Trump attacks Michael Cohen. TRANSCRIPT: 03/01/2019, All In w. Chris Hayes.
Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
Date: March 1, 2019
Guest: Ben Smith, Elizabeth Holtzman, Dan Froomkin, Ro Khana, Maxine
STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The real
question is maybe influence thought. The Clinton vets, the activist, the
folks who do hold a grudge from `16. Well, they raise their voices loudly
to try to stop him. And if they do, will democratic voters listen to them?
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Chris will be back here Monday night, 7:00
Eastern and “ALL IN” with Chris Hayes starts right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as Cohen is
concerned, he`s convicted, he`s a liar.
HAYES: A lying about a liar`s lying for a liar continues.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: He said to me at least a dozen times
that he made the decision on the payments and he didn`t tell you.
HAYES: Tonight, from Cohen to Kushner and beyond.
IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: The President had no involvement.
HAYES: This President`s destabilizing assault on reality.
COHEN: Every day most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to
lie for him on something. It`s exactly what`s happening here in
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Reclaiming my time.
HAYES: Congresswoman Maxine Waters on the President`s criminal behavior,
impeachment, and her interest in the Trump Foundation. And after a week of
hearing from Michael Cohen –
COHEN: I`ve never been to Prague.
HAYES: Where we stand on the big Russia questions with BuzzFeed`s Ben
COHEN: There`s just so many dots that all seem to lead to the same
HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Good evening from New York I`m Chris Hayes. The President and his
allies are fully invested in trying to discredit and destroy Michael Cohen
repeatedly calling Cohen a liar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: As far as Cohn is concerned, he`s convicted, he`s a liar, he`s
defrauded at a high-level. He got a lot of problems, and you know it was
very interesting because he lied so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Yes. Yes, the president – the president just says something true.
That`s true. Michael Cohen is a liar. He`s a completely unreliable
character. But that`s not our fault. We`re the people on the outside of
Trump`s insane tangle of lies attempting to get to the truth. We have to
deal with what Trump has given us, and he has surrounded himself with
He`s a liar, his kids are liars, everyone around him is a liar. The Trump
campaign organization is full of on-the-record liars who have been indicted
or pleaded guilty for lying. President Trump does not get to defend
himself by saying everyone around me is an unrepentant liar. Yes, that`s
the problem. And amidst this miasma of lies, were the ones left trying to
figure out the facts.
What did he do? What did the president do? What crimes has he possibly
committed or not committed what exactly happened with the Russians or
didn`t happen? I don`t care what the facts are. They could be exculpatory
like the fact that Michael Cohen apparently did not go to Prague, says he
was never there in contravention of the dossier. I just want to know them.
But we cannot know them because the president and everyone around him lie
constantly. I would like it to be that there`s one reliable person at
Trump`s organization but there is not. And the thing is now, his
organization is our government, ours, represents us. They`re going hard
right now on Michael Cohen and yes, as I said he`s a liar. Everyone who
worked for the president basically is a liar.
Paul Manafort is a liar, Rick Gates is a liar, George Papadopoulos is a
liar, Michael Flynn is a liar, Jared Kushner a liar, Don Jr. is a liar,
Ivanka is a liar, every one of them is a liar. John Kelly got up and
lied, Kirstjen Nielsen got up in lied, Mike Pompeo lied, Sean Spicer lied
publicly nearly every time he opened his mouth. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has
done exactly the same thing.
They all lied. They all lie. They lie about big things and they lie
about small things. They lie about consequential things and they lie about
trivial nonsense. And then when they get caught lying, they don`t even
admit it. The best example is that Trump lied for years about the Trump
Tower Moscow deal whether he was working on it during the campaign. His
personal lawyer pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about it, and then the
president who had lied about it over and over and over and over and over
again comes out he`s like yes, yes, we wanted to build the tower and
pursued it throughout the campaign. So what?
Today they did the same thing, the same exact thing about Jared Kushner`s
security clearance. Kellyanne Conway said today the president has the
absolute right to grant clearance. That`s true. Completely true. So why
did the President and his senior advisor lie about it at least nine times?
This House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said at the end of Micheal
Cohen`s hearing earlier this week, the deception is overwhelming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: You
know, I mean come on now. I mean, when you got according to the Washington
Post our President has made at least 8,718 – 8,718 false or misleading
statements, stunning. That`s not what we teach our children. I don`t
teach mine that.
Well, we`re dancing with the angels. The question will be asked. In 2019
what do we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on
the sidelines and say nothing?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Joining me now, a member of the House Oversight Committee,
Congressman Ro Khanna of California who is questioning Michael Cohen
earlier this week. Congressman, I want to talk about the specifics but
first I guess the question is are we closer to the truth? Do you feel
after the hearing and with the agenda before your committee now that we are
getting closer to the truth?
REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: I think we are. We know that there was a
criminal conspiracy between the President, his son, Weisselberg, and Cohen
for financial fraud and that the Southern District of New York is
investigating this ongoing conspiracy. So that is closer to the truth. We
need more people that come before the committee and testify to continue to
HAYES: I want to play you something that Rudy Giuliani said about the
reimbursement payments. Of course, this is something they have lied about
over and over. The President lied to everyone on Air Force One when he was
asked about it. He lied about it subsequently. And this is – this is
Giuliani today, today, what he had to say. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: We brought out ten months ago that
he made the payment. It`s our – its our view of it that the President
didn`t know about it at the time. And then, the President, when he found
out about it, made arrangements for reimbursement.
HAYES: There is literally tape of him talking to Michael Cohen about it at
the time. What is your response when they try to sort of gaslight us all
KHANNA: Well, obviously, they`re lying but it`s more serious than that
they`re lying. The President didn`t just pay Michael Cohen through his
personal check. He set up an elaborate trust through his financial
organization, the Trump Organization and they cooked the books in the Trump
organization to reimburse Cohen. And Cohen brought in the checks.
Here`s the thing, every time they attack Cohen`s credibility, you don`t
have to believe a word Cohen says. He has smoking-gun evidence. Just look
at the evidence. Cohen corroborated everything he alleged with evidence.
The evidence was that the President, his son, and Weisselberg elaborated
their whole scheme to commit financial fraud.
HAYES: You`re committee has announced, the chair Elijah Cummings already
was looking into the security clearances issue which has been an issue
above and beyond just Jared Kushner. The chair wrote another letter today
in the wake of the Kushner revelations from the New York Times. Explained
why this is an important issue for oversight and isn`t just something that
the President can grant or not grant as he pleases.
KHANNA: Well, here`s why it matters. The President has had a systemic
assault on expertise and civil servants in our democracy. Look, I know
Jared Krishna. We worked at the White House office of innovation to pass a
bill on the Idea Act and this isn`t a partisan issue. But who puts Jared
Kushner in charge of Middle East peace? And when you give him a top secret
clearance, and you know that he`s on WhatsApp with MBS at Saudi Arabia.
And then this may be affecting things like the war in Yemen, there are real
So this isn`t some partisan issue this is saying that the president has
disregarded foreign policy advice. He`s put his son-in-law in charge of
the Middle East peace process and the son-in-law is getting sensitive
information that he may be sharing with MBS and who knows else around the
HAYES: There`s reporting today from NBC that the House Democrats are
preparing a case to request the President`s tax returns. That would be the
Ways and Means Committee. That that`s the one that has jurisdiction, but
it`s been coordinated with chairs of other committees. Is that something
you would support?
KHANNA: Absolutely. And let`s remember why we have this authority. It
goes back to the 1920s, the Teapot Dome scandal when there was corruption
and bribery. And then Congress said, well we can`t just rely on the
President to tell us that if there`s corruption we got to get the tax
returns. And so there`s precedent for this and we should absolutely get
the tax returns.
HAYES: All right, Congressman Ro Khanna on the Oversight Committee, thank
you so much. Joining me now former RNC chair Michael Steele and Michelle
Goldberg Op-Ed Columnist at the New York Times, both our MSNBC Political
You know, it`s just – I find myself just exhausted. Today is – today is
one of the – no, this is one of those weeks where it`s exhausting that
Giuliani clip because if – unless you are paying – because – here`s why
it`s exhausting. It is effective in its own way.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, it is.
HAYES: Unless you are paying extremely careful attention, it`s my job to
do that, I even was like oh right, did you know about the time? Then
someone had to be like, buddy, there`s a tape like play that. I was like
all right, no we already know that. But the barrage of the lies is so
constant. It creates a kind of noise. It sort of can hollow out people`s
STEELE: And that`s the whole point. You put your finger on the play from
the very beginning of this. And it – and it is I think you know, sort of
the calling card of the Trump environment that you throw everything at once
into the – into the mix and let people figure it out.
HAYES: Right. That`s right.
STEELE: Meanwhile, I`m going to skip to the lieu over this way –
STEELE: – and when you catch up to me, I`ve got another pile of this to
throw out there –
STEELE: – for you to look at too.
HAYES: And when you catch up to me – this is the key part. When you
catch up to me, I`m never caught.
STEELE: Never caught.
HAYES: That was to me the Kellyanne Conway, it`s like, oh, the President
has the authority.
STEELE: That`s right.
HAYES: Right. So then, why did you lie about it?
HAYES: That`s – oh, yes, we want to build a Moscow tower. Right, but
then why did you lie about that.
STEELE: Because you spent all the time going after the President`s lie.
And then they come back and go well, he had that authority all along and
why you so – why are you so upset, Chris.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it`s not just Trump,
right? I mean, this is a hallmark of a lot of modern authoritarian states
I think no – none more so than Russia, right? There`s this book called
nothing is true, everything is possible. That`s just spoke about modern
Russia. That will actually give you a tremendous amount of insights into
the sort of epistemological terrorism of that the Trump administration
practice is on us every single day. To keep us in this state of kind of
arrangement and feeling slightly off centered and not being able to get
your bearings in this miasma.
