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Trump escalates Russia Probe attacks. TRANSCRIPT: 05/23/2018. The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Ned Price

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: May 23, 2018 Guest: Ned Price

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.

I felt like you broke some news in your hour with Congressman Schiff saying maybe the Gang of Eight will be involved tomorrow.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Yes, I did not know this was coming. This was news to me when he said it in the moment, Ari. As you know, this is a hugely controversial thing that the White House has apparently ordered, if not organized, from the White House`s point of view what they said is the Department of Justice, FBI, DNI will be asked to brief two Republican members of Congress on this confidential human source who was involved in the investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign and Russia were in contact while the Russians were launching this attack on the election.

Congressman Schiff told me tonight that it`s not going to be -- that he has been advised that that meeting is not going to brief Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes alone. He says that he`s been advised by a cabinet member, by the head of an intelligence agency, those are the phrases he used, that it`s a Gang of Eight meeting, which is a -- it`s still something that should never be briefed but that`s the more appropriate group in Congress to brief rather than the two random people in Congress.

MELBER: Well, that`s the other thing I want to ask you, I guess, before we let you go, you did have the breaking news we`re going to be discussing, does it mean in your view then that you had a thing that was a conspiracy theory meeting, which is bad, but now instead of only people with tinfoil hats there, there will also be other legitimate people to discuss, what you and others have suggested today was still a conspiracy theory?

MADDOW: Well, I mean, there`s a few different ways to look at this, right? I mean, if we think back to what we know happened during the campaign when the FBI had opened the counterintelligence investigation into Russia`s attack and whether or not the Trump campaign was involved in it, whether there were Russian agents who were in contact with members of the Trump campaign, that was briefed during the campaign to Congress.

The -- I think it was James Comey, if not John Brennan, one of the two of them, went and briefed the Gang of Eight. It ultimately ended up being a sort of source of controversy because Harry Reid right before the election wrote that public letter to James Comey saying, we know that you`re sitting on very explosive information about contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign, nobody knew what he was talking about, it`s because they have received a Gang of Eight briefing at that time.

So, that was an ongoing investigation. So, another briefing about the Gang of Eight about a continually still ongoing investigation, it just wouldn`t break precedent, it wouldn`t screw up our sort of traditions around the rule of law, in exactly the same way. Whereas randomly telling Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy, who`s not even a member of the Gang of Eight, would be a bigger break with law enforcement traditions.

So, it would materially change it. It also might mean there`s going to be a fight tomorrow between the intelligence community and the White House as to who can be in that meeting.

MELBER: Yes, and I think you -- that makes a lot of sense what you`re saying, is it an oversight activity or is it this conspiracy-oriented political meeting which as you documented would be something quite different. I wish I could keep you but as you know, you get to go we have other guests, Rachel. Thank you for sticking around for a minute.

MADDOW: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: I appreciate it.

As mentioned, we have some breaking news on this. Indeed, the control room is telling me there`s an update on confirmation about what Rachel and I were just discussing. Here`s the larger context though about everything that`s going on. There is legal heat on Trump world right now and there is a stunning set of statements from Donald Trump`s latest member of his legal team, an unpaid lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Now, the first statement that Giuliani makes here is breaking news as well tonight, makes him look out of the loop and it makes Donald Trump look pretty silly. Tonight, Giuliani telling a reporting he hasn`t talked to his client, Donald Trump in weeks. So pause on what that means.

One, that during Giuliani`s recent lengthy media tours where he`s held fort on the facts of this case and whether Donald Trump will testify with Bob Mueller, over all those weeks that he`s done all of that, he`s been doing it without talking to his client Trump at all.

Two, it means that Giuliani may be communicating with Bob Mueller more than Donald Trump at times. We know they`ve held in person meetings.

Third, this means whatever Trump and Giuliani are planning, they are basically in public and communicating through their public statements in TV appearances, since we know they both can have it at television universe and they watch coverage about themselves and each other.

And finally, fourth, and this is a narrower point that this speaks to Giuliani`s competence, he didn`t need to reveal this information. He could say his talks with his client are privileged and that means what they discussed, how they discussed it and how often is privileged. That answer which basically every lawyer is instructed to give would cost him nothing and spare any embarrassment from this tonight.

All that is the context for what else Giuliani said, that he not only hasn`t spoken to Trump in a couple of weeks, but instead, he tells "BuzzFeed" other lawyers talk to the White House, and says I`m not, people from my office are talking to the White House and that when those people talk, asks how that work, he said, well, if you count talking and correspondence, well, a couple times a week. That`s what Giuliani said under questioning.

So, that is where Rudy stands. As for a legal strategy, well, he continues a waiting game about the presidential interview with Bob Mueller, saying no decision will come until the details of this, quote, "spygate" situation are figured out.

Now, that`s what Rachel and I were just discussing, and what the White House has been cooking up, what many people view and the evidence suggest would be basically a conspiracy theory, but Trump calls it spygate. And the "A.P." today reporting today that Trump basically told an ally this week that he wanted to, quote, brand this informant a spy, believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public.

