Cohen plea deal leads prosecutors to Trump org. TRANSCRIPT: 08/24/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: August 28, 2018
Guest: David Laufman
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Happy to have you with us.
So the judge literally said, where do you want to go? They asked, we`re
thinking about leaving, your honor. And the judge was like, where? Where
would you go?
That happened today in court. We just got in the transcript of the court
hearing today in the second federal felony trial of the president`s
campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
And he is not on trial yet in that second trial, right? This is pretrial
arguing. This is the defense and the prosecution arguing in front of the
judge about the logistics of how the next Paul Manafort trial is going to
go, how that`s going to unfold.
But there are two pieces that will end up being very, very relevant in that
trial, depending on how the judge works these things out. And they were
both hashed out today in court in front of the judge.
The first one is that Paul Manafort`s defense team doesn`t want his second
federal felony trial to be in Washington, D.C. Paul Manafort`s defense
lawyer today speaking to the judge. Mr. Westling, this is one of
Manafort`s defense lawyers.
Quote: Just to give the court notice we will file this week a motion for
change of venue. We wanted to just give you notice, your honor, and not be
in a situation where that came tomorrow or at the end of the week, so you
would be surprised by it. So –
And the judge interrupts and says: where do you want to go? Mr. Westling
says: I don`t know that I have the answer to that yet, judge. It may be
that there is no place. But we feel it is important to make the record on
the issue and to brief it for the court.
The judge says: All right. I understand that. I believe that the
overwhelming majority of the publicity about this case is national. So you
can file what you need to file and I won`t prejudge it. But I think the
goal of the jury questionnaire is to enable us to find a fair and impartial
jury, and this jurisdiction, meaning federal court in Washington, D.C., has
had very high profile cases before where we have been able through a jury
questionnaire followed by individual voir dire to empanel a jury and I`m
likely to believe that that is still possible. Clearly, if it turns out
that it`s not possible if the end of the questionnaire and the voir dire
proceeding, we can still take action at that time, but the judge says, you
are entitled to file whatever you want to file.
Manafort`s defense lawyer Mr. Westling: Understood, your honor. Thank you.
So as the judge says here, she`s not prejudging Manafort`s request to move
his next trial out of Washington, D.C. but I wouldn`t expect Paul
Manafort`s defense team has their hopes up based on that initial response
from the judge. I will also say that things did not go particularly well
for Paul Manafort`s defense team today when it came to the arguments before
this judge, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, when they asked her for more time to
prepare their case.
Now, we`ve talked a few times on the show about prosecutors in this case.
Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller. They filed this
list of evidence that they plan to introduce in the next Paul Manafort
trial. And the list is like super long. It`s got something like 1,500
different items of evidence on it.
Now, the reason prosecutors have to file that list of evidence is in part
so the defense team can object to any of those items potentially being
cited in the trial as evidence. Well, Paul Manafort`s defense team
apparently cannot get it together to file their objections on the evidence
for Manafort`s trial. And so, they`ve apparently asked for a number of
extensions on this. We now know that the judge does not seem pleased by
The judge, quote: I was a little surprised when I read the joint pretrial
statement that the defendant had voiced no objections whatsoever to any of
the government`s exhibits. I have now read the pretrial statement in more
detail and note that you are planning to do so at a later date. You all
have been dealing with these exhibits for months. They just showed up in
my chambers this week. I need your objections to the exhibits tomorrow.
Manafort`s defense lawyer, Mr. Zehnle at this point says, it`s – and the
judge interrupts and says, I understand. And then Zehnle tries again –
it`s – is not going to happen, your honor. I apologize but we got dumped
1,500 exhibits just the other today, 1,500. There`s no way. A thousand
The judge then turns to the prosecutor from the special counsel`s office,
at this point Andrew Weissmann, and the judge says to the prosecutor, well,
are they designated which ones are for impeachment and which ones you`re
actually planning to introduce at the trial? The prosecutor Mr. Weissmann
says, yes, yes. The judge says, so how many are you planning to introduce
in your case in chief? And Mr. Weissmann, the prosecutor, responds, quote,
every single exhibit that`s on that list is something that we intend to
offer in our case.
There`s 1,500 pieces of evidence there. That`s what we`re planning on
introducing, your honor.
So, the prosecutor and the judge have a back and forth about how all these
exhibits, all this evidence is important, and the prosecutors know what
they`re going to do with all of it. The judge then turns back to
Manafort`s defense lawyers and she once again gives Paul Manafort`s defense
lawyers a little bit of a hard time about one of their decisions which has
been a real mystery in this case so far, which is why Paul Manafort and his
defense team elected to go on trial twice, once in Virginia and once in
I mean, prosecutors from the special counsel`s office had offered to
consolidate the two cases so Manafort would only go on trial once. He said
no. His legal team said no. This judge in the D.C. case has previously
proclaimed herself in court to be basically bewildered by that decision and
here today she once again goes back to it.
