Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 31, 2017
Guest: Peter Nicholas, Matt Dempsey, Jose Antonio Vargas
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: All right, Governor John Kasich and Governor John Hickenlooper, thank you both.
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), COLORADO: Thank you.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: You`re welcome.
HAYES: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Joy Reid, in for Rachel.
Good evening, Joy.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you very much. Have a great evening.
HAYES: Thank you.
REID: All right. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel does have the night off.
Now, it`s a very busy night here. We`re following several breaking stories, including an intriguing new clue about the scope of the special counsel investigation and the resources and expertise being tapped by Robert Mueller as his work proceeds.
We`re also keeping an eye on developing stories, reports that the president could end the Obamacare era policy allowing DREAMers brought to the U.S. as children to stay here legally.
And we`re also watching what`s happening on the ground in Texas. Overnight, there were those two explosions at the Arkema chemical plant outside Houston. Tonight, there real concerns, whether there will more explosions before this is over. What officials are saying tonight about the risk.
Plus, the towns of Port Arthur and Beaumont, Texas, are in the crosshairs. And now, Beaumont, a city of 118,000 people have lost its water supply indefinitely.
We begin with the latest reporting tonight about the Trump-Russia investigation, and new developments regarding that investigation into potential obstruction of justice by the president. Iowa Senator Grassley serves as the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is one of the three main congressional committees investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Now, if you were watching this show last night, you`ll remember that Senator Grassley announced to his Twitter followers yesterday: Just had a phone call from President Trump and he assured me he`s pro-ethanol and I`m free to tell the people of Iowa he`s standing by his campaign president.
So, why the president seemed so interested in corn all of the sudden remained unexplained. But that call from Trump to the chairman of the committee investigating his eldest son came less than 24 hours after Grassley`s committee announced it had set a date to hear private testimony from Donald Trump Jr. regarding that meeting that he helped arranged at Trump Tower last summer with the Russians offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton. That was the offer to which he famously replied, if it`s what you say, I love it.
Now, both the White House and Senate Grassley`s office subsequently denied that either Russia or the president`s son were discussed on that call.
But a look at the news reports, including several reliably conservative publications shows the skepticism with which those claims were greeted. That skepticism seems warranted because as we`ve seen before, this is not out of character for this president.
Last week, we learned that Trump called two Republican senators to vent his frustration with legislation that they were overseeing related to the Russia probe. In one call, Trump reached out to Republican Senator Bob Corker to complain to him about a Russia sanctions bill that Corker had sponsored. Trump also dialed up Senator Thom Tillis from North Carolina to complain to him about a bill he was working on that was designed to prevent Trump from firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Said one senior Republican aide quoted in the piece, quote: It seems he`s always focused on Russia.
We also know that these were not isolated calls. That report came just one report after the "The New York Times" reported that Donald Trump had berated Senate Leader Mitch McConnell in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match between the Republican president and senator. Trump reportedly accused McConnell of bungling health care. But according to the report, he was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader`s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
That was a big deal, because pressuring the Republican leader to tamp down the Senate investigations could amount to, wait for it, potential obstruction of justice, which applies not only to FBI investigations but also efforts to, quote, influence, obstruct or impede congressional inquiries.
This came after the bombshell news earlier this summer that special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation into Russia`s interference in the 2016 election had widened to including potential obstruction of justice. That investigation, the post reported, was launched days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9th and days after the president came out and admitted in an interview with NBC`s Lester Holt that Russia had been on his mind when he made the decision to show Comey the door.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He made a recommendation but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So, later, Comey`s side of the story would be revealed in a series of jaw-dropping story in the pages of "The New York Times", as well as testimony that transfixed Washington as Comey laid out the numerous times the president pressured him to ease up on the investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I understood him to be saying that what he wanted me to do was drop any investigation connected to Flynn`s account of his conversations with the Russians. Why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office? Why would you kick the attorney general, the president, the chief of staff out to talk to me if it was about something else?
I mean, this is the president of the United States with me alone saying I hope this. I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn`t obey that but that`s the way I took it. I don`t think it`s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a disturbing thing, very concerning, but that`s a conclusion I`m sure the special counsel will work towards to try to understand what the intention was there and whether that`s an offense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So, obstruction of justice was the central focus of James Comey`s testimony that day. It was also the focus of a hearing the previous day, June 7th, when the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and NSA Chief Mike Rogers angered lawmakers by refusing to discuss reports that the president had appealed to each of them, individually, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.
