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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 9/1/17 Mueller gets Comey letter

Guests: Susan Greenhalgh, Matt Dempsey, Greisa Martinez, Adriano Espaillat, Desiree Fairooz

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 1, 2017

Guest: Susan Greenhalgh, Matt Dempsey, Greisa Martinez, Adriano Espaillat, Desiree Fairooz

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: All right. 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: Thank you very much, Chris, and Lawrence. Thank you, guys.

HAYES: Happy weekend.

REID: All right. You too.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel will be back next week.

Now, we have a ton and a half to tell you about this evening. The White House has spent the week hinting and signaling about an eminent decision from the president on the fate of 800,000 young immigrants in this country. And tonight, we have some surprising news from that story which we did not see coming and we`ll be getting to that news tonight.

But tonight, the chemical plant that we`ve been telling you about in Crosby, Texas, the Arkema plant that had to be abandoned in the flood, tonight, towers of flame erupted from that plant. And we have an intriguing new glimpse into the Trump-Russia investigation and what the special counsel`s office is looking at now. All of that is ahead tonight.

But we begin tonight with a weather report. It was a scorcher in San Francisco today. The high was 99 degrees. Now, normal summer in San Francisco can be quite chilly.

But today, it was so hot they actually issued an excessive heat warning for San Francisco, calling for dangerously hot conditions heading into Labor Day weekend. And on this absurdly hot day in San Francisco, the people inside the Russian consulate, they had kind of a weird way of dealing with the heat wave today. They decided to light a fire.

This was the Russian consulate in San Francisco today. Black smoke billowing out of the chimney right next to the Russian flag waving around in the San Francisco heat.

Now, obviously, it is not normal to see smoke pouring out of a fireplace on one of the hottest days of the year. So, somebody actually called the fire department. And when the fire department showed up, the Russian diplomats said basically, don`t worry you guys, we`re all good here.

The Russian consulate actually turned the fire department away. The diplomats would not let them into the building. As "The Associated Press" reported today, the Russian consulate staff told the fire department that they were burning unidentified items in a fireplace. Nothing to see here, you guys. But thanks for stopping by.

Now, even on a normal day this is totally bizarre, right? There are lots of ways to get rid of things that you don`t want in an office. I hear that Staples has a great deal on shredders. But this was not a normal day at the Russian consulate, because yesterday, the State Department told the Russian government to pack up and get out of San Francisco pronto. The U.S. told Russia yesterday their diplomats have to vacate the consulate in San Francisco by Saturday, as well as two annexes in New York and D.C., as part of the ongoing retaliation over Russia hacking our election, which is why that smoke today pouring out of the Russian chimney was so suspicious.

The flames went up less than a day before they had been ordered to vacate the premises. Now, my guess is, they were not making s`mores.

Now, a lot of what happens between the United States and Russia, especially in this complicated weird time for our two countries goes on in secret. It doesn`t usually play out in the bright of day. There were secret tables and phone calls. There are closed door meetings, there`s espionage and undercover spies.

But today, there was smoke in San Francisco, in a heat wave, which is funny. But what the two sides are fighting about is not funny at all. Russia really did attack us last year in a few very different ways. There was the attack on our political system, on our political parties, the Russian hack of the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign. There was the attack on you, Russia spreading disinformation through social media to try and tip public opinion toward Donald Trump.

And there was one more prong to this attack. One really important weapon in Russia`s arsenal that has not gotten nearly as much attention, and that is the attack on our election, on our infrastructure, on the actual ways that we vote in this country.

This show has reported a lot on how elections in this country are decentralized. We talk about how a single election is not really a single election but really a bit like picking a president is a big clump of small individual elections all over the country, thousands and thousands of them. Which is why if you wanted to try to hack the election, if you wanted to break into voting machines and start running up the score for the candidate of your choice, it would actually be really hard. You can`t just pop the hood and start cutting wires. You would have to crack 9,000 different systems across 50 different states.

But physically changing the vote totals is not the only way to swing the outcome of an election. Another way to do it, an easier way to do it is to keep actual people from voting in the first place. This show, for example, has talked about what happened in Dallas County, in Texas, before people started heading to the polls in Dallas County this time last November.

Before that happened something alarming started happening to the voting systems there. The FBI had sent out this scary looking flash to election officials all across the country before the election. Local counties were given IP addresses and web servers connected to hackers that the FBI said were trying to break into electoral systems and federal authorities wanted local official to run a check to make sure that there were no signs of those IP addresses in their systems.

