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Senator McConnell upset being "Moscow Mitch." TRANSCRIPT: 8/1/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Adrienne Elrod, Cory Booker, Joe Sonka

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Joy.

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you very much, Chris.  Have a great rest of the night. 

HAYES:  Thank you.  You, too.

REID:  Thank you.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Rachel has the night off. 

Well, our news to-do list is very long tonight.  We are going to be talking 2020 with Democratic candidate and Senator Cory Booker fresh off his big debate performance last night. 

We`re going to take a closer look at Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, and why his new nickname, Moscow Mitch, is driving him bananas. 

We just got news just this past hour of another Republican retirement, and that is number eight from the House.  Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd, the only black Republican in the house, says tonight that he will not run for re-election in 2020. 

And we have intriguing news about a fresh subpoena from prosecutors in New York asking for records from the Trump Organization in connection with the crime that sent Michael Cohen to prison.  All of that is ahead tonight. 

But we begin tonight with the 2020 candidates who were back out on the trail today after a feisty combative debate in Detroit where the night two Democratic contenders whacked each other over the heads over their differences on policy and over each other`s records.  Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris were teed up to battle right from cue 1 over their health care proposals. 

Julian Castro took aim at the Obama/Biden administration`s record on deportation.  Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard fixated on Harris and attacked her claim to be a progressive prosecutor in California.  Senator Booker and Biden got into a heated exchange on their respective criminal justice records. 

And for the second time this cycle, Biden was tagged, this time by Washington Governor Jay Inslee over his vote for the Iraq war. 

And if you`re detecting a theme here, yes, the front-runner was a pinata on the debate stage last night, but Biden was not alone.  At times it seemed like candidates were debating not just Biden`s record, but also the record of President Obama too.  Today, Joe Biden defended his former boss and pal. 


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I must tell you, I was a little surprised at how much incoming was about Barack, about the president.  I mean, I`m proud of having served with him.  I`m proud of the job he did.  I don`t think there`s anything he has to apologize for.  I think, you know, it kind of surprised me the degree of the criticism. 

And he focused on immigration.  And what he did was serious.  The idea that somehow it`s comparable to what this guy is doing is absolutely bizarre. 

There`s nothing moderate about what Barack did in Obamacare.  Nothing.  He covered 100 million people who had pre-existing conditions.  He allowed kids to stay on their parents` policies until they`re 26 years old.  He covered 20 million more people. 

I hope the next debate we can talk about how we fix -- our answers to fix the things that Trump has broken, not how Barack Obama made all these mistakes.  He didn`t.  He didn`t. 


REID:  Today, after the candidates writ large received a Twitterful of complaints about the implied criticisms of 44, some of them seemed to walk back some of the critiques. 

Kamala Harris continued her attacks on Biden`s health care plan, but explained that her issue was not about Obama but with the vice president for not doing enough to build on Obama`s legacy. 


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Listen, I have nothing but praise for president Obama.  I think he did great work.  All righteous and due credit to President Obama to putting us on the path where actually this next step is even possible. 

I disagree with the plan that Vice President Biden is offering only because I believe we can do better.  In 2019, we should and can offer a solution to the unavailability and unaffordability of health care in America in a way that offers health care to everybody.  Vice President Biden`s plan doesn`t do that. 


REID:  Well, for other 2020 candidates, today was also a day to brag about the donations they brought in post-debate. 

Senator Bernie Sanders announced his campaign had raised another $2 million from more than 100,000 donations on Tuesday and Wednesday combined. 

Andrew Yang`s campaign said that they received more than $250,000 from the Yang Gang since his appearance last night. 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee saying he brought in more than 10,000 donations yesterday putting him, quote, just shy of 100,000 donors.  Now, of course, 100,000 donors isn`t enough to propel you on to the next debate in Houston next month. 

So far, only seven of the 24 candidates running have cleared the bar of 2 percent in at least two polls and 130,000 donors needed to punch their ticket for the next debate.  One of those seven, Cory Booker, won rave reviews for his performance at last night`s debate and it`s already paying dividends.  If it was Julian Castro and Kamala Harris who broke through with standout debate performances in Miami, last night in Detroit was unquestionably Booker. 

The New Jersey senator tonight tweeting out last night was the biggest fund-raising day of his campaign, quote, by far.  One reason: a back-and- forth with Joe Biden over their criminal justice records which led to the most viral moment of the night. 


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If you want to compare records, and frankly I`m shocked that you do, I am happy to do that. 

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There was nothing done for the entire eight years he was mayor.  There was nothing done to deal with the police department that was corrupt.  Why did you announce in the first day a zero tolerance policy of stop-and-frisk? 

BOOKER:  Mr. Vice President, there`s a saying in my community, you`re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don`t even know the flavor. 

