Rick Gates close to a plea deal with Mueller. TRANSCRIPT: 2/15/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: February 15, 2018
Guest: Ellen Weintraub
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to at home for joining us this hour.
There is significant breaking news tonight on the Robert Mueller special
counsel investigation. We`re going to be getting to that in just a moment
here on this show. It`s potentially the biggest advance in Mueller`s case
since guilty plea agreements with two cooperating witnesses were announced
in December. As I mentioned, we`re going to be getting to that news in
just a moment including some very apt expert advice as to what it might
The biggest news in the country today however continues to be the emotional
reeling all across the country after the mass murder of high school
students at a South Florida high school yesterday afternoon.
The 19-year-old alleged murderer was arraigned today. He has been charged
with multiple murder counts. There were reports today that the suspect
might have been associated with a little-known white supremacist anti-
Semitic militia in Florida. Those reports however were based on claims
that that was true from a guy who`s in this white supremacist anti-Semitic
militia group in Florida. That`s not exactly the kind of guy where you
just take his word for it, especially in the absence of any supporting
So, in terms of why this happened or whether he had associations of any
kind that might change your view of why you did it, police continue to say
the murderer acted alone. If you are looking for a motive for his mass
murder, if that makes a difference to your understanding of this latest gun
massacre against innocent American children, then maybe hold out hope that
someday we`ll get word of what that motive might have been.
For now, what we know is that he`s the suspect. He had an AR-15 and tons
of ammo. And police say it was all legally acquired, because the laws our
lawmakers have made on guns welcomed a young man in his circumstances to
arm himself the way he did. That ends up being the most important thing to
know about how he came to a place in his life in this country where he
could kill that many people himself.
There was no moment of silence today among our lawmakers in Washington for
this massacre. Usually after the latest gun massacre of American children,
they have a moment of silence. They did have one in the U.S. Senate today,
but they didn`t have one in the House and that`s because they got disrupted
in the House.
Now, we`ve got the tape of it you will actually hear it – you`ll hear the
disruption happen in this tape and you`ll see members of the House react,
but the camera never pans up and shows you who is creating all the ruckus.
It`s sort of oddly compelling.
Just watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chair notes a disturbance in the gallery and
contravention of the law and rules of the House. The sergeant at arms will
remove those persons responsible for the disturbance and restore order to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: At that point, they cut the audio but you can see all the members
of the House looking up into the gallery then the audio comes back on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will be in order, members will please take
their seats. The House will be in order, members please take your seats.
Please remove your conversation from the House floor –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So you don`t see the people disrupting the House there, because
the people who are disrupting the House – you can see members of Congress
looking up at them. Those people weren`t even allowed to have their own
camera phones up there in the gallery, so they weren`t even allowed to
document what they were doing themselves. But a bunch of people in the
House gallery did get arrested today for this. This is a photo taken of
them after they were released from custody.
The protestors today in the House were blind people and deaf people and
people who use wheelchairs and people with other disabilities. You can see
one man who uses a wheelchair getting loaded into a police van here after
A bunch of Americans with disabilities including people in wheelchairs got
arrested for this same cause two days ago as well. They were protesting in
committee on Tuesday. They were protesting on the House floor today
because today, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill to
cut back the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Congressman James Langevin who has used a wheelchair for decades after an
accidental shooting, Senator Tammy Duckworth who lost both legs in combat
as a helicopter pilot in Iraq, both of them spoke vehemently against this.
Congressman John Lewis railed against this as a rollback of American civil
But the Republican-controlled House passed it today and it passed as a
standalone thing this wasn`t like part of the budget or part of some other
big spending bill or some other omnibus approach to something where this
was a line-item. This was a – its own quiet little standalone bill to gut
the Americans with Disabilities Act.
And nobody campaigns for Congress by saying, hey, send me to Washington,
I`m going to gut the Americans with Disabilities Act, right? Nobody
campaigns for Congress by saying, send me to Washington, I`m going to stick
it to disabled people. Send me to Washington and when I take my votes,
you`ll see blind people and people in wheelchairs being hauled out of the
gallery and the House and arrested because I`m taking away the most
important parts of the most important legislation that has integrated
disabled people into mainstream life and American public accommodation,
There`s no – I`m wheelchair users worst enemy caucus, right?
