Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 2, 2017 Guest: Nahal Toosi, Maria Teresa Kumar, Paul Butler, Cory Booker
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Thank you so much, Chris. Have a good night.
All right. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off.
There is so much going on tonight, I hope your seat belts are duly buckled. We have the latest news and reaction to the controversial immigration policy unveiled by the White House today.
We also have late breaking news on big changes at the National Security Council, and the major change the president might make to the war in Afghanistan.
And Senator Cory Booker is here live tonight to talk about Jeff Sessions` list favorite thing. I`ll leave it to you to guess what that might be.
But we begin tonight some of the early response from the administration to the Russian meddling in our election last year. The Obama administration, that is. You may remember at his final end of year press conference in December of last year, President Barack Obama laid out a series of steps on how the U.S. should respond to Russian interference in the 2016 race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia, or others, not to do this to us because we can do stuff to you. But it is also important for us to do that in a thoughtful, methodical way. Some of it we do publicly. Some of it we will do in a way that they know, but not everybody will. How we approach an appropriate response that increases costs for them for behavior like this in the future, but does not create problems for us is something that`s worth taking the time to think through and figure out. That`s exactly what we`ve done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That night, the president and his family departed Washington for his final presidential vacation.
President Obama and his family spent their two-week Christmas break in Hawaii. And while there was plenty of relaxing and down time, the president also spent part of his time working. Specifically, while he was still in Hawaii, he signaled the annual defense -- he signed the annual defense bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act into law. The bill outlined Pentagon spending priorities for the fiscal year, including a 2.1 percent pay increase for the troops.
But also, tucked within that law was a bipartisan measure from Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Chris Murphy of Connecticut called the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act. What it did is it broadened the mission of the State Department`s Global Engagement Center. The Global Engagement Center is a unit within the State Department with a staff of roughly 80 employees. The center had previously been responsible for encountering propaganda by terrorist groups, like seeding anti-ISIS videos into the social feeds of people who seemed curious about joining up.
The new law signed by President Obama expanded that State Department mission to countering not just ISIS propaganda online, but also countering state-sponsored disinformation campaign. State sponsored disinformation campaign by countries like Russia.
The law gave the State Department nearly $80 million to fight ISIS propaganda, and state sponsored disinformation campaign just executed by the Russian government against our election.
And while this didn`t make a lot of headlines over here, in Russia, they certainly noticed. After we signed a bill into law, "Sputnik", a Russian state controlled news agency, ran this story with the headline, "Obama establishes propaganda agency under guise of fighting fake news." Quote, the act establishes an anti-propaganda center which many have noted frighteningly resembles George Orwell`s ministry of truth from his seminal novel 1984. That was back in December.
Now with Rex Tillerson at the helm of the State Department, the past few months had been full of daily headlines about a hollowing out of the department under his watch. That concern led Senator Rob Portman to use a hearing last month with the deputy, John Sullivan, to inquire whether the State Department was indeed committed to adequate resourcing for the Global Engagement Center in its mission to target propaganda coming from Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: The Global Engagement Center, as you know, it`s something that I feel strongly about. In 2017, as a Senate and House in the National Defense Authorization Act, asked the Global Engagement Center to take on additional responsibilities, specifically with regard to disinformation coming from countries intended to destabilize democracies, undermine some of our basic values and institutions. So, my question for you is, is there an ability to keep some of these important entities, like the Global Engagement Center specifically, from being weakened by a hiring freeze, or other reorganizations that could lead to having more difficult time carrying out its important responsibilities?
JOHN SULLIVAN, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: With respect to the global engagement center, it is a president for Secretary Tillerson. It`s something that`s an important part of our mission for all the reasons you state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: An important part of our mission.
Well, as it happens, today, the current president reluctantly signed a bipartisan bill into law imposing new sanctions on Russia while also limiting his own executive authority to diminish or remove them. The signing came one day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that both he and the president were very unhappy with the sanctions bill, handed to them by Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place, in the way they did, neither the president nor I are very happy about that. We were clear that we didn`t think it was going to be helpful to our efforts. But that`s the decision they made.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Now, we`re used to conspicuous oval office signing ceremonies when it comes to executive orders, and the few small noncontroversial pieces of legislation that have reached his desk.
Well, today, we got none of that. Instead, we got a signing statement from the current president calling the sanctions bill significantly flawed, and containing a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions. More ominously, he warned that while he would give, quote, careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress, he would implement in a manner consistent with the president`s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.
