Reports say Maria Butina agrees to cooperate. TRANSCRIPT: 12/10/18, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests:
Erin Banco, Joon Kim
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this

hour.  Happy to have you with us. 

 

So, things are happening kind of fast right now.  Tonight, as you may have

heard, we have a new plea deal, what appears to be a new guilty plea and

what is reported to be a new cooperation agreement to go along with that

guilty plea. 

 

Now in this case, the plea deal itself is not totally unexpected.  We had

seen this coming for maybe the last couple of days, but the reported

cooperation deal tonight, that is a for real surprise.  I don`t know

exactly what you`re supposed to expect from somebody who`s charged with

being a secret foreign agent, operating inside this country on behalf of

Russia, but I know that you don`t expect them to agree to cooperate with

U.S. prosecutors in this country. 

 

I mean, for one thing, what`s going to happen to her after she gets sent

home to Russia, after she has been cooperating with federal prosecutors

here and the FBI?  So, we will have details coming up on that big

surprising development tonight in just a moment, including a discussion

with a reporter who broke some of the most consequential and surprising

news related to that case. 

 

But as I mentioned, things are sort of happening fast right now.  I think

that`s going to continue to be the case for the next couple of days or so. 

So let`s just start with checking in on what we are expecting to unfold and

in what order. 

 

First of all, something that we expect as soon as possibly late tonight or

at the latest tomorrow, relates to Mike Flynn.  Last week, it feels like a

million years ago, but just last week prosecutors in Robert Mueller`s

office filed with the court their statement about Trump national security

adviser Mike Flynn and how helpful he has been to the special counsel`s

office since he agreed to Cooperate just over a year ago. 

 

That filing in the Flynn case was 13 pages long, you might remember.  About

half of it was redacted, all blacked out, so we couldn`t see it.  But, of

course, the judge considering Mike Flynn`s sentence can see all of that. 

Nothing is redacted to the judge. 

 

In terms of the parts that we could see, that filing had the special

counsel`s office praising Mike Flynn for his substantial assistance with

their inquiries.  They said that he had helped with Mueller`s investigation

into the Russian attack on our election and the question whether the Trump

campaign conspired in that.  But it also said Flynn helped with a couple of

other investigations, one of which appears to be outside the purview of the

special counsel`s office entirely.  We know nothing about that one other

than it is described as a criminal investigation. 

 

Then there is one other investigation that prosecutors say Mike Flynn has

helped with, but that one we`re not allowed to know about – anything about

it at all, including whether it`s a criminal investigation or a

counterintelligence investigation or civil matter or what have you. 

 

So in that filing a week ago, Mueller`s team said Flynn had met with them

19 times, and it said as a consequence of just how helpful he has been to

this prosecutors, Mueller`s team said they would be fine with the judge

sentencing Mike Flynn to zero jail time.  So, that`s the – that`s where

we`ve been recently in terms of the case of Mike Flynn.  Well, now some

time late tonight or at the latest tomorrow, we are expecting a responsive

filing from Flynn`s defense team in terms of how he should be sentenced. 

 

Again, there is not much expense as to what his defense team will be asking

for, right?  Prosecutors are already asking the judge to be lenient with

him, and we know the defense will ask for that too.  But to extent that

those pages after pages of redactions from the Flynn filings, to the extent

that those contain important information about how Mike Flynn fits into the

overall Russia scandal in the Trump campaign and what it has meant for the

president`s national security adviser to be pleading guilty for lying about

his foreign contacts and cooperating with prosecutors in their

investigation for more than a year, for all of those concerns and the

broader questions about Flynn, the next filing in his case should be

submitted tonight or tomorrow.  Tomorrow is the deadline. 

 

So that is one thing that we sort of need to be ready for in terms of

broadening our understanding of what`s going on with this scandal.  Then

tomorrow afternoon, we`re going to have another piece of this come

together.  At 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow in Washington, there is going

to be a new hearing in the case of Paul Manafort, the president`s campaign

chair, who has also plead guilty to felonies and also entered into a

cooperation deal with prosecutors. 