So, when the Republican-led Congress pursue standalone bills on issues like
this. They know they don`t want to brag about this back at home. They
know nobody promised their constituents they`d make things harder for
disabled people when they got to Washington. They like to do these things
quietly, and oftentimes these things proceed all the way through both
Republican-controlled Houses of Congress and all the way to the president`s
desk without anybody really making any noise about it at all, except of
course for the activists who represent these communities whose lives are
materially going to get worse because of this rollback of some of the most
successful civil rights legislation in American history.
They`re the ones who make noise. They`re the ones who bring the House to a
stop, make all those members of Congress turn around and try to figure out
what`s going on. All right, even when no one inside the House is allowed
to turn their cameras toward the gallery to see them, they make themselves
On issues like this that Congress wants to keep as low profile as possible,
it`s the outcry from the activist groups that is sometimes the only way we
know these things are happening. They make sure there`s no press for this
stuff. There was another quiet little bill like this that passed the
Congress one year ago today.
It was actually the first materially significant standalone legislation
that was passed after the election where Republicans won control of the
House and the Senate and the White House it was a standalone single purpose
piece of legislation to make it easier for mentally ill people to buy guns.
That`s all it did. It passed through both houses of Congress as a year ago
today, passed Congress today went to President Trump`s desk, President
Trump signed it.
You have seen a gazillion photo ops of President Trump signing all sorts of
things, right? Sometimes it`s legislation, sometimes it`s an executive
order, sometimes it`s a decision memo, whatever that is, sometimes it`s
just random pieces of paper to make it look like he`s accomplishing
something in the legislative process even when he`s not. Anytime they can
take an opportunity to have and show off that he`s signing a thing, they
take that opportunity, except for the bill he signed that makes it easier
for mentally ill people to access guns.
CBS News reported today that they have repeatedly requested – they
requested different times at the White House release a photo of president
Trump signing that bill that eased up on our nation`s restrictions and
people who have been adjudicated to be seriously medical mentally ill from
accessing firearms. CBS News reports today, they asked times for it. They
report today that a White House photographer has confirmed to them that
there are existing photos of Trump signing that legislation about mentally
ill people getting guns more easily.
But the White House won`t release any of those photos. It`s almost like
they don`t want to admit that the first materially significant legislation
this president signed was specifically and only designed to get more guns
into the hands of more seriously mentally ill people.
This, of course, was President Trump`s response to yesterday`s latest gun
massacre, quote: So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally
disturbed, so many questions about why anybody would take overt action to
make sure people adjudicated to be seriously mentally disturbed could get
guns more easily. But the president has never answered a question about
that first materially significant legislation that he signed.
The White House is dodging those questions even now. Even now, they are
refusing to release the photo of President Trump signing that legislation
which in fact he signed. So, they`re not answering questions about it.
They canceled yesterday`s White House press briefing, cancel today`s White
House press briefing.
Individual members of Congress are having to answer questions here and
there though. MSNBC caught up with Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa today to
get his thoughts about what the nation should do to try to stop these gun
massacres from happening. This was his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: We have not done a very good job of making
sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a
gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to concentrate on
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And then he walked away.
Now, Senator Grassley speaks in a sometimes elliptical manner. He can
sometimes be a little hard to follow.
Here`s what he exactly what he just said: we have not done a very good job
of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to
handle a gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to
concentrate on that. That`s what he said.
To be perfectly and specifically clear here, Senator Chuck Grassley was the
lead sponsor in the U.S. Senate of the bill that passed one year ago today
that had one specific purpose which was to keep people who had been
adjudicated a seriously mentally ill from having their names added to the
FBI database that he`s talking about right there.
We haven`t done a very good job making sure people who have mental reasons
for not being able to handle a gun, they`re getting their name into the FBI
files. That`s what he says the problem here. You have to go really far
out of your way to choose as a legislative goal that people who are
adjudicated to have serious, debilitating mental illness can more easily
get guns by excluding them from the FBI background check database that has
to be a really specific legislative goal. You don`t accidentally hit that
mark in a standalone bill that only does that.
Again, this was not part of any larger piece of legislation this was not
some dumb loophole in a bill that did something more important. This was
targeted legislation that did only that. He was the lead sponsor and now
today, he speaks in wonder in apparent outraged that for some reason, we
can`t get the names of people with serious mental illness onto the FBI
background check database. For some reason, he is personally and
individually responsible for that being harder to do today than it was one
year ago today.
Gun laws do not make themselves. We have the gun laws that we have today
because of the lawmakers who we have today. None of them received our
nation`s gun on tablets on a mountaintop. They`re all in control of what
gun laws we have.