That rhetoric tries to take back the power of scandals ending in gate, consider of course that many compare Trump`s Russia problems to Watergate. And Trump has been looking for ways to accuse others of his own alleged misdeeds.

And let`s be clear as we dig into this tonight. It can be effective rhetorically. Consider in the last month of the 2016 campaign, fake news stories online overwhelmingly helped Trump and many people, including Barack Obama, were criticizing fake news by name. Trump hijacked that term to attack the real news, as we all know, and a lot of people frankly think of that as his term now.

That`s the framework for what`s happening on a bigger scale right now as Trump says today spygate could be one of the, quote, biggest political scandals in history. And then he took to the White House lawn with a sort of faux plaintive lament about what`s happening.


REPORTER: What proof do you have that your campaign was spied on?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All you have to do is look at the basics and you`ll see. It looks like a serious event. We`ll find out. When they look at the documents, I think people are going to see a lot of bad things happen.

I hope it`s not so because if it is, there`s never been anything like it in the history of our country. I hope -- I mean, if you look at Clapper, he sort of admitted they had spies in the campaign yesterday inadvertently. But I hope it`s not true, but it looks like it is.

Everybody wants this solved but a lot of bad things have happened. We now call it spygate. You`re calling it spygate. A lot of bad things have happened.

I want them all to get together. They`ll sit in a room. Hopefully, they`ll be able to work it out among themselves.


O`DONNELL: That`s the big story, who`s going to sit in the room? Now, Rachel and I were just discussing. It`s a bipartisan member of the Gang of Eight, telling her moments ago the room will include the Gang of Eight.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I was informed by the head of our intelligence agencies earlier tonight that the meeting would be a bipartisan briefing at a Gang of Eight level and that would be it. I expect them to live up to the commitment. That is the right procedure, if there is any information that could compromise a source or methods.

So, that`s the practice that has been around for decades and they need to follow it and I expect them to honor their word. But we are hearing conflicting things from the White House.


MELBER: Conflicting things, but that was Congressman Adam Schiff, a member of the Gang of Eight, saying that moments ago to Rachel. Now, I am holding something from the Department of Justice, date stamped 10:00 p.m. tonight. The news does break late at night these days. And it describes a first meeting that is as planned with John Kelly, Rod Rosenstein, the FBI director, the DNI director, Nunes, and Gowdy.

And it describes a second meeting, this is new breaking news, that would be the Department of Justice with those same individuals and all Gang of Eight members. The White House putting this out through the DOJ quite late at night.

Let`s get right to it.

Mimi Rocah is a former federal prosecutor and a fellow at Pace University Law School and MSNBC analyst, Jon Allen, national political reporter for NBC News digital, and Kimberly Atkins, chief Washington reporter and columnist with "The Boston Herald", and an MSNBC analyst.

Kimberly, what do you think of the news and why is it coming out so late at night?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, MSNBC ANALYST: Why would it be so different than breaking news that breaks on another day? I think there has been a bit of a scramble to put together exactly how this meeting that the president has demanded and which was apparently set up in an effort in part by Rod Rosenstein to sort of placate the president who seemed ready to really take a more drastic action against this investigation.

This is something that is not normal. Normally, when there is an ongoing investigation by federal authorities, the oversight doesn`t come in the middle. The oversight usually comes once it`s complete, once there`s conclusions, and then if there`s questions about the process, then the folks go in and take a look at it so that the investigation itself is not compromised, so that there are no problems.

So, yes, there`s no real protocol as to how to do this. So, it`s not -- it`s small wonder that there is some confusion, that there`s changes in the plan, that there`s differing statements coming from different agencies about exactly how this is going to work.

MELBER: Jon, what is your view to the fact that according to this brand new itinerary, the original partisan meeting is still on the books?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBCNEWS.COM NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it`s a good way to put that, Ari. I mean, the White House obviously was scrambling today to try to sort of counter the Democratic requests for a meeting of the Gang of Eight, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi had sent a letter to that effect and they were beside themselves that this kind of meeting would go on without the bipartisan leadership of the intelligence committees in Congress and the leadership of both political parties in both houses of Congress.

But what you have now is two separate meetings, one where all the good stuff is going to be talked about between the members of Congress who are trying to get information that they might then share with the White House from a Justice Department that, you know, is generally left alone by White Houses during its investigations, particularly investigations of said White Houses. I did a story earlier this week about President Trump now launching an investigation of the investigators. I talked to John Dean, who was the White House counsel during the Nixon years and he said this all has echoes of Watergate.

MELBER: Well, why do you think they`re doing this? Is it a fig leaf or is it a sign that things do matter and they buckle to push back?

ALLEN: They do buckle to push back. I`m not sure that it`s a sign things matter. I mean, obviously, we`re not going to be in the room to see the difference between the briefing or the discussion between Chairman Nunes, Chairman Gowdy and the Justice Department --


MELBER: We`re not but we`re human beings with logical faculties and either these individuals are doing the same thing twice in a highly inefficient manner for very busy people who the White House chief of staff, intelligence FBI director, or they`re doing something different in the first meeting than they are in the second meeting.

ALLEN: Well, the only logical reason to do this is because you want to have separate conversations with separate content.