The judge, quote: Now, I the judge, quote, now I understand, wasn`t my
decision to move another trial in front of this. It wasn`t my decision on
push that trial up to accommodate that judge`s schedule. And, you know, it
was your decision to push it further. And so, you`re under extraordinary
time pressures that don`t happen on a daily basis.
But we have a pretrial conference scheduled on September 5th and I need to
know what objections have you to the prosecutors` exhibits. So, what are
we going to do?
Manafort`s defense lawyer Kevin Downing says: I don`t know, your honor. We
don`t have the resources of the U.S. government. We don`t have two trial
teams to get ready for two trials. This is us, three here and a paralegal.
I don`t see how it`s going to get done with all the parts.
The judge responds, well, the day you asked for was yesterday. So what are
you asking for now? You can`t just say I don`t know. You haven`t moved to
continue the trial, which means delay trial. I don`t want to continue the
We have 120 jurors coming in who have been prequalified to be available for
this period of time. A lot of these documents you`ve been provided in
discovery. You know that.
We`ve been living with them. You`ve been figuring out what your defense is
based on them. I mean, I realize, well, I need an answer as to what you
Mr. Zehnle, Paul Manafort`s defense lawyer: Your honor, I have no idea how
you think we`re going to be able to be prepared to go on trial for
September 17th with all of this. The judge: Are you asking for – have you
moved for a continuance? Are you asking for a continuance? Let`s talk
about that before –
Mr. Zehnle: your honor –
The judge: I will ask you at the end of this hearing. You have to – you
have to make a proposal to me. You made one in writing and it said
Now, you`re telling me tomorrow is impossible. What am I supposed to do?
I told you when I wanted it. Now I`m asking you, when do you want it and
you won`t even tell me. You need to tell me.
Manafort`s defense lawyer: well, I would like to confer with counsel on
this. And the judge says: all right. And then Manafort`s defense lawyers
says and then I would like – the judge interrupts and says, we`ll talk
about this at the end of the hearing again.
The defense lawyer: I appreciate it, your honor. The judge says, we need a
schedule. Defense lawyer, yes. The judge says, and I`m very reluctant to
move the trial. I think we need to get these jurors in here. We need to
So, this is judge who is about to their second federal felony trial against
the president`s campaign chair Paul Manafort in Washington, D.C. She is
plainly exasperated and maybe even a little surprised that Manafort and his
defense team made this decision that they wanted to put him on trial twice.
It appears from the way the judge has addressed this in court that maybe it
has been an inconvenience that she is the second judge of two federal
judges who was hearing a major felony case against Manafort and timing of
her trial had to be adjusted for the other federal judge who went first.
It is clear from this transcript today, she does not appear to be inclined
toward Paul Manafort`s motion that they want to move this second case out
of Washington, D.C. and have it somewhere else. Apparently, though, that
will be litigated before the end of next week. So, we will get a definite
answer on that.
But on this issue of Paul Manafort`s defense team not being able to handle
the requirements of preparing for his second trial, just not being able to
get it together, well, the judge today in D.C. have him a very hard time on
that. But in the end, it`s interesting, she did actually give them a
little bit of an extension. So there`s another round of fairly vociferous
fighting at the end of the hearing over this issue of whether or not the
trial will be delayed.
Manafort`s defense lawyers again complain about the pace, about all the
work they have to do. Quote: As the court is well aware, we finished a
trial literally a week ago today. We`ve been doing our best in the time
we`ve had since then to obviously pick up the ball. And the prosecutors
came back arguing against that with basically, no, you shouldn`t get a
Quote: The date has been set for a long time. This prosecutor Andrew
Weissmann from the special counsel`s office, he tells the court, quote, I
can say that there are witnesses who have been told exactly when the trial
is. We have witnesses who have medical issues that have worked around
this. We have witnesses from overseas.
I mean, the idea that it`s now going to move again, it does create a
substantial problem for the government, meaning for the prosecution. Well,
the judge, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, weighed both sides of that argument,
sort of impassioned arguments from both the defense and the prosecution on
whether or not this case could be delayed. And in the end, she decided to
give a little.
The judge, quote: With respect to the trial, while I absolutely understand
the position of the office of the special counsel, I also understand the
position the defense is in. So, I`m not going to give anybody everything
that they`re seeking. But I`ll try to give you a little more breathing
So, this second Manafort trial had previously been scheduled to start
September 17th, but Judge Amy Berman Jackson in federal court in D.C. today
announced that they would start picking the jury on that date, on September
17th. But, quote, openings and the presentation of the evidence will start
one week later on September 24th.
