tv All In With Chris Hayes MSNBC May 11, 2017 12:00am-1:01am PDT
the public opinion of her father, and it's eroding. she is the one that will have to approach him with his impeachable moment. >> his name is richard burr. >> two former members of congress and one woman with enough sense to have never run. thank you all very much. i'm sorry. our time was short tonight. we had a ton of news breaking on our watch. a reminder lester holt sits down with president trump tomorrow. we will have that for you tomorrow night. tonight on "all in." >> why did you fire director comey? >> because he wasn't doing a good job very simply. >> james comey was asking for more resources to investigate the trump campaign in the days before he was fired. >> the president, over the last several months, lost confidence in director comey. >> tonight, beyond the white house spin, what we now know about why comey was fired as the
president hosts the russians in the white house. then, democrats fight back. but will republicans ever break with their president? >> if there was ever a time when circumstances warranted a special prosecutor, it is right now. plus, exclusive new reporting on donald trump's 2016 tax filing. anma sha guessen on the comey firing as a shock event for american democracy. >> from this day forward, it's going to be only america first. >> when "all in" starts right now. good evening from new york. i'm chris hayes. just over 24 hours ago, the president fired fbi director james comey, the man overseeing the bureau's investigation into possible collusion between russia and the president's own campaign. he did that only days after
comey had requested more money and staff to pursue that very investigation. that was revealed today first by "the new york times," later confirmed by nbc news. but according to the white house, comey's firing had nothing to do with his recent request for resources. over the past 24 hours, the white house has offered a series of evolving contradictory explanations for what happened, none of which seem believable to anyone who isn't politically allied with the president. first the white house wanted us to believe this president was upset because hillary clinton received unfair treatment. he said comey's firing is all about his actions at the end of the clinton e-mail investigation starting more than ten months ago. but today the president himself said it had to do with comey's more recent conduct in office. >> thank you very much for being here. appreciate it. >> mr. president, why did you fire director comey? >> because he wasn't doing a good job very simply. he was not doing a good job. >> he was not doing a good job. initially the white house said the decision originated with deputy attorney general rod rosenstein, who wrote the memo condemning comey's handling of the clinton probe.
they pointed to the fact that rosenstein just took offices a couple weeks ago to explain the timing. but today deputy press -- considered firing as far back as inauguration day. of course none of that came up in the president's own termination letter to comey. instead he tipped his hand by bringing up the russia investigation. quote, while i greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that i am not under investigation, i nevertheless concur with the judgment of the department of justice you are not able to effectively lead the bureau. meanwhile, with washington still reeling from the shock announcement last night, the president took the extraordinary step of meeting this morning with the russian foreign minister, sergey lavrov, and the ambassador to the u.s., sergey kislyak, the man at the center of a series of scandals involving trump associates, including michael flynn. much more on that coming up. on capitol hill, a majority of republican lawmakers appear to
back the president's decision to fire comey while democrats calling for a special prosecutor to take over the russia investigation are taking steps to gum up the works in congress until that happens. but the work of the senate intelligence committee continues. the committee just issued its first subpoena since the 9/11 era, requesting documents from former national security adviser michael flynn, who refused to a volume request. i'm join by olivia nuncy, phillip rucker and michael schmidt. this is a pattern of course that the white house tells a story and then a day later we get the sources the white house completely contradicting the official line. i think, olivia, there's widespread consensus even now ennating from the white house, that this did not originate from rod rosenstein's determination that comey mishandled the e-mail investigation, which was always preposterously pretextual on its face. >> that goes against all the
credible reporting from "the washington post," "the new york times" from different applications about this issue. this came from trump according to nearly everyone who is not speaking in an official capacity for the white house right now. this is the white house's main problem. they have no credibility. you know, they started out this administration lying repeatedly, and they're still lying repeatedly to this day. there's no reason sarah huckabee sanders got up there today and said that we just should ignore what sean spicer said last week about the president having full confidence in comey. then how are we supposed to take her statement seriously today? they have no credibility, and this is going to continue to be a problem for them. >> michael, "the new york times" ran a piece by glenn thrush and maggie haberman that says that, again, the president was angry about the testimony. let's keep in mind the testimony last wednesday, which is now in the official white house timeline they've given on background was testimony in which james comey talked about the clinton matter but also reconfirmed he is investigating the president's campaign, and it's somewhat remarkable they're now admitting that was part of this. >> in comey's testimony, he
