Jury deliberations continue in Manafort trial. TRANSCRIPT: 08/20/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: August 20, 2018
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: And THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I missed you while you were gone, Mr. Hayes.
HAYES: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Did you have a good time?
HAYES: I had an amazing time and it is great to be back.
MADDOW: You look attended, rested and ready, my friend.
HAYES: Ready to rock. Let`s do it.
MADDOW: Thanks, my friend.
All right. And thanks to you at home for joining this hour. Happy Monday.
Happy to have you here.
It has been sort of a rollicking day and a rollicking few days of news,
particularly when it comes to all the scandal stuff. They still unspooling
scandal around this president, the one that appears to be getting him a
little more wound up with each passing day if his public comments are
anything to go by.
“The New York Times”, of course, reported this weekend that the serving
White House counsel Don McGahn has done more than 30 hours of voluntary
interviews with the special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of
prosecutors. Shortly thereafter, we got new reporting also from “The
Times” about the president`s personal lawyer being squozed for lack of a
better term by federal prosecutors.
“The Wall Street Journal” is actually first on this story as they
consistently have been on the criminal intrigue surrounding President
Trump`s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen from the very beginning. But
following the journals initial reporting a couple weeks ago but the
potential charges that Michael Cohen might be facing, now it`s “The New
York Times” as of yesterday and the associated press as of today who have
both matched that story.
So, “The Wall Street Journal” and “The A.P.” and the “New York Times” all
now reporting that Michael Cohen`s legal vulnerability may be at least in
part related to tens of millions of potentially fraudulent bank loans and
also potentially campaign finance violations related to his payoffs to at
least a couple of women during the campaign who both said that they had
sexual relationships with the president.
Despite all of that good reporting on Michael Cohen, now, we`ve got three
big news outlets all matching the same basic substance about what Michael
Cohen might be charged with. Despite all that good reporting, I remain
convinced that the only way we will ever be sure that Michael Cohen is
actually being criminally charged is that identity eventually we`re going
to see Michael Cohen being arrested and we`ll be able to read the
indictment which lists criminal charges against him. I mean, until we can
see those things with our own eyes, until we can read the document, until
we get confirmation from prosecutors, I sort of feel like I`m not going to
believe any of it.
I mean, there`s so much spin being spun by so many sources on the different
legal elements of this entire scandal surrounding the president, but the
Michael Cohen part of it is I think the worst in terms of the ratio between
real information that we can publicly check and a obfuscatory noise and
spin that might have nothing to do with real facts. There`s just a lot of
blah blah blah about Michael Cohen and very little publicly checkable
information that we can balance it against.
To that end, I think there`s actually one big red flag in the recent
factual record about what`s going on with Michael Cohen that we should take
note of, that we should all factor in to our understanding of his potential
legal jeopardy and how that might relate to the legal jeopardy of the
president. There`s been so much ink spilled, so much hot air blown over
the last couple of days and frankly weeks when it comes to Cohen.
But on both the McGahn story and the Michael Cohen story, there`s so much
noise about it, they`re both potentially interesting, right? Lawyers
getting lawyers is one thing. Lawyers becoming cooperating witnesses is
even bigger thing.
I do think that there are steps that we should all take to avoid being spun
or misled on both of those stories and so, we`re going to get to some of
that ahead tonight. It`s sort of like I just feel like when you when you
see a story about McGahn or Cohen coming down the pike, unless it`s gotten
publicly verifiable information in it, just think of it as something that
has sort of cautionary traffic cones around it. Tread lightly, don`t go
too fast around this corner. This may be someone trying to trip you up.
On top of the McGahn and Cohen news, though, there have been a bunch of new
developments today and into this evening, including one that relates to
this guy. Remember this guy? He is the one person who has actually gone
to prison already. He actually served his custodial sentence already in
the Russia scandal.
His name is Alex Vander Zwaan. He`s a lawyer who served 30 days in federal
lockup as punishment for lying to investigators about his role in one of
Paul Manafort`s foreign lobbying gigs. Now, it has always been possible
when it comes to Alex Vander Zwaan that there was a big biographical
coincidence about him. It`s totally possible it`s a coincidence.
But one of the more intriguing details about Alex Vander Zwaan who has
served his time in prison, we think he`s left the country since serving his
time in prison in this scandal, it has always been a fascinating thing to
know about him that his father-in-law, the father of his wife, is a Russian
oligarch close to Vladimir Putin who turns up in the Christopher Steele
dossier. Alex Vander Zwaan is married to the daughter of this man German
Khan, who`s one of three very, very wealthy Russians who control a banking
interest, a banking empire called Alfa Bank.