Well, that drew the attention of top Senate leaders in both parties. The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said that the statement shows Congress needs to keep a sharp eye on this administration. While John McCain said he hoped the president would be as vocal about Russian aggression as he was about his concerns with the bill.
But today, we also got another warning sign about the administration`s response to Russian meddling. This one involves the aforementioned Global Engagement Center created by President Obama at the State Department, you know, the one designed to counter Russian propaganda. Just hours before Donald Trump signed the sanctions bill, "Politico" reported that in a highly unusual move, Rex Tillerson is rejecting that $80 million in funds set aside by Congress to counter Russia`s state sponsored disinformation campaign.
The move is reportedly angering State Department officials. According to a senior State Department official, Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond suggested the money is unwelcome because any extra money funding for programs to counter Russian media influence would anger Moscow. The office continued, quote, Hammond said the secretary is in the process of working through disagreements with Russia, and this is not consistent with what we`re trying to do.
Joining us now is the author of that scoop, "Politico" foreign affairs correspondent, Nahal Toosi.
And, Nahal, thank you so much for being here.
What is the -- the State Department I guess is explaining they don`t want to take this money, which has already been allocated for Congress, by Congress, because they don`t want to anger Moscow. Is that really their reason for not taking the money?
NAHAL TOOSI, FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Well, that`s one of the reasons that they were -- that people have been given as to why Rex Tillerson has not yet tapped this money. Most of the money right now is based at the Pentagon, about $60 million of it. And it expires on September 30th, the end of the fiscal year.
And we`ve also been told other reasons. Tillerson wants to shrink the department. He wants to reorganize the department. And there`s some questions as to whether this center fits in with his vision. But the Russia angle is also there, too. And so, it`s very unclear what`s going to happen, because if they don`t get that $60 million over from the Pentagon soon, it`s going to be gone.
REID: And have there been any pushback from Republicans in Congress beyond what we heard, to say, wait a minute, you`re turning down money to counter ISIS propaganda and also Russian propaganda? You know, what are Republicans saying about that?
TOOSI: Well, today, Senator Rob Portman, who is a Republican from Ohio, released a statement basically blasting Tillerson and urging him to go ahead and tap this money. So, that`s a sign that there are definitely some Republicans who want the U.S. to try to counter Russian disinformation in the best way that it can.
And, of course, you also had some Democrats speaking out, including Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Ben Cardin of Maryland. So, you know, it`s something that is of concern. As the sanctions bill showed, there are tremendous bipartisan support for punching back against Russia for their alleged meddling in our election. So, it`s hard to believe this is going to go down well with Republicans or Democrats.
REID: It`s interesting, because there are optical things that this administration seems to get wrong if they`re trying to distance themselves from the idea of Russian collusion, or undue Russian affinity. I mean, you had today the statements of the Trump administration and the Kremlin putting out about the bill that Donald Trump very belatedly signed, the sanctions bill being really similar shows that they sounded kind of the same. And then there was the fact that you had Medvedev, who is the prime minister of Russia kind of trolling the administration and calling them weak, putting out a tweet in which he said that the Trump administration showed its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way.
I get why Russia would want to do that, to sort of goad the administration into doing more, to, you know, stand up for making relations better. How does the State Department explain itself when it looks like they`re being trolled by Russia and following Russia`s lead?
TOOSI: Well, this is one of the interesting things. I mean, the State Department has been hollowed out to such a degree. There are so many positions that are left open, or they`re being filled on a temporary basis. And Secretary Tillerson as a whole has just taken a much lower profile in general.
So, the fact that he even issued a statement, or talked to reporters at all and even discussed Russia in any sort of way is kind of news. And so, in many ways, the Russians have the upper hand on the narrative when it comes to this sort of thing. And that`s what I think part of the reason people want this engagement center to get up and running, and go after the Russians on some of this stuff. It`s because they feel like the U.S. needs to gain control of the narrative again.
But then, of course, there`s this ongoing mystery of the relationship between the Russian government and the Trump administration in general. And that everybody is still trying to unravel to see if there`s anything there. And who knows? I mean, there`s a lot of things that I think we don`t know yet. We`re all picking away at it. And we might find some additional really eye-opening stuff in the future.
REID: Yes, we might. And usually through the weeks, that`s the way it`s been so far.
Nahal Toosi, "Politico" foreign affairs correspondent, thank you so much for your time.
TOOSI: Thank you.
REID: Thank you.