actually gave a few clues about the investigation. he mentioned a u.s. attorney's office that was involved, and, you know, he gave a few other small things just about -- you know, around the sides. but he didn't really get into much. but what that may have signaled to the white house was the seriousness of the fbi investigation. what our reporting shows is that comey had approached the department of justice just days before he was fired to say that he needed more resources and he needed more prosecutors to move forward with the investigation. and comey would not have done that if the investigation wasn't serious. he wouldn't have gone to congress in march and made the statement publicly that he did about the fact that they were investigating trump if there really wasn't a there there. so i could see where they would be very concerned about those signals. >> let's just say that if we put aside the white house rationale conflicting as it is and we look at the russia investigation, our
own pete williams, multiple fbi insiders say they believe james comey was fired because he would not end the russia investigation. jake tapper saying that comey never provided trump with assurance of loyalty and the fbi's russia probe was accelerating. philip, does the white house understand how this looks? >> they did not understand how it would look initially and actually were caught off guard by the response -- >> do you really believe that? >> well, they were surprised by how explosive this would be. i don't know how you could make that calculation, but that's what they say. they did not have a strategy to deal with it right away, but they feel like they're trying to catch their footing right now. but there's one other reason why the president was so upset with jim comey based on some reporting that my colleagues here have done, and it's that comey was resisting pressure from the white house and president trump to focus more on the investigation into leaks to journalists, and not only leaks of classified information but leaks of information about sort of disagreements within the administration and all sorts of anonymous details that have been emerging in the press the last few months.
he was not as focused on that as the president would have liked and instead was focused more on the russia probe. >> olivia, it seems to me that the latest news today is that you've got a subpoena issued for michael flynn. you've got "the daily beast" reporting that trump's lawyers have to keep repeatedly telling him not to contact flynn. this is -- i'm sorry. you're at new york magazine now. this is a remarkable sort of development if you just look at the flynn subpoena in and of itself and signals that there's nowhere to go here but forward on this. >> right. i think donald trump did not like the way that things were proceeding, and he wanted to put a stop to it. this is the most trump thing that has ever happened since he took office basically. and it really does have trump written all over it. it's very difficult to believe their news story that this was not his idea. >> michael, this is a quote from ken dilanian, my colleague, from someone in intelligence. it's former senior intelligence official. the way this was done i think
was done to send a message to the fbi agents left behind. it's not that they removed him. it's they did it in the thuggish and most humiliating way possible. instant execution. the bodyguard delivers the letter to headquarters. i think thats with designed to send a message. cut this stuff out, or this will happen to you. this is like a horse head in the bed. what do other politicians and other folks inside doj do with this? >> well, the thing about what they did yesterday is that comey was actually out in los angeles speaking to a group of his own employees when he saw on a television screen in the background that he had been fired. he thought it was a prank, and he kept on talking. it was only after his aides came up to him did he stop. and that has been very demoralizing at the fbi. but if you look back at the fbi's history, the investigators that are on the ground try and move forward and do what they can and try and build a case. and it's not like jim comey was out there doing interviews and writing reports every day for this investigation. the folks that were working on
it will continue to do that, and the only thing that would obstruct them is if someone at the justice department told them to stop. >> philip, quickly, do you think they're eyeing a trump loyalist for the comey position as director of fbi because if so, i feel like that will inaugurate the equivalent of a nuclear war on capitol hill. >> you're certainly right about the fallout that that would cause. but they're looking actually first at an interim person that could come in any moment now, literally could be tomorrow. and i think they're looking for someone like a neil gorsuch. that's what i'm hearing from sources, someone who is independent, whose integrity is strong, and who could not be challenged immediately. but that's not to say they won't try to find a loyalist to trump to take the position permanently. >> well, maybe justice gorsuch can do double duty. olivia, philip, and michael, thank you for being here tonight. i'm joined by senator cory booker, democrat from new jersey. senator, do you feel you understand why the president fired jim comey? >> i mean i don't. there's a lot of speculation as to that right now.