Now, Alfa Bank has popped up in the intrigue surrounding the Russia
investigation in a couple of different ways. First, before the election,
there were strange and frankly still unexplained reports about some kind of
extensive computer communications between a computer server at Alfa Bank in
Moscow and a computer server in Trump Tower that was associated with the
Trump Organization. Why was the Alfa Bank server talking to the Trump
Organization server? We still don`t know what that computer traffic was
That saga has stayed in the news though in part because Alfa Bank ended up
hiring an American law firm to clean up its reputation around that story,
around these unexplained communications between its own servers in Moscow
and the Trump Organization servers in Trump Tower during the campaign. The
lawyer who Alfa Bank ended up hiring to clean up that story, to clean up
that PR mess, to basically declare the company innocent of any nefarious
secret communications during the during the campaign, it was an American
lawyer, a Republican lawyer named Brian Benczkowski.
The reason the Alfa Bank story is still sort of rattling around in the news
and the Russia scandals because the Trump administration decided then that
they would hire that same guy Brian Benczkowski to run the division at the
U.S. Department of Justice.
So, Alfa Bank has its own special role on that side of the intrigue around
that the Russia scandal. We still don`t know what all this computer
communications were about. We still don`t know if it`s also just a
coincidence that Brian Benczkowski, Alfa Bank`s lawyer, dealing with that
scandal ends up at the Justice Department in one of the most senior
positions in the entire agency.
Alfa Bank also appears in Christopher Steele`s stack of opposition research
memos on the Trump campaign and Russia, which have collectively become
known as the Steele dossier. In April of this year, German Khan, Alex
Vander Zwaan`s father-in-law, one of the founder`s of Alfa Bank, brought a
lawsuit on the basis of the Steele dossier, brought a defamation lawsuit
against Christopher Steele and the intelligence firm that he was working
for when he wrote the dossier.
It`s interesting. The dossier didn`t actually say anything all that
damning about Alfa Bank. This was the piece of the dossier that mentioned
Alfa Bank described German Khan and these other guys from Alfa Bank as
being oligarchs who led that banking group described them as having a close
relationship with Vladimir Putin. The dossier said, quote, significant
favors continued to be done in both directions with Friedman and Even the
other two guys from Alfa Bank other than Alex Vander Zwaan`s father-in-law,
quote, still giving – excuse me – still giving informal advice to Putin
especially on the U.S.
So, that`s what`s in the Steele dossier about Alfa Bank. They`re friendly
with Putin. They do each other favors. There`s a further allegations that
these guys from Alfa Bank had maybe funneled money to Putin back in his St.
Given all the other stuff that`s in the dossier this is like not the
world`s most salacious stuff. But the dossier is taken on this life of its
own, during this scandal, right? Republicans in Congress, President Trump,
the White House more broadly, they have spent months trying to turn the
Steele dossier itself into a huge scandal.
The president now appears to be on an almost daily crusade against one
serving Justice Department official, a man named Bruce Ohr because Bruce
Ohr`s wife worked at the opposition research company in the U.S. that
commissioned the dossier from Christopher Steele. She worked at Fusion
GPS. Mr. Ohr appears to have had contact himself with Christopher Steele
during the campaign.
So, House Republicans have gone along with the attacks on the dossier, the
attacks on anybody associated with the dossier. They`re now going along
with the attacks on this Justice Department official who the president has
singled out as being connected to the dossier. House Republicans have now
summoned that specific Justice Department official Bruce Ohr to come
testify. They had threatened a subpoena but he`s going to appear
So, there`s been all of this drama in the U.S. about the Steele dossier
which continues to rattle around Republican politics and the president`s
defense on this scandal. But the other threatening action related to the
Steele dossier has been lawsuits. These lawsuits like this one filed by
German Khan and the other founders of Alfa Bank.
Well, today, in superior court in Washington, D.C., a judge dismissed
German Khan and the other Alfa Bank guys defamation lawsuit against
Christopher Steele and Orbis Business Intelligence, and the case was
dismissed, quote, with prejudice, which means the plaintiffs cannot bring
this thing up again.
So, Alfa Bank, we still do not know if there was anything you know
operational or financial involving Alfa Bank when it came to Russian
efforts to interfere in the 2016 election or any potential Trump campaign
involvement in that effort. We`ve seen no firm evidence but lots of
suggestions about that possibility. We still don`t know if it`s just a
coincidence that Alex Vander Zwaan, who went to prison in this scandal, is
related by marriage to one of the founders of Alfa Bank.
