Cohen pleads guilty. TRANSCRIPT: 11/29/18, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests:
Anthony Cormier, Jim Himes
Transcript:

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST.  That is ALL IN for this evening.  “THE RACHEL

MADDOW SHOW” starts right now. 

 

Good evening, Rachel. 

 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Much

appreciated. 

 

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 

 

Are you ready?  I`m going to start right in. 

 

Deputy clerk: Change of plea hearing, United States versus Michael Cohen,

counsel, please state your appearance.  For the government?

 

Rush Atkinson, who is a prosecutor working for the special counsel`s

office, stands up and says: Good morning, your honor.  Rush Atkinson on

behalf of the United States.  With me is my colleague Jeannie Rhee and my

colleague Andrew Goldstein from the special counsel`s office.  We`re joined

by special agent Michelle Taylor from the FBI. 

 

The judge says, and for the defendant? 

 

And then we hear from Michael Cohen`s defense counsel.  For defendant

Michael Cohen, Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester.  Good morning, your honor.

 

The judge says: good morning.  My understanding is that Mr. Cohen who like

to wave indictment and then plead guilty to a criminal information pursuant

to an agreement with the government.  Is that correct? 

 

Cohen`s defense lawyer:  That`s correct, your honor. 

 

The judge: OK. 

 

The judge then says: Please state your full name. 

 

The defendant says: Michael Dean Cohen. 

 

The judge: How old are you? 

 

Cohen: 52. 

 

The judge: How far did you go in school? 

 

Cohen: J.D. degree. 

 

Judge: Are you recently or have you recently been under the care of a

physician? 

 

Cohen: No, sir.

 

Judge: Have you recently seen a psychiatrist or a psychologist or had any

sort of mental health counseling? 

 

Michael Cohen: No, your honor. 

 

The judge: Have you ever been treated for any psychiatric condition? 

 

Cohen: No, sir. 

 

Judge: Have you ever been hospitalized for drug abuse or alcohol abuse? 

 

Michael Cohen: No, sir. 

 

The judge: All right.  Does defense counsel have any doubts about your

client`s competence to proceed? 

 

Cohen`s defense lawyer says: I do not, your honor. 

 

The judge says: Counsel for the government?

 

Prosecutor Rush Atkinson says: No, your honor.

 

The judge then says: I find that Mr. Cohen appears alert.  He has answered

the questions appropriately.  I find that he is competent to proceed, and

we will continue. 

 

The judge says, quote: Mr. Cohen, I want to make sure you understand that

you`re being charged with a felony offense.  Do you understand, sir? 

 

Michael Cohen: I do, sir. 

 

The judge: The sole count of the information charges false statements.  It

states on or about August 28th, 2017, the defendant Michael Cohen in the

District of Columbia and elsewhere in a matter within the jurisdiction of

the legislative branch of the government of the United States knowingly and

willfully made a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement and

representation. 

 

To wit, Cohen caused to be submitted a written statement to the Senate

Intelligence Committee containing materially false statements about the

Moscow project, including false statements about the timing of the project,

discussions with people in the company, the Trump organization and in

Russia about the Moscow Project, and contemplated travel to Russia in

connection with the Moscow project. 

 

The judge says: Do you understand the nature of that charge, Mr. Cohen? 

 

Michael Cohen says: I do, your honor. 

 

The judge: Do you have any questions for me before we continue? 

 

Cohen: No, your honor. 

 

The judge: Defense counsel, are you aware of any reason why your client

should not plead guilty? 

 

Defense counsel for Michael Cohen, Guy Petrillo, says: No, your honor. 

 

The judge says: Are you aware of any legal defense to the charge? 

 

Cohen`s defense lawyer Guy Petrillo says: Not that would prevail at trial. 

 

The judge says: Mr. Cohen, are you satisfied with your legal reputation up

to this point? 

 

Michael Cohen: Yes, your honor. 

 

The judge: Mr. Cohen, are you willing to give up your rights to a trial and

all the other rights we have discussed? 

 

Cohen: Yes, sir. 

 

The judge: How do you plead to the sole count of the information? 

 

Michael Cohen:  Guilty, your honor. 

 

And then it gets a little confusing.  So, the judge says, how do you plead? 

Michael Cohen says guilty, your honor.  And then the judge says, guilty or

not guilty?  And Michael Cohen says sorry, and the judge says that`s fine. 

Guilty?  And Michael Cohen says, yes, sir. 

 

The judge did it really quick.  I really am here to plead guilty.  Sorry,

were you not done.  Guilty!  Did I say guilty?

 

But then at this point in the proceedings is where the spotlight really

turns on Michael Cohen, and this is a surprise proceeding.  Everybody who

is there in the courtroom has arrived on short notice.  There was no

advance press that this was going to happen.  The plea says a little

something, but now here is Michael Cohen in court really getting to

explain, put a little narrative on what`s going on here. 

 

So, the judge, after he has just plead guilty, the judge turns to Michael

Cohen and says to him, quote: OK, tell me what it is that you did that

makes you guilty. 

 

Michael Cohen says: So if I may stand, your honor, if I may stand up for

it. 

 

The judge says: what`s that? 

 

Michael Cohen: May I stand for this on this? 

 

The judge: You may.  You don`t need to.  The acoustics aren`t great.  It

may be easier if you sit and speak into the microphone. 