But if we were – if we were thinking they might reflect on that today in a
moment of silence for all these American kids who were just murdered –
well, they were scared away from doing their moment of silence on that
today because there were people with wheelchairs and people who are blind
and deaf trying to stop them from taking the action that they took today to
go out of their way to hurt disabled people in America. Your tax dollars
at work today. In many ways, today was as much a day of rage as it was a
day of grief.
In the aftermath of an event that shakes the country like yesterday`s
shooting did though, there are political professionals among us with ice
water in their veins who look at a tragedy like this and see opportunity.
It`s the opportunity to dodge some of the consequences of unflattering
news. For some folks in Washington the day after a particularly repulsive
massacre of American children is a good time to empty out the hamper, air
out the proverbial dirty laundry they don`t particularly want people to
focus on too much while they`re worried about bigger and more tragic
So, “The New York Times” was the lucky recipient today of the long, long,
long, long delayed release of financial documents from the Trump inaugural
committee. Now that may seem like kind of a picayune concern, right?
Random accounting matter related to the Trump administration, why focus on
Reason it`s important – the reason that it very well may not be a
coincidence that they finally chose to release information about the
inaugural committee on today of all days, it`s because the Trump inaugural
committee was run in a way that no other inaugural committee has ever been
run. Inaugural committees aren`t supposed to be secretive. They`re not
supposed to drag on and on with no disclosure. They`re not supposed to be
a source of intrigue, they never are.
I mean, like that standalone bill they pass today to attack the rights of
disabled people and gut the ADA, or like that standalone bill they passed a
year ago today to help mentally ill people get easier access to guns, an
inaugural committee just does one thing, it`s just as a standalone discreet
thing, an inaugural committee raises money once for a one-time event that
is over in one day, and then when it`s done, you know, they square up the
accounts, they close themselves down and they cease to exist. That`s it,
even for really gigantic inaugurations like Barack Obama`s in 2009, the
inaugural committee fundraising set up, execution and shutdown, it`s the
sort of thing that takes a few months.
Open – exact – open, execute, shutdown, that`s it. As financial things
in Washington go, this is one of these simplest financial things in
Washington. They open, they execute, they shut down.
Not the way it happened with the Trump inauguration. Trump inauguration,
for reasons we will not go into here, was a fairly small inauguration.
There were not very many inaugural balls. There were no big glitzy
attendant events where hundreds of thousands of people went right.
At the inaugural parade, it was cold. A lot of the stands were empty.
There were lots of protesters. I mean, for this inauguration though, the
Trump inaugural committee inexplicably raised more than doubled the amount
of money ever raised for any other inauguration, and that led to questions
that could really only apply to this inauguration, namely, where`s all the
extra money, because this was not a hundred million dollar event,
Over the course of the past year, the inaugural committee for President
Trump has refused to release any accounting of what they did with the more
than hundred million dollars that they raised on at least four separate
occasions. In response to reporters` questions, they said they were just
about to put out the numbers, just about to put out the accounting.
They`re going to release all their records and close up shop any day now.
One time, they even claimed that they had just passed with flying colors a
formal audit announcing that raised the prospect that we would all get to
see that audit, so we`d all be assured there was no funny business going on
with any gigantic Trump-oriented slush fund in Washington. They never
released that audit.
Along with other news organizations, we`ve been trying for months to get
any sort of accounting at all for what happened to all that leftover money.
Slush funds tend to attract scandal, so we`ve been trying to figure out
what happened to the tens of millions of unaccounted for dollars that must
have gone along with the Trump inauguration, it`s been sort of a difficult
The chairman of the inaugural committee is a close friend of the president.
He`s the one who announced the phantom audit and then never released it.
The treasurer of the inaugural committee never got back to us despite our
attempts to contact him, although that may have had something to do with
our reporting that he had been an unindicted co-conspirator in a giant tax
evasion scheme on Wall Street.
There was also the deputy chair of the inaugural committee. He turned out
to be very hard to reach as well because his name is Rick Gates. He was
also the deputy chairman of the Donald Trump for president campaign and he
is currently facing multiple felony charges in federal court brought by
special counsel Robert Mueller.
Now, we`ll get back to him in a second. The information quietly released
today to “The New York Times” indicates that the reason we haven`t been
able to find out what happened to any of the leftover money from the Trump
inauguration is because there`s almost no money left over from the Trump
inauguration, which is astonishing. They say they`ve got $2 million. $3
million dollars left in the bank from $107 million that they raised.