The judge explained to the prosecution and defense: Once we have the jury,
we`re not going to swear them. We`ll tell them to come back on the 24th
and then you`ll have the rest of the week to prepare. I think that`s
really the best I can do under all the circumstances.
So that`s the transcript from today`s hearing. What this means is that the
second felony trial of the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort will
be effectively delayed for about a week even though jury selection will
start on the date that we thought the trial was going to start anyway.
It`s interesting. I think it`s really helpful to have that transcript so
you can see exactly how that was fought over, how it was decided. I think
it gives us at least a little more insight than we might have otherwise
have into the cause of the delay. And that is potentially important. I
mean, last night, there was a report in the “Wall Street Journal” that Paul
Manafort and his defense team have actually been trying to make some sort
of a plea deal with prosecutors in the special counsel`s office.
You get that news about Manafort reportedly looking for a deal, followed by
the news today that Manafort`s trial is being delayed and you might expect,
you might at least wonder if the delay in Manafort`s case is because of
some effort to put together a deal between him and prosecutors.
Now, it is totally possible that something like that is secretly going on
behind the scenes and we can`t see evidence of it in court. But from the
transcript of what did happen in federal court today, it does just seem
like this delay is happening because Paul Manafort`s defense team can`t get
it together. I mean, two federal trials back to back against experienced
aggressive prosecutors, including the possibility that the first trial
might not even be over yet.
The special counsel`s office is due to tell the court in Virginia tomorrow
whether or not they`re going to put Manafort on trial again, whether
they`re going to retry him on the 10 felony counts where the jury wasn`t
able to reach a verdict in his case last week. I don`t doubt “The Wall
Street Journal`s” reporting last night that Paul Manafort and his team may
have talked to the special counsel and his prosecutors about the prospect
of some kind of deal to make the charges in the second trial go away. But
it doesn`t appear that any such negotiations are the reason that Manafort`s
team is trying so hard to slow this thing down.
So, the news about this minor delay in Paul Manafort`s next trial is set
today. There is a new trial date in terms of when opening arguments are
going to start. This comes amidst new reporting from the “Washington Post”
tonight that the president himself continues to be basically losing his
mind over the Russia scandal write large, and the legal inquiries, the
legal investigations, the prosecutions that have sprung from that scandal
so far. We`re going to have a little more on this coming up later on in
But bottom line, the “Washington Post” is basically reporting that
administration officials have been doing a sort of delicate dance where
they`ve been cajoling the president and consoling the president and
basically trying delaying tactics with the president to try to keep the
president from firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an effort to end
the Russia investigation and its related prosecutions. As I say, we will
have more on that in a moment. We have a former very senior Justice
Department official here tonight. He left the Justice Department quite
recently. He`s going to be joining us for his first TV interview since
leaving government service here tonight, so we`ll talk about that and more.
But the other important thing going on here is that the president, of
course, isn`t alone in his crusade to try dismantle or roadblock the Russia
investigation and all of its component parts by going after key personnel
and officials who have connections to different parts of the investigation.
This is from an almost lyrical portrait more than 20 years ago. It was
written in 1996. It was published in the “New York Times” about the head
of a drug gang in the Bronx, in the criminal organization that he ran in
Quote: When the history is written of the drug gangs of New York in the
1980s and the mid-1990s, the kind that wrecked a city`s nerves, helped
create record high murder rates and made gunfire a common sound in many
neighborhoods, the author of that history might want to spend a chapter on
Jose Reyes or as he was known El Feo.
Calm, charismatic and predatory Joes Reyes rose to become both dealer and
supplier, building an empire, operating in a neighborhood doused in drug
money, Mr. Reyes was a general in an army. He also devoured books on the
mafia. He read Machiavelli. He argued Gibran`s philosophy and he killed,
managing a hit team that left a trail of rivals dead in Manhattan and the
He was so well insulated that it took law enforcement authorities several
years to even hear of his existence. When they did, they were often amazed
of his race. Two months ago, Mr. Reyes was convicted of running a drug
organization and of killing seven men.
This guy`s name was Jose Reyes. They called him El Feo, which means the
ugly one. And it was one of the legendary gang prosecutions of that whole
era. His whole organization but also he himself indicted in 1994. They
tried El Feo, they tried Jose Reyes in federal court in New York City.
The judge deliberated for eight days. When they came back they ruled that
he was guilty of seven murders which meant, of course, life in prison.