All right. Now, did you see this White House briefing today on immigration? Did you get a chance to look at it? We could not stop watching it. Everyone I know is talking about it.
Well, it turns out the same Trump adviser has been working on the same ideas for years and years. That story is next.
REID: OK, take a listen to this. This is a clip from a little radio show you might have heard of called "Breitbart News Daily".
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS DAILY: Isn`t the beating heart of this problem right now, the real beating heart of it, of what we got to get sorted here is not illegal immigration? As horrific as that is, and it`s horrific, don`t we have a problem we`ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that`s kind of overwhelmed the country?
When you look and there`s got 61 million, 20 percent of the country, is immigrants -- is that not a massive problem? You were with Jeff Sessions for many, many, many years. Is that not the beating heart of this problem?
STEPHEN MILLER, TRUMP ADVISOR: Yes, it`s mind-boggling and, you know, this is something that obviously I have talked about before, at some length on your program. And it`s important to understand that historically speaking, immigration is supposed to be interrupted with periods of assimilation and integration.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
REID: That was just over a year ago. What you heard was then "Breitbart News" executive Stephen Bannon talking to then-Trump campaign policy adviser Stephen Miller about legal immigration, how the country`s overwhelmed by immigrants. Not just undocumented immigrants. That we`ve been overwhelmed by legal immigrants and how it`s a massive problem, how we should be setting breaks for immigration into the country to allow people to assimilate.
Now, both these men are now in the White House, with their salaries paid for by you, the taxpayer. And it is amazing how the back-and-forth on Breitbart News went from radio fodder to actual policy endorsed by the White House in just over a year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The RAISE act ends chain migration and replaces our low scaled system with a new points-based system for receiving a green card. This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves, and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That was Donald Trump today. The same Donald Trump who despite his rhetoric against immigrants in this country has said he`s open to legal status for some undocumented immigrants, and who has also expressed concern about sending home foreign students who come here to get their Ivy League education.
Now, Trump is fully endorsing a plan put forth by Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Purdue of Georgia that would cut by half the number of people allowed green cards in this country over the next decade. In part, by ending a long-held policy that allows immigrants to be reunited with their families here in the United States. The way the White House sees it now is if you don`t speak English, if you`re not rich, or do not have an Ivy League education, back of the line.
The White House dispatched Stephen Miller to the press room podium today to try and defend this new policy proposal, and, wow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MILLER: Public support is so immense on this, look at the polling data in many key battleground states across the country, that over time you`re going to see massive public push for this kind of legislation.
REPORTER: This whole notion of, well, they have to learn English before they get to the United States, are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?
MILLER: Jim, actually, I want to say, I am shocked at your statement. That you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It`s actually -- it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree, that in your mind -- no, this is an amazing -- this is an amazing moment -- I just want to say --
REPORTER: It sounds like you`re trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country --
MILLER: That is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you`ve ever said. And for you, that`s still -- the notion that you think this is a racist bill is so wrong, and so insulting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: He`s very insulted.
Stephen Miller was also asked numerous times for specific numbers to back up his claim that the flow of low-skilled immigrants has caused Americans to lose jobs. He offered no numbers to back that up, though he did quote the controversial Center for Immigration Studies, the go-to think tank for Republicans who oppose immigration.
Now, there are a few things to know about the proposal that was unveiled at the White House today. First, this is just a bill that`s being proposed by a couple of Republican senators. There`s no vote scheduled on this bill. There`s no reason for the White House to necessarily hold a big event today so the president could endorse this bill.
The bill would need 60 votes to pass. At least two Republicans say they`re not onboard with it. So, what do we take away from the big show put on by the White House today on legal immigration, and what is it that they hope to get out of it?
And joining us now is Maria Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino.
OK. Maria Teresa, first of all, your reaction to this press conference today by Stephen Miller.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, CEO, VOTO LATINO: The White House realizes that they are losing. They`re starting to basically etch away at their base. And anytime they`re about to lose their base, they basically have to throw red meat at them and distract them and say, the real reason that we`re in the business we are right now, whatever lot you maybe, is because of immigrants.
But the administration is not leveling with the American people. We need immigrants of all skills. For someone to say they don`t want agricultural workers, tell that to a farmer. It actually takes great skill to try and pick fruit for us so that we eat well every single night.
And the fact that Purdue who is from Georgia introduced this bill is outrageous. When Georgia tried to ban undocumented immigrants, they lost close to $2 billion in agricultural farming because they couldn`t get someone who actually knew how to do the work.
