Mueller gathers evidence on Kremlin. TRANSCRIPT: 03/07/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: March 7, 2018
Guest: Joyce Vance, Sari Horwitz, Eric Swalwell
Don McGahn about their testimony to Robert Mueller and pressed McGahn to
deny a story about Trump`s desire to fire Robert Mueller. Joyce Vance,
former U.S. attorney, talked with Ari Melber about the kind of legal
jeopardy Donald Trump could be in based on new reporting from “The New York
Times”, and the role of the White House legal counsel. Michael Beschloss,
NBC News presidential historian, talked with Ari Melber about how “New York
Times” reporting on Donald Trump talking to Robert Mueller witnesses
compares to past presidents also taking such legally ill-advised action.
Sari Horwitz, national reporter for “The Washington Post”, talked with Ari
Melber about Trump backer Eric Prince trying to set up a back channel of
communication with the Kremlin at a secret Seychelles meeting with a
Russian official close to Vladimir Putin, officials from the UAE, and UAE
adviser George Nader, who is reportedly cooperating. Rep. Eric Swalwell
talked with Ari Melber about the Republican effort to end the House
Intelligence Committee`s Trump Russia investigation without trying in good
faith to fulfill its mission.>
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Ari Melber, in for Rachel
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Chris, any big stories break in your hour?
HAYES: Nothing basically. I saw down at the – I saw you went down to the
bar for three hours and between your two shows. You were just hanging out.
So, for two hours I guess.
MELBER: We`re just floating. Thank you very much, Chris.
And thanks to you at home for joining us. Rachel does have the night off.
She will be back tomorrow.
We have a big show because several breaking stories tonight. Actual change
on gun control, thanks to that new student movement around the country.
News tonight that special counsel Mueller gathering evidence into that
mysterious meeting last year in the (INAUDIBLE) and those important stories
later this hour.
And the breaking news right now on the Mueller probe into Russian election
interference is new clues as to where they are headed. The special counsel
probe did begin questioning whether President Trump obstructed justice
since he allegedly pressed his own FBI director to back off. He asked him
to famously drop an investigation of Trump`s own aide Mike Flynn who later
pled guilty and fire that FBI director James Comey with, quote, Russia on
We know those questions of now this animated this probe from the start.
They led to Mueller`s appointment. They occupied Mueller`s focus. So,
that makes this breaking “Times” story so troubling for the White House.
Trump spoke to witnesses about matters they discussed with special counsel.
“The Times” reporting Mueller has learned of two conversations in recent
months in which Trump asked witnesses about matters they discussed with
investigators, according to three people familiar with the encounters.
It`s not just talking to witnesses either. This involves the efforts to
fire Mueller himself.
Now, consider the two crucial tracks in the story. First, why this
president would be talking to witnesses in the Mueller probe, and why he
thinks that`s a good idea. Now, is it because the president just doesn`t
care about the advice from his own attorneys not to do this kind of thing?
Does he think there`s no risk? He can outsmart one more problem? Does he
think the risk is real but it`s somehow worth it? Or is this like some
other stories, something smaller, it`s just a lack of impulse control?
Talking to witnesses in this case is dumb. It`s inappropriate. Alone,
that talking is not a crime. That would require something more, like asking
witnesses to lie for you. That`s what hurt Richard Nixon.
But to see just how serious this report is, take this brand-new reaction
tonight. Moments after the story broke from a high-branching DOJ official
known from his measured legal analysis, Neal Katyal who argued before the
Supreme Court on behalf of the United States as acting solicitor general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER DOJ OFFICIAL: It looks so bad, and basically, you`ve
got Donald Trump acting like a two-bit criminal here and saying to
witnesses like Priebus, hey, what did you say? Were you nice to me and so
on? That is horrible.
I`m a defense lawyer, I love a challenge. You know, I represented bin
Laden`s driver. And let me tell you, Bin laden`s driver acted with far
more integrity in every stage in the investigation than Donald Trump has so
far and this is just the published report of what we know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Worse than Osama bin Laden`s driver. I can tell you, we don`t
usually hear Mr. Katyal speak that way about a president, even a president
he vehemently disagrees with.
So, that is the witness piece and the headline in “The Times” tonight.
Legally, though, the second track could actually be worse for Trump. And
it builds on an incident the “times” broke on January 25th that this
president under investigation in part for firing his FBI director also
tried to get the special counsel investigating him fired. And then his
White House counsel threatened to quit, which created the prospect of a
Saturday night massacre. And then reportedly Trump backed because that
man, counsel Don McGahn, threatened to resign rather than carry out the
directive to fire Mueller.