i think my biggest worry comes back to what should be worrying all americans, is that we have had an attack on our country by a foreign power trying to undermine an essential part of our democracy, our electoral process. an investigation was ongoing by comey, which happened to involve ongoing criminal investigations to trump associates in his campaign. and the president has just moved to fire the person that was investigating his associates. so this is a very problematic reality dealing with a grave threat to our democracy. my biggest concern right now is that we have an independent investigation into this crisis. >> so independent investigation. there's two different routes here, and democrats don't seem to have arrived at consensus. one would be a special prosecutor or special counsel appointed in doj. the other is an independent investigation, independent commission. that would need to be approved by congress, both houses, and that seems unlikely, doesn't it? >> yeah. look, i sat with my democratic colleagues in the senate, and
there seems to be resounding consensus in a special prosecutor. and that decision right now seems to lie within rosenstein. i pulled the department of justice regulations today. they talk specifically about when there is a conflict of interest present -- and, again, clearly an administration overseeing an investigation into the president of the united states associates, that's a conflict. we know it's a conflict because sessions himself recused himself, a key part of the trump campaign. so clearly we have the environment in which a special counsel, a special prosecutor, would be appointed. so the environment is there. so now it lies on this rosenstein, deputy attorney general, to make this decision. >> chuck schumer has said that he doesn't trust rosenstein, that rosenstein has shown himself essentially to be conflicted. he's calling for the highest serving career attorney at justice to make that determination. do you agree with that?
>> well, look, i was one of the six united states senators that voted against rosenstein specifically because of this concern i had, that if the moment came, my concern for voting against him was that i did not think he would be appointing a special counsel. i did not think he would do it. he was independent enough. so this is a moment in american history where i think a lot of people are going to be looking to in the months, years, decades to come. and this is what i call a paul revere moment. we have the russians are coming. in fact, the russians are here. it's not like the british armada. this is the russians are attacking our country, and they will come again. >> senator, you've used that word attack now twice. i just want to be clear here about it. i mean that implies war in some ways, and i want you to be clear about what you mean by that word. >> so it's not a kinetic attack. we're not seeing bombing happening here. but you have to understand and we're seeing this in eastern europe. we saw this in france. what the russians are trying to do is to attack, undermine
through cyber means the sanctity of a democracy, which is the electoral process. western democracy, our democracy relies upon fair elections, free and fair elections. so the russians, who can't beat us tank for tank, they can't beat us warship for warship, what they are doing is trying to use cyber attacks on this country. we need to know what happened. so this has profound implications. this is not a partisan issue. this is not a right or left issue. right now it was the democratic party, but the next election it could clearly be anyone. we need to get to the bottom of what the nature of this cyber attack is, who was involved, and make sure that we hold people accountable and make sure it does not happen again. >> finally, you mentioned jeff sessions' recusal. he said i've decided to recuse myself from any existing or further investigations of any matters related in any way to campaigns for the president of the united states. this is a man you testified against at his confirmation hearing. did he violate his own recusal
in urging the firing of comey? >> it is my belief that he should have not been involved in any way in the firing of comey, especially as it relates to comey's work. clearly comey was in the midst of an investigation, getting criminal subpoenas, asking for more resources, letting people know that this was an ongoing, robust investigation. so for sessions to involve himself in any way in the removal, which is very unprecedented except for one other occasion for attorney general, and that was a much more significant investigation at that point. for him to involve himself in this, to me, is unacceptable and further taints this whole process, further highlighting the need for us to have an independent special counsel or prosecutor investigating this. that's the only way to restore public confidence to our institutions, to the investigation, and ultimately, i believe, to get to the bottom of something very, very serious, which is a foreign country trying to undermine the foundations of our democracy. >> senator cory booker, thanks for being here.