We still don`t know if there`s anything shady about the fact that Brian
Benczkowski hired by Alfa Bank to get them out of that Russia-related
scandal ends up in a senior position at the U.S. Justice Department. But
at least we do have this one conclusive statement today, Alfa Bank`s effort
to sue, to make their connection to the Steele dossier go away. Today,
that lawsuit failed in in a way that seems quite definitive.
Now, after Alex Vander Zwaan, the next person to go to prison in the Russia
scandal, might be Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George
Papadopoulos. Late on Friday, we learned that the special counsel had
recommended to the judge in his case that George Papadopoulos should serve
up to six months in prison. The actual recommendation range was zero
months to six months in prison.
The great Lynn Sweet at `The Chicago Sun-Times” reported today that George
Papadopoulos` lawyers intend to ask the judge in his case for zero jail
time. Their formal response to the sentencing recommendation from
prosecutors is due at the end of next week. But when you look at the
sentencing recommendation for George Papadopoulos from the special
counsel`s office, from the prosecutors, it was really not good for him.
I mean, aside from the range of potential prison time that they are
suggesting, the way they describe Papadopoulos to this behavior is not
complimentary to him, is not designed to put him in good stead in the eyes
of the judge. Prosecutors told the court, quote, the plea agreement
entered into by the government and the defendant was not a standard
cooperation agreement. Prosecutors merely quote agreed to bring to the
court`s attention at sentencing the defendants efforts to cooperate with
Well, what prosecutors ended up bringing to the court`s attention at
sentencing was a 10-page long list of ways in which George Papadopoulos
actually didn`t help them out at all. Quote: The defendant did not provide
substantial assistance. Prosecutors further said that he lied over and
over again in ways that materially hurt the government`s case.
Quote: The defendant`s crime was serious both in terms of the underlying
conduct and its effect on the investigation. The defendant knew the
questions he was asked by the FBI were important and he knew his answers
were false at the time he gave them. His lies negatively affected the
FBI`s Russia investigation and prevented the FBI from effectively
identifying and confronting witnesses in a timely fashion. His lies were
not momentary lapses. He lied repeatedly over the course of hours and his
lies were designed to conceal fact he knew to be critical.
The sentence imposed here should reflect the fact that lying the federal
investigators has real consequences, especially where the defendant lied to
investigators about critical facts in an investigation of national
importance after having been explicitly warned that lying to the FBI is a
federal offense. The nature and circumstances of the offense warrant a
sentence of incarceration.
So, there`s a couple of things to watch here. Number one, this is the
government emphatically saying George Papadopoulos should do jail time.
According to Lynn Sweet`s reporting today in Chicago, Papadopoulos as
lawyers will insist that he shouldn`t do any jail time at all.
But that reference there that I read from the sentencing recommendation,
this part here: the plea agreement entered into by the government and the
defendant was not a standard cooperation agreement. That raises the
possibility that George Papadopoulos might still have some ongoing criminal
liability here, right? This is not a recommendation from prosecutors that
says, oh, listen, you know judge our deal has been upheld on both sides, as
far as we`re concerned this guy is now free and clear. He was really
helpful to us. We made a deal with him that if he was helpful with us that
that would result in him have – it`s not that.
They`re saying this guy didn`t help us and he lied. And by the way, this
wasn`t a formal agreement. We just said we`d tell the judge if he helped
us when it came time for him to be sentenced. What they`re saying no, he
didn`t help us.
The prospect of additional criminal liability for George Papadopoulos, some
indictment new against – new indictment against him in the future, now
that we know the government says he wasn`t an earnest cooperator, that mail
looms over this little part of that case and the sense that there is
something important unresolved when it comes to George Papadopoulos was
helped along by this public statement that he made today on Twitter.
This was 4:00 o`clock this afternoon. I`ll just quote it directly. Been a
hell of a year, period. Decisions, period.
Yes, as a matter of law, I`m not sure how many real decisions George
Papadopoulos really has to make at this point now that his sentencing
process has started. We`ll get some expert advice on that in just a
But the last set of developments in today`s news related to the scandal
center around the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who
incidentally has a notable new neighbor as of this weekend. In a move that
was described as a surprise to all involved, on Friday night, look who
moved in. Accused Russian foreign agent Maria Butina on Friday night was
moved from the jail in D.C. where she had been held since she was arrested
in mid-July, they took her out of that D.C. jail Friday night and brought
her over to where Paul Manafort lives now, which is the federal lockup in
Now, the reason we have this new unflattering picture of Maria Butina is I
think because she has been moved to that new facility in Virginia. It`s
Alexandra sheriff`s office there I think we get mug shots when people are
in that facility. That`s why we`ve got Paul Manafort`s mug shot, too.