“The Times” reporting Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as
his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House
officials into his inquiry about whether the president obstructed justice.
In this new reporting tonight, “The Times” says not only with Mueller being
told about the president`s order to fire him, we know some of that.
It also says something important. That Mueller knew exactly what was
happening inside the White House after this January story appeared. Look
at this. The president told an aide that the White House counsel, Don
McGahn should issue a statement denying the “New York Times” article in
January. The article said McGahn told investigators that the president
once asked him to fire the special counsel Robert Mueller III and according
to three sources now tonight, McGahn never released the statement, later
had to remind the president that he had indeed asked McGahn to see that Mr.
Mueller was dismissed. Hold up. Quote, had to remind the president.
Those are five ominous words for Donald Trump tonight. They suggest that
McGahn had to resist Trump`s version of events, this false account where
Donald Trump denies trying to get Mueller fired. If Trump is saying that
false statement in the hopes that Don McGahn, his lawyer, would join him in
it when he talks to Mueller, would lie to Mueller – well, yes, that would
be a kind of statement to a witness that could be the element of a crime,
which lawyer Don McGahn knows so those are ominous words.
Now, the fact that tonight we know they`re in the “New York Times,” those
word, is even more critical because it suggests someone or someone close to
McGahn or somewhat sympathetic to him or McGahn himself wants to be on the
record in public tonight about this little memory game, you know, where we
all remember the time the president tried to get his investigator fired
while under investigation for obstructing justice.
And if this is what is leaking out from Don McGahn, what else is he telling
Mueller about Donald Trump in private?
Joining me now is Michael Schmidt, one of “The New York Times” reporters
who broke this story.
Thank you for joining me. What can you say about your understanding of why
this is coming out now and the kind of legal peril it might pose for anyone
at the White House?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER (via telephone): This incident,
these incidents were things that concerned folks when they learned about
it, people that were close to the investigation. And they believed Mueller
needed to know about it because there was a perception that this could be
some kind of witness tampering. It`s not that they thought in and of
itself that it was witness-tampering, but it gave off this view, this look
that if Mueller had found out about it and it had not been disclosed, it
would be problematic, and it would raise questions of obstruction or many
So, the lawyers pushed ahead and this information got to Mueller.
MELBER: Is it fair to boil down what you`re saying to the idea that Donald
Trump`s behavior here was so reckless or legally dangerous that people on
his own legal team were sympathetic to those people, felt a duty to self-
report this to the special counsel?
SCHMIDT: Well, one of the central, most basic things in investigations is
that those under investigation should not try and talk to witnesses, just
because it just gets into a very, very difficult area. There are lawyers
that can talk to other lawyers about it.
The other thing is that they should not talk to law enforcement people.
And what struck people about this is that the president had had such a bad
consequence come out of the time he did this last February when Comey says
he asked him one on one to end the Flynn investigation. When that came
out, it led to Mueller being appointed and has put this dark cloud over the
president. So, for the president, even as the investigation is
intensifying, he was going against the advice of his lawyers and engaging
with these witnesses about matters that he knew had come up in front of
MELBER: Yes, your piece is significant. And your headline is arresting.
And I don`t want to get into copy-editing your headline.
But I wonder if you could weigh in on the fact that the firing of Mueller
part of this seems bigger than the witness part, because your paper and you
and other reporters have documented how basically, I`m looking at the
timeline that there was the alleged attempt to fire Mueller in June 2017 as
you reported. And then you have Don McGahn speaking as a witness to the
special counsel in November. And then you have the January report of the
effort to fire Mueller.
If Donald Trump was, as you report tonight, trying to get Don McGahn to
publicly lie about the firing of Mueller, isn`t that a legal problem as
SCHMIDT: I guess it could be. I think that the president was very upset
with the report, simply just the fact that this was out there. And he
thought it was wrong. And basically went to Rob Porter at the time and
said, look, got to get a statement out there from McGahn. And if he
doesn`t want to do this, we would get rid of him.
And the president was very agitated about it and pushed for it, but
eventually had a confrontation with McGahn about it and McGahn had to say
to him, look, this is what happened. And the president said he didn`t
recall it that way, and they discussed the fact that McGahn had not
directly told the president he was going to quit at the time in June.
McGahn said that he had told other White House officials about it and then
the conversation moved on to other matters.