The prosecution was led in part by assistant attorney in the Southern
District of New York who was thought of as a bit of a brainiac. Before law
school, he had graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics. After he
helped bring the successful landmark El Feo prosecution in New York, that
assistant U.S. attorney got a big promotion. He was named chief of the
violent gangs unit for the whole Southern District of New York.
It would not be long, though, before main justice, the Main Justice
Department in D.C. hired him away from the U.S. attorney`s office in New
York and at Main Justice in D.C., he rose to lead the organized crime and
racketeering section for the whole Department of Justice. His specialty
was international organized crime.
To run that section, he became known as an intricate manager. He liaised
the Justice Department not just with the FBI, but with other law
enforcement and intelligence agencies all around the world. He built and
maintained those contacts for the benefit of the Justice Department.
And that makes sense. He was leading a team that was prosecuting
international organized crime, so you need those intel and international
law enforcement connections. In 2003, he oversaw the team that indicted
the boss of all bosses in the Russian mafia. And that made big news at the
I have to admit, the big news made at the time when the Justice Department
indicted the godfather of the Russian mafia, it was somewhat limited by the
fact nobody could pronounce the name of the guy they just indicted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEMALE TV ANCHOR: Today, we have some of the FBI`s most wanted for you.
This is Semion Mogilevich. He is wanted for racketeering, securities
fraud, wire and mail fraud and money laundering. We are told he has
pockmarks on his face and smokes heavily and uses a Russian passport. He
is considered armed and dangerous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I am no better at pronouncing Russian names than the next guy. I
think it`s Simeon Mogilevich. I`ve been practicing. That`s probably still
Simeon Mogilevich is considered to be the godfather of the Russian mob. He
is one of the most wanted men in the world. He has been for years. He is
a fugitive from justice. He is under indictment in the United States. He
is on the most wanted list for the FBI, but they haven`t been able to get
Very few pictures of him even exist. Mogilevich`s name has turned up,
though, in a couple ways, in the Russia investigation involving President
Trump. A Russian born ex-con who worked for a while at the Trump
Organization, who worked with Michael Cohen in the plan to try to build a
Trump Tower in Moscow during presidential campaign.
That effort that then candidate Donald Trump inexplicably lied about, and
publicly denied during the campaign, he has been described as having links
to Semion Mogilevich and his organized crime network, although he denies
any such link. Simeon Mogilevich also turns up in Paul Manafort`s business
history, because at one point, Paul Manafort pursued what would have been a
gigantic real estate deal in New York City with some Russian linked
Ukrainian business partners.
That real estate deal never came to pass, but it was the subject of
litigation in the U.S. and great controversy in Ukraine because that would
be real estate deal was suspected of essentially being a way for Paul
Manafort to help launder some of Simeon Mogilevich`s money that he had
earned as head of the Russian mob.
So, Semion Mogilevich, this top figure in the Russian mafia, starring role
on the FBI`s ten most wanted international fugitives list, a guy who
periodically leads to headlines like this one, whenever the FBI starts
talking about him again, FBI, mobster more powerful than Gotti. The
Justice Department official who actually led the effort to indict Simeon
Mogilevich, led the effort to bring him to justice in the U.S. courts,
that`s the same Harvard brainiac who had come up from gang duty in New York
after prosecuting the drug gangs and El Feo, right?
Soon after he got to the Justice Department, he indicted the head of the
Russian mafia. He also played another key role in the case of another bold
phased name who has ended up having a starring role in the Russia scandal
and the legal trouble surrounding this president and his campaign.
I mentioned those 1,500 pieces of evidence that the special counsel`s
office says they`re going to use every single one of in their trial for
Paul Manafort in Washington, D.C. – well, at least a couple of those
pieces of evidence appear to explicitly reference a Russian oligarch linked
to Vladimir Putin whose name is Oleg Deripaska. He is apparently going to
play a role in the Manafort trial coming up in D.C.
You will also remember that Oleg Deripaska`s name surfaced in reporting
earlier this year when “The Atlantic” magazine and “Washington Post” turned
up e-mails that indicated add while Manafort`s was running Trump`s
presidential campaign he was simultaneously offering private briefings on
the election and the campaign to this Russian oligarch to Oleg Deripaska.
Last year, last spring, the “Associated Press” reported that Manafort had
entered into a $10 million contract a year contract with Oleg Deripaska to
promote the interests of Vladimir Putin`s government around the world.
Well, in 2006, that same Justice Department official, the one who had
started as the gang prosecutor, taking apart those drug gangs in the Bronx,
the guy who had worked his way to becoming an expert on transnational
organized crime, the guy who led the team that brought the prosecution of
the head of the Russian mafia, that same official, quote, was part of a
group of government officials who revoked the visa of Oleg Deripaska, a
Russian billionaire and aluminum magnate. Officials were concerned that
Mr. Deripaska might try to come to the United States to launder illicit
profits through real estate.
