Trump admits Cohen payment. TRANSCRIPT: 05/16/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Michael Avenatti, Daniel Goldman, Neera Tanden, Michael McFaul, Liz Plank, Cheri Jacobus

Date: May 16, 2018
Guest: Michael Avenatti, Daniel Goldman, Neera Tanden, Michael McFaul, Liz Plank, Cheri Jacobus

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: All right. So will this great debate – I have to
stop this or I will go crazy – ever be resolved? Give it time. The
Laurels will eventually come around and embrace the Yannies, just like they
did when everyone eventually agreed this dress is white and gold, which is
obviously true. It`s what Yanny wore.

That`s all for tonight. We will be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.

THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Good evening. Is it Ari or air-y?

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Some people say air-y. I have always done by Ari.
But if you are using the name at all, I will take it. Thank you.

TODD: Well, no matter how you hear it, I heard Ari. Did you hear air-y?

MELBER: It`s a post-modern world, is what it is. Thank you, Chuck Todd.

We begin with breaking news about Donald Trump allegedly lying to federal
authorities about how he paid off Stormy Daniels. Her lawyer were Michael
Avenatti, is my special guest tonight. And in a moment, I`ll ask him about
some of the questions that are growing out of this truly significant break
in unusual story given Trump`s new admission tonight.

Now, we are also reporting out details from another revelation later
tonight on the show. This is the first time that Donald Trump Jr.`s Russia
testimony has been released.

Meanwhile, Bob Mueller has a new subpoena out. Word of that leaking
tonight. It hit an operative who worked for Trump adviser, Roger Stone.
And that would be enough news, but there`s actually more.

“The New York Times” with a huge story out right now on how the Russia
probe began, why the FBI named it after a Rolling Stone lyric, and how they
were helped by a potential informant with links deep inside the Trump
campaign. So it is a lot.

But we begin with Donald Trump admitting he is behind the payment to Stormy
Daniels, which means he admitting about lying about it previously. This is
bad for Trump. And the lies could create new criminal liability which I`m
going to get in to.

So why is this happening? Well, there are two big reasons. One has been
all over your TV. The relentless tormenting of President Trump by Stormy
Daniels and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti.

Now, look, lawyers are not like regular people. They don`t need to be
liked or popular. In fact, a lawyer`s willingness to be disliked in
service to their client is a key feature of their work. And lawyers don`t
need to be subtle. But they do need to be effective. And at this point,
even Michael Avenatti`s critics, and he has a growing chorus of critics,
they admit his legal media political strategy is effective and tonight
looks like another inflection point in this scorched earth campaign.

Now, the other big reason that Trump is admitting his own lies tonight is
about the key tool that good lawyers are supposed to use, the law. Now,
the law may not require that Donald Trump release his tax returns, but it
does require him to release this.

I am holding annual disclosures, brand-new, of what Donald Trump says he
has and what he says he owes. What I`m holding in my hands turns out,
because of everything going on, to be nothing short of a reckoning for
Trump tonight. The law requires he has to reveal a lot of things, and that
means we`re learning how he paid off Stormy Daniels.

In these 92 pages, we have Trump`s financial activity last year. And while
they could have still obviously tried to find a way to continue lie about
the Daniels payments, he admits in here, let me show you in a footnote,
that asserts while he`s not required to expose it, back in 2016, expenses
were occurred by Trump`s attorney, Michael Cohen, who was then fully
reimbursed by Trump in 2017 for an amount over 100k. The Daniels payment,
of course, was $130k.

So what does it all mean? This is a big development. Number one, Trump`s
been lying, as I say, and very recently about this, like on air force one
in April.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no
truth to the allegations?

TRUMP: You would have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and
you`ll have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money?

TRUMP: No, I don`t know.


MELBER: Lies to the public. What else does this mean?

Well, number two, if Trump and Cohen lied to other entities like banks,
that`s potentially a separate crime.

And number three tonight, if Trump`s earlier financial forms deliberately
lied about this to U.S. authorities, that could be another crime for the
DOJ to investigate.

Now, some skeptics may ask, all right, but is anyone in the Trump ethics
office going to do anything about this? The last ethics adviser left in
November voicing grave concerns about Trump`s approach to ethics. And that
left Donald Trump hand-picking new replacement you see there. Is he really
going to be tough and call in an offense by Donald Trump?

Well, tonight I can report the answer for you. Yes, the ethics chief
sending this stern letter to none other than Rod Rosenstein today, calling
out Trump for not reporting this debt to Cohen, is suggesting it may have
been a false filing. Telling Rosenstein, this could be quote “relevant to
any DOJ inquiry on the matter.” And that ethics chief that he replaced
saying tonight, this is tantamount to a criminal referral.