>> thank you very much. coming up, a day after firing the man leading an investigation into possible collusion between the trump campaign and russia, president trump hosts russians in the white house. even putin himself weighing in today. the unbelievable scene in the oval office after this two-minute break. the show's about to start! how do i look?
they give awards for being hot and 100 years old? we'll take 2! [ laughing ] xfinity x1 gives you exclusive access to the best of the billboard music awards just by using your voice. the billboard music awards. sunday, may 21st eight seven central only on abc. if you're the president of the united states and you just fired your fbi director while he was leading the investigation into your campaign for potentially colluding with russia, and after you had just asked for more resources to conduct that investigation, what would you do the very next day? if you're donald trump, you meet in the oval office with russia's top diplomat, foreign minute store sergey lavrov, a man who standing next to secretary of state rex tillerson reacted with mockery when our own andrea mitchell asked about comey's firing earlier in the day. >> does the comey firing cast a shadow over your talks, gentlemen? >> you are kidding. you are kidding. >> along with lavrov, trump also
invited into the oval office the russian ambassador, sergey kislyak, whose name might be familiar. michael flynn was fired for lying about the nature of his repeated conversations with kislyak. sally yates said what he was doing in those conversations was problematic. jeff sessions had to recuse himself from the russian investigation after he did not disclose his meetings with kislyak, and jared kushner is facing questions from senate investigators over meetings he set up with kislyak. the only way we even knew kislyak was in the oef office was because of pictures taken by a russian photographer. the white house did not release any pictures. meanwhile in russia, vladimir putin on his way to play in an exinition hockey game told cbs news acted in accordance with his law and constitution. and on a day when trump's decision to fire comey is being called nixonian, trump held an oval office sit down with none other than henry kissinger, nixon's national security advisor and secretary of state.
joining me now, democratic senator amy klobuchar. does this all strike you as cope settic or strange? >> i had not put all those dots together, so thank you for doing that, including the nixon angle. but i just think that this, for me, at its core, is about our democracy. you know, a lot of countries around the world, maybe their identity is because of their religion, or they all share the same ethnic background. america is an ideal, and it's a democratic ideal. and this assault on our democracy by a foreign power is something that our founding fathers had been concerned about with great britain. here with are now, and this is all happening. whether it was clueless or not to do these meetings, which i actually think may have been a coincidence, i think the bigger problem here is he fired the acting attorney general, and
then he fired his fbi director, and we literally have no one to run this investigation right now. >> so there's very little leverage from a numerical standpoint that you have. there's 52 republican senators and there's a big majority in the house. we've seen democratic senators toy at the idea of essentially withholding unanimous consent which is needed to do just about anything in the senate and is normally granted. we are seeing ron wyden put hold on nominations while pursuing other investigate ory avenues. how much will democrats gum up the works, throw themselves in front of the wheels of the ordinary business of the senate, to get a special prosecutor? >> well, i think first of all, our first play here, and it's real, is to work with the republicans in the senate. we've had everyone from richard burr saying he was troubled by this, and he thought that criticizing the timing to john mccain, to jeff flake, criticizing this. so if there is any way they will
join us, and we're reaching out to them on this, that is what we want to do because this is from the beginning, with the involvement of mccain and graham, a bipartisan focus because right now it's about one party and one candidate in this last election. next time it will be another. that's the first thing. the second is the same with the fbi director, that it must be someone that garners a vast majority of senator support. the last thing you want -- and we will really push on this. you cannot have a 51 vote for this next fbi director. as someone who used to be in law enforcement as a former prosecutor, law enforcement prides itself on not being involved in this partisan politics. and these agents deserve someone that is not partisan. >> so to go back to the idea of sort of some bipartisan consensus here, and you're right that there are many members, republican members who have expressed some concern. mitch mcconnell this morning, sort of a remarkable scene. you were all there in the senate. >> i was there. >> everyone is there in the senate.
