tv All In With Chris Hayes MSNBC May 21, 2019 12:00am-1:00am PDT
heroic. who are you? because democracy is at stake. >> jeff daniels with nicolle wallace from earlier today to end our broadcast on a monday night as we start a new week. thank you for being here with us. good night from nbc news headquarters here in new york. tonight on "all in" -- >> it's called presidential harassment. >> the president loses big in court. >> we disagree with that ruling. >> as he tries to block his former white house counsel from testifying tomorrow. >> don mcgahn is a really good guy. >> and a top democrat finally goes there on impeachment. >> if don mcgahn doesn't testify, it is time to open an impeachment inquiry. >> tonight the massive stakes over the don mcgahn fight. the implications of the new sweeping repudiation of trump's claim that congress cannot investigate him. and now bipartisan calls for impeaching the president, and the new reporting that trump's current lawyer instructed his former lawyer to lie to congress. >> i am done with the lying.
>> when "all in" starts right now. good evening from new york. i'm chris hayes. tonight for the very first time a federal judge has ruled on a key question in the escalating battle between the president and a congress that is attempting to investigate him. the ruling is not good for donald trump at all. you might remember earlier this month the president challenged a house oversight committee subpoena to his accounting firm for financial records relating to the president. his lawyers tried the fairly audacious argument before the judge that congress basically almost has no power to investigate the president. well, today in an expedited ruling, a federal judge laughed their argument out of court, saying, quote, it is simply not fathomable that a constitution that grants congress the power to remove a president for reasons including criminal behavior would deny congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct, past or present, even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry. in other words, no, too bad, you
have to comply with the subpoenas, congress has the power to do this. that's one thing that's happening in the battles between the white house and congress. meanwhile, the trump administration is so utterly desperate to prevent former white house counsel don mcgahn from testifying before congress tomorrow, which is on the schedule as far as we know, they have now issued a legal argument from the department of justice saying congress cannot compel him to testify. tonight mcgahn's attorney told the house he will defer to trump until an agreement is reached with the white house. now, don mcgahn matters quite a bit here because he spent, as you might remember, 30 full hours detailing to robert mueller trump's repeated attempts to shut down and subvert the investigation. trump does not want mcgahn to come before the committee and say everything that's in the mueller report that almost nobody has read. if don mcgahn does that and says what he told mueller, it will look terrible because the president pretty clearly and did obstruct justice. mcgahn is a credible witness
with no motivation to lie. he decided to quit because he did not participate in events that he thought was akin to the saturday night office. he packed up his office, prepared to submit a rez lags letter. said the president had asked him to do crazy expletive and told priebus and bannon he was leaving. all of this comes with the house committee intelligence testimony voting tonight to release michael cohen's testimony from earlier this week. as "the washington post" first reported, cohen told the committee that jay sekulow, the president's personal attorney, instructed him to lie to congress about trump's negotiations to build a trump tower in moscow. lawyers for sec low said that this or any committee would rely on the word of michael cohen much less try to pierce the attorney/client privilege and
discover confidential communications of four respected lawyers defies logic, well established law and common sense. it is pushing democrats to a tougher position. you can watch it happen in realtime. here is congressman david cicilline, who's a member of the democratic leadership, just a little while ago. >> now they're making this really broad claim that essentially says the president and his team are immune from ever coming before congress. that's legally incorrect and certainly a court will ultimately have to decide that. but i think let me be clear, if don mcgahn doesn't testify, it is time to open an impeachment inquiry. >> let me make sure i heard you correctly there. if mcgahn does not show up tomorrow before your committee, you say it is time for democrats to begin an impeachment proceeding? >> an impeachment inquiry, absolutely. we are really left with no other choice.