Maria Butina hasn`t been convicted of anything. She`s not serving any
sentence. She`s only being held in jail before her trial because the judge
in her case decided that she was a flight risk. Prosecutors had argued
that she shouldn`t be a candidate for bail because of her alleged links to
the Russian government and her alleged links to Russian intelligence
Basically, they argued to the judge that the Russians would spirit her out
of the country before she could ever face charges if the judge let her back
out on the street. That`s why she has not been let back out on the street.
But now, for whatever reason, they have moved her from one federal lockup
in D.C. to another. Moving her from D.C. to Alexandria means that she`s
only about two blocks away from where Paul Manafort`s trial has been
underway in Virginia. But that`s not the courthouse where she`s going to
be tried. She`s going to be tried in D.C.
And we know from past experience that it`s not unheard of for people who
are facing trial in D.C. to end up in this Virginia jail instead. But it
was a surprise apparently and it is a little strange that nobody knows why
she was moved. And according to her lawyer, neither she nor her lawyer had
any notice before the move happens late on Friday night.
Her attorney Robert Driscoll tells “The Daily Beast”, quote, I got a
collect call from Maria from the jail in Virginia at midnight but was
disconnected before we could speak. Driscoll said, quote, I visited her
this morning, she was not informed of the reason for the move. I was not
notified of the move and I am still unaware of the reason.
He gave that quote to “The Daily Beast” this weekend. We contacted Mr.
Driscoll today to see if he had learned today why his client was moved from
D.C. to Virginia. He told us, quote: No news. I have no answers yet. You
can ask the Marshal Service. It`s their call.
We did ask the marshal service and they didn`t call us back. Surprise.
If we do get a call back from them, I will let you know. There`s no reason
of course to think that Paul Manafort and Maria Butina will have any
contact with each other while they are in the same jail, but it`s a weird
thing that they are now both in the same jail.]
In terms of Paul Manafort`s case, we are expecting tomorrow to get the
government`s list of evidence prosecutors list of evidence that they plan
to use against Manafort in his next federal criminal trial which is due to
start next month in federal court in D.C. The evidence list has already
been described as containing over 1,000 items. The deadline for the list
of all that evidence is to be made public – is that it should be made
public tomorrow. So, that should be a big long list. It should also be a
very interesting window into what Paul Manafort`s next prosecution might
And meanwhile, of course, we`re still waiting on the jury in his first
federal felony trial. The jury considering Manafort`s fate, excuse me, in
Virginia. They deliberated all day Thursday. They deliberated all day
Friday. The judge sent them home for the weekend, they then deliberated
all day today.
At 4:49 p.m., the judge announced that the jury would actually stay late.
Last week, they`d been breaking it at 5:00 o`clock or just before 5:00
o`clock. Today, he said they asked to please deliberate later. They
wanted to stay deliberating until at least 6:15 p.m.
Them asking to stay late that, that raised expectations that maybe the
jurors were giving it a final push, maybe they might be planning to release
a verdict on Manafort tonight. That turned out not to be the case. The
court reconvened after 6:00 p.m., and the judge announced that no verdict.
Once again, the jurors will be sent home. They will come back to court
tomorrow to start deliberating again at 9:30 in the morning.
So, two questions here. First of all, with the jury deliberating almost
nine hours today and over the course of these three days, they`ve
deliberated almost 24 solid hours in total, is that starting to feel like a
long time? Is that a long deliberation? And if so, does that mean
anything in terms of what we should expect for the timing of a verdict or
which way the verdicts likely to go?
If you`re a prosecutor or a defense lawyer watching the juries they go on
for these long stretches, not asking questions any more like they did on
their first day, do you find that to be hardening or disheartening? Or do
we just not know?
Second question, last question: is it a little weird that the jury is like
on the loose out in the wild, they`re not sequestered? I mean, they`re
just sent home every night. They were sent home for this whole weekend.
The judge himself has suggested that the jurors might reasonably be afraid
for their own safety in this case. He stated in court that he`s received
threats in conjunction with this case. He cited those threats as a reason
not to release the jurors` names. But he`s allowed courtroom artists to
show us what the jury looks like and the jurors are freely mingling at the
courthouse with members of the public who were there to see the case and
reporters who were there to cover the case and anybody else who has
business at the Alexandria federal courthouse.
Meanwhile, with these – with these jurors sort of on the loose despite the
fact that the judge is talking about potential danger they might be in, I
mean, the judge has been admonishing them every day that they shouldn`t
consume any media about the case. They shouldn`t have any communications
with anybody about the case.
But this is not a normal case. There`s an unusual amount of ambient noise
and pressure on this case, on which these jurors are deliberating. I mean,
from the start of the trial, the president of the United States has
repeatedly made public statements praising the defendant, saying the
defendants being mistreated, calling his prosecution sad.