REID: Yes. I mean, if you just look at the Brookings Institution, and, you know, look at, you know, putting aside even undocumented migrants, if just look at the top jobs of the green card holders have -- the industries that depend on them the most, it`s accommodations, meaning hotels and other service work, agriculture, construction, food service, health care, high- tech manufacturing, information technology and life science. So, you know, immigrants are propping up major industries in this country.
KUMAR: Well, and this is what folks don`t understand. The majority of Americans right now, we`re 56 years old or older. That`s the majority of us. Immigrants are decades younger than we are. Who`s going to take care of us as we age?
KUMAR: The number one work outside of manufacturing and technology is going to be health care. Basic health care, mostly underlying because we`re going to have so many individuals of Americans --
REID: Nurses and health care aides.
KUMAR: -- suffering specifically from Alzheimer`s. Just to get into home health care to deal with what is about to hit us in the Alzheimer`s phase, we don`t have enough of them.
And what Steve Miller is doing right now, he`s not leveling with the American people. I don`t disagree. We need to have smart immigration reform. We need to take a step back and recognize, what is the work force of the future really look like.
KUMAR: And actually start admitting individuals along those lines. But this nonsense that we`re all of a sudden going to do 40 percent just because you`re shooting off the hip, because it sounds good is actually going to hit us hard.
REID: And I have to play this one other line, which was just an incredible sort of statue of liberty moment in the press conference today. Let me play that for you guys.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: What you`re proposing, or the president is proposing does not sound like it`s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration. The Statue of Liberty says give me your tired, your poor, huddled masses, yearning to breath free. Doesn`t say anything about speaking English or being able to -- be a computer programmer. Aren`t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country, if you`re telling them, you have to speak English? Can`t people learn how to speak English when they get here?
MILLER: Well, first of all, right now, it`s a requirement to be naturalized, you have to speak English. The notion that speaking English wouldn`t be part of the immigration system would be actually very ahistorical. Secondly, I don`t want to get off into a whole thing of history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty enlightening the world. It`s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you`re referring to was added later. It`s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Right. The Anne Frank Center said, no. The Anne Frank Center said no. (INAUDIBLE)
KUMAR: Basically that what we find on the base of the Statue of Liberty was actually used to help raise money to actually bring her here. So, Steve Miller, I encourage you to as a fellow American, learn your history.
REID: Learn a little history.
KUMAR: But this whole notion, and this should not come as a surprise -- President Trump launched his campaign on defining who America was from the very beginning. It`s not a surprise to the percent Latino-American community. I don`t think it`s a surprise to African-American community. It`s not a surprise to LGBT or to the disabled. The fact, though, that we don`t have more congressional members coming up to bat and saying that this is not leadership, with the exception of Senator Flake, that is what I find astonishing.
And we have to have a conversation that what they`re doing is legitimizing who we are as Americans. And if we do not stand up for that, then what else is there?
REID: Yes, absolutely. African and other immigrants and Asian-American immigrants agree wholeheartedly. We will see what happens with this.
Maria Teresa Kumar, always a pleasure. Thank you.
KUMAR: Thank you, Joy.
REID: All right. A lot more to get to tonight.
Senator Cory Booker is coming up shortly.
And next, an exclusive NBC News report on the stunning thing, the stunning things the president had to say to his top generals.
Stay with us.
REID: Today, we got yet more signs from the White House that the generals holding key jobs inside the administration are beginning to shape things to their liking.
On Monday, Donald Trump swore in his new chief of staff, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly. Kelly`s first move was showing the door to Anthony Scaramucci who had been White House communications director for all of 10 days. Tonight, the "A.P." reports that General Kelly has reassured Attorney General Jeff Sessions that his job is secure.
Kelly`s presence in the West Wing may be shoring up the power of another Trump appointee, General H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser. In February, he replaced General Michael Flynn, who was fired ostensibly for lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
Ever since, General McMaster has been getting rid of staffers hired by Flynn. But there was one he has been unable to dismiss. That staffer is named Ezra Cohen-Watnick. He was a Flynn hire with a big job at the NSC, senior director for intelligence programs. When McMaster tried to fire him in March, White House advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon persuaded the president to overrule McMaster and let him stay.
The move put General McMaster in the awkward position of not being able to choose his own staff. In a sign that things are different now in the White House, General McMaster has finally cleared that intelligence staffer off his National Security Council staff, four months after Donald Trump insisted he stay on.