>> more on that escalating showdown, i'm joined by chuck rosenberg, a former u.s. attorney and served as chief of staff under then director james comey. he has a new podcast out called "the oath." i'm also joined by harry litman, former u.s. attorney and assistant attorney general. we've got 30 channels of news on this as we get the showdown between the president and congress. i want to start on the first and in some way the biggest, the judge's 41-page opinion saying to the president's argument that congress can't investigate you, no way, that this doesn't work. i'm not a lawyer, but it felt like a fairly scathing argument -- opinion. what did you think? >> yeah. so it's a complete slapdown, and it's not just -- this is the argument trump made to cummings but it's been made across the board. it's the same argument, for example, that mnuchin has made in resisting the tax subpoena. no legislative purpose. and of course it's the exact
opposite argument that the administration has made in other litigation where they said you have to defer to us, you have to trust us. what the district court said is same thing for congress. i'm not going to try to psych analyze them, there is a valid oversight purpose here, that's all we need to know, end of story, and forget any kind of second guessing, the subpoena stands. >> chuck, this federal court decision, it's the first of what i think we're going to see a lot of things, a lot of battles being waged that are ultimately going to work towards appeals courts and prove to be an extremely high-stakes question before the court about what congress can and cannot do here. >> that's absolutely right. and harry is right in his analysis. what the court said is i, the judge, am not going to second guess whether or not congress has a legislative purpose. now, to your point, chris, it ain't over. it's going to be appealed.
an appellate court will have to weigh in. in fact we may have several different courts in several different places weighing in on this as more and more people try to fight subpoenas, resist production. but in the end we're going to get an answer. that's what the courts are for, to give us an answer. whatever that answer is, folks on either side have to abide by it. >> so we've got this opinion from a federal judge, the first of i think several. this is going to continue to fight it out. now we've got don mcgahn. don mcgahn is supposed to come tomorrow. he no longer works at the white house. he's essentially now a private citizen. he has been called to testify. today the department of justice puts out a 15-page document basically saying no, he has to listen to the president. the president says he can't do it. how broad, how aggressive is this move by the white house, harry? >> so it's very aggressive, although it's not that much more aggressive than other white houses have done. but the real big move here is to say that it applies in the case of former officials. they cite no legal authority because no court has decided it with one exception.
a district court previously ruled against basically the identical argument in the harriet meyers case. that was then settled out on appeal. but this is a tough one. i think the previous argument is going to prevail across the board at the d.c. circuit. this is one whether or not there's a testimonial privilege that applies to former close advisers that likely will go all the way to the supreme court. >> yeah, so this is a closer issue, it seems, chuck, that's harry's point here. it's always been the case that the white house says, for instance, you can't call my current white house counsel before congress. that's fairly established. this question here, there's both procedural but to me the bigger thing is mcgahn. mcgahn is a key figure because of what we know he told mueller and what he saw and the desire not to have this guy basically saying what he knows in front of everyone. >> there's an irony here, chris, and you touched on it in your opening. almost everything we need to
know about what mcgahn knows is in the report. >> right. >> but so few people have read it, which i think is a shame that we now sort of feel like we need to hear from him. i get that. but i'm frustrated by it too because we already have access to this stuff. now, whether or not mcgahn actually ends up testifying once again will be decided by the courts. i think harry is right again. this is an aggressive posture, but it's not different than the posture, the position taken by almost every president in every white house for the last 50 years. the difference, of course, is that mcgahn is now former, not current, and that's an issue that will have to be resolved by the courts. >> and part of why i think mcgahn is so crucial here, harry, even from a narrative perspective, is we have reporting that he refused to counter -- to come out and support the president in statements after he left. we know that he essentially threatened to quit when the
president tried to fire mueller. he essentially saved trump's presidency i think when he did that. he is very different than michael cohen in terms of a credibility standpoint. >> yeah. i mean especially from a narrative perspective. chuck is right, of course, we do know this stuff. and in fact the white house opinion acknowledges that it's waived the actual material in the mueller report as opposed to other material, but there's just no substitute in the last few weeks and the apparent sort of shrugging shoulders shows it of having the guy in the lights actually saying those words. that's what the democrats so dearly wanting and what the white house so crucially opposes. >> chuck rosenberg and harry litman, thank you both. check out chuck's new podcast, "the oath." >> and the other podcast. >> democratic congressman roger morchi joins me now, he's a member of the committee that subpoenaed trump's financial records and interviewed michael cohen. the latest appears to show that
