Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress. TRANSCRIPT: 1/17/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests:
Barbara McQuade, Emily Jane Fox, Sabrina Siddiqui, Tamara Keith, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Anthony Cormier, Philip Rucker
Transcript:

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  That is tonight’s “LAST WORD.” Our live

coverage of this important breaking news and possibly historic news

continues on “THE 11TH HOUR” with Brian Williams which starts now.

 

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, breaking news concerning the Russia

investigation.  A late report in BuzzFeed news that the President, himself,

told his personal attorney to lie to Congress about the Moscow tower

project.

 

Plus, with the government shutdown now nearly a month long, the President

grounds the Speaker of the House.  Critics from both parties say canceling

her trip to Afghanistan after she suggested he postpone the State of the

Union is petty, childish, and inappropriate.

 

And with officials now unsure how many thousands of children were ripped

from their families at the border, and with thousands of American families

now suffering in this shutdown, we try to make some sense of our current

State of the Union.

 

THE 11TH HOUR on a Thursday night starts now.

 

Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. 

Day 728 of the Trump administration.  And day 27 of the partial government

shutdown.  We’ll have much more on the longest shutdown ever in just a

moment, but we begin with some significant breaking news coming from

BuzzFeed News within the past hour or so.

 

BuzzFeed News posted a story that says “President Trump Directed Michael

Cohen to Lie to Congress.”  “President Donald Trump directed his longtime

attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a

Trump Tower in Moscow.  According to two federal law enforcement officials

involved in an investigation of the matter.”  Trump also support add plan

set up by Cohen to visit Russia during the presidential campaign in order

to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower

negotiations.  Make it happen the sources said Trump told Cohen.  And even

as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources

said Trump and his children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., received regular

detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen whom they put

in charge of the project.”

 

We’ll have more with our panel in just a moment.  But first I’m joined by

one of the two reporters on this story, Anthony Cormier, investigative

reporter with BuzzFeed News.  Anthony, some very strong reporting here by

you and your colleagues.  Tell me where you – how you came about this

information and what you’ve learned tonight.

 

ANTHONY CORMIER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS:  So we spoke with

two federal law enforcement officials who are read (ph) into the sort inner

workers of the Trump Tower Moscow investigation.  And they relayed this

story to us as it emerged in the last couple weeks that Michael Cohen was

directed by the President of the United States to lie to Congress.  They’re

not – they’re not basing this on, solely on Michael Cohen’s statement to

the office of special counsel, but they are basing it on reams of

documentary evidence and witness interviews that preceded Michael Cohen

sitting down with Mr. Mueller.  When Michael walked in and spoke to

Mueller’s team, he then sort of put that investigation over the top.  He

put the cherry on top.  I think said, look yes, because I think this is

true, this is how it went down.

 

VELSHI:  Its incredible reporting.  We haven’t obviously been able to

confirm this, ourselves, at NBC.  So we’re relying on your reporting, but

it is truly some incredible things in here.  Including the detail and

frequency, Anthony, with which it appears that Donald Trump and/or Ivanka

Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were, in fact, briefed and the degree to which

Donald Trump was involved in this, despite simultaneously denying during

the campaign and subsequently that he had meaningful dealings with Russia.

 

CORMIER:  Right.  He said, saying again, on the campaign trail that he has

no business with Russia, nothing to see here, when, in fact, behind the

scenes, he was encouraging Mr. Cohen to set up a meeting overseas in Russia

with Vladimir Putin.  He was encouraging him to pursue the deal and he was

made aware of sort of granular details about the project.  What it would

look like, where it would be, what the land – how they were going to

acquire the land.  So he was – he was definitely read in to this project

to the extent that he has not admitted on the campaign trail.

 

VELSHI:  And of course, for anybody who understands the relationship

between Donald Trump and his children, particularly the business

relationship, the detail in your story discusses the extent to which Donald

Trump’s kids were involved in this thing, to the extent that Ivanka Trump

was involved in picking an architect, she was going to run the spa at this

hotel.  She had disagreements with Michael Cohen about how far and how

things were going.  Despite the fact that, again, the kids gave out

statements that said they were only peripherally involved.

 

CORMIER:  Right.  I think that’s – that is a thing that emerges, a

pattern, I suppose, in this administration, during that campaign, that I

think you can see that.  You look at some of the great reporting by “The

New York Times” on the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where, you know, first

said, no, we didn’t know anything about it, and then later it emerges that

oh, by the way, yes, we did.  I think that sort of thing is happening here

right where the story’s changing and it’s slowly changing over time.

 

It is – well, we didn’t have anything to do with it, and then it’s, well,

the negotiations ended in January, and then, oh, bunch of different

documents and, yes, they were negotiating through June.  And now, you know,

we’re beginning to learn that the family, or at least the President and

Ivanka and Donald Jr., were read in, right, they knew, they knew it was

happening, they knew it was going on.  They were aware of the progress

here.