Now, one way to read all this is General Kelly as chief of staff and General McMaster as national security adviser are getting a grip on things, that they are asserting themselves inside the White House and that Trump is actually listening to them and letting them do their jobs. That`s one way to read the effect of these generals inside the administration. The generals are getting their way.
But consider this exclusive reporting from NBC News tonight. Citing senior administration officials, NBC reports that the president has grown frustrated with the war in Afghanistan and recently suggested firing the top U.S. commander there, a man named General John Nicholson whom he has incidentally not yet met with.
We aren`t winning, we are losing, they quoted Trump as saying in a July 19th meeting. Trump reportedly expressed frustration that the process of getting U.S. rights to Afghanistan mineral mining is going to too slowly. And perhaps most telling, Trump left that national security meeting without making any decision on a strategy for the war. None at all.
It bears mentioning that the war in Afghanistan is America`s longest war, now approaching its 16th year. Tonight the Pentagon has announced that two more U.S. service members were killed in action when their convoy came under attack. The U.S. has now lost as many troops in Afghanistan this year as we lost in all of 2016.
And joining us is one of the reporters who broke that story, Courtney Kube, NBC News national security and military reporter.
Courtney, thanks so much for being here.
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER: Thanks for having me.
REID: So, let`s talk about this national security sort of strategy, and Donald Trump`s frustration with the way that it`s going. The thing that sort of stood out to me in that reporting was this idea that he felt that we were too slow in gaining mineral rights in Afghanistan. If you could explain.
KUBE: That`s right. So, this is something he actually spoke about even prior to becoming president. And it`s a frustration that American businesses aren`t able to somehow profit from the extensive minerals that exist in Afghanistan. And the argument is that the U.S. has invested so much blood and treasure there over the past decade and a half, and yet the Chinese are the ones that bought the mineral rights, they are the ones who are mining there.
So, he`s expressed that frustration in the past. And when I spoke with U.S. military and defense officials about that idea, they all sort of shook their heads and said, we have so many problems that we`re dealing with in that region right now. We have so many problems in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, trying to figure out a strategy, a way forward, mineral rights is not at the top of the list, or it shouldn`t be at the top of the list right now.
REID: Did any of them express surprise that that would be listed among them because most Americans believe that the aim was to ensure that the Taliban no longer had control in Afghanistan and an anti-terrorism mission, not a mission to gain mineral rights for American companies.
KUBE: Well, that`s certainly the U.S. military mission there, is to -- it`s changes transitioned several times since the war began in 2001. But right now, they have a mission that is to train, advise and assist the Afghan military. And then, of course, the counterterror mission which is primarily to go after al Qaeda and Haqqani Network.
But the training mission that they have with the Afghan military is to take out the Taliban, to try and beat back the Taliban. In our history, we talk about how President Trump during this NSC meeting back in July, he looked at a large map and he said, you know, the Taliban are gaining ground. Well, he was right, the Taliban have -- they gained a lot of ground in 2016, and 2017 has been somewhat of a mixed bag. But they are still able to take ground back from the Afghan security forces. It`s really a back- and-forth in a lot of the parts of the country, especially in the south and southwest and up in the east where there`s also an ISIS presence.
I mean, these are the issues that I think most Americans think are prominent when they`re talking about this larger Afghanistan strategy the administration is supposed to be coming up with right now.
REID: Right. Very quickly, can you explain the 21 Club story? Because that`s also in your reporting. It was pretty strange.
KUBE: That as my colleague Carol Lee, our new colleague Carol Lee`s reporting. But that has to do with him during the course of this meeting, which, of course, is about this larger South Asia strategy. During the course of the meeting, he relayed this story back about this popular New York restaurant and how the owners got bad advice. And he compared that to the advice he was getting from his U.S. military generals and his U.S. military leaders.
And what`s particularly amazing about that is that, for starters, there`s absolutely no comparison. But it`s also not the first time that he has cast doubt, or criticized people who are giving him advice.
KUBE: He`s criticized his intelligence community, of course, on several different occasions. But the way it was explained to us by people who are familiar with the meeting was that, you know, the whole thing left people slack-jawed.
REID: Yes, absolutely, and it did me as well, reading it. Courtney Kube, NBC News national security and military reporter -- thank you.
KUBE: Thanks, Joy.
REID: All right. Still ahead, he said/he said. How close to the White House and the president himself really get to the FOX News conspiracy theory about the death of Seth Rich. We`ve got new information on that front.
Stay with us.