don mcgahn has said that he cannot appear because he's going to respect the president's claim to prevent him from testifying. what does that mean? >> well, it means that we have to enforce the subpoena. i think that it's clear that the president is obviously trying to obstruct this testimony just as he's trying to obstruct the presentation of financial records and i think in court we are probably going to win again because i think courts routinely uphold our constitutional system of checks and balances and the rights of congress to conduct oversight. >> yeah, you won a very big victory today pertaining to your committee and its subpoenas in which the judge said basically this is congress' constitutional prerogative. i'm not going to second guess unless they're doing something
wildly out of bounds and they have not done that. are you happy with that decision? >> yes. the fact that nobody is above the law, not even the president of the united states. the president actually sought to stay the order and the judge refused the stay. and so i think that at this point the committee intends to under the leadership of chairman cummings enforce the order once it becomes final in a few days and hopefully we'll have some financial records. >> i want to ask you about this new reporting about michael cohen's testimony before the house intelligence committee and what would it mean. before i get to that, a broader question here. here's my read on what's happening. democrats don't want to impeach the president generally or don't want to be seen getting out ahead of the facts. there's reticence there. the president is obstructing at every step and that is leading to more and more democrats growing frustrated with the current posture and moving towards starting an impeachment inquiry. is that a correct read of the
vector of movement right now? >> possibly. but there's been a difference of opinion on this impeachment issue for some time. however, one thing that i want to make very clear, chris, is the caucus is entirely unified on this issue of whether or not there should be checks and balances with regard to the president, whether we should be able to enforce the subpoena with regard to don mcgahn, whether or not we should be able to see the full unredraktd mueller report, whether we should see trump's tax records and the money laundering records from deutsche bank. all of these issues are ones where democrats are 100% united that we cannot allow the president to obstruct the people's oversight of the executive branch. >> there is reporting tonight that one of the items contained in the transcript that i think is about to be released, i don't know if it's out yet in its entirety, from the house intelligence committee's testimony they took from michael
cohen, that cohen says that jay sekulow told him to lie before congress. how big a deal is that? >> if that's true, that's a big deal. obviously, you know, mr. sekulow is a lawyer himself, and he has certain ethical constraints that he would obviously have violated if he counseled someone else to lie. but on top of that, he would potentially be suborning perjury and that's very serious. >> do you feel like you understand the entirety of the facts before us? and i ask this because you just mentioned a whole bunch of things the caucus is unified about not letting them obscure, obstruct, deny things. just the public facts as they already exist in daylight, do you, congressman, feel like you have a synthesized version and you could sit down with a skpit constituent and give them a 60-second version? >> i might give them the cliff notes but there are a lot of unanswered questions. one very broad area of inquiry that none of us have answers on,
which is there are 14 ongoing matters that were referred by special counsel mueller to other jurisdictions. i think 11 of them were completely redacted within the mueller report. and so there might be all kinds of other wrongdoing that is being investigated currently. >> right. >> that we have no knowledge of. we don't know the subject matter nor do we know the targets. this is very important. and from an oversight standpoint, we must know what those matters are about. one other issue which is the subject of great inquiry around here is the counterintelligence information contained within the special counsel's investigation. we still haven't received those findings, despite the fact that chairman schiff and ranking member nunes in a joint bipartisan manner requested this information. we must have that information so that we can protect our national security. >> all right, congressman, thank you very much. >> thank you.
the congressional call to impeach donald trump is now officially bipartisan. the president and his allies are flipping out and trying to fight back. the new phase of that battle, next. (danny) let me get this straight. after a long day of hard work... ...you have to do more work? every day you're nearly fried to a crisp, professionally! can someone turn on the ac?! no? oh right... ...'cause there isn't any. here- (vo) automatically sort your expenses and save over 40 hours a month.