 

VELSHI:  The story keeps changing could be the tagline of this

administration.  The – there was a piece in your story that caught my

attention, and that was that Michael Cohen appeared to be negotiating

progress toward a face-to-face meeting in Russia between Donald Trump and

Vladimir Putin that was supposed to take place after the July 2016

Republican National Cnvention.

 

CORMIER:  Right.  He told him, quote, “Make it happen”.  This was – we

previously published details of text messages in which Michael Cohen and

the associate (INAUDIBLE) were discussing this trip to an economic forum,

who Michael could meet, you know, when the President was going to come, who

the President could meet.  So we knew that this was on the table.  Our

sources helped explain to us that this wasn’t Michael acting solo.  He

wasn’t freelancing.  The President, candidate at the time, wanted this to

in place and was actively encouraging it to happen.

 

VELSHI:  We have a response from Lanny Davis who is Michael Cohen’s legal

and communications adviser about this BuzzFeed story, which he says “Out of

respect for Mr. Mueller and the office of the special counsel’s

investigation, Mr. Cohen declined to respond to the questions ask by the

reporters and so do I”.  Anthony, thank you for your reporting.  Anthony

Cormie from BuzzFeed News.

 

I want to bring in our leadoff panel for a Thursday night, Philip Rucker

Pulitzer Prize winning White House bureau chief for the “Washington Post.” 

Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Michigan

and Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter for “Vanity Fair” who also happens to

be the author of “Born Trump: Inside America’s First Family.”

 

We have exactly the right people to talk about this.  First, I want to

start you, Phil.  Phil, you have reached out to the President’s attorney,

Rudy Giuliani, for a response.  What have you got?

 

PHILIP RUCKER, WH BUREAU CHIEF, WASHINGTON POST:  That’s right.  His

response is sort of a non-denial denial.  He’s basically saying, look, if

you believe Michael Cohen, I have the Brooklyn bridge to sell you which, of

course, he doesn’t.  But that overlooks the fact that the BuzzFeed

reporting is not based on the word of Michael Cohen.  It’s based on, you

know, documents and other pieces of evidence as you were just – you and

the guest were just explaining a few minutes ago.

 

But clearly, the White House, or the President’s legal team, rather, is

trying to downplay the significance of this but it’s a very important

development, and it directly, you know, if it’s true, it directly

implicates the President in a crime.

 

VELSHI:  Barbara, let’s talk about that particular part of things.  There

are a few things happening here, because Michael Cohen, according to this

reporting, did things and had conversations that are contrary to what he

actually testified about in Congress in terms of the number of times he

discussed the Moscow project with Donald Trump, in terms of what, if

anything, the Trump administration or Donald Trump contributed to his

testimony.  It continues to look very serious for Michael Cohen.  What does

this look like to you for Donald Trump?

 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FMR U.S. ATTORNEY:  I think if this report is true, it’s

very serious for Donald Trump as well.  As we heard, this is not just based

on the word of Michael Cohen but the reporting says it’s based on witness

testimony of other witnesses as well as documents that’s the kind of

corroboration a prosecutor would look for.  I think if these allegations

are true, there are potential crimes of suborning perjury, witness

tampering and obstruction of justice and this is consistent with a theory

that Attorney General William Barr has where even a president could be

charged with obstruction of justice.  This is not his discretion to direct

those under his supervision to stand down on investigations, investigate

one thing, but not another.  This is directing someone to conceal evidence.

 

VELSHI:  I just want to – I want to underscore this point, so it doesn’t

get lost in all of the many details, the myriad details in this story that

the key takeaway here is that Donald Trump may have or is alleged to have

given Michael Cohen instruction on what he was supposed to say about

something that happened between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen and this

project in Russia.

 

MCQUADE:  Yes, and which makes it a serious crime under the criminal code

as a crime.  I also think there’s a very strong argument to be made that

this is a high crime or misdemeanor for which impeachment may be a

possibility.  And, you know, it lines up with what Robert Mueller wrote in

the sentencing memo for Michael Cohen.  It talked in there about how he had

circulated his proposed testimony before Congress with others.  It did not

disclose who those others might be, but when you think about others who’ve

testified before Congress like Donald Trump Jr., and now if he was taking

directions from President Trump, himself, this new reporting is consistent

with that statement in the sentencing memo.

 

VELSHI:  Emily Jane Fox, you are an expert on the Trump family and their

finances.  And as Ari Melber pointed out to me earlier today with all these

people denying that they knew something else, someone else may have been

involved and this is not General Motors.  This is not a company with tens

of thousands of employees.  It’s hard to believe that Donald Trump wouldn’t

have known what Eric or Don Jr. or Ivanka were up to, but this reporting

indicates that Ivanka and Donald Jr. were both very involved in the Moscow

project.