Biggest inauguration ever was about $50 million, how did they spend over a
hundred million dollars on this particular inauguration that they put on?
Well, now, we know part of how they spent that was by sending $26 million
to a company that was only created one month before the inauguration
happened. A company created in December 2016 which was paid $26 million
out of the inaugural fund. The company that was created by Donald Trump`s
wife`s good friend. She herself reportedly cleared well over a million and
a half dollars on the deal.
But her company cleared this gigantic amount of money. I mean, even if you
take out the money she just stuck in her pocket, her company cleared like
$25 million for the inauguration. Now, to be clear there a general
contractor which basically does every inauguration. This one for Trump,
both of them for Obama, both of them for George W. Bush, both of them for
There is one big contracting firm called Hargrove that`s kind of always in
charge now of the major preparations for the inauguration. That company
did the Trump inaugural like they`ve done all other recent inaugurations
and they got paid $25 million to do it. That sort of makes sense. That`s
sort of in keeping with other inaugurations.
But then in addition to the general contractor who does all the
inaugurations getting paid twenty-five million dollars in addition to that.
this woman who knows Melania Trump also got paid another $25 million, plus
a million and a half for herself, and nobody is quite sure what that`s all
about. But maybe nobody will remember to ask about it since they snuck the
news out in the middle of an all-encompassing show-stopping national
But I mentioned at the top here that there was some important breaking news
on the Mueller investigation, that actually relates to Rick Gates who was
the deputy chairman of the Trump inauguration, the very unusual Trump
inaugural committee, as well as being the deputy campaign chairman of the
Trump campaign. Rick Gates was arrested in October and charged with
multiple felonies alongside Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. They`ve
been rumblings for a while but there might be something going on.
In Gates` criminal case, he had dumped the first lawyer who was
representing him. For a couple of weeks now, there have been some
intriguing and mostly secret court proceedings that made it seem like maybe
he was either dropping or getting dropped by his second legal team as well.
CNN`s Katelyn Polantz was first to report that a third legal team led by
veteran Washington scandal lawyer Tom Green might be taking over Rick
Gates` representation and potentially negotiating a whole new relationship
between Rick Gates and the prosecutor Robert Mueller. Well, tonight,
Polantz at CNN is first a report based on multiple sources that Rick Gates,
the president`s deputy campaign manager, is in fact about to flip and
become a cooperating witness for Robert Mueller.
Mueller has already obtained a guilty plea and a cooperation agreement from
Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and from Trump national
security adviser Mike Flynn.
If he also gets Trump`s deputy campaign chair who was on the campaign
longer than Paul Manafort was, he was still there after Manafort got fired.
He was an integral part of the presidential transition. He was number two
in charge of the Trump inauguration. He was a frequent presence in the
White House for the first months of this administration. If he flips, this
would be the biggest development that we could see publicly at least in the
Mueller investigation since Flynn and Papadopoulos announced that they
would become cooperating witnesses.
Again, NBC News has not confirmed this reporting. This is CNN`s story at
this point, but they`re citing multiple sources and they`ve got one super
intriguing, super specific detail about what has happened legally already
between Robert Mueller and Rick Gates. It`s a detail that we`re definitely
going to need an expert to explain.
That part of the story and the expert are next.
MADDOW: NBC News broke this scoop this afternoon. Former White House
senior strategist and Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon met with special
counselor Robert Mueller multiple times over the past week. Quote: Bannon
spent a total of some 20 hours in conversations with Robert Mueller`s team.
After that NBC News scoop, “The A.P.” reports tonight based on a single
source that, quote, Bannon answered every question that was put to him by
Mueller`s. Now, 20 hours is a lot of testimony. That said, we have no
idea what the questions were. We have no idea what Mueller wanted that
much testimony from Steve Bannon about.
But after that NBC news scoop from Hallie Jackson today, we got this
breaking news from CNN tonight that Trump campaign advisor Rick Gates is
finalizing a plea deal with the special counsels office, quote, indicating
he is poised to cooperate in the investigation.
Now, special counsel has two cooperating witnesses from the Trump campaign
already, George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn. If this CNN report is right
tonight and Mueller is about to get a third cooperating witness that is a
major advance in the special counsels position in this investigation. That
said I`m not a lawyer and there is part of this reporting for which I need
I just need some help understanding this part. This is CNN`s report
tonight, quote: Gates has already spoken to Mueller`s team about his case
and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. Gates has had what
criminal lawyers call a queen for a day interview.
