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Oil tankers attacked in Gulf of Oman. TRANSCRIPT: 6/14/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Hagar Chemali, Brigitte Amiri

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  All right.  Bob Moore, thank you for your great reporting on this.  Please keep it up and come back. 

That is ALL IN for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now with Ali Velshi, in for Rachel. 

Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST:  Chris, good to see you.  You have yourself a great weekend.

HAYES:  You too.

VELSHI:  Thank you to you at home for joining us this hour.  Rachel has the night off.  But fear not.  She will be back Monday.  In the meantime, I`m going to try not to break anything. 

It is Friday night, which these days means that keeping tabs on the news is like juggling and spinning eight plates all at once on stilts. 

Today, we got the lineups for the first Democratic debate later this month, 20 candidates over two nights.  The great Steve Kornacki will be here this hour to break down with us who will be debating whom on each night and what we can expect from those match-ups which are not as you might think they are. 

It`s also been another day of worrying and bewildering developments in the White House`s narrative around Iran with the Trump administration continuing to insist that Iran has suddenly become much more belligerent and aggressive and that Iran is responsible for a spate of recent attacks.  We`re going to have some expert advice on that situation in just a moment. 

But we`re going to start tonight with stuff the president says.  He says a lot of stuff.  You may be familiar with his Twitter account.  And he says a lot of things that we choose as a country to ignore because this is our life now. 

In order for government to continue running, for the rule of law to remain intact and even for us as citizens to maintain our sanity, we have to just ignore some of the stuff the president says.  For instance, did you know that today our president told his friends at the Fox News Channel that when he visited the U.K. last week, Queen Elizabeth enjoyed his company, the company of Donald Trump, more than she has enjoyed the company of anyone in decades, in decades. 

This is actually the second time in a week that he has told this to Fox News.  The first time he said he had heard from people that the queen had never had a better time than she did with him, Donald Trump.  Never. 

Queen Elizabeth is 93 years old.  She has been the queen for nearly seven decades but this, this was the pinnacle, this was the highlight of her reign.  Might as well abdicate the throne and hand it over to Charles.  Nothing will top her time with Donald Trump. 

If you think about that claim from our president too long and too hard, you start to kind of twitch a little.  I mean, it would be embarrassing for any American to make that claim. 

So it`s the kind of stuff we ignore.  It`s background noise.  It`s Trump being Trump.

But sometimes our president says things that demand a response.  Sometimes he says things that are so offensive or so repellant that we feel like we have to respond to it just so that we`re not implicated in it.  We have to speak out against it so no one thinks we think it is acceptable. 

Sometimes he says something that implicates a specific particular person, which feels like it demands some kind of response, either legally or just reputationally like, say, in the case of the former White House counsel Don McGahn. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Excuse me, they had no evidence of crime. 

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR:  He lays out a lot of evidence, including the episode where you ask your White House counsel, Don McGahn, you tell him, Mueller has to go.  You call him twice, you say, Mueller has to go, call me when it`s done. 

TRUMP:  The story on that very simply.  Number one, I was never going to fire Mueller.  I never suggested firing Mueller. 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  That`s not what he says. 

TRUMP:  I don`t care what he says.  It doesn`t matter what he says.  That was to show what a good counsel he was. 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Why would he lie under oath? 

TRUMP:  Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer or -- or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen, including you, including the media, that Robert Mueller was conflicted.  Robert Mueller had a total interest. 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  And has to go.

TRUMP:  I never -- I didn`t said that. 


VELSHI:  That right there, the interview portion released today by ABC News, that is the president of the United States accusing his former White House counsel of a crime.  He`s accusing Don McGahn of lying under oath.  But at the same time, the president is blocking Don McGahn from testifying to Congress about what McGahn told Mueller.  He`s telling McGahn, you`ve got to keep quiet while I tell everyone you`re a liar, a perjurer, which just seems like a completely untenable situation.

If you`re Don McGahn, how do you not respond?  How do you not respond to this?  Here`s the thing that`s new to our era, to this era of governance, sometimes the president says something out loud that endorses or encourages behavior that is so wildly unethical or even blatantly legal, that in order for the law to be maintained, someone else from the government has to step in and remind people that, no, actually, you cannot do that thing even though the president just told you so. 

A couple of months ago, CNN reported that on a visit to Calexico, California, near the Mexican border, the president, quote, told border agents to not let migrants in.  Tell them we don`t have the capacity, he says.  If judges give you trouble say, sorry, judge, I can`t do it, we don`t have the room. 