 

EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR:  Because they’re very

involved in any project that happens within the Trump organization.  As you

just said, it’s not a Fortune 500 company.

 

VELSHI:  Right.

 

FOX:  This is a tiny mom and pop shop run out of an office in the apartment

building which they grew up.  This is very much a family office.  And a

family office is very small.  So Ivanka and Don Jr. and Eric have been

involved in all of these aspects, in all of the hotels and buildings that

they open.  It would be very difficult for me to believe that all of a

sudden on this one project that was due to make the family a tremendous

amount of money –

 

VELSHI:  Right.

 

FOX:  – that they would just say, oh, you know what, this one we’re going

to let go to Michael Cohen, which is now it’s a person they say, we didn’t

really have that much to do with, so it’s either one or the other there.

 

VELSHI:  It’s been a remarkable 24 hours in which the whole country is sort

of amazed by Rudy Giuliani coming out and saying something that nobody

really asked him to say.  Changing his view that there’s been no collusion

into maybe there’s been some collusion and if there’s some collusion, it

didn’t involve my client.  It may have involved others around him.  And

we’ve all been thinking about this for 24 hours.  What’s up with that?

 

Barbara McQuade, I know is going to tell us at some point that prosecutors

like to get out in front of a story sometimes.  This may be Giuliani

getting out in front of the story knowing that something like this was

coming up.

 

FOX:  Well, that is certainly been a Giuliani pattern in the past

particularly when it comes to Michael Cohen.  We saw over the summer when

there was that recording unveiled that Michael Cohen had captured the

President and him talking about payments made to women on behalf of the

“National Enquirer”.  And Rudy Giuliani got out ahead of that to try and

spin what was on the recording.

 

Now, we know after hearing the recording that the spin was off.  So, yes,

we have them waiting for the past 24 hours to find out what he was

potentially getting out ahead of.  What – now, seeing this report, I

interviewed Michael Cohen for the first time in August 2017, I think, two

days after he delivered this written statement to Congress –

 

VELSHI:  Right.

 

FOX:  – that we now know is false.  And at that time, he carried two cell

phones.  One was in a black case and one was in a white case.  And he

explained to me that one was his personal cell phone and one was for the

White House in Washington to be able to reach him.

 

Now, he wasn’t talking to the President directly at that time at Advice of

Counsel, so I always wondered in my mind, well, if the President is not

trying to reach him –

 

VELSHI:  What’s the other phone for?

 

FOX:  – who’s trying to reach him from Washington?  And now maybe my

question from 17 months ago has been answered.

 

VELSHI:  That is remarkable.

 

Philip Rucker, we know that you reached out to and got a response from Rudy

Giuliani.  Is the White House saying anything?

 

RUCKER:  You know, not at this hour.  They’re sort of letting that Giuliani

statement sit, but I don’t think they’re going to be able to dodge these

questions tomorrow.  This is an issue that’s going to, you know, continue

into the news.  It’s a really important development.

 

And we saw last night after Rudy Giuliani went on CNN and made that comment

that he faced pressure all morning to try to clean it up and did a series

of interviews including with me trying to explain himself and explain that

he’s only the lawyer for the President and not the lawyer for Paul Manafort

and so can’t speak for anybody who worked on the Trump campaign.  But this

is a huge distraction and potentially a perilous problem for the President.

 

VELSHI:  Let’s listen to what Donald Trump actually said about this.  We’ve

been making references to the President and what he said about his

involvement in Russia.  Let’s listen to a bit of it.

 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have nothing to do with

Russia to the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

 

I have no investments in Russia.  None whatsoever.  I don’t have property

in Russia.  A lot of people thought I owned office buildings in Moscow.  I

don’t have property in Russia.  And I am in very – I’m in total compliance

in every way.  I have no deals in Russia.  And I am in very – I may not –

in total compliance in every way.

 

I have no deals in Russia.  I have no deals that could happen in Russia

because we’ve stayed away.

 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

 

VELSHI:  OK.  Barbara McQuade, that’s January, February, May of 2017. 

Obviously, the President wasn’t under oath, but he was the President of the

United States and he kept on saying all of this.  Tell me what the legal

jeopardy is of the President having deliberately misled people both prior

to and subsequent to the election?

 

MCQUADE:  You know, generally it’s not a crime to make public statements

that are false, but if you’re trying to throw investigators off the trail,

I think that I would submit that that is part of a pattern of obstruction

of justice and it’s also part of this idea that prosecutors refer to as

consciousness of guilt.  That means the reason I have to lie about Russia

is because I know there’s something really bad about Russia.

 

If there was nothing bad there, I would be comfortable telling you the

truth.  But I have to distance myself from Russia because there’s something

bad there.  And so that goes into this idea that, you know, the obstruction

is the collusion, that there is more there that we need to know.  Now, it

may be that Robert Mueller knows about it, but why take the risk of

instructing people to lie and lying, yourself, unless the truth is even

worse than being exposed for a lie?