What on God`s green earth is a queen for a day? I mean, it sounds awesome.
Is this like – well, all right, here`s what they say.
Gates has had what criminal lawyers call a queen for a day interview in
which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors team including
about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed. In
a queen for a day interview, a defendant can typically admit to crimes with
little additional consequences unless he or she lies. After the queen for
a day interview, there`s a – there`s only a very small chance a defendant
could turn back toward fighting the charges.
All right. Again, as a non-lawyer, I get that it would be a very big deal
in the Mueller investigation if Mueller and his team are about to flip a
new cooperating witness, right, one who was there for the campaign, even
after Manafort, one who was there for the campaign, the transition, the
inauguration and beyond. That said, I have no idea what to make of this
queen for a day interview stuff.
Luckily., we are joined now by former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who is
very pleased plain-spoken on these and other matters .
Barb, thank you for being here.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Oh, you bet, Rachel. Glad to be
MADDOW: So, queen for a day isn`t a joke on non lawyers to make us all
look up something that has nothing to do with the law and then we all look
like dunces, queen for a day is a real thing?
MCQUADE: It is a real thing. It`s kind of an old-school term. In my
office, we refer to these as proper meetings or debriefing sessions.
MCQUADE: But it comes from an old TV show, a game show from the `50s that
I think was on radio and television where women would compete to be queen
for a day and win prices by telling their sob stories.
But what it means is the witness or defendant comes in, and in exchange for
an agreement, than those of those statements will be used against him,
answers all questions truthfully, including questions that may implicate
criminal behavior by himself.
MADDOW: So, you have to tell the truth and you can`t later take the stand
and contradict what you say in this interview or they`ll use it against
you. But aside from those two prospects, you`re supposed to feel free to
confess to anything and everything even stuff, you were involved in, safe
in the knowledge that it won`t be used to put you in jail?
MCQUADE: Yes, in fact. You have an incentive to be very forthcoming
because anything you say there can`t be used against you. So, if you hold
back and the prosecution finds out about something that you did, you can be
charged with that.
So, it creates this incentive to be very forthcoming and as you said the
only limitation really is if you lie and if you get caught lying then the
deal is off and all of those things you said about yourself can be used
MADDOW: Now, do agreements like this, do interviews like this always
happen in conjunction with someone pleading guilty? It seems like a guilty
plea a plea deal has to be part of that kind of negotiation?
MCQUADE: Yes, almost always, I`m not sure I`ve ever seen it happen where
somebody actually sat down and went through this process and then backed
out of it. They could theoretically, but once you`ve told the prosecution
all of the bad things you`ve done and you`ve talked to them about bad
conduct by other people, usually, you`ve come to a point where you`re ready
to flip, to join the other team, to plead guilty to try to minimize your
own exposure in terms of sentencing.
Now, would there ever be a circumstance or have you ever seen a
circumstance in which somebody came to an agreement to do this kind of
interview to start talking to prosecutors in this way and change to a
guilty plea because we know Mr. Gates has already pled not guilty to these
charges but then they didn`t also become a witness for the prosecution, a
cooperating witness to help them build a case against another person or is
that again always part and parcel with this kind of a deal?
MCQUADE: It`s certainly contemplated that the person would become a
witness. Now, it may be the case later down the road that he`s not needed
as a witness because the co-defendant pleads guilty for example. Other
witnesses are identified so they`re no longer needed, but it`s certainly
contemplated that you will be willing and able to testify.
MADDOW: Now, CNN is also reporting tonight that Mueller`s prosecutors are
preparing to file new charges against both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.
They say for Gates, they expect it will be tax-related charges. How should
– how should the prospect of new charges coming very shortly, how should
that fit into our understanding here?
MCQUADE: Well, I think it`s not surprising that we might see additional
charges. As early as this initial indictment was filed, I think many
people speculated where are the tax charges because it seemed obvious that
if you`re hiding all this income, that their tax charges would also be
likely. So, sometimes those come later in a superseding indictment,
because the charges aren`t ready, you don`t have all the information you
Or sometimes prosecutors strategically hold back some of those charges and
say, we`re going to allow you to plead guilty to the indictment as it
exists today. We`ll continue to investigate and it might get worse for you
later, so an early plea has some advantages to you and then if there is no
plea, then they need to follow through on those promises that additional
charges are forthcoming.