That is a lot. I`m going to begin with Richard Painter for a legal view of
this will before we turn to Mr. Avenatti. Mr. Painter, of course, was
White House ethics chief for George W. Bush.

Number one, is it a problem if there was a failure to originally report
this accurately by Donald Trump?

he intentionally failed to report it. He covered it up, he lied, that`s a
violation of the false statements statute, 18 United States code 1,001,
that`s a criminal offense and can be prosecuted as a felony.

MELBER: Let`s put that up for the viewers, for your analysis. If anyone
knowingly and willfully makes a materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent
statement, and that is something we have seen bob Mueller use, are you
saying just doing that about Stormy Daniels in this financial disclosure is
actually something the DOJ could use?

PAINTER: If he intentionally concealed the payment on – prior financial
disclosure form, he intentionally lied, yes, he could be prosecuted for
that. That is one of many lies and crimes committed by this President. We
have just seen evidence just this week of his being brought by the Chinese
government. We have a very serious crisis in this country. We have a new
lie every single week.

MELBER: Richard, take a listen to another lawyer people may have
forgotten, but we are not forgetting and I don`t think Mueller has
forgotten, which was the person claiming to represent Michael Cohen with a
defense about this, that also was obviously a lie. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are claiming that Michael Cohen, the President`s
lawyer and fixer, Ray Donovan character, never, ever told Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Center ever told him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Michael Cohen dispensed $130,000 of his own money
and never sought reimbursement?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hundred percent.


MELBER: So we are going to move that from a hundred to zero. What`s the
significance of that to you tonight?

PAINTER: Just one more lie. And repeated lies, repeated instances, and
Bob Mueller doesn`t have to be the person who investigates all of this all
alone. The United States House and Senate should be investigating. They
should be convening. The House and Senate Judiciary Committee to move
toward impeaching this President.

They are sitting around doing absolutely nothing. I don`t know why both
parties, they need to focus on the clear violations of law, violations of
the constitution, and criminal lies by the President. And they are not
willing to do it, the members of the House and the Senate. And if I`m
there, I`m going to do something about it. Because Americans are fed up.
We are not going to tolerate a President who behaves this way. This is
just one more lie, one more criminal lie, if it was intentional, and we are
hearing about new ones every week. It`s a new thing or two things. We
heard about the collusion and the Trump tower with the Russians yet again.
More details on that. And once again, the payout from the Chinese. It
goes on and on and on and it`s going to keep on going on until Congress
does something.

MELBER: Richard Painter, thank you for being part of our special coverage

Now I turn, as promised, to Stormy Daniels` lawyer, Michael Avenatti.

What does this mean? Why is this happening? And is it partly because of
your litigation?

question that it largely stems from our litigation and the amount of
pressure that we have put on the administration, Mr. Trump, and Mr. Cohen
over the last eight to ten weeks. I mean, you know, some people take an
issue with the way that we have approached this case. I stand behind it
110 percent. I think it yielded tremendous results on a number of
different fronts.

But, look, what does this show? Here`s what it shows. It shows that the
American people have been repeatedly lied to by Michael Cohen, by David
Schwartz, the gentlemen that was interviewed by Megyn Kelly. I mean, he
lied on this network repeatedly, lied on CNN repeatedly, lied on panels
that I was with him repeatedly. They have been lied to by White House
spokespeople. And they have been lied to by their President. The
President stood on air force one, on videotape.

And you had me on that day. I remember it very, very well. You had me on
this show, the day that he made that statement. And I told you at the time
that it was going to be proven to be false. And now it has proven to be
false. It was proven to be false when Mr. Giuliani addressed it a week or
two ago. And now we also know that Mr. Giuliani statements to the American
people over the last ten days have also proven to be false because what he
said was, when he was called to the carpet on when the President knew, he
claim the President only found out after the statement on air force one
this year. We know that not to be true, because according to the financial
disclosure, all of these payments were made in 2017. None of them occurred
in 2018. So this whole thing –

MELBER: You just said something so important. There`s so many things
flying around. Let`s play Rudy Giuliani and then dig into the timeline you
just hit because legally, that matters. Here`s Rudy.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: Having something to do with
paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000, I mean, which is going to turn
out to be perfectly legal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They funneled it through a law firm.

GIULIANI: Funneled it through a law firm and then the President repaid it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I didn`t know – he did?


MELBER: Now, what you are saying is, at the time of that statement, Donald
Trump had actually and literally already transferred the funds, so he knew?

AVENATTI: There`s no doubt. And after Mr. Giuliani made that statement,
he then tried to backtrack on it and tried to claim that the air force one
statement was accurate, because the President did not repay it or did not
start or know that he had repaid it until after the air force one statement
in April of this year, which made no sense at the time, but now has
conclusively shown to be false.