 

VELSHI:  Tell me because you used a term that we’re going to hear a lot

about, suborn perjury, what does it mean?

 

MCQUADE:  So there are two kinds of crimes when people make lies.  One is

false statements which does not require that the person be under oath. 

Perjury does require that the person be under oath, but, you know, they

both have the same penalties, so either way.  But to suborn perjury means

to encourage or persuade another person to lie on your behalf.

 

And so it is a crime.  It’s a separate statute that makes it a crime to

encourage someone to lie to – in an official proceeding.  So a session of

Congress would absolutely qualify as an official proceeding under that

statute.

 

VELSHI:  All right.  I was setting you up here because we have a tweet from

Adam Schiff who’s the chair now of the House Intel Committee who said “The

allegation that the President of the United States may have suborn perjury

before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up

his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date.  We

will do what’s necessary to find out if that is true.”

 

Emily Jane Fox, where is Michael Cohen in this because it seems like

according to Anthony Cormier and the BuzzFeed story, this is not

information that has come from Michael Cohen.  Michael Cohen gave his

testimony.  He then spoke to the Mueller investigation several times.  It’s

quite possible that is all – in fact it’s likely this is all known by the

Mueller investigation. 

 

FOX:  Yes.  Michael Cohen spent 70 hours with investigators.  I don’t think

that he left anything, particularly this kind of explosive information, out

of those interviews.  We know that the Mueller team was very satisfied with

Cohen’s cooperation.

 

VELSHI:  Correct. 

 

FOX:  We didn’t get any view into what they were satisfied with or why they

were perhaps so satisfied.  In fact, the fact that he lied to Congress and

recommend that he receive no additional jail time for that indicated that

they were very satisfied with his cooperation.  And now we’re getting a

glimpse into what he was told.

 

This is not some of the stuff we will hear when Cohen goes to testify in

front of Congress on February 7th because there are limits to what he will

be able to discuss when it comes to things like this and things related to

the Mueller probe.

 

So the fact we’re getting this preview is very important.  I’m sure he will

be asked about this in a few weeks but this is the kind of thing that he

won’t be able to elaborate himself on.

 

VELSHI:  I’m for one is a result of the last 24 hours and clearing my

calendar for February –

 

FOX:  Get your popcorn.

 

VELSHI:  This is going to be interesting.  Please stay with us.  Our panel

is going to stay here.

 

Coming up, more on tonight’s breaking news.

 

And later, shutdown politics and its impact on Trump’s presidential legacy. 

THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Thursday night.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

VELSHI:  Welcome back.  More on tonight’s bombshell report coming from

BuzzFeed News.  President Trump directed his attorney to lie to Congress

about the Moscow tower project.”  Quoting again from the report, “The

special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie

to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump

Organization and internal company e-mails, text messages and a cache of

other documents.  Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his

interviews with that office.”

 

A little reaction to this breaking story tonight.  Our colleague, Chris

Hayes, tweets, “Nixon was literally impeached for this.”

 

Our panel is still with us.  Phil Rucker, Barbara McQuade and Emily Jane

Fox.  Barbara, let me just talk to you about the degree to which what my

colleague, Stephanie Ruhle – who my colleague, Stephanie Ruhle, calls

Donald Trump’s TV lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is employing strategy or a

misinformation technique or a PR campaign?  Because for all of the stuff

that you so clearly described to us as being legal violations, Rudy

Giuliani seems to be pursuing a different strategy if it’s a strategy at

all.

 

MCQUADE:  Yes.  He seems to be beating the drum for whatever message of the

day President Trump wants to get out.  He’s far more PR man than he is

lawyer.

 

And I think that this, you know, we’ve seen these shifting stories, there

was no collusion, and then collusion is not a crime, and now I never said

that members of the campaign didn’t engage in collusion, just that

President Trump didn’t engage in collusion.  And that suggests to me that

that’s a concession that he would only make if he is concerned that there

may be some harmful news coming out about some member of the campaign being

involved in what could be characterized as collusion.  There’s a strategy

prosecutors use of sort of defusing the bomb, disclosing it, themselves,

before your opponent can disclose it so that you can kind of take a little

bit of the air out of it.

 

VELSHI:  But is there any legal advantage to that?  I mean, in the end,

these are legal problems.  Does doing that matter if it’s not – if there’s

no legal strategy behind it?

 

MCQUADE:  Only if you know – it’s not really legal strategy, it’s really

more of a persuasion strategy.  If you know it’s inevitable that this bad

fact is going to come out, it is better to control how it comes out.  You

can dismiss it, you can disparage it, you can make it sound like it’s no

big deal.  So that when the news does come out from your opponent or from

the public or from the media, whoever it is, the public shrugs and says,

oh, that’s old news, we knew all about that, we heard Rudy Giuliani talking

about that the other day.