So, it wouldn`t surprise me that they`ve been working toward that and we
might see it. I know it might frustrate the trial judge who wants to set a
trial date because new charges can sometimes cause a delay in the trial
while the defense attorney prepares for these new additional charges.
MADDOW: One last question for you, Barb. My sense as a non-lawyer that
the Mueller investigation getting a third cooperating witness would be a
big deal, would be a serious change in their position in terms of this
overall investigation. Am I right to see it that way?
MCQUADE: I think it`s a big deal you know it may be that Gates in light of
his position with a campaign is directing – direct – deputy campaign
chairman has information about connections between the campaign and Russia,
but even if the sole basis of his knowledge is about Paul Manafort and he
agrees to testify and cooperate against Paul Manafort that in turn could
induce Paul Manafort to cooperate. That is the methodical way that
prosecutors often work their way up the chain and so, I think in either
scenario this inches us a little bit closer toward getting into the Trump
MADDOW: Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, you are exactly the person
who I knew could understand – both understand and explain this in a way
that would make me understand it. Thank you for helping us through it
tonight. Much appreciate it.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We are very lucky to have her on deck for us.
Honestly, we have a lot of great lawyers and a lot of people who are ex-
prosecutors and stuff who helped explain stuff. But honestly, when there`s
something so complicated to the point it seems funny, Barbara McQuade is
one person who will damn straight always make sense of it.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID SHULKIN, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFARIRS: – recognize the optics of
this are not good. I accept a responsibility for that and – but I do
believe it`s important the United States continued its work with its allied
REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: It`s not the optics that are not good.
It`s the facts that are not good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Optics, check, facts, check, but also the timing is terrible.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin would probably have picked any
other day for his routine budget hearing on Capitol Hill, but as luck would
have it, his appearance on the Hill today came one day after a really quite
scandalous inspector general`s report about his conduct in office, conduct
for which the Trump cabinet secretary has apologized and even written a
personal check in hopes of saving his job.
We`ve got much more on that very serious story coming up. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So for over a month now, ever since “The Wall Street Journal”
published this bombshell report the president`s personal lawyer had
arranged $130,000 payment to porn stars Stormy Daniels, ever since that
came out, we`ve been trying mightily not to think about the president`s sex
life at all. But to ask the crucial question, who paid – who paid that
money to Stormy Daniels to make this story of an alleged affair with the
president go away? The initial flimsy denials in response to “The Wall
Street Journal” were about the sex side of the story. But nobody even
bothered to overtly deny that somebody really had paid Ms. Daniels right
before the election.
Well, shortly, after “The Journal” story was published, the watchdog group
Common Cause filed a complaint calling on the FEC and the Justice
Department to investigate this matter. The group said this payment of
$130,000 violated campaign finance laws because it wasn`t reported on
campaign filings, because it exceeded campaign contribution limits and they
said it was clearly paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election.
That complaint vote floated three possible original sources of the 130
grand that was paid to Ms. Daniels.
They`re guesses for who paid: number one, the Trump for President Campaign
Committee, number two, the Trump organization, or, number three, John Doe,
the unknown source of funds paid by Essential Consultants LLC, which was
the name of the company that was reportedly set up by Trump lawyer Michael
Cohen to cut this check. So, that was the complaint.
Then two days ago, this turned up in “The New York Times”: Michael Cohen,
Trump`s longtime lawyer, says he paid Stormy Daniels out of his own pocket.
That headline may have been a little ahead of the story. Mr. Cohen didn`t
say he paid out of his own pocket. What he actually said was, quote: I
used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Stephanie
Clifford aka Stormy Daniels.
Then he said this: Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign
was a party to the transaction, and neither reimbursed me for the payment.
So, he said he wasn`t reimbursed by the campaign or the Trump Organization,
but there was no denial that he might have been reimbursed by Donald Trump
himself. And, of course, when he says he used his own funds to facilitate
the payment, obviously, that means he could have paid out of pocket for the
stamp on the envelope with somebody else`s check inside, right? I mean, to
facilitate that payment getting to its destination.
So, who paid? And there`s also this matter now of why Michael Cohen would
come out and admit this payment right now?
Now, “The New York Times” suggested in their report that his statement was
linked to a deadline requiring him to respond to the FEC complaint that had
been filed by Common Cause. That doesn`t make sense either. Michael Cohen
does not appear to be one of the official respondents in that case.