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let's roll! now that's simple, easy, awesome. xfinity xfi gives you the speed, coverage and control you need. manage your wifi network from anywhere when you download the xfi app today. let me be clear. if don mcgahn doesn't testify, it is time to open an impeachment inquiry. the president has engaged in an ongoing effort to impede our ability to find the truth. >> congressman david cicilline, a member of democratic leadership, raising the stakes of the showdown between the president and congress, threatening to open impeachment proceedings, an inquiry formally, if former white house counsel don mcgahn defies a subpoena to testify tomorrow, which it now looks like he's going to do.
now, that comes as call for impeachment has officially gone bipartisan over the weekend. congressman justin amash of michigan became the first republican to join in after completing his own review of the mueller report. he explained his thinking in a long twitter thread over the weekend and it is worth taking the time to read through that whole thing. amash's principal conclusions were that one, attorney general barr has deliberately misrepresented the report. two, president trump has engaged in impeachable conduct. three, partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances and, four, few members of congress have read the report. he said contrary to barr's portrayal, mueller's report reveals that president trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment. now, he is a libertarian that's broken from his party and the president before but he still has a 100% from a tea party group. he's not doing any interviews
and isn't trying to get anything out of his new public stance. amash appears to have simply read the report and come to a conclusion reached by a former 1,000 prosecutors who also read it, that the president of united states obstructed justice and violated his oath of office. for more on amash's call for impeachment, i'm joined by a resident scholar from the american enterprise institute, author of "one nation after trump." norm, the reaction here is notable to me. you can make the argument that amash has been an independent thinker, broken with the party in the past. the reaction from kevin mccarthy and the president on down is they seem pretty freaked out by it. >> no question they're freaked out and trying to portray him as some kind of kook and not one of them. and it's right, chris, that he has been an outlier in a lot of ways. he first came across my radar screen right after he came to congress. he would cast votes, including some that were present instead of aye or nay and then go on
facebook and other social media to deeply explain why he voted the way he did to his constituents. and it was smart and in depth. he's a pure libertarian, but he is a smart guy who takes his oath of office seriously. most of his colleagues on the republican side have not. >> this is kevin mccarthy, clearly the word went out to nuke the guy. this is kevin mccarthy on tv doing just that. take a listen. >> he votes more with nancy pelosi than he ever votes with me. it's a question whether he's even in our republican conference as a whole. what he wants is attention in this process. he's not a criminal attorney. he's never met mueller. he's never met barr. >> that's false. but the attention thing is fascinating. what's so striking about what he's doing is there's no
political upside to the guy. he has a republican challenger. >> immediate. >> who's going to primary him. there's no upside. a long twitter feed saying i think the president should be impeached. obviously he felt moved to say this. >> it was interesting because when you have the committee that interviewed michael cohen, virtually every republican attacked cohen. justin amash tried to dig in and find out what he knew and when he knew it. took his responsibility seriously. and he's the only one who has. he's done this on twitter and different places before. but you're absolutely right, the idea that this is some liberal and somebody who's just out to get attention to further his own career is frankly bizarre and it shows the degree to which, as you said, republicans are freaked out because this is a card-carrying republican. even if he is a pretty pure
libertarian, who has followed the conclusions, read the report and taken it to where it belongs, which is obstruction of justice. as he indicated in his twitter feed, very real logic and depth that you don't have to have a criminal offense to meet the threshold for high crimes and misdemeanors. it's very, very powerful. >> very interesting response from house speaker nancy pelosi tonight when i asked about this. justin amash is now out past her, right? he is officially on the record that the president has committed impeachable offenses. this is what she says about what he says at the bipartisanship. take a listen. >> it's one person speaking out when so many republicans have remained silent, not honoring their oath of office to protect and defend the constitution of the united states. >> is this the bipartisanship you're looking for for impeachment proceedings? >> no. i said bipartisan is necessary in the senate.