 

So it is a strategy, it makes me wonder because he’s now shifted the story

again, if he doesn’t now that there’s harmful information that’s coming out

and he may know that by virtue of the joint defense agreement that he has

with a number of other people who may have indicated that guess what Robert

Mueller just asked me about, he knows about the collusion with person x, oh

my gosh, what are we going to do?  Let’s get out in front of it.  So that

is a possible strategy that he may be employing there.

 

VELSHI:  Phil Rucker, there are other non-TV lawyers who are working both

with the White House and the President who you never hear from.

 

RUCKER:  That’s right.  There are actually a lot of lawyers.  You know,

there’s one who works very closely with Rudy Giuliani, that is Jay Sekulow. 

He helps with a lot of the communications strategy and is, himself, a

lawyer.  But there are other lawyers who work even more quietly.

 

Emmet Flood has been at the White House now for several months.  He’s a

special counsel in the White House Counsel’s Office working to protect the

President, protect executive privilege and build out strategies if, in

fact, you know, things develop the point of impeachment proceedings on

Capitol Hill and the new White House Counsel has hired 17 attorneys into

that counsel’s office in the last couple weeks in order to prepare for the

flurry of Democratic investigations into the President’s conduct and

expected investigations rather into the President’s conduct, his finances

and corruption within the administration.

 

So there’s a real legal effort.  There are other lawyers as well helping

the President from a personal standpoint, especially in terms of the

engagements back and forth with the special counsel’s team.

 

VELSHI:  Emily Jane Fox, we are three weeks away from this testimony of

Michael Cohen before the House.  As you say, we’re not going to hear

everything.  We’re going to hear some things.  Some of us are wondering

what we’re going to hear that we didn’t already know about from the

sentencing hearings and from the government.  You’ve talked to Michael

Cohen.  How is he feeling heading into this?

 

FOX:  I think this is something he has been looking forward to doing for

quite some time.  There have been many, many months since the FBI executed

search warrants on his homes and office in April.  And he hasn’t been able

to talk because he’s been participating in these investigations and he was

waiting for a judge to come down and sentence him.

 

This is a chance for him to get up in front of the entire country and the

entire world, rather, and say what he knows about very specific things that

are related to the President and to clear his conscious in some way, but I

will say he’s changing – he’s thinking changed over the weekend when the

President called in to Fox News and told Judge Jeanine to look into Michael

Cohen’s father-in-law.

 

At that point, I think his concern shifted to what am I going to say and

how am I going to say it and how many people are going to watch this –

 

VELSHI:  Right.

 

FOX:  – to what is this man capable of and who is he going to go after?

And is my family going to be safe if I do go and testify?  And what are

they going to do to protect me and my family to make sure that the most

powerful man in the world isn’t going to go after other members of my

family or keep going after me if I do, in fact –

 

VELSHI:  Actually, he’s also annoying, the also most powerful man in the

world, Vladimir Putin with this stuff, who probably doesn’t want all this

out there.

 

FOX:  And that’s exactly right.

 

VELSHI:  There’s a whole of other story out here, Phil Rucker, “The Wall

Street Journal” story, that’s what you initially spoke to Rudy Giuliani

about earlier.  These allegations that Michael Cohen hired an IT firm to

rig some online polls and that he paid the guy with two Walmart bags full

of $12,000 or $13,000, and a boxing glove.  One of the weirder stories you

and I have ever covered.

 

But it sort of speaks to the steaminess and the seediness, and the ugliness

and the dirtiness of what was going on leading up to this election.

 

RUCKER:  It’s an incredible piece of reporting by “The Wall Street Journal”

and it’s sort of comical that it happened in the office of the man that

would come president of the United States at $12,000, $13,000 cash payment

in a blue plastic Walmart bag.  You don’t hear about that every day.

 

I talked to Rudy Giuliani about it earlier today and he said, look, the

President had nothing to do with that payment, did not direct that payment

and he said if he had authorized that payment, he would have wanted it’s

been made by check, not by cash.  So, you know, that’s the word from the

President’s legal team.  Who knows who’s telling the truth here.

 

But there is one interesting detail which is that Cohen only paid that

digital consultant, that IT consultant, the $12,000 to $13,000 even though

the consultant was expecting to be paid $50,000.  Cohen later after the

fact according to the “Journal’s” reporting received a reimbursement from

the Trump Organization for $50,000 and that’s why Rudy Giuliani is now

saying that Cohen was a thief.  That he stole money from the Trump

Organization because he was taking back his reimbursement more than he

actually paid for that tech consultant.  So it’s a very, you know,

interesting black hole we just dug into.

 

VELSHI:  This is just weird.  The fact that we are all having this

conversation that I’m having with the three of you is a little bit surreal. 

What’s stranger yet is that 12 hours ago, that story was the biggest story

in America.  And now it’s 30 minutes into this show and we’re talking about

it.  Thank you to all of you, Philip Rucker, Barbara McQuade, and Emily

Jane Fox.