MELBER: And briefly, any further context on why McGahn would be telling
that to other officials but not the president?
SCHMIDT: What happened in June was the president had told McGahn to call
Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is overseeing Mueller, tell
him that Mueller had these series of conflicts and had to go. The
president pushed McGahn to do this over the span of a few days and
eventually, McGahn got fed up. He knew this was something he didn`t want
to do. And he told the folks around him that he was going to quit.
Around that time, the president backed down and stopped pushing him to call
Rosenstein and McGahn stayed on.
MELBER: McGahn didn`t want to do it or perhaps also felt legally he could
not do it.
Michael Schmidt from the “New York Times” with the big story – thank you.
SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: Stepping back for a moment, as I turned to my next guest, this
reporting has two throw lines. The first is the president talking to these
Mueller witnesses. The second is what we`ve been discussing, what we`re
learning about the probe itself, and this likelihood that Don McGahn will
continue to provide information that`s adverse to his boss, Donald Trump.
For more on that wrinkle in this story, I turn to Joyce Vance, a former
federal prosecutor from Alabama.
Thanks for being here tonight.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Thanks for having me, Ari.
MELBER: When we know that Don McGahn has to play more than one role, he
has the duty to serve the White House and the president`s role as
commander-in-chief and give him legal advice in that role, but also has a
duty and – a legal duty, as I was just discussing with the guest, to
comply with the special counsel probe, what do you see in this story that
you think Don McGahn is likely to provide to Mueller?
VANCE: It`s an interesting question. McGahn has the duty of candor in
response to Mueller. So, in response to questions that are posed to him,
he must be truthful, like anyone else, he testifies in front of a grand
jury. But that prohibition against not being fully truthful means a little
bit more to lawyer who are officers of the court.
So, McGahn obviously has a lot of insight into his conversations with the
president, and as we`ve learned tonight from this story, the president is
prone to talk to witnesses. Something his lawyers have undoubtedly advised
him against doing. Where this could become a crime, there`s a narrow
species of obstruction, witness tampering.
It has its own statute, 18 U.S. Code 1512. And it makes it among other
things illegal for someone to try to corruptly persuade, to intentionally
influence a witness, to give false testimony in a court proceeding.
So, we`re not quite there on this story. We`re talking about McGahn being
asked through a third person to go out and refute a newspaper story. But
Mueller will want to press down on this and see if there were any further,
more difficult conversations that the president had with people.
MELBER: If the attempted firing of Bob Mueller becomes a part of an
element of the obstruction case against anyone at the White House, can Don
McGahn then be called as a witness against people at the White House for
VANCE: McGahn works in the White House. He is a fact witness to what he
observes. He is not the president`s lawyer. There is no lawyer-client
The most realistic privilege he could assert, and we`ve seen no indication
that this is the case, would be a Fifth Amendment privilege to avoid
testifying in a way that would incriminate himself personally of a crime.
We`ve seen no indication that he has that problem and every indication that
he`s cooperated with Mueller.
MELBER: You are here as a former federal prosecutor and legal expert. I
don`t want to try to conscript you into media analysis, but I think you
know as a long-time participant in these types of high-profile cases which
obviously inherently involve the press, that something Rachel has said on
this program and that we`ve reported is, there are a slew of stories that
seem to continuously cast Don McGahn as this hero of the republic who`s
always saving everyone from themselves. Tonight`s story also does that.
Can you shed any light on the potential sourcing for that?
VANCE: So, I`m a willing conscript into that kind of a venture. Often in
a case like this, in a public corruption case, you will have a person who
is potentially a subject or someone of interest to investigators, and they
will run a little bit of a PR campaign to try to enhance their image, at
least in the public`s eye.
There`s some reason to believe that this is perhaps going on to some extent
with Mr. McGahn. These stories do surface with regularity and they seem to
be the type of stories that would be difficult to source without
cooperation from Mr. McGahn or someone close to him.
MELBER: I think I understand what you`re saying.
Joyce Vance, as always, we appreciate your expertise.
VANCE: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: I want to turn to NBC News presidential historian Michael
Beschloss, a close student of not only this story but its antecedents.
Your view of what this conjures?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It conjures a couple
of things, Ari. One is Richard Nixon in `73 and `74. He was accused by
the House impeachment inquiry of witness tampering as part of obstruction
of justice, which was one of the counts against him.
His aide John Ehrlichman said it was pathological. Nixon was a lawyer. He
knew to get involved in this was against his own self-interest, but he
couldn`t help himself. He always had to get involved in this.