But Ari, I want to put a focus on what I think the real issue is here and
what we really need to look at.

In May of 2016, when the prior financial disclosure was filed, there is no
question that other people, other than Mr. Trump were consulted in
connection with that, OK? Mr. Trump, that`s not a form that he would fill
out on his own. It would make no sense. So other people surrounding him
that would know of liabilities and assets would have been consulted.
There`s little question in my mind that Michael Cohen would have been
consulted at that time, because he would have intimate knowledge of a lot
of the details. The President at that point had only been in office four
or five months. And furthermore, all of that would have related to the
year 2016, which we know that Michael Cohen was intimately involved with.

So Michael Cohen would have been consulted. And what I think the big
question is, what did Michael Cohen tell whoever was filling out the form,
relating to this liability, if any. That`s the first question. And the
second question is, what communication did Michael Cohen have with the
President relating to this liability around the time that that form was
completed? Because if they discussed purposefully excluding this liability
from that form or if any acts were taken to further keeping it off the
form, that would be a serious, serious problem for the President.

MELBER: When did you first figure out that this would be an avenue for
you? And if part of your job is to litigate and figure out what moves your
opponents are contemplating, can you make sense of the strategy like this
that has blown up in their face with this footnote? Because Donald Trump
may not keep track of the law, but even his own people got him to do this,
and this is out tonight because they understood that further lying about
this to the authorities would be worse. So if they know that, and you know
that, why did they end up basically hurting themselves this badly?

AVENATTI: Because they`re not smart and they don`t – they play – they
play tic-tac-toe.

MELBER: You think it is incompetence?

AVENATTI: I think it is complete incompetence. And I also don`t think
they are going to get caught on it. Now, as it relates to when I found
out, I checked the prior financial disclosure form before we even file the
case back in March. So I know what the financial disclosure –.

MELBER: So you knew that liability, according to the theory of your case,
at that time was not reported and that would hurt them later if you could
keep your case going?

AVENATTI: That is true, yes. I knew that if they claimed that it was
reimbursed after the fact or that it had not been paid – well, I knew that
they had not reported it in connection with the campaign, which in and of
itself was a problem. And then I also knew they had not listed it as a
liability or expenditure on the financial disclosure form. So I firmly
believed that either way, they were going to have an issue. And lo and
behold, guess what, they have an issue now, some might argue, in both

MELBER: Now, let me push you on your role here. And we had Donald Trump`s
former lawyer on last night. He made –

AVENATTI: I saw it.

MELBER: You saw it? You watch THE BEAT?


MELBER: He made the allegation which you`ve heard and you can respond to,
that in his view, you are going beyond your mandate with your client to do
other things. And let me speak to that in a little more depth. This very
interesting filing from the ethics office to Rod Rosenstein tonight cites a
good government group, crew, for their complaints about all of this.

But Stormy Daniels doesn`t necessarily benefit one way or the other, and
thus may not care whether or not the election law issues are pursued. How
is that relevant to what you`re doing, if it is, and why should people care
this is going over to Rosenstein now?

AVENATTI: Well, this issue is directly relevant to my case and the issue
of my client because it goes to the issue of whether Mr. Trump knew of the
payment and when he knew of it, all of which goes to whether they can
enforce the NDA or the NDA gets tossed out, as we have alleged.

So there`s no question that it`s tightly connected to the allegations in
our case, especially as it relates to the NDA. Now I saw the comments last
night on your show. And you know, with all due respect, I know he`s a very
learned lawyer, at least was at one time, but most recently, he was
disclosing attorney/client communications on national television,
communications he had with the President a couple weeks ago –

MELBER: I will say, it`s a fair criticism, although it happens more than
you might think when it comes to Donald Trump`s advisers.

AVENATTI: It`s highly questionable. He should not be communicating to the
American people about what he communicated with Mr. Trump about, ever,
because that should be in a lockbox. It`s called the attorney/client

So, look, have we taken a traditional approach in this case? No. Have we
taken an aggressive approach? Yes. Have we taken a media-centric
approach? Yes. Has it worked? I think there`s no question that it`s
worked. People may have criticisms of it, but you can`t argue against the
results that we have obtained.

MELBER: But I suppose to pinpoint it is, are you the lawyer for Stormy
Daniels or are you the lawyer for the resistance?

AVENATTI: I`m the lawyer for Stormy Daniels in the first instance and I`m
the lawyer for the truth in the second instance.

MELBER: While I have you, and I want to bring in David Corn on the Russia
of it all.

But before we do that, as if there wasn`t enough news going on, and David,
hang with me, you are also in a pitched separate battle before Judge Kimba
Wood and Mr. Cohen. As you know, the federal judge here is basically
asking Cohen`s attorneys now to respond to your letter filed in court which
builds back to some of the material that has come out. And they didn`t
challenge all of the voracity of it, but they did make the point that maybe
you shouldn`t be leaking stuff. And that`s up for debate.