And on the other side, every day, and sometimes two three four or five six
times a day, the president makes public statements in writing and out loud
denouncing the prosecution in this case. He`s been praising the defendant
Paul Manafort and he`s been denouncing the prosecution, the special
counsel`s office. The president daily denounces the special counsel`s
office now in terms that are so stark, it might reasonably be very
difficult for jurors to avoid seeing any mention of the fact that the
president has been calling the prosecutors in this case, quote, a national
disgrace, calling them angry Democrat thugs that are ruining people`s
lives, saying this is a rigged investigation.
The president deriding Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office is
him deriding the prosecution in this case, right? Presidents in the past
have taken care to avoid weighing in on any pending criminal cases so as to
avoid the even the appearance of influence on jury deliberations, or any
other aspect of a pending case.
In this case, with this president, it`s totally the opposite. He is
absolutely trying to influence the case, and I know it is rare to sequester
a jury, to put a jury in a hotel and not give them any contact with their
homes of the outside world until they`ve got a verdict. I know it`s rare
to do that, but given the very unusual fire hose of public invective from
the sitting president of the United States that he is directing at this
case on a daily basis, clearly trying to influence the verdict of the jury,
is this one of those rare cases where the jury actually should have been
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in the Eastern
District of Michigan.
Barb, thank you so much. Nice to see you.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Oh my pleasure to be here, Rachel.
Nice to see you.
MADDOW: I believe and again I don`t know these things, but it is my
impression that it is a rare thing for a jury to be sequestered. But
judges do sometimes order it in particularly high-profile cases or when
there`s a particularly high risk that jurors under normal circumstances in
their normal milieu won`t be able to avoid media exposure or other pressure
on their potential verdict.
Is that – is that basically true?
MCQUADE: Yes, it`s very rare that a jury would be sequestered. I`ve never
seen it in federal court. I know it has happened in some high-profile
state court cases.
I think the Bill Cosby case was one where the jury was sequestered. The
O.J. Simpson case was one. Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman.
So, there have been a few with their very high-profile cases, but I know
one difference between state court proceedings and federal court
proceedings is that they`re not televised, so you`re not likely to see
television footage at least of the trial. I suppose that`s one reason.
It`s also very expensive and I think the other reason is that you don`t
want to put pressure on jurors to end quickly because they feel some urge
to be done so they can get home and get on with their lives and
sequestration could cause them to be hasty in their decisions. So, aside
from that, also the expense. So I`ve never seen it done in federal court.
MADDOW: And in terms of the president`s remarks on this case. I see his
remarks here being so starkly positive toward the defendant lamenting what
he describes as mistreatment of the defendant unfair persecution of the
defendant. And, of course, his withering attacks even in very personal
terms against the prosecutors, those look to me like the kinds of
statements from a president that might be designed to influence a jury`s
Would that – what can the judge do other than instructing the jury to not
pay attention to it, to protect them from those kinds of pressures?
MCQUADE: Yes, the judge does give that instruction, a standard
instruction, and when I was in the court, he gave that instruction every
day not to read anything in the media discuss the case, and there`s case
law that says that a jurors are presumed to have followed their
instructions, unless you can show otherwise. And so, people expect that
juries will follow that advice and that direction.
Now, if they do inadvertently get exposed to something, they`re expected to
self-report. There are four alternates in this case, so if someone were to
come in and say, you know, I was at home and I overheard this on the
television or someone blurted this out or someone told me Trump has said
these things, they could in an egregious situation be replaced with an
But I think a judge would likely ask them, what did you hear? Has that
influenced you? Do you think you can set that aside and decide this case
based on the facts and the law that you hear in this court? I think most
people can say yes, that I can set those things aside.
So, you know, certainly they`re highly inflammatory, highly irregular that
we would see something like this. Prosecutors are ethically bound not to
say these kinds of things about guilt of the defendant because of the
suggestion that an authority figure could have influence on a jury`s
outcome. So, it really is very shocking that a president would say these
things about a criminal defendant.
MADDOW: One last question for you, Barb. What do you make of the length
of time the jury is deliberating here? Is there any reason to read
anything into that at this point?
MCQUADE: You know, I don`t think it`s cause for concern yet. There – it
is the case that the longer a jury deliberates, the more likely it is that
there`s a hung juror, or a not guilty verdict or holdout. But I don`t
think we`ve gone on that long yet.
They say that it`s usually about a day of deliberation for every week of
testimony and in this case, I would think that with the complexity of the
case and the fact the judge did not allow the prosecutors to always
publish, that as display the documents at the time they were discussed and
he would say they can look at that later is causing lengthier
You know, he speeded up the trial but I think the cost for that is perhaps
lengthier deliberations, while they now go back and review all of those
documents. So, I`m not concerned yet.