They sought further advice who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the president said, they would take on personal liability.  You have to follow the law, they were told.  You have to follow the law.  Not what the president told to you do, which would be violating the law. 

There was also the time the president met with tribal leaders and told them to ignore federal laws preventing them from drilling on their land.  Quote: President Trump hosted a group of Native American tribal leaders at the White House and urged them to just do it and extract whatever they want from the land they control.  The chiefs explained to Trump that there were regulatory barriers preventing them from getting at their energy.  Trump replied: But now it`s me.  The government`s different now.  Obama`s gone.  We`re doing things differently here. 

There was a pause in the room and the tribal leaders looked at each other.  Chief, chief, Trump continued, addressing one of the tribal leaders, what are they going to do?  Once you get it out of the ground, are they going to make you put it back in there?  I mean, once it`s out of the ground, it can`t go back in there.  You`ve just got to do it. 

I`m telling you, chief, you`ve just got to do it.  The tribal leader looked back at one of the White House officials in the room.  Perhaps somebody from the White House counsel`s office and said, can we just do that?  The official equivocated saying the administration is making progress and has a plan to roll back various regulations.  Spare a thought for that official from the White House counsel`s office when someone asks, so are we allowed to break federal law like the president of the United States just told us to? 

But even that official with the president sitting right there reportedly could not bring himself to endorse the president`s instruction to break the law.  No, you cannot really do that. 

And then there was this, a president asking a roomful of leaders to please be more violent with suspects. 


TRUMP:  When you see these towns and you see these thugs being thrown 234509 back of a paddy wagon, you just thrown in, rough, I said, please don`t be too nice like when you guys put somebody in the car and you`re protecting their head, you know?  The way you put the hand, like don`t hit their head and they`ve just hit their head.  I said, you can take the hand away. 


VELSHI:  After those comments, the head of a major U.S. law enforcement agency sent an email to his entire work force reminding them that in fact they could not and should not do what the president was encouraging.  The acting chief of the Drug Enforcement Agency, the DEA,, wrote to his organization, quote, the president, in remarks delivered yesterday in New York, condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement. 

I write to offer a strong reaffirmation of the operating principles to which we as law enforcement professionals adhere.  I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong.  Our core values are clear and applicable: rule of law, respect and compassion, service, devotion, integrity, accountability, leadership and courage, diversity. 

This is how we conduct ourselves.  This is how we treed those whom we encounter in our work, victims, witnesses, subjects and defendants.  This is who we are. 

That acting DEA chief, Chuck Rosenberg, resigned a few weeks later.  Now, we are in the latest iteration of this pattern, this brand-new pattern that we are all having to come to grips with as Americans, of the president publicly endorsing or advocating lawless behavior. 

After the president earlier this week said he would absolutely accept campaign help from a foreign government in the next election and, of course, he would not report that to the FBI.  What are you crazy? 

The chair of the Federal Election Commission put out a statement which she prefaced by saying, I would not have thought that I needed to say this, quote, statement regarding illegal contributions from foreign governments.  Let me make something 100 percent clear to the American public and anyone running for public office.  It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. 

Any political campaign that receives an offer of a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that to the FBI.  That is the head of the U.S. agency that enforces campaign finance law.  She says, yes, I know the president said you can do it but you cannot do that. 

And just last month, the president`s hand-picked FBI director said the same thing. 


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR:  My view is if any public my view is if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation state about influencing or interfering with our election, that`s something the FBI would want to know about. 


VELSHI:  So we`re all in agreement here, right? 


STEPHANOPOULOS:  The FBI director says that`s what should happen. 

TRUMP:  The FBI director is wrong. 


VELSHI:  So now what?  I mean, the president`s breaking the law.  That`s a situation we are familiar in this country.  We are currently discovering the limits of our ability to address that situation, but it is not a brand- new experience for us.  We have some experience with presidents directing people around them to break the law. 

But a president who publicly even gleefully tells Americans to break the law, you break the law and you break the law, let`s all break the law together.  I don`t think this is something we`ve dealt with before.  Every government official who is not the president has to decide every day how to navigate this new terrain. 

Joining me now, Chuck Rosenberg, the former U.S. attorney and senior FBI official and as we mentioned, formerly the acting head of the DEA.  He`s also an MSNBC contributor. 

Chuck, good to have you here with us tonight.  Thank you for joining us. 

CHUCK ROSENBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Thanks for having me, Ali. 