 

Michael Cohen: Then that is what I shall do. 

 

The judge says: All right, go ahead. 

 

Michael Cohen clears his throat.  Ahem.  Thank you. 

 

Prior to the 2016 presidential election, I had been the executive vice

president and special counsel to Donald J. Trump at the Trump Organization,

a Manhattan-base real estate business.  By 2017, I was no longer employed

in this capacity, but continued to serve on several matters as an attorney

to the former CEO of the Trump Organization who is now president of the

United States.  He is referred to as individual 1 in the criminal

information. 

 

As I had in the years before the election, I continued in 2017 to follow

the day to day political messaging that both Mr. Trump and his staff and

advisers repeatedly broadcast, and I stayed in close contact with these

advisers to Mr. Trump.  As such, I was aware of Mr. Trump`s repeated

disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, his

repeated statements that investigations of such ties were politically

motivated and without evidence, and that any contact with Russian nationals

by his campaign or the Trump Organization had all terminated before the

Iowa caucus, which was on February 1st, 2016. 

 

In 2017, I was scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee

as well as the House Intelligence Committee concerning matters under their

investigation, including principally, whether Russia was involved in or

interfered in the 2016 campaign and election.  In connection with my

appearances, I submitted a written statement to Congress, including among

other things a description of a proposed real estate project in Moscow that

I had worked on while I was employed by the Trump Organization.  That

description was false.  I knew at the time.

 

It was false in that I had asserted that all efforts concerning the project

had ceased in January 2016 when in fact they had continued through June of

that year.  It was also false when I asserted that I had very limited

discussions with Mr. Trump and others in the company concerning the project

when in fact I had more extensive communications, and it was false when I

said I never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the project and

had never asked Mr. Trump to travel when in fact I took steps to and had

discussions with Mr. Trump about travel to Russia. 

 

He then says I would like to note that I did not in fact travel there nor

have I ever been to Russia.  He says, quote, I made these statements to be

consistent with Mr. Trump`s political messaging and out of loyalty to Mr.

Trump.  And at that point it kind of feels like it`s over, but it turns out

he left something out, something that turns out to be important.  And so,

the prosecution sort of jumps in to fill that in.

 

So, the judge at this point says, quote, any further allocution requested

by the government? 

 

And the prosecutor from special counsel Robert Mueller`s office, Rush

Atkinson, he says: Yes, your honor.  As set forth in the criminal

information, which is like an indictment except you get a criminal

information when you plead guilty instead of going trial, as set forth in

the information, Mr. Cohen submitted in his statement falsely that upon

reaching out to the Kremlin in January 2016 about the Moscow project, he

had not received any response.  In fact, he had received a response from

the Kremlin. 

 

So in essence, Mr. Cohen minimized his contacts with the Russian government

and stated so falsely in his submission. 

 

The judge says: You want that as part of this allocution? 

 

Mr. Atkinson says: Yes, please. 

 

And the judge says: Mr. Cohen, did you hear that? 

 

And Michael Cohen says: I did, your honor.

 

And the judge says: Well, is that correct? 

 

And Michael says: It is correct, your honor.  There was one contact. 

 

The judge says: Any further allocution requested by the government? 

 

The prosecutor says: No, your honor, thank you. 

 

And that`s where we get to the curtain call.  The judge says, quote: I find

Mr. Cohen is competent to proceed.  I find that he understands the rights

that he is waiving by pleading guilty.  I further find there is a factual

basis for this plea, and I accept his plea of guilty. 

 

So, today, the president`s long-time personal lawyer, long-time executive

of his business pled guilty to a cover-up, a criminal cover-up.  He plead

guilty to lying to Congress about the extent of the real estate dealings

that President Trump and his business were engaged in and pursuing in

Russia with the help of the Kremlin while Trump was running for president,

and while the Kremlin was simultaneously mounting an international military

intelligence operation to skew our election in order to tilt it toward

Trump. 

 

The lies that Michael Cohen told Congress about this matter I should tell

you had consequences.  His lies about this Trump Tower Moscow thing made it

lock, stock and barrel into the report that House Republicans produced

months ago and they announced they had completely investigated all the

allegations about Trump and Russia, it turns out Trump didn`t do anything

and it really is all one big witch-hunt. 

 

Remember when House Republicans came out with that report months ago? 

Michael Cohen`s lies to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project made

into it the House Republican report.  From the report: Cohen attempted to

reach out the members of the Russian government in an attempt to make the

project proceed, but apparently did not have any direct points on contact. 

It does not appear Cohen ever received a response from anyone affiliated

with the Russian government. 

 

Neither President Putin nor any element of the Russian government was

actually involved in the project.  Those were all lies, but the Republicans

in Congress bought them all, hook, line and sinker.  They regurgitated them

in unprocessed form as their report about what happened between Trump and

Russia during the campaign.  Now, Michael Cohen has confessed in open court

that those were lies. 

 

Now that was just the House Republican report on what happened between

Trump and Russia.  You might remember the Democrats on the Intelligence

Committee, they didn`t sign on to that report.  They were sort of furious

about it when the Republicans issued that report. 

 

But you might also remember that the Democrats put out their own report,

their own minority report explaining what they had come to learn, what they

had come to believe about Trump and Russia during the 2016 campaign, and

it`s a minority report.  People in the minority in the House have no real

power whatsoever.  So it`s an object of sort of academic interest, but it

wasn`t going to go anywhere. 