>> what do you think of that? >> pelosi is trying in a pragmatic way to say if we push forward with this, he's not going to be removed from office and there may be enough of a blowback that it will enhance his chances of winning re-election and downplay the democratic agenda. but an increasing number of her own members are moving out in a different direction. it's going to be very hard to strike a different balance. frankly now that it is bipartisan, it's going to make it more difficult, along with mcgahn's refusal to testify, not to move forward in some fashion with at least a formal inquiry. i must say at least her point about the senate, watching mitt romney dance around this and refuse to make the kind of commitment that amash has made is a little embarrassing too. >> all right, norm ornstein, thank you very much. if trump's former lawyer is a no-show, at least one member of the judiciary committee says it's time to begin impeachment
mcgahn not appear before the house committee tomorrow. joining me now a member of that committee. your reaction to this announced intention on the part of don mcgahn not to come? >> well, i mean we were waiting for something like this to happen because the white house has been stalling and obstructing every step of the way. it's ongoing obstruction. don mcgahn was ready to come. his letter to us says, you know, i've got these competing things, i'm going to go with the white house. if you read the olc opinion that the white house sent in saying that they were exerting essentially immunity across the board for senior presidential advisers to not testify, that was most recently tested in 2007 under george w. bush with harriet meyers. >> yep. >> i pulled out the quote, chris, that the district court judge said. here's what he said. he said the executive cannot identify a single judicial
opinion that recognizes absolute immunity for senior presidential advisers in this or any other context. that simple yet critical fact has been repeating -- bears repeating. the asserted absolute immunity claim here is entirely unsupported by existing case law. so, in other words, this memo makes no sense, it is obviously a ploy just to continue the obstruction and it's unfortunate that don mcgahn chose to listen to that. i think we had a lot of good questions for don mcgahn to get onto the table around what he heard, specific instances where he heard the president obstruct justice. >> why is mcgahn key from your perspective? >> well, i think he's key because he was actually there. his chief of staff, amy donaldson, her notes are also key. but he was actually there on a number of instances where the president tried to obstruct justice, around the firing of the special counsel, around
telling rod rosenstein, you know, some of the things he told him. four instances where the president tried to get don mcgahn, this was going to be my line of questioning, to actually say that he did not try to fire the special counsel and one of those was after the mueller report was released. one of the things i was thinking about is had don mcgahn come and testified before us, it wouldn't have just been about his role as a senior advisor to the president, it also would have been as a private citizen because the fourth time the president asked him to deny what was true was when he was a private citizen. >> your colleague on the committee, david cicilline, says, look, we should move towards a formal -- the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry in the house, in your committee should he not show up tomorrow. do you agree with that? >> i said yesterday that that's what i thought as well, if don mcgahn did not come to testify before us, because this is now just a pattern of obstruction,
ongoing obstruction, stonewalling, destruction of that very basic relationship between our co-equal branches of government. and so i think the only thing that we can do is to start that impeachment inquiry. i think we have to be very clear with the american people, this doesn't mean the president is going to get impeached tomorrow, it means we start a process of hearings to get more information and to decide what we have in front of us and whether or not it will precede in formal impeachment proceedings. i think the american public has to understand this doesn't mean he's going to be gone tomorrow, we're starting an inquiry. >> a final question on a piece of information before another committee but it bears on these in terms of questions of obstruction. questioning of michael cohen in which he asserts that jay sekulow, the president's attorney, told him to lie about trump tower moscow. is that a big deal to your mind? >> i think all of these instances where the president tells people to lie, that should
be a big deal to everybody. >> it's the president's attorney right now who is being accused of that. we don't know if the president was behind it. >> yeah. this is why we wanted to get all the underlying information so we could look at exactly what was said, how it was said. but of course if this turns out to be true, if there's other evidence that comes out that shows that the president actually directed jay sekulow to do this, then that would be a big problem. i think the reason you asked me earlier about don mcgahn, that's why this is so compelling. don mcgahn directly said the president told him to lie and he would not do it, and that is huge, i think. that's information that the american people need to see. >> all right, congresswoman, thank you for making time for me tonight. >> thank you, chris. if congress ultimately begins impeachment proceedings against president trump, today will be seen as a turning point,