I want to read now Kimba Wood`s response and get yours. The judge
directing Michael Cohen to respond to your letter, saying Mr. Cohen`s
response should include citations to quote “any legal authorities that
support his position.” Your view?

AVENATTI: Well, in the initial request to bar us from participating in the
case, they did not have any legal authority whatsoever for their position
that we should be barred, and quite honestly, I thought it was a very weak
filing. And I thought it was done strictly for media purposes. And I
think the judge, now having read our suspicion, which pointed out the
deficiencies in their position and there`s a litany of them, I think the
judge wants them to account for them. And I don`t think they`re going to
be able to account for them. And I`m confident that I`m going to be
admitted to practice before that court.

MELBER: Right, so – I mean, the difference here that you are talking
about, the difference between TV and court is you can say almost anything
on TV, and people will decide what they think about it. And in court, the
only things that you say in a judge proceeding like this that matters is
what you can say that`s supported by precedent. You are confident that
Cohen won`t have the precedent to sanction you for the leaks or keep you
out of court?

AVENATTI: I couldn`t agree with you more. I`m confident in our position.
I think I`m going to be admitted to that court. I`ve been admitted to that
court before without incident. There`s no reason why it shouldn`t be
admitted before the court. And I think at the end of the day, Mr. Cohen
and his attorney are going to look very bad when their efforts are denied.

MELBER: Let me bring in David Corn, who, as promised, is part of our
coverage tonight.

Number one, David, if you have any confidential attorney/client
communications that you want to disclose on THE BEAT, that`s fine.
Consider doing it. And number two, put in context for us how all of this
news tonight relates to the wider Russia probe. One, obvious, next is
being that the shell company, essential consultants that was used to pay
Mr. Avenatti`s client is also linked in other nefarious allegations. And
two, after your analysis, if you have a thought or question for Mr.
Avenatti, we welcome it.

credit for helping to bring a hush payment scandal together with a pay-to-
play scandal with a Russian scandal. We have had this convergence in the
last week or two here.

And, you know, a lot of this all goes back to finances. You know, that`s
part of the deal with the Russian scandal. Donald Trump`s closeness, his -
- working with oligarchs in Russia for all sorts of reasons, led to the
Trump tower meeting of which we have more information about today. And we
do – we do see with the payments that were made to Michael Cohen`s
company, essential consultants, a link to an American-affiliated company of
a company called Renova, which is run by a major oligarch named Viktor
Vekselberg, who is also working with Wilbur Ross and a bank of Cyprus that
was full of Russian money.

I mean, I feel like Kerry Mathison a little bit on “Homeland.” He need a
big board and lots of string to put all of this together. And we see with
the financial disclosure form coming out today. And you know, that
footnote is very telling. The only thing different between what they saw
last year and this year is Michael`s intervention. And I think they were
obviously trying to cover up some of that last year and they couldn`t do it
anymore, because the payments have become public.

But with the whole financial disclosure issue, with Donald Trump has been
from the beginning, not revealing his taxes, and even with these forms.
They are highly, highly limited, what they tell us about the loans he has,
from overseas sources like deutsche bank and from other places, so you can
never get a good grip on his overall finances and who he owes money to, let
alone hush money payments.

MELBER: Right. And any thought for Michael or no?

CORN: Well, I just want to know, what`s next, Michael? Come on. Let us -
- but seriously, I mean, the question I want to know to a degree here is,
where is the money going that`s coming into essential consultants? Because
that`s, you know, you`ve got to follow the money – if we follow the money,
in and out, so where`s –

MELBER: Michael, do you have these clues?

CORN: Is it just going to Michael Cohen`s personal benefit?

MELBER: Michael?

AVENATTI: Well, we certainly know more information than we have disclosed
thus far and I don`t want to disclose any more than what we have disclosed
right now. But I will tell you that as this continues to unravel, it`s
going to get much more ugly.

MELBER: You think it`s going to get more ugly?

AVENATTI: No question.

MELBER: Do you have – in your role, given the number of things going on
and the number of allegations, I mean, we had the Trump lawyer – former
lawyer last night wasn`t just criticizing you, he was asking the question
of whether Michael Cohen`s role was to deal with the mafia for Donald
Trump. I mean, he said that, and he`s a Trump lawyer. Do you have any –
when you say “ugly,” do you have concerns about your own role, your own
safety, your own precautions?