 

Theirs turns out to have been remarkably prescient, though.  And one of the

things that the Democrats in the House under the leadership of Adam Schiff

on the Intelligence Committee, one of the things they very helpfully

published months ago as part of their Democratic report was this e-mail,

which we had never previously seen. 

 

And this e-mail shows where the money was going to come from to build Trump

Tower Moscow.  This is on page 50 of the Democrats` report.  This is an e-

mail we had never seen before.  It was dated October 12, 2015.  So it`s

during the Republican primary season, right?

 

It was from Felix Sater, who worked at the Trump Organization, and it was

to Michael Cohen, who also worked at the Trump Organization.  It was titled

Andrey Kostin, CEO of VTB Bank.  That was the subject line of the email.

 

And in the body of the e-mail, it said this: Kostin is Putin`s top finance

guy and CEO of the second largest bank in Russia.  He is on board and has

indicated he would finance Trump Moscow.  This is major for us, not only

the financing aspect, but Kostin`s position in Russia extremely powerful

and respected. 

 

The e-mail concludes: I will call you later to discuss getting the letter

of intent signed.  And sure enough, within a couple of weeks, on the night

of the third primary Republican debate during the 2016 election, that same

day, Donald Trump in fact signed the letter of intent to go ahead with

Trump Tower Moscow, to be financed by a Russian bank called VTB. 

 

Apparently, they were that far along in the negotiations.  They could do a

letter of intent because they had one of the main things you need to go

ahead with the project like this on board, they had the financing on board. 

It was going to be VTB. 

 

It is a very large bank in Russia.  It is state-run.  It is also sanctioned

by the government, so Americans aren`t allowed to do business with them. 

Maybe that`s a small point in the larger scheme of things, but I point this

out because there is a really neat trick that happened in today`s news. 

 

So, today, we have this court transcript.  This surprise federal court in

New York, long-time Trump lawyer Michael Cohen turns up in court, pleads

guilty to lying to Congress.  What happened today with Michael Cohen tells

us a few different things that are really interesting in terms of where we

are as a country right now and where this presidency is and is going. 

 

Number one, it tells us that Mueller`s prosecutors are willing to bring

felony charges against people who have lied to Congress in conjunction with

this scandal.  “Vanity Fair” reported weeks ago that the president`s eldest

son, Don Jr. has been very concerned and there have been serious concerns

in the White House that he would be indicted for having lied to Congress

that was never quite sure how seriously to take those kinds of reported

worries, but if you didn`t take the prospect of felony indictments for

lying to Congress – if you didn`t take those prospects seriously before,

now that somebody just pled guilty to a felony for lying to Congress you

take that a bit more seriously after today. 

 

The fact that this prosecution today was for lying to Congress, it also

raises really interesting live questions, new questions about the

relationship between Congress and the Mueller investigation, at a time when

Democrats are poised to take over the House.  I mean, if Mueller will bring

charges against people who lied to congressional committees, this is now

this live issue for members of Congress as to whether or not the committees

are going to hand over the transcripts from witness testimony on the Russia

investigation so Mueller can review those transcripts for potential perjury

and potentially bring more charges. 

 

Congressman Adam Schiff made clear today that when he and Democrats do take

over in the new year, at least at the intelligence committee, they`re going

to be sending to Mueller immediately all of the transcripts of all of the

witnesses who have testified who may find their testimony newly relevant to

the Mueller investigation now that people are starting to plead guilty to

felonies for lying to Congress in conjunction with this scandal. 

 

Another thing today`s court appearance tells us is that Robert Mueller is

alive and well.  The last time Michael Cohen plead guilty in federal court

in New York, the prosecutors was up against, prosecutors who signed all

this court documents were prosecutors from the Southern District of New

York.  Today, it was prosecutors from Robert Mueller`s office, and it was

Robert Mueller`s name and signature on the court filings. 

 

If Matthew Whitaker was installed at the Justice Department to bring the

Mueller investigation to a halt, today shows that that has not happened. 

This was a significant new step in the Mueller investigation.  Whitaker

didn`t stop it, and in fact MSNBC`s Nicolle Wallace reported today that

Matt Whitaker in fact is not directly supervising the Mueller investigation

on a day-to-day basis.  The Mueller investigation according to Nicolle`s

reporting today is still being overseen by Rod Rosenstein in the deputy

attorney general`s office on a day-to-day basis. 

 

And what that means in a practical sense, according to “The Washington

Post” tonight is that Matthew Whitaker was notified about what was going to

happen today, but he wasn`t asked.  He wasn`t asked to approve it.  It was

approved by Rosenstein.  So, Whitaker knew it was happening but he didn`t

get to say yeah or nay.  That seems important. 

 

Another thing this action tells us today is we`re about to get a whole much

more – a whole big bunch of information out of Mueller.  In the plea

agreement that Michael Cohen signed on to today, there was a statement of

the offense, the criminal information, also a plea agreement.  Sometimes,

it`s hard to tell how much of this stuff is boiler plate, but even if it is

boilerplate, this line from Cohen`s plea agreement still seems important. 