There are people right now in prison for life for drug offenses because you stood up and used that tough-on-crime phony rhetoric that got a lot of people elected but destroyed communities like mine. 


REID:  Heading into last night`s debate, "The New York Times" said that black voters would be a key focus, with Booker and Harris hoping to chip away at Biden`s overwhelming lead. 

After Booker sought to remind voters of Biden`s record of the 1994 crime bill on the debate stage last night, this afternoon, Biden was defending that record. 


BIDEN:  I`m not a black man to state the obvious, but I`ve gone out of my way to understand best I possibly can that what the concerns are.  There`s a lot of things everybody has done in their past and votes that no longer have a context today.  They`re taken out of context. 

I come from the community, they know my heart, they know me and I think that`s why so many are supporting me. 


REID:  In 2016, African-American voters accounted for 24 percent, that`s almost a quarter of all Democratic primary voters, a figure which is expected to rise in 2020.  But while polls show that Biden is clearly leading the polls with African-American support and in key early states like South Carolina, those same polls show that Biden support is much firmer among older black voters. 

The votes of younger African-Americans remain up for grabs with candidates like Cory Booker positioning himself to take advantage. 


BOOKER:  I saw somebody brought a packet of Kool-Aid up in here.  All I have to say is what flavor is it? 

I said last night from the debate stage, there are folks targeting voters in this state, from the Russians to Republicans who want to suppress votes who are using every gimmick and scheme from gerrymandering to voter suppression laws that federal judges have said are being designed with surgical-like precision to disenfranchise African-Americans.  That is what is going to be coming at us in this election. 

I am so energized because we may be having a primary debate right now, but we know that we are going to close ranks behind the candidate.  Now, I plan on being that candidate. 


REID:  Cory Booker also saying Democrats must rally around the Democratic candidate and also he plans on being that candidate. 

Joining us now is New Jersey senator and 2020 Democratic nominee, Cory Booker. 

Senator Booker, thank you for being here. 

BOOKER:  It`s really good to be on, Joy.  Thank you for having me. 

REID:  Not a problem at all. 

OK.  Let`s talk a little bit about last night.  And you and Senator Biden really went head-to-head at certain points during the debate.  Several candidates did, but you did in particular, you did drop the dipping in the Kool-Aid and don`t know the flavor line which as a Generation-Xer I appreciated. 

But the question you`re going to have with Senator Biden is that he is very strong among African-Americans.  Looking at this polling, Steve Kornacki sent this to me last night, voters 65 and older who are African-American, 58 percent support Senator Biden; 27 percent among 18 to 29.  He only has 28 percent -- 27 percent among younger voters. 

But, you know, as they say, it`s the voters with the church hats that vote, right?  The black folk with the church hat vote.  The older folks vote. 

How do you chip into his record if he`s the guy defending Obama, who black voters love, and you`re the guy contesting some of that Obama/Biden record? 

BOOKER:  Well, first of all, Vice President Biden has nearly 100 percent name recognition.  I was very sober when my team told me when I started this campaign in February that even among black voters, I had less 60 percent name ID.  I`m still introducing myself. 

Remember, Barack Obama was also a new candidate on the scene who was trailing dramatically Secretary Clinton in 2008 or then Senator Clinton. 

So, we have a long way to go in this campaign and a lot more introduction to make, and as a guy who not only is a person that has come up in an African-American community, went to that black church and was raised in that black church and my mother teaching.

But I`ve represented a majority black city for most of my career, more years as a mayor than even as a United States senator.  So I feel that at a time where we have to understand that a key segment of the coalition that we need to win is going to be African-American voters, that the highest performing segment of our coalition is African-American women, we need to not only have a person that polls high in the African-American community but can energize that community in a dramatic way, in the way that Obama was able to accomplish. 

REID:  Right -- 

BOOKER:  I think I`m the best person to do that. 

REID:  Well, speaking of Obama, let`s go back to him for a moment.  When President Obama -- when then just Senator Barack Obama was running for president, his critique was against George W. Bush.  So he was able to critique the previous Republican president and launch himself into public prominence that way. 

You`re now in the position of critiquing President Obama.  So I guess my question is with black voters, is Joe Biden in a stronger position with the most reliable black voters, older voters, because he`s defending Obama and you`re critiquing Obama? 

BOOKER:  Well, I don`t know how that spin resulted.  Anybody that watched the debate, I was talking about Vice President Biden`s record, not Obama`s.  Heck, I had many conversations with President Obama during his time as president about reforming the criminal justice system.  It was Joe Biden that bragged, saying that every crime bill since the 1970s, major and minor, has had his name on it.  That`s his words about his record. 