AVENATTI: Well, I certainly have concerns about the safety of me and my
client. I mean, those concerns have been present. They have reached a
heightened level over the last two weeks, relating to death threats and the

But Ari, we are not going to go away. We are not going to pack up and go
home. We are going to see this through to conclusion. I think we have
incredible momentum right now. We are going to continue to search for the
truth. We are going to gather information. And when it`s appropriate, we
are going to disclose that information. The American people, and they can
make their own determinations as to what consequences result, if any.

MELBER: Michael Avenatti, thank you, as always for being here on THE BEAT.
David Corn, my thanks to you.

That a big story I mentioned, so we are coming up for the first time from
Don Junior, the other story I mentioned. New details about the first hours
of the Russia probe and FBI agents making a secret trip abroad.

Also, why Rudy Giuliani is asking bob Mueller to take a cue from, guess
who, James Comey and the link between the FBI and the rolling stones. You
know that`s a story for THE BEAT.

I`m Ari Melber. We will be right back.


MELBER: What exactly did Donald Trump know about the Trump tower meeting
with Russians? Well, the Senate today releasing transcripts from the
interviews they had done about the meeting. Donald Trump Jr. admits that
he did wants the dirt from the Russians, but he says his father didn`t have
a clue. Trump Jr. testifying he didn`t inform his dad about the meeting
before and after because he didn`t want to waste his time and he says they
never discussed it. Investigators also noting that Trump Jr. Was in
contact with a blocked phone number while there were calls placed that were
planning the meeting.

Now, some Democrats on the committee speculated that number could have been
Donald Trump. But let`s be clear. Nothing in the new disclosures today
adds evidence to that theory. They asked Trump Jr. if his dad used a
blocked number, and he said, I don`t know.

Nos. skeptics note, a reasonable person would know when their dad called
and you look at your phone, whether it says “dad” or blocked number. But
even an evasive answer, to be fair and clear, doesn`t mean that Donald
Trump was the person on the other end of the line. Trump junior also
evasive when he said he doesn`t remember anyone encouraging the Russians to
hack Hillary Clinton`s emails.


TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000
emails that are missing.


MELBER: The big issue, though, is not Trump Junior, it`s the candidate
himself, as you saw there. And as we also saw when three hours after
Donald Trump Jr. did confirm the Trump tower meeting in an email, candidate
Trump said this.


TRUMP: I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week.
And we are going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place
with the Clintons. I think you are going to find it very informative and
very, very interesting. I wonder if the press will want to attend. Who

Hillary Clinton turned the state department into her private hedge fund.
The Russians, the Saudis, the Chinese all gave money to bill and Hillary
and got favorable treatment in return.

I`m joined by former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman and Neera Tandem, a
former top aide to Hillary Clinton, president of the Center for American

And Neera, you lived on this. What`s striking there was both the tease to
the speech and the reference to Russia, China, the type of things we
believe they were offered at the time according to the contemporaneous

have to say, I find it really odd that just hours after that phone call
between Donald Trump and a Russian, who wanted to set up this meeting,
Donald Trump used actually very similar language. Very interesting

And, you know, I know we don`t know who placed that call to Donald Trump
Jr. or that four-minute call, that four-minute infamous blocked call, but
the idea that Donald Trump Jr. doesn`t remember who he spoke to is
laughable. And I`m sorry, just not credible. And it seems odd to me he
cannot remember it. And if – and if he cannot remember who it was, it
should be – we should all be a little skeptical that it is not Donald
Trump himself.

And I would just say one additional point, which at this point, we know of
74 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. And so this just
takes place against a backdrop of extensive interactions between the Trump
campaign and what looks like obvious efforts to collude with Russia to
affect the election.

MELBER: So, Daniel, putting that in a legal context, there`s, whether
that`s enough to form conspiracy and how you look at people`s
recollections. And one of the biases of investigations, as you know, is no
matter what side you`re on, everything looks more significant later once
you have zeroed in on the key dates. And saying you don`t remember can be
– can strike people as evasive, but at the time, it may not have seemed as
important. How do you parse that in this analysis?

whole. And if he actually says, I don`t remember 103 times and, you know,
it`s clearly an attempt to be evasive. If he says, and you pointed this
out, I don`t know whether my father used a blocked call, a blocked phone
number, that`s something that you would remember. If you don`t remember a
specific phone call on a specific day when it wasn`t so important, that
might – that may make sense.