And when Dallas County ran that check, they found out not just one but they actually found 17 computers from 17 of those addresses flagged by the FBI that they had tried to break into Dallas county`s voter rolls, at least some of which were from computers in Russia.

Dallas County has over a million voters in its database. It has your name, your date of birth, your addresses, which determines where you get to vote in a place like Dallas County, which is a blue county, the voter rolls are packed with Democrats.

Now, Dallas County is a bright blue dot in that sea of red. Hillary Clinton lost the state of Texas in the presidential election but she won Dallas County by a whopping 26 points. Dallas is the center of Democratic votes in the state of Texas.

So, when local reporters asked neighboring counties whether they also experienced attempts to hack in, the Republican county said no, not as far as they can tell.

So, the Democratic-leaning party was targeted. Its Republican neighbors were not. There was a lot at stake here. If you`re table to get into the election system and start messing around with all of those voter files, you could do some serious damage just by changing one digit for instance in someone`s address or by changing a letter in their name. You could presumably keep thousands and thousands of voters from casting ballots. That is how you swing an election.

Without changing one digit of the vote tallies, you don`t have -- you can do any -- you can keep people from actually voting. You can actually create chaos at the polls which brings us to a place called Durham, North Carolina.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to the election HQ on election night. I`m Trisha Powell (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, everyone. I`m Steve Daniels. We`ll be here all night watching the big races on air.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The big news at this hour, eight Durham precincts extending voting hours, some as little as 15 minutes, others extending a full hour to 8:30.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This comes after several precincts had problems with the voting check-in system, the computers didn`t work right so they went to paper books.


REID: Durham County has more Democrats than any other county in North Carolina. On election night, Durham`s voting machines were working just fine. It was the voting check-in system that was causing problems. When voters gave their names to sign in at the polls, lots of people were told they were ineligible to vote for a variety of reasons. Local officials blamed a combination of human error and software malfunctions.

But it turns out that the company had also been hit by Russian hackers months before the election. Now, it`s unclear how many people were kept from voting because of that check-in problem in Durham or how many people got frustrated by the delays and the long lines because of that problem and just gave up. Nor is it clear that the hacking created problems at the polls.

The company officials believe that they fended off the hackers -- that they fended off the hackers. And there`s a lot that we don`t know about what happened in Durham, North Carolina, and across the country.

But just today we got this unsettling report from "The New York Times", that the hacking of our electoral systems is, quote, more extensive than previously disclosed. Besides the company in North Carolina, quote, hackers breached at least two other providers of critical election services well ahead of the 2016 voting. The officials would not disclose the names of the companies.

All this time, after the election, "The Times" reports that local and state and federal agencies have conducted little of the type of digital forensic investigation that`s required to assess the impact, if any, on voting in at least 21 states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers.

Now, our next major election is around the corner, the midterms are next November. So who will be sure that we are ready?

And joining us now is Susan Greenhalgh, an election special with a nonprofit called Verified Voting Foundations. And Susan Greenhalgh was monitoring those problems in Durham, North Carolina, during the last election.

Ms. Greenhalgh, thank you so much for being here.


REID: Could you just explain to us what were the sort of problems that people were having when they tried to vote in Durham?

GREENHALGH: So, I was working at the election protection coalition hot line. We were taking calls from people having trouble voting on Election Day. We got a lot of calls from people right often the bat in Durham County, unable to vote because of the incorrect information in the electronic poll book. The electronic poll book is a way of checking voters in rather than having the paper book.

REID: Right.

GREENHALGH: You have the electronic poll book. And the information there was wrong. Either people were told that they had the wrong address, they were at the wrong location, they had voted early, they had voted during absentee voting. When they were saying I know I didn`t vote early, I was at my cousin`s wedding the day they told me that I did.

So, the people were being told that they couldn`t vote and the poll books were taken offline in the entire county which then caused greater problems because now nobody could vote.

REID: Now, were you able to determine that these kinds of problems that you saw taking place in Durham did not happen in more Republican counties? Was this specifically a problem just in Durham?

GREENHALGH: They were problems in different counties in North Carolina, not anywhere near as widespread as Durham. They were more pronounced and intensified there. We had some problems. But I didn`t look at how they broke down as far as the demographics go. We`re just worried to make sure that people got there to vote and got to be able to cast their vote.