Now, we spoke to watchdog Common Cause. They genuinely seemed surprised
that Cohen had voluntarily admitted this information unprompted. We also
then reached out to Michael Cohen and asked him why he volunteered this
information if he didn`t need to.
He told us, quote: I am the respondent. You really need to get your facts
straight. He then told us to take this matter up with his attorney who
then never got back to us.
OK. Is Michael Cohen saying definitively that he is John Doe in Common
Cause`s FEC complaint, that he is the ultimate source of funds? Didn`t
just facilitate the payment?
There`s still a lot to sort out here, including this still central question
of whether this now acknowledged payment violated campaign finance laws.
Well, I`m very happy to say that joining us now is the vice chair of the
FEC, Ellen Weintraub. I should point out, she cannot discuss this specific
case in detail but she obviously has more knowledge about these issues than
Commissioner Weintraub, I really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you
for being here.
ELLEN WEINTRAUB, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION VICE CHAIR: Thanks, Rachel.
As you said I`m not talking about any cases that may or may not be before
the agency, but if you want to talk about the law, I`m here for you.
MADDOW: That`s exactly what I want you to talk about. Nothing that is
pending before the commissioner that might go before the commission. But
in a general sense, can you give us a sense of how long it usually takes
for the commission to decide whether it`s going to take up a complaint such
as this one.
WEINTRAUB: It really varies. Whenever we get complaints, our lawyers will
take a look at them and do an analysis for us and present a recommendation
to the commission. And then the commission, depending on how many cases
are in the queue ahead of them, sometimes it takes a little while before
the commission can get to the point of having a discussion about it.
We could vote just based on the recommendation on what we call tally, but
usually, somebody wants to talk about it. So, we have to wait until
there`s an opportunity to discuss it at a scheduled meeting of the
MADDOW: Now, in this case, which again you`re not going to talk about
directly, Michael Cohen says this was a private transaction. He says this
is totally separate and apart from anything having to do with the campaign.
In a general sense, what are the – what are the general factors that the
commission looks at in deciding whether or not campaign finance law is
implicated, whether or not an expenditure of some kind or some sort of
financial action of some kind has a link to a campaign?
WEINTRAUB: OK, again, talking about –
MADDOW: As a general matter, how do you – can you tell us some things
related to a campaign?
WEINTRAUB: As a general rule, it`s usually actually pretty transparent if
a contribution is – a contribution is related to the campaign, because
it`s usually a check or an electronic transfer that goes directly to the
campaign account. But the law says that a gift, loan, advance, money
anything of value that is made for the purpose of influencing an election
is a contribution. So, that`s a fact-based determination as to whether a
particular payment is for the purpose of influencing an election.
MADDOW: So, as a legal matter a check does not have to go into the coffers
of a campaign specifically in order for you guys to be able to say that is
a check that was designed to influence the outcome of a campaign?
WEINTRAUB: Not necessarily. It could – it does not necessarily have to
go into the campaign. There are what are called in-kind contributions and
we`ve had cases where some paid an expense of a campaign and that was
considered a contribution to the campaign because it saved the campaign the
expense of having to pay it themselves.
MADDOW: Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, would you just stay with us for one
more second? I have a couple of other things that have come up tonight
that you`re the perfect person to ask and I feel like I would like to hold
on to you. Would you mind?
MADDOW: Very good. Commissioner Ellen Weintraub is the vice chair of the
FEC. We`ll be right back with her. Stay with us.
MADDOW: – at long last, we got a 116-page tax filing from the president`s
inaugural committee. The filing revealed among other things that $25
million or so went to the general contractor who`s run all the other recent
inaugurals as well. But in addition to that, another $25 million or so
went to a brand new firm run by an advisor to the first lady, a firm that
was only formed the month before the inauguration happened. That`s
The inaugural committee reported all that to the IRS, but the IRS isn`t the
only agency with some degree of oversight when it comes to the inaugural
committee. The other – the agency that actually hears from them first is
the Federal Election Commission.
Happy to say we`re still joined by Ellen Weintraub, vice chair of the FEC.
Ellen, what kind of what kind of scrutiny do inaugural funds get? If
hypothetically there were something hinky or unexplained or inappropriate
in inaugural tax filings or in the inaugural filings or financial filings
more generally, who would catch it? Who would look at it?
WINTRAUB: Well, it`s an interesting question, Rachel, because there isn`t
a lot of law or regulation that governs these inaugural committees. They
have to report to us who their donors are, where the money comes from, but
there actually is no requirement that they report where the money goes.