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there is now one republican member of congress who is out in front of most prominent democratic politicians on whether the president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. republican congressman justin amash said he reached his conclusion by simply reading the publicly available mueller report, something he thinks a lot of people in congress haven't done. on the day now when the administration is once again fighting tooth and nail along a variety of different ways to block congressional inquiry, this time by directing former white house counsel don mcgahn to defy a subpoena, it calls into question whether more democrats will follow the republican lead in calling for congress to impeach donald trump. i'm joined by jennifer rubin and kurt bardella, a former spokesperson for the republican house committee on oversight. jennifer, for all of what you can say about justin amash, it just strikes me as significant
the adjective bipartisan calls for impeachment now exist in the world and cannot be unrung. >> correct. that he is a solitary figure is a sad commentary on the republicans. but it does say that this is no longer purely a partisan affair. and moreover, i think what he did, laying out the step-by-step analysis for why there is obstruction of justice is the most effective thing any member of congress has done to explain this to the american people. why the house democrats have been so incapable of breaking this down, i don't know, with charts or, you know, short phrases, i don't know. but he was able to do it in a thread on twitter. and for the life of me, i can't understand why they find it so difficult to tell the story, which is what they're really attempting to do by calling mcgahn, by calling barr and others. >> kurt, this is such an obvious
-- a question with such an obvious answer. you worked for darrelliza on the oversight committee when it had the majority. with this set of facts against president hillary clinton, would a republican house already be moving formally towards impeachment? >> absolutely, chris. i mean, again, it almost begs not even asking the question because there is no doubt -- >> i don't even think, by the way -- i wonder if you would get pushback from a lot of republicans on that. it just seems like an obvious thing. like the earth revolves around the sun. >> right. and this is the thing, chris. i watched for years as we issued more than 100 subpoenas to the obama administration. if the obama administration had done anything like the level of obstruction we're seeing from congressional republicans supporting this president and this administration, completely saying no to every piece of oversight this committee is trying to conduct, if that had happened during the obama years, they would have moved for impeachment as i watch jim jordan and mark meadows stand by and do nothing, as this president runs rough shade over
check and balances, the same that they exhaustively ad nauseam talked about to justify their vigilant necessary oversight of the obama administration, they're doing nothing now. the fact that justin amash is the only republican right now that's willing to read the report and draw a logical conclusion that other former u.s. attorneys have drawn the same conclusion, that the president obstructed justice, committed crimes, the fact that no one else is willing to do that underscores how soulless, bankrupt and hypocritical the republican party has become. >> why do you think, jennifer, that we saw the sort of going nuclear reaction from mccarthy, from house republicans and from the president on this? >> they cannot have one infidel so they have to make sure that they so intimidate every other member. this is not meant to harm amash, it's meant to send a signal to everybody else, which is you will politically die if you follow this guy.
therefore, we're going to come down like a ton of bricks on you. i think it is very revealing, frankly, about how nervous they are that people would actually start reading the report. it was very interesting, mitt romney went on sunday and said i have read the report and i don't see all of the elements of intent, i don't see all the elements. well, i wrote a piece today saying what do you mean? six of these categories of behavior have all of the elements according to mueller. what's your explanation? and his office really didn't have any explanation. someone thought of an excuse, and that's what the republicans are doing, coming up with one kind of silly, picayune excuse after another rather than saying in a bunch of instances there was intent, there was action, it was tied to a proceeding and that's what makes obstruction. it wasn't one incident, it was a whole bunch of them. by the way, with regard to mcgahn, understand what they are
doing. they are saying that the guy who came and testified to mueller, which is in a report, which is public, cannot come to congress and repeat that same testimony to congress. >> and you know what, my executive producer put it this way and i thought it was a very good line. they have the book but don't want it to be made into a movie. i think that's right, kurt. yeah, there's this 500-page report sitting there. that's not the way the thing will be communicated. people getting up and saying it in 20-second sound bites in the evening news is probably what they fear. >> well, there's no question about that. again, look at the impact that michael cohen's testimony before congress had, both in driving the president apoplectic but also the ruling today in district court where the court held and ruled that the oversight committee has a right to subpoenas the tax documents, michael cohen's testimony, the fact that he testified and said these things in front of congress is cited multiple times in the judge's decision. so extrapolate that to don mcdpan. there's a reason why they don't want mcgahn to do this.