 

Of course, in Paul Manafort`s case, though, the special counsel`s office

has just spelled out for the judge in his case all the ways they say

Manafort breached his plea agreement by lying to them, each after he agreed

to cooperate.  That filing about Manafort was one of the filings that we

got on this past – that we got this past Friday night.  And that one also

had a bunch of redactions. 

 

In the Manafort filing, though, the bits that we could read spelled out how

prosecutors say Manafort lied to them about, among other things, Manafort`s

ongoing contacts with a Russian business associate who prosecutors have

said is linked to Russian intelligence.  Prosecutors also said Manafort

lied to them about the extent of his ongoing communications with the Trump

White House, including communications with a senior Trump administration

official as recently as this year.  Those contacts were secret, and he lied

to prosecutors about them.  What`s that about? 

 

Well, tomorrow, tomorrow afternoon, 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Manafort`s

defense team will appear in court in D.C. for the first time since

prosecutors laid out their list of all the ways they say Manafort breached

his plea agreement by lying to them.  Manafort apparently denies he told

any lies to the prosecutors.  So, that should be very interesting in court

tomorrow. 

 

This will also be the first time Manafort`s lawyers have had to face the

judge and Mueller`s prosecutors since President Trump`s lawyers started

bragging that Manafort and his defense team have been a secret back channel

to the White House, leaking information about the interests and activities

of the special counsel`s office to the president for the president to use

in his own legal defense. 

 

Since the president`s lawyer started bragging about that, Manafort`s

lawyers haven`t actually had to stare down the prosecutors and the juvenile

in this case, but that will happen tomorrow afternoon.  So Flynn`s

sentencing filing tonight or tomorrow.  Manafort hear willing be tomorrow

afternoon. 

 

And then on Wednesday, the president`s long about-time personal lawyer

Michael Cohen is due to be sentenced.  And, again, Friday night was when we

got really interesting filings in the Michael Cohen case.  On Friday night,

the special counsel`s office and federal prosecutors in the southern

district of New York, they both told the judge in Cohen`s case how helpful

Michael Cohen has been to them since he plead guilty.  Basically, the

bottom line of those feelings is that the special counsel`s office said

yeah, he`s been super helpful to us.  Don`t put him into jail for any extra

time on our account. 

 

At the same time, though, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of

New York told the judge could actually to do years in prison, and he hasn`t

helped them much at all.  He has been holding back. 

 

Well, on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, the judge in Cohen`s case will

consider all of those arguments and Cohen`s crimes and what he has plead

to, and on Wednesday morning, Michael Cohen will have his sentence handed

down. 

 

But wait, there`s more.  Because now tonight we have learned about

something else really important that is going to happen that same day after

Cohen is sentenced.  It`s going to be just hours after Cohen`s sentencing

in a hearing that is set for a D.C. courtroom at 3:15 Eastern Time

Wednesday afternoon. 

 

We learned today that in the case of Maria Butina, she is accused by

prosecutors of being a foreign agent, working secretly on behalf of the

Russian government in this country, to influence the Republican Party, the

conservative movement and potentially the 2016 election, we learned today

that Maria Butina`s case is coming to an end.  The prosecutors and defense

lawyers telling the judge today that they had reached some kind of

resolution for her case.  They also asked the judge to schedule a hearing

in which she could change her plea.  Maria Butina had previously pled not

guilty.  So wanting to change her plea implies she now intends to plead

guilty. 

 

Then, ABC News was first to report tonight that in conjunction with her

guilty plea to a conspiracy charge, Maria Butina will also agree to

cooperate, to cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in

ongoing investigations.  CNN then soon added the fact or the report that

Butina has already started meeting with prosecutors as part of this deal. 

If this ABC and CNN reporting is correct, that means that on Wednesday

afternoon, the judge will be hearing Maria Butina`s guilty plea, and we

presumably will have some public-facing indication of the kind of

Cooperation deal she is making in conjunction with that plea. 