This is not about the Obama administration at all.  I don`t see how that spin came out of this election.  This is about a guy that has literally put his name on, championed that bills that created three strikes you`re out, incentivizing states to create longer sentences, having more prisons and jails built from the time I was in law school to the time that I was the mayor of the city of Newark.  A new prison or jail being built every 19 days. 

You know since 1980, our prison population has gone up 500 percent in this country with an overwhelming disproportionate impacting of African- Americans, even those no difference between blacks and whites and using drugs or dealing drugs.  But this drug war has been incarcerating African- Americans at about four times the rate. 

So that`s nothing to do with Barack Obama.  That is the person who said this is my record.  And the reason why that history is relevant today is because there are people in prison today for life sentences on drug crimes because of that tough on crime era. 

And what I`m asking for is two things.  Whoever the nominee is, one, own up to your record and say, hey, I made a mistake.  Vice President Biden said that very passionately about his mistake on the Iraq war vote.  Say it, speak to the pain and the destruction of our communities, parents being taken away from children, of the bills that you put into law. 

And number two is, have a bolder plan that you`ve got to deal with the issue.  I know that there is a crisis in our country of having people who have been locked up who have addictions, who have mental illnesses, who are poor.  We`ve got to get rid of this system that`s creating this problem in our country. 

And I just want to see whoever the nominee is, especially if you want to appeal to African-American communities, you`ve got to show that, hey, I`ve got your back.  That I`m going to be a bold progressive on the ending of mass incarceration. 

REID:  So the crime bill obviously, even though Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with it, she was just married to the guy who signed the crime bill, wound up being a huge problem with her with younger African-American voters, particularly younger African-American men. 

Is it your concern that Joe Biden essentially would have the same challenges that Hillary Clinton did in breaking through with young black voters?  Is that part of your critique with him? 

BOOKER:  So, you saw what -- I`m in Detroit and you saw what happened here.  Everybody from Russians to some of the Republican messaging was targeting African-Americans and trying to dissuade them from voting for somebody.  So, we still got in the last race, in the presidential race, the overwhelming percentage of African-American voters that voted for the candidate, but the energy, the enthusiasm, the turnout, the total base of those voters was a lot smaller. 

We need to have a candidate that can withstand those kind of attacks, that can still have African-Americans look up from church, look up from their community and say, hey, that presidential candidate has got my back.  I am energized to go out and vote for them. 

And so, yes, I`m making the case very plainly that I am the person to do that.  The full coalition that we saw with Obama, to energize record turnouts that we saw in African-American communities.  That`s going to make the difference between winning Michigan or not, winning Pennsylvania or not, winning Wisconsin or not. 

In fact, if you look at the measure of the black vote that fell off between 2012 and 2016, that`s the difference between winning those three states.  And so, again, I`m making the electability case here.  We need to have the best candidate to energize the full spectrum of the Democratic base.  I know I`m the person to do that. 

REID:  Well, I can tell you that GenForward has a new study out that shows young African-Americans overwhelmingly identify with the Democratic Party and believe the Democratic Party is the party that cares about them.  So, that is going for the Democrats but as you said, it`s got to be a turnout game at the end of the day. 

And part of the argument that I think a lot of political scientists are making and Jason Johnson was making this point last night, is that the way to turn out, particularly young voters, is to make the case against Trump.  Are you concerned that right now, the Democratic Party is making a lot of cases against each other and not as many -- not really articulating clearly what threat Trump poses to the United States? 

BOOKER:  Right.  God, I said that two or three times last night.  I mean, during the health care debate, that was my point.  It`s like we`re seeming to forget, I think I used the words "eyes on the prize".  We`ve got to keep focusing on who we`re really fighting against. 

And that was a lot of -- you know, a lot of the groups are saying I won the debate, was one of the reasons was because I kept bringing it back to the urgency of beating Donald Trump. 

We need a candidate that actually can unite our party.  The full spectrum of our party, bring us altogether.  And so again, I`m -- that`s the theme of my campaign, is this idea that we are as a nation need to put more "indivisible" back into the "one nation under God" and as a party, we need to find a leader that can speak to the progressives, to the so-called more moderates and not pit us against each other. 

Especially not what I saw in these debates using Republican tired tropes against -- to have Democrats wielding them against other Democrats.  That`s unacceptable to me. 

We must beat Donald Trump.  Every person in this race must commit to that cause above and beyond their own individual ambition.  And if they`re not the nominee, they need to fall in line and support the person that is so that we can win. 

REID:  And I guess the last question on sort of this same vein is, are you concerned that Democrats are now in such a circular debate about health care that that is where they are now and that the debate really is over whether to replace the Affordable Care Act with something else, something better, something different, and not focused really on Donald Trump? 