REID: We are inching closer to an answer to the question of just how involved the White House might have been with the retracted FOX News story that pinned the leak of the DNC e-mails last summer not on Russian hackers, but a murdered DNC staffer. In an explosive lawsuit made public yesterday, FOX News contributor Rod Wheeler alleges that the story was deliberately designed by FOX News to shift the blame for the leaked e-mails from Russia and put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.
The suit also alleges that the White House was involved. It cites a meeting between Wheeler, Ed Butowsky, unpaid FOX News commentator and vocal Trump supporter, and then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Following that meeting, the suit alleges that Butowsky told Wheeler in a text message and a voicemail that the White House, including the president himself, was pushing for the story to be published.
Here`s a portion of that voicemail.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ED BUTOWSKY, TRUMP SUPPOTER: Hey, Rod, it`s Ed. So, a couple of minutes ago I got a note that we have the full attention of the White House on this. And tomorrow let`s close this deal, whatever we`ve got to do. But you can feel free to say that the White House is onto this now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
REID: Butowsky now says he was joking about the president`s involvement. But both he and Sean Spicer have admitted that the meeting took place. And now, we have three different versions of what happened in that meeting. Spicer`s account is that Ed Butowsky asked for a 10-minute meeting with no specified topic and the White House had nothing to do with this story.
Butowsky`s account of the meeting related to "New York Magazine`s" Olivia Nuzzi is that they did talk about the story, but the topic only lasted 30 seconds.
And when he suggested that the White House get the FBI involved, Spicer told him, I know it doesn`t work that way, but I don`t know how it works and I can`t do anything.
And here is Rod Wheeler`s account of that meeting as related to MSNBC`s Stephanie Ruhle earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROD WHEELER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Sean Spicer was very nice guy. He and Ed mainly did the talking. I explained to him where I was with my investigation. And I was hoping that maybe the White House or the Justice Department could assist the D.C. Police Department with technical support, things like that, resources. And Sean said, well, Rod, you know, I`m not sure what we can do, he said. But I`ll definitely put you in touch with somebody at the Justice Department.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: OK. So, according to Spicer, it was a ten-minute meeting with no topic and the White House had nothing to do with the story. According to Butowsky talked about the story and Spicer said he could not get the FBI involved.
According to Wheeler, Spicer said he would definitely get the Justice Department involved.
Now, we don`t know who`s telling the truth about that meeting, or about the president`s personal involvement in the story. Perhaps the only way we will ever know is just by watching this lawsuit play out.
And joining us is Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and Georgetown University law professor, and author of the new book "Choke Hold: Policing Black Men".
Thank you so much, Paul, for being here. It`s great to talk to you.
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Great to be here, Joy.
REID: All right. Let`s start with the beginning. To figure out which of those three stories is true, would it not be necessary for Wheeler and his lawyers to depose the president, and could they do so legally?
BUTLER: It would certainly be helpful to depose him. And, Joy, let`s reflect on how the Trump administration is taking notes on a crash course on presidential powers. We`ve had to ask whether a sitting president can be indicted, whether a president can pardon himself, and now, we`re asking whether the president can be deposed for a lawsuit about his allegedly creating fake news.
And like a lot of things that Donald Trump does, it`s never been done by a president before, so it`s an issue of first impression. We do know that a sitting president can be deposed if he`s the subject of a suit about conduct that happened before he became president.
The Supreme Court said that in the case in which Paula Jones sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment. So, Clinton had to submit to a deposition. But in other cases, the court has said that if it`s about an official act that happened when the president was in office, then that lawsuit has to wait until after he leaves.
So, the question here is whether this is an official act. It`s about a murder investigation at the end of the day, so if a court decides it doesn`t count as one of his official duties, then the president can be hauled into court and forced to answer questions about whether he helped create fake news.
REID: Interesting. And the other sort of piece of this is the conspiracy aspect of it, and whether or not the White House was in on knowing that this story would essentially exonerate Donald Trump, that`s what they were hoping it would do, in any collusion with Russia.
This is Rod Wheeler`s attorney, Douglas Wigdor, talking to Stephanie earlier today and doubling down on the idea that the White House knew about the story. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGLAS WIGDOR, ROD WHEELER`S ATTORNEY: We`re going to follow the paper trail. We`re going to issue subpoenas. We`re going to take depositions. You know, if you believe Ed Butowsky`s own words, he says that the president wanted the article out immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Now, would these attorneys, would Douglas Wigdor be able to go in and get -- I mean, they`ve already presented a lot of text messages, voicemails, et cetera, what do they need to prove that the White House was not involved if they don`t have a deposition from Donald Trump?
