Michael Cohen implicates the President. TRANSCRIPT: 8/22/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show.
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: August 22, 2018
You may have heard the news today about a new subpoena for the president`s
personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, the same Michael Cohen who pled guilty
yesterday to eight felony charges in federal court in New York.
Michael Cohen did get a new subpoena today. It is a surprise. Michael
Cohen reportedly reacted to that subpoena in a surprising way. I will get
to that in a second.
But I want to talk about that subpoena here right at the top of the show
tonight because I think you should know that it might be more than meets
the eye. It might be very important in terms of what`s about to happen
next and the pressure and specifically the legal pressure that is being
brought to bear on the president of the United States.
All right. So, here`s how it came to be. In May of this year, May 22nd,
“The New York Times” had a scoop that they probably only got because they
are specifically “The New York Times.” “The New York Times” sent crack
reporters to an otherwise sleepy courthouse in Albany, New York, not a
federal courthouse, a state court, because that day in that state court in
New York, a long-time business partner of Michael Cohen`s, a taxicab mogul
named Gene Freidman who everybody called the “taxi king”, he was in court.
He had been facing really serious charges in New York, tax evasion on a
grand scale, more than $5 million of tax evasion. Also, four felony counts
of criminal tax fraud. He was facing a charge of grand larceny. It`s a
big stack of charges involving a large amount of money and potentially a
ton of jail time.
And the big story that “The New York Times” uncovered at the courthouse
that day, was that for some reason, Gene Freidman had managed to get this
huge criminal liability he was facing winnowed down to almost nothing. He
was able to work out some sort of deal where all of that prison time and
all of those felonies just evaporated.
Instead of being tried for evading $5 million in taxes, prosecutors let him
plead guilty to one count of evading $50,000 worth of taxes. Not $5
million, but $50,000? Instead of decades in potential prison time the deal
he cut with prosecutors got him zero prison time. That`s a deal. I mean,
people do plea deals all the time in which they offer their testimony for
prosecutors in exchange for prosecutors letting them off the hook and going
a little easier on them. But this was like the mother of all plea deals.
I mean, the amount he was able to offer them in terms of cooperation must
have been very, very valuable to the government given how sweet the deal
was he got from them in return. So, that happened in late May. Great
catch by the “New York Times,” super intriguing story, a really good
reminder that it`s always good journalistic practice to just hang out at
the courthouse and see what happens.
Since then, we haven`t known what`s going on with Gene “the taxi king”
Freidman and his sweet plea deal and his potential cooperation with
prosecutors. We got a hint from the “Wall Street Journal” when they
reported that Gene Freidman, the taxi king, and Michael Cohen, hadn`t just
been business partners in the taxi business, they had shared an accountant.
And “The Wall Street Journal” reported at that same time that that will
accountant had been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors.
Well, now, we see where that was heading. In this list of charges which
Michael Cohen pled guilty yesterday in federal court, you can see where all
of that stuff over the past few months may have been leading. The
financial charges and tax charges that Cohen pled guilty to yesterday are
in large part about his work in the taxi business, the personal loans, the
cash transfers, illegal banking tricks that can be boring to describe if
you`re looking for a kind of cops and robbers story, but they can be very
easy for prosecutors to prove once they`ve got the paperwork to prove it.
And if they`re really lucky, if they`ve got the testimony of an accountant
and a business partner to explain whatever documentation they can get from
So, for obvious reasons, there has been intense national and political
focus on the final two charges that Michael Cohen pled guilty to yesterday,
those were the campaign finance charges in which he remarkably directly
implicated the president of the United States as his criminal co-
conspirator, as the person who, in fact, directed him to commit those
crimes. But all of the other charges that got Michael Cohen into that
courtroom in the first place yesterday appear to have derived from the
financial case involving him and his taxi business, and that case appears
to have derived in significant part from that little courthouse story out
The New York state attorney general and the New York State Tax Department
bringing a big criminal case against Cohen`s partner in the taxi business
and flipping him like a flapjack in sleepy little state court in Albany,
New York, three months ago today. The law enforcement official who made
that happen is somebody you might not know. Her name is Barbara Underwood.
You probably remember the previous attorney general in the state of New
York. He was very high profile. He ended getting turfed out of office in
a very ugly scandal involving serious allegations of sexual abuse and
sexual misconduct. His name was Eric Schneiderman and he aggressively
pursued a national profile.