mitch mcconnell says very flatly we're not going to do any of this independent commission stuff. that's not going to happen, and then went to a methane vote that he lost actually. so mitch mcconnell controls that floor. even if you got senators on your side, you can't get around mitch mcconnell, can you? >> well, some of it depends on if there are enough republican senators that want to work with us on both getting this independent prosecutor, special prosecutor, and then i would add to it the independent commission which could come as a second stage where we want to prepare ourselves for this next election and get set rules of the game that we can all agree on in terms of having, you know, what the media does when they get stuff that's been cyber attacked by a foreign country, what do political campaigns do. i mean we're not far from the days -- i remember the days where someone would get some secret stuff from the other campaign for a debate that someone sent. they would just send it back. so we could get some agreements on this. we could do something to protect our democracy. so those are all areas where i think you could have agreement, but the fbi director is a glaring issue right now where we just will not allow someone who
is partisan to be running that agency. i think you're going to have a number of republicans say the same thing. >> senator, thank you for your time tonight. up next, has the president of the united states filed his taxes? we've been trying to get an answer to that very simple question for a couple weeks now. tonight we have an exclusive update right after this quick break.
stay out front with tempur-pedic. our proprietary material automatically adjusts to your weight, shape and temperature. so you sleep deeply, and wake up feeling powerful. find your exclusive retailer at tempurpedic.com each year around tax day it is customary for the white house to report that the president has filed his tax returns. for instance, last year on april 15th, the white house posted on its website the president and the first lady filed their
income tax returns jointly and stated their reported income. that was done regularly each year under president obama as was the practice under president george w. bush. this year tax day came and went without that announcement. so we asked the white house not if the president would release his tax returns but simply if he filed his taxes this year. the white house press office responded, saying this is a question for the president's tax lawyer, not for the white house despite the fact in the past the white house has handled this. but we reached out to sherry dylan. now, she's a partner at the law firm morgan lewis who has been trump's tax lawyer since 2005. you'll probably remember she spoke about trump's businesses and conflicts of interest at a press conference back in january. so we asked whether president trump had filed his tax returns this year or perhaps if he'd filed for an extension. a spokesperson for morgan lewis applied, we have no comment. okay. so both the white house and trump's personal tax lawyers are refusing to say whether the president filed his tax returns
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either house of congress. the real question here is how republicans are responding. while over 30 republicans have expressed some version of concern with comey's firing, a handful even calling for an independent investigation, the overwhelming majority of republicans on the record have remained neutral or flat out supportive of the president's actions. most importantly, perhaps, house speaker paul ryan, who tonight called the move, quote, presidential. and majority leader mitch mcconnell, who rejected calls for a special prosecutor. joining me now, republican congressman mo brooks of alabama. congressman, are you okay with all this? >> well, i'm a little bit puzzled as to why in the six months that barack obama had this, he did not fire comey going back to july 5th. and i understand why it might have taken three months because the federal government is really slow. but i do support president trump's decision. perhaps it should have been made earlier under president trump, just as it should have been made earlier under president obama.