BUTLER: You know, it`s so important, Joy, to do as you do, to keep the eye on the ball, which is collusion here. So, if these allegations are correct, the president has been involved in creating a false narrative to deflect attention away from Russia`s involvement in the campaign, and try to point the finger at somebody else.
So, to the extent that that`s part of it, this is not only something that lawyers in this case could investigate in a civil litigation, I think it`s also something that special counsel Mueller will be interested in. And, of course, he`s got subpoena power. So this is related to the earlier allegations that President Trump helped create a false narrative about Donald Jr.`s meeting with the Russian foreign operative. And it`s also related to, again, his trying to cover up the investigation allegedly by asking for a pledge of loyalty from the FBI director, and his threats to get rid of Sessions.
BUTLER: Yes, this is also part -- it will become part of the obstruction of justice investigation. So, a lot more power to investigate than just in the civil litigation.
REID: Yes, absolutely. It gets very interesting. I mean, we even get to the fact that Yahoo! News is reporting that "Sputnik", a reporter from "Sputnik" was saying they were pressured to follow the same path. We`ll have to get into that another time.
Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, thank you very much.
BUTLER: Always a pleasure.
REID: Thank you.
And Senator Cory Booker joins us live in just a minute. We`ve got a lot to talk about with him, including Jeff Sessions` least favorite thing. Stay with us.
REID: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has made a few things crystal clear. He does not like marijuana. He does not like people who smoke marijuana. Heck, he`s even suspicious of all the pots he`s got in the kitchen.
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JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We`re going to see more marijuana use, it`s not going to be good. We`re going to see more other drug use, illegal drug use also, which is damaging. I mean, we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to decide marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized. It ought not to be minimized, that it`s in fact a very real danger to creating of knowledge that these drug is dangerous.
You cannot play with it. It`s not funny. It`s not something to laugh about, and trying to send that message with clarity that good people don`t smoke marijuana.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: It is not funny.
Jeff Sessions has been militantly, almost obsessively anti-marijuana since his early days of a politician. Back in the `80s, he famously joked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was, quote, OK until I found out they smoked pot. So, there`s that.
Unsurprisingly, now that Jeff Sessions is the top law enforcement official in the United States, now that he`s the attorney general, he`s gotten to work fast on cracking down on not only the illegal use of marijuana, but also on the legal use of it, too. He`s reinstated harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, re-upped federal contracts of private prisons to put those convicted of drug crimes in, and asked Congress to even go after medical marijuana suppliers.
Jeff Sessions is to marijuana like Frankenstein`s monster to fire. As far as he`s concerned, marijuana is a raging epidemic that`s destroying America. How do you put it again?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: We`re going to see more marijuana use, and it`s not going to be good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: It is not going to be good.
Jeff Sessions` unwavering and by the way unpopular opposition to legalizing marijuana during his career in the U.S. Senate is one of a whole litany of controversial bullet points on his resume. But the Senate is a famously collegial club and when it came time for the Senate to vote for Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, it really was an open question as to whether his colleagues in the Senate would have the guts to speak out against him.
And then Senator Cory Booker did this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: If confirmed, Senator Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women, but his record indicates that he won`t. He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans, but his record indicates he won`t. He will be expected to defend voting rights, but his record indicates that he won`t. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity, but the record indicates that he won`t.
America needs an attorney general who is resolute and determined to bend the arc. Senator Sessions` record does not speak to that desire, intention, or will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Senator Cory Booker testifying against Jeff Sessions at his confirmation hearing, saying in no uncertain terms that he was not fit to be Attorney General. Cory Booker was the first sitting senator to ever testify against one of his colleagues, and now, Cory Booker is back with a bill that Jeff Sessions is bound to hate.
Senator Booker proposed legislation today to legalize marijuana at the federal level and to punish individual state who`s do not pass their own laws to make it legal. It`s a shot across the bow to an administration that has ramped up the war on drugs and specifically the war on marijuana right out of the gate. Your move, Jeff Sessions.
And joining us now is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who proposed this racial justice bill to, among other things, end the federal prohibition on marijuana.
Senator Booker, great to have you with us. Thank your for coming.
BOOKER: Thank you, Joy. It`s great to be on.
I want to say to everybody who is watching right now, you have one of the best Twitter feeds in all of America. I have been a fan of your tweets and the information you put out, inspiration and the knowledge.