But when he imploded, New York state lawmakers decided they would have the
solicitor general from the state of New York slide over into Schneiderman`s
office and become the temporary acting A.G. I think they were they were
thinking, we need a legal, legal, we need a legal official. Solicitor
general, she argues cases. Can she take over for a second?
I don`t even know if the New York state lawmakers in their famous
fecklessness even had any idea exactly what they had just done when they
picked Barbara Underwood. I don`t know if they understood exactly who this
was they were putting in the attorney general`s office in their state. But
honestly, Barbara Underwood is a bigger deal than any of them.
Barbara Underwood is freaking impressive. She has argued 20 cases before
the Supreme Court. She was magna cum laude at Harvard. She was first in
her class at Georgetown Law School. She was a clerk for Thurgood Marshall,
yes, that Thurgood Marshall. She taught for years at Yale Law School.
She became acting solicitor general of the United States in 2001. That
made her the first woman to ever hold the solicitor general title in this
country. She`s been a lead prosecutor in multiple jurisdictions, including
serving as the chief district attorney in the Eastern District of New York
through a lot of their blockbuster gangland cases.
She has an impeccable reputation and lifelong record and she has nothing to
be messed with. She`s totally unassuming. She was 74 years old, when she
suddenly became New York state attorney general, the papers were like, we
don`t have any pictures of this person.
But she stepped in that role in the midst of crisis and she did not miss a
step. I know what you`re thinking, oh, this is fascinating, Maddow, great.
Now, I have an interesting biographical sketch, of the appointed attorney
general of New York. If it comes up at pub quiz, I`ll win and cash prizes.
Why do I care?
All right. How does this fit into this crisis that the whole country
appears to be in right now, particularly around the president possibly
being a crook and/or a foreign agent and what we`re going do about it?
There is where that goes. I mean, biggest of big picture here is that
scandal surrounding the president, right, which different than any other
scandal any president has ever faced.
The scandal – the absolutely unprecedented scandal surrounding this
particular president boils down to two main things, right?
Number one, Russia. When Russia interfered in our election to sway it in
Donald Trump`s direction, did Donald Trump and/or his campaign conspire
with Russia to help them do that? That`s one part of it. Absolutely
The other part of it, separate and potentially unrelated is whether
scrutiny of this president brought on by the Russia investigation or just
by the normal scrutiny that comes with being president is going to end up
turning up business and financial dealings, including during the campaign
that could represent serious criminal liability for this president, for his
campaign, even potentially for his family, right?
That`s the two sides of the unprecedented nature of the scandal that will
surrounds this president. The Russia scandal and the worries about his
business and financial scandal.
And that brings us back to Barbara Underwood. So, a month after she
flipped Gene “the taxi king” Freidman, securing his cooperation with
prosecutors in exchange for lenience in the charges against him, which
ultimately looks like it led to the conviction of Michael Cohen yesterday,
or the guilty pleas for Michael Cohen yesterday, just one month after she
flipped Gene Freidman, Barbara Underwood filed a civil lawsuit, this
lawsuit, on behalf of the people of New York against President Trump`s
You can see there at the top, the people of the state of New York by
Barbara D. Underwood, attorney general of the state of New York, against
Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Eric F. Trump and the
Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Quote: For more than a decade, the Donald J. Trump Foundation has operated
in persistent violation of state and federal law. This pattern of illegal
conduct by the foundation and its current members includes improper
extensive political activity repeated and willful self-dealing transactions
and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even
elementary corporate formalities as required by law. Lawsuit filed by
Barbara Underwood against the Trump Foundation, alleging that before Trump
ran for president, he used his foundation as a fake charitable enterprise
that really only benefited himself.
Once he started running for president, according to this lawsuit from
Barbara Underwood, he basically converted his foundation into a fake
charitable foundation that didn`t just benefit himself anymore, now, it was
a vehicle for making illegal campaign expenditures on behalf of his
campaign for president. When she filed that lawsuit in June, a lot of the
allegations that she made against Trump`s foundation were familiar,
particularly to anybody who followed David Fahrenthold`s Pulitzer Prize
winning reporting in “The Washington Post” in which he had doggedly
catalogued the not-at-all charity like finances of Donald Trump`s supposed
But in this lawsuit, Underwood added some very specific evidence, including
dropping pictures of some of it right into the text of the lawsuit. For
example, she put in stuff like this handwritten note. See that on the
right side of your screen there. It`s handwritten on Donald J. Trump`s
stationary, written in Donald J. Trump`s very recognizable handwriting, his
signature all caps style written with a sharpie to Allen W., Allen
Weisselberg, the money guy at the Trump Organization.