VELSHI:  We used you in the setup to explain when you were the acting DEA and the president made those comments to law enforcement officials about not being so nice and the position you took.  You had to take it upon yourself to write an email to your staff to say, this isn`t the way we do business.

After Donald Trump made his comments about accepting foreign campaign help, a number of law enforcement veterans told "Politico" that Trump`s comments had, quote, undone months of work, essentially inviting foreign spies to meddle with 2020 presidential campaigns, and demoralizing the agents trying to stop them. 

Tell us what the affect of the president saying like that has on the people who are charged with keeping our election safe? 

ROSENBERG:  Sure.  I think that "Politico" article was somewhat hyperbolic, Ali, and somewhat accurate.  Let me explain that. 

Sure, the president`s comments will demoralize the agents, but don`t think for a minute they`re going to stop the work they`re doing because the president says something irresponsible or odious. 

Look, if you read the volume one of the Mueller report, he made it very clear that the Russians started this effort in 2014, long before Donald Trump became president.  We also know the Russians wanted to help Donald Trump become president.  Now we see why.

But the work of the men and women of the FBI was going on long before he became president, long after he is the president.  This is a current, ongoing, serious threat. 

The president`s words do not help.  They are irresponsible, they are odious.  They do not help.  But they will not stop the men and women of the FBI, and the men and women in the intelligence community from their work to protect us.  That`s just a simple fact. 

Do they help?  Absolutely not.  But they will not stop working to protect us. 

VELSHI:  Chuck, those of us who believe the institutions of this country work independently.  They work under set of rules like the FBI did when you were there, like the DEA does.  What are we meant to think, though, when the president says this, what does the system allow for in terms of people to push back? 

You, as the head of the DEA  at the time, sent a letter out.  I assume that assuaged some unease at the DEA.  But the FBI is something the president targets all the time. 

ROSENBERG:  Yes, he does.  Look, that was a hard letter to write and in some ways a harder letter to send.  I did it internally.  I didn`t intend for it to be disseminated publicly but I knew there was a risk of that. 

And the thing you want to avoid is dragging your agency into some public debate, right?  The men and women of the DEA do difficult, important, dangerous work and they do it well.  You don`t want to drag them into a debate, certainly not into a political debate. 

I think that`s the calculation any leader has to make.  It`s certainly the calculation Chris Wray has to make as the director of the FBI.  So, you cannot respond every time the president says something irresponsible.  Because, Ali, you would be responding every nine times a day.  And Chris Wray has more important things to do than address each and every utterance of this president. 

Please believe when I tell you there are 37,000 men and women in the FBI, 36,999 are apolitical career civil servants and they will continue to do their work. 

VELSHI:  Chuck Rosenberg, always a pleasure to see you.  Thank you for joining us on a Friday night. 

ROSENBERG:  Thank you.

VELSHI:  Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, senior FBI official, former acting head of the DEA and now, an MSNBC contributor. 

Joining me now, Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian. 

Michael, good to have you here.  Thank you.


VELSHI:  Michael, give us a sense of the history of this.  I said earlier that a thing like this, the president saying publicly to various constituencies, it`s OK to break the law.  Is that -- I mean, we have some examples of this from Watergate.  But is this sort of messaging new? 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes, it really is.  You know, the idea of the Constitution was that the president would be a chief of state, one of the things a chief of state does is essentially suggest to Americans and the United States that you should obey the law.  It`s not exactly a big demand on a president.  But Donald Trump doesn`t want to do it because he does not want things that will constrain him from grabbing power. 

That`s why he calls the press the enemy of the people.  That`s why he intimidates Republicans in Congress so they are not willing to stand up to him.  We saw a big example of that in the last 24 hours. 

How many Republicans in Congress have you seen standing up and saying I may agree with President Trump on taxes but this is disgraceful that he`s urging people not to follow the law?  And most consequently, he has spent the last 2-1/2 years to break down the rule of law so that he can get away in some cases with almost murder. 

VELSHI:  We are at a point where we have legislation being introduced in the House where if you work on a campaign and you are offered information by an adversary or a foreign government at all, that you are compelled to report that to the FBI.  This seems strange, right?  For all the things that the president doesn`t want to be constrained by, the idea that says, I`d take it if somebody give me dirt on the opposition. 

BESCHLOSS:  He`s trying to prepare the way so that if he does it, you can simply say, I told you I would do it, so that Americans will not be surprised.  The more ominous thing is he`s opening the tent.  He`s essentially telling every foreign government on earth, please bring me all the dirt you possibly can on --

VELSHI:  Because I`m ready to take it. 