Bill Clinton, when he was pursued in 1998. His special prosecutor, Kenneth
Starr accused him of witness tampering with Betty Curry, his secretary, who
Starr charged had tried to unduly influence, Clinton said that wasn`t true.
She said it wasn`t true either.
But, you know, another thing, Ari is that I think you would agree, as an
imminent lawyer, presidents, those who are deft are also good clients when
this kind of thing happens. Ronald Reagan was an excellent client during
Iran-Contra. He took his lawyers` advice. He got out of the scandal.
Vice President George Bush was in danger of being dragged into Iran-Contra.
He was advised deftly by a man his great friend and close aide and counsel,
a guy named Boyden Gray, who kept Bush out of that scandal. And, you know,
by the hand of faith, Ari, do you know where Donald Trump is eating dinner
MELBER: No, I don`t.
BESCHLOSS: He is eating dinner at the home of Boyden Gray, the same guy in
Georgetown who just by chance happened to be holding a dinner for
Republican donors. It`s said to be about the first time Donald Trump has
gone to a private home in Washington for dinner.
MELBER: That might be some fascinating history in the making. When you
mention Nixon, people who lived through that era and the students of that
history recall the central role of a lawyer John Dean and the initial
thinking among Nixon`s inner circle was if they were pushing him into the
criminal conspiracy, then that would help him for self-interests, not rat
MELBER: And, as you know, I sometimes turn to music and lyrics to
BESCHLOSS: I know.
MELBER: Jay-Z is quite knowledgeable at criminal procedure and he famously
said plead the Fifth when it comes to the fam. I`m like a dog, I never
speak, but I understand. The idea of using the Fifth Amendment testimonial
privilege to not get anyone in trouble.
John Dean, though, ultimately did speak and got people in trouble. Do you
have see any parallels here about the roles lawyers choose to play and what
they choose to say?
BESCHLOSS: I do. And, Ari, you know, Jay-Z and I are both Chicagoans.
So, thank you for mentioning him tonight.
In Nixon`s case, one thing John Dean says to this day was that one way he
knew that he, Nixon, was trying to make him the fall guy was he`d go into
the Oval Office and Nixon would say of course I did not try to do such and
such, order a break-in into the Brookings Institution or something like
that. And Dean knew that Nixon was trying to get Dean to be a witness to
Nixon having behaved well.
What Dean did not know was that Nixon was making secret tape recordings of
these conversations but he quickly began to suspect that he was.
MELBER: Right. And those tapes ultimately had quite the shelf life.
Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, thank you.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Ari.
MELBER: So, that is one of the big, breaking stories tonight in the probe.
Now, as we were getting ready to go to air, another story was breaking.
That is next, along with one of the reporters who broke it.
Stay with us.
MELBER: There is yet another story breaking tonight about the special
counsel investigation. This is new details on what Mueller is
investigating and evidence his team is gathering regarding the secret
meeting in the Seychelles islands from during the transition period.
Now, tonight, “The Washington Post” on this one, reporting the special
counsel has gathered new evidence that a meeting between Erik Prince, a
fairly controversial Trump campaign donor, he`s also the brother of
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and a Russian official close to Putin were
meeting just days before Trump`s inauguration. The report is that this was
in fact part of an effort to establish, wait for it, a secret back channel
Reading from this new report: Special counsel Bob Mueller gathering
evidence that a secret meeting in the Seychelles just before the
inauguration of Trump was an effort to establish this quote, back channel
between the incoming administration and the Kremlin. Apparently
contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants. A
witness cooperating with Mueller told investigators the meeting was set up
in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with
an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries,
according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of
anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
That cooperating witness is George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman
who told Mueller`s investigators he helped to organize and attend the
Again, this new information is important, because it would seem to
contradict this testimony that Prince gave to House investigators last
year, and that`s like an oath proceeding. You have a legal obligation.
Erik Prince saying he attended the meeting in the Seychelles islands as a
private business person. He denied it had anything to do with the Trump
transition. He said the encounter with that Russian fund manager, Kirill
Dmitriev, was an unplanned, casual discussion over a drink.
I turn now to Sari Horwitz who is one of the two “Washington Post”
reporters who wrote this breaking story tonight.
Thank you for joining me.
Some of this topic has been out there, this idea that Mr. Nader was
cooperating with Bob Mueller and that there was this set of meetings. What
is new in your story, so viewers understand, so we understand that advances
SARI HORWITZ, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): Hi,
glad to be on your show tonight.