So, there are many reported instances of Donald Trump bringing pressure on top public officials to drop the Russia investigation and many of those attempts have been well-documented. We also know that they`re being investigated by the special counsel, as well as multiple committees in Congress. We know they are serious and now, tonight, we`re learning how serious it`s become taken by the president and his legal team.
Tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that lawyers for Donald Trump have met with the special counsel to lay out their legal argument for why in their view, the president did not obstruct justice. Quoting from the piece: The president`s lawyers have met several times with special counsel Robert Mueller in recent months and submitted memos arguing that the president didn`t obstruct justice by firing former FBI chief James Comey.
One memo laid out the case that Mr. Trump has the inherent authority under the Constitution to hire and fire as he sees fit, and therefore didn`t obstruct justice when he fired Mr. Comey.
Another outlined why Mr. Comey would make an unsuitable witness, calling him prone to exaggeration and unreliable in congressional testimony in the sorts of leak to the news media.
Joining us now is Peter Nicholas, White House correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal", and one of the reporters who broke to story.
Thanks for being here, Mr. Nicholas. Appreciate your time tonight.
PETER NICHOLAS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Great to be with you.
REID: So, let`s go through the legal arguments that the president`s team is making as far as you know. Is it limited only to the firing of James Comey? Because my understanding would be that`s not the only element of obstruction of justice on the table.
NICHOLAS: Well, the memo that was submitted to Bob Mueller involved just the firing of James Comey and why that was -- in their belief, that that wasn`t obstruction of justice. They`re making the case that the president has a constitutional authority to -- as the head of the executive branch to staff the executive branch any way he wants.
They buttress that with citing case law and making the argument essentially that a president can do this and there`s really nothing to inhibit him and therefore that the obstruction of justice charge is invalid.
But it went -- the second memo to try to discredit Comey, saying he`s really not a reliable witness, nobody they can count on. So, it`s very clear that obstruction of justice was on the minds of President Trump`s lawyers that were interested in doing away or at least scuttling this part of the investigation.
REID: I`m interested in the second piece, the part to try to essentially discredit James Comey. Of course, you had the memo used as the pretext to fire him. Is it your reporting that they`re going to drag in the Rosenstein memo or other actual evidence in their view that there`s something wrong with James Comey inherently, and it would make him untrustworthy as a witness?
NICHOLAS: Yes. So, it does sound like they`re arguing that Comey isn`t that believable, isn`t that credible. They`re saying that he does exaggerate. They`re saying that he has leaked materials to the press, something that he shouldn`t have done.
So, it`s clear that they`re trying to say or make the case that basing on obstruction charge on the testimony of James Comey would be a foolish thing to do and nothing that would really stand up. And bear in mind, I mean, they have a client in President Trump who is somebody who is upset and unhappy with this investigation, repeatedly dismisses it as a witch hunt, sees it as a drag in his presidency and wants it over with.
And this is an instance where the lawyers are proactively trying to meet with Mueller and trying to get this behind them.
REID: Well, yes. And he not only, you know, is unhappy with the investigation, but he keeps telling people that, right? He keeps saying out loud that he`s angry about the investigation, wants to be protected from it, at least according to reporting in his conversations with Mitch McConnell.
Do you get the sense that the president`s legal team is attempting to essentially craft his defense, taking into account the fact that he`s admitted why he fired Comey? Are they just embracing that?
NICHOLAS: I`m not sure they`re dealing with that question, in particular. But they`re focused narrowly on whether the firing of James Comey amounts to obstruction of justice. So, they`re looking at it from a broad constitutional perspective. I`m not sure they`re getting into the nuances of who said what when. So, but -- we`re in the early stages of this.
And there`s no indication, by the way, that Mueller is embracing the argument. I mean, from what we see, the obstruction investigation continues. So, it`s not clear at all that they`ve accepted the rationale that the Trump lawyers have put forward.
REID: There`s been a lot of discussion about the tone and the way you sort of approach a situation like that when your legal team is facing off against somebody like special counsel Mueller. Do you get a sense that the tone that the Trump legal team is taking is adversarial or are they trying to take a cooperative sort of -- you know, sort of friendly tone toward the potential prosecutor here?
NICHOLAS: That`s an interesting question. President Trump`s tone has been pretty combative, I mean, calling it a witch hunt, raising questions about conflicts of interest that Mueller`s team might have.
We`re seeing something different from the Trump lawyers. They`re much more respectful, much more differential to Mueller. They say they want a good relationship with him. They don`t seem to be bringing up conflict of interest issues. They`re meeting with him. They`re trying to keep open a channel of communication.
So, we`re sort of getting a more contentious vibe and tone from the White House and a much more collegial perspective coming from Trump`s lawyers.