REID: And is there a way to determine definitively if the problems in Durham were because of a hack system or a system malfunction?

GREENHALGH: So, that`s the important question. If you were trying to mess with the voter rolls to keep people from voting, you would cause the type of chaos that we saw on the ground in Durham, to keep people from being able to cast their vote, but we don`t know if that was caused by some benign malfunction or by some malicious attack. But what`s worrisome is that it was the same vendor that had been targeted by the Russians.

REID: And it was the same vendor that had been determined in other states you`re saying that had been targeted by Russians?

GREENHALGH: The same vendor had been identified in a news story before the election and subsequently in an NSA document that was leaked, as you probably from Reality Winner, yes.

REID: Do we know whether or not that vendor is still being used in North Carolina and whether there`s been anything done post-election to try to mitigate against the same thing happening again?

GREENHALGH: So, the vendor is still being used in North Carolina and many states. But they did an investigation but it wasn`t really a very strong forensic investigation where we would want to have one with serious security jobs looking at the code or looking at the audit logs. Hopefully, they`re doing a further examination now, although it`s a little late. It should have, in my mind, been done a little earlier.

But the type of -- the way to best protect this is to have strong contingency plans. To have election officials aware of backup poll books that they could use. Part of the problem in Durham County was that the electronic poll book provided an authorization to vote form where the voters sign in.

REID: Right.

GREENHALGH: And that was done on electronic interface. Now, the poll books aren`t working and you need a paper version of that. But they only had a couple of those in each of the emergency books, so they had to send people to Kinko`s to make copies of the authorization to vote form, and that further delayed voting, caused the line, caused people to perhaps leave.

REID: And are you worried about the next election in North Carolina?

GREENHALGH: I`m worried about the next election across the country, because we really need to take this seriously. This is a national security issue. This is something where we have a foreign adversary coming to try to disrupt the legitimacy of our government and the legitimacy of our elections, and we really need to be protecting all parts of our election infrastructure.

REID: Yes. And do you feel the state is taking it seriously now?

GREENHALGH: I think they might be now.

REID: They might be now. All right. Well, a little publicity sometimes goes a long way.


REID: Thank you very much. Susan Greenhalgh, election specialist for Verified Voting. Thank you very much for your time.

GREENHALGH: Thank you.

REID: Really appreciate it.

All right. And I just want to add that in addition to the burning of unidentified items at the Russian consulate in San Francisco, foreign policy magazine posted this video of something burning outside the Russian trade representative building this afternoon.

Moving on, we promised a glimpse tonight inside the Trump-Russia investigation. But, first, let`s look back to early May.


REPORTER: Did the president fire Director Comey to impede the Russia investigation?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, as you know very clearly, as has been stated repeatedly and the president has been told, he`s not under investigation. There is no evidence of collusion --

REPORTER: But the Director Clapper --

PENCE: -- between our campaign and any Russian officials.

REPORTER: But intelligence officials have said there`s investigation into potential ties between campaign officials and Russian officials.

PENCE: That`s not what this is about.

REPORTER: What about the president`s dissatisfaction with the Russia probe? Did that play into this, sir? And --

PENCE: Let me be very clear that the president`s decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI was based solely and exclusively on his commitment to the best interest of the American people.


REID: That was Vice President Mike Pence the day after President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, repeatedly and emphatically denying that it had anything to do with the Russian investigation. Rather the president was simply following the advice of his attorney general and deputy attorney general in his decision to terminate the FBI director.

Of course, Trump`s termination letter also included the memorable line: while I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.

Trump would essentially blow a hole in his own defense just a few days later, in an interview with NBC`s Lester Holt, in which he admitted that he indeed had Russia on his mind when he made the decision.

Now, today, both "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" are reporting that Comey`s termination letter wasn`t the only letter drafted by the president. Special counsel Robert Mueller is now reviewing a separate letter drafted by the president and a top aide days before he fired James Comey. According to "The Post", the multipage letter enumerated Trump`s long simmering complaints with Comey, including Trump`s, quote, frustration that Comey was unwilling to say publicly that Trump was not personally under information.

According to the reports, this original letter which the president drafted with the help of his policy adviser Stephen Miller was never sent after aides, including White House counsel Don McGahn, found it problematic and advised against sending it. Now, that letter is in the hands of the special counsel, where it will likely become key evidence in the investigation into whether the Comey firing was part of an effort to obstruct justice in the Russia information.