BESCHLOSS:  I`m ready to take it because I want to win.  He`s feeling scared.  There`s other evidence he`s nervous about the possibility he will be defeated by a Democrat next year, and then he will be vulnerable to all sorts of prosecution.  So, he`s essentially grasping at straws. 

And once you have Americans and Congress and the legal system accepting the idea that people in China who do not wish us well, the same with Russia, other hostile powers, they`re doing all sorts of things that can help win him an election, the second you have that, an election becomes the thing that we have lost our sovereignty.  That`s something Jefferson, and Adams and Hamilton all worried about in 1787. 

VELSHI:  This -- the other thing he said when George Stephanopoulos asked him about Chris Wray, saying, you know, if somebody would give you information, that`s something the FBI would want to know.  He actually said to Stephanopoulos, Wray is wrong.  The FBI is wrong.

The reason this is relevant, because you heard my conversation with Chuck. 

BESCHLOSS:  I sure did. 

VELSHI:  Who said, when the president said something about roughing up suspects, he said, that`s wrong. 

Where do you go with that?  You have the head of the agency versus the president providing two different interpretations of the law. 

BESCHLOSS:  You got a president who does not respect the FBI and now is going public and urging Americans not to respect it also.  I think his game here is he`s trying to undermine Chris Wray, perhaps get him to resign so that the president can then have an FBI director as subservient to him as Attorney General Barr which has proven to be, which would be a very dangerous thing for this country. 

VELSHI:  Michael, thank you for being with us on a Friday night. 

BESCHLOSS:  My pleasure. 

VELSHI:  NBC News presidential historian.

Still ahead, the Trump administration says it has evidence of a foreign adversary doing wrong.  When have we heard that before?  Well, much more on that.  Stay ahead.  Stay with us. 


VELSHI:  On Wednesday, February the 5th of 2003, then Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the United Nations to make the case for war in Iraq. 


COLIN POWELL, THEN-SECRETARY OF STATE:  My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources.  These are not assertions.  What we`re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. 


VELSHI:  He delivered a presentation called failing to disarm that included some of that intelligence, satellite photos, intelligence intercepts, intercepted phone calls. 

Sitting behind Secretary Powell was then CIA Director George Tenet.  He was there because the CIA had vouched for all of that intel being cited as proof. 

Secretary Powell said the evidence was, quote, irrefutable and undeniable that Iraq was concealing massive quantities of weapons of mass destruction.  It turned out that the irrefutable and undeniable evidence was actually refutable and deniable.  The images were old, the translations of the calls were embellished, the evidence did not hold up.  There were no weapons of mass destruction. 

Colin Powell later said it was a, quote, great intelligence failure on our part.  He said that that speech was a lasting blot on his record.  That faulty intelligence, that case for going to war, got us into a 16-some year war in Iraq, a war that we are still fighting. 

Yesterday morning, just hours after two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, anonymous U.S. officials started pointing the finger at Iran.  By afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a presser at the State Department where he said conclusively that Iran was behind the attack.  He did not present any evidence, he just rattled off a list of attacks that Iran was responsible for, including some that we had never heard of, like an attack in Afghanistan which the Taliban has taken responsibility for. 

But Secretary Pompeo said it was Iran.  He said that he sent the acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to brief the Security Council.  And then he didn`t take questions. 

Late last night, CentCom released a grainy video that it claimed showed Iranian vessels retrieving unexploded mines from one of the damaged tankers.  They cited the video as evidence that Iran was involved. 

For its part, Iran denies being behind the attack. 

Today, the Japanese owner of one of the tankers that was attack contradicted the U.S. account, saying it was not a mine, rather a flying object that the crew saw coming towards the vessel. 

The reality is both of these things could be true.  But at this juncture, this early on, there is still much that we do not know. 

Today, Germany said there was not enough evidence to pin the tanker attack on Iran.  On the other hand, the U.K. came out agreeing with the U.S. that Iran is behind the attack. 

If this is starting to feel like you`ve seen this movie, it`s because you have.  But maybe this movie will end differently. 

Right now, it`s unclear exactly what happens next.  Will the administration release more information out in the public for Americans to see?  Will the administration make the case to the United Nations?  Will they share the intelligence with our allies?  And what is the end game? 

Joining us now, Hagar Chemali, former spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, former treasury spokesperson for terrorism and financial intelligence during the Iran negotiations.