That`s a good question. Some of this has been out there. What`s new is
that we now have information that we`re reporting tonight that contradicts
one of the participants who was at this meeting, Erik Prince, who testified
on Capitol Hill, who told lawmakers back in November, that, as you said,
this was just not an official, planned meeting. It was an unplanned, and
an unimportant encounter that came about just by chance because he happened
to be in a luxury hotel in the Indian Ocean island nation with officials
from the United Arab Emirates.
Just to give your viewers some context because it`s a complicated story.
There`s a secret meeting in the Seychelles in January of 2017 just before
the inauguration of President Trump. At the meeting is Erik Prince who you
mentioned, who is representing the Trump transition team. There`s a
Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. There`s
officials from the United Arab Emirates and there`s a Lebanese-American
businessman named George Nader.
Now, what we`re hearing, what we`re reporting, this is an effort to
establish this back channel. What Erik Prince told lawmakers in November
is again, he just coincidently ran into people at this hotel. He went
there as a private businessman, not as an emissary from the Trump
transition team and he was discussing possible business deals with UAE
officials, and he`s there, and they unexpectedly suggest he visit the hotel
bar and meet the Russian official Kirill Dmitriev who`s very close to
He says he told officials he talked to the Russian official for, oh, about
30 minutes or about the time it took him to drink a beer, nothing
substantive in terms of the Trump transition team at all.
MELBER: Why would they want a secret back channel to the Kremlin?
HORWITZ: Well, this was, this is in the transition period. And this is
during the time when the Trump administration is believed to be wanting to
talk to Russian officials. We don`t know what went on in this meeting
specifically. We don`t know if the whole issue of sanctions was discussed.
Now this was two weeks after the very controversial phone call between
Flynn, the national security adviser –
HORWITZ: – and Kislyak.
MELBER: Sari, I want to push you a little bit. And I appreciate your
careful, measured approach. But I guess what I`m getting at is Bob
Mueller`s investigating Russian collusion and quid pro quo. Now, we`re
learning about an additional, potential effort to have a secret back
channel to the Kremlin. They could obviously use the transition government
mechanisms at their disposal.
Is the back channel a clue that Bob Mueller is probing whether there was an
attempt to do something off the books, secret because it was maybe bad?
HORWITZ: Yes, we know he`s investigating the circumstances of this
meeting. And more broadly, he is examining, investigating apparent efforts
by the Trump transition team to create this back channel for secret talks,
and you ask why would they need this?
Well, Mueller, the Seychelles meeting is of great interest to Mueller`s
team because it`s also investigating whether any foreign money or foreign
assistance fueled the Trump campaign. And he`s looking at how Trump
officials during the transition and the early days of the administration
communicated with foreign officials.
And this was seen to be one of the first meetings where that was done.
Where there`s communication, it`s a back channel.
MELBER: Right. And this, this fact of Mueller looking at, it gives a
greater context to the period of time that goes well beyond the campaign to
whether the instrumentalities of the transition of government were abused,
something that Mike Flynn pled guilty to lying about. And your reporting
zeroes in on a very key part of that tonight, which makes it I would say a
great investigative interest.
Sari Horwitz, thank you for your time.
HORWITZ: Thank you for having me on, Ari.
MELBER: Still ahead, after months of pressure, the White House now
responding to an adult film star. Our breakdown, straight ahead.
MELBER: Stormy Daniels is suing the president. She was barely mentioned
during the 2016 campaign. The former adult film actress spoke to a news
network about potentially discussing her alleged relationship with Trump.
But the story faded, the Trump campaign said then it was absolutely,
unequivocally false that Trump ever had a relationship with Stormy Daniels.
And then this January, news leaked that Daniels received $130,000 right
before the election, part of an agreement precluding her from discussing
the alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump back in 2006. That reporting,
that journalism has now begun to make some changes. It has forced lawyer
to reveal more information about this issue and forced a White House
spokesperson to get a little more vague.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Is the president aware that his lawyer paid that kind of money
to a porn star to buy her silence? Does he approve of that?
RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I haven`t asked him about it
but that matter has been asked and answered in the past.
REPORTER: Can we find out in the president approves – will you ask him
SHAH: I haven`t asked him about it. Ken?
REPORTER: But will you ask him about it?
SHAH: I`ll get back to you.