And joining us now is Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst.

Great to have you here, Paul.


REID: So, let`s talk about what does appear to be Donald Trump`s ongoing complaints, at least according to the reports in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" that Comey was refusing to publicly exonerate him. If it turns out that the reason that he chose to fire Jim Comey is that Jim Comey wouldn`t publicly exonerate him, does that rise to the level of obstruction of justice?

BUTLER: Probably not. Trump could use that as a defense to an obstruction of justice prosecution. He would say, I don`t respect the norms of my office. Firing James Comey was not good policy, so I`m a mean guy but I`m not a criminal. I didn`t obstruct justice.

If on the other hand, this letter reveals that his intent in firing Comey was to try to impede the investigation, which he was calling fake news, then that would be smoking gun evidence of obstruction of justice.

REID: The other sort of interesting kind of aspect of these stories that we heard today, Paul, was this idea that Donald Trump had this letter that he wanted to originally send, that the White House counsel says there`s something problematic about that letter, we don`t know what was problematic about it, but then Donald Trump turns around and relies on a memo from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and uses that as a pretext to fire Jim Comey.

I`m wondering what kind of position does that put Rod Rosenstein in because it sounds like he`s both still the acting A.G. or the person in charge of the investigation and potentially a witness.

BUTLER: Yes, he`s a fact witness if this investigation is centering on why James Comey was fired. So, Rosenstein will have to recuse himself at some point.

We also have to note, Joy, that James Comey in this matter is no choir boy. He talks too much. That`s a bad trait in a law enforcement agent. So, he should never have told James Comey that -- James Comey should never have told Donald Trump that he wasn`t a subject of the investigation. That`s an inappropriate conversation between the FBI director and the president.

So, there may very well have a good reason to fire James Comey, but that may not have been the reason that Trump used to fire him.

REID: What`s interesting is you have Donald Trump today, sort of after some communications with Chuck Grassley, one of the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, then he tweets out today sort of another accusation of Jim Comey, essentially saying, well, he cleared Hillary Clinton at the wrong time in the investigation, sort of re-racking this Hillary Clinton based pretext for him getting fired.

This is getting very muddled, right? You had Donald Trump saying he had Russia on his mind but then going back to this idea that there was something about the way Comey handled Clinton that got him fired. At this point, is it so muddled that you can anticipate Mueller being able to disentangle it?

BUTLER: Absolutely. So, this is a classic move by Trump to try to deflect and obfuscate and point the blame some place else. But special agent Mueller has this ace team of some of the nation`s best prosecutors and law enforcement agents. We talked yesterday about how he now has C.I. from the tax division, people who really know how to make a case.

So, I don`t think that they`re going to be susceptible to Trump trying to change the subject. They`re focused on collusion and obstruction of justice.

REID: And do you expect Don McGahn to wind up being somebody that Mueller might want to talk to as well? Because he knows what this letter says.

BUTLER: Right. I`m sure he wants to, but he`s the White House counsel. So, there`s attorney-client privilege. If Mueller thinks that the White House counsel is somehow implicated in a crime, then he would be able to talk to him and privilege wouldn`t apply. But so far, we haven`t heard that.

So, as much as he love to talk to the White House counsel, I don`t think he`s going to be able to do that.

REID: All right. Well, Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, MSNBC legal analyst, thank you very much. Always great to talk to you.

BUTLER: Great to be here.

REID: All right. And all week, one Texas reporter has been asking what exactly is in this chemical plant northeast of Houston. That question has never been more urgent than tonight when that plant was engulfed in flames and that reporter joins us next with the latest on what he`s discovered.

Stay with us.


REID: This was the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, last night. The plant has been without power for days, submerged under floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey. And as the organic peroxides that they produced have lost refrigeration, those chemicals had began heating up and igniting.

This was the fire yesterday after one container exploded. That fire eventually burned itself out. But Arkema executives warned that there were eight more containers of those peroxides on the site. The plant had about 500,000 pounds of the stuff and the company said there was nothing to be done but to wait for those other containers to ignite as well.

This is the chemical plant as of this evening. The company says two more containers have gone up in flames. And as you can see, the flames and black plume of smoke are just massive. There are six more to go.