REID: Yes, probably wise. Peter Nicholas, White House correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal" -- thank you very much for being here.
NICHOLAS: Good to be with you.
REID: All right. Thank you.
And joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney from the eastern district of Michigan and MSNBC contributor.
Barbara, thank you for being here.
I want to pick up sort of where we left off with Peter on the question of attempting to discredit James Comey as a strategy to get out of the idea of obstruction. Is that, in your view, a smart legal maneuver?
BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you want to go after any element of the crime or any proof issues or evidentiary issues and that`s one of them. But it seems to me a very uphill battle to discredit Jim Comey. There are a few things you can use, I suppose, if you want to portray his sharing of documents as leaks and the like. But I think if you look at his whole body of work, a jury or any fact finder, is going to find him to be a highly credible person. So, I`m not sure that particular argument is going to carry a lot of weight with Robert Mueller and his team.
REID: Let`s talk about this question of inherent power to pardon, because that seems to be what the Trump legal team per "The Wall Street Journal" reporting is hanging their hat on. Is this idea f that the president has the inherent power to pardon -- sorry, not to pardon, but to fire anyone he wants to fire and therefore could fire Jim Comey for whatever it is he wanted, is that enough of an argument to get out of an obstruction of justice charge?
MCQUADE: I don`t think so. I mean, he does have the power to fire anyone he wants. Even Jim Comey himself said, I accept the fact that the president can fire me for me any reason or no reason at all. But that doesn`t mean that there`s no obstruction of justice here.
I think they`re taking a narrow view of the obstruction. That was sort of just one example of a long litany of things that might contribute to an obstruction case. There`s the February 14th meeting where the president allegedly asked Jim Comey to let this thing go with Flynn. There are similar requests to other leaders in the intelligence community. There is pressure on Mitch McConnell to protect me from this investigation.
So, I think Mueller and his team are likely looking at the bigger picture of all of the examples of efforts to obstruct justice and the firing really is just but one example. And although the president has the power to do it, the fact that he did it could still be evidence that his goal was to obstruct justice.
REID: And I`m wondering if you know probably the toughest witness against Donald Trump might be Donald Trump. I mean, I go back to that Lester Holt interview where he very proactively explained in detail why he fired Jim Comey. Is there any way to back out of that as something that he has already affirmatively said on the record?
MCQUADE: Well, I don`t think so, especially because we awe saw it in living color and on videotape. And I think one thing that`s particularly probative about that is he says it`s the Russia thing, but just a few days earlier, he had relied on the memos, the Rosenstein memo, to say it was because the way Jim Comey handle the Clinton e-mail investigation.
When you have those conflicting stories, that is what prosecutors refer to as consciousness of guilt. I came up with one story and I changed my story because I know the first story didn`t look good. And so, that in itself, the fact that the story evolves can be some evidence of what`s going on in a person`s mind.
REID: If you were Bob Mueller and if you were building a case potentially or looking for obstruction, would it be the firing of Jim Comey that would be sort of the central element in the obstruction or would it be the other things you mentioned, going to Mitch McConnell and saying why wouldn`t you protect me from this, the constant complaints about the investigation, reaching out to members of Congress like Chuck Grassley and saying, hey, let`s have a chat about some things you might want in your state? Would all of those be elements or is it really the firing?
MCQUADE: No, I think it`s all of them. I think the firing is really just one piece of evidence in this. I think it`s the totality of the circumstances, because the key element in obstruction of justice is the corrupt purpose, why was the person doing this thing. And if you can show all of these different efforts to try to persuade various people to stop this investigation, then you can build the case.
So, I think looking at the firing allow is far too narrow.
REID: So, does there have to have been an underlying crime that you were obstructing in order to prevent the discovery of? Meaning, if there was no underlying crime and you were just trying to stop an inquiry into something politically embarrassing, is that obstruction?
MCQUADE: Well, it is. It is obstruction of the investigation. Now, the FBI or any investigative body has to be a legitimate purpose for investigating. They may ultimately conclude at the end of their investigation that no crime was committed. But regardless, if there was an effort to impede or obstruct the investigation itself, regardless of the ultimate outcome, that is obstruction of justice.
REID: All right. Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney from the eastern district of Michigan, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Joy.
REID: All right. Lots more to come tonight, including special counsel Robert Mueller partnering with another government agency. An expected policy shift from the administration when it comes to protecting DREAMers, and the latest developments on Hurricane Harvey, including that chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, on the ground conditions in Beaumont and Port Arthur.
Much more to come. Stay with us.