REPORTER: Did the president and Michael Cohen talk about this at any time
during the campaign or thereafter?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not that I`m aware
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Not that I`m aware of, and there`s no reason she would be. This
was hush money. The first rule of hush money is you don`t talk about hush
But even in the White House, some dodges don`t last. Today, Sanders
shifted, effectively confirming more of this story by claiming Trump and
his lawyer won an arbitration case over it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Did the president approve of the payment that was made in
October of 2016 by his long-time lawyer and adviser, Michael Cohen?
SANDERS: Look, the president has addressed these directly, and made very
well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already
been won in arbitration, and anything beyond that, I would refer you to the
president`s outside counsel.
REPORTER: You said that there`s arbitration that`s already been won by
whom and when?
SANDERS: By the president`s personal attorneys and for details on that, I
would refer you to them.
REPORTER: But you`re aware of it so what can you share with us?
SANDERS: I can share that the arbitration was won in the president`s
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You said what now what else can you tell us?
That was a moment. If Trump had no relationship with Stormy Daniels, and
his lawyer made a payment on his own authority, as the White House had been
implying, what else would be arbitrated? I mean, this new information,
obviously, raises more questions than it answers, and it`s coming out
because of this new lawsuit from Stephanie Clifford, aka, Stormy Daniels,
versus the president, noting that a non-disclosure agreement not to
disclose that an intimate relationship with Trump exists.
But she argues now, it shouldn`t be legally valid because it`s missing a
signature, Trump`s signature.
Now, I can tell you, the missing signature isn`t the strongest reason to
object to a contract. It also alleges that Michael Cohen was back at it
just last week pushing a, quote, bogus arbitration proceeding against
Daniels on Tuesday, which she views as an attempt to intimidate her into
silence and to shut her up.
So, Cohen has now admitted he facilitated this payment to her. And under
the journalistic and legal pressure in this case, that pushed him. But he
still won`t answer directly whether he was reimbursed. And his payment
itself got formally flagged as suspicious and reported to the Treasury
Department. That was by both the sending and receiving bank, including a
flag that came in September, that`s almost a year after the election-eve
payment, which is an abnormal delay for a suspicious activity report.
This all suggests something going on, more than the payment itself. More
than that original sum that triggered investigative concern. And we don`t
know exactly what else that would be. We can also report tonight that
Cohen has added, Donald Trump`s lawyer tried to silence adult star Daniel
Daniels. According to NBC`s reporting obtaining a secret restraining order
in, yes, a private arbitration proceeding warning she faces penalties if
she publicly discusses a relationship with the president.
From this new NBC report says on February 27, Cohen obtained this temporary
against Daniels from a private secret arbiter, a retired judge, barring her
from disclosing, quote, confidential information relating to the NDA from
And that move could be the victory Sanders was citing today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: I can share that arbitration was won in the president`s favor,
and I would refer you to the president`s outside counsel on any details
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So, did this whole thing end with a victory in arbitration in or
was a ruling on confidential information more narrow or even more
temporary, as Daniels continues to make her wider case in court and in
Michael Cohen did not respond with any further details tonight, but this
story is much broader than Daniels versus Trump and whatever history they
do or do not share. This is also the story of a president who, despite his
denials, evidently does have accusations he wishes to keep private,
evidently is willing to oversee a system that pays to keep them secret, and
continues to employ a lawyer working the case.
All of that in contrast to, of course, remember during the campaign, when
Trump loudly denied all accusations of sexual misconduct, even pledging to
sue his accusers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every woman lied when they
came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. The events never
happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: All will be sued.
You know, pledging to take someone to court can sound tough. Makes it
sound like you`re so convinced of your innocence or that you`re right that
you`re ready to prove it in open court.
Of those 19 accusers who came forward during the campaign, Donald Trump has
sued zero. None of them. He didn`t bring a single case to court in public
as he threatened. And yet, tonight, we learn that his lawyer, Michael
Cohen, did bring an arbitration case against one woman, Ms. Daniels. The
difference between court and arbitration is the difference between night
and day. Under the law, court is open. In this kind of arbitration, it`s
And if this was a victory, as the White House spokesperson said today, why
would you only want to win in secret?
MELBER: Tomorrow, the House Intelligence Committee will hear testimony
from the former campaign manager for Donald Trump. You see him there,
Corey Lewandowski. This is his second appearance before the committee. He
did refuse to answer many questions about his interactions with President
Trump when he appeared in January.