BOOKER:  No, look, I think we`ve got to realize where we are.  We are so far away from this game.  In football parlance, we haven`t even started preseason games yet.  This is the August two-a-days. 

I`m sure that we have a lot of time to winnow down this field.  As you said, there`s only seven of us that have made the September debate stage.  I think this will get more on a fine point, and especially when you start coming out of those two early primary states and get ready to head towards Nevada and South Carolina, you`re going to see a very small group of us still there. 

So a lot of the hand wringing right now over what`s happening in the summer over these debates, that doesn`t speak to our party.  I think the themes -- by the way, the policy plans are really important, but remember, we have not always seen the person with the best policy plans become the president of the United States.  Case in point, where we are right now. 

We need folks that can speak to the heart, to the gut, as well as to the head, and that can have the kind of theme that can rally, unite, inspire and engage everyone in this party.  And I think that that sentiment, the person who is best at calling to our common aspirations, I think that`s going to be the kind of person that can energize young folks and get, you know, my mom`s generation, as you said, the church-going African-American ladies out of their seats like the pastor does, coming to the crescendo. 

That`s what`s going to be I think the exciting-ness about this election, is who`s going to call to the soul of our party and our nation best.  There`s a lot of time for that to evolve. 

REID:  All right.

BOOKER:  I think Trump spoke to our darkness.  The person we`re going to choose is going to be the best one that`s going to bring the light. 

REID:  All right.  New Jersey senator and 2020 presidential candidate, Cory Booker.  Good luck to you and thank you very much. 

BOOKER:  Thank you very much. 

REID:  Thank you.

And up next, more fallout from last night`s debate, including a warning from one prominent Democrat to back off Obama. 

And the breaking news tonight that the only black Republican in the House is not running for re-election. 

Stay with us. 


REID:  Even before Democratic candidates took to the stage for the debate last night in Detroit, it was pretty clear that Vice President Joe Biden was sure to have an enormous "kick me" sign on him.  That was expected. 

But, surprisingly, it was President Barack Obama`s legacy that also took a few blows.  You saw it when Julian Castro went after the veep over the high number of deportations during the Obama years. 


JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  First of all, Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn`t.  Let me begin by telling you --


Let me just start out by answering that question.  My immigration plan would also fix the broken legal immigration system because we do have a problem with that.  Secondly, the only way that we`re going to guarantee that these kinds of family separations don`t happen in the future is that we need to repeal this law.  What we need are politicians that actually have some guts on this issue. 


REID:  New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also hammered Biden over deportations under Obama. 


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Did you say those deportations were a good idea?  Or did you go to the president and say this is a mistake, we shouldn`t do it?  Which one? 

BIDEN:  I was vice president.  I am not the president.  I keep my recommendations to him in private, unlike you I expect you would go ahead and say whatever was said privately with him.  That is not what I do. 

What I do say to you is he moved to fundamentally change the system.  That`s what he did.  Much more has to be done. 


REID:  Then New Jersey Senator Cory Booker slammed Biden for hitching his wagon to Obama`s success. 


BOOKER:  Mr. Vice President, you can`t have it both ways.  You invoke president Obama more than anybody in this campaign.  You can`t do it when it`s convenient and then dodge it when it`s not. 


REID:  It`s almost like there were 11 candidates up there, the 10 you could see and the legacy of our 44th president. 

The Democratic candidates` decision to challenge President Obama`s record drew a warning from some of his allies. 

Obama`s first attorney general, Eric Holder, tweeted afterward: To my fellow Democrats.  Be wary of attacking the Obama record.  Build on it.  Expand on it.  But there is little to be gained for you or the party by attacking a very successful and still popular Democratic president. 

Joining us now is Karine Jean-Pierre, chief public affairs officer at, and Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign. 

Thank you both for being here.

I`m going come to you first, Karine, because that was your boss they were talking about last night. 


REID:  Did you have the same reaction that Eric Holder had to the way things went down? 

JEAN-PIERRE:  Absolutely.  I had the same exact reaction.  We were even talking about it yesterday while we were watching the debate.  It was kind of shocking to see. 

Look, no one`s record is above scrutiny or debate.  No one is saying that, right?  I think that it`s fair to ask questions about deportation.  It`s fair to try and change the health care system.  All of that is fair. 

I`m giving political advice, right?  The political advice is it is not a smart strategy to go after the Democrat who`s the most popular in your party, which is President Barack Obama, by a mile.  He`s popular with African-Americans, which is a community that we need to win not just the nomination, right, for those candidates that are running, but also the general election to beat Donald Trump.  And so, they have to figure out a way to talk about the vision to move this country forward without attacking Obama`s legacy, because that will be problematic. 