He apparently was listed as the treasurer of the Trump Foundation for a
decade without even knowing he was listed as such until he got deposed by
Barbara Underwood`s investigators and he was like I`m what now? I`m the
treasurer. I`ve been the treasurer for how long? Nobody told me.
But there`s this note in the lawsuit. Allen W., Donald J. Trump
Foundation, $100,000 payment to Fisher House. And in parenthesis, it says,
what for? Settlement of flag issue in Palm Beach. OK, signed D.
Donald Trump`s private club, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach had been sued for
violating local zoning restrictions having to do with is flagpole. When
that lawsuit got settled, and Trump had to pay money to settle that
lawsuit, Trump said pay that out of the charity funds. That`s not coming
out of my pocket. You cannot use your charity for that.
But Barbara Underwood caught him doing it. Barbara Underwood files this
blistering lawsuit with lots of evidence including literally embedded in
the text of the lawsuit, a civil lawsuit she brings in New York state, but
she forwards all this evidence she gathered to the IRS, for them to
investigate as potential criminal tax matter. She forwards it to the
Federal Election Commission for them to investigate it as a potential set
of criminal campaign finance violations. She CCs it to the public
integrity division at the U.S. Justice Department.
And within New York state, the state tax department starts investigating
that evidence as well as laid out by Barbara Underwood to see if in
addition to the civil lawsuit there should be a state criminal referral
against the Trump foundation and President Trump personally and each of his
three eldest children personally. And that is where the subpoena came from
today for Michael Cohen. The tax department in New York state has
subpoenaed him to testify as they investigate whether that is going to
become a criminal case.
Now, I said right off the top Michael Cohen had an unexpected response to
that subpoena. This is from “The Daily News”. This is fascinating.
Here`s how “The Daily News” explains how that went down.
Quote: The state tax department investigating President Trump`s charitable
foundation today issued a subpoena to Trump`s former personal lawyer,
Michael Cohen and it received an immediate response. A source with direct
knowledge of the situation tells “The Daily News” that shortly after the
subpoena went out, Michael Cohen personally contacted the tax department to
talk. The source would not say what the response was from the tax
department but typically in such cases where someone has a lawyer,
investigators deal with their counsel and not directly with the person.
So, in New York state, the attorney general, Barbara Underwood, and the tax
division in the state, they`re the one who`s brought these devastating
charges against Gene Freidman, the taxi king, right? Threatening him with
decades in prison, $5 million in tax evasion, all these multiple felonies.
They put that pressure on him squozed him, flipped him. It appears that
cooperation deal probably led to the felony charges that Michael Cohen just
pled to. Boom.
Now, the same dynamic duo, New York`s Attorney General Barbara Underwood
and the tax division in New York state they are now investigating the Trump
foundation, Trump`s supposed charity for a potential criminal referral. We
know they have a ton of evidence because Barbara Underwood laid it out in
her civil case. That is the origin of the subpoena for Michael Cohen
And according to “The Daily News”, he responded to that subpoena
immediately by personally calling back the tax department to the point
where the tax department didn`t even know how to deal with it. We`re
assuming you have a lawyer, sir? No, you want to come right in? Okay. Do
you want us to fix you a sandwich or anything? You`re right outside? All
Michael Cohen pled guilty to eight felonies yesterday. He`s out on bail
today. And that thing that started yesterday at almost exactly the same
moment Trump`s campaign chairman was being convicted of eight felonies,
Trump`s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen pleads guilty to eight felonies and
personally implicates the president in the criminal behavior to which he
himself is pleading guilty. That all started yesterday.
But Cohen is still out on bail. And so, apparently, it`s still unfolding
today. Again, in this lawsuit brought by the New York attorney general,
that case is brought against Trump`s foundation, Trump himself, and Ivanka,
Don Jr. and Eric Trump. They`re all named explicitly in that case.
In the lawsuit, Underwood accuses Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric of, quote,
abdicating all responsibility for insuring that the foundation`s assets
were used in compliance with the law. I mean, if that case is going to
become a criminal matter and that`s in process here, if it`s going to be a
criminal case and not just a civil lawsuit by the state of New York, that
could end up being a very serious matter for not just Trump`s charity and
the president himself but also for his three eldest children. We should
also note because it`s a state case, there won`t be any way to pardon
people out of jeopardy in that case. You can only pardon someone if you`re
president for federal crimes.