REID: So, we`ve reached a point in this Trump-Russia investigation where we`re beginning to see the contours of the strategy in the office of special counsel Bob Mueller. In a story posted late this evening, for example, "The Daily Beast" now reports that Mueller has enlisted the IRS in his investigation. Citing sources familiar with the Mueller probe, "The Daily Beast" reports that the criminal investigations unit of the IRS is helping the special counsel. That`s the part of the IRS that deals with financial crimes, like tax evasion and money laundering.
Enlisting the IRS, of course, also gives the Mueller information access to the president`s tax returns -- the thing he`s fought since the campaign to keep from becoming public.
NBC News has not confirmed "The Daily Beast" story yet, but it makes sense that Bob Mueller would be asking questions about the finances of the various players in and around the White House and campaign. So, that`s one potential glimpse into the Mueller strategy tonight. On the other side, as we`ve been talking about is the reporting today from "The Wall Street Journal" about the way that the lawyers for the president have been fighting the investigation.
They`ve been telling the special counsel that the president can fire anyone he wants, so therefore he cannot have committed obstruction of justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey. On top of that, they`re reportedly arguing that Comey would make a terrible witness.
And joining us now is former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst, Paul Butler.
Paul, it`s always great to talk to you.
PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Great to be here, Joy.
REID: So let`s start with part one, bringing the IRS Office of Criminal Investigations into the case. What does that say to you as a former prosecutor?
BUTLER: So, Joy, special counsel Mueller is putting together a Justice League team of superhero investigators and prosecutors. Yesterday, we learned about the New York Attorney General Schneiderman, and today, we`re learning that the elite unit of the tax division is coming in to look at everybody`s tax records.
So, these are the big dogs of white collar prosecutions. They not only know how to follow the money, they know how to make a case and explain it to a jury in a way that makes it want to convict. So, I always say we`re a long way from charges being brought. But if there`s a criminal case, if you`re a defendant, the last people you want going against you is C.I., the criminal investigations unit of the tax division.
REID: So, let`s talk about the president`s pardon power and how broad his powers would be to protect potential witnesses against himself from prosecution, including for crimes that have been in the IRS jurisdiction, things like money laundering, things like tax evasion. Could Donald Trump potentially just pardon anyone who may be being looked at by the criminal division of the IRS and get them out of contention to be witnesses against him?
BUTLER: He absolutely has that power. Now, typically a president wouldn`t pardon someone who is implicated in investigation against a president himself. But we know from Trump`s pardon of Sheriff Arpaio that he doesn`t follow these institutional norms of the Justice Department. So, if good government doesn`t stop him from pardoning someone or, you know, fidelity to the Constitution, he might very well pardon someone to try to save his own self.
But I`m not sure that would be a wise strategy because he only has the power to pardon for federal crimes, so there could still be the threat of a state prosecution. That may be why, again, New York Attorney General Schneiderman was brought in to kind of wave that threat over Paul Manafort. Maybe the pardon of the sheriff was an attempt to send a signal to other people in the investigation -- you know, be faithful, give me that loyalty pledge and I have your back.
But the appointment of Schneiderman or the collaborating with Schneiderman suggests that`s not going to be a winning strategy for the Trump team.
REID: And so, does it become then relevant that the things that we`re talking about, particularly the people who seem to need money at some point during the last several years when that became important, people like Paul Manafort, maybe Jared Kushner, is the fact that these things took place in New York, that the meetings were in Trump Tower, that the meetings with these Russian banks folks were in New York City, does that become relevant to the investigation?
BUTLER: Absolutely. At this very high level, every issue is litigated to the end. And jurisdiction is always key.
This is very obviously a federal matter. It`s not as clear that it`s a state case. And so, there`s going to be a vigorous contest if there`s a state prosecution brought about whether the state properly has venue.
And if so, what state? Is it New York? Is it Washington, D.C.? Again, that`s going to be a really interesting issue.
REID: And very quickly, if Donald Trump were to attempt to pardon someone to try to get them out of testifying against him, could that in and of itself be seen as obstruction?
BUTLER: It could be seen as obstruction -- as evidence of obstruction in a criminal sense. Again, there the statute requires corruptly trying to impede an investigation. It certainly would look like he`s trying to do that. Moreover, it could be grounds of impeachment. Obstruction of justice is also a high crime or misdemeanor and there, it doesn`t have to meet the technical definition for the criminal statute.
So, again, President Trump, if he uses his pardon power to try to get rid of people who may be witnesses, he not only faces criminal charges, he`s got to be concerned about a potential impeachment proceeding.
REID: We are learning more and more and more, drip, drip, drip.