But the problem that Donald Trump Jr. runs into is that he has such
obviously evasive answers by saying, “I don`t recall,” which, by the way,
many witnesses are prepped by their lawyers to say, if you`re not 100
percent certain of something, say you don`t recall because you don`t want
to get trapped down the road and if it`s sort of an easy out. It`s very
hard to charge someone with false statements for saying, “I don`t recall,”
because it`s a present sense impression, it`s not what you thought at the
time. So even if there`s contradictory evidence then, that doesn`t
necessarily mean that what you`re saying when you say “I don`t recall” is
false. But in the whole thing, and in the whole transcript, you start to
get a sense that he`s trying to avoid something. And that`s potentially
problematic, I think, more for others than maybe for Don Junior, because
he`s – it`s – there`s a spillover prejudice, so to speak, against some of
the other people who are more involved in the campaign, than he was.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Neera, final thought?

fact is that Donald Trump himself, his family, everyone connected to this
investigation really does act like they have something to hide and I assume
that Robert Mueller could actually figure out who this blocked call is, but
the fact that they act so much like they`d never want to get the facts out
themselves I think is part and parcel why people are so skeptical.

MELBER: Neera Tanden and Dan Goldman, thank you both. Up ahead, Donald
Trump blowing up his own claims about Stormy Daniels with those financial
disclosures. We have more on that. But first, government informants, a
rolling stone song in this new report about the secretive dawning of the
Trump-Russia probe when we`re back in just 60 seconds.


MELBER: The other top story tonight, a New York Times investigative report
that goes deep inside the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. You don`t see
details like this every day. The Times learning about an informant feeding
the FBI red-hot material on Trump adviser`s ongoing contacts with Russia
and what was in top FBI officials` minds when they began this super-secret
probe. Here`s a clue from none other than Mick Jagger. “I was drowned, I
was washed up and left for dead. I fell down to my feet and I saw they
bled. Yes, yes, yes, I was crowned with a spike right through my head.”
If you know those plaintive lines, they are from the rolling stone classic,
Jumping Jack Flash, and they are relevant tonight because that was the
FBI`s secret codename for the Russia probe, Crossfire Hurricane. It`s from
the first line of that ballad. So we know the agents in charge were at
least feeling the stones and that they saw a hurricane about to hit the
bureau from being right in the middle of the political crossfire. And the
Times reports this began in earnest about 100 days before the election.
FBI agents going abroad to meet with a foreign diplomat, Alexander Downer,
who was reporting evidence of a Trump adviser who got a secret heads-up
about, yes, the looming Russian meddling designed to hurt Hillary Clinton.
And that aide, well, he`s now pled guilty, it`s George Papadopoulos, and
he`s cooperating with Mueller, which means Mueller is going to know what he
knows. The Times also revealing in the new report tonight that the FBI was
basically duping Trump advisers by sending a secret government informant to
meet several times with Carter Page and Papadopoulos to find out if they
were colluding with Russia. I`m joined by Ambassador Michael McFaul and
Malcolm Nance. Malcolm, what do you think of that tool, the FBI, and we
only know a little bit, but more than we did before today started, using
some kind of informant to glean real-time information from those
individuals associated with Trump?

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think it speaks to the
fact that they felt that they had a very, very serious situation going on.
Papadopoulos, by speaking to Downer, did tip off the FBI through, you know,
human intelligence, all the way around from Australian intelligence to us,
that they were looking for these Russian e-mails and they were – that he
was communicating with them to find them. But we know from other reporting
that there were other sources of intelligence. And when intelligence that
comes out of our community gets to the FBI, they have to task out agents
and assets to turn that into evidence. And I think by the time that you
reach that 100-day point before the election, they were hot on the trail
between Carter Page and Papadopoulos and probably the other indicators they
were getting from the Steele Dossier. They really needed to run this down
to the ground. And that – and that means they have to use agents in the
field, who are handling assets.

MELBER: Ambassador McFaul, reading from this report about Carter Page, who
folks have heard about, it`s just unbelievable. Russian spies had already
tried to recruit page in 2013 and then he was dismissive when U.S. agents
warned him about it, that warning even went back to Russian intel leaving
FBI agents suspecting Page had reported their efforts to Moscow. Now, I
don`t know how you say double agent in Russian, but that wouldn`t seem to
be someone you want on the inside of a U.S. campaign, seeking the

course, you wouldn`t want that.

MELBER: It`s my thing. I say obvious stuff on the news.

MCFAUL: But it`s good to say the obvious stuff every now and again because
I think people forget just how extraordinary all of this is, that Carter
Page was warned, as you said, and that`s the way it works. You know, I`ve
been in this world for decades. When that – they reach out, the FBI
reaches out to let you know what they`re doing, because maybe you don`t
understand that world. But for him then to dismiss it and move on with
these contacts, why anybody should have any contacts with any Russians to
talk about presidential elections is mysterious to me. But this is a very
strange story, of which we learned some of the details again today.

MELBER: Let me read, Malcolm Nance, from another key part of this report
because there`s so much in here to digest. FBI agents considering and then
rejected interviewing key Trump associates, which might have sped up the
investigation, a good thing, but risked revealing the existence of the
case. And when agents did take a bold investigative steps like
interviewing the ambassador, of course, they were shrouded in secrecy.
Now, Malcolm, I`m sure you know the expression “real G`s move in silence
like lasagna,” maybe real G men also move in silence but at what point was
this too much concern about secrecy and not enough concern about catching a
potential international conspiracy?