HAYES: You know, here`s the statement, I thought this is amazing
statement. It is sort of epistemological terrorism – term I think you`re
just going. So you know, nine times the President of the United States,
Kushner, and Ivanka all deny that Jared Kushner was granted special
clearance over the objections of others.
HAYES: We now know that`s not true. There`s a memos memorializing it from
Don McGahn and John Kelly. So confronted with this, Abbe Lowell, a
spokesperson for Abbe Lowell who represents Kushner says the following. In
2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr.
Kushner security clearance was handled in the regular process with no
pressure from anyone. That was conveyed to the media at the time and news
stories, if accurate, do not change what was affirmed at the time.
Meaning we lied. And just because it`s now true, doesn`t mean that we
HAYES: What the hell kind of a statement is that?
STEELE: Because, again, if you want to – if you want to deconstruct the
administrators state, it starts to deconstruct the way you think and the
way you perceive reality.
HAYES: OK. But is it that strategic or are they just hustlers who are
caught. You know, like –
STEELE: Even hustlers have strategy.
HAYES: That`s true. That trues.
STEELE: Even hustlers have strategy.
HAYES: Michael Cohen showed that actually, if I understand, a canny
STEELE: Particularly when they`re in an environment where they don`t have
absolute control on every inch of the outcome.
HAYES: Yes, that`s right.
STEELE: Which is one of Donald Trump`s biggest frustrations is that he
doesn`t know exactly all of what Mike – what Mueller has. And so now with
Cohen sort of filling in some very important gaps, you know it gets a
little bit more dicey. So what do you do, Chris, you throw a little bit
more miasma in the miasma and you`re ready to go.
HAYES: Well, and there`s also – there`s all the fact, Michelle, that what
is remarkable that there is I think a broad consensus. You even almost
kind of saw it from the Republicans defending Trump. I think they`re
generally consensus the President has probably committed indictable crimes.
I don`t think people really think that`s outlandish, right? That`s just
price (INAUDIBLE). It`s just like –
GOLDBERG: Even Donald Trump Jr. at one point was saying well, they`re
going after things from 2006 is that you get like a quota you know.
STEELE: If not, a pass because it was 20016.
HAYES: But in a weird way it`s like the sort of estimation of his
character which I think is low even among I think Republicans on the Hill,
right, what they think he can or is not capable of.
STEELE: There is a genuine concern about how this plays out legally from a
federal standpoint. What I`ve always said and I think all of us here know,
his problems just are beginning at the federal level. It`s the state of
New York they`re sitting there waiting for him in either 2021 or 2025. So
the reality for Donald Trump is he still has to keep throwing as much of
the bright shiny stuff out there. The question for the press is and for
others is how much of that do you discount and just flat-out set to the
GOLDBERG: Well, I also think the Democrats might be making a mistake by
sort of waiting for this consensus to emerge that a certain level of
criminality isn`t tolerable, right. I mean, somebody has to build the
narrative. Kind of they have to go hard, make the Republicans set – you
know, make them say outright we`re willing to tolerate this amount of
criminality, you know.
Kind of – the Republicans did that with kind of completely non-issues you
know, Benghazi, you know, complete fantasies but they were able to build a
narrative and put Democrats on the defensive. And I think Democrats are
waiting for the reality to set in independently and then they`ll act on it.
HAYES: I think it`s a great point and I just saw some polling about –
people were asked when Cohen was rated, is he part of a larger pattern of
illegal wrongdoing and 38 percent said yes and now it`s 41 percent. I
think there has been a – I mean, the thing I keep coming back to is the
president is implicated in a federal crime that`s already been pleaded to.
GOLDBERG: Right, a federal crime that`s –
HAYES: That like, it`s not a theoretical –
GOLDBERG: And a federal crime that`s material to the election.
HAYES: Winning the election.
STEELE: But you have – here`s the problem, and this is why the Democrats
move the way they move on this part of it is because you still have the
question of can you actually bring this man to heel. Can you actually
indict him? Can you actually bring those charges and make them real? You
don`t want to be the Democrat out there swinging from that limb to have it
sawed off at some point not by Republicans but by other Democrats. And
that – and that`s the problem.
HAYES: But I think the point there is that they have not worked to build
the political – I mean, I think they slowly but surely are, but in some
ways what`s weird –
GOLDBERG: Right. You might be going on a limb to say let`s indict him for
being a Russian asset, but you`re not going out on a limb to say that he
was part of a criminal conspiracy involving campaign finance reform and
that he probably wouldn`t have been elected absent this crime.
STEELE: And so then the question becomes so what? What do you do about
that and how do you legally address that issue with the sitting President
of the United States?
HAYES: And the answer to that, I mean, you know, there`s this all this
question about indicted –
HAYES: And Benjamin Netanyahu got indicted today, Silvio Berlusconi
formally, like other countries do it. But in our system is generally
agreed that you have to do impeachment and it`s amazing to watch them –
STEELE: That is going to change after this.