 

I should tell you “The Daily Beast” has just matched that reporting from

ABC News and CNN, and in their report, they`re adding some sort of

incredible details that they say are quotes from the plea agreement.  And

again, NBC News has not confirmed this reporting, but here is two examples

of what the daily beast is citing tonight, saying this is from the plea

agreement that we will see in court when Maria Butina has her hearing to

change her plea. 

 

Quote: Butina helped arrange a trip to Moscow for NRA leaders in December

2015.  She pushed for those Americans to visit with senior Russian

politicians, according to the plea deal.  The Americans on the trip met

with Sergey Lavrov, Russia`s minister of foreign affairs, and Dmitry

Rogozin, a Putin deputy.  After the trip, Maria Butina sent a message in

Russian to the Russian central bank official to whom she allegedly reported

as part of this foreign the agent scheme. 

 

Her message had two translations in the plea agreement.  The first

translation about these NRA officials going to Moscow in December 2015

said, quote, we should let them express their gratitude now.  We will put

pressure on them quietly later.  The second translation, the alternate

translation in the plea agreement according to “The Daily Beast” said,

quote, we should allow them to express their gratitude now and then quietly

press. 

 

So, again, that was a trip to meet with Russian government officials in

Moscow in December 2015.  It was senior people in the NRA.  We will put

pressure on them quietly later.  Let them express their gratitude now. 

 

That NRA trip in December 2015, that was at the exact same time that Trump

national security adviser Mike Flynn was also in Moscow, sitting with

Vladimir Putin at a gala dinner the Russian government paid him to attend. 

“The Daily Beast” also reports this tonight, quote, according to the plea

deal, Butina also helped arrange for a group of Russians to attend the

National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, which was held on February 2nd,

2017.  So, right after Trump`s inauguration. 

 

Butina e-mailed her purported boyfriend, Republican activist Paul Erickson

with a list of Russian attendees for the National Prayer Breakfast.  She

told him they were coming to the breakfast to, quote, establish a back

channel of communication.  That`s subtle. 

 

Erickson later e-mailed the list to another person.  Reaction to the

delegation`s presence in America will be conveyed directly to Russian

President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he wrote. 

 

So, we`re going to talk with “The Daily Beast” reporter in just a moment

who`s been all over this story.  But this is a big deal, right?  This is

the first Russian to plead guilty to a crime that has anything to do with

influencing American politics of the 2016 election, so this is a big deal. 

But can we also just consider for a second what might be going on here with

the NRA, right? 

 

National Rifle Association, the NRA, is thought of and has long been

thought of as a powerhouse in Washington and American politics when it

comes to lobbying and influence and especially money in elections.  The NRA

does spend a ton of money every election cycle, and especially every

presidential year.  But clearly something weird happened with the NRA in

2016.  For some reason, in 2016, the NRA just exploded its previous

spending records.  The NRA in 2016 pumped $30 million into getting Donald

Trump elected.  And importantly, they made sure that most of that money

came out of an arm of the NRA that doesn`t disclose anything about its

donors. 

 

And I know like in the news, there is always large round numbers, right? 

$30 million.  Sounds like a lot of money.  A big round number.  What does

that mean? 

 

For context here, in order to understand why I`m saying that`s a really

strange amount of money for them to have spent, that $30 million they spent

on Trump, that is triple what they spent the last time around in the last

presidential election on Mitt Romney.  Almost three times what they spent

on Romney. 

 

Now what`s that about?  Trump is not a more pro-gun Republican candidate

than we have seen in other election cycles.  Why did the NRA go off the

charts for him in a way they never had for any other candidate in any other

election?  And what do we make of that, especially given that we have seen

the NRA`s finances apparently fall apart very quickly since then? 