But there are also serious allegations about the Trump campaign in this
same lawsuit. From the lawsuit, quote: In 2016, the board knowingly
permitted the foundation to be co-opted by Mr. Trump`s presidential
campaign. Mr. Trump`s political committee extensively directed and
coordinated the foundation`s activities.
Quote, the foundation ceded control over the grants to the campaign, making
an improper, in-kind contribution of no less than $2.823 million to the
campaign. Quote: The foundation`s grants made Trump and the campaign look
charitable and increase the candidate`s profile to Republican primary
voters. Quote: Mr. Trump`s wrongful use of the foundation to benefit his
campaign was willful and knowing, right?
Absolutely damning stuff about the Trump campaign, as well in this lawsuit
from New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood. So, to the extent that
Michael Cohen might be helping with this, might now be participating in
what may end up being a criminal inquiry into the Trump Foundation, that
has legal implications for the Trump Foundation, for Donald Trump himself,
for Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka and for the Trump campaign.
And then there is also the Trump Organization, the Trump business, which is
also apparently quite seriously implicated in Michael Cohen`s guilty plea
yesterday in federal court. Michael Cohen made what is described as an
illegal payoff to Stormy Daniels during the campaign to keep her from
telling her story about an alleged affair with Donald Trump. Cohen
explains in his plea and prosecutors elaborate in the criminal information
they filed around this plea that Donald Trump directed him to do that. But
then also, Michael Cohen thereafter, got paid back for having put out that
money in that illegal payoff.
And as prosecutors tell the story, it was the Trump Organization that used
as the entity to pay Cohen back. Quote: On or about February 14th, 2017,
the day after Mike Flynn was fired just in case you`re counting, on or
about February 14th, 2017, Michael Cohen, the defendant sent an executive
of the company, the Trump Organization, executive one, the first of his
monthly invoices requesting pursuant to a retainer agreement payment for
services rendered for the months of January and February 2017. The invoice
listed $35,000 for each of those two months.
Executive one forwarded the invoice to another executive of the company,
executive 2, the same day by e-mail and it was approved. Executive 1
forwarded that email to another employee of the company stating, quote,
please pay from the trust, post to legal expenses. Put retainer for the
months of January and February 2017 in the description.
Now, the company in question is the Trump Organization, Trump business.
Who are executive 1 and executive 2? We don`t know.
But that notation that the money to Cohen, paying him back for the illegal
payoff during the campaign, that should be paid from the trust? Well, the
trust in this case is – that supposedly independent entity that President
Donald Trump signed over all his business interests to after he was sworn
in as president, right? That`s the entity the month after he was sworn in
that started systemically paying Michael Cohen for having made the illegal
payoff during the campaign. That`s where the money came from.
And who controls the trust making these payments? Well, the president says
the trust is run by these guys, his eldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump.
The president put his sons in charge of it, it is the trust that paid Cohen
back for his felonious illegal payments during the campaign.
Again, from the criminal information, quote: Executive 1 forwarded that e-
mail to another employee stating, please pay from the trust. Eric and Don
Jr. run the trust.
So, the president`s person lawyer yesterday in federal court directly
implicated the president himself in at least two felonies to which Michael
Cohen himself has now pled guilty. Last night on CNN, Michael Cohen`s
lawyer, Lanny Davis, suggested Michael Cohen has information to share that
would be of interest to prosecutors that relates to the Trump Foundation,
the charity. Today, that made something happen in the world, the people
investigating the Trump Foundation as a potential criminal matter
subpoenaed Michael Cohen to give them whatever testimony he`s got about the
Trump Foundation. He apparently sprinted right over.
In addition, last night, Cohen`s lawyer Lanny Davis told us here on this
show that Michael Cohen also has information about the president
potentially having advance notice of the criminal hacking that happened
during the campaign in which Russian government hackers attacked Democratic
Party computers to wreak havoc and steal information that was used to help
Trump win the election. We don`t know exactly what Lanny Davis meant by
that carefully worded statement he made on the show last night.