HAYES: Well, it`s – yes, that might change too because watching everyone
sort of twist themselves to knots to deal with this is really something
else. Michael Steele, Michelle Goldberg, thank you both.
Up next Congresswoman Maxine Waters on the appearance criminal behavior of
President Trump and why she`s now calling for an investigation to the Trump
foundation. What she`s learned in two minutes.
HAYES: One of the most interesting takeaway from the Cohen testimony is
the daunting awareness that there now seems to be plenty of evidence that
the President committed crimes. And the big question is so what are
Democrats going to do about it which might seem to be an odd way to look at
things but inevitable one nonetheless since the only thing Republicans have
done is to insulate the president from accountability.
Joining me now one of the president`s most outspoken critics, Congressman
Maxine Waters Democrat from California and the Chair of the Financial
Services Committee. Congresswoman, do you feel like you learn new things
at the Cohen testimony? Did you change your mind? Did it intensify your
feelings about things you already thought?
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA), CHAIRWOMAN, FINANCIAL SERVICE COMMITTEE: Well,
as you know, I have been looking at this President before he was
inaugurated and I came out early talking about impeachment because I knew
all about a man of fortune, Flynn and Sater, and all of these people. And
so I`m not really surprised, not a lot of new information, but it`s
information that needs to be investigated, needs to be explored because the
Republicans certainly did not do anything with this information.
And so whether we`re talking about collusion or obstruction of justice,
we`re talking about finances, we`re talking about the foundation, this
really needs to be investigated and explored.
HAYES: Well, is it – I mean, don`t we already – I guess my question is,
is there not already evidence that he has – he has implicated in at least
one criminal conspiracy what has to do with the hush money payments and is
that not in your mind a high crime or misdemeanor?
WATERS: Oh certainly. Absolutely. This president has lied. He said that
you know, he had not – the President said he has not paid off anybody, but
he certainly has.
HAYES: Let me – let me ask you this. There`s now a movement among –
you`re in Democratic leadership. Of course, you chair the Finances –
Financial Services Committee. There`s a move among leadership sort of
coordinated move that chair of the Ways and Means Committee is going to
move towards the President`s taxes. That`s something you`ve called for in
the past. Are you happy that seems to be happening?
WATERS: Well, as you know, there`s a coordinated effort between all of us,
the five different committees that we chair. I`m on Financial Services and
of course, we have Judiciary, and we have Oversight and Investigations, and
we have the Ways and Means Committee, and Foreign Affairs Committee. We`re
meeting so that we understand what each other are doing and that we`re not
necessarily bumping into each other. And so we`re coordinating our efforts
and I think it`s a very good thing that we`re doing.
HAYES: Do you – just to be clear. You favor or endorse them moving
forward to try to acquire the president`s tax returns?
WATERS: Oh absolutely. And that`s in the Ways and Means. And yes,
absolutely. This president has lied about his tax returns. He said that
they were being audited and that – because of that he could not share
them, but he`s never intended to share his tax returns because he knows
we`re going to find out a lot about him when he does and the lies that he`s
And what I really want to know and it may not be in my jurisdiction, but
what I really want to know is whether or not he performed services that he
got paid for and he did not want to pay taxes on him and so he told the
people to put the money into the foundation.
WATERS: I believe there`s a lot of evidence for that. I`ve even gotten
some calls from people who are close to this information who`s sharing it
with me. And it may be information that I give to the Ways and Means
Committee. We`ll see how to work it, but there`s a lot of information
about how this foundation was used or misused.
HAYES: Interesting. The foundation – I want to ask a few other oversight
questions. You already sent a letter to Mick Mulvaney who of course the
head of OMB, the chief of staff and current chief of staff acting, and was
the head of the CFPB for a short while saying that you may want him to come
before your committee to talk about his tenure there. What do you want to
– what do you want to learn about what he did there?
WATERS: Well, we know that Mulvaney was sent to the Consumer Financial
Protection Bureau in order to dismantle it. The Republicans hate the
Financial Services Protection Bureau. They hate the bureau and so they
want to get rid of it and they have undermined it in every way that they
possibly can. And so Mulvaney was sent there to do it. And basically, we
want him to come and talk about some of the things that he has done to
undermine the Financial Services Protection Bureau and see what he has to
HAYES: Another area of oversight that you`ve been focused on for quite a
while has to do with Deutsche Bank which is in your portfolio at Financial
Services. There`s also the sort of loan bank lending to Donald Trump after
his multiple bankruptcies. There`s some indication they are cooperating
with your committee now and investigating or with the Democrats more
broadly? What`s going on there?
WATERS: Yes, they are. As you know, we started sending letters to
Deutsche Bank last year and they were not responsive because they did not
feel that we had the authority to demand anything from them, the documents
that we wanted. But now that I`m chairing that committee and the Democrats
are in charge of the House, they have said they will cooperate.