MIMI ROCHA, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: This sounds to me like a judge meeting with the defendant alone and then coming out and meeting with both parties, and that doesn`t happen. That`s not supposed to happen.

This doesn`t feel like congressional oversight. This feels like, as I said, a defendant, a subject of an investigation going to a judge and saying, I want to see the evidence now before anything`s been charged while you`re in the middle of an investigation, might jeopardize the investigation, I don`t care, and a judge would say absolutely not to that.

But here for whatever reasons, the Department of Justice is giving something. We don`t know yet what they`re giving. I do think it`s important to note that. We don`t know they`re turning over documents or even showing them documents or whether they`re briefing them on things that they consider not as harmful to -- you know, to brief them on.

But it`s -- it`s such a dangerous precedent. And it has just no parallel in our criminal justice system, which this is a part of. I mean, this is a criminal investigation that`s going on and being jeopardized by this.

MELBER: Right. So, do you think the members of the Gang of Eight, which are both parties and supposed to in theory be nonpartisan to these matters -- should they object the first meeting is still there? I mean, this feels very -- again, we got this news while we were live air, but my instinct here is that it feels very Trumpy in that it`s just saying, OK, fine, you know what, we`re going to make so much noise, we`ll have a second fake meeting you guys can come to.

I mean, the second meeting could be that it happens to be two hours later, but it could be two days, or two months later. Sooner or later, the Gang of Eight is going to have meetings. And it doesn`t really address the substantive concerns you were raising and I think Rachel was raising originally in her reporting about the original meeting, which is there is not a good reason, there is not a valid, legitimate reason to take the non- partisan operation of the Russia probe, and the FBI director, DNI, and subject them to a Twitter-led grilling by only partisans who are implicated in trying to undermine the probe.

ROCAH: And who are going to take what they learn undoubtedly and relay it to the lawyers, at least, of the subject -- one if not all of the subjects of that investigation, which is just so -- I mean, they`re on --

MELBER: Well, you`re putting your finger on it and then I`ll go back to the rest of the panel. You`re saying this is more than just protocol. You`re saying that any actionable investigative information that Nunes or Gowdy glean from this meeting could be relayed back to potential subjects or targets in a way that undermines the very investigation?

ROCAH: Yes, absolutely.

MELBER: Why would not be obstruction.

ROCAH: Well, it could be. I mean, again, I keep bringing it back to the parallel of an ordinary criminal case that Americans face every day.

MELBER: Which it is. There are ordinary people fleeing guilty in this --

ROCAH: Right, but ordinary people that don`t have the power that the president has to say, you must have this meeting and turn over this information. That`s why -- I mean, a judge would --

MELBER: Yes, ordinary people.

ROCAH: -- would laugh in their face.

MELBER: Jon, I turn to you. And this is a serious enough story that I`m not going to make a John Legend "Ordinary People" reference. Just go ahead.

ALLEN: Well, I was just going to say, let`s remember Devin Nunes, the chairman o the House Intelligence Committee, recused himself from his own committee`s investigation into Russia because of the coordination that he had with the White House in the early days. So, it`s not -- it`s not surprising that people would be concerned that his motive here might be to collect information that the White House and other lawyers for -- people who are under investigation is seeking but cannot get from the Justice Department.

MELBER: Yes, no, I mean, that`s -- that`s his thing.

ALLEN: Right.

MELBER: That`s his thing. That`s what he got busted doing.

ALLEN: And yet now, he appears to no longer believe he needs to recuse himself. You know, he`s obviously played a part as a -- as a defender, protector and, you know, conspirator essentially, and I don`t mean that in a criminal sense.


ALLEN: But conspirator with the president on this Russia situation pretty much from day one. You know, and as far as these meetings go, I mean, can you imagine Robert Mueller meeting with Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, sharing information with them about his investigation and saying we`ll have a bipartisan meeting later?

MELBER: Yes, like in the middle of the Benghazi probe? No. Somehow, I can`t quite imagine that.

Kimberly Atkins, take a listen to Donald Trump when asked about Rod Rosenstein who has been just pressuring and appearing to get cooperation and buckling out of Rod Rosenstein, his veritable NFL owner by this point. Take a look.


REPORTER: What about Rod Rosenstein, sir? What about your deputy attorney general, sir?

REPORTER: Do you still have confidence in Rod Rosenstein?

REPORTER: Do you still have confidence -- do you still have confidence in Rod Rosenstein? Mr. President?


MELBER: Kimberly, you know well how Washington works, the negative space in that painting is pretty potent because people serve at the pleasure of the president, if they don`t have his confidence.

ATKINS: Yes, and that`s as second time in as many days he refused to answer the question about Rod Rosenstein`s future. And so, that does not bode well, particularly with this president who has expressed his frustration with him openly. And so, I think Rod Rosenstein understands he`s in a tough position right now.

He`s trying not to just save his job but trying to keep the investigation intact and he`s up against the president who`s very eager to attack both things. So I don`t think it bodes well. I think that`s one of the biggest things we have to look at what comes out of this meeting tomorrow.