 

In a court filing this summer, the NRA said its financial position is so

dire it may soon, quote, be unable to exist.  The NRA had started a digital

TV network to expand its reach and influence.  That digital TV network

appears to be imploding as we speak with some of their biggest NRA TV stars

getting their shows shut down, even just tonight. 

 

So what explains this gigantic seesaw, biggest spending ever in 2016 by a

mile, and then what appears to be financial ruin, certainly financial

atrophy just within a couple of years.  The NRA money in the 2016 campaign

just doesn`t make much sense given the history of the NRA and given the

campaign.  Then we got this report last week that the NRA`s huge boost in

spending in 2016 may not have been just independent expenditures that

redounded to Donald Trump`s benefit and the campaign.  There is some pretty

compelling evidence there may have been illegal coordination between the

Trump campaign and the NRA when it comes to spending those tens of millions

of dollars to elect Trump and beat Hillary Clinton. 

 

A new report in “Mother Jones” magazine showing that evidence, hundreds of

pages of federal campaign records appearing to show the NRA and the Trump

campaign overtly coordinating their messaging strategy and their ad buying

through the same person.  Reporters showed those records to the former

chair of the Federal Election Commission, and the ex-chair told “Mother

Jones”, quote, I don`t think I`ve ever seen a situation where illegal

coordination seems more obvious.  It`s so blatant that it doesn`t even seem

sloppy.  Everyone involved just thinks there aren`t going to be any

consequences. 

 

And I know like in a way this is kind of a big round number of political

scandal, right?  Political campaigns and advocacy groups that aren`t

supposed to be coordinating with each other, nevertheless illegally

coordinating and illegally working together.  I know you`ve heard that a

million times.  It`s like a man bites dog story of federal campaign finance

violations. 

 

But don`t just look at that in isolation.  Put that apparent closeness

between the Trump campaign and the NRA, this blatant illegal coordination,

about what appears to be blatant illegal coordination, put that together

with the NRA inexplicably tripling their spending in order to support

Trump, and it does seem like there might be something going on there,

especially given that their spending to support Trump was all part of the

NRA where they don`t have to say where the money came from. 

 

I should also mention while I like being snarky about campaign finance

violations, willfully violating campaign finance law is starting to become

perhaps maybe a more consequential thing these days.  You can ask Michael

Cohen about that when he turns up in court on Wednesday for his sentencing. 

Among other things, for pleading guilty to felonies involving campaign

finance laws. 

 

But alongside all that weird money stuff, there was also a strange turn

that happened in the lead-up to the 2016 campaign in terms of how we

understand the NRA and its politics.  It`s a term that seems literally

foreign.  In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, there was all

of the sudden a weird Russian twist in U.S. gun politics. 

 

As spelled out Maria Butina`s plea agreement in December 2015 in the middle

of the presidential campaign, right before the Iowa caucuses, a former NRA

president and a future NRA president and a whole delegation of NRA

officials and members all got an all-expenses paid trip to Moscow.  The

trip was organized by the Right to Bear Arms, purportedly a gun rights

group founded by a senior member of Vladimir Putin`s political party.  The

head of that group was Aleksandr Torshin, who is a deputy governor of the

Russian central bank.  He is a former senior member of the Russian

parliament.  He`s a close ally of Vladimir Putin. 

 

And Torshin`s group, this Right to Bear Arms group, has always been kind of

a head scratcher, because Putin and his party don`t actually support gun

rights in Russia.  There`s no Second Amendment in Russia, and Alexander

Torshin`s group doesn`t actually do anything to promote gun rights in

Russia, at all.  What they have done is make lots and lots of connections

to the American NRA. 

 

This Russian government official Aleksandr Torshin and his charismatic

female protege, Maria Butina, started attending the NRA`s yearly

conferences in the U.S. every year.  Then at the start of the 2016

campaign, Torshin and Butina hosted that NRA delegation in Moscow, December

2015.  Then during the campaign, Butina was flying around the country,

showing up at events for various Republican presidential hopefuls during

the primaries, including famously a Las Vegas event with Donald Trump where

Maria Butina became the very first person to ask Trump his position on U.S.

sanctions against Russia.  She was the first person to get him on record

opposing those sanctions. 