We have people that are going up to New York to sit with these people and
to go over our document requests and we`re going to find out a lot about
Deutsche Bank and that banks relationship to the President. We are very
concerned about money laundering. We know that Deutsche Bank has had a
reputation for money laundering for a long time. And it`s the only bank
that would really deal with the President.
The other bank said hands off, they had enough of him. His bankruptcies,
his suing, you know, even Deutsche Bank. And so Deutsche Bank is you know,
the bank that he has been dealing with and his family have been dealing
with Deutsche Bank. They all I think have loans, big loans from Deutsche
Bank. So we`re really interested in his finances. And they have done
reviews. We want to know what those reviews tell them about what he`s
HAYES: So you have staffers that are coordinating with I imagine
attorney`s at Deutsche Bank on document production right now.
WATERS: Yes I do.
HAYES: Wow, OK. I think I learned something new there. Congressman
Maxine Waters thank you so much for making the time.
WATERS: Well, thank you so very much.
HAYES: Still to come, Michael Cohen`s testimony shed light on some of the
biggest outstanding questions from the infamous Steele Dossier. We will go
over it all with BuzzFeed`s Ben Smith next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN SMITH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, BUZZFEED: The Special Counsel issued this very
vague statement. We are eager to know what he`s talking about. We have
two federal law enforcement officials, no game plan with those titles, who
have told us that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress
about negotiations to build the Trump Tower in Moscow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: You may remember one of the biggest questions heading into Michael
Cohen`s testimony this week was how to understand that blockbuster report
from BuzzFeed a few weeks back. In it they said the President directed
Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow project they were working on
through the 2016 campaign which would be a crime.
Robert Mueller`s office took the unprecedented step of shooting down the
thrust of that report though BuzzFeed`s editor Ben Smith stood by his
reporters and their story. The whole thing was genuinely baffling. Then
this week Cohen himself appeared to resolve the tension testifying the
President sent in a clear message without explicitly instructing him to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a conversation with the president United
States about your pending testimony before the House Intelligence Committee
is that correct?
COHEN: That`s correct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the nature of that conversation?
COHEN: There is no collusion, there is no – there is no deal. He goes,
it`s all a witch-hunt and it`s – he goes this stuff has to end.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you take those comments to be suggestive of what
might flavor your testimony?
COHEN: Sir, he`s been saying that to me for many, many months. And at the
end of the day I
knew exactly what he wanted me say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Cohen also confirmed some other key aspects of Buzzfeed`s reporting
and explicitly addressed some of the most contested parts of the Steele
Dossier, which you might remember Buzzfeed first published just over two
For an update on where all this stands, following Cohen`s testimony, I`m
joined by Buzzfeed
editor-in-chief Ben Smith who was sued by Cohen over the dossier until
Cohen dropped the lawsuit.
Good to have you here.
BEN SMITH, BUZZFEED EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Thanks for having me on.
HAYES: So we were all – everyone was trying to make sense of this
situation. You have this reporting with reporters who had a incredible
track record, particularly on this story. The special counsel`s office
came out fairly carefully worded pushing back. Do you feel like you
understand the discrepancy now?
SMITH: You know, I feel like I understand what we reported and what Cohen
said. I think I still would – I think there`s still questions exactly –
you know, it`s a very careful statement from the special counsel. And just
to step back, you know, when he put out that statement you were fairly
cautious about what you said about it, but a lot of people said what that
means is he is rejecting the core elements, the central thesis of the
HAYES: The whole thing is knocked down.
SMITH: I mean, I if you watch what Cohen said he – you know, the two
really core central pieces of that story were Cohen thought he had been
told to lie. He certainly said that. He used the word told. And two, and
this was in our story, although it didn`t get that much focus, and then was
in the testimony that the president`s lawyers allegedly conspired to on his
false testimony to congress. I mean, that`s a very important claim.
HAYES: Yeah, we should and Cohen alleged that. Again, you don`t have to
believe Michael Cohen, but I do think that if you read our story and you
watched Cohen`s testimony, I think those things line up.
I should say, here are a few key details independent of did he tell –
instruct him to lie – that appear to be confirmed, right. So that Cohen
briefed Trump on Moscow project around ten times during the 2016 campaign.
Confirmed in the testimony, and also a kind of jaw-dropping part of that
SMITH: Yes. I mean, there`s just to step back. I mean, the core – the
most – the reason that the Moscow tower project is now right at the center
of every – you know, of this conversation or come from Russia, is because
of how jaw-dropping it is. This is deep into the 2016 campaign. We`re
talking about the summer of 2016. And this is what Jason and Anthony
revealed, that they were having these conversations about a $300 million
deal to build, and to build the tallest building in Europe and give
Vladimir Putin a penthouse, I mean that is an amazing thing.