so now the next step is where do we go from here? >> so you think that the reason for the firing was the way that james comey specifically handled hillary clinton's e-mail investigation as reflected in the memo by rod rosenstein? you think that's actually the reason? >> i'm not able to read the minds of attorney general jeff sessions or president donald trump or the others that may have been involved in this decision-making process. i'm in a position where i accept at face value that was written in the explanation was to why comey needed to be fired. if there's more evidence that surfaces that suggests that there was a different reason, then we need to examine that at the time that we get that information. but right now all we have are the correspondence by two people in the justice department, one is the attorney general, and the very brief statement by the white house, president trump, that a termination was occurring. >> so that if seems important,
right? what you're saying if someone were to say, congressman, here's evidence this was termination because of the investigation into the president campaign's possible collusion with russia, then you would find that improper or you would be open to finding that improper? >> well, i believe there was just cause for the termination of comey. i think the question is what do we do next? first and foremost, the president has a duty to appoint a successor that both political parties hold in high regard. we cannot continue to have this kind of poe litization of the fbi, and i think we need to wait and see who the president is going to nominate to fill that position. but it better be somebody that the democrats and the republicans both have confidence in. >> right. >> and it needs to be somebody who as best as possible in this
heated environment will eliminate the partisan politics that seems to have permeated the top of the fbi to some degree. if the president nominates somebody who does not fit that mold, then we have to start looking at whether it is appropriate to appoint a special investigator or prosecutor or whatever you want to call this person so that we can restore confidence in the investigation that you referenced. >> i want to say that you and aim klobuchar are on the same page on that but i want to come back to this question because i want to see if it's important to you in the sense that if indeed this was done to stymie an investigation into the president's campaign, would you view that as improper or does the reason not matter to you? >> no, that would be problematic. it would be troublesome, and it's the kind of information that would cause me to think that, again, the president has to go overboard in appointing someone as the new fbi director that the democrats are comfortable with so that we can put this issue behind us.
and failing that, we need to have this matter resolved by somebody who is impartial, and that's where congress may have to step in to appoint a special investigator or prosecutor as the case may be. but keep in mind, we're still lacking the kind of information that allows us to make an informed decision. >> congressman, thank you for your time tonight. >> thank you, chris. >> joining me now, bill crystal, jennifer rubin. i can't believe i'm talking to both of you guys. >> thanks, chris. >> it's great to see you. bill, you had a tweet today that you said interesting. a few gop senators now privately discussing what they can do beyond mere statements, eg withhold votes for trump nominees. i guess i want to say i don't believe it, but convince me that's true. >> i think these of course are the more skeptical of trump senator who's are tired of
expressing disappointment and saying maybe we need to do something. i thought the interview you just had with congressman brooks was interesting. he's a much more conventional congressman who's been supportive of trump and from a state and a district supportive of trump. when you cut through the sort of pro forma defense and the frankly ludicrous claim that he was fired because of the handling of the clinton investigation, once you cut through that, basically he comes down saying- think of that. a very partisan, conservative republican saying the fbi director has to have strong support from both parties. and if he doesn't, if trump nominates someone who doesn't have that support, then we need to have a special counsel. i thoughthat was sing. >> here's to me, just in an amoral sense, the political risk that i think republicans have that i don't think they're appreciating. they don't know what they're covering for. the facts of the matter remain unclear. maybe there's nothing there, and so going all in defending him is fine. but maybe not, in which case
they're massively exposed. >> this has been the problem all along. they've sort of been, as the congressman said, just taking on faith what they say. >> he used that phrase, yeah. >> a lot of experience we shouldn't be taking on faith what they say. frankly, the evidence is already before the congressman and everyone else that this wasn't the reason for the firing. if the congressman would be upset that he was fired to forestall the russian investigation, then perhaps he should consider all of the inconsistent statements, the white house's own timeline which lists comey's testimony. there's a lot of evidence already. so what these people are doing, pretending or suggesting that there's nothing here, it's not a big deal, seems remarkable to me. >> what's crazy about this, chris, is think of this from trump's own point of view, though. there's going to be -- the fbi will continue the investigation. there will be another fbi director, or there will be an acting director and a huge amount of scrutiny and pressure. and most people in the fbi want to maintain the reputation of
the bureau. this will not stop the investigation, simply firing comey. and it now heightens scrutiny, the pressure. in a way, he was much better off with a somewhat wounded or damaged jim comey, fairly or unfairly, someone democrats had some issues with as well as republicans, you know, trying to manage that rather than -- in that respect, and some republicans i talked to today, that was the other point they made. they don't know -- who knows as jennifer just said what really is underneath all this. but just from a sort of political point of view, are they so reckless and so thoughtless in the white house that either the president himself doesn't see this or his staff can't tell him, wait a second, sir. what you're about to do, maybe you're angry. you want to show who's boss and all this. but this is against your own interest. so that actually rattles -- politicians like to be reassured that the president is kind of acting in a somewhat reasonable or rational way, and i think they're now doubting that about trump. >> jennifer, mark salter, former mccain spokesperson, and this is someone we should say has been
quite an outspoken opponent of trump, says words i thought i'd never say. the security of the united states might now depend on electing a democratic congress in 2018, which is a striking thing to say. >> it is. and i think the issue he's getting at and i've made the point as well, is that republicans are faced with two possibilities. they can continue this mitch mcconnell sort of business as usual, simply lining up behind the president, playing partisan politics, and then they can lose the house at least very badly in 2018. and we know what the democrats will do when they have the house, which is probably start impeachment proceedings. so here's the choice, guys. begin a rational, reasonable, independent investigation. get to the bottom of this. stop taking the president on face value. do your work. act as an independent branch or be replaced and see him impeached anyway. that's really what we're talking about here.