 

In May 2016, Butina`s boyfriend, an American Republican activist, Paul

Erickson, reached out to a Trump campaign adviser offering to arrange a

back channel meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.  He did it by

e-mail with the unsubtle subject line, Kremlin connection.  And Paul

Erickson didn`t name Aleksandr Torshin in the e-mail but he referred to him

as President Putin`s emissary on this overture. 

 

And that overture for Erickson to set up Putin and Trump, that overture

didn`t work, but that same month Torshin himself also reportedly sought a

meeting with Donald Trump at an NRA convention.  And that itself didn`t pan

out, but Torshin did get to spend some time with Donald Trump Jr.  At a

private gala hosted by the NRA. 

 

And then at the beginning of this year, we learn that the FBI was

investigating whether all of this, the NRA`s huge spike in 2016 campaign

spending, its weird and sudden and suddenly deepening Russia ties, and this

Russian official Aleksandr Torshin`s persistent attempts to connect with

Donald Trump or to connect Donald Trump and the Russian government, we

learned a the beginning of this year that the FBI was investigating whether

all those things might be connected.  “McClatchy” reporting in January,

quote, the FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to

the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the NRA to help Donald Trump win

the presidency.  Quote: FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused

on the activities of Aleksandr Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia`s

central bank, who was known for his close relationships with both Russian

President Vladimir Putin and the NRA. 

 

And then, of course, not long thereafter, Maria Butina got arrested, and

charged with conspiring against the United States as a secret Russian

agent.  Now, prosecutors allege that all of her work insinuating himself

into conservative circles and gun rights circles in the U.S. and perhaps

even her romantic relationship with this Republican activist Paul Erickson,

prosecutors have insinuated that it was all part of a Russian intelligence

operation being run by Aleksandr Torshin.  And the affidavits submitted by

prosecutors in conjunction with the charges in her case, there is Maria

Butina at 3:00 a.m., the night of the election, just after Donald Trump has

won the election, e-mailing Aleksandr Torshin in Moscow, quote, I am ready

for further orders. 

 

What was the NRA doing tied up with these guys? 

 

And now just in the last week, things are moving fast for both Maria Butina

and for Aleksandr Torshin.  Last week, Aleksandr Torshin more or less

evaporated in Moscow.  The Russian central bank where he had been a deputy

governor in a very high profile official announced unexpectedly that he had

suddenly retired.  In “Bloomberg News`” rather ominous characterization,

quote, the central bank declined to elaborate on its one-sentence statement

Friday.  Torshin did not immediately respond to attempts to reach him. 

 

Happy retirement all of the sudden.  It can`t have anything to do with the

fact that the agent you were running in the U.S. is copping a plea and

making an agreement with the FBI now, can it?  Because, now, today, we

apparently got his alleged agreement, Maria Butina reportedly agreeing to

cop a plea and agreeing to cooperate with the FBI and federal prosecutors. 

 

So here`s my question.  Maria Butina has been in jail since she got

arrested.  She has been denied bail.  We have very little window into

what`s been going on with her case.  There is a gag order on the case.  We

had very little transparency there. 

 

If she in fact is going to plead, does that mean we`re finally going to

figure this out?  If she`s Cooperating, already, if she is going to enter

into a formal cooperation deal and plead guilty, will this even this week

in court shed light on, OK, what appears to be the related case of Paul

Erickson, the Republican activist and NRA member who was her maybe

boyfriend who appears to have been her entree into this world. 

 

We`ve had reports from “The Daily Beast” several days ago that he has

received a target letter that federal prosecutors are considering charging

him as a foreign agent, as an agent of the Russian government operating in

this country.  Will the Erickson Case finally become clear if Maria Butina

is pleading and cooperating? 