And to the point about Devin Nunes -- I mean, look, there`s precedent for a lot of what`s happening now. Devin Nunes, remember, was the author of a memo that was confidential, that was declassified by the White House, over the objection of the Justice Department, and released and released first and then the White House said, OK, yes, yes, later, we`ll also release this Democratic memo that refuted the original memo.

It seems to be the M.O. here that Republicans are sort of given the first shot at this to help the president`s claim that this is a nefarious investigation and possibly even a criminal one, something that`s false, there`s no evidence indicating that anything that`s happened in this investigation has been nefarious in any way, but that`s the messaging that the president is seeking to support. And he seems to be interested in getting that however he can.

MELBER: Right. And, Kimberly, you make a very apt analogy that I think is helpful. The memo was about why Carter Page had been surveilled, which was done prior to Donald Trump even becoming president because of evidence approved by independent judges that he appeared to be a candidate for Russian spies trying to flip and use him, a veritable asset, and because of that, he looked bad, and they release this information, he shouldn`t have been surveilled.

And here we see again, the same thing, the idea that this was an informant looking at this case doesn`t mean that`s bad for the informant.

Let me say thank you to Kimberly Atkins. The rest of our panel stays.

A lot more on this breaking news, as I mentioned, the DOJ putting this out at the late hour, at 10:00 tonight. We`ll have more on that.

Also, a very big report that Michael Cohen may have been brokering foreign meetings without registering, raising new criminal liability for him. That`s next.


MELBER: Breaking news, the Department of Justice announcing late tonight, in this hour, there will be two meetings tomorrow, one will include the Gang of Eight, this is all about Donald Trump`s allegations that there was something wrong with an informant being involved in the FBI review of his campaign.

I want to get right to it and bring in Ned Price. He`s a former senior director from the NSA and a former CIA analyst.

Your reaction?

NED PRICE, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, Ari, under almost all scenarios, this really makes no sense and I`ll tell you why, Devin Nunes is a member of the Gang of Eight as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he`s entitled to that second briefing. The odd man out is Trey Gowdy. Trey Gowdy is the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Trey Gowdy as a non-member, as someone who is not a member of this exclusive club, does not have the same clearance that these other eight individuals do.

So, what would make sense, what would be rational and reasonable would be to have a Gang of Eight meeting that all the details as appropriate could be shared and if there needed to be a second meeting, have a separate meeting with Trey Gowdy because he doesn`t have the same clearance.

The only scenario under which this makes sense is if somehow Gowdy and Nunes are entitled to more information than the full Gang of Eight. And, frankly, that shouldn`t be the case. The gang of eight should receive the best information the intelligence community has, the most classified, sensitive holdings the intelligence community has, but that doesn`t seem to be the case here. Something smells very fishy about this.

MELBER: Right. I mean, I hate to get this far in the weeds. But it is important. I mean, I`m looking at the paper here that we got. And you basically have 12 plus one. You got the Gang of Eight, which is as you mentioned is Nunes in both cases, you got the four people from the White House, DOJ, FBI involved in the thing, and then you have Gowdy.

PRICE: That`s right.

MELBER: And so, the theory we were discussing before the commercial break here is, is the whole thing a sham because the second meeting, the Gang of Eight meeting, that in a normal world -- we don`t live in one anymore -- in a normal world would be the procedurally important intel, high level intel eyes only meeting is actually just a cover for the first meeting that we know they wanted to have anyway.

PRICE: That sure what it sounds -- what it sounds like to me, Ari. Look, the way these things typically work is when you have separate bifurcated briefings, you give everything or just about everything. You typically won`t give the names of sources or the tactics behind methods to the Gang of Eight, but you give essentially everything else to the Gang of Eight and if there has to be a separate briefing, that is called a downgraded briefing. It maybe be held at the top secret level instead of the top secret code word level, for example. And that`s the briefing that you might envision them giving to Trey Gowdy.

MELBER: Let`s get tough. I mean, I think viewers can grasp what kind of Trumpiness this is. Now, what are the accountability mechanisms? I mean, you are CIA. You have a lot more experience in this than most of us.

Isn`t there some actual duty on the intelligence people in the room to limit what they say to someone like Gowdy and don`t they have to check each other before they go into the Gang of Eight meeting where they would be asking what did you do in the first meeting and did you betray any of your duties in what has been obviously an environment of a partisan attempt to undermine an open probe.

PRICE: So, under normal circumstances, yes, that would absolutely be the case. The intelligence officers, the law enforcement officers, who would go into any briefing, they know exactly who it is they`re briefing, they know that individual`s level of clearance, whether it`s secret, top secret, top secret code word, and it is their obligation, and they hold one another to that, to not go over that level of classification.

But this is not just any ordinary briefing. This is not just any ordinary administration. You get the impression, Ari, that there is high level White House input into this.

I think you remember this briefing was not going to happen, DOJ, FBI and the --


PRICE: -- director of national intelligence, they were actually dragging their feet until John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, called all of them together. They met in his office, and lo and behold, within hours, this meeting was announced.

So, you get the impression this is coming from on high. And even when you have very principled, dedicated intelligence officials and law enforcement officials behind this, if it`s coming from the president, if it`s coming from the chief of staff, it`s going to be difficult for them, especially in this administration, to say no.