The Russia scandal around this president and particularly the part of it
that has led to these two federal criminal trials against the president`s
campaign chairman, it has an organized crime element to it. It has a
Russian organized crime element to it. And now, as the president mulls
pardoning Paul Manafort and he mulls replacing his White House counsel if
the White House counsel won`t let him pardon Paul Manafort, as the
president openly mulls firing the attorney general of the United States in
the midst of the Manafort prosecution as a way to try to make the Russia
investigation all go away, today, Republicans in Congress spent the entire
day going after that Justice Department official I`ve been talking about.
That specific official who started with the El Feo case and the drug gangs
in the Bronx, who rose to become the head of organized crime and
racketeering at the Justice Department, who became the Justice Department`s
expert on Russian organized crime, the guy who indicted the head of the
Russian mafia, the guy who became the Justice Department`s lead counsel for
transnational organized crime and international affairs. The guy who had
been part of the team that banned Paul Manafort`s patron and business
partner Oleg Deripaska from doing business or visiting the United States on
the basis of his alleged ties to organized crime in Russia, that Justice
Department official, that guy is named Bruce Ohr.
And he is the object of conspiracy theories and condemnation on right wing
media on a 24-hour loop. And today, pro-Trump Republican members of
Congress summoned Bruce Ohr to testify behind closed doors before two
separate Republican-led committees and then the despite the closed door
nature of his testimony, those Republicans immediately went out to the
cameras to talk to reporters about how Bruce Ohr was a liar and to
basically accuse him of being the rot at the heart of the Mueller
investigation and the Russia scandal more broadly.
“The New York Times” this weekend profiled Bruce Ohr`s long history in
leading American law enforcement efforts against Russian organized crime.
There is a Russian organized crime element to the Trump/Russia scandal.
Today, House Republicans literally came back from their summer vacation
early to spend the day trying to destroy Bruce Ohr.
From Politico.com today, House Republicans have fixated on a handful of
career Justice Department and FBI officials over the past year as they
sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the investigators who launched
the Russia probe. First, the spotlight was on Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe,
then Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Now, Republicans intent on proving that
political bias is behind the sprawling investigation of President Trump`s
ties to Russia. Now, Republicans are elevating a new bureaucratic target:
Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
You know, they went after Peter Strzok, they were going after the top
counterintelligence official at the FBI, with experience in breaking up
Russian intelligence operations on U.S. soil, and going after Bruce Ohr
today, they are trying to take out one of American law enforcement`s top
experts on Russian organized crime. And I don`t know exactly what these
targeted attacks by the White House and congressional Republicans will
ultimately do to the capabilities of the Justice Department and the FBI
when it comes to fighting things like Russian intelligence operations in
the United States and Russian organized crime and Russian money laundering
through American real estate, right?
But you can imagine how satisfying a day like today must have been for
Semion Mogilevich, to see Bruce Ohr get his turn in the barrel like this,
right? You can imagine how delightful that was for the Russian mafia. You
can imagine what a nice turn of events today must have been when viewed
from the perspective of the Kremlin.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: This is primary night in three states. Polls have now closed in
Florida and Oklahoma. They remain open in Arizona, despite problems at
dozens of Arizona polling locations, including problems that prevented the
polls from opening on time. We`re going to have a little more on that
controversy coming up later on tonight.
But the big issue – excuse me, the big news tonight right now is coming
out of Florida. Florida has not elected a Democratic governor in 24 years.
But tonight, we have just witnessed an upset in a very competitive primary
on the Democratic side of the Florida governor`s race.
For more we turn to NBC and MSNBC national political correspondent Steve
Mr. Kornacki, what is happening in Florida?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a shocker.
His name is Andrew Gillum. He`s the mayor of Tallahassee. He led in no
polls coming into tonight. I don`t think he was in second place in a
single place in a single poll coming into tonight.
And yet, Andrew Gillum is now the Democratic nominee for governor of
Florida. He has upset the front-runner in this race, Gwen Graham, former
congresswoman. This is a famous name in Florida. Her father was a
governor, a U.S. senator.
What happened? Andrew Gillum, he was endorsed by the way. What does he
represent ideologically? He was endorsed by Bernie Sanders in the home
stretch of this campaign. If you place him a little bit, the mayor of
So, what happened though? A couple things to explain this. Number one,
obviously, he did well in his base here. But here, go down to South
Florida. Check this out. We are following this all night. What really
powered Gillum, Broward County here. You see, he ran up the score. This
is not his home region in the state. And Gwen Graham did terribly down
Graham was supposed to hold her own, do better by her base. Instead,
Gillum just ran up the score here. Also go down to Miami-Dade. This is
Phil Levine, the third candidate in the race. This is his home base,
winning this outright again. Graham finishing very, very distant third
So, Graham got crushed in South Florida here. Gillum did very well here.