It says in Cohen`s plea agreement today, quote: The government reserves the

right to describe fully both orally and in written to the sentencing judge

the nature and seriousness of your client`s misconduct, include anything

misconduct not described in the charges to which your client is pleading

guilty.  Oh. 

 

Michael Cohen is due to be sentenced on December 12th on the previous

felonies to which he plead and the felony he plead today.  The special

counsel`s office and his plea agreement is thereby reserving the right to

tell-all in open court on the occasion of Cohen`s sentencing, which is in

just a couple weeks, reserving the right to tell all, even stuff that`s not

in the charges.  Just stuff that Cohen happens to know about or have been

in on. 

 

And this of course comes just a few days after the special counsel`s office

told a different court in D.C. that they intended to file a detailed report

outlining the crimes and lies of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. 

 

So this is essentially Robert Mueller reserving himself a podium and a live

microphone atop both of these active cases for use at a time and occasion

of his own choosing.  There will be a hearing in the Manafort case tomorrow

in D.C. at 9:30 a.m.  We don`t yet know whether the judge will ask

Mueller`s prosecutors to start elaborating on Manafort`s crimes and lies,

but we will be watching that proceeding very closely tomorrow when it

convenes in the morning. 

 

The big picture here, though, of course, is that Robert Mueller and his

team of prosecutors at the special counsel`s office, they know about and

they have evidence of a sort of ridiculously damning scenario involving the

sitting president, and Mueller has now started to lay it out in public. 

What we now know that Mueller knows is that the president during the

campaign in 2016, he was secretly trying to arrange what would have

probably been the largest business deal of his life in Russia through

direct contact with the Kremlin.  He was trying to do this business deal

while the Kremlin was orchestrating a military intelligence attack by the

GRU on our election to help Trump win. 

 

The deal was kept secret at the time.  He and his business associates lied

about it publicly.  They then launched an elaborate cover-up campaign to

keep it secret, including lying to Congress about it. 

 

Now that it has been exposed, one big neon question mark blaring on and off

above this revelation is whether there was a direct connection between

Putin mounting that attack on our election to benefit Trump and Trump

simultaneously trying to do this big real estate deal in Moscow involving

the Kremlin.  Now, BuzzFeed News previously reported six months ago that

when Michael Cohen had discussions with foreign contacts about the Trump

Tower Moscow deal, those foreign contacts included more than one person who

was directly involved in Russia`s attack on our election.  Why would you be

talking to people attacking the election when you`re supposed to be talking

about a real estate deal?  Why are those two things connected?

 

Tonight, “BuzzFeed News” follows that up with this somewhat gonzo

revelation that part of the Trump Tower Moscow deal was that Vladimir Putin

personally would be offered a free $50 million penthouse apartment on top

of Trump Tower Moscow, basically to sweeten the deal.  Sure, why not,

right?  It`s the least you can do for the guy who is rigging the election

for you. 

 

What a nice hostess gift.  You give me America, I give you nice apartment. 

This is deal.  This is deal any language. 

 

Here`s the neat trick about all of this in today`s news.  On the same day

that all of this happens, right, on the same day that Michael Cohen,

surprise, turns up in federal court, plead guilty to lying about the Trump

Tower Moscow deal to be financed by a sanctioned Russian state-controlled

bank, by VTB, when he turns up to plead on that today, we get all this

information about that deal that the president was secretly involved in

involving the Russian government, the offices of high-ranking officials in

the Kremlin, and a state-controlled Russian bank as we get all of that

today, boom, today also in Germany, the world headquarters of Deutsche Bank

was raided by German authorities. 

 

And here`s why that is the other bookend on this remarkable, remarkable

story in the Trump presidency today.  Deutsche Bank famously is the biggest

lender to Donald Trump by far.  Long after other banks would turn off all

the lights and pull the drapes and pretend they weren`t home when he came

knocking, Deutsche Bank was happy, somewhat inexplicably happy to keep

funding Trump and his business to the tune of hundreds of millions of

dollars even after he had, forgive me, screwed them multiple times. 

 

Deutsche Bank`s bountiest, florid, over the top generosity towards Donald

Trump has always been a little bit of a fiscal mystery.  Why were they so

willing to shove money in his direction?  That led to questions about where

the money came from that they were so willing to shove in his direction. 

 

Deutsche Bank last year got nailed for laundering a gigantic amount of

money out of Russia, like $10 billion – $10 billion and it was 10 billion

from VTB.  Now, today, as Michael Cohen is pleading guilty to lying to

Congress about the VTB financed Trump Tower Moscow Project, Deutsche Bank`s

world headquarters got raided in what is said to be fallout from the Panama

Papers leak. 

 

In the Panama Papers leak, Deutsche Bank was accused of more Russia money

laundering linked to VTB. 

 

So, that`s the news god`s neat trick today.  They make it pretty easy to

follow the dots when there is only two dots, right?  I mean, if Russia

wants to buy itself a U.S. president, they need to figure out how to screw

up our election and they need a candidate that they have compromised to win

that election. 

 

Go back to the fricking fracking Christopher Steele dossier.  How was

Russia reportedly trying to compromise and cultivate Donald Trump for

years?  By offering him lucrative real estate deals in Russia, perhaps a

little something arranged with Kremlin help. 

 

You need financing from a state-controlled Russian bank?  Kremlin can help

with that.  And hey, if that state-controlled Russian bank is involved in

massive criminal money laundering schemes with the bank that bankrolls you

and your business, hey, you know, who is ever going to know about any of

it?  Just lie.  They`ll never be able to track this stuff down. 