Ned Price, I really appreciate your insights on this breaking news and you`ve taught us a lot. I want you to stay with us, because I want to fit in a break, but there are these other allegations that Michael Cohen -- excuse me, we`re going to keep going.

Michael Cohen was not only selling access to his client, Donald Trump but doing so in a way that was illegal. Specifically, the feds could use the same law that they had against Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort and Paul Manafort, because here`s the report -- Cohen received secret payment of $400,000 to fix these talks between the Ukrainian president and Trump. The payment arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine`s leader, Petro Poroshenko.

Now, the BBC reports the part that creates the jeopardy, Cohen not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by U.S. law. That meeting took place last June, and that was after the payment. A source in Kiev saying they also gave Trump a gift, making sure Ukraine would fine no more evidence for the U.S. inquiry into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

Now, I`ll tell you, NBC News has not confirmed the BBC story. Cohen denies it and Trump`s newest lawyer, Rudy Giuliani striking a very different note, saying he assumes maybe there was a discussion of doing this, while adding on that neither end was it consummated.

Mimi Rocah also rejoins.

Moving from the other breaking news to what our plan story and a big one. What does this mean for Michael Cohen?

ROCAH: Well, I think there`s three different sort of buckets to this story. One is the one you mentioned already, which is a FARA violation or breaking of the Foreign Agent Registration Act law, which is the same law that Flynn has been charged with, as you mentioned. And that would be Cohen acted essentially as an agent of the Ukrainian government without registering as he is required to do so.

MELBER: So you know what I`ve got to ask you. You`re a lawyer, he`s a lawyer, if that`s all it is, why didn`t he register?

ROCAH: Well, exactly. I mean, look, the reason for the law is we want to know when foreign governments are having an influence on, you know, U.S. policy or --

MELBER: Or buying the president`s lawyer?

ROCAH: Yes, exactly. And, clearly, they didn`t want anyone to know that. Cohen didn`t.

MELBER: I mean, do you think he knowingly took that suspicious risk for some reason?

ROCAH: I can`t say that he -- I mean, it seems clear that he was aware that that`s something he had to do. I mean, it would be pretty hard for him to claim that it isn`t.

But I think the second and possibly bigger piece that we just don`t know the answer to yet, is was there some kind of bribe going on? In other words they paid Cohen to get a meeting with Trump. We know that.

What came out of this meeting was actually we know so far from this report, assuming its true, is that Ukraine changed its policy, right? They stopped investigating Manafort. Now, that also benefitted Trump because it hurts the Mueller investigation because then they weren`t cooperating with Mueller. They weren`t digging for more information about Manafort to cooperate with Mueller.

Was that something that was requested by Trump? Was there -- and did Trump promise anything in return? Or Cohen --

MELBER: What is the likelihood that there would be strong leads out of Ukraine that Bob Mueller wouldn`t otherwise get?

ROCAH: Well, actually, if there are leads in the Ukraine, it would be very hard to get them without the government. That -- you know, getting leads from a foreign country, even a cooperative one, can be cumbersome, let alone a non-cooperative one.


ROCAH: So, that actually is very important.

MELBER: And, Ned, how weird does this strike you? Because the flipside is if you want to be real politic about it, there are people who would say that countries do all kinds of amoral, unethical favors for other countries.

NED PRICE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes, Ari. I`m actually less concerned with the money changing hands here. I mean, in some ways, we have all become inured (ph) to the pay for play schemes that we see emanate from this administration.

I`m much more concerned with the lateral in viewed (ph) conversation, what Mimi was talking about the Ukrainians dropping their investigation into Paul Manafort. We have seen a pattern here. And it is a pattern in which American foreign policy is accruing personal benefits to Donald Trump, not for our national interest. There is this example in Ukraine where the Ukrainians dropped the Manafort investigation.

Later in Ukraine, we learned from the "New York Times" earlier this month, in fact, that the Ukrainians very publicly signals that they would stop cooperating with the Mueller probe just as the united States government was deciding whether to provide them with anti-tank missiles.

MELBER: Right. Which is what Mimi was laying out.

I also want to get you, Mimi, on we learned today Jared Kushner went back top Mueller, spent over six hours there and we heard from his side which we don`t usually. Here`s Abbe Lowell, his lawyer on that.


ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR JARED KUSHNER: I have done this for a bunch. And I will tell you today`s witness is tomorrow`s indicted person. So I don`t ask that question. These are just the titles that are handy for the media to use. And so I didn`t ask. But I would tell you in my experience, the kinds of questions they asked, the kinds of statements he made, the kinds of information he has, reflects that they understand that he is a witness to the events.


MELBER: A very lawyerly way of saying he hopes his client Jared Kushner is a witness but he has no idea.

MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Right. He is certainly better at this than Giuliani. The answer he gave was a better answer. And he is saying I`m not going to throw a term out there because then everyone is going to say, well, he is a witness today, subject tomorrow. So you know - - but then again, I don`t know that he can read into, from the questions that his client is just a witness. I think that`s -- you know, he is sort of claiming to look through a crystal ball that I`m not sure you can look through.