Hagar, good to see you.  Thank you for being with us. 


VELSHI:  I want to start with that last question.  What`s the end game?  The president has recently said he would like to talk to Iran one on one to settle these matters.  But that deal, that one that you spent a lot of time working on created a framework for that conversation.  That is a bill that the president of the United States has pulled out of. 

So, what is our end game with Iran? 

CHEMALI:  The end game is not war.  That`s been made pretty clear.  And to me, it`s obvious because this administration is focused on targeted financial measures as their tool of choice. 

That being said, the critical point here is that president Trump`s number one goal I don`t believe is to get to another deal.  His number one goal is to undermine Iran`s influence in the region and their support for terrorism.  It was the first thing he said when he abdicated from the deal last May.  It is something he has reiterated, and it something that my sources in government have told me as well. 

If that`s the case, then sanctions are working.  I don`t think he has a reason to stray away from that strategy. 

VELSHI:  He has sort of said that in the last few days a few times, that things are getting worse economically in Iran, which empirically they are.  But his national security adviser has been very hawkish about Iran.  There`s been even some talk the president is trying to push Bolton away from the idea of talk with Iran.

Do you think it`s clear to this administration the danger of an armed conflict in that region that involves Iran, that involves Saudi Arabia, and how bad that can actually be?

CHEMALI:  Yes, they absolutely know the danger.  There is no interest in war for the United States or for Iran.  And both sides are aware of that.  That`s why the attacks that happened weren`t on U.S. vessels or on U.S. property.  It was meant as a warning that if there are more sanctions, this is the type of stuff that we`re going to do, right? 

The Iranians behave like mafia.  We`re going to behave badly unless we get something good in return.  It was payback -- payback for the U.S. sanctions. 

VELSHI:  Right.  So, the Iranians, there are Iranian forces.  There are the revolutionary guard, the ones we hear about.  And then there are Iranian proxies, they exist all through the Middle East. 

The United States has said after imposing these sanctions that any attack by any of these proxies will be an attack -- they will consider it as an attack on Iran.  That sounds like justification for retaliating. 

Is there a danger of a miscalculation on both sides? 

CHEMALI:  When it comes first with that -- when it comes first with the proxies, they don`t move unless Iran has allowed them to, right?  They`re armed by Iran.  They have intelligence and technical assistance from Iran. 

VELSHI:  These are people -- these are groups operating in Syria.  They`re operating in Lebanon, in Yemen --

CHEMALI:  Yes.  The Houthis, Hezbollah, militias in Iraq, certainly Syria, right?  They are funded and supported by Iran and they know that so when Iran says jump, they say how high.  It`s unlikely they pursue something on their own without Iran directing it.  So, that`s why it would be considered a direct maneuver from Iran. 

VELSHI:  Hagar, good to see you.  Thank you for joining us. 

CHEMALI:  Yes, thanks for having me. 

VELSHI:  Hagar Chemali is a former spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations and former treasury spokesman for terrorism and financial intelligence during the Iran negotiations.

Up next, new movement in the case of the United States versus Michael Flynn.  That`s just ahead. 


VELSHI:  The end is nigh one way or the other for national security adviser and now convicted felon, Michael Flynn.  Today as expected, the prosecution and defense filed a status update with the judge overseeing Flynn`s case in Washington, D.C.  They think they will be ready to start talking sentencing again in another 60 days. 

Remember now, back in December, Judge Emmet Sullivan held a hearing in which he was supposed to hand down Michael Flynn`s sentencing for lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador between election day and Trump`s inauguration.  But that hearing took a turn.  The judge had a much harsher view of Flynn`s crime than the special counsel`s prosecutors did, and strongly recommended that Flynn reconsider how much cooperating would be enough to earn him the kind of light sentence that prosecutors were asking for. 

Flynn consulted with his attorneys and then took the judge`s advice.  But since then, Flynn has fired his attorneys and hired new counsel straight off the Fox News lineup, one of whom has spent a lot of airtime criticizing the Mueller investigation as a deep state conspiracy. 

So, that new lawyer now says she needs 60 days to get up to speed.  She has a voluminous amount of material to read which makes sense given how the last sentencing hearing went.  It also makes sense if Flynn has jettisoned his original legal team in order to pursue a new legal strategy like, I don`t know, maybe a presidential pardon? 

Time will tell and time is what Flynn`s new lawyer is seeking.  Watch this space.