But, today, there has been a lot of focus on this reference on page 16 of
the criminal information against Cohen in which prosecutors say that when
Michael Cohen got his reimbursement from the Trump Organization, from the
Trump business for these expenses he had made during the campaign, the
expenses of the payoff which he now admits was an illegal felonious
expenditure, when he got reimbursement for that, for the illegal payoff, he
also asked the Trump Organization to pay him back $50,000 for, quote, tech
And prosecutors say in the criminal information that $50,000 claim, quote,
in fact, Cohen had solicited from a technology company during and in
connection with the campaign.
Michael Cohen supposedly wasn`t part of the campaign at all. So, under
what circumstances would he have been spending a nice round $50,000 on
something tech-related that in fact was for the campaign that he would
later seek reimbursement for from the Trump Organization? He sought that
reimbursement for that $50,000 in tech expenditures right alongside the
reimbursement he was already getting from them for his illegal cash payoff
to Stormy Daniels, the one he`s now going to do prison time for.
We don`t know what that $50,000 was that Michael Cohen laid out to benefit
the campaign and then he was paid back for by the Trump Organization. We
don`t know what that was. But I will note for the record, just so you know
that is out there, what Michael Cohen is accused of in the Steele dossier
is meeting with Kremlin representatives in August and September of 2016 to
discuss, quote, deniable cash payments to operatives who are participating
in the anti-Clinton hacking campaign organized by the Russian government.
Quote, according to redacted, the agenda comprised questions of deniable
cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under the
Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign and various contingencies
for covering up those operations.
So, he was there to discuss how to pay for the Russian hacking effort,
according to the Steele dossier. If that really happened, is that
something you might bill to the Trump Organization as tech services,
alongside the porn star payoff that you billed to the Trump Organization as
Last night, we talked about the fact that the closest parallel in
presidential history, what happened to Donald Trump yesterday was probably
March 1st, 1974. That`s the day Richard Nixon saw the indictment of his
campaign chairman and his chief of staff and other White House aides. When
the grand jury indicted those seven top Nixon staffers in 1974, we would
soon learn that that grand jury also named the president himself as an
unindicted co-conspirator. That was March 1st, 1974.
By the end of that summer, by August, Nixon resigned the presidency, which
then actually led to a fascinating few days of fierce national legal debate
as to whether or not Nixon could actually get indicted then once he was no
longer president. Once there was no longer any constitutional issue
whether he was protected from indictment because of the fact that he was a
sitting president. We`ll get to that in a few minutes with Michael
But in this case now in 2018, with this president, there is no grand jury
here and there was no indictment because Michael Cohen pled in guilty in
open court rather than go through the process of being indicted and going
on trial. He pled guilty and he apparently wants to talk about everything
he knows. But no less so than in 1974, because of Michael Cohen, this
president has been named as an unindicted co-conspirator. And there are
constitutional questions whether or not any president can be indicted while
they`re still serving as president.
But there are no such constitutional issues of indictments coming down this
road for entities not specifically named Donald J. Trump, indicted for the
Trump campaign, people who served on the Trump campaign, the Trump
Organization, people who work at the organization, the Trump Foundation and
importantly, the people who are on the board of the Trump Foundation who
are named Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump.
Nothing in the Constitution protects anybody other than the president from
indictment while he`s still serving as president. Nothing protects his
family or business entities from legal accountability. And as of today, it
looks like that is where this is going.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Two names we haven`t heard in a while are
back in the news tonight. They are Enron and Ken Lay, the man in charge
when the company collapsed, taking lots of people`s retirement money down
with it. In a matter of hours, NBC News has learned Ken Lay will turn
himself in to face criminal charges.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you remember anything about the Enron scandal, you probably
remember that a bunch of big, fancy Enron executives were indicted and
later convicted. Some of them actually went to prison in that big
What you might not remember was another big name was indicted along with
them, Arthur Andersen, which sounds like a man`s name but Arthur Andersen
in the Enron case was not a person, was a big accounting firm. A federal
grand jury in Houston indicted Arthur Andersen LLP in the Enron case on
criminal obstruction of justice.
At the time, the leaders of Arthur Andersen called the indictment the
equivalent of the death penalty for their firm. That was not far off.
Arthur Andersen LLP as an entity got convicted in June 2002. By August
2002, Arthur Andersen had gone out of business.
The point being, you don`t have to have an actual pulse to get indicted,
just ask Arthur Andersen LLP, not a person but very much dead.
In the allegations laid out by the Southern District of New York involving
the president`s long time personal attorney Michael Cohen, they mention
corporation one, a, quote, media company that owns, among other things, a
popular tabloid magazine. That media company is AMI, American Media
Incorporated, which owns among other things the “National Enquirer”.