Here`s something, right?  We know Donald Trump is in Ohio today.  We just gave him -- they just gave him a talking point, right?  Oh, yes, Democrats don`t think -- or think that Obama did a bad job.  Like that`s the talking point that they`re giving Donald Trump. 

And here`s the thing -- when you`re litigating your last Democratic president and not Donald Trump, that`s problematic.  The 11th person on that stage should not have been Obama.  It should have been Donald Trump. 

REID:  Yes.

JEAN-PIERRE:  And that`s what was missing. 

REID:  And, you know, Adrienne, to the point of Obama being popular, Barack Obama is the last guy to win a huge electoral margin as well as a huge margin of the popular vote.  He won 51 percent, a clear win, 51 percent in 2012 and 2016, it went below, right? 

So, President Obama won by 10 million votes the first time.  He was extremely popular, 94 percent, 95 percent popularity, or higher than that with Democrats. 

Just as a political matter, should there be a Democratic version of the 11th commandment, that you do not speak ill of your -- of the former Democratic president?  You say, this is the model and we want to build on what he did but you just -- you never attack him. 

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN:  Yes, Joy, I certainly think so.  I can`t quite figure out what the strategy was with some of these campaigns last night.  It should be no surprise that Karine and I both agree on this. 

When you`re doing debate prep, going in to meet with a candidate to talk about how we`re going to approach the debates, what attacks you`re going to lodge, how you`re going to draw a contrast, you know, it`s fine to do that.  Of course when you`re the front-runner like Joe Biden, you`re going to be the one as you indicated who has the "kick me" sign on your back. 

But there is a way to do this where you`re not attacking every single policy monumental -- some of these policies were monumental like the passage of Obamacare, that President Obama, who still has a 97 percent approval rating, that you can go about attacking these policies, criticizing them without attacking the person who actually put them in office. 

I think some of the candidates on the stage last night, some folks, this is probably going to be their last debate.  Perhaps Mayor Bill de Blasio was in a Hail Mary mode trying to figure out how can I still have a viral moment that might catapult me to the next debate.  But I`m not sure that going at it the way that they did made a lot of sense. 

And to your point, look, it does give Donald Trump a talking point tonight.  I`m sure he`s going to go into his rally and talk about the fact that he was not really the topic of the debate last night.  It was all these Democrats fighting over Obama`s policies, most of which were very popular. 

So it didn`t make a lot of sense to me.  I hope I see some improvements going into the third debate. 

REID:  And, you know, Karine, you worked in the Obama White House as well.  I still -- you know, I might have flashbacks about them trying to pass the Affordable Care Act.  It was excruciating.  Does it surprise you that so many candidates seemed to be kind of pinning their election chances on a redo, and doing a whole other very specific health care plan? 

JEAN-PIERRE:  So, like I said, Joy, I think it`s OK to talk about how to make health care better. 

REID:  Of course. 

JEAN-PIERRE:  You know, how to expand Obamacare and say we`re going to build on it, because we know that health care is the number one issue for the base, for Americans.  Like this is something that really hits home for them.  So that`s fine.  I think that when you act as if Obamacare didn`t exist, that`s when it`s perplexing and makes no sense. 

REID:  Yes. 

Can we talk about Will Hurd just for a second?  Let me read what he tweeted tonight. 

I have made the decision to not seek re-election for the 23rd congressional district of Texas in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress, to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security.  I would love to talk to Will Hurd more about that if he would like to talk about that on television. 

But, you know, the question, I guess, becomes how much pain is that for the Republican Party?  Adrienne, I`ll go to you on that first.  If very can`t get someone in a district that`s a bit dicey for them to get re-elected in.  This is a district that could flip.  And for the only black member of the United States House that`s a Republican to walk away, what does that mean for the Republican Party? 

ELROD:  Yes, Joy, it`s not a good look for the Republican Party by any stretch.  And, of course, Gina Ortiz Jones who nearly won that seat in 2018 is running again.  The Cook Political Report just flipped this seat from I think it was toss-up to lean D, so that`s a very good sign for Democrats to pick up a seat. 

I think this is also a good sign for Democrats in 2020 at the presidential level.  You know, we`ve got to keep in mind that Texas has 38 electoral votes.  Yes, it`s been a while since a Democrat has carried that state in the general election, but at the same time Hillary Clinton`s margin in Texas in 2016 was around her margin in Ohio, which of course is the ultimate swing state. 

We`re seeing the trend lines in Texas move more and more toward Democrats.  I think that this is going to be a seat -- I`m sorry, a state that will no doubt be in play in 2020 for the general election ticket. 

REID:  Very quickly, Karine, should more people be tempted to run for the Senate seeing it`s a little shaky for the Republicans in the Senate right now?  Should more people be tempted? 