NANCE: Well, first off, the very fact that they wanted to move at that
speed and that they had to be exceptionally careful tells you the level of
intensity of the investigation itself. That indicates to me that this is
one of the most serious investigations that has been done in modern

MELBER: But to do Monday morning – to do Monday morning quarterbacking,
and I know you`re an intel guy, so you don`t want to pass too much judgment
on these tough calls, but were they too concerned about secrecy and not
enough about doing on things that might have caught this before November?

NANCE: Well, we are the ones who gave this the you know, the “catch this
before November” timeline. The FBI, the counterintelligence officers
there, they don`t work at that – at that pace. They work at the pace of
where they can marry up that global intelligence to turn it into evidence,
to get what they may believe is a foreign spy. And that`s how this whole
thing started, right, with American citizens in contact with foreign
intelligence agencies. So to them, this is all (INAUDIBLE) right, the CIA
spy. This is them hunting down what they believe is the ultimate insider
threat. They would have to actually see information or already believe
that the information they would have about Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, or
whoever else could possibly be extrapolated from the involvement with
Carter Page. That would take extraordinary measures. They would take
phenomenal measures to make sure that this case was the post solid case in
the history of America.

MELBER: Ambassador, as a diplomat who`s talking about representative
American values abroad, I have to ask you of course about the other
development here in Senate Intel today, moving forward on Trump`s pick to
run the CIA, Gina Haspel. She famously destroyed the torture tapes. She
got forward today on a 10-5 vote with two Democrats, voting yes. That
includes Senator Mark Warner, who many people have recognized as contra
Trump on other issues. Ambassador, what do you think of that? Was this
the right call? Does it concern you that someone so involved in the Bush
torture era is getting a promotion?

MCFAUL: Well, it concerns me, but Ari, I just need to say one more thing
on the earlier story because remember, you know, I used to be the recipient
of intelligence when I worked in the government and there is always this
intention, even between Malcolm and I right now about folks that are
running the case and us that want to use the information in real time to do
policy work. And I just want to remind your viewers, we could have found
out about this counterintelligence investigation. We found out about
another FBI investigation about Secretary Clinton. And the fact that we
found out about one, and not the other, that`s inexcusable to me. Either
you tell the American people both because this is way more extraordinary,
what we`re talking about than what happened with Clinton.

MELBER: No, I think you raise an important and that`s in the Times article
as well. As for – as for the CIA, sir?

MCFAUL: I think it`s a hard call, because when you`re in the government,
how much authority do you have when your bosses are telling you to do one
thing. I know when I served in the government, even as a U.S. Ambassador,
I did what team wanted, and if you don`t –

MELBER: What if the team – what if the team wants to destroy tapes that
allegedly show torture?

MCFAUL: I would have resigned. I would have –

MELBER: So should she get promoted?

MCFAUL: That would not be my – that would not have been what I had –
would recommend. I do not support this.

MELBER: And I wanted to just get in on that and I know it`s something that
both of you know a lot about. Ambassador McFaul and Malcolm Nance, thank
you very much. We have a lot more when we`re right back.



MELBER: Are you the lawyer for Stormy Daniels or are you the lawyer for
the resistance?

Daniels in the first instance, and I`m the lawyer for the truth in the
second instance.


MELBER: A lawyer for the truth. Michael Avenatti, moments ago on THE
BEAT, he says he is here to do a lot and he`s getting results. That`s
amid, of course, shifting public statements from Trump world and many lies
about the Daniels payment. The 2016 deal, of course, was first outed in
January. The next month, Michael Cohen said he, “facilitated the payment,
but neither the Trump Campaign or organization was involved.” In early
April, Trump denied any knowledge of it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael – why did Michael Cohen make it
if there was no truth to the allegations.

TRUMP: You would have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and
you`ll have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that

TRUMP: No, I don`t know.


MELBER: That was not only false, it was a lie. The difference being it`s
not only false information, which we all know, but we now have the
evidence, where did I put it, right here, disclosed that proves a money
trail that Donald Trump had paid it and knew it. And by late April, Trump
was revealing at least he knew about the deal.


TRUMP: He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he
represented me and you know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing


MELBER: And then it was only days later that Rudy Giuliani said Trump knew
about the deal and did repay Cohen.


RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER, DONALD TRUMP: Sorry, I`m giving you a fact now that
you don`t know. It`s not campaigning money. No campaign finance violation
so they funneled it through a law firm, funneled through a law firm and the
President repaid it.