AMI is described as participating in the crimes to which Michael Cohen pled
guilty yesterday. But AMI as an entity was not indicted. Neither was the
Trump Organization indicted, although the Trump Organization is mentioned
throughout Cohen`s criminal information, as well, including carefully laid
out evidence by prosecutors that the Trump Organization paid Cohen back for
his illegal campaign payoffs using a system of bogus invoices.
In fact, they paid him a lot more than paying him back. It appears they
paid him a big bonus for making that campaign payoff. Was that a “we love
you for committing crimes” or was that a “please never talk about this”
Trump Organization is name as part of Michael Cohen`s criminal scheme but
the Trump Organization is also not indicted, they`re not charged. The
president himself is described as the person who directed Cohen`s crimes.
And that continues to be the most important fall-out from yesterday`s
guilty pleas. But the criminal information for Michael Cohen also names
the chairman and chief executive of Corporation One, who we understand to
be David Pecker, a long-time friend of President Trump and the head of
American Media who, quote, in coordination with Michael Cohen agreed to
help with negative stories about Donald Trump`s relationships with women.
David Pecker is described as having taken an active part with Michael Cohen
in the criminal schemes to which Michael Cohen has now pled guilty. David
Pecker is not indicted.
Here`s the question, and this is an answerable question. All those
individual people and these companies and entities are described in this
plea deal as having taken part in the crimes that Michael Cohen pled guilty
to. We know there`s constitutional questions around whether or not the
president can be indicted if he, in fact, directed these crimes which
Michael Cohen swore under oath yesterday that he did.
Well, what about all the other people that are described as having taking
part in these criminal schemes? Are they now at risk of being indicted?
If they haven`t been indicted already should we watch for them to get in
trouble at sometime in the future if they`re not going to get indicted,
should that mean that we assume they`re cooperating with prosecutors?
As I said, these are answerable questions. Hold that thought.
MADDOW: When the president`s campaign chair was convicted of eight
felonies and almost at the exact same moment the president`s lawyer pled
guilty to eight felonies, most of us went slack-jawed, right? Wow, 40
years from now, this is a day I`ll brag about having been alive for, right?
This is the day you saved the newspaper, right?
If you`re an experienced federal prosecutor, though, you likely had a
different response to yesterday`s remarkable confluence of events.
According to prosecutors that I talked to and read analysis from over the
last 24 hours apparently the way they responded yesterday they all started
kibitzing among themselves and talking and wondering about what`s going to
Joining us now is Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney in Alabama.
Joyce, it`s good to see you. Thank you very much for being here.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Good to see you too.
MADDOW: So, looking at the criminal information that was filed in the
Michael Cohen case, reading the transcript of his remarkable moment in
court where he pled guilty and explained in his own words what happened and
he described the president as having directed him to commit those felonies,
I think for a lot of us non-lawyers, we felt like the Michael Cohen case
yesterday got a lot of other people in trouble. It seemed to implicate a
lot of other people in the crimes to which Cohen pled guilty.
As a prosecutor, do you see that as a fair conclusion or should we be more
careful about viewing it that way?
VANCE: I think that the answer is maybe. Maybe it does. The government`s
evidence in this case, of course, applies only to Cohen, but that`s not to
say it`s limited to Cohen. Cohen in court yesterday was very engaged.
I`ve rarely seen a defendant who so wanted to speak his piece. And he
certainly went above and beyond and whether one expects to hear from a
defendant during a guilty plea.
MADDOW: In terms of the way in which he implicated the president, he
described the felonies that he committed, the campaign finance felonies he
committed as having been done not just in coordination with but at the
direction of the federal candidate which in this case was unavoidably
President Trump. If that federal candidate was somebody other than a
president – which, of course, raises constitutional issues whether or not
you can indict a president – would you expect a person described that way
in court to be on the hook in some way, to be the subject of an
investigation or to be expecting indictment himself or herself?
VANCE: I think that`s fair that we would expect them to be under
investigation. We have to be careful when we talk about implicating people
because evidence has to be developed separately for every defendant in a
case. This requires especially a focus on knowledge and on intent in a
case like this.
And so, to say that you implicate someone, Cohen`s statement and the
information filed against him certainly raise a lot of eyebrows both as
regards individuals and corporations but prosecutors have to dig a little
bit deeper to get to the point where they can indict.