 

RUCKER:  Thank you.

 

VELSHI:  Coming up, bitter gridlock in Washington as the shutdown is

minutes away from entering day 28.  More on that when THE 11TH HOUR

continues.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

VELSHI:  Welcome back.  We’re covering tonight’s potentially game-changing

report from BuzzFeed News.  Again, that headline, “President Trump directed

his attorney to lie to Congress about the Moscow Tower project.”  The

website citing two federal law enforcement officials familiar with the

matter.  This is all developing as the government shutdown over a border

wall is stretching into its 28th day at the top of the hour.

 

Today, President Trump hit back at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just one day

after she threatened to cancel Trump’s State of the Union address.  He sent

the speaker a one-page letter canceling her previously undisclosed flight

to Afghanistan on a military plane because of the shutdown.

 

He sent the letter roughly an hour before Pelosi and several other

lawmakers were scheduled to leave on what’s called a CODEL, a congressional

delegation.  With us for more on all of this, Sabrina Siddiqui, political

reporter for “The Guardian” and Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for

NPR.

 

Just another story that is particularly confusing today, but, Sabrina, tell

us what the response is here.  The President seemed to thinking that Nancy

Pelosi had one up on him by kind of disinviting him to deliver the State of

the Union Address, so this is his response?

 

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN POLITICAL REPORTER:  It absolutely is, and I

think the escalating feud between the President and House Speaker Nancy

Pelosi just reinforces that there’s no end in sight when it comes to the

shutdown.  It’s telling after Speaker Pelosi suggested the President

postpone his State of the Union that the President was much more focused on

retaliating against the house speaker than he was in finding some sort of

resolution and all the while, you have roughly 800,000 federal workers who

are either furloughed without pay or working without pay and there’s a very

real concern among some aides whom I’ve spoke with on Capitol Hill that

it’s going to take, perhaps, some sort of disaster or emergency for the

impact of the shutdown to truly be realized.

 

VELSHI:  Interestingly enough, Tamara, of all the things that Donald Trump

has done in the last couple of years, very little has a meaningful impact

on his base of support but for this, and we’ve actually got some new

NPR/PBS “Newshour”/Marist polling indicating that Donald Trump’s support in

general, in almost every category, including amongst Republicans, is down

by significant numbers.  Most respondents saying it’s because of the

shutdown.

 

TAMARA KEITH, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes.  The shutdown is

certainly weighing on his approval, and it’s coming from some people who

have been his most loyal supporters including white men, suburban men and

also women without college degrees.  Those are sort of key elements of the

Trump base, and his numbers are slipping.  There’s been some erosion among

those people in addition to the broader public.  He’s having trouble with

independents in a big way.

 

But other polling, not our polling, but indicates that the public wants

compromise.  They want Republicans and Democrats and the President to come

together somehow but the definition of compromise, now that’s another thing

because their idea – generally speaking, people’s idea of compromise is

the other side should come to them.

 

VELSHI:  Right.  And to that point, Sabrina, Donald Trump is finally seeing

these cracks in his base, so what does he do to solidify that base of

support?  Compromise or stick to his guns on this one?  As we recall, there

was a compromise that was not going – that was going to avoid a government

shutdown and Donald Trump was threatened by right-wing hosts that that

would affect his base.

 

SIDDIQUI:  Well, that’s actually a key point that you raised because it’s

actually the President having pulled back from that compromise which would

have averted a shutdown by funding the government and did not have money

appropriated toward the construction of the wall that Republicans in the

Senate voted for and they felt that the President having changed his mind

at the last minute and insisting on funding for the wall, that’s what

really backed him into a corner because they’re now on record having

supported a bipartisan compromise.

 

And so I think that the president, you know, as he looks at these polls,

he’s certainly been frustrated but he blames the coverage more so than I

think he’s willing to take some sort of responsibility, but I do think he’s

going to look at these cracks within his base and realize his position is

untenable.

 

Now, is that going to push him closer to negotiating with Democrats or is

it going to, perhaps, prompt him to revisit declaring a National Emergency

so he can leave it to the courts?  See, I did everything I could, then,

perhaps, re-open the government and claim that, you know, he still etched

out – eked out some sort of a victory here.

 

VELSHI:  We saw a Trump campaign fund raising e-mail, Trump campaign, a

letter signed, or at least attributed to the president saying “The only

reason Democrats and Nancy Pelosi want to reschedule my State of the Union

Address is because they know I will say what I’ve always said about our

southern border, the truth.  Americans demand the truth so we need to make

a clear statement, raise $1 million by midnight tonight,” 20 minutes from

now, “to show your support for border security.  The real security

concern.”

 

Tamara, what is the president’s next move?  Because he has invested

everything in suggesting there is no compromise, no other solution for

border security, than his wall, in the face of entire opposition by the

Democrats, and growing opposition amongst Republicans.