as other battles are going to happen for sure in court, that is going to be used as reference to uphold oversight authority. >> jennifer rubin and kurt bardella, thank you for joining us. president trump is reportedly considering pardons for u.s. service members convicted or facing trial for war crimes. colonel lawrence wilkerson joins me on that, just ahead.
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1/2-year-old boy died last week. the trump administration has deflected any responsibility at every turn, attempting to blame desperate parents for their own children's fate. listen to kirstjen nielsen on the death of little jacqueline. >> my heart goes out to the family, all of dhs. you know, this is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey. this family chose to cross illegally. >> the family chose to cross illegally, so, well -- we still have no act accounting of what is happening in these facilities. there's also no real question about the culture of the cuss -- customs of the border patrol. they are largely responsible for processing thousands of desperate migrants fleeing violence and often turning
themselves in. more broadly there are questions about the management of the entire department of homeland security who has an acting head and is one of the members to survive a stephen miller purge on those viewed as too soft on immigrants, which is to say there is very much a humanitarian crisis at the border and the trump administration is exacerbating it day by deadly day.
this weekend we learned that donald trump appears to be moving towards granting pardons to u.s. service members who have either been convicted of or are facing trial for war crimes. "the new york times" reporting the trump administration had made expedited requests for paperwork to grant pardons on or around memorial day. any of those service members trump is moving toward pardoning have been championed on trump tv, including navy s.e.a.l. edward gallagher.
gallagher is accused of shooting and killing an unarmed elderly man and school age girl from a sniper's nest, firing machine guns into crowds of civilians and stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death and posing with the corpse. gallagher was first accused by his fellow s.e.a.l.s. who had grown so concerned they would not tell him his sniper rifle settings were off and would fire warning shots when he was around. his lawyer says he is being falsely accused by his former colleagues. among the other folks is a former contractor for blackwater named nicholas slatten. he was convicted of first-degree murder for his role in a mass shooting in iraq that killed 14 unarmed iraqi civilians. another involves a marine staff sergeant charged with urinating on the corpses of dead taliban
fighters, an act captured on video. the fact that we have learned that the trump administration is moving toward granting these pardons suggests that there are people inside the justice department or the pentagon who are deeply disturbed by the possibility of the pardons. joining me now, colonel lawrence wilkerson, former chief of staff to secretary of state colin powell. colonel, what message would pardons such as these send? >> i would be extremely disturbed if i were in the justice department or in the pentagon also. it takes me back to when donald rumsfeld under dick cheney's tutelage authorized the armed forces to engage in, along with the cia, torture. we got the photographs. this is like reaching into that prison where horrible things happened and grabbing the worst offenders and saying i think i'll pardon you. not only that, it's also interfering with the system, the legal system. but for the president to say these things before a trial actually occurs. but it's very disturbing of good order and discipline in the
military. it is the most heinous thing a president could do with respect to the uniform code of military justice, the legal system within the military, and with respect to that good order and discipline in the military. there will be people who will hate donald trump for doing this and they'll be wearing uniforms. >> on that last point, i think he views in his mind his mental model of this that he'll be greeted as a liberator, to use a phrase. obviously the u.s. military will love this and the pentagon will love this. my sense of what i know and the reporting i've ever done at the pentagon is that at the pentagon particularly, this would go over terribly. >> you're absolutely right. i mean everyone will be talking about the bone spur president. this is not something that will thrill the basic fundamental entourage in the pentagon. this is something that will appall them. this is something that will disturb them majorly, because as i said, it's hard enough to maintain good order and discipline, especially in combat.