MADDOW: And we all end up on the edge of our seats for another day.
Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in Michigan, thanks. Good to see
you, Barb. Thanks for being here.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel. You too.
MADDOW: All right. We got a lot of news to get to. A busy Monday night.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: “The New York Times” is reporting that the ongoing federal
criminal investigation targeting the president`s longtime personal lawyer,
Michael Cohen, is zeroing in on potential bank fraud involving Michael
Cohen`s investment in the taxi business, also potentially campaign finance
violations that relate to the payoffs that Michael Cohen helped arrange
during the campaign, to at least two women who said they had sexual
relationships with the president.
Now, this reporting from “The Times” follows the same contours of what was
reported a couple weeks ago by “The Wall Street Journal”. But now, “The
New York Times” has the story, too, as does “The Associated Press”. All of
these stories now have the same basic contours.
And none of that is the same as us actually seeing a real live indictment,
but it does at least mean that there`s a big pile of credible,
corroborating reporting that all lays out the same potential basic charges
against Cohen. If that reporting from all those different news outlets is
true about what Michael Cohen is going to be charged with, then first
question is, oh, yes, show me. When`s this all going to happen?
Second question is, is Michael Cohen talking with prosecutors about a
potential cooperation deal to lessen his own legal jeopardy in exchange for
him helping prosecutors with information that they could use in other
cases. That`s what everybody is wondering. That`s the story that
everybody has been chasing all over New York every day now. I`m not going
to kid you we`re chasing that story just as hard as anyone is. Everybody
in the news business is chasing that same story.
I mean, the potential drama of the president`s White House counsel Don
McGahn and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen not just getting lawyers
themselves but potentially becoming enthusiastic witnesses in cases
involving the president, yes, yes. There`s a reason everybody`s chasing
that story so hard.
But here`s something very specific to consider: late last week, this
document was filed in federal court in Manhattan. It`s just two pages.
It`s from the special master who was hired by the court to review evidence
that was seized from Michael Cohen`s home. His home and his office in his
hotel room back in April. This special master was appointed by the court
to check all those documents that were seized to make sure they weren`t
covered by attorney-client privilege, and if they weren`t covered by
attorney-client privilege, then the special master would hand them over to
prosecutors for them to review for their potential case, and charges
against Michael Cohen.
Well, in this last little filing from the special master late last week,
special master, this retired judge, gives a final accounting of just how
many documents and files she found to be covered by attorney-client
privilege. Bottom line is not many, a few thousand out of the millions of
files and documents that were taken. But look at this, special master also
says, you know, there was one thing that I couldn`t ever review, I couldn`t
ever look to see whether or not it was covered by attorney-client
privilege, just one thing.
Michael Cohen`s encrypted Blackberry, she says she never got that and its
contents to review because apparently, they don`t have the password to the
BlackBerry. So, the special master said in this filing last week basically
if down the road the government does manage to crack open Michael Cohen`s
BlackBerry, then they`re going to have to use a filter team at the U.S.
attorney`s office to go through it and check it to see if any of the stuff
on there is privileged.
And she hopes that`s OK because she`s done now, she`s wrapped up her work
so that`s the one outstanding matter that still hasn`t been taken care of.
You`re going to have to deal with that some other way.
Here`s my question: nearly five months into the Michael Cohen saga,
prosecutors still don`t have the password to his BlackBerry? Why have I
read 5,000 articles in which Michael Cohen has given every conceivable
signal that he wants to cooperate, right? Is that all this drama and
gossip and spin that Michael Cohen is desperate to help prosecutors any way
If so, shouldn`t Michael Cohen be like skywriting is BlackBerry password
over SDNY headquarters, right? I mean, if they need that password, that`s
the one bit of his files and documents that they haven`t reviewed, it`s the
stuff that`s on that BlackBerry. If they need that password and they still
don`t have it, isn`t that a pretty clear sign that the two sides are not
talking or at least if they are talking, he`s not helping.
So much spin around the Michael Cohen side of this story. Do not fall for
it. Watch this space.
MADDOW: This era in D.C. has been marked by mystery, by many mysteries.
Not chief among those mysteries but may be deputy chief among those
mysteries is how come White House counsel Don McGahn is so good at playing
the hero in the press? How come he`s so good at getting a heroic portrait
of his actions and his secret beliefs and his stoic forbearance into the
papers? How is White House counsel Don McGahn managed to get so many
stories into the newspapers in which he alone, he bravely is secretly the
real American hero? Don McGahn is reported to have been the one who calmed
the president down after Robert Mueller was appointed, so the president
didn`t do something truly crazy. Don McGahn is reported to have threatened
to resign rather than fire special counsel Robert Mueller which the
president had ordered him to do. Don McGahn saved Bob Mueller.