Residents remain evacuated for 1.5 miles around the plant. State and company officials have been saying that the smoke is noxious and that people should avoid it, but they insist it`s not seriously dangerous. That said, we still don`t know what`s inside the plant because neither Arkema nor the state of Texas will release a detailed inventory of the chemicals there.

And joining us by phone is Matt Dempsey, data reporter on "The Houston Chronicle`s" investigative team and he`s been writing about the dangers of Texas`s chemical plants and has been pressing Arkema executives for information about exactly what chemicals are in that plant.

Matt, thanks for joining us.

And do you know me more tonight about what`s in the chemical mixture that`s spewing into the air out of that plant than you did last night?

MATT DEMPSEY, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, HOUSTON CHRONICLE (via telephone): No, we don`t. It`s the same situation. In fact, the only thing we know for sure is that Arkema is refusing to provide the information.

They backtracked some of the promise they made yesterday at the press conference to me, and so, now, we`re stuck with essentially we know they are organic peroxides. I have some idea from an older chemical inventory.

The public should be safe from the fumes and smoke and the fire as long as they`re not within a mile and a half of the facility where the evacuation zone is, but there`s still a lot of other stuff on the site and the concern for a lot of people is what happens if something happens to those things.

REID: Well, that`s the other thing, is that you still have more fires to burn if all of those plants have not exploded yet. I`m wondering, you know, at some point, is there not a public safety consideration that gives the people who live and work around the Arkema plant the legal right to know what is in those plumes of smoke? It`s kind of shocking I think for the rest of the country that they have no right to know.

DEMPSEY: Right. I mean, in fact the CEO of the company said the reason they decided not to provide the Tier Two, the chemical inventory, was that they were balancing the need of the public to know and the need for the public to be safe. And what he means -- I know that sounds insane considering what`s going on. But what he was meaning by that is the threat of terrorism. The terrorism threat is the reason why all of these chemical inventories have been blocked in the state of Texas.

So, when you say the public safety threat, I completely agree with you, I think a lot of people agree with you. The state of Texas ruled that is not the case. The threat of terrorism is more dangerous than something like this or something we said in our series. There`s a major chemical event that happens in Houston every six weeks, you know? Like maybe two instances ever that have been related to terrorism with chemical facilities in the United States.

REID: Yes. Wow. Pretty incredible. Matt Dempsey of the "Houston Chronicle", thank you, man. Thank you for keeping us updated on this. Thanks for your time.

DEMPSEY: Thanks for having me on again. I appreciate it.

REID: Thank you.

Much more to come. Stay with us.


REID: Tonight, millions of Americans, immigrants and their families and friends are on pins and needles, waiting to hear if the president of the United States will drive a spike through the heart of DACA.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is, of course, the program that coaxed nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, people who were brought to this country as children. For many of them, America is the only home they`ve ever known. They and their families now face what amounts to a DACA death watch.

The White House claims they will announce DACA`s fate on Tuesday. We shall see.

But if you`re wondering why this is all happening now, here is why -- because, right now, September 5th is at least metaphorically circled in red on the president`s calendar, an arbitrary plucked out of nowhere deadline given to the White House by these guys, 10 Republican state attorneys general and one governor who formed a kind of anti-DREAMers SWAT team. They`ve said basically pull the plug on DACA or else.

In June, they signed off this letter in which they called DACA, quote, unlawful and respectfully request that it`d be phased out. At least they asked respectfully.

Of course, they went on to say if the president doesn`t along with their respectful request by September 5th, they`ll sue. That was in June.

But tonight, with that deadline just days away, there is an 11th hour curveball. Tonight, one of those 10 Republican state attorneys general, plus one governor, one of them has switched teams. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III.

This afternoon, Attorney General Slatery had a sudden change of heart and he`s now bailing on his Republican comrades in their threat to sue over DACA, writing, quote: There is a human element to this that is not lost on me and should not be ignored. He went on to say, quote: Many of the DACA recipients, some of whose records I reviewed, have outstanding accomplishments and laudable ambitions which if achieved will be of great benefit and service to our country.

Kind of makes you wonder what got him to see the light. Well, here`s one possible explanation. Protesters gathered in Nashville earlier this month with a message for Vice President Pence who was there for a GOP fundraiser, demanding that he`d defend DACA.

There was been no letup in Tennessee. Last month, DACA supporters marched in Chattanooga. Last week, they held a letter writing campaign in Johnson City. Concerned citizens and undocumented immigrants have been keeping the pressure on.