JEAN-PIERRE:  I think so.  I think we have to take the Senate very, very seriously, we can`t just focus on the White House.  And Democrats do that all the time.

REID:  Yes.

JEAN-PIERRE:  Can I say real quickly on Will Hurd?

REID:  Uh-huh.

JEAN-PIERRE:  I`m not surprised that he was leaving.  Just a couple of weeks ago he went after Donald Trump and said his statements against the four progressive congressional women of color -- 

REID:  Yes.

JEAN-PIERRE:  -- were xenophobic and racist. 

REID:  Yes, when your only black guy is saying --

JEAN-PIERRE:  When your only black guy -- exactly.  So I`m not surprised.  I think it`s a hard spot for him to have been in. 

REID:  To have been, absolutely. 

Karine Jean-Pierre, Adrienne Elrod, thank you both very much. 

ELROD:  Thank you.


REID:  And up next here tonight, breaking news that the Manhattan district attorney, get this, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization over hush money paid to Stormy Daniels.  The latest and some expert legal advice on that, next. 


REID:  If the Donald Trump/Bill Barr bromance was a buddy movie, it would go like this.  Barr is the trusted sidekick, deflecting Republican coming fire like deciding that it`s up to him as attorney general to make the call that the president didn`t obstruct justice.  Got your back, man.  Or when he decided to investigate the investigators involved in the Russia probe. 

But there are limits to Bill Barr`s powers.  There are ways around him.  And so far, some of the most powerful kryptonite for the U.S. attorney general has been coming from state level investigators, specifically investigators in New York, Donald Trump`s hometown and the headquarters of his business. 

You saw that in December when the New York attorney general opened an investigation into the Trump foundation and just like that, the foundation folded whether Bill Barr liked it or not. 

And in March, when New York state opened an investigation into the Trump organization`s long-time insurance broker.  They subpoenaed Trump org after long-time Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, told Congress the business had been cooking the proverbial books and inflating the value of its assets and insurance companies. 

And tonight, we have breaking news about a new development in an investigation aimed squarely at the Trump Organization.  This time from the attorney general in Manhattan.  His name is Cy Vance.  And today, he subpoenaed the Trump Organization. 

He`s asking for documents related to the hush money payments for porn star Stormy Daniels.  Those hush money checks, you recall, were signed by Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. 

Prosecutors said the payments were in coordination with and at the direction of Donald Trump.  And prosecutors say that even though the payments were for hush money, the Trump organization logged them as legal expenses.  It turns out that might be a problem for Trump`s business, because now as "The New York Times" reports, the Manhattan D.A. is trying to determine when senior executives at the Trump Organization filed false business records about the hush money, which would be a state crime, specifically if they falsely listed the reimbursements as a legal expense. 

The district attorney is expected to scrutinize the senior ranks the company, although it`s not clear whether the investigation will reach all the way to the president. 

Now, there`s some question about how much of a blow this investigation by the Manhattan D.A. delivers, since under state law, it might just be a misdemeanor. 

But here`s a thought.  Even if it is just a misdemeanor, if this investigation does go forward beyond Bill Barr`s reach where he cannot shut it down, what kind of material might it shake loose?  What material might prosecutors end up shedding some daylight on that the public might even get to see?

Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. 

Barb, thanks for being here tonight. 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Thanks, Joy.  Thanks for having me. 

REID:  So, let`s answer that last question first.  If an investigation is into a potential crime that would not be a felony, it would be a misdemeanor, is the discovery process still the same? 

MCQUADE:  Yes.  So the grand jury subpoena here has asked for any and all documents relating to the treatment of this payment.  And so, you know, they have to have a good faith basis for a crime.  In this instance, it appears to be this falsification of business records. 

But in the course of receiving all those things, if they should find evidence of additional crimes within those documents, they`re absolutely free to charge any of those crimes that they find. 

REID:  And how would it be a misdemeanor to falsify your business records to cover up a hush money payment? 

MCQUADE:  Yes.  So the statute makes it a misdemeanor to simply falsify a business record.  But there`s an aggravated version of that crime if you are using that false document to conceal or commit another crime.  Then it becomes a felony.  It`s not clear to me whether a federal crime qualifies as that other crime.

But my hunch is that it might so it could very well be that if the books were falsified to conceal a campaign finance violation, that could turn this misdemeanor into a felony. 

REID:  And would it be possible as this investigation goes on or likely that Michael Cohen could wind up testifying in this case? 

MCQUADE:  I think he very well could.  Don`t forget, not only would we hear from Michael Cohen, but there are recordings that Michael Cohen made with himself and Donald Trump.  You know, when you have someone like Michael Cohen, who has a lot of baggage and has lied before and has very questionable credibility, what prosecutors try to do is corroborate what have to say with documents, recordings and other witnesses. 