 

KEITH:  What’s not clear is if there is something maybe bubbling below the

surface.  We know that today Vice President Pence and Kushner went and met

with Mitch McConnell.  In the past with government shutdowns, Mitch

McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has been a key element if resolving

the shutdowns and fixing, you know, finding a way out.

 

An aide, White House aide, told me that there was nothing more they could

report.  The meeting lasted a little less than an hour.  So, unclear

whether anything came out of that.  It seems like maybe nothing really did

come out of it, but the fact they are sending emissaries up to the Hill at

least indicates that the White House is looking for an out which is more

than we’ve seen –

 

VELSHI:  That is a lot of qualification in your voice there, Tamara.

 

KEITH:  It true.

 

VELSHI:  Yes.

 

KEITH:  All that.

 

VELSHI:  We will watch and see.  It’s 28 days we’ve been doing it.  Just

about 28 days.  We will continue until it’s over. Sabrina Saddiqui and

Tamara Keith, thank you both for joining me on a Thursday night.

 

Coming up, the day’s news impact on the president’s legacy.  Presidential

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin joins me next when THE 11TH HOUR continues.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND:  It’s petty, it’s small, it’s unbecoming of

President of the United States.  It is an unfortunately daily occurrence.

 

REP. DAN KILDEE (D), MICHIGAN:  This is the president essentially being a

man baby all over again.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

VELSHI:  Trump’s move to cancel Pelosi’s trip just minutes before she and

others were set to leave to visit troops in a war zone signals a new level

of weaponizing politics.  Of course, this is all happening as nearly

800,000 federal employees and other contractors are without paychecks and

forced to decide what bills, if any, are paid.  And now, these latest

significant developments in the ongoing Russia investigation.

 

With me now, Doris Kearns Goodwin, president historian and author.  She has

written some of the best books around.  Bestsellers about both Roosevelts,

about the Kennedys, anout LBJ and Lincoln.  Her latest work is “Leadership

in Turbulent Times” and it’s been on “The New York Times’ ” bestseller list

for 17 weeks.

 

Doris, the things that have been going on in Capitol Hill between Nancy

Pelosi suggesting that Donald Trump either delay the State of the Union

Address until after the shutdown or submitted as a letter or deliver it

from his office.  And the President canceling Nancy Pelosi’s trip on a

military aircraft to Afghanistan, both exist within the historic norms and

authority of both of their offices.

 

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN & AUTHOR:  Yes, I think this

will be a moment that history will remember as one of those never-ending

moments in the struggle between the executive and the legislature.  I mean,

this of course, the President has the power as commander in chief to decide

that she cannot use a military transport.  He can’t really cancel her trip. 

He admitted she could take a commercial plane if she wanted to, but

essentially canceling the trip.  And, of course, she has the power as

speaker to say that a joint session of Congress can only be started by a

resolution by both houses to invite him to speak.

 

That doesn’t mean that he couldn’t deliver it in writing.  It doesn’t mean

he couldn’t speak from the Oval Office, but somehow this shutdown has

become a pawn in the struggle between the executive and the legislature.

 

I mean, I think in many ways Nancy Pelosi had the right to say, you know,

you can’t come to Congress.  We have to invite you, but of course, you can

deliver it as I say from the Oval Office.

 

In the old days, the President, George Washington was the first person who

delivered it in person.  But then after that, Thomas Jefferson decided it

was too much like a king.  He also knew that he wasn’t a great speaker and

he was a great writer, so better to deliver it in writing.

 

It was only when Woodrow Wilson then, they all started just delivering it

in writing but then Woodrow Wilson wanted to exert the power of the

presidency against Congress so he said, I’m going in person and Teddy

Roosevelt thought, why didn’t I think about that beforehand?  And so it

does give the President power when they’re in person.

 

But it is a struggle between the two of them right now and it started with

the midterms.  There had been a time when the President for the first two

years had the President and the Congress and lots of influence in the

Supreme Court, and now you’re seeing that balance shifting I think with the

struggle between the two of them.

 

VELSHI:  You said something really interesting about Woodrow Wilson wanting

to assert the authority of the presidency by delivering this speech at

Congress.  That is a fight writ large that is going on today.  It’s been

going on for a few presidencies.

 

But right now, we have a President who is basking in an expansion of

executive authority and we’ve been hearing testimony about this with the

new attorney general nominee and we have a Speaker of the House who reminds

everybody that it is the first branch mentioned in the constitution and

implies that the legislative branch should have supremacy.  So in addition

to the political fight that’s going on, there’s a bit of a historic fight

that is also being shown here.

 

GOODWIN:  Absolutely.  And I think, you know, we saw it first of that when

the midterms happened and began to see a shift in more power to the

Congress.  And I think the really interesting thing about the shutdown

right now is that for decades we’ve been seeing a decreasing trust in

government.  And government’s like that thing out there.