 

Then there`s the question of whether her plea will ultimately give us a

window into what freaking happened with the NRA in the middle of this

election interference scandal.  Could the resolution of Maria Butina`s case

finally give us a window into what has been going on here?  If the FBI has

been investigating, among other things, the possibility that the NRA was

used as a large scale conduit for Russian money into the effort to elect

Trump president, will the Maria Butina case give us a window into that

investigation and its potential conclusions? 

 

A reporter who has been tracking this who may have some insight joins us

next. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  For all of the Russian nationals who have been indicted in this

country since Russia interfered in the 2016 election to try to elect Donald

Trump president, Maria Butina would seem to be the first Russian who is

going to plead guilty to it, if the reporting tonight on her deal with

prosecutors holds up. 

 

Prosecutors have alleged that Maria Butina was acting as a secret agent of

the Russian government in this country when she made contacts and set up

meetings and foreign trips and lines of communication between Russian

officials and American activists associated with the NRA and the National

Prayer Breakfast. 

 

“The Daily Beast” has recently reported that her purported American

boyfriend has himself received a letter from prosecutors alerting him that

prosecutors were also considering charging him as an unregistered foreign

agent of Russia.  Up until recently, he reportedly was still visiting Maria

Butina in the Alexandria, Virginia jail where she has been held without

bail since this summer. 

 

You could win prizes for this as a spy novel, right?  The maybe girlfriend,

the gun rights group, the prayer breakfast, the Moscow trip, the target

letter.  But the real question tonight is what prosecutors might be able to

win if this plea agreement goes through. 

 

Joining us now is Erin Banco.  She is a report with “The Daily Beast”.  She

has been breaking news on this beat for a while now. 

 

Ms. Banco, I really appreciate you being here.  Thanks for your time. 

 

ERIN BANCO, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST:  Thanks for having

me. 

 

MADDOW:  So, we`re seeing multiple reports now that Maria Butina has not

only agreed to a guilty plea, but has agreed to cooperation.  Are you guys

able to be specific at “The Daily Beast” in terms of what you understand

the scope of her cooperation deal to be, what types of prosecutors and what

types of investigations she is agreeing to cooperate in? 

 

BANCO:  Sure.  So my colleague Betsy Woodruff and I have been following the

Erickson/Butina story for quite a while now.  And Betsy had a story come

out today.  But, no, we do not know the full extent of this cooperation

agreement.  That`s a big unknown for us and for everyone else. 

 

The question is who has Butina talked to prosecutors about.  Has she talked

to prosecutors about her now long-time boyfriend Paul Erickson?  Has she

spoken to prosecutors about leaders in the NRA?  Those are all questions we

have not answered yet.  And so, we do not know the full scope of that

cooperation agreement. 

 

But it is very possible, according to our sourcing, that Butina has spoken

at length to prosecutors about at least Erickson. 

 

MADDOW:  Now, you and Betsy Woodruff at “Daily Beast” broke the news that

Erickson had received this target letter in which federal prosecutors

informed him that they were considering charges against him, and it wasn`t

like, you know, lying to investigators charges.  Charges that wasn`t an

obstruction charge.  They were considering charging him, according to your

reporting, with himself acting as a secret foreign agent on behalf of the

Russian federation in this country. 

 

What`s your understanding of the status right now with Erickson himself? 

 

BANCO:  So, that target letter we reported I believe last week or a couple

of days ago.  Yes, so we don`t know what the state currently is with Paul

Erickson.  And to be clear, a target letter does not necessarily mean that

he will be charged. 

 

MADDOW:  Sure. 

 

BANCO:  But we do not know whether or not those conversations with

prosecutors have developed, and that sort of all has hinged on whether or

not Butina has cooperated against him in this agreement.  That`s something,

again, about we do not know. 

 

We do know that according to our sourcing, Butina and Erickson are still

together.  He regularly visits her in jail.  And so to that extent, I can`t

imagine that would be an easy conversation to have with a significant

other. 