HAYES: And also that he briefed Ivanka and Don Jr. on the Moscow project,
that he considered traveling to Russia during the 2016 campaign, and that,
like you just said, and this again, sort of a bombshell moment, one of the
biggest takeaways, is that the lawyers edited Cohen`s House intel
SMITH: I mean, and again, these are Michael Cohen`s allegations. And you
can certainly see why a prosecutor would be uncomfortable going to court
with Michael Cohen, a convicted perjurer, as his star witness. That was
the point Republicans made over and over and over and over during that
hearing. But this is – as we reported what Michael Cohen had told, as we
reported, the special
counsel`s investigation, or the investigation in general and then, you
know, told congress.
HAYES: You know, when you guys published the dossier, which was extremely
controversial at the time. You faced, if I`m not mistaken, multiple
lawsuits about that haven`t you?
SMITH: There were initially three.
HAYES: There were initially three, right. Are you down to one now?
SMITH: It`s going through the courts. But we won a really crucial verdict
So, Cohen was one of the people that initially sued you. He also – I
think he like gave a picture of his passport, you know, he said. And the
reason is because it alleges that he plays a central role, in the dossier,
it says that Michael Cohen traveled to Prague and he picked up the deal
from Manafort to pay the hackers basically. It`s a very James Bond clock
and dagger thing.
I want to play the testimony of him saying I did not go to Prague, which is
a big moment in that testimony. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NORMAN: Have you ever been to Prague?
COHEN: I`ve never been to Prague.
NORMAN: Never have?
COHEN: I`ve never been to the Czech Republic
ROY: You testify today you have never been to Prague and have never been
to the Czech Republic, do you stand behind that statement?
COHEN: Yes, I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Does that have some meaning or significance for you since you guys
first published the dossier?
SMITH: I mean, I think that was an incredibly explosive allegation.
I want to separate these things, though, the story that we were reporting,
you know, about Cohen`s testimony to the special counsel was based on
senior law enforcement sources, the dossier we published and we knew – you
know, we said it was an important, important historical document that was
HAYES: Yes, you did not – you do not vouch for everything in there.
SMITH: No. And so, I think, you know, those are really important claims.
I think Cohen, under oath saying he hadn`t been to Prague. It`s pretty –
you know, that`s important. And there has been compelling evidence that he
was in Prague.
HAYES; Where are – you know sort of grand sense, as someone who`s editing
Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, particularly on the Moscow tower, which
is front and center. Do you feel like you have a clear picture of where we
SMITH: You know, I think that anybody who think – who is pretending to
know what Bob Mueller knows, don`t believe him. I certainly don`t think I
know that. He has been in some sense
lowering expectations for the Mueller report, which either means you should
have low expectations, or you should have high expectations. And I think
it`s – I have not talked to anybody who really thinks they know.
HAYES: About what he is up to.
SMITH: About what he has.
And I think he has a lot of different ways he can have things that you and
I do not have, and know things you and I don`t know. And so I think we`re
all waiting for that.
HAYES: Ben Smith is the editor of Buzzfeed – Buzzfeed News, it`s great to
have you here.
SMITH: Thanks for having me on.
HAYES: Thanks a lot.
Ahead, the problem with framing the impeachment question as a political
calculation for Democrats, the bigger question at hand coming up in
Tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two starts next.
HAYES: Well, it`s that time of year again, CPAC time, the Conservative
Political Action Conference. It used to be, or at least used to think of
itself as a forum for principled conservatism. But in the years since
Donald Trump got elected CPAC has pretty much devolved into a sort of MAGA
head cos play convention where attendees can find tasteful paints of the
man god himself tapped to lead this country, that is according to the guy
in the pillow commercials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE LINDELL, MYPILLOW FOUNDER: As I stand before you today, I see the
greatest president in history. Of course he is, he was chosen by god.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: This week, the true believers at CPAC could enjoy a symbolic
version of the wall Trump has failed to build and a cocktail named after
his broken promise that Mexico would pay for it.
CPAC was the place to hear how Hillary is going going to pay, and to watch
third tier right-wing media personalities mock transgendered people and
attack the late John McCain.
The one and only Sebastian Gorka, late of the Trump White House, still has
the art war (ph) mobile. Although, after his speech today, the time on the
parking meter is over. What kind of jack-booted thug would ticket the
CPAC did also get big names, including Trump, who will, of course, speak
We`ve already heard from Mike Pence and Ted Cruz and Senator Josh Hawley
who hilariously was served with a subpoena as he exited the CPAC stage.
But the biggest star of the conference so far is not any of those people,
it is, instead, a certain democratic socialist that the CPAC crowd just
cannot stop talking about. And that`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.
HAYES: So there were two main themes from the MAGA friends at CPAC this
year, the glory and wonder of Donald Trump and, oh my god, we`re obsessed
with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Everywhere you looked it was the very, very
scary AOC and she`s apparently coming for your cows?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: With this Green New Deal, they`re
trying to get rid of all the cows.
SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: Let me say I support cows. I hope to see PETA
supporting the Republican Party now that the Democrats want to kill all the
JERRY FALWELL JR, LIBERY UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: As far as those cows you
mentioned, I`ve got 100 cows. You just let Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez show
up at my house and try to take my cows away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love cows, Jerry. They`re delicious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The obsession with Ocasio-Cortez was truly something to behold.
Panels were named after AOC and dedicated to attacking her, and videos
splashed the word radicalism in scary font while showing the scary new
congresswoman from the Bronx.
One CPAC party featured a life-sized cardboard cutout of her cleverly
situated next to a pretend bread line. Someone has also cleverly scrawled
a derogatory Spanish word on her face.
And you have to think that AOC must truly be on to something if she can
inspire this kind of terror into the manliest of manly men.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEBASTIAN GORKA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: That is why Alexandria
GORKA: Has introduced has introduced the Green New Deal. They want to
take your pickup truck. They want to rebuild your home. They want to take
away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamed about, but never
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Here in the United States, there is currently a very active debate
about whether a sitting president can be indicted. But some other
countries have already decided that, yes, you can indict the sitting head
of a government.
In Italy, for example, Silvio Berlusconi was indicted while still prime
minister. And in Israel, the attorney general has announced his intention
indict Prime Minister and Trump ally Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption
Now, you will never guess how Netanyahu is attempting to fight off the
charges. As the BBC reports, he said, quote, the left knows it cannot beat
us at the polling booth, so for the past three years they have been
carrying out an unprecedented witch hunt, which has one aim: to topple the
right-wing government which I lead.
There is a question, of course, about whether Netanyahu`s hard-right
supporters will even care even if he`s indicted or even found guilty. But
this makes the obvious the connection between corruption and the worst
elements in domestic politics, because when faced with a looming
indictment, Netanyahu turned to an alliance with a political party, a hard
right political party so despicable, so outwardly racist, that groups like
AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee took the very rare step of
denouncing the move.
One Israeli journalist writing for Axios described it as, quote, equivalent
to a U.S. president cutting a political deal with David Duke, the former
KKK leader. All which makes one wonder what exactly will Donald Trump do
politically if he`s the one backed into such a corner?
HAYES: In the wake of Michael Cohen`s testimony, there is a strange
congealing conventional wisdom about what impeachment of President Trump
would mean politically. And it`s not strange because it`s necessarily
wrong, but the notion is that the Democrats have a dilemma on their hands
because while there seems to be evidence the president committed a crime or
more, there is a strong impulse among many to pursue impeachment, there are
possible political risks in doing so.
And all of that may be true enough, but is also kind of misses the point.
And there is something odd about framing the president`s criminality as a
problem for Democrats.
As journalist Dan Froomkin writes, “by any normal standard, Trump has
impeachable offenses. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is almost assuredly
going to tell us about many more. And if impeachment is the remedy to a
manifestly unfit president, it`s long overdue.”
Joining me now is Independent Accountability Journalist Dan Froomkin,
editor of White House Watch, along with former Congresswoman Elizabeth
Holtzman who served on the House Judiciary Committee, which voted to
impeach Richard Nixon and is author of “A Case for Impeaching Trump.”
Dan, I really liked your piece. What were you trying to get at there?
DAN FROOMKIN, JOURNALIST: Well, I`m really disappointed in the coverage of
the topic of impeachment in mainstream media. They tend to cover it as
just sort of a horse race, as a political story, about optics, you know,
when will the Democrats do it. You know, will they? Will there be a
backlash. And I think that the country is actually in need of a really
full-throated discussion about has Donald Trump committed impeachment
offenses? What are they? You know, and they need to be laid out in front
of the country by congress, and whether you call this – you know, there is
a big difference
between impeachment and impeachment hearings, or investigative hearings or
select committee investigation of impeachment.
I think those are necessary. And instead,we`re having – the press is
talking about, you know, will the Democrats, you know – are they ready for
a backlash or what have you? I think it`s crazy.
HAYES: What do you think?
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, AUTHOR, “THE CASE FOR IMPEACHING TRUMP”: Well, I
agree with Dan. I mean, this is a really important conversation to be
had. The problem is as I see it , is that Donald Trump is a genius at just
throwing facts against the wall, I should say lies, against the wall every
single day and new facts about criminality, misconduct every single day,
and it`s impossible
for the public to absorb this and put it into a narrative, and that`s what
needs to be done.
But I think the other thing is the Democrats need to stop thinking about
the Clinton impeachment and go back to the road map that was created in the
Nixon impeachment effort. And there what happened was you have a Senate
select committee. They did some very, very important work. They educated
the public. They had the key witnesses were there in public. They framed
the issues for the public. Did the president orchestrate the coverup? Did
he know about the coverup? Or didn`t he?
And so when the Saturday Night Massacre happened and the special prosecutor
was fired, the American people said enough is enough.
HAYES: Dan, what do you think about the relationship between the sort of
impeachment is a political process and the Democrats in the House and the
Mueller report? Because I think that`s one of the most vexed part of this.