You think the White House weirdly mismanaged the firing of national
security advisor Mike Flynn after they were warned Flynn was compromised by
a foreign government? No, no, at least Don McGahn didn`t mismanage
anything. Don McGahn, reportedly, warned the White House about the lying
of national security adviser Mike Flynn right away. He was right on top of
Don McGahn shows up in the process as hanging in there through the chaos,
selflessly pulling back from quitting, doing all the right things and
hanging in there to take care of the country`s needs despite really being
pushed around by the president in an unfair way. I don`t know who one day
will play the part of someone familiar with Don McGahn`s thinking when a
movie is made of all this, but the role is getting larger every day.
This weekend, “The Times” reported that Don McGahn has cooperated
extensively in the Robert Mueller, inquiry that he sat with investigators
for 30 hours over the past nine months. “The Times” laid out how the
president tried to ensure control of the investigation though never going
beyond his legal authorities.
And yes, the White House may be a little freaked out to realize they had no
idea Don McGahn had talked so much and had been so forthcoming, they have
no idea what he said in those 30 hours of testimony that he Don McGahn had
no choice but to selflessly give.
Tonight, NBC News is reporting, according to a source familiar with the
matter, that Don McGahn`s legal team told the president`s lawyers he would
have resigned if he thought he had witnessed the president committing a
crime. The source tells NBC there`s no way of knowing how Don McGahn`s
testimony may fit with any other evidence that the Mueller investigation
has collected. The mystery of Don McGahn, the secret heroism of Don
McGahn, keeps growing by the hour.
There are a few lumps in the ointment though. Hold that thought.
MADDOW: I was two and a half weeks old at the time, so it`s not like I
remember this from experience. But I almost feel like I do, because this
part of the story is now so much a part of how we think about how things
blow up in American politics when they blow up really badly. I was two-
and-a-half weeks old. This was April 19th, 1973.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGLAS KIKER, NBC NEWS REPORTER: The statement issued today by John Dean,
the White House counsel, caught everybody by surprise, especially the White
House. It really was not a statement, it was a warning to the people Dean
works for. Anybody who knows me, anybody who knows the true facts about
Watergate knows better than to try and make a scapegoat out of me. That
was Dean`s statement and the implication was that he`s got a lot of
unspilled beans to spill if he`s forced to spill them.
The White House reply was, nobody`s trying to make anybody a scapegoat.
We`re just trying to get at the truth.
Dean issued a statement without notifying anybody at the White House in
advance and the White House obviously was shocked by his action. Press
Secretary Ron Ziegler, asked if Dean is still a member in good standing of
the White House team, would say only that Dean is in his office, he has not
resigned, he has not been fired.
This could be the case for some time to come, but it`s clear that from now
on, John Dean is White House counsel in name only.
Douglas Kiker, NBC News, at the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Eleven days after that warning shot from then White House counsel
John Dean, President Richard Nixon fired him, and Nixon supporters
immediately have began pointing to John Dean as the person who everybody
should blame for the whole Watergate scandal and the whole cover-up. It
should all be on Dean`s head, not the president`s.
That didn`t work out well. But now, we`ve got the current president of the
United States talking about John Dean in public, calling him a rat for
having testified against Nixon 45 years ago. And we`ve got the current
White House counsel also citing the example of John Dean basically to say
he`s trying to avoid John Dean`s ultimate fate in Watergate, which is, yes,
maybe now he`s remembered as sort of a hero or a rat, depending on how you
look at it.
But at the time, John Dean went to prison. Both sides are sort of
misremembering how things worked out for John Dean.
Michael Beschloss is here with us next to sort it out. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV ANCHOR: Good evening.
John Wesley Dean III, fired last April by President Nixon as White House
legal counsel, told the Senate Watergate Committee today that the president
was involved in Watergate wrongdoing. And having accused the president,
Dean said he hopes Mr. Nixon will be forgiven. That`s how Dean began his
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It is my honest belief that
while the president was involved, that he did not realize or appreciate at
any time the implications of his involvement. And I think that when the
facts come out, I hope the president is forgiven.
TV ANCHOR: John Dean followed that assertion with a page statement that
took all day to read, crammed with quotes, dates, memoranda and detailed
recollections of talks with the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A 245-page statement that he read out loud. Nixon`s White House
counsel John Dean had decided early on in the Watergate scandal that Nixon
was going to try to make him the scapegoat for the Watergate scandal and
for the cover-up. Once Dean figured that out, in early April 1973, he made
a 180-degree turn. He went straight to federal prosecutors. He told them
he would cooperate with them fully.