Now, it`s unclear what Lewandowski will do. Will he answer those questions
But one thing that does seem clear is that after him, Republicans want to
wrap it up. They now openly say they plan to bring this whole probe to an
end in the near future. “The Washington Post” reporting Republicans on the
panel trying to roll out a final report on the Russia probe in the coming
weeks, and Lewandowski is the last witness currently scheduled for an
interview. And that`s according to multiple sources.
This is despite the fact on the Democratic side they want dozens of more
witnesses, including witnesses that are blocked from testifying by their
fellow Republicans on the panel. In fact, if there is an appetite for
anything right now the GOP side, it is for something new entirely – a new
The latest to join that call is Trey Gowdy. He`s on the Intel Committee.
He`s chairman of House Oversight, and he says we need a special counsel to
probe, yes, the FBI and DOJ themselves, regarding the surveillance warrants
that monitored at a minimum former Trump adviser Carter Page.
Now, Gowdy is joining two other senators, Chuck Grassley and Lindsey
Graham, plus 30 House Republicans calling for this special counsel and the
idea would be to investigate everything from the alleged surveillance
abuses to Uranium One issues, to even the FBI`s handling of that old
favorite, the Clinton e-mail probe.
It`s not clear what the legal basis would be to appoint a special council
for those things. The House probe into Russian election interference is of
course something they want to end. So an investigation that Republicans
have basically worked to stymie in various, very public ways from the start
is now on the verge of ending for good with what would be, as Rachel has
mentioned previously, partisan reports coming out when it`s all done.
And that leaves the Senate Intel Committee probe, which does continue to
investigate these witnesses, and conducted its own work largely out of the
public eye. That would be the only truly bipartisan congressional probe in
This demise of the House probe comes even as today, this new information
comes out about outgoing White House communication director Hope Hicks,
that she told the committee in her interview last week, her own e-mails had
been hacked, plus those allegations that leaked information from inside the
committee and this was big, was passed to a potential target, Trump lawyer
Michael Cohen, and as “The Washington Post” tonight breaks this other news,
that one of the committee`s witnesses may have misled them, that is may
have criminally lied about a participation in the meeting in the Seychelles
island as part of an attempt to establish a back channel to the Kremlin.
It is a lot to unpack, but we have the right guest, Congressman Eric
Swalwell is a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Thanks for being here tonight.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Of course. Good
MELBER: Good evening to you.
You now give us a front row seat to what Sari Horwitz reporting earlier
right here on the show. Erik Prince had told your committee, this meeting
was casual. It was not about a back channel. Her “Washington Post” report
says it was a back channel of the Kremlin effort, and that effectively that
means he`s accused of lying to your committee.
SWALWELL: It`s all the more reason, Ari, that our investigation must
continue. As we learn about this, this evening, we`re on the eve of what
is our last witness that we know about in this Russia investigation. The
best thing we can do to defend our ballot box and make sure this doesn`t
happen again is understand who in the United States worked with the
Now, Adam Schiff and I both asked Mr. Prince a number of times, who did you
meet with over there? Did you ever try to establish a Russia back channel?
Did you ever try to meet with UAE and Russians while you were in the
Seychelles to help the Trump campaign? And he denied it at every step.
If he met with George Nader, of if he tried to meet and establish a Russian
back channel, he lied to Congress. And we need to bring him back in and we
need to bring others in. But, Ari, I`m afraid right now we`re seeing in
response to Russia`s attack and attack on our own police, and that`s not
how you respond to what Russia did. We should complete our own
investigation, impose sanctions already passed in Congress against Russia
and provide defenses to state and local election officials so this doesn`t
MELBER: Do you think Erik Prince lied to you? If so, what do you do about
SWALWELL: Well, I want to find out. So, that means you subpoena travel
records, bank records, communication logs and you also hopefully bring
George Nader in as well. But Erik Prince had every opportunity in the
questioning that occurred to tell us if he met with anyone other than this
Russian banker and UAE officials and he never disclosed that.
And again, this just goes to the larger issue which is, Ari, these
witnesses come in at a take them at their word investigation. They sit in
a seat. We ask them questions. And Republicans say that`s great. We`re
not going to check to see if any of this actually checks out. We`re not
going to subpoena any third-party records. These individuals on the Trump
team are not worthy of being taken at their word.
MELBER: When you see Republicans on your committee that say it`s time to
wrap it up. What do you say to the argument from people in the country
that many key witnesses have appeared before the committee, whatever you
did or didn`t get from them, it`s happened, and that this has been going on
for a long time? What do you say to that argument?