I think there`s a sense in which Democrats will say we have to wait for the
Mueller report, and I understand that on one level. But it also seems like
outsourcing of a constitutional duty that is just fundamentally and firmly
FROOMKIN: Right. I mean, I think there is certainly and understandable a
that a lot more will come out when the Mueller out, which I think is a
But that shouldn`t forestall their investigation. There is no reason why
they have to wait until the Mueller report is out to begin investigating
all sorts of things much more openly then they have.
And to Liz`s point, I think that the antidote to, you know, the crazy
coverage of what is Trump lie about now, what did he say now, is putting
this in the context of impeachment and putting it in the narrative of what
happened– what did the president do – what is he doing – what is he
lying about now so…
HOLTZMAN: Well, I think one of the key things to start out with is you
don`t have to commit a crime to have an impeachable offense. The whole
second article of impeachment – there were three articles of impeachment
against Nixon, the whole second article was about abuse of power. It did
not talk about crime, even the first article did not mention criminal code,
so we don`t need that.
What people have to understand is that, yes, right now you have outlines of
impeachable – a number of impeachable offenses, what congress has to do is
strategically fill in the facts. It`s like you have the outline of a
puzzle, put the facts in. They`re not doing that yet.
I mean, we should say that the House Oversight Committee had this big
public hearing. It was the first public hearing of its kind. They`re now
talking about calling other people. Felix Sater is going to be testifying
Part of the issue, though, to your point, Liz, is that there is no select
committee. There is no sort of central warehouse. And to your point, Dan,
impeachment itself actually provides a narrative framework, because it`s
the question is that`s the thing that you`re filling in, otherwise it`s
sort of scatter.
FROOMKIN: Right. And it`s important for the press to keep reminding you
of that, because otherwise it sort of – it becomes too normalizing of this
very abnormal presidency.
HAYES: Do you think there – do you there is – what do you think about
the political point that is being made about Democrats? I mean, I can`t
sort of figure out the degree to which that is a kind of story from the
outside and how much it`s actually reflective of an organic sort of thing
that they are working through?
FROOMKIN: I think it`s a legitimate story, to some extent. I mean, I
think they do have a political conundrum on their hands. But that is so
far and above not the issue that I think we should be discussing front and
HAYES: You know, the thing that I keep coming back to is just the
straightforward and simple story right in front of us, which is that the
president`s henchmen, fixer, bag man, lawyer, already pleaded guilty to a
federal felony that he`s going to do time for, that he says was directed by
the president, that he has evidence was done by the president, he has a
phone recording conspiring with the
president to do, that he has a check that the president wrote him to pull
off, and said crime was committed in pursuit of the election itself, like
that is on its face, that`s all right there.
HOLTZMAN: Could well be an impeachable offense.
But there are other things that he has done. For example, all the efforts
to dangle pardons in front of people to keep them from cooperating with
Mueller. That was part of the impeachment of Richard Nixon. All the
efforts to shut down the investigation, that was part of what the articles
of impeachment were. So, you just need to – people need to know that.
And you don`t have to have a crime.
FROOMKIN: And also, you know, there are the emoluments issue, there is
issue that Liz describes as just having a totally inappropriate response
to the Russian hacking. I mean, her book is litany of really terrific
examples. If you – your benchmark is Nixon, even by Nixonian standards,
this guy is ripe.
HAYES: And part of the issue here, right, is this basic conceptual
question we keep coming back to. What are we talking about? What is the
thing that`s an impeachable offense? Is that the category of the federal
HOLTZMAN: No, definitely not. Definitely not. You don`t have to – the
whole Nixon impeachment never mentioned violation of a single statute.
It`s really important to understand that, never mentioned the violation of
HAYES: Why not? Why that choice?
HOLTZMAN: Because we don`t want to be bound, Congress can`t be bound by
what is in the criminal law.
HAYES: Because it`s a completely different proceeding?
HOLTZMAN: Correctly, not only a different proceeding, but the idea is an
impeachable offense is an egregious abuse of power, misuse of the power of
the office of the presidency, and that`s the key.
HAYES: That`s the deep constitutional question. I will note that one of
the articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson, the first president to
be impeached, was basically about how he
talked about congress, and how he lied. Literally, it was about his
Dan Froomkin and Elizabeth Holtzman, thank you both.
FROOMKIN: Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: I should mention our podcast “Why is This Happening” has some great
episodes about these very questions we`re talking about. For instance,
Nick Ackerman talked to me about his own personal story about investigating
the president during Watergate. We did an hour with Zephyr Teachout (ph)
about why Trump`s corruption matters. And my own wife, the great Kate
Shaw, was a
guest to talk about the rule of law in the Trump era.
While your binging, may I recommend our most recent episode with Stacy
Abrams who is just a truly captivating, surprising person with tons I
learned from her. I had the great pleasure to interview her live. You can
find all of those episodes wherever you get your podcast.
That is ALL IN for this evening. “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right
now. Good evening, Rachel.
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