 

Well, now, today, we`re learning that they have tracked it down. 

 

Trump told “The New York Times” months ago it would be a red line for the

Mueller investigation if they ever got into his business and his business

finances.  That red line is crossed.  We are past it.  We are Wile E.

Coyote having run off the edge of the cliff, afraid to look down. 

 

Or maybe that`s the president out there.  And I don`t know if he is capable

of looking down.  But this thing has entered a whole new phase. 

 

Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  In May of this year, “BuzzFeed News” published what they called

the definitive story of the effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during

the 2016 presidential campaign.  That piece is where it was first reported,

that the efforts to build Trump Tower Moscow didn`t end before the first

primary started, which is the official Trump line on the story. 

 

“BuzzFeed” had it back in May that actually the Trump Tower Moscow Project

went on for months into the campaign, into the summer of 2016 by which

time, frankly, the primaries were over.  BuzzFeed also at that time

published texts between Felix Sater, you see on the left, and Michael Cohen

you see on the right.  Texts from that summer which showed the two men

during the campaign trying to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin to

discuss this real estate deal. 

 

Quote, Sater texted Cohen.  I had a chat with Moscow.  Assuming the trip

does happen, question is before or after the convention.  Cohen writes back

that day: My trip before Cleveland, before the convention, Trump, once he

becomes the nominee, after. 

 

That very same text message which was first reported by “BuzzFeed News” in

May, now today six months later, it turned up again in today`s criminal

charges against Michael Cohen. 

 

Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold had this story before anybody else

figured it out, and now they`re reporting once again is born out by what

Mueller`s office just charged Michael Cohen with in federal court.  Well,

now, tonight, as Cohen has just plead guilty, these same reporters from

“BuzzFeed” have broken something new on the same story, and as a little

public service announcement, if you are drinking or eating anything rights

now, pause.  Swallow.  I don`t want you to spit anything out on your nice

couch.  I like your couch. 

 

This is their headline tonight: The Trump Organization planned to give

Vladimir Putin the $50 million penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow.  Quote:

President Donald Trump`s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at

Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company

negotiated the real estate development during the 2016 campaign.  Two U.S.

law enforcement officials told “BuzzFeed News” that Michael Cohen, Trump`s

personal lawyer at the time, discussed the idea with the representative of

Dmitry Peskov, Putin`s press secretary.  The revelation that

representatives of the Trump Organization planned to forge direct financial

links with the leader of a hostile nation at the height of the campaign

raises fresh questions about President Trump`s relationship with the

Kremlin. 

 

Oh, I don`t know.  Doesn`t every presidential candidate in every election

offer a $50 million gift to a foreign leader who at that time is running a

military intelligence operation to help that candidate become president in

the United States?  Don`t they all do this?  Yawn.  Isn`t this normal? 

 

Joining us now is Anthony Cormier, reporter from “BuzzFeed News” who has

been ahead of this story from the very, very beginning. 

 

I have to say congratulations. 

 

ANTHONY CORMIER, REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS:  Thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  First, let me ask you, obviously, a lot of what was charged today

by Mueller and that Michael Cohen plead to is stuff that you had previously

reported.  So, anything else that you have previously reported that relates

to Cohen that you were surprised to not see come up today? 

 

CORMIER:  Yes.  No, not really.  I mean, this came out of left field a

little bit.  I don`t think there were a whole lot of people who knew he was

negotiating at this level.  We had heard some rumbles. 

 

I was actually really surprised that they actually confirmed that he made

the phone call to Peskov.  If you recall, he has long held that I just went

to Kremlin.gov basically and sent an e-mail.  I never had any contact with

Peskov who is fairly high-ranking Kremlin official. 

 

So, it`s really curious to me that the special counsel`s office has nailed

that down. 

 

MADDOW:  What does that suggest to you about their access to intelligence

information and sources? 

 

CORMIER:  They either have signals intelligence or Michael has just given

up the goods, right?  And either they`ve got him or he`s simply

cooperating.  I can`t tell at this point which one it is. 

 

MADDOW:  Michael Cohen did not previously have a formal cooperation

agreement with the government, and he now does.  What`s the difference?  We

know he was cooperating before.  Now he is cooperating under an agreement. 

 

It`s been suggested to us that maybe the difference is that under

cooperation agreement, you don`t have a choice to hold anything back.  You

actually have to tell them everything, back to like stealing gum balls when

you were 8. 

 

Given your reporting and your extensive sources on this subject, do you

feel like if Michael Cohen is a wide open book to prosecutors, there is

nothing that he can hold back, are there areas in which his potential

testimony is quite dangerous? 

 

CORMIER:  Oh, god, absolutely.  The things that that man knows, the amount

notes he kept, the potential recordings that he has?  I mean, Michael Cohen

is a very dangerous threat to the president of the United States of

America.  I mean, he is. 

 

And it`s very clear that the White Houses that been trying to bury Michael

Cohen through a series over leaks over the past sort of few months and I

know Michael a little bit.  And I know people that know him, and the people

that are familiar with his thinking are very clear that he is acting in

what he has decided to be a patriot.  He is acting in his mind to help the

public understand exactly what happened in 2016, come hell or high water. 