>> bill, as a longtime critic of the putin government, i just wonder what are you -- the spectacle today at the white house, the pictures coming out from the russian news agency, nothing from anything released through us, lavrov sort of laughing about the whole thing. i mean what was your reaction to all of that? >> it's embarrassing. trump does seem to get along better with the representatives or presidents or foreign ministers of dictatorships. he loves president xi of china. he's yukking it up with the foreign minister of russia. actual democratic leaders who come over, he has kind of tense meetings with, you know? i'm afraid that does show something about his understanding of the world and the people he has a certain kinship with. it was embarrassing. for the president to give a foreign minister a meeting in the oval office is a little unusual. the foreign minister with secretary of state. presidents meets with presidents. the photos of him yukking it up with these two characters that
were involved in trying to subvert our democratic election. that's pretty -- that's bad. >> thanks for being here. still to come, a reporter is arrested for trying to ask hhs secretary tom price a question. that story ahead. plus just one other fbi director has ever been fired by a president. why in tonight's thing 1, thing 2 after this.
thing 1 tonight, the only time an fbi director has been fired was more than two decades ago. july 1993, bill clinton was president, and the fbi director was william sessions. >> in recent months, serious questions have been raised about the conduct and the leadership of the director of the fbi, william sessions. among other matters, the department's office of professional responsibility has issued a report on certain conduct by the director. i asked the attorney general, janet reno, to assess the director's tenure and the proper response to the turmoil now in the bureau.
after a thorough review by the attorney general of mr. sessions' leadership at the fbi, she has reported to me in no uncertain terms that he could no longer effectively lead the bureau and law enforcement community. i called director sessions a few moments ago and informed him that i was dismissing him effective immediately as the director of the fbi. >> director william sessions was appointed under president reagan but it was in the final year of president george h.w. bush's term that the justice department launched an internal ethics investigation into director sessions. the report found he avoided paying taxes and billed the department for personal expenses and travel. and despite that, there were still questions about the precedent that might be set and our own andrea mitchell was the first to ask. >> mr. president, do you think this will in any way create the impression that the fbi is being politicized and hurt the longstanding tradition that the fbi not be subject to political pressure?