MADDOW: Well, Joyce, why do you think all that information was in Cohen`s
remarks in court? He obviously wasn`t speaking off-the-cuff. Those were
prepared remarks. They were carefully designed.
But between his remarks and what was in the criminal information, there is
all of this stuff about other entities, about the Trump Organization, about
executives with the Trump Organization, about AMI, about a specific
executive at AMI, why – and, of course, the stuff about the president
himself. Why is that all there?
VANCE: There was a lot of information. And, you know, Cohen spoke from
written notes that I`m sure he prepared with his lawyers. It seems
unlikely to me that they wouldn`t have shared at least the substance of
what he planned to say with prosecutors in advance to make sure it passed
So, someone here, perhaps Cohen, perhaps someone else, was interested in
filling in lines in the narrative. And we frankly don`t know the reason.
Perhaps Cohen is trying to sell himself a little bit to the prosecutors
with whom he`d like to cooperate.
I heard that remarkable television proffer that took place with his lawyer
last night with his lawyer Lanny Davis. I`ve never seen a proffer take
place quite liking that in public. And it seems like Cohen is trying to
sell what he has to deliver a little bit.
Maybe there`s a little bit of a revenge aspect there. Maybe he wanted to
actually take his public shot at a president who has deserted him. It`s
hard to say just yet.
MADDOW: Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney in the great state of Alabama –
Joyce, thank you for being here tonight. It`s nice to see you. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We got much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The day Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, lawyers in the
Watergate special prosecutor`s office drew up an a memo laying out their
options for legal action against Nixon now that he was just a regular guy
living in California instead of a guy living in the White House as
president of the United States.
In their memo, they said, quote: In our view, there is clear evidence that
Richard M. Nixon participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice by
concealing the identity of those responsible for the Watergate break in.
Richard M. Nixon, like every citizen, is subject to the rule of law.
Accordingly, one begins with the premise if there is sufficient evidence
Mr. Nixon should be indicted and prosecuted.
Now, at this point, the grand jury had already named Richard Nixon as
unindicted co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up. That had happened
months before while Nixon was still president. But no sitting president
had then or has now ever been charged with a crime. A lot of legal experts
don`t even think it`s allowed at least under current DOJ rules.
But back in 1974, once Nixon resigned, once he was no longer a sitting
president, Watergate prosecutors did aggressively chew on that question of
whether or not they would going to indict him. They debated what to do for
weeks. There was a big public debate about it for weeks until all of a
sudden, that got cut off when the new president decided for them.
On September 8th, 1974, a month after Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford issued a
full, free and absolute pardon of any crimes that Nixon might have
committed in office, thus erasing any chance that Nixon would ever be
indicted or convicted let alone sent to jail. That`s how we sorted it out
last time as a country. No more looming indictment, no chance of prison
time for the former president, for the guy everybody knew was an unindicted
co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up.
Yesterday, President Nixon got company in the category of serving
presidents who have been named as unindicted co-conspirators when the
president`s personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to ought felonies
when he said the president directed him to carry out two of those felonies
that have to do with campaign finance.
The president is named in the Cohen case as individual one. It is likely
that President Trump will stay unindicted, at least on these charges, that
he won`t face criminal charges of any kind, in fact, while he still has the
keys to the Oval Office. But what happens when it comes time to hand the
keys to the next president whenever that day comes and is there any sort of
penumbra of protection that extends beyond the president in terms of his
interests and the people close to him at least in a way that will a matter
to him while he`s considering his own fate.
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Mr. Beschloss, it is very, very important that you are here tonight. Thank
you for being here.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you. My
pleasure always, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, lots of lawyers and lots of laymen and lots of observers and
regular citizens now talking about the arcana of whether or not a sitting
president can be indicted and what it means to be an unindicted co-
conspirator versus grand jury and charges from a prosecutor.
Before Nixon got his pardon, did people expect that he would get indicted?
Was that an active concern that led to Gerald Ford pardoning him?