By the time, Nixon fired John Dean from the White House counsel`s job, Dean
had already for weeks been helping prosecutors on Watergate.
So, with this new reporting over the past couple of days that the current
White House counsel Don McGahn has spoken for 30 hours with special counsel
Robert Mueller, the president now is literally launching a new attack on
John Dean, saying that Dean was a rat for testifying against Nixon back in
But the current White House counsel Don McGahn is also apparently in fear
of John Dean`s legacy. According to “The New York Times” this weekend,
McGahn has been telling people he`s determined to avoid John Dean`s fate.
Despite how helpful Dean was to Watergate investigators, John Dean went to
prison for obstruction of justice. He was disbarred, he went from being
the top lawyer in the White House to being prohibited from ever again
practicing law in Washington, D.C. That part of John Dean`s fate is what
reportedly compelled Don McGahn to cooperate with Robert Mueller.
McGahn`s own worries about his own legal jeopardy, that`s apparently become
the blueprint for this dynamic we`ve been watching unfold at the White
House for months now.
Is the White House council right to worry about John Dean`s fate? Will
testifying now help him avoid that fate? And is the president right to be
concerned about rats?
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Michael, it is great to have you with us tonight. Thank you for being
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, Rachel. Good
to see you.
MADDOW: So, the president today called John Dean a rat. When Dean came
forward in 1973, what did the Nixon White House, what did Nixon supporters
do in response? How was he treated at the time?
BESCHLOSS: Well, when he testified before the Senate as you were just
showing and said that Nixon was central to the cover-up, a lot of Nixon
people were very angry. But you know what amazes me, Rachel, is that if we
were to talk to any president from Gerald Ford, all the way through Barack
Obama, and say, what do you think of John Dean, they would have all said, a
flawed person but ultimately a hero of Watergate because he helped to
expose Richard Nixon.
This is another sign of this weird time that we`re living through that the
current president, Donald Trump, would use a word like rat.
MADDOW: One of the things that we`re watching unspool now in this story
first reported in “The New York Times” this weekend about Don McGahn and
President Trump is that nobody`s quite sure whether or not Don McGahn may
have acted heroically and selflessly here.
BESCHLOSS: Right, right.
MADDOW: Or whether he had to go talk to the special counsel. I mean, did
John Dean as White House counsel I have a choice in terms of whether or not
he was going to cooperate with the prosecutors. Clearly, history tells us
that he worried he was going to get blamed and this was his effort to get
out ahead of it. But how much of a choice did he have?
BESCHLOSS: In the end, probably not much, and you were so right tonight to
say be very cautious about everything we`re hearing from the outside about
what Don McGahn did or did not do it may take years for us to know exactly
what was said. But in Dean`s case, he knew that he was central to the
cover-up. He knew that Nixon was trying to make him to the scapegoat and
blame Watergate on him, so that when Dean started talking to federal
authorities and investigators people in the legal process, he did two
things that ultimately were crucial.
Number one, he gave them information that showed that not only should they
be investigating the Watergate break-in, which is what they had been
focused on, but they should also look at Nixon in terms of obstruction of
justice. That really shifted the investigation. Ultimately, as you know
obstruction of justice was article number one of the bills of impeachment
that would have been voted against Nixon.
The other thing that Dean did was he said, you know, when I was talking to
Nixon, Nixon would say things like, well, I didn`t do such-and-such, did I,
John? And it sounded to me as if maybe I was being taped and that caused
them to be aware of the possibility that there would be tapes that would
show the real story.
MADDOW: Dean`s recollections about the way Nixon talked to him was a
signal essentially to investigators that maybe there were tapes that they
should look for?
BESCHLOSS: They began looking very hard and then finally, Alexander
Butterfield who was on Nixon`s staff knew about that was approached by
investigators for the Senate Watergate Committee. He was the one who
revealed those tapes to the public. Ultimately, they brought Nixon down.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, thank you, my
friend. Great to have you here.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you. Be well.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Two things to watch for on the legal front tomorrow related to the
president`s campaign chair, Paul Manafort. At 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time, of
course, the jury resumes its deliberations for a fourth day.
But you should also know by the end of the day tomorrow, we are expected to
get the full stack of evidence. That part the prosecution intends to use
in the next federal felony prosecution of Paul Manafort, the case that is
going to start in D.C. next month. We`re told to expect there will be over
1,000 items of evidence in that list. But we`ll see our first glimpse of
what the evidence is going to be sometime over the course of the day
And that does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again then.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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