president clinton fired fbi director william sessions in july 1993 following an ethics investigation that was launched under clinton's predecessor george h.w. bush. there were questions about political influence, and here's how president clinton responds. >> mr. president, do you think this will in any way create the impression that the fbi is being politicized and hurt the longstanding tradition that the fbi not be subject to political pressure? >> absolutely not. as a matter of fact, that's one of the reasons we have taken the amount of time that we have. the attorney general, when she took office, was asked by me to review this matter. both of aeed n e normal course of events, the director of the fbi should not be changed just because administrations change. even when, perhaps even especially when there's a change of political party in the white house. so the attorney general was very deliberate, very thorough in this. and i think has gone out of her way to avoid the appearance of
mr. speaker, are you comfortable with the firing of -- >> while touring a plant in ohio today, house speaker paul ryan did not answer shouted questions about comey's dismissal, which is a thing that happens all the time across this country, notin did not answer shouted questions. healthy secretary tom price walked down a hallway and something chilling occurred. a journalist was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of state government processes. he had followed state secretary price and his entourage down the hallway and repeatedly asked if domestic violence would be considered a precondition under the new healthcare bill. he was released on $5,000 bail. today, secretary price commended the police for doing what he
thought was appropriate. that gentleman was not in the press coverage. >> experts say the decline of democracy happens bit by bit and then all at once in what they refer to as a shock event. in light of the comey firing how healthy is democracy at this moment? i feel it every day. but at night, it's the last thing on my mind. for 10 years my tempur-pedic has adapted to my weight and shape,
bench and media and binding parts of civil society. he fired all people in a real concrete position to constrain him. of course, all people he had ability to fire. now the administration wants us to believe there is no there there. >> you want to question the time of when he fires, when he fires. it's inappropriate. he'll do it when he wants to. >> it's been stated repeatedly and the president has been told he's not under investigation. >> we'd love for that to be completed so we can all move on and focus on the things that frankly i think most of americans are concerned with. >> joining me, author of "man without a face" and vince. this idea the president has the authority to do this. james comey wrote a letter and said i long believed the president can fire the director for any reason or no reason at all, not even for cause. what's the big deal from your perspective as a lawyer?
>> the problem people need to recognize this is not a human resource issue, a constitutional concern. it is a the way you do it and circumstances surrounding it. it is more than unseemly to be repeatedly firing people in charge of investigating you. this is one of the hallmark questions. this is a constant battle in a democracy. this is not the first time it's been hard to push for investigation of executive wrongdoing, we think of police conduct in shootings, how hard is that to get? >> you want the fbi to have a certain amount of independence but not too much. j. edgar hoover one thing was you could not tell him what to do. that was a problem and in a balance respect, it's's like a sense.
you're nodding your head. >> you can't formalize it. a question of question and a question of norms. that's why we have so much trouble figuring out what trump is doing. at 100 day, people breathed a sigh of relief, he hasn't passed bad legislation or done that much damage. the damage he's doing to political culture and the way politics is conducted is difficult to quantify and then we are hit with an event like comey and see how it works. >> part of this is the cynicism. something you've written about i found persuasive. the pretextural reason they offered was almost aggressively preposterous. the rosenstein memo was he provided derogatory information about hillary clinton that his campaign gleefully ran with.
it's an insult to some level. there's something just toxic, insidious about that. >> it's using the tools of democracy in bad faith. democracy is absolutely helpless against somebody who does that. >> is it helpless? don't we have strong institutions in courts? the muslim ban was a shock event and the courts constrained him in a way you want them to constrain him. >> we have institutions with checks and balances. what happens when those institutions historically are used to oppressor people and you have a person like donald trump that comes in and tries to destroy those institutions. we're in an interesting position. on the one hand we have to recognize the fbi has done terrible things with muslim communities, black communities, back before there was a -- before the current period. >> literally founded in the --
>> at the same time, at least an example and symbol what independent prosecution of a check on authority can look like if -- >> that's the thing. there's always a plausible, a sort of cover story anyone can offer in any given moment when attacking institutions of their base one of the lessons i've learned from your writing. >> the story is actually a problem, right? we expect politics to be done in a narrative way, expect things to be part of policy. autocrats don't necessarily govern that way. autocrats rule by gesture. it's showing who's in charge and his ultimate, his grand gesture is you're fired. suddenly, he says, you're fired to james comey and all of a sudden everything is thrown into disarray and we're once reminded who is in charge. >> thanks very much for making time tonight.
that is all in for this evening. "the 11th hour" with brian williams starts right now. tonight why was james koenly fired and why now and how long was this in a works? new reporting that west wing at this hour. plus mike flynn subpoenaed after refusing to hand over documents related to russia. speaking of which the two sergeys, the russians who visited the oval office photographed only by russian media, that was before nixon's secretary of state stopped by. and that's the optics we're dealing with as "the 11th hour" good gins. and good evening once again from our headquarters in new york. this was day 111 for the trump administration. where does the time go? the day after the president fired the head of the fbi and while fighting off comparisons