VELSHI:  The first candidate to get into the race was John Delaney.  It was July of 2017.  The Maryland congressman announced his intention to challenge President Trump.  The field doubled later that year when this guy, Andrew Yang, unveiled his plan to fend off the coming robot apocalypse. 

Finally, at the start of 2019, we began to see a slew of campaign announcements as big-name candidates joined the ranks.  The field soon mushroomed to more than 20 candidates, the largest field ever in the history of presidential politics. 

Since then, the candidates have been spreading out, speaking to voters, unveiling policy plans, and honing their campaign messages, all of the time directing their fire against the one candidate who unites them all, Donald Trump. 


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m running for president because we can`t take four more years of Donald Trump. 

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Help me defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in the history of this country. 

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Donald Trump as president delayed, deflected, moved, fired, and did everything he could to obstruct justice. 

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We`ve got a president of the United States, a man who took an oath to defend the Constitution who violates that sworn promise, and we must hold him accountable. 

FORMER GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Donald Trump is the worst president in the history of America. 

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have complete power.  No, you don`t, Donald Trump.  Quote from Donald Trump: I have absolute power.  No, you don`t, Donald Trump.  Or, only I can fix it.  Fix yourself first, Donald Trump. 


VELSHI:  Now, for months, President Trump has been the singular focus of criticism on the trail, but that is starting to change. 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently ripped Joe Biden`s plan to fight climate change, saying it lacked teeth and ambition.

This week, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper came out swinging against Bernie Sanders` socialist views, while former Texas Congressman Beto O`Rourke said electing Joe Biden would be a return to the past. 

As "The Washington Post" reports today, the Democratic contest is entering a new phase as candidates shed -- pardon me.  I`m allergic to the news.  Candidates shed their reluctance to counter one another in a newfound willingness to criticize former Vice President Joe Biden, who`s jumped to an early lead.  That new phase is going to come to a head in two weeks` time. 

Today, NBC News announced the official lineups for the first presidential debate which will take place over two nights in Miami later this month.  Night one will see Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as the undisputed star, alongside fellow Senators Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar.  Night two will see plenty of star power, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg all set to square off against one another. 

Joining us now is the great Steve Kornacki, MSNBC`s national political correspondent. 

Steve, I need you on a night like tonight to explain when you look at the two lineups, the two nights, ten and ten, what stands out to you? 

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, Ali, what stands out is the DNC really did not want to have the look that the Republicans had in 2016 with their primary debates. 


VELSHI:  Kids` table. 

KORNACKI:  Right, varsity, JV, whatever you want to call it.  They came up with a pretty complicated system where they thought they were going to mix and match.  Luck in the draw is luck in the draw.

And the bottom line is there are five candidates that are popping in the polls and four of them are going to be in one debate, one of them, Elizabeth Warren, is going to be in the other. 

That does raise questions, especially if you`re Warren, you`re kind of the undisputed star of that debate.  That comes with some opportunities.  You can shine more. 

That comes with drawbacks.  Is the audience going to be as big as it is for the other one?  Are folks going to be as plug in to that one as they are for the other one?  And is your stature going to be diminished at all by not being on the same stage and not having the opportunity to engage with a Biden, a Sanders, a Harris, a Buttigieg? 

VELSHI:  There are candidates running on various things -- their draw, their appeal, their passion, their potential electability.  There are others who are running solely on policy perspectives, some of whom have written books about it.  Elizabeth Warren falls into that category. 

Who do these benefit?  Who do these debates benefit?  The better debater, the more policy-rich candidates? 

KORNACKI:  Yes.  I think one thing to keep in mind is, think of this like a baseball game.  You have ten candidates on stage, you got two hours.  You`re going to get, what, three or four at-bats. 

And for a lot of these candidates, especially the ones who are 1 percent, less than 1 percent, they face a particular challenge.  That is the criteria to stay in these debates, as the campaign progresses, the threshold go up.

VELSHI:  Right.

KORNACKI:  Toward the end of the summer.  So, those candidates get three or four at-bats.  They`ve got to hit a home run.  They`ve got to hit a triple, do something like that --

VELSHI:  Right. 

KORNACKI:  -- to move up in the polls, to get more donations so when these thresholds raise, you know, a couple of months here, they don`t get knocked out of the debates.  The immediate future of the lesser-known candidates really are on the line in these debates. 

VELSHI:  And ultimately, with everybody aligned around the idea that they want to defeat Donald Trump, that`s not going to make for an interesting debate.  So, what other things are they going to have to do to differentiate themselves from one another? 