He also did very well in Orlando.
He did – look at this. This is Tampa, Hillsborough County, he`s actually
going to win that over Gwen Graham. That was not supposed to happen. Big
margin for him in Jacksonville.
And then how about this? Gwen Graham, this is her home base. This is
where the congressional district she represented was, the panhandle there
in Florida. She was supposed to run up the score here.
You can see, this is Gillum`s color, this dark blue. You see some of the
counties he won outright. Others he was competitive in.
So, all around, this is just a shocking performance. And what it does is
it sets up a very interesting general election here. This is the candidate
of the Democratic base, certainly Gillum, an insurgent here, I think you
can call it.
Who is he going to run against? He is going to run against Donald Trump`s
endorsed preferred candidate in the Republican, Ron DeSantis, the
congressman there. He defeats Adam Putnam, establishment favorite there.
The Republican establishment thought Putnam is by far more they felt, by
far more electable than DeSantis. DeSantis wins this thing in a runaway.
So, Democrats are going to look at DeSantis and they`re going to say, this
is a very vulnerable Republican in a midterm year, in a midterm environment
that looks good for Democrats in a state. It has been a long time since
Democrats won here, but Democrats look at DeSantis and they say he is very
There are some issues in Tallahassee. There`s an investigation that
involves city hall there. Unclear if Gillum is involved in that at all.
It`s very hazy. Republicans will certainly talk about that.
He will get a lot of attention and scrutiny that he hasn`t gotten in the
last two hours. But again, Democrats are going to look at that and they`re
saying, Donald Trump`s candidate, somebody that close to Donald Trump in a
midterm in Florida might have some trouble. Democrats will be very helpful
and Republicans now, you bet their opposition research will be going full
time on Andrew Gillum.
MADDOW: Steve Kornacki, thank you very much my friend. That`s a
You know, the theory of this case in part was that the Graham campaign was
thinking they would be trying to appeal to moderates and crossover
Republicans. The Gillum campaign was thinking they needed to motivate the
Democratic base to turn out. Two different approaches to how to win this
thing. Clearly, Gillum had the better theory.
But when we finally get the absolute number, turnout numbers in the
Democratic side, that will give us a sense as to whether or not Gillum`s
strategy sets him up well for the general or whether that was the kind of
strategy that helps you win the primary, and then you have trouble coming
down the line in November.
So, this is one of those cases where it`s not just going to be the results.
It`s going to be the turnout numbers, too.
All right. More coming up over the course of the night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Joining us now for the interview is someone I would very much like
you to meet. He`s someone with a great deal of high level experience in a
place that is basically news central for us these days. His name is David
David Laufman served in the Department of Justice under Republican and
Democratic administrations. Before he stepped down from the Justice
Department in February of this year, Mr. Laufman served in the national
security division at DOJ. He was the chief of the counterintelligence and
export control section in the national security division.
Now, in that capacity, he oversaw investigations you might have heard of
like the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, and before special counsel
Robert Mueller was appointed, he helped to oversee the investigation into
Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
This is Mr. Laufman`s first television interview since leaving the Justice
David Laufman, thank you very much for making the trip here and thanks for
being willing to come on the show. I really appreciate it.
DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER CHIEF OF DOJ`S COUNTERINTEL & EXPORT CONTROL SECTION:
Good to be with you.
MADDOW: First of all, let me ask you about the circumstances under which
you left the Justice Department. You left in February of this year.
LAUFMAN: Yes. I left on my own steam. I had three eventful years, about
25 years all together of public service. A lot of it at the department. I
felt like I had contributed in any way I could and it was simply time to
move on to a new chapter of my career.
MADDOW: In terms of being able to talk publicly about your experiences of
what`s going on in the news right now, one of the reasons I wanted to talk
to you is because I rarely have the chance to talk with people who are
recently serving high ranking officials who may be able to give us some
insight into how these things that we see in the news really affect the day
to day work of people who are doing the work – kind of work that you did
on behalf of the country.
“The Washington Post” tonight is breaking yet another story. The president
has privately revived the idea of firing Attorney General Jeff sessions
this month. At least twice in the past month, he`s vented to White House
advisers and his lawyers about the, quote, endless investigation of his
campaign. He said he needs to fire the attorney general for saddling his
presidency with the controversy.
We all watched that and we know that`s unusual as citizens. Within the
Justice Department, how does this unusual pressure from the president feel?
How does it affect the work of the department?