 

MADDOW:  Do you believe that the Trump Tower Moscow deal, or anything else

that Michael Cohen was personally involved in during the course of the

campaign is directly related to Russia interfering in the election to help

Trump, any coordination, conspiracy, collusion between the Russian

government and the Trump campaign to work together to help Trump get

elected with foreign assistance? 

 

CORMIER:  So there is a small line in the story in both the one we

published in may and the one we published today in which two FBI agents

with direct knowledge of this inquiry before Mueller got involved told us

that Michael Cohen had communications with more than one individual who

either knew about or took part in the election interference. 

 

MADDOW:  So he is talking to them about Trump Tower Moscow, but they

themselves were involved in or had knowledge of the interference operation? 

 

CORMIER:  That`s exactly right. 

 

MADDOW:  Why are those two things related?  Why would the same two people

be involved in those two things? 

 

CORMIER:  Good question.  I don`t know who they are.  We`re up tree with

our source trying to get them to tell what it is.  They`ve said – in fact

we spoke to them today.  Slow down, we`re still working it. 

 

I don`t know.  I can`t tell.  I don`t know which individuals, I don`t want

to speculate.  But there is something about this particular deal, this

Moscow Tower and the interference that connect, there is a nexus there, and

I don`t get it yet. 

 

MADDOW:  Briefly, and this is not your reporting soy don`t want row to ask

you to comment on something you don`t know personally about.  But “The New

York Times” reported one of the people involved on the Russian side is a

Russian general who had military intelligence background. 

 

CORMIER:  Yes, he is.  We reported that first. 

 

MADDOW:  Very good, very good.  So, they`re furthering your reporting on

that today tonight. 

 

CORMIER:  That`s great. 

 

MADDOW:  Does that gate there is a military intelligence, there is a

Russian intelligence operation element to the Trump Tower Moscow deal? 

 

CORMIER:  I understand it, and I`ve heard that you don`t – no one ever

leaves the GRU.  No one ever leaves Russian intelligence.  But my

understanding is this person was a bit of a gray hat, that he may have

aided the U.S. in the number of intelligence missions in the past.  I`m not

certain.  That wouldn`t be the guy that I bet on. 

 

He is a friend of Felix Sater`s, right?  Felix Sater is involved in this

deal.  But I`m not quite certain.  None of my sources have suggested it,

and I`m not certain that he is the guy I would immediately sort of pivot

to. 

 

I would be more curious to know who either at the banks or at the Kremlin

were these individuals talking to.  Who was working that behind the scenes? 

 

MADDOW:  Who at the banks or at the Kremlin. 

 

OK.  I feel like I`m following your breadcrumbs a lot these days.

 

Anthony Cormier, a reporter for “BuzzFeed News” – absolutely

groundbreaking work.  Thanks.  Really appreciate it.

 

CORMIER:  Thanks. 

 

MADDOW:  Much more to get to tonight.  Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  This summer, just days before President Trump was going to head

off and have his summit with Vladimir Putin, remember that?  Robert Mueller

dropped a 12-count indictment against Russian intelligence operatives who

had hacked into our election.  So when Mueller filed those charges,

President Trump was on his way to meet with the guy who ordered those 12

Russian intelligence operatives to hack into our election in the first

place. 

 

Good luck with your meeting, sir.  We packed you a snack for your trip,

this indictment of Putin`s guys should give you two plenty to chat about

when you meet face-to-face. 

 

Then, today, the president left for Argentina for the G20 summit.  While he

is there, he may or may not have a meeting with Vladimir Putin.  The

president said today he probably would meet with Vladimir Putin.  Then less

than an hour later he announced on Twitter the meeting is canceled. 

 

I should tell you, the Kremlin appears to still think that it`s on.  Either

way, President Putin and President Trump will be at the same summit all

weekend.  And so, now, just like the last time, the president has been sent

off on his trip with another travel gift from the special counsel. 

 

Here is your inflatable neck pillow for this flight, sir.  Robert Mueller

picked today to charge the president`s personal lawyer in the Russia

investigation with lying about the president`s secret financial dealings in

Russia right before Trump and Putin are set to bump into each other in

Argentina. 

 

The Mueller operation is opaque in terms of what they`re doing and why

they`re doing what they`re doing.  But we`ve got pretty good evidence now

that they seem to time some of the most provocative shots at Russia and the

most provocative evidence about what Russia did to land right before Trump

gets a chance to see his guy, gets to see Putin. 

 

We`ve got a lot more coming up tonight on this new guilty plea from Cohen

and what it means for the Russia investigation.  Also, what it can tell us

about the new guy who is in charge at DOJ.  Some surprising revelations

about that today. 

 

Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  “The Washington Post” reports tonight that Acting Attorney General

Matt Whitaker was told in advance that Michael Cohen was about to plead

guilty to a charge of lying to Congress about the president`s business

dealings in Russia during the presidential campaign.  Whitaker was told

this was going to happen today, but he was not given the opportunity to

approve or disapprove of this step. 

 

MSNBC`s Nicolle Wallace reporting today that Acting Attorney General Matt

Whitaker isn`t directly supervising the Mueller investigation.  He is not

having run by him decisions like today`s new felony charge against the

president`s long-time lawyer.  Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general,

according to Nicolle`s reporting today is still doing all of that just like

he used to. 