MELBER: I`m joined by Vox`s Liz Plank who`s been covering this story for
us from the start and Republican Strategist, Cheri Jacobus. Liz, what does
it say to you that this was so poorly done?

Look, at this point, I think I need like a vision board to actually keep
track of all of the different contradictory versions of the story that
we`ve had and all of the lies that have been told about it, right? So
every time we get a new piece of information, we don`t get more clarity,
there are more contradictions. And one of them is just, you know, I`m not
a mathematician, but Rudy Giuliani talked about $470,000 to the New York
Times as an amount that was paid to Michael Cohen, and what we have in this
form, because of transparency, is $150,000 to two hundred and something
thousand. So there`s money missing. And even you know, what – the clip
that you just played, saying that this wasn`t about campaigning, Rudy
Giuliani also in that same or in another interview talked about the fact
that you know, this was right before the election. He needed to take care
of it so Michael Cohen took care of it, contradicting himself.

MELBER: Now, do you always – do you always put bunny ears around Trump
transparency –

PLANK: Those are bunny – yes. That is – yes, instead of saying

MELBER: Cheri, Cheri, go ahead.

CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I won`t put bunny ears around
anything, but thinking about what this means. And we know Trump lies. I
think we`ve known that for a long time, so let`s stop acting surprised.
But I`m thinking – think the earth just shifted under our feet a little
bit here today, in ways that maybe some people don`t realize yet. Richard
Painter alluded to this a little bit earlier on your show. We`ve got
Democrats who are terrified of mentioning the “I” word, impeachment, out on
the campaign trail. We know Nancy Pelosi doesn`t want them calling for
impeachment but now we have a series of things, and especially this one,
the President potentially lying on financial disclosure forms, something
for which he could be prosecuted on. Democrats can run against
Republicans, refusing – in Congress, refusing to perform their oversight
function. And that is what they`re doing. And that can be a very big
campaign issue. And Richard Painter seems to understand that.

MELBER: Yes, I`m sure –

JACOBUS: I think everything just shifted today as a result of that because
now we have something concrete.

MELBER: I wonder, as a Republican official, you know a lot of these
individuals, you`ve posted yourself online about at times when they reached
out to you from Trump world about a job that you said you weren`t
interested in. I wonder if you can get your analysis of the claim that
Michael Avenatti makes, and he has a big dog in this fight, that he made at
the bing of the show tonight.


AVENATTI: What communication – what communication did Michael Cohen have
with the President relating to this liability around the time that that
form was completed? Because if they discussed purposefully excluding this
liability from that form, or if any acts were taken to further keeping it
off the form, that would be a serious, serious problem for the president.

What communication did Michael Cohen have with the President, relating to
this liability around the time that that form was completed? Because if
they discussed purposefully excluding this liability from that form or if
any acts were taken –


MELBER: Cheri, that sound bite was so great, I wanted to play it twice and
yet it was not the exact piece of analysis I wanted to review in. Let me
just read it to you. He basically said that Trump team is not smart,
they`re playing tic-tac-toe, they are incompetent, they`re going to get
caught. But he is, as I say, their legal opponent. On a scale of one to
ten, how much would you grade the accuracy of that assessment? You know
some of these folks.

JACOBUS: Yes, I mean, he knows what he`s talking about. The Trump guys,
you know, they`re bad. They`ve gotten away with a whole lot of stuff for
decades, as we know. And now they may have met their match. And look, if
the Republicans in Congress aren`t going to do what needs to be done and
Republican leaders, then Michael Avenatti is doing it. He`s basically
doing what Congress is supposed to do. So in terms of you know, Democrats
even being able to hide behind the hole, let`s let Mueller wait and –
we`ll wait what he says. We now have Democrats who can take it to voters
now about Republicans not performing –

MELBER: Let me take that to Liz briefly with 20 seconds. Is that also an
indictment though of Democrats` inability to land these punches if they
need a civil attorney from California to do it for them?

PLANK: He`s playing Trump`s game and he is the only person on the
progressive side who is willing to you know not sort of respect Michelle
Obama`s you know, “when they go low we go high.” He`s just going in all
the ways and it`s working in certain ways. But yes, I think – and can I
comment on the clip that you did play twice, you know, because you played
it twice?


PLANK: You know, he talks about who knew and when did they know. We need
to talk also about who in the administration knew and why Sarah Huckabee
Sanders now we know has lied to the American people. And if she`s – you
know, she did it because she believed what the President said, we have an
administration that is more loyal to the president than they are to the

MELBER: Right. And they`re taxpayer-funded public servants. Liz and
Cheri, thank you and we`ll be right back.


MELBER: We had a packed show, maybe a long show, hopefully, a good show
but the show is over. Thanks for watching. I`ll be back here tomorrow
6:00 p.m. Eastern. “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now.


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