So that recording where he`s talking with President Trump about the payments and creating the false shell company and all those kinds of things could really help bolster his credibility if it comes to his testimony. 

REID:  And just to be crystal clear, is there anything that William Barr, Donald Trump`s consigliore/attorney general, could do to stop this investigation or to intervene in it? 

MCQUADE:  No, he really couldn`t.  And you know, in any federal case, the attorney general is the boss of anybody bringing those charges, so he does have that ability.  In a state case, he has no ability whatsoever.  It`s a separate sovereign.  And also don`t forget that DOJ opinion from the office of legal counsel that says a sitting president cannot be indicted, that only binds federal prosecutors. 

And so, we may see that tested in the Supreme Court about whether the Constitution prohibits it, but there`s no policy that would prohibit the Manhattan district attorney from bringing charges against a sitting president. 

REID:  Tick, tick, tick, this is going to be very interesting. 

Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, thank you very much.  Great to have you with us.

MCQUADE:  Thank you, Joy. 

REID:  Thank you very much. 

Much more ahead tonight, including the latest very strange phone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. 

Stay with us. 



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You got to take care of the floors.  You know the floors of the forest, very important.  You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it`s a whole different story. 

I was with the president of Finland and he said we have much different.  We`re a forest nation.  He called it a forest nation.  They spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. 


REID:  Donald Trump after the deadliest wildfire in California`s history offering some helpful tips about how California can fix all that.  More raking and cleaning and doing things. 

You can see the former around current governors of California, Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom, standing on either side of Trump and you can almost hear the what the who, what`s it flicker across their faces. 

Almost immediately, the president of Finland set the record straight, that, no, Finland doesn`t rely on raking of floors as the first line of defense against foreign fires.  And Finnish citizens gave Trump the business, trolling him by posting selfies, meeting their raking quota. 

The takeaway here, everybody is good at something but forest prevention and fire prevention is not in Trump`s White House.  But that didn`t stop him from apparently picking up the phone and ringing his favorite dictator, Russian president Vladimir Putin, to offer up assistance fighting wildfires in Siberia. 

Never mind that when California needed help, Trump threatened to stop sending them money.  But with Putin, it`s an altogether different carton of kittens.  Vlad expressed his sincere gratitude for what, at least according to the Kremlin, was a call that happened, quote, at the American side`s initiative. 

Moscow called the chummy phoner a sign that full-scale bilateral relations will be restored in the future and promised that the Trump/Putin bromance could continue with, quote, telephone conversations as well as personal meetings.  So, we have that to look forward to.

But as it`s so often the case, timing is everything.  That announcement from the Kremlin about Trump`s chitchat with Putin came shortly before the Democratic candidates took the stage in Detroit for the debate.  It took the White House four hours to acknowledge that the phone call took place.  And when they did, the readout was a scant two sentences, nothing to see here. 

But there`s on thing we do know about that mysterious phone call between Trump and Putin.  They did not discuss Russia`s meddling in the 2016 election.  Wildfires in Siberia, yes.  The sanctity of American democracy, no.  No time for that. 

Totally normal.  This is all fine. 


REID:  It is the first day of August.  And in the great state of Kentucky today, temperatures reached 90 degrees in some areas.  And yet, the Kentucky Democratic party is making a killing on sales of this Cossack style Russian winter hat.  It says: Just nyet to Moscow Mitch.  That will be Mitch McConnell, Kentucky`s senior senator.  And don`t worry it`s fake fur. 

But if the hat is too toasty, there are also buttons stickers and t-shirts.  The Kentucky Democrats say they brought in $70,000 from the new Moscow Mitch line of merchandise in the space of 24 hours, breaking their single day online fund raising record.  To celebrate today they debuted what else, bar war to drink vodka out of. 

And the new nickname for the Senate majority leader, I got to tell you it`s catchy.  But also popular among the opponents because it appears to be driving Mitch McConnell so crazy. 

Last week, McConnell blocked for the umpteenth time legislation aimed at protecting American elections from Russian interference.  Democratic senators cried foul and "Washington Post" columnist Dana Milbank published a piece titled Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset, which argued that, quote, apprehending that he is arguably more than any other American doing Russian President Vladimir Putin`s bidding.  Then the Moscow Mitch trended on social media and it is clearly getting under his normally tough shell. 

Earlier this week, McConnell took to the floor, not to decry Russian interference in our elections, which his own body`s intelligence committee warns is ongoing.  No, no, Mitch McConnell fired up the C-Span cameras to angrily denounce calling him Moscow Mitch.  He even decried the relentless Twitter mockery as modern day McCarthyism. 