So, as we head into the Labor Day weekend with DACA`s future uncertain, remember what we saw today in Tennessee. Pressure works.

Joining us is Greisa Martinez, advocacy director at the United We Dream Network.

Ms. Martinez, thank you for joining us tonight. So, talk a little bit about the pressure that`s been put on in Tennessee. Do you think that the same kind of pressure can potentially work not only on these other governors and attorneys general, but maybe even on Donald Trump?

GREISA MARTINEZ, ADVOCACY DIRECTOR, UNITED WE DREAM NETWORK: Yes. So, I mean, since January, immigrant young people from all across the country have had their eye set on just protecting the DACA program and protecting our families. And what happened in Tennessee today is just another example that it`s working, that people all across the country recognize that DACA works, that DACA is freedom for someone like me and 800,000 young people who have grown up undocumented in this country. And I can -- you know, you saw companies come out, you saw attorneys general come out, 20 attorneys generals, say that they stand with DACA.

And so, I think that immigrant young people, United We Dream, we`re ready to fight back because we know this is the right thing to do.

REID: And have you been surprised by any of the sources of support that you`ve seen come out in favor of keeping DACA in place?

MARTINEZ: Not at all surprised. I know that this is where the country is. There is a vicious attack on DACA that is brought about by the white supremacy movement. But we are seeing a growing movement of people all across the country, there`s a march right now from Charlottesville to D.C., demanding that DACA stay in place. And I`m excited to join them and I know that you are, the people that are watching the show, like our freedom fighters, people that believe in justice and hope, I know you`re going to join us.

REID: And what would you say to President Donald Trump if you could speak to him tonight?

MARTINEZ: I say watch out. I say I think that this is your choice. This is your moment to show what side of history you`re going to land on. This is a clear choice. Are you with the white supremacy agenda, are you with young people of color.

And if you`re with young people of color our families and freedom fighters, you need to stand on the right side of history.

REID: All right. Greisa Martinez, advocacy director for United We Dream Network and a DACA recipient, thank you very much.

MARTINEZ: Thank you.

REID: Thank you.

And joining us now is Representative Adriano Espaillat of New York. He`s the first Dominican American and the first formerly undocumented immigrant to be elected to Congress.

Congressman, thank you so much for being here.

REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT (D), NEW YORK: Thank you. Good to see you again.

REID: So, sort of the same question to you. I mean, you`ve seen an incredible outpouring of support for the DACA, the DREAMers.


REID: Whether it`s members of the business community, you`ve even had one member of the original group of people that wanted to overturn it change his mind in Tennessee. Has any of the support surprised you?

ESPAILLAT: No. Really, no. Once you meet these young people, they win you over. Their loyalty to the country, they`re such an American story. You can`t really turn your backs on them.

When I met them, I marched with them on Columbus Circle the other day, and I just -- I was overwhelmed. I was, one of them, when I came as a 9-year- old from the Dominican Republican, and you know, 60 percent of them got a new job, 59 percent of them saw some level of increase in their earnings. In addition to that 54 percent of them opened a bank account and 33 percent of them got their first credit card.

They are an important force for the economic growth of our nation. And to turn our backs against them would not only be egregious for our standing in the world as a nation of immigrants, but also a bad decision economically for our country. So, Trump, don`t do it. Just don`t do it.

REID: Donald Trump is getting obviously a lot of pressure from his base that makes the argument that it would set a bad precedent if the federal government sort of wipes away the violation of immigration laws that was committed by the parents of these young people. What do you say to them?

ESPAILLAT: These young people are here. They`re going to school. They are working. They haven`t violated the law. They`re outstanding Americans. They`re so proud to be part of this experiment called the United States of America.

Why turn or backs on them? They`re our future. They`re our present right now. They`re college students. They`re professionals.

In every level, every area of our economy, you find a DACA worker. You know, corporate America has a close warming to them. The labor unions loves them. You know, we as immigrants, we embraced them.

Twenty years down the line, we`re going to look at them and say, maybe they didn`t face dogs or water hoses, but these guys, these young people did well for America. They took us to another level. So, why turn against them?

REID: Let me ask you this question, you did have Speaker Paul Ryan sort of mildly come out in his Paul Ryan way say, you know, I don`t think the president should do it this way. Ironically enough, could this threat to DACA result in Congress finally sitting down and doing immigration reform in a way that actually could protect these DACA recipients legally through legislation?