 

But, again, no, we do not know the current status of Erickson and that

target letter.  However, we do know that as far back as May, Erickson was

meeting with FBI agents about an unrelated probe in South Dakota, although

we have sourcing that says that that probe is sort of overlapping with the

current probe that Erickson is facing in D.C.  We know that people in his

orbit have been questioned about not only his sort of shady, nefarious

business dealing in South Dakota, but also his relationship with Butina and

his sort of operations with her on the campaign. 

 

MADDOW:  One last quick question for you, Erin.  We have also been

following the saga of Aleksandr Torshin who is the Russian official who

seems to be sort of the hub here.  The way prosecutors laid out the case

against Butina when they charged her, it`s – I mean, reading it from a

layman`s perspective, you sort of red as maybe him being kind of her

handler, if this was a Russian scheme to insert her into U.S. conservative

politics in order to achieve things that the Russian federation wanted in

our politics, that Torshin was essentially advising her, if not supervising

that operation. 

 

Now we`ve got this very quiet news from the Kremlin last week that Torshin

has been retired with no explanation and has since sort of disappeared.  Do

you have any understanding of how Torshin fits into this case? 

 

BANCO:  Well, I think there is a lot more still to come on Torshin, and I

think we`ll see a lot more detail come out about him once we get the full

scope of this cooperation agreement.  But one thing to look and to question

here is the M.O. and the motive of Aleksandr Torshin and his relationship

with Butina and how they support of worked together here over the past

couple of years.  Did he want to push the rolling back of sanctions?  What

kind of policies did he want to see changed under a Trump administration? 

 

So these are all questions that we should be looking at here once this

cooperation agreement comes out. 

 

MADDOW:  Right.  Not to mention the reported – the alleged ties of his to

international organized crime. 

 

BANCO:  Exactly. 

 

MADDOW:  Which have been a problem for him in multiple jurisdictions. 

 

Erin Banco, national security reporter with “The Daily Beast”, your

reporting on this has been stun.  You and Betsy have been way I ahead of a

lot of people following the story.  Congratulations and thanks for being

here tonight.

 

BANCO:  Thank you.

 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more ahead tonight.  Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  This is from the transcript. 

 

Congressman Elijah Cummings, quote: Director Comey, can you elaborate on

what the threat is that makes the Russia investigation so vital? 

 

Comey: The aim of the Russia effort in 2016 was to destabilize, undermine,

damage our democracy.  That was their overwhelming goal.  And so, you have

a foreign nation that is attacking the United States of America in an

effort to undermine that which is essentially us, our democratic process. 

 

So that is a very serious threat.  And understanding whether any Americans

were part of that effort is incredibly important because of the threat that

those Americans by virtue of their alliance with the Russians would pose to

our country. 

 

Quote: Given the stakes of our election and the nature of our democracy, it

is hard to imagine anything more important than understanding and thwarting

that threat. 

 

Congressman Cummings: If someone were to impede or primarily halt the

special counsel`s Russia investigation, how severe would the implications

be to our national security in your opinion? 

 

Comey: Well, in my opinion, it would undermine our national security by not

holding accountable people who might have been involved with either the

Russians or people who work with them first.  And second, it would send an

absolutely appalling message about the rule of law in this country of ours. 

 

Quote: The reason it`s a big deal is you have an adversary nation attacking

America.  If Americans in our country are assisting them, it is aiding and

abetting the enemy in attacking our country.  We take it seriously when

people were helping German saboteurs infiltrate Long Island during World

War II.  We took it seriously when scientists were selling secrets to the

Soviets about our nuclear capabilities.  I take it just as seriously if

there are Americans assisting in this attack on our democracy.  It is of

the same type. 

 

It`s pretty stern, even sort of soaring language from the former director

of the FBI, going to the heart of this whole scandal, right?  American

democracy and the attempt in 2016 to undermine it, to bend it and to break

it.  The crucial question of whether there were Americans who benefitted

from that, who helped Russia attack us. 