but when you've got something going on like this from the highest levels of policy making, decision-making in the land, the president, the oval office, it's reprehensible. the military will see it that way. >> you know, i've wanted to talk to you for a while now as the conversation about iran has intensified. a kind of war of words, selective leaking of intelligence that purports to show increased iranian threats. you were in an administration where there was talk about the possibility of regime change in iran with john bolton, who was in that administration. what do you make of where we are right now with respect to iran? >> chris, one of two things is happening. the first possibility is that trump is using bolton as his front man, as his -- call him a rocket man, put pressure on rouhani, put maximum tension on tehran. trump's objective here strategically is to get talks and to get a better deal. that's what he's after.
that would take some cunning, some cleverness and even some strategic forethought, so not for a moment do i really believe that's what trump is doing. instead what i think is happening is underneath trump's basic inattention, it is john bolton and others like john bolton who are leading this administration with regard to its policy toward iran. i know what john bolton wants. he wants regime change. if that takes, and he's alied about muhammed bin salman, his buddy there, if that takes bombs dropping on tehran as a sort of start, that's what john bolton will get. trump's inattention to it will bring that about. i'm hoping, i'm hoping that bolton slips up here. he's not the smartest man in the world, as some people allege. i met him, i talked to him, i knew what he thought about war in north korea and so forth. i'm hoping he slips up and i hope trump winds up getting rid of him because he's getting a little bit too far out in front of the president right now. i'm hearing rumblings that trump
is not liking that. >> one of the things that bolton appears to be arguing is that there would be no need for any congressional authorization here. in fact they appear to have tried to lay a few predicates for using the aumf famously passed after the 9/11. >> pompeo has testified to the congress in an indirect way that he doesn't think any further authorization is necessary. i think i've heard a lot of powerful congressmen, and i hope they'll find some courage here, political and moral, and live up to this, say that isn't going to happen. tim kaine from virginia and a number of others have said that's not going to happen, not on our watch. the president is not going to use the 9/11 aumf to authorize action in iran. of course the president can go ahead and do it and that's just a marker down there for impeachment. >> how do you think the iranians, as someone who worked on this issue quite a bit and have thought through how these
international relations play out, how do you think the iranians are modeling what's happening here right now? >> i think the administration has made a real error here in thinking that rouhani and the rest are kim jong-un and his crowd. they're not. all kim jong-un wanted was a meet with the president of the united states. that gave him great status. these guys are not kim jong-un. we are steeling them right now, steel with two es. we are giving them resolution. the recent intelligence on iranian activity was a farce, because what it was reporting is iran's attempts to defend itself and its deployment of missiles and so forth to do so. understandable when the united states is threatening to send 120,000 troops to iraq tomorrow morning. this is very understandable. iran is not north korea. iran is not iraq. inner will fight and fight back and do so asymmetrically. so to interpret their movements as aggressive in the region was absolutely stupid. i understand why bolton would do it because bolton wants an
incident but it's stupid to be doing this. the iranians are not the iraqis. >> colonel, as always a great pleasure to have you on. thank you. >> thanks for having me. >> that is "all in" for this evening. "the 11th hour" with brian williams starts now. donald trump flies to pennsylvania tonight and rails against spying and treason. but the problems he left behind are substantial including the real threat now that his financial records must be handed over to congress so says a federal judge. michael cohen is back in the news tonight even while in prison because of an allegation that a trump lawyer instructed him to lie surrounding details of trump tower moskow. don mcgahn will not show up for testimony tomorrow because the house told him not to. as "the 11th hour" gets under way now on a busy monday night.