LAUFMAN: Look, you`ve got tens of thousands of professionals, men and
women, working every day on behalf of the country doing their best to
conduct fair minded, impartial, professional law enforcement
investigations, in my case, the national security realm. They`re putting
their nose to the grindstone. They`re doing what they can to educe
admissible evidence under the rule of law and propel investigations
In this carnival-like atmosphere that absorbs the rest of us in our daily
jobs, daily lives is really not impacting them that much. They`re really
focused on the mission at hand, they`re very mission-focused and that`s
what guiding them I think through this circumstance.
MADDOW: We have –
LAUFMAN: As far as the attorney general goes, that`s a horse of a
MADDOW: Political appointee.
LAUFMAN: Look, the president is entitled to a cabinet of his choice, men
and women he can work with to carry out his agenda. But I can`t think of
any policy area of the president`s agenda that Attorney General Sessions is
not ardently carrying out.
So, there`s only one reason when you think about it for why the president
would want to get rid of Jeff Sessions. That`s to install somebody in his
place who would circumscribe or undermine the work of the special counsel`s
office. And that is just a reprehensible prospect for the health of our
criminal justice system and our domestic polity.
MADDOW: That – would it work if the president decided to take that
approach? I mean, let`s say that the Republican-led Senate could be
persuaded to confirm somebody else without getting any promises from them
about how they would treat or respect the special counsel`s office or not,
if that was the president`s plan to ice the A.G. so that the new A.G. would
not be recused and would be overseeing Mueller and undermine the probe.
Would it be an effective tactic?
LAUFMAN: We won`t fellow until we know. Well, it will come down to the
integrity and character of the individual who`s installed in that position.
That moment of truth where he or she is faced with having to make a
decision at the behest of the president that has some material adverse
impact on the fulfillment of an ongoing investigation, then we`ll know.
And we`ll hope that ha person has the steel and the spine to make the right
MADDOW: The – you said that the career law enforcement professionals at
the Justice Department, particularly working in national security, people
are keeping their nose to the grind stone. They`ve got work do. They`re
going to keep doing this. They don`t let this stuff affect them.
We have seen the careers of a number of senior people taken apart by
political criticism and pressure. And it`s all the circumstances have been
slightly different and all the scandals have been bigger or smaller
depending on the individuals. But we`ve seen the counter intelligence
chief agent at the FBI, Peter Strzok. We`ve seen Lisa Page who was counsel
to the deputy director. We`ve seen the FBI director himself.
Today, the Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr, who`s long history on
international and Russian organized crime among other things is being
pilloried. It does seem like people who might be otherwise keeping their
nose to the grind stone also have to worry that they`ll get the crosshairs
trained on them shortly.
LAUFMAN: An understandable concern. Each of these has its own gestalt
specific fact and circumstances in each of those cases. You know, I don`t
have visibility into all those details.
But you`re raising a larger important concern which is whether the
Department of Justice has a big bull`s-eye on its back and more broadly
whether the denigration, the constant repeated denigration of the
Department of Justice and its leadership and the types of officials you
described is part of an effort to undermine the integrity and independence
of one of the most important institutions in our government. And that`s
MADDOW: And is there a fix for that?
LAUFMAN: The fix for it is to raise the cost to carrying out those kinds
of actions, by raising the cost to the people who could lend their voices
now to expressing objections to the types of courses of action that we hear
about in the offing, where Republican members of Congress who control both
Houses, unless they`re retiring and suddenly feel a spurt of loquaciousness
and willingness to speak their mind would suddenly start holding
accountable those officials, including the president, who if they`re
exercising their legal authority, may be stepping close to the edge of
overstepping their legal authority or abusing their legal authority.
Whether it is putting pressure on the department to curtail ongoing
legitimate investigations or threatening the pardon of individuals for
apparently partisan reasons.
All those things should be something that puts the country`s collective
hair on fire. And we count on our elected officials to be a bulwark
against that kind of abuse of power. They are failing in that task today.
MADDOW: Our guest is Dave Laufman who is a senior official at the
Department of Justice, specifically the National Security Division. He was
the chief of counterintelligence and the export control section.
We`ll be back with Mr. Laufman right after this. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Back with us again for the interview tonight is David Laufman.
Until this February, he served in the National Security Division at the
Justice Department. He was chief at the counterintelligence and expert
As such, he oversaw a number of very high profile investigations, including
the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and before the special counsel was
appointed, the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Mr. Laufman, thank you for staying with us.
And I know that a lot of these matters that are ongoing investigations is
still are things you can`t comment on in terms of your role in them when
they were open. But I want to ask you about something that I think you
were basically in charge of at Justice Department until February, which is
FARA, Foreign Agent Registration Act enforcement.