You know, it is interesting that Kushner was called back recently, you know. You would think that if someone was -- it can go either way. Because you either want to give someone a chance to explain before you decide, yes, they are really a target or you have ruled out that they are somebody likely to be indicted and you are treating them as a witness. So it really can go either way, which is why I`m saying it`s dangerous for him or us to read into that what that means about Kushner`s status.

MELBER: Right. But my big take away from you tonight is Abbe better than Rudy?

ROCAH: I think so.

MELBER: Mimi Rocah and Ned Price on a very busy evening. Thank you both.

Coming up there is a lot more going on. Donald Trump`s base loves his talk on immigration. On Capitol Hill though turning that into action and in legislative agenda is dividing Republicans. Speaker Ryan`s job even in jeopardy.


MELBER: Breaking news tonight after significant pressure the White House announcing that while it is maintaining a meeting about an informant used in the Russia probe tomorrow with Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes, which is a very controversial, they added a second meeting with the entire gang of eight, news that was initially informed by Adam Schiff, remember the gang of eight, on MSNBC exclusive tonight with Rachel Maddow. And which was then confirmed in a 10:00 p.m. hour.

And now, I`m happy to say, we have arranged dialing for news with NBC chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson working her sources late in the night and is able to join me.

Hallie, first of all, thank you for continuing a very long day. And second of all, what can you tell us from your sources?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): So here is what we are learning, Ari. The meeting attendance has been notable for a number of reasons. First of all, because the original indication that we have received from our sources earlier in the day was that this gang of eight meeting that is set now for 2:00 eastern tomorrow, was actually originally supposed to happen after the memorial day recess.

I was on the phone with the administration official just before our evening broadcast tonight who said yes, we think it is going to happen after Memorial Day. We are going to be planning for that. But the Nunez Gowdy meeting is still going to go up as planned.

Clearly, the situation has been incredibly fluid, which is also the guidance that we have been getting from folks that we have been talking to.

John Kelly is going to be at both of these meetings tomorrow. And let me tell you why that caught our attention. Because just yesterday press secretary Sarah Sanders was at the podium of the briefing room and said Kelly would not attend. She said, at this point, he is not expected to be there. He was charged with putting this meeting together, and setting up the logistics and then will step away.

However, I`m getting the impression that because of the backlash over on Capitol Hill, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle upset the gang of eight was not included in this, wanting this to be more bipartisan. Even the President himself, Ari, remember on the south lawn out there, I was asking him why weren`t Democrats there and said this super cedes party lines, this super cedes Republicans and Democrats.

So clearly, the pressure built in order to bring in Democrats to the meeting. And you have John Kelly now attending. You also have, remember, originally, it was going to be (INAUDIBLE), Ari, one of Rod Rosenstein`s deputies there at the department of justice. But now it will be Rosenstein himself leading his briefing with these officials.

So bottom line, over the last eight to ten hours, this has been a moving target but it is clear now what is going to happen in a period of what, three, four hours tomorrow afternoon. It could be potentially significant.

MELBER: Very significant given that we seem to be riding towards yes an, over use term, an inflection point. But a lot of pressure given where Mueller is going. You think about Jared Kushner news leaking. You think about Michael Cohen`s associate flipping in New York yesterday which creates a state level set of pressures that cannot be federally pardoned by the President.

You mentioned John Kelly, let`s dig in to that a little bit, Hallie, because he said in the mail with an interview, we were just looking at. Quote "we had to build a firewall between White House staff that works for the President and the personal legal staff that works for Donald Trump with regard to the Russia probe." It would seem that that if there is a firewall, John Kelly might be (INAUDIBLE) person bridging it. And what does that say about him attending the meeting tomorrow?

JACKSON: Well, let me pull back for a second here. Because remember somebody who has been, based on my reporting, fanning the flames about this discussion about the quote/unquote "spy" in the first place. This flame that the President continue to make.

It`s Rudy Giuliani who is on the President`s legal team, Ari. Obviously, the outside external legal team. And so it is my understanding and my reporting that Giuliani feels as though this is a way, by pushing this story line, to help potentially undermine the Mueller investigation as a whole, according to folks who are sort of around the President`s orbit there.

So you have that piece of the puzzle. Then you also have inside the White House, this move now that is -- that we are seeing tonight for more involvement for the White House into this discussion of what the intelligence is, what this says. Keeping in mind, of course, that the President has the ultimate power to declassify anything the President wants to declassify.

MELBER: Let me ask you about the politics of that. The law of that is fairly basic. Whether you call it surveillance or evidence or interrogation, all of those tools are used when you have an open critical probe, which we have known they hacked (ph). I mean, they knocked down Paul Manafort`s door and Michael Cohen`s law office. We know that. And whether they are using informant and other tools, we are not surprised by that in any journalistic or legal way.

So final question to you, is that Rudy Giuliani, the mayor, the politician, the former Presidential candidate saying he knows better because he knows how these things word but he is making a political bet. It is about how this s word, spy, something about this sort of -- this sort of conspiracy somehow will help the President outside the courtroom.