REID: Thank you. You`re a good tweeter yourself, sir. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
BOOKER: Thank you.
REID: So, let`s talk about this bill because of course legalizing marijuana has become more and more popular if you look at the polls. But it`s still wildly unpopular with people elected to Congress. Do you have substantial support for this idea of taking it off what`s called, I guess schedule C?
BOOKER: Well, first of all, there`s a rank hypocrisy if you look at the people here that have tried marijuana, who have smoked marijuana, and they`re the very people sitting on the barriers for other people to do so legally.
But more than that, when you have a situation where two of the last three presidents have done much more severe drugs, admitted to it, what we see unfortunately marijuana enforcement in this country is particularly targeted towards poor communities, particularly targeted towards minority communities. And it is clogging our jails and our prisons. It is actually reinforcing racial disparities in this country.
It`s a poverty trap because folks on college campuses, they`re not worried. They joke and flout the law with little worry about repercussions. But you see teenagers having their lives destroyed, getting felony convictions often in poor communities or minority communities for doing things that people in Congress themselves have done.
So, this is an outrageous situation we have in our country. It is a prohibition that`s causing the problem as we saw with alcohol prohibition, the violence that that caused, the criminalization that that caused. It`s far past time that we legalize this. And then it doesn`t include the people that desperately need this for their -- whether it`s veterans, whether it`s people with PTSD, whether it`s people with things like Dravet syndromes, falling into seizures.
So I`m confident that the logic of this bill, the moves that eight states have already made, the District of Columbia, the evidence that`s coming back in violent crime drops as well as actually revenue coming into the state, even the evidence with severe problems like opioid overdoses, we`re already seeing preliminary effort in showing those rates of death are dropping in areas where there`s legal access to marijuana.
I`m confident that we`re on the right side of history. I think this is going to be a long battle, but this, as you called it a shot across the bow, I call it a first step on a longer pathway towards economic justice, racial justice, more public safety, and really more common sense.
REID: What do you say to those on the other side of this issue who say, you know, the reason to keep marijuana illegal, the reason not to allow it to be a legally sold substance, is that it is sort of the first step for a lot of young people who then get into harder drugs?
BOOKER: Well, again, I look at the evidence, and that`s just not the case. And frankly as a guy who was a mayor, who helped oversee a police department, my police department had far more challenges with alcohol- related violence, alcohol-related challenges than we did with marijuana. The evidence that it`s a gateway drug just is not compelling, and the reality is, as I said with the challenges of opioid addiction, there`s some great medical studies that have come out that have shown that actually having the availability of marijuana actually lessens the chance you`re going to have overdose deaths.
BOOKER: So, again, but most folks don`t understand the reality when it comes to the racial injustices that are involved in our war on drugs. There`s no difference between blacks and whites, for example, for using marijuana whatsoever. But the arrest rates for African-Americans is almost four times as high.
Wonderful leaders, Brian Stevenson, said that we have a nation that treats you better if you`re rich and guilty than poor and innocent. Well, in this case, again, if you are poor, if you`re a minority, you are the ones that are overwhelmingly seeing the enforcement of marijuana laws, not people who are rich, not people who are elected and connected. Those folks are not seeing the kind of enforcement that devastates lives.
You`re a kid that gets -- a teenager that gets a marijuana felony charge, the next thing you know, you can`t get a Pell Grant, you can`t get a job, can`t get business licenses and more.
REID: Yes. We are out of time but I got to you since I have you here. Are you running for president in 2020?
BOOKER: Well, I joke often that I`m running from the president right now. The reality is, is look, we`ve got a real job ahead of us here in Washington throughout this nation with Donald Trump at the helm, coming after civil rights, voting rights, undermining our health care.
This is a full-time job. This is my focus right now. Let`s leave three years from now to then. Right now, my job is being New Jersey`s senator.
REID: We`ll ask you again in three years. Senator Cory Booker, thank you very much.
BOOKER: Thank you very much.
REID: Thank you. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: OK. Heads up for something in the news tomorrow -- after firing almost all the U.S. attorneys in March, the Trump White House is finally getting around to replacing them. Tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the nominations of seven top attorneys for the Justice Department. Among them is the nominee for U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, Jessie Liu.
U.S. attorneys are supposed to be insulated from the White House, but the president broke with the usual practice by meeting personally with Liu. We do not know what they talked about. It will be interesting to see whether the senators make an issue of that meeting at the hearing tomorrow and whether we learn more about it.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you tomorrow again, same time, same channel.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END