 

But I think what people are feeling now is government’s part – the

government workers are part of their everyday lives.  So when history looks

back at this moment, they already may see this was a moment when people

began to see who is the government, after all?  It’s us.  You know, it’s

the janitors taking care of the buildings, it’s the people who are

protecting the environment, it’s doing food and drug inspections, it’s the

TSA.  And maybe there’ll be a shift, and that would be a big shift in terms

of how people view government if people begin to recognize –

 

VELSHI:  Yes.

 

GOODWIN:  – these are part of our everyday lives and they want to see this

shutdown stopping.  I think it will be hard for him to be remembered well

for having owned the shutdown and making it happen as he has without

compromise.

 

VELSHI:  Doris Kearns Goodwin, always an honor to speak with you.  Thank

you for being with us tonight.

 

Coming up, why we still have no idea just how many children have been

separated from their families under the Trump administration’s zero

tolerance policy.  When THE 11TH HOUR continues.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

VELSHI:  Thousands more migrant children were taken from their parents at

the border than the government originally disclosed and we still don’t know

if they’ve been reunited.  That’s according to a report released by the

Health and Human Services inspector general.

 

According to NBC News, the report found a spike in immigrant family

separations beginning in the summer of 2017, a year prior to the zero

tolerance policy that prosecuted immigrant parents who crossed the border

illegally while holding their children separately in HHS custody.

 

These thousands of unaccounted for children are thought to have been part

of a trial run for the zero tolerance policy.  That was the Trump

Administration rule that everyone caught crossing the border illegally will

be prosecuted, which the administration denied for months.  Here’s Senator

Jeff Merkley on the importance of this new information.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON:  This document represents a discussion

taking place between the Attorney General’s Office and the Homeland

Security Office at the highest levels.  So this is very much the roadmap is

being laid out for what was later done.  The administration was absolutely

lying to the American people when they said there was no such plan.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

VELSHI:  Thousands of children are still being held in detention centers. 

We don’t have an updated official count, but last month “The New York

Times” estimated there could be some 15,000 migrant children in U.S.

shelters.

 

All right.  Coming up, after almost a month of government shutdown,

frustrated Americans are eager to help.  We’ve got some suggestions when

THE 11TH HOUR continues.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We’re left hanging in the balance not knowing, you

know, could it be tomorrow, could it be next week, could it be next month,

could it be next year.  I mean, you never know because it seems like nobody

wants to – nobody wants to budge.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

VELSHI:  The last thing before we go tonight.  The people affected by the

infuriating dysfunction from D.C., government employees, everyday Americans

going without pay because of the shutdown.  The shutdown by – that by his

own words makes the President proud.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  If we don’t get what we want one way or the other, whether it’s

through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will

shut down the government.

 

SCHUMER:  Okay, fair enough.

 

TRUMP:  And I am proud.  And I’ll you what –

 

SCHUMER:  We disagree.

 

TRUMP:  I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. 

I will take the mantle.  I will be the one to shut it down.  I’m not going

to blame you for it.  The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work.  I

will take the mantle for shutting down.

 

SCHUMER:  Good.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

VELSHI:  That pride has gotten us 28 days into a shutdown as of midnight

here on the east coast.  Four weeks of everyday government employees

wondering when will this end?

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is probably, I believe, my third furlough that I’m

going through while being at TSA.  The other ones didn’t last as long and I

didn’t have as much responsibility.  I could manage just me and my wife,

but now I have a son to provide for it.

 

KEVIN BOLGER, EPA EMPLOYEE:  I’ve been through many shutdowns over the past

35 years, but this is the one where I can’t see any end in sight.  It’s

demoralizing.  I mean, we’ve – yes, I think a lot of, you know, federal

employees have been vilified over the last number of years, and this is

just one more thing on top of it.

 

ANDREA TOBIAS, FEDERAL WORKER:  We need our money.  We got bills to pay. 

People are facing all kinds of things by not getting a paycheck, so go back

to work.  Let us go back to work.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

VELSHI:  CNBC reports that over $400,000 have been raised for federal

workers who need help through about 1,800 different GoFundme campaigns. 

We’ve also been getting a lot of questions from you about how you can help,

and there are a lot of different ways you can do something, mostly in your

local community, including donating to local food pantries, helping repair

national parks by donating to the National Park Foundation or volunteering

on site, calling your senators and representatives, supporting one of the

many large and small businesses helping unpaid workers and letting them

know that that’s why you’re doing it.

 

Or you can get creative.  Hold a garage sale, a potluck, treat a government

employee and their family to a meal.  And as we hit midnight and day 28 of

the nation’s longest ever government shutdown, that is our broadcast for

tonight.  I’m Ali Velshi in for Brian Williams who will be back tomorrow. 

Thank you for being with us and goodnight from New York.

 

 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY

BE UPDATED.                                                                                                    

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