JACKSON: Well, it`s coming from the President, Ari, first and foremost. He is the one who is discussing and talking about it being quote/unquote "spy gate." He told reporters, he told us today, you are calling that. The person who is calling at that is Donald Trump himself. So that is sort of the beginning and the end of the circle here.

When it comes to the politicization of this, I will tell you a cause for concern more broadly among from the folks I`m talking to up and down ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. And that is the potential politicization of intelligence. Of this critical piece of our national security apparatus, the idea you have this asset, this informant, who is now been publically named, publicly outed in news report, obviously. And the potential as these they go and review the documents tomorrow, might there be more leaks. And I think that that is causing real concern, not just the leaks but the idea that you are taking what has been an independent, you know, in large part the independent department of justice and politicizing it by having these meetings where it`s just Republicans in the first meeting, although there will be Democrats in the second, Ari.

MELBER: Well, that makes me want to ask you something else, Hallie, which is Paul Ryan announcing within this hour that he has a pre-scheduled commitment and cannot go.

JACKSON: Yes. He won`t be there.

MELBER: Now, let me see. How do I ask this question in a respectful and open-minded way? Well, what on earth could be more important tomorrow for someone with the constitutional obligations that the speaker of the house has than a meeting with the heads of the FBI, the overseer of the Russia probe and the other members of the gang of eights who he outranks in Congress to deal with this fire storm?

JACKSON: I can tell you what our colleagues on Capitol Hill is reporting is that the spokesperson, Paul Ryan, he has, I`m quoting here, a long- standing schedule commitment and will not be there. They are also saying they want Chairman Nunez, they want Trey Gowdy to be leading in this space for House Republicans. So Paul Ryan publicly handing over some of the reign on tis, leadership reigns on this particular issue, Ari, to those two members of Congress. I will tell you, though, Nancy Pelosi is going to be there.

MELBER: Well, I heard a profiles in courage, I suppose there is also profiles in Google calendar and everyone has to make decisions about their day.

Hallie Jackson, again, my special thanks. I know you had a long one and your reporting is very useful for us tonight.

JACKSON: Thanks, Ari, so much.

MELBER: Coming up, immigration could still put Paul Ryan`s job in jeopardy. That`s next.


MELBER: Now turning to an important policy story. A lot of folks say the worst thing Donald Trump does stem from being ignorant, like he is some kind of bumbling idiot. Others say the worst thing has Donald Trump does stem from him being malevolent that he is informed and candy operator.

Well, consider the recent controversy over Trump calling members of the MS- 13 gang animals was he ripping or was this the political fight he wants? The debate about sounding tough about words which basically demands nothing from him in action in which he can use to suggest his opponents are coddling gang members. Well, here was Trump today on Long Island doubling down on this fight.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I notice recently where Democrats, Nancy Pelosi as an example are trying to defend MS-13 gang members. I called them animals the other day and I was met with rebuke. They said they are people. They are not people. These are animals. And we have to be very, very tough.


MELBER: So he is into this fight. Trump did briefly touch on policy, though it was basically foreign aid fan fiction.


TRUMP: We are going to work out something where every time somebody comes in from a certain country we are going to deduct a large amount of money from what we give them in aid, if we give them aid at all.


MELBER: Meanwhile, House Republicans internally divided by the bill giving Dreamers any path to citizenship. Paul Ryan was asked his own conference Tuesday to put aside disagreements and work together to try and keep control of the majority. And of course, you have the upcoming midterms.

Now "Politico" reporting, Ryan`s call to unity fell on deaf ears and moderate Republicans want to force a vote as early as June on four different immigration plans that could protect Dreamers from deportation. Now, this support of Democratic congressional leaders, those moderates would we think be about four signatures away from reaching a threshold to bring up the vote.

Conservative Republicans though say they don`t want any vote even if it`s bipartisan on a solutions for dreamers. The GOP infighting over immigration may have contributed to a loss just last week when the house freedom caucus defied Paul Ryan and party leaders on a related farm bill which touches on these issues as well.

I am joined by Maria Teresa Kumar, the president/CEO of Voto Latino and MSNBC contributor John Allen back with us.

Paul Ryan also in the news tonight as I reported because he said this hour he won`t go to the big gang of eight meeting tomorrow. So maybe we will get to that as well.

But starting on immigration as promised, Maria, what does this mean to you?

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, I think that not only is Paul Ryan in over his head. I think that he had the idea that he was going to assume the speakership from and basically do something with it and he hasn`t been able to. This is the legacy he was hoping to cement and it is far from it.

I think what we are seeing right now in immigration is that the freedom caucus has the GOP hostage. What they should be doing is actually led -- let the moderate GOP actually sign immigration bill because they are the ones that are highly contested seats and they may actually lose the midterms because of them. The freedom caucus will not.

MELBER: Yes. John, listen to another thing that the President said today, where he really likened immigration, which is a problem, documented, undocumented, that many countries have. He likened it to an occupying army.


TRUMP: We have these trucks coming in. They used to call them paddy wagons. I don`t know what they call them anymore. They throw these guys into these wagons, these rolling jails. And you have people applauding. It`s almost like a war or you are getting rid of somebody that`s occupying your nation.


