to start until next January.
And all of the deliberations thus far have been about the use of the admissibility of evidence after these individuals have been torture.
And what we document with the Senate documents and that 7,000-page report, 500 pages which were released is the repeated false information that these detainees provided just to get the torture to stop.
So the argument in Guantanamo with their lawyers is how can this information be admissible when many of our defendants in Guantanamo admitted to things they did not do simply to get torture to end.
HAYES: I want to ask you this evening, we just broke the news about Iraqi- state TV talking about the possible airstrike killing Qassim Suleimani who is the Iranian General, and if so, representing what will be a major escalation in military conflict with Iran that has been sort of simmering and boiling.
Your view of what the long war that we`ve started in 2001 that has involved multiple countries in multiple fronts and has sort of cascaded from one military engagement and crisis to another, what it has done to the country? What it`s done to the ability to conduct oversight?
JONES: Well, you know, we were discussing whistleblowers early on the show. The importance of keeping our government accountable right now to acting within the rule of law, acting within our values.
There`s no doubt we stayed after September 11, and we`re still trying to correct whether it be the torture program or the drone program or other activities the United States has engaged in.
In so many ways, the United States has been a leader in human rights and have been a leader in just war. But we`ve strayed and I think now is an opportunity to readjust.
We really need to get Congress engaged right now in aggressive oversight and that oversight is often enabled by whistleblowers, people within the government who see wrongdoing, and they have the courage to come forward.
The courage to come forward because they believe in their leadership, that the leadership will investigate wrongdoing and actually hold people accountable.
HAYES: Did that happen in this case? I mean, one thing people talk right now, we`re in the midst of waiting on an impeachment trial in the Senate. The President has been impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.
There`s a lot of talk about the sort of long view of history and there`s a lot of talk about accountability. And I often feel like the last chapter of the Bush administration`s war on terror did not really have a lot of accountability. What`s your view on that?
JONES: Well, absolutely. I mean, if you just take the C.I.A. itself, right, George Tenet convinced George Bush that it was not worth looking backwards and seeing where the mistakes were made in terms of September 11th and it was time to look forward.
And we look at the destruction of the interrogation video tapes, these were interrogation videotapes of C.I.A. torturing detainees. They were destroyed in 2005, against the instructions of the White House and the C.I.A.`s own leadership.
When those tapes were destroyed and it came to light, only two years later, the Department of Justice launched a major criminal probe. That criminal probe lasted until August of 2012, and at the end, they decided they couldn`t prosecute C.I.A. officials for destroying those tapes.
But they did recommend to the C.I.A. that at least two C.I.A. professionals be held accountable for those actions. Those two individuals were Jose Rodriguez, and the current Director of the C.I.A., Gina Haspel.
HAYES: All right, Daniel Jones, who is portrayed by Adam Driver in the new film, "The Report." Thank you so much for making time tonight.
JONES: Thank you so much, Chris.
HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening. "The Rachel Maddow Show" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Welcome back, my friend. How was your break?
HAYES: It was -- it was great. It was really great. It`s going to be quite a year. I`m processing the news --
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END