And I think that`s something that people might want to think about as they
look forward to future inaugurations now that inaugural committees are
raising so much money, that maybe a little bit more transparency wouldn`t
be a bad thing.
MADDOW: Ellen Weintraub, vice chair of the Federal Election Commission,
thank you very much for being with us tonight. I know it`s awkward to not
talk about anything pending before the commission, but you`ve still been
very enlightening in terms of how you approach your work. Thank you very
WEINTRAUB: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: A very senior member of the Trump administration, a cabinet
secretary, is in hot water tonight over misuse of government funds. This
is the same type of scandal that claimed the job of Tom Price a few months
It`s the same type of scandal that`s currently plaguing Trump`s
controversial EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who`s recently found himself
up a creek and unable to paddle around. His claim that he has to fly first
class on the taxpayer`s dime because he`s had interactions with people in
coach that he`s found unpleasant. It`s the same scandal that ended the
career of Tom Price, that now threatens the tenure of EPA administrator
But in the case of V.A. Secretary David Shulkin, it`s worse on several
levels. First, there`s a damning inspector general report about his
behavior out this week and that includes that he repeatedly lied about his
travel and using government funds to pay for his wife. The report refers
to the chief of staff to the Justice Department for potential criminal
It stems from a trip that Shulkin took his wife on last summer in July,
over 10 days in Europe, Secretary Shulkin he had 3.5 days of work, but the
rest of time was – we have a list from the inspector reports, touring
Amalienborg Palace for the changing of the guard, visiting Christianborg
Palace, visiting Rosenborg Castles, visiting Frederiksborg Castle, taking a
boat tour of Copenhagen from a canal I definitely cannot pronounce,
shopping in Copenhagen, a cross-border excursion to have dinner in Sweden,
a visit to the Churchill War Rooms in London and to Buckingham Palace and
to Kensington Palace, and to Westminster Abbey, and another river cruise,
and a visit St. Paul`s Cathedral, and a visit to Tower of London for the
Ceremony of the Keys, and a visit to Tower Bridge, and a visit to
Shakespeare`s Globe Theater, and a trip up in the London Eye, which is that
Ferris wheel thing, and another castle, Windsor Castle, all on the taxpayer
But what, there`s more, Shulkin also took his wife to the Wimbledon`s Women
Final on the trip. He told investigators it was OK accept those tickets
without paying for them because they were from a friend. But when
investigators contacted this supposed personal friend of the Shulkins who
provided them with these tickets, that person admitted to investigators in
an interview that she didn`t know Shulkin`s wife`s name.
Shulkin`s staff also reportedly charged taxpayers nearly $4,000 for which
they described as airport parking. Where did you park? Nobody has even
explained that one yet.
In the course of repairing this report, the inspector general referred the
V.A. chief of staff to the Justice Department for altering internal V.A.
emails to make it seemed like Secretary Shulkin is going to get an award in
Denmark, which would have justified the taxpayers paying for his wife`s
plane ticket. He wasn`t actually getting an award in Denmark, but
Shulkin`s office apparently changed these e-mails to lie and say that he
Now, the Justice Department decided not to pursue criminal prosecution at
this time, maybe the Justice Department would let that go, but not
Secretary Shulkin, interesting. On that point, he suggested last night
that maybe that e-mail was doctored by a hacker. Huh?
Well, then, this morning, secretary arrived on Capitol Hill for what was
supposed to be a budget oversight hearing. Watch his response when a
lawmaker suggested they should take this hacking quite seriously.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TIM WALZ (D-MN), RANKING MEMBER, VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I would
just say before moving to the budget, the allegations of a potential
hacking of a V.A. computer system with ill-intent is a serious matter. I
would ask you, Mr. Secretary, we`re prepared to ask the Department of
Justice to look into that if you feel that`s appropriate and we`ll see if
that`s the appropriate action to go on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, you would like to look at which now? So, I said that my chief
of staff couldn`t have possibly messed up that e-mail, her email must have
been hacked. You`re going to send it to the Justice Department for
investigation now? Sure. Of course, that would be very serious.
Tonight, Leo Shane of “Military Times” reports that Congressman Tim Walz
has, in fact, referred the V.A. secretary`s allegation of hacking as his
justification for this scandal, he has referred it to the Justice
Department for investigation.
Meanwhile, these can`t be fun days for V.A. Secretary David Shulkin. The
taxpayer funded trip to Europe with his wife might have been really fun at
the time, but this part today look like no fun at all.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the