Former federal prosecutor Paul Butler, always talking -- appreciate talking to you. Thank you.
BUTLER: Always a pleasure.
REID: All right. And on day seven of Hurricane Harvey disaster in Texas, first came the raging flood waters. Now, some are facing a water shortage. More on that just ahead.
REID: Tonight, Hurricane Harvey has hit a new milestone. According to the University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center, Harvey is officially a 1,000-year flooding event. The flood zone is now the size of New Jersey.
Across Houston tonight, the flood water is beginning to recede, giving us a fuller picture of the devastation. And as the water recedes, it clears the way for rescue workers in Houston to go door to door looking for anyone who may still be strand in their home.
Rescue workers have resorted to hacking through roof to get inside in the search of survivors. There`s real concern tonight that the death toll could rise.
The other big concern in Houston is fuel. There are reports of gas shortages in part because of a major pipeline stretching from Texas to the Northeast which has been shut down because of Harvey.
Today, a local police department advised residents that there is no gas available and recommended that, quote, citizens stay home and do not waste gas.
In Corpus Christi, near where Harvey first made landfall nearly a week ago, Vice President Mike Pence did something the president has yet to do. He toured the devastation and met with the victims.
The latest estimates suggest that Harvey could cost $75 billion in terms of property and economic losses. FEMA has a disaster relief budget of just $3.8 billion, which raises the question, where will the rest of the money come from?
Back in 2005, then Indiana Congressman Mike Pence launched something called Operation Offset which many the wake of Katrina called for any disaster relief spending to be offset by cuts to the federal budget. So, it`s just a teeny bit awkward to have the vice president there in Texas today when in the past, he`s been the poster boy for refusing disaster aid unless there are tough budget cuts to go along with it.
Corpus Christi thankfully is in Harvey`s rearview mirror tonight. But other Texas towns like Port Arthur and Beaumont are not. This is the view from above, whole neighborhoods under water. Port Arthur, 90 miles east of Houston, was virtually cut off, major roads swamped.
Last night, we showed you the Port Arthur shelter at the Bob Bowers Civic Center which flooded. It went under water in 20 minutes flat. Tonight, officials say that the water is beginning to recede.
Nearby in Beaumont, Texas, meanwhile, the urgent need tonight is for running water after both of the city`s main water pumps were knocked out by the flooding. That means no running water for the 118,000 residents of Beaumont, Texas. It`s triggered a run on local stores. People looking for bottled water.
FEMA officials say the military is working to get fresh water into Beaumont in the hopes of avoiding a major public health crisis. When the water pumps went down, it forced the Beaumont Baptist Hospital to close. Nearly 300 patients have now been transferred.
And tonight, Beaumont official say that there is no way to know how long the situation will last.
We`ll be staying on the story as the situation develops.
REID: Last night at this hour, we were waiting for an explosion at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, just northeast of Houston. That plant has been flooded ant without power since Sunday when its backup generators were swamped. Which meant they lost the ability to keep their chemicals refrigerated.
Because of the chemicals they use there, they produce liquid organic peroxides, there`s a risk of spontaneous chemical reaction if they`re not kept cold, which means fire or explosion.
And last night, just before 1:00 in the morning local time, the explosions came and the fire, and a 30 to 40-foot plume of black smoke. But now, tonight, at this hour, we`re waiting for more explosions, more fire.
This was the Arkema chemical plant this morning. What you see burning there, we`re told, is the remains of one container of these chemicals. There are eight more of those on site. And the company says they fully expect all eight remaining containers to explode and burn as well.
A 1.5 mile radius around the plant remains evacuated and the company says until the flood waters recede, there`s little they can do but wait for the rest of the containers to explode and the chemical to burn off.
This is the plant this evening, just a couple of hours ago. Now, as you can see, the fire is out for now, but again, we`re waiting for eight more of those containers to go.
We`re also waiting for some clarity on exactly what kind of danger is posed by the smoke from last night`s chemical fire and the additional fires that we`re still expecting. This morning, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency appeared to suggest that the smoke was so dangerous that it was the reason for the entire evacuation. Meanwhile, local officials and Arkema executives sent, well, let`s call them mixed signals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: The bottom line is, is that we do what`s called plume modeling, and that`s what we based a lot of the evacuations on. So, by all mean, yes, the plume is incredibly dang lows.
BOB ROYALL, ASST. CHIEF, HARRIS COUNTY FIRE MARSHAL`S OFFICE: You don`t want to stand in smoke, do you? So the sheriff says it`s like a campfire. It`s hydrocarbons burning. There`s a lot of things made of hydrocarbons.
