Cohen pleads guilty. TRANSCRIPT: 11/29/18, The Rachel Maddow Show
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
MADDOW: Much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
FOX: But I don`t think the timing here is something we should look past
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.
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
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.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
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
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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prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
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