Reporters who cover the Senate closely called the speech pretty fiery at least for Mitch McConnell.  But McConnell`s pique on the issue is showing and he`s get going from all directions on this one.  Not just in the home state.  Where Democrats hope to oust him next year are having a field day with but also on the front page of the "New York Times" which reported this week that McConnell is seething about the nickname.  McConnell may be a bit sensitive he long prided himself on being a Russia hawk and he`s having a hard time paining the election security bills as some kind of partisan Democratic employ.  After all, the aforementioned bipartisan report from the Republican-led Senate intelligence committee said, quote, Russian activities demand renewed attention to vulnerabilities in U.S. voting infrastructure. 

And last week, both Robert Mueller and FBI Director Chris Wray testified that more needs to be done to stop Russian meddling in 2020, and yet Mitch McConnell won`t let the election protection bills get to the floor.  So Mitch McConnell is unamused about all the pressure on him right now.  And this weekend he is slated to appear at the fancy farm picnic a legendary annual Kentucky political event, where politicians roast their rivals.

So, what kind of reception awaits him in Kentucky?

Joining us is Joe Sonka, staff writer at "Insider Louisville". 

Mr. Sonka, thanks so much for being here tonight. 


REID:  So, that last question, first, what is Mitch McConnell -- what is awaiting Mitch McConnell when he gets to this fun fair. 

SONKA:  Well, a fancy farm is a very unique little place in western Kentucky.  And it`s kind of a cross between cross fire and pro wrestling where you have -- you have each candidate roasting each other.  But mainly, you have partisans on both sides screaming and jeering at the candidates and yelling insults at them and heckling to the point you can barely hear the candidates themselves. 

REID:  That would be fun for (INAUDIBLE)

SONKA:  It used to be unique in the Trump era, it`s kind of normal. 

REID:  Yes, Kentucky Democrats are claiming Moscow Mitch was coined in Kentucky.  Can you explain? 

SONKA:  So, Moscow Mitch, Democrats are really excited about this.  They think it has legs not only because they broke the online fund raiser record for one day and they raised $70,000, but really the reaction to Mitch McConnell. 

Mitch McConnell is notoriously cool and collected when it comes to taking criticism.  He often embraces that criticism and mocks it and churns it around on those critics because the critics are less popular in Kentucky, when he embraced the Grim Reaper label.  He embraced blocking Merrick Garland saying he would allow Trump to nominate Supreme Court justice next year in the middle of the election.  He is also known for hanging up political cartoons attacking him on his office wall. 

So, this is typically something he embraced, but as Andrew Gillum said last year, a hit dog will holler. 

REID:  Wow. 

SONKA:  Yes.

REID:  Yes.

SONKA: So, he is definitely upset by this.  And I think Democrats know that they have him a little bit vulnerable here because it`s really hard to churn this around as some kind of ideological or partisan issue like he can with other things. 

REID:  Yes. 

SONKA:  Because this is protecting our democracy.  That`s not really ideological or at least it shouldn`t be. 

REID:  And also, there is the other story that earlier this year Mitch McConnell made sure that the Senate allowed sanctions to be lifted on Russian aluminum giant Rusal, then the Russian company announced a $200 million investment in a Kentucky aluminum mill project.  And now we`re learning that McConnell`s ex-staffers lobbied for the project.

So, is this story getting traction in Kentucky?

SONKA:  Well, there is a lot of smoke there if you jump down the rabbit hole, especially with the Russian company -- one of its owners has other companies that funneled $3.5 million into Mitch McConnell`s campaign or political committee over the past few years. 

So, that`s definitely -- there is more to this story than just Russian interference in the election, the blockage of legislation to combat that, and, of course, Mitch McConnell not going along with the pleas of the intelligence agencies in 2016 to go forward with a bipartisan statement.  Or at least the Obama administration tried to get them to do that

REID:  Yes, there is a lot there the allegation a retired school teacher was the original Moscow Mitch.  We don`t know who invented.  We just know that it`s sticking to Moscow or sticking to Mitch McConnell.

Joe Sonka, staff writer for "Insider Louisville" -- thank you very much.  Appreciate you being here. 

SONKA:  Thank you. 

REID:  Thank you. 

We`ll be right back. 


REID:  The number is 118.  For Democrats trying to convince House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to green-light impeachment proceedings against the president, getting 118 members of the caucus onboard is kind of the first step, because 118 members will be more than half of the Democratic caucus.  And as more and more Democrats come out for impeachment, it`s kind of been the unwritten rule that 118 Democrats must openly come out for impeachment before the next move happens. 

Well, tonight, they got one step closer.  Tonight, California Congressman Pete Aguilar became the 117th House Democrat to call for impeachment inquiry into the president, 117.  That is awful close to 118.

And that does it for tonight.  We`ll see you again tomorrow. 

And now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

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