REPORTER: So, the things burning there are no more dangerous than a campfire?
ROYALL: Yes, I did not say that, sir.
REPORTER: It`s people`s health. I mean, tell us what --
ROYALL: Right, right. You don`t want to inhale smoke, OK? I mean, that`s plain and simple.
REPORTER: Could y8ou say the fumes are nontoxic or you`re just not so sure?
RICHARD RENNARD, ARKEMA EXECUTIVE: They`re noxious, certainly. The toxicity of the fume, you mean the smoke? I mean, it`s -- I don`t know the composition of the smoke but it`s certainly noxious.
REPORTER: You`re not going to say they`re nontoxic, correct? Are you going to say they`re nontoxic, are you not? Yes or no? Because I think it`s pretty important -- it`s a pretty important --.
RENNARD: I mean, the smoke is noxious. It`s toxicity is a relative thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: It`s a relative thing, it`s noxious, you know, it`s smoke. You don`t want to breathe it in.
And, look, in the middle of a disaster, things are definitely sometimes confusing, wires get crossed and I should tell you that today, the EPA tested the air in Crosby, Texas, and reported there were no concerns regarding toxic materials. The head of FEMA later said that he would defer to the officials on the ground.
But one thing that might held us get a little more specificity on just how toxic that smoke is if we knew exactly what was in that plant and how much of it there is. But that is information that you are not allowed to know in the state of Texas. Not since a massive fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas, in 2013.
After that ammonium nitrate blast which leveled a good junk of that town and killed 15 people, Texas made one change to its rules about chemical storage. What those chemicals were and where they were stored would no longer be public information. Which means when things start exploding, like they are right now at the Arkema plant, the people of Texas are asked to trust the companies and state officials are telling them the truth about what`s happening. And what the danger is.
Now, if you lived near this Arkema plant, would you trust the state officials and the same state officials whose only response to a previous chemical explosion was to hide information from the public about what chemicals are spewing into the air? Fortunately, there are people who are trying to get that information, who are trying to basically fact check the authorities.
Last night, Rachel spoke with "Houston Chronicle" data reporter Matt Dempsey, who wrote an amazing series of articles last year about the dangers of Texas`s chemical plants. Mr. Dempsey asked Arkema yesterday to hand over the latest inventory of chemicals at its Crosby plant and Arkema said no.
But, today, Arkema said yes. They said they will give Matt Dempsey that inventory. Persistence pays off.
And joining me now is Matt Dempsey, data reporter for "The Houston Chronicle" investigation team.
So, Mr. Dempsey, thank you so much for being here this evening. And I guess I`ll just ask you the obvious question, has Arkema handed over their chemical inventory to you?
MATT DEMPSEY, DATA REPORTER, THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE: They handed over something. It was not what I asked for. They give me a list of chemicals, just a straight list of the names of the chemicals. I don`t have anything about how much of each chemical, I don`t have the chemical index code that I can use to research more about the chemicals, I don`t know what kind of containers they are in and I don`t know where those chemicals are located on the facility.
REID: So, if you`re somebody who lives near that Arkema plant, who is it that you`re supposed to trust and believe to tell you that the air near your home is safe to breathe when you`re allowed to come back?
DEMPSEY: That`s a good question. So, the EPA, like you said in the run- up, has done some air testing and I think that`s -- usually what happens is the fair marshal`s office or local authorities will have set up some air monitoring immediately after. I think it`s good that the EPA did.
But honestly from the people I talked to at Crosby today, there`s a lot of concerns about what`s in it, what`s in the smoke, is the radius of that 1.5 miles far enough. There is rampant rumor mongering all over Crosby about whether things are being done correctly or not. There`s a lot of concern about information just not getting spread out to the public very much.
REID: And let`s talk about that law. So, Texas passed a law after the 2013 explosion that spewed chemicals into the air that said the public is not allowed to know what chemicals are the plants that are near their homes. Does that mean that even if, for instance, health effects were to happen, let`s say a year down the road, could people then in a lawsuit potentially discover, through the discovery process what is in the air?
DEMPSEY: Imagine they should be able to discover it in a court process. But honestly, in some court cases that we looked at when we were doing the series that you had talked about, there were cases where companies said they just wouldn`t provide it. They wouldn`t provide specific information.
In fact, there was one case where a worker got pretty severely burned, my colleague Susan Carroll (ph) wrote this piece, and they sued and they tried to get all sorts of information. Nobody investigated it, or very little investigation was done. The CSP didn`t really go there at all. The EPA tried to do an investigation, like did not get more very far with the company involved.