KORNACKI:  Yes, who has the potential to stand out like that? 

VELSHI:  Yes. 

KORNACKI:  One, we talk about that first debate with Elizabeth Warren, she`s the star.  One that I`m interested in seeing there is Cory Booker.  Cory Booker is somebody you can go back 10, 20 years, he has been talked about a lot in his career as a potential future president.  He`s somebody in terms of communication, still always very strong.  He really has been lost in the shuffle so far.  Is there an opportunity for him?

That`s a type of candidate who I think really needs to have a big moment.  I think he has the capability in a setting like that of delivering it.  Let`s see if he does. 

VELSHI:  Seth Moulton, Steve Bullock, Wayne Messam, they`re not on the campaign stage.  Any chance -- debate stage.  Any chance of them coming back from that? 

KORNACKI:  Right.  So, here`s how I look at that, the next debate after these, CNN in a month.  If you look at Bullock`s position in the qualifying rules, it`s not impossible to see bullock qualifying for the CNN debate.  He could end up in a stage.  He has a path to do that.

It is harder to see Moulton doing it because of how he`s been polling so far.  And much, much harder to see Messam and Gravel.  To me the question is about Bullock.  Can he -- he`s getting a little bit of attention here.  By missing a debate, ironically, he`s getting some media attention. 

If there are a couple of polls from next month he can even get him at 1 or 2 percent, he`s in the midst to get in the CNN debate.  And he might still be able to compete.  But I think he has to get in that CNN debate, or otherwise, that same issue of the criteria getting a lot stricter, and being left out, that would really start to affect him. 

VELSHI:  Steve, we`re going to be spending a lot of time together in the next year and a half, thank you, my friend.

Steve Kornacki, MSNBC`s national political correspondent. 

When we come back, an appeals court deals a big setback to the Trump administration in its plans for young women who come to this country seeking asylum.  That`s next.  Stay with us. 


VELSHI:  This one is an update.  In 2017, in the early days of the Trump administration, a 17-year-old girl came to the United States seeking asylum.  She had traveled to this country alone.  She was sent to a shelter for unaccompanied minors that was overseen by the U.S. government. 

She was pregnant as a result of being raped and wanted to get an abortion, but since she was in this shelter, she was in U.S. custody and the policy of the U.S. government at that point under Donald Trump was that underage pregnant migrants in their care were not allowed to get abortions.  The U.S. government at the time was trying to literally force pregnant teens to give birth against their will.  They would not allow them to leave the shelters to go a doctor`s appointment for an abortion. 

So when this 17-year-old said she wanted an abortion, the Trump administration said no.  They said as far as the U.S. government was concerned, it was not in the best interest for this teenage rape victim to end her pregnancy.  So, she joined a lawsuit against the Trump administration with the help of the ACLU, and a federal judge eventually ordered the government to let her get an abortion. 

She was one of four specific teens who were named plaintiffs in that lawsuit.  But they represented all pregnant teens seeking refuge in the United States, because it was the blanket policy of the Trump administration to block all undocumented minors in their custody from accessing abortion. 

To execute that new policy, the administration was using a spreadsheet to track which of these young women were pregnant and which ones had requested abortions.  They were even tracking their menstrual cycles so they could tell how far along each girl was in her pregnancy.  The idea was to shut down the possibility that any of these young women could get an abortion as long as they were in U.S. custody. 

As Rachel has reported, the ACLU has been largely successful in challenging the policy in court so far.  Back in March, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to allow abortion access to detained teens while the case works its way through the courts, but the Trump administration appealed that ruling and we`ve been waiting for months to find out what the appeals court was going to decide. 

Today, it decided, ruling that the Trump administration is not allowed to block these young women and girls from getting an abortion if they want one, which is a right enshrined by Supreme Court precedent for any woman in this country whether or not she is a U.S. citizen.  In its ruling the three judges write that the Trump administration`s policy of blocking asylum seeking teenagers from obtaining an abortion runs into direct conflict with Roe v. Wade. 

Quote: The Supreme Court has determined and then redetermined that the Constitution offers basic protection to the woman`s right to choose.  We are not free to dilute a constitutional right recognized by controlling Supreme Court precedent so that others will be dissuaded from seeking a better life in this country.

This is a huge win for ACLU and for young women and girls in the Trump administration or that the Trump administration was blocking from accessing their constitutional right to an abortion. 