 

I have questions.  Will we be allowed to know?  Will Congress be allowed to

know, particularly with Democrats taking over the House?  Will there be any

visibility into whether or not Mueller`s operations are being impeded,

especially if they`re being impeded improperly in the Justice Department? 

Should we have confidence that Mueller`s actions mean that Mueller is

acting in an unimpeded fashion? 

 

And while we`re on the subject, when the House is taken over in January by

Democrats, what are Democrats going to do with the fact that Mueller has

now brought charges against a witness in the Russia investigation for lying

to Congress?  Do they believe that other witnesses should be subject

essentially to the same sort of charges, the same sort of penalty given

that House Democrats have expressed concerns that some of the testimony

given by Trump allies and Trump aides in the course of the investigation

has been untrue? 

 

Joining us now is Congressman Jim Himes, Democratic member of the House

Intelligence Committee.

 

Congressman Himes, thank you very much for joining us.  It`s a real

pleasure to have you tonight. 

 

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  Good evening, Rachel.  

 

MADDOW:  So, let me first get your reaction today to this guilty plea by

Michael Cohen and the new revelations that it brought us about the

president`s involvement in this business deal with Russia involving

directly the Kremlin during the campaign.  

 

HIMES:  Well, it`s stunning.  I mean, it`s particularly stunning for the

Congress.  The charge obviously being that he lied to Congress.  I mean,

you sit back and you look at this thing and you realize that everybody,

everybody is lying about their contacts with Russia.  I mean, it started

with Mike Flynn to Papadopoulos to Manafort and now to Cohen. 

 

Lying to Congress is a pretty big deal.  People don`t do that as a normal

course.  So, it obviously raises the question why?  Why would there be all

this lying?  What`s underneath? 

 

And that`s obviously something I suspect we`re going hear from Mueller, and

as you were just saying, you know, this certainly gives us some threads to

follow up on, because, of course, the transcripts of the various witnesses

that came before the House Intelligence Committee before it was abruptly

ended, you know, now I think are going to be subject to some extra

scrutiny. 

 

MADDOW:  In terms of those transcripts, obviously, they take on renewed

interests now, given that we`re told that Mueller was allowed to review the

transcript of Cohen`s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee with -

- in the presence of Cohen`s lawyer.  There has been some ambiguous

information from the Senate Intelligence Committee in terms of how – what

kind of criminal referrals they might have made or what information they

handed on the Mueller. 

 

But in your committee in the House, as far as I understand it, there was

actually a vote that these transcripts should be made available, should be

made in fact public.  What`s the status of these transcripts now? 

 

HIMES:  Well, so, just – before that, of course, the Democrats on the

committee had made a motion that all of the transcripts be conveyed to the

special counsel, because at the time, we had suspicions that there had been

in fact lies told to the House Intelligence Committee. 

 

That motion was defeated by the Republican majority on the committee, but

subsequently, as you point out, a vote was taken to make all the

transcripts public.  My understanding is that that process is getting

pretty close to being finished.  It had to go through declassification. 

Some of the transcripts contained classified information.  But of course,

once the transcripts are out in the public realm, it won`t just be Mueller

and others who are looking for possible lies.  Everyone, including the

media, will have the opportunity to do so. 

 

MADDOW:  Given what you saw from Cohen`s testimony and from the other

people who have testified behind closed doors to your committee, do you

believe that there are other people either within the administration or

people who are associated with the campaign and with the president`s

business who will be on the hook for the same kind of charge that Cohen

faced today for bluntly lying to Congress? 

 

HIMES:  It really wouldn`t surprise me.  And without getting into the

specifics of the testimony and what is still a closed investigation, I`ll

tell you this, which is that needless to say, we asked a lot of questions

about contact with Russia, precisely what Michael Cohen lied about, we

asked that of lots of witnesses.  And at the time, again, without getting

into specifics, at the time I don`t recall thinking well there is obviously

inconsistencies here. 

 

So, I do suspect that Michael Cohen is probably not the last one to come

under scrutiny for possible lying to Congress.  There is a whole other

topic here too.  You know, when this investigation was being run by the

Republicans, they effectively stopped us from asking follow-up questions,

from executing subpoena, from getting corroborating information that might

either prove a witness having been truthful or not. 

 

The Republican majority allowed anybody associated with the White House to

claim executive privilege in one of the most, you know, outrageous and

broad ideas of executive privilege you can imagine.  So I do think that

after January, we will have plenty of threads to follow up on. 

 

MADDOW:  Just – I know that you can`t be specific about the testimony of

witnesses who spoke behind closed doors, but just to pick on something you

just said there, you said that when you heard answers to questions about

contacts with Russia, including for Michael Cohen, the answers from

witnesses didn`t seem inconsistent with one another.  We now know that

Michael Cohen`s answer was full of lies. 

 

Does – are you suggesting that a number of different witnesses may have

all told the same lie as if it were a coordinated effort? 

 

HIMES:  I`m not quite sure I`m trod sate was coordinated, but again, we

would have noticed.  You made the right inference.  If somebody had told a

radically different story about contacts with Russia on the subject of the

president`s business interests, we probably would have noticed and say wait

a second, this is completely inconsistent.  And I don`t certainly recall

noticing that. 