ESPAILLAT: Well, both myself and Congressman Kihuen from Nevada, who are the two formerly undocumented members of Congress, sent a letter to the president and to Paul Ryan, asking him not to join the rescinding effort of the DACA benefits for these 800,000 young people here in America.

But I think we need a comprehensive immigration reform discussion. Congressman Gutierrez in Chicago has led the American Hope Act, which I think brings some solution to the DACA. And then we have, of course, the BRIDGE Act, which is another piece of legislation in Congress that addresses this issue.

But to answer the immigration question, we must have a full comprehensive discussion about immigration reform. Ronald Reagan did it.

REID: Yes, he did.

ESPAILLAT: He`s on the other side of the aisle. Why can`t they do it now?

REID: Yes, we shall see, Congressman Adriano Espaillat.

ESPAILLAT: Thank you so much.

REID: Thank you very much. Really appreciate your time.

ESPAILLAT: Thank you.

REID: Thank you.

All right. And when we come back, the latest on this.


REID: So there`s one other headline that we`re watching on immigration. The latest presidential oops, he did it again, about face. This time on that wall that he`s been promising.

You know, the thing that he`s been crowing about since the day he first rode down the golden escalator in Trump Tower to announce he was throwing his proverbial hat into the presidential ring. When he first proposed building a wall along America`s border with Mexico, which he also claimed was sending rapists to the U.S.

Back then and in rally after rally since, Mexico was going to pay for the wall. Since then however, Trump seems to have slowly backed away from the idea of Mexico footing the bill, probably because they kept saying no.

So, Trump moved on to the vague concept that eventually we`d be reimbursed by Mexico somehow, someday. But darn it, we`re going to build it, even if it means shutting down the government.

Just last week, Donald Trump threatened to go to the mat in order to get the $1.6 billion that he needs to fund the wall. At that campaign style rally in Phoenix last week, he straight up said, quote: If we have to close down or government, we`re building that wall. And the crowd went wild. Just listen.


CROWD: Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!


REID: Build that wall, build that wall. You got it.

The president wanted that $1.6 billion to be tacked on to continuing resolution which Congress must pass by the end of September in order to keep the government from shutting down. But not so fast. Tonight, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the president is backing down from that threat. Apparently, 48 hours after that rabblerousing speech in Phoenix, the White House, quote, quietly notified to Congress that the $1.6 billion needed to fund the wall would not be in that continuing resolution after all. Never mind.

Apparently, Trump has a backup plan. Quote, the president wants the funding to be included in the December budget bill. In other words, a game of presidential kicking the border wall down the road.

Meanwhile, fans of the wall that no one wants to pay for do have one piece of news to hang on to. The White House has revealed its short list of contractors to build that big beautiful wall as the president is fond of calling it. What is being hailed as a significant milestone, the four finalists will start building prototypes in San Diego in the coming weeks. The White House is expected to pick four more finalists next week to build prototypes made of alternative materials, with see-through capability.

The Department of Homeland Security will pick a winner based on a variety of criteria, including whether the wall is in aesthetically pleasing in color at least from the U.S. side, and whether it can withstand digging for at least six feet below the surface. The prototypes will be ready to go in 30 days of breaking ground, meaning come Thanksgiving, we`ll probably have a bunch of border wall options with no way to pay for it.

Watch this space.


REID: Back in January, President-elect Donald Trump nominated an attorney general as you do. And then the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for the president elect`s pick, as you do. The president`s nominee, Alabama`s Junior Senator Jefferson Sessions was introduced to the panel by his senior senator, as you do.

An activist from the peace and social justice group Code Pink was watching from the back of the room as they do.

And when Senator Richard Shelby made a certain statement that she found laughable, the activist did pretty much what anybody might do. Listen carefully. It`s a little bit tough to hear.


SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Unfortunately, since the announcement of his nomination, Jeff`s political opponents have attacked his character with baseless and tired allegations. But in reality, Jeff Sessions` extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well- documented.


SHELBY: Throughout his decades of public service.


REID: OK. Did you hear that?

Let`s play it for you one more time.


SHELBY: Jeff Sessions` extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.


SHELBY: Throughout his decades of public service.


REID: That was honestly the clearest audio we had of that laughter which maybe played bigger in the room because here`s what happened a few minutes later.

While Senator Susan Collins was introducing the nominee, behind her, Capitol police officers were arresting the woman who had laughed. As she was hauled out of the room, she was vocal about it.