BESCHLOSS: Yes. There sure was. In fact, Rachel, there was a Gallup poll
that was taken not long after Nixon quit of Americans, should Nixon be
tried in a criminal trial, 56 percent of Americans said, I`m still so
outraged and indignant, I think Nixon should go to trial. So, that was a
big worry for Nixon and Nixon would call up members of the Senate and cry
to them, literally cry, and say, I can`t take anymore, please get me out of
He had a little bit more bravado with other people. He would call up
friends and say, well, if it happens and I go to jail, some of the best
political writing in history has been done in jail. Look at Lenin. Look
MADDOW: Wow. He was citing Lenin as his potential prison author
BESCHLOSS: He had come a long way from his early years in southern
MADDOW: So, Nixon stayed on as president for months, a scandal ridden few
months, but for months after he was named as an unindicted co-conspirator
You helped us out last night when we were reeling in response of this news
about Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort suggesting that March 1st, 1947 and
those indictments of all those Watergate-related figures might have been a
sort of equivalent here once we later learned that grand jury response when
we were reeling to this news bus Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort,
suggesting that March 1st, 1947 and those indictments of Watergate-related
figures might have been a sort of equivalent here once we later learned
that grand jury considered him to be an unindicted co-conspirator.
Once the public knew that the grand jury had concluded that he was a co-
conspirator in this crime, what was the public reaction to that? How did
that affect him in the remaining months that he remained in his presidency?
BESCHLOSS: The reaction was that once Americans found that the grand jury
that had indicted seven Nixon aides, including his campaign manager and
Haldeman and Ehrlichman, all these big aides, that they had also named
Nixon in secret as an unindicted co-conspirator, that was a watershed in
Nixon was oftentimes referred to from that moment on as the unindicted
capital U co-conspirator capital C. He was increasingly viewed as a
Then that summer, the House Judiciary Committee met. There were hearings
on impeachment, impeachment was voted. Then, of course, the Supreme Court
told him he had to release the tapes and it was all over.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, thank you for
helping us keep our bearings, my friend. Much appreciated.
BESCHLOSS: My pleasure. I think we`re all trying.
MADDOW: Yes, absolutely. Sometimes with more success than others.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: When it rains it pours. Believe it or not, there is yet another
front on which President Trump could be facing increased legal jeopardy
tonight. This one has nothing to do with Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort.
It has to do with an incident outside Trump Tower in September, 2015, three
months after Trump announced he was running for president.
This video from local station New York one is an exhibit in the lawsuit
brought by protesters who say they were violently attacked by Trump`s
personal security team during this campaign event. The guy in the center,
the bald guy ripping down signs and then hitting a protester, that`s Keith
Schiller, who was Donald Trump`s head of security and then his director
Oval Office operations in the White House for the first few months of the
Trump presidency. No, I don`t know what that job title means. Mr.
Schiller says he was acting in self-defense in this incident.
It might also be helpful to note here that after Mr. Schiller left that
strange job he had at the White House, he got put on the payroll of the
Republican National Committee in a $15,000 a month job where nobody knows
what he does. It`s a deal that sounds on the surface a lot like the
$15,000 a month job that Omarosa Manigault Newman was offered to be, quote,
positive about Trump after she, too, left the White House.
Well, now, Keith Schiller is personally named in this lawsuit about Trump`s
security beating people up during the campaign. Schiller is named
personally as is Donald Trump personally. And now, a judge has ruled that
the lawsuit is going forward. It`s, in fact, going to a jury, and a jury
will decide if those defendants are responsible for Trump security team
beating people up during the campaign.
In his order, the Trump – excuse me, the Trump – the judge noted that
Trump, quote, authorized and condoned these specific type of conduct that
Schiller and his colleagues are accused of. The judge quotes comments that
Trump made to reporters after his supporters beat up a protester at a rally
in 2015. Trump said, quote, maybe he should have been roughed up because
it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.
This case is now headed to a jury trial. So, you can add it to the list of
things for which Trump potentially faces legal jeopardy. It is hard to
keep track of them all. I know.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last night, I mentioned that we were hoping to get the list of
exhibits for the next federal trial for Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign
chairman. We expected those to come through for public viewing as of late
last night. Turns out we didn`t get that list of evidence. Manafort`s
lawyers have asked the judge for an extension, in part, based on the
massive amount of evidence prosecutors want to introduce in Manafort`s next
trial, well over 1,000 items.
His lawyers say most of the exhibits that prosecutors are going to
introduce for Manafort`s next trial are new exhibits. It`s not old
evidence recycled from Manafort`s last case in Virginia.
Again, I thought we were going to have this by last night. We do think
that prosecutors have filed their list of evidence for the next Manafort
trial, but despite my expectations last night, we have not yet got our
hands on that list. The court has not yet made it available. I will let
you know as soon as I`ve got it.
That does it for us for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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