So, honestly, even when it causes health damages to the public or to individuals, it can still be difficult to get that information. And just to be clear, Texas didn`t pass a law. Governor Abbott, when he was attorney general, his office made a ruling changes, essentially like they sent out a letter to everybody saying that we`re not going to -- a ruling saying we`re not going to provide -- the state is no longer going to provide this information to the public.
REID: So, very quickly, does that mean -- well have you seen any evidence of maybe second thoughts that maybe Texas lawmakers might want to pass a law that changes that?
DEMPSEY: I would be very -- I haven`t seen any second thoughts. Let`s put it this way. After the La Porte incident, there was a Du Pont incident at a plant in La Porte, where four workers died from (INAUDIBLE). That did not inspire any massive changes in the right to know laws in the state of Texas.
Our chemical series that you mentioned inspired no change by the legislature at all on right to now laws in the state of Texas.
REID: So, basically, if you`re a homeowner in Texas and you live near a chemical plant, you just have to take your chances and trust the company. Interesting.
Matt Dempsey --
DEMPSEY: Well -- sorry, go ahead.
REID: I`m sorry?
DEMPSEY: No. I said, well, Governor Abbott said in his campaign that people could drive around and ask chemical plants for what they want.
REID: Well, there you go. That`s a perfect solution.
Matt Dempsey, data reporter on "The Houston Chronicle" investigations team -- thank you very much.
DEMPSEY: Thank you very much for having me on.
REID: Thank you.
And the Trump administration is signaling that the president is about to fulfill a campaign promise, which would be devastating for some of the most vulnerable people in this country. But at least he`s really torn about it, right? More on that ahead.
REID: Donald Trump has until Tuesday to decide what to do about DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That, of course, is the program that coaxed about 800,000 undocumented immigrants out of shadows -- people who were brought to the United States as children, many of whom have never know any other home.
But on Tuesday, the entire program could come to an end and that`s because attorneys general from ten states have threatened to sue the president if he does not end DACA by then. But you know, guys, presidenting is hard and poor Donald Trump is apparently having a really tough time making his decision. At least that`s what anonymous White House aides would like for us to believe.
Here`s the headline from "Politico" yesterday, quote, Trump at war with himself over DREAMers. Administration officials say he`s conflicted between his instinct to be tough on immigration and his personal feelings.
Well, at least we know who`s the real victim here. But according to a couple of reports from FOX News and from "McClatchy", Trump has apparently already decided to end DACA as early as tomorrow. Those spinning for the Trump White House would like you to know he`s not so heartless, that he`s going to throw out all these young people right away. They`ll reportedly get to stay in the United States and keep working until their work permits run out. And then, well, they`re on their own.
Joining us now is Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is also an undocumented immigrant himself and we should mention who is not eligible for the DACA program when it began five years ago this month. He`s also the CEO of an organization called Define American.
Jose Antonio Vargas, my friend.
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALIST: Again, what`s really at stake here is how do we define American in this country.
VARGAS: That`s what`s at stake.
VARGAS: I mean, our moral conscience is at stake, and the president -- look, I would like to believe that his heart, that he really is thinking through this. He`s really thinking through the fact that, you know, if DACA gets taken away, my friend Brittany Packnett, at Teach for America, told me that 10,000 students in about a dozen states in this country would lose their teachers.
VARGAS: Undocumented teachers, right? Nurses, there`s about 80 undocumented medical students across this country, right? There`s, of course, undocumented firefighters, police officers, people serving in the military.
VARGAS: So, we would want people to serve in the military and then be afraid that they may get deported?
REID: Well, let me ask you this question because if Donald Trump is doing this and he really has made the decision, who would he be -- what constituency would be he serving?
VARGAS: You know, actually, so I brought this fact sheet, (INAUDIBLE) with Joy earlier today. If you want to know everything about DACA, please go to DefineAmerican.com/daca. We have here, 73 percent of Donald Trump voters actually want Trump to keep this. So, we`re talking about, what, 25 percent of people?
REID: Right. Of his supporters.
VARGAS: Of his supporters.
VARGAS: What is his approval rating?
REID: He`s down to about a third maybe of the electorate, of the adult electorate.
VARGAS: So, who is the president really serving by this? And, look, I can talk to you about the fact that $1.2 billion in revenue would be gone because these undocumented DACA recipients are working. What? Ninety-five percent of them are working in school, 54 percent of them, according to a study, bought their first car.
REID: Yes. You were telling earlier, we were texting. And there`s a story that somebody sent to you. I`d love you to tell the audience.
VARGAS: You know, at Define American, we`re collecting people`s stories. If you have DACA, please share your story.