But is this decision permanent? 

Joining us now, Brigitte Amiri.  She`s a deputy director of the ACLU`s reproductive freedom project and the lawyer who has been fighting this case in court.  She`s back with us tonight. 

Good to have you here.  Thank you for being with us. 


VELSHI:  The argument -- there was some unusual arguments that the government made in trying to represent its case, none of which ultimately seemed to have legal merit.  That said, does this ruling stick for a while?  What happens next? 

AMIRI:  So this win is incredibly important for the young people in government custody right now who may seek access to abortion information or abortion itself.  And so, our victory remains that those minors are able to access the information and care that they need. 

But this is not the end of the road.  This case right now is just about the preliminary injunction that initial victory that we got in the lower court and this is an affirmation of that.  But the case continues.  And the government could appeal this to the U.S. Supreme Court and we also have to go back to the district court and get the policy struck down once and for all. 

VELSHI:  This is a policy that makes reference to the Constitution and its protections for all women in the United States.  The administration has tried when it comes to asylum seekers or migrants from other countries to suggest certain laws don`t apply to them the same way.  This ruling affirmed the idea that Roe V. Wade and the constitutional protections that are afforded to women in this country do cover them. 

AMIRI:  Absolutely.  And actually, the government didn`t even make the argument that the constitutional right to abortion for these unaccompanied minors was somehow diluted because of their immigration status.  Instead, they tried to make a whole host of other arguments to get around the very clear command of the Supreme Court that says that anyone who is seeking access to abortion cannot be prohibited by the government from doing so. 

VELSHI:  They, in fact, made the argument if they can`t get it here, they can go back to where they came from and get one there. 

AMIRI:  That`s right.  And the Court of Appeals said that is absolutely wrong.  You don`t say when the government is violating your constitutional rights you can go back to the country you came from or go to a different state if the state had banned abortion.  That`s not how the Constitution works. 

VELSHI:  Is there anything about this case that has an impact on the current discussions that we`re having with all these other states trying to get their cases before the Supreme Court in a challenge to Roe v. Wade? 

AMIRI:  Absolutely.  So, this is a court of appeals victory saying that it is likely unconstitutional for the government to ban abortion.  And seven states have tried to ban abortion.  And those are blatantly unconstitutional attempts to do so, as well. 

VELSHI:  Brigitte, thank you for joining us and congratulations on your win. 

AMIRI:  Thank you. 

VELSHI:  Brigitte Amiri is deputy director at the ACLU`s Reproductive Freedom Project.  We`ll be right back.


VELSHI:  Remember last month when Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin went to the house financial services committee for part two of his annual testimony?  It was after the testy exchange that he had with Maxine Waters in April and he was back for a second round to talk about the state of the of international financial system. 

But what made the biggest headline from that hearing was the treasury secretary telling lawmakers that a redesign of the $20 bill featuring Harriet Tubman was being delayed.  Mnuchin said the reason for the delay was that he had to prioritize redesigning other denominations that were having problems with counterfeiting and so the new $20 would not start rolling out until at least 2028. 

Now, this was a departure from the Obama administration`s timeline.  It had announced that the new $20 would be unveiled in 2020.  It was supposed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.  Harriet Tubman was not only an abolition activist.  She was also an advocate for women`s rights. 

So, today, we learned from "The New York Times" that before Mnuchin put on the brakes, the work on the new Tubman $20 bill was actually already well under way.  A former Treasury Department official leaked image of the Tubman $20 to "The New York Times" that was reportedly completed in 2016 and "The Times" also spoke to an anonymous current employee of the bureau of printing and engraving reporting that as recently as May of last year, the employee had seen a metal engraving plate and a digital image of the bill and, quote, said the design appeared to be far along in the process. 

So, why the change?  According to "The Times," quote: Current and former department officials say Mr. Mnuchin chose the delay to avoid the possibility that Mr. Trump would cancel the plan outright and create even more controversy.

"The New York Times" reports also, "The New York Times" report also quotes treasury Secretary Mnuchin who says the speculation that his department has slowed down the process isn`t true.  But when you think about the fact that the president has said he thinks the plan to put Tubman on the bill is political correctness, you do the math. 

That does it for us tonight.  I`ll be back on my show on Monday at 1:00 p.m., "VELSHI AND RUHLE".  Don`t miss it.

And Rachel will be back right here on Monday at 9:00. 

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Ari Melber sitting in for Lawrence O`Donnell. 

Good evening, my friend.

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