SWALWELL: Well, I say if you think we are safer today than we were back in
2016 from Russian interference, then let`s wrap it up. But if you believe
Mike Pompeo and you believe Rex Tillerson and if you believe Mike Rogers at
the NSA that the Russians are still in our system and still seek to attack
us, then we should fully understand what they did, who they worked with,
whether our response was adequate and tell the American people we`re not
going to let this happen. I believe those intelligence officials.
MELBER: I want to ask you with the special counsel. You know, my job is
to look as fairly as possible at arguments. But legally, it`s very hard to
find what even the legitimate argument would be for a second special
counsel because there needs to be some underlying crime that they`re
Are you familiar with what the basis is for that?
SWALWELL: The basis is to distract, Ari. The FISA issue has been
resolved. I think most legal experts have concluded that the surveillance
that occurred on Carter Page was more than warranted. This is just an
effort to undermine Bob Mueller. That`s too bad, because Russia attacked
us. And instead of defending ourselves against Russia, they`re attacking
our own police.
This, Ari, would be like after Pearl Harbor if you decided the most
important thing we should be doing is to go after the air traffic
controllers. That`s the level of incompetence that they are demonstrating
by showing this focus on a special counsel.
MELBER: Intelligence committee member, Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank
you for your time.
SWALWELL: Of course. My pleasure.
MELBER: Still ahead tonight, another very important story – actual
legislative strange driven by students affected by the Florida high school
shooting three weeks ago today. That is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STUDENTS: Show me what democracy looks like!
This is what democracy looks like!
Show me what democracy looks like!
This is what democracy looks like!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Students staging a sit-in outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell`s office today. They were calling for what they say is common
sense gun control. This is three weeks to the day after the horrific
Parkland High School shooting in Florida.
A short time later, Capitol Police asked them to disperse. And when they
refused, one by one students were picked up, their hands tied behind their
back. And these students, you see them walked out of our nation`s capital,
eight arrested for unlawful demonstration.
In the three weeks since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
School, there has been a drum beat of student marches, and protests and
walk-outs and sit-ins. There are even bigger marches coming up. In fact,
what we`ve seen after other mass shootings, there is something different –
there is something in a kinetic energy we`ve seen this time that for three
weeks now has been a sledge hammer chipping away at an issue that often
feels like it can`t be changed.
Take a look in the past three weeks real progress across the nation from
banning bump stocks to the so-called red flag bills that keep guns away
from higher risk people, happening from Oregon to Rhode Island, Utah to
Alabama. There is, we see now, this nation-wide domino affect, the latest
Today, the Florida house passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Public Safety Act. This is a new bill. It raises the age for buying
rifles to 21. It adds a three-day waiting period on all firearm sales. It
bans bump stocks.
Now, it`s not all traditional gun regulation that these activists have
advocated because this proposed law would add an idea that President
Trump`s promoted, creating a school marshal program to arm some teachers.
But if this bill becomes law, it will be Florida`s first actual gun control
measure in 22 years. This is a state that`s generally gone in totally the
other direction, pro-NRA bills, leading the way. This is where stand your
ground laws were passed. They`re favored by gun advocates, like the NRA,
which was fighting this bulletin, urging people in Florida to vote no on
Now, families of the victims of the shooting in the Parkland, Florida, had
their own call to action. They said, we must be the last families to
suffer the loss of a loved one of a shooting at school. The moment to pass
the bill is now.
Today, they did. The Florida House passing 67-50. With bipartisan
support, it is headed to the governor`s desk.
So if this does become law, this kinetic energy from these past three
weeks, clearly, will have played a role.
Here`s Florida Representative John Cortes today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE REP. JOHN CORTES (R), FLORIDA: The last thing I want to say is I
want to thank the kids who protested from Parkland had the gall to come
here and protest going to the situation and the kids who helped them, who
protested with them. I would like to see you go on and protesting for your
rights and let your voices be heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A shout-out there from a Republican state legislator.
And those voices could be heard again today, protesting another Republican,
Mitch McConnell, and taking student activism to a national level.
(BEGIUN VIDEO CLIP)
STUDENTS: Hey, hey, ho, ho, the NRA has got to go! Hey, hey, ho, ho, the
NRA has got to go!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That does it for us. Rachel will be back tomorrow. You can
always find me at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on my show “THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER”.
But something important right now. Stormy Daniels` attorney is about to
appear live on “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL” which sounds pretty
Good evening, Lawrence.
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