Code Pink, you may remember, from the time of the Iraq War, is a group of activists, mostly women, who protest for peace and social justice, and they`re pretty easy to spot what with the pink shirts and pink crowns. So, it`s not unusual for them to cause disruptions and to be hauled away and arrested.

What does seem unusual is that the lawyers who now work for Attorney General Jeff Sessions are not letting this go, nearly eight months later.

Ryan Reilly, a reporter who covers criminal justice and legal affairs for "The Huffington Post", has been following this story for months. According to his reporting, the officer who arrested the protester was a rookie, and this was her very first arrest. And while the defense argued in court that her laughter was not a good enough reason for the prosecution in the first place, the government attorney argued at trial, quote: I would submit that laughter is enough, standing alone, to merit a charge. The jury convicted.

The defense asked the judge to toss the verdict, and the judge sided with the defense saying, quote: The court is concerned about the government`s theory. In other words, the judge said to the Justice Department, you had better not be arguing that that bit of laughter at a confirmation hearing was worth prosecuting this woman for. The judge threw out the jury`s verdict and declared a new trial, which brings us to today.

Nearly eight months later, the case is back in court to see if the parties can`t somehow settle this without a whole new trial. The prosecution offered a plea deal, but the protester did not want to plead guilty. So, they`re due back in court in November, 10 months after that outburst of laughter.

So, is the Justice Department really not going to let this go?

Joining us now by phone is that protester, Desiree Fairooz, a member of Code Pink.

Thank you very much for being here.


REID: So, Desiree, thank you. Well, to clear it up, what is it that you were -- what charges were you convicted of?

FAIROOZ: I was convicted of (INAUDIBLE) disruption of Congress.

REID: Repeat that one more time because your phone broke up a little bit.

FAIROOZ: I`m sorry. I was convicted of parading and disruption of Congress.

REID: Parading and disruption of Congress. What would be the penalty -- what are the maximum sort of penalties for that conviction?

FAIROOZ: The maximum is six months plus a fine. I believe it`s $500 for each charge. That`s the maximum time that --

REID: And do you know what the prosecution was recommending because up to six months in jail for laughing seems a little excessive.

FAIROOZ: Correct. I feel a little less worried since my colleagues also who were arrested in the hearing received suspended sentences and --

REID: Yes. Let me ask you this question.

FAIROOZ: And probation.

REID: If they received probation, why not just plead out and end this thing?

FAIROOZ: Because I don`t feel that I should admit to any guilt. I`d seen people laughing during hearings many times before, and no one got arrested, even in the same hearing, members were laughing, and no one got arrested. So, honestly, I was shocked that I`m still facing these charges.

I was expecting today that the charges would have been dropped, that the government would have said, you know, we`re not going to pursue this any further.

REID: And is it being made clear to you by the government, by the prosecutors, that it`s the laughing that they are prosecuting you for and not the later disruption when you were removed?

FAIROOZ: Well, now after the judge`s ruling, the prosecution needs to shift their strategy, and I`m not quite sure what to expect in November because the only reason why I was arrested to begin with was because of the laughter.

REID: Yes.

FAIROOZ: So, I don`t understand how it can proceed.

REID: Pretty incredible. And so, you were expecting this to go to trial, I guess, in November. Can you keep us posted on what happens?

FAIROOZ: Definitely. And I am so glad that you`re interested in this case because it`s so important that people stand up for our freedom of speech. This is a constitutional issue, and as we see this administration chipping away at all our rights, we need to stay together, stay strong, and continue to speak out when our rights are being infringed upon.

Thank you, Joy. I love your show and used to watch you (INAUDIBLE) on Saturday mornings on my lunch time.

REID: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Thank you. Completely unsolicited, by the way. I did not Deborah before tonight. Deborah Fairooz, thank you very much. Good luck.

FAIROOZ: Thank you. Take care.

REID: Thank you very much. Wow, prosecuted for laughing. I`ve seen a lot. Thank you very much.


REID: That does it for us tonight. You can catch me tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern for "A.M. JOY", including our special hour on the state of flux that 800,000 immigrants are living in right now, waiting to hear whether the president is going to reverse the Obama-era policy that allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children to stay legally. These are your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, and we`ll feature their stories collected by the folks at Define American. And you don`t want to miss it.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". Good evening, Lawrence.



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