 

And, of course, again, now everybody`s testimony is – you know, remember,

it was only 48 hours ago that Paul Manafort, it turns out he was lying

while he was cooperating with the special counsel.  So, yes, I think, you

know, particularly since we weren`t allowed to do  follow-up, I think every

single witness that was there, you know, talking about the president`s

investments and business interests in Russia, those transcripts need to be

scrutinized and examined with a critical eye. 

 

MADDOW:  Congressman Jim Himes, Democrat on House Intelligence Committee –

sir, thank you for your time tonight.  I really appreciate it. 

 

HIMES:  Thanks, Rachel.

 

MADDOW:  All right.  Emily Jane Fox joins us next. 

 

Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Joining us now is our friend Emily Jane Fox.  She`s a senior

reporter at “Vanity Fair”.  She has been following the travails of Michael

Cohen, and breaking news about him for months now, including this new piece

from her tonight, Cohen`s guilty plea came together very fast.  The latest

from Emily Jane Fox just posted at “Vanity Fair”. 

 

Emily, thank you for being here.

 

EMILY JANE FOX, VANITY FAIR:  Thanks for having me.

 

MADDOW:  Very fast.  You`re saying this happened within the last two weeks. 

This is not something that`s been percolating for a long time? 

 

FOX:  No, and two weeks also happens to be a period of time during which

the president submit his written questions to Robert Mueller`s team.  Now,

this as we know from other reporting from “Te New York Times” and others

today was something that the president`s team had been concerned about, was

this – what they called a perjury trap, was the guilty plea entered today

related to the answers and the timing around that. 

 

Now, I will say, let`s put this in context for a second, Michael Cohen`s

guilty plea in August with the Southern District of New York also came

together very quickly.  That was over a period of like five days.  So, it`s

possible when it comes to Cohen they just moved quickly. 

 

MADDOW:  Right.

 

FOX:  But I don`t think the timing here is something we should look past

entirely either. 

 

MADDOW:  And in terms of the president`s – the president potentially

having lied to the Mueller investigation about the Trump tower project,

having said things about the Trump Tower project that were congruent with

Cohen`s previous statements to Congress or statements in public, thinking

that Cohen would stick with those, once Cohen proclaims those as a lie, if

Mueller`s team has evidence to back up that it`s a lie, then he`s nailed

the president for lying about it, too. 

 

FOX:  Sure.  Now, Rudy Giuliani, the president`s attorney said today that

the answers they submitted line up. 

 

MADDOW:  Rudy Giuliani says thing, that`s how I hear that. 

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

FOX:  I was on your set this summer when Rudy Giuliani also said that – I

had talked to him just before I came on your set, that the tape that

Michael Cohen had of the president was the president saying they couldn`t

pay the “National Enquirer” for the story about a woman who had an alleged

affair with him, by cash – that was Cohen`s suggestion and that the

president corrected him and he had to pay by check.  Then we heard the

recording three days later and it was actually the opposite. 

 

So, take what we heard today with a grain –

 

MADDOW:  You have had a long reporting ark when it comes to Mr. Cohen.  One

of the things I wanted to ask you about because you really highlighted this

for me in a way nobody else has, and I find it very useful, is that after

Cohen pled guilty in August, he did start cooperating with Mueller`s

prosecutors and, in fact, with other prosecutors as well.  But he didn`t do

so pursuant to a cooperation agreement.  He didn`t signed that plea

agreement. 

 

FOX:  Still has not. 

 

MADDOW:  But he did sign a plea agreement today.  So he does have a formal

cooperation agreement that he didn`t have one before. 

 

FOX:  I don`t think it is a traditional cooperating agreement, the kind

that Paul Manafort had signed before he was released.  I mean, I do not

think it`s the same kind of cooperating agreement that Michael Flynn had

signed.  This is not the kind of cooperation – the way I understand from

people around Cohen is that this is not the kind of cooperating agreement

where he has to start from the day he was born until today and confess to

everything he has done wrong and everything –

 

MADDOW:  Aha, you are correct in my understanding if that`s the case. 

 

FOX:  This is the way I understand it from the people in the Cohen world. 

 

MADDOW:  Why would it be important for him not to sign that kind of a deal? 

 

FOX:  I think that there are a number of reasons why people don`t sign that

kind of a deal.  Some of the reasons include that you want to be seen as

doing the right thing.  Other reasons include that when you are a formal

cooperating witness, you not only have to confess to what you have done

wrong but what you have known others around you to have done wrong. 

 

MADDOW:  Do we know if anybody was granted immunity in conjunction with

Cohen`s legal proceedings today, anybody else around him? 

 

FOX:  I`m not aware of any – 

 

MADDOW:  Emily Jane Fox, this a very exciting story.  I feel like it`s

developing faster than any of us can actually follow bits of it. 

 

FOX:  Too fast.

 

MADDOW:  Yes, it`s amazing.  Thank you for being here. 

 

FOX:  Thanks for having me.

 

MADDOW:  Thanks.

 

All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Just so you know what`s going on here behind the scenes, in little

commercial break, I`m like with the control room right now reading every

line of Michael Cohen`s plea agreement.  Does he not have to say

everything? 

 

It`s very exciting story.  It continues to develop, as does our

understanding of it. 

 

That does it for us tonight.  I want to get back to reading the plea

agreement again.  See you again tomorrow. 

 

Now it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.” 

 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

 

                                                                                                               

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