This man from North Carolina, a rural town, sent us a story. He said, I was brought into this country at 3 years old. Despite the mental struggle of being undocumented, I was able to work my way through a private college without a single loan or government grant to study four years of mathematics. I earned private scholarships and worked overnight jobs from 5:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. to pay for my tuition.
Today with DACA, I work in the fraud department for a bank, preventing Americans` money from being stolen through financial crimes. The lack of a document should not define me.
And, look, Joy, there`s so many DACA people right now who are so worried and anxious. They`re all over my Twitter feed. I think we have to know that we are more than pieces of paper and more than wants (ph). I think we have to know this is way more than about being legal.
I mean, President Trump just pardoned Joe Arpaio.
VARGAS: This is not about legality. This is about, what does this country want to do to these young people?
REID: Yes, and let`s not forget that the president is married to an immigrant, which is the ultimate irony.
Jose Antonio Vargas, journalist, CEO of Define America, everybody, please go to Jose`s writing on Twitter and send your stories to him. We`re going to talk more about this this weekend. Thank you.
VARGAS: Thank you, Joy.
REID: Appreciate it.
All right. We`ll be right back.
REID: So, anyone who`s paid attention to Donald Trump over the years knows that he`s a man who`s rather fuzzy about his decor. He likes a particular. Gold. And he has a very particular aesthetic when if comes to historical objects.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you choose the colors?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gold?
TRUMP: I did. I chose pretty much. But those chairs have been here for a long time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you get to choose what paintings go in here?
TRUMP: I do. But some of them come with the office, like the picture of George Washington.
That`s Andrew Jackson. They say his campaign and his whole thing was most like mine. That was interesting. That`s the great Andrew Jackson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: He chose the colors. Gold!
So, that was Donald Trump soon after he was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, giving his pals over at "Fox & Friends" a tour of the Oval. Trump showed off his big portrait of the man he calls the great Andrew Jackson, which he had tacked up in the Oval Office because Donald Trump just doesn`t like Andrew Jackson. He like likes Andrew Jackson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Jackson`s life was devoted to one of very crucial principle.
Andrew Jackson who a lot of people compare the campaign of Trump with.
He also served as commander of the Tennessee militia. Tough cookies. Tough cookies.
Had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later, you wouldn`t have the civil war. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart.
We have Andrew Jackson.
The great President Andrew Jackson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Trump loves Andrew Jackson so much that he visited old hickory`s house in March. He laid a wreath on the seventh U.S. president`s tomb.
Andrew Jackson is kind of like Donald Trump`s spirit animal, which is important to remember when you consider the fact that Andrew Jackson`s face is in the process of being removed from the front of the $20 bill for good.
Last year, before President Barack Obama left office, he and his treasury secretary decided to boot Jackson off the front of the $20 so they could put Harriet Tubman there instead.
Harriet Tubman, of course, was an abolitionist during the Civil War. She was a Union army spy. She risked her lifetime and time again to help free enslaved people. She rescued dozens of enslaved African-Americans by the Underground Railroad. She is a bona fide American hero.
It would be a huge deal for this country to have someone like Harriet Tubman grace the $20. And yet today, Donald Trump`s treasury secretary dumped a big bucket of cold water on the whole thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Your predecessor supported the idea of removing Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill and putting Harriet Tubman on. Do you support that idea?
STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Well, let me just comment on, you know, ultimately, we will be looking at this issue. It`s not something that I`m focused on at the moment. But the number one issue why we change the currency is to stop counterfeiting. So, the issues of why we change it will be primarily related to what we need to do for security purposes.
REPORTER: But, certainly, there are cultural aspects as to decisions we make as to who`s on what bills, right?
MNUCHIN: Again, people have been on the bills for a long period of time. This is something we`ll consider. Right now, we`ve got a lot more important issues to focus on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Much more important issues to focus on.
So, in the last week, we have seen this administration focus on a whole host of things from pardoning Joe Arpaio, to potentially ending DACA, to defending the president`s response to those violent pro-Confederacy protests, and the latest, considering major tax cuts for corporations, even as a deadly hurricane continues to wreak havoc on a major American city.
And in fact, nothing has stopped the Trump administration from focusing on the things that they`ve wanted to do. They even found time to market hats.
And yet today, the Trump administration is too busy to say whether or not they`re committed to taking Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill and putting Harriet Tubman on, something that would take almost no time at all to simply tell us, whether in their view Harriet Tubman has earned a place on the currency. Perhaps if there was a Harriet Tubman hat that the re- election campaign could sell.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
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
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