MELBER: John, how does that figure into what we are seeing on the hill?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, he managed to drop in an Irish slur there, the Paddy wagon in the old days was an Irish slur. And you know, in some ways in the same vein. Irish and Italian immigrants suffered similar, you know, similar fights over the course of time.

What you have got going on right now on the Hill and I have been talking to congressional sources since a Fargo (ph) went down last week. You have a lame duck speaker who is dealing with essentially a fight for his job beneath him between Kevin McCarthy and more quietly, Steve Scalise, the majority whip. He is trying to find a way to dance on the head of opinion, in terms of immigration. He has lost the farm bill over it. It`s something that`s typically bipartisan in nature and has been for many, many years. Republicans decided to go ideological and clamping down on food stamps. You know, those McGovern dole -- bipartisan McGovern dole food stamps.

So he as lost the farm bill. He is trying to resurrect it at some point with an immigration deal. On the other side, he has got all these Republicans signing up for discharge petition to try to get something on the floor that will extend DACA. And he just doesn`t have the juice or clout right now to get any of it done. And you know, the challenge was in that politico headline you just showed which is that his calls for unity have fallen on deaf ears. The Republican Party simply doesn`t agree on this. Most of the vast majority of Republican lawmakers have taken up with President Trump. But the majority of the House believes in extending DACA. So almost all of the Democrats, if not all the Democrats, and a portion of the Republican Party.

MELBER: Yes, Maria, speak to the timeline and the politics of that. Because John mentioned the discharge petition, which is a technical way that you can get something to the floor without a speaker. But you don`t usually pull that on a speaker unless you are not worried about them, and the lame duck seems to be why he is facing that threat.

KUMAR: Exactly right. And that`s actually one of the reasons at the same time why McCarthy is saying that he doesn`t want to push for DACA. McCarthy lives in California in the central valley. It`s actually something that most of the Republicans, his constituency would want him to actually present the DACA bill. But instead, he is actually -- he has set his heights on something higher, and that is the speakership. And that is why he is trying to pull it back. And he is making literally the lives of close to 1.2 million people political. And that`s a part and obscene, unfortunately. But at the same time, Ari, when you hear the President talk about these -- basically try to categorize a whole people as animals --

MELBER: Well, he sees it was just the gang members.

KUMAR: Well, let`s think about that, right? So when you start actually classifying anybody as less than without people being guilty, when you are increasingly living under a government that likes to racially profile people simply by how they look, that obviously gives agency to anybody to actually start racially profiling folks.

In fact, if you do actually provide some sort of protection, when you actually provide some sort of protection for undocumented immigrants that don`t have to have a dotted line between law enforcement and ICE, they can come out and basically talk about MS-13. They can actually report crime.

But this is the complete opposite. And what he is trying to do is not only a slippery slope, it`s dangerous. Because all of a sudden you put literally a target on anybody that looks brown, that does not look, or maybe speaks with an accent that does not like what your typical American would look like.

And that is what he is doing. Because at the end of the day, he and McCarthy both understand that the best way to gin up the base for the midterm election that might their only shot is actually doing a defunct immigration reform that no one has any interest in actually passing.

MELBER: John, Tie it in with the lame duckness and Paul Ryan going MIA tomorrow. So he is having trouble with the immigration bill. He is skipping the meeting tomorrow. I don`t know how much (INAUDIBLE) what to do where they say, we aren`t going out like that but he is going out like that. You are going out with a real whimper.

KUMAR: Oh, man.

ALLEN: Yes. Stick on some shades and roll back the convertible and drive one out of town to Janesville pretty soon.

MELBER: So you think this is made out of weakness basically?


ALLEN: This is all headache to him. He wanted to get out of here.

KUMAR: Right. But that is the thing is that at the end of the day, he is going to be a fat lobbyist. He is going to be completely fine. But the people that he is leaving in his wake are not going to be. And that`s a lack of leadership.

MELBER: John Allen and Maria Teresa Kumar, thank you both.

Our LAST WORD is next.



CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Bob Mueller himself is not a partisan. He is an honest guy. He is a hard-working guy. He is smart. And you can`t argue that the investigation hasn`t been effective so far. Had a number of guilty pleas, a couple of indictments in a year. That`s pretty good work.


MELBER: Tonight`s LAST WORD is honorable. You heard Trump ally Chris Christie there describing Mueller as honest, hardworking and smart earlier this week. Tonight, we have this Trump ally describing him as honorable.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think Mueller should be fired?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not think Mueller should be fired. Bob Mueller is an honorable guy, you know. He is a combat marine. He is somebody who served his country.


MELBER: There it is. Tonight`s LAST WORD.

And I invite you to join me weeknights on my new show THE BEAT 6:00 p.m. eastern. Tomorrow, I have Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti. And Friday, a very special guest, former American editor of "Vogue" magazine Andre Leon Talley. It should be fun.

Coming up, though, a lot more on the news that broke first here on MSNBC in Rachel`s hour that DOJ will hold these two meetings tomorrow after Trump`s claim about the investigations into his campaign.



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