This is something that we`re about to see the president`s campaign chairman
Paul Manafort go on trial for in his second federal trial in D.C. It has
come up in a number of the other prosecutions in guilty pleas that had been
brought about people – against people surrounding the president.
The question I have about this is I understand what the law is, they have
to register as a foreign agent if you`re acting on behalf of a foreign
government, but it seems to me like this was never prosecuted before, or
very rarely prosecuted before. And now, all of a sudden, there`s this
flurry of prosecutions around this issue when it comes to the Trump-Russia
What do you make of that?
LAUFMAN: Well, it`s true there have only been a handful of criminal
prosecutions over the last several years. There`s reasons why it`s hard to
charge a criminal violation of FARA. Some of these are technical turgid in
the weeds, FARA stuff, but you`ve got to be able to produce admissible
evidence that there was direction and control of the agent of a foreign
principal by the foreign principal. There`s challenges in proving
willfulness, which is an element of a criminal offense.
So, there are some structural challenges to proving these cases. I can`t
speak to why in decades before, you know, I arrived on the scene, there was
only a handful of investigations but I can tell you when I arrived in late
2014, we did an assessment of whether we were firing on all cylinders with
respect to propelling forward investigations of all the areas of our
responsibility, whether they be espionage, export control, or sanctions,
theft of trade secrets, or investigations and prosecutions of the Foreign
Agent Registration Act, which was another part of the mosaic of the
national security mission of the Department of Justice.
And so we endeavored to make sure that we were in as muscular but
appropriate a fashion as possible, investigating and holding accountable
parties that had an obligation to register and willfully failed to do so.
So, I think the Manafort case that is going to go to trial in September
ought to be seen in that larger context.
And the enforcement of FARA is really part of the broader picture of how
the department approaches foreign influence operations in the United States
today writ large, whether it`s malign cyber operations or more espionage-
like activities like the Maria Butina case in D.C. or straight up FARA
MADDOW: David Laufman, I appreciate this is the first TV interview you`ve
done since leaving the Justice Department earlier this year. I hope you`ll
come back. I feel like your expertise is something that`s really unique
and it`s helpful to hear from you. Thank you for being here.
LAUFMAN: Happy to help. Good to be with you. Nice to see you. Thank
MADDOW: We`ll be back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: A few weeks after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, this
was the view of the commander in chief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you look at a real
catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous, hundreds and
hundreds and hundreds of people that died – what is your death count as of
this moment? Seventeen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen.
TRUMP: Sixteen people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands. You
can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working
together, 16 versus literally thousands of people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It is true that the official death toll from Hurricane Maria in
Puerto Rico stayed inexplicably in just the double digits for a long time,
despite overwhelming anecdotal evidence and multiple academic studies that
said the real death toll should be much, much higher.
Today, researchers at George Washington University put out a comprehensive
study of the deaths caused by Hurricane Maria. The number they came up
with is 2,975. Almost 3,000 Americans killed in that storm.
Not 16 people, not 64 people, which was one early official death toll. But
the same number almost exactly as the number of Americans who were killed
in the 9/11 attacks in 2001. And ultimately, hundreds more people than
were killed in Hurricane Katrina. The death toll of Hurricane Katrina is
approximately 1,800 people. Again, this number today from George
Washington University is 2,975.
The governor in Puerto Rico tonight has ordered the official death toll in
Puerto Rico from the storm to be raised to match the numbers in this new
study. No word yet from the White House. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: As you know, this is primary night in three states. Arizona,
Oklahoma, Florida. We`re going to have more on Arizona and an important
Republican Senate primary in that state coming up later tonight on MSNBC,
once polls close there, we start getting in results.
But the big election headline at this hour is an upset. It`s in Florida.
The mayor of Tallahassee, a Bernie Sanders-backed charismatic progressive
candidate named Andrew Gillum has won the Democratic nomination for Florida
governor in an upset victory.
Gillum is 39 years old. He never led in any public polls heading into
tonight. But he has tonight defeated establishment favorite Gwen Graham,
former member of Congress, daughter of former governor of the state, Bob
Mr. Gillum will become the first African-American nominee for governor in
that state`s history from either party. Mr. Gillum will now face off in
November against Trump-backed Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis, who
tonight won his Republican gubernatorial primary easily, by 20 points. The
Republican establishment believed that Mr. DeSantis would not be their
strongest candidate for the general election. Democrats fully expected
Gwen Graham was going to be their candidate on the Democratic side.
You can add this one to the list of very, very competitive and interesting
races coming up in November. November 6th, just 70 days from right now.
That does it for us tonight. See you again tomorrow.
Now, it is time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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