 

We got that transcript this weekend from testimony that former FBI Director

James Comey gave behind closed doors to the House Oversight and Judiciary

Committees.  He testified on Friday behind closed doors.  We got the

transcript this weekend.  That`s pretty much what I did this weekend was

cozy up with that. 

 

But that kind of language from him, that`s pretty stirring stuff coming

from the director of the FBI, and even if he is the former director of the

FBI.  But that kind of language is even more intense when it comes from a

sitting, meaning active federal prosecutor who really does appear now to

have the president in his sights. 

 

Hold that thought.  That`s next.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  After federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York on

Friday evening laid out for federal court that the president`s former

lawyer had committed felonies intended to influence the 2016 election, and

that he had committed those felonies at the direction of the president, aka

individual 1, that dramatic assertion from prosecutors from the Southern

District of New York on Friday night led to some dramatic new reporting

from “The New York Times” this weekend.  As “The Times” reports, quote,

while the prevailing view at the Justice Department is that a sitting

president cannot be indicted, that does not mean a president cannot be

charged after leaving office. 

 

The prosecutors in New York have examined the statute of limitations on the

campaign finance violations with which Cohen is charged, and they believe

charges could be brought against Mr. Trump if he is not reelected.  That`s

according to a person briefed on the matter.  This led Congressman Adam

Schiff, the head of the Intelligence Committee, to comment publicly this

weekend that the president may be expecting significant jail time

immediately upon leaving office. 

 

So I have a couple of questions.  First of all, if individual 1 in the

Cohen case were not the president of the United States, is it clear from

these court filings, is it clear from the past practices of the Southern

District of New York that this is a case in which a person thus described

would usually expect to be charged if they weren`t president of the United

States? 

 

Also, though, what about that statute of limitations thing?  If the

president can`t be charged, can`t be indicted simply because he is

president, does that hit pause on the statute of limitations for the time

period while he is still in office?  Can you let the statute of limitations

run out while you`re enjoying your immunity?  Is that a settled matter?  Is

that a matter of dispute within the Justice Department? 

 

And I ask that this case specifically, because whenever anybody asks of

matters of dispute, people often hive off the Southern District of New

York, as if it were its own little Justice Department.  All right.  People

say it`s not the Southern District of New York.  It`s the sovereign

district of New York. 

 

I mean, obviously, Southern District of New York is part of the Justice

Department, but it`s also considered in legal circles to have almost

legendary independence, particularly on big consequential cases to do with

terrorism or high-end white collar crime or public corruption cases.  Is

the Southern District of New York so independent that they might

conceivably arrive at their own independent decision about whether or not

they want to try to indict a sitting president, regardless of whether or

not the rest of the Justice Department feels constrain odd about that

point? 

 

And if as “The New York Times” reports, if they are considering indicting

the president, even if it is just the day he leaves office, here`s a sort

of mind-bending question that we may have to start taking seriously.  If

they`re going to indict the president and they`re considering indicting him

as soon as he leaves office, is it possible that they need to, like, bring

him that information now while he`s still serving as president?  When would

they start talking to him about these charges and any potential plea

agreement or cooperation deal he might want to strike?  Would he have to

negotiate while he`s president if only because the biggest thing he`ll have

to trade away to these prosecutors is his possible resignation?

 

I mean, it seems like a very dramatic thing to have to consider.  But the

way they laid out these charges in Michael Cohen`s case on Friday really

makes it seem like the president is in their sights. 

 

Joining us now is somebody I`m honored to have here.  Joon Kim is the

former acting attorney in the Southern District of New York. 

 

Mr. Kim, thank you for being here tonight. 

 

JOON KIM, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: 

Happy to be here. 

 

MADDOW:  So, “The New York Times” is reporting in the Michael Cohen case,

the president`s involvement in the felonies with which they have charged

him, to which he`s pled guilty, have led them to look at the statute of

limitations and look at some of the other logistical concerns about

potentially bringing charges against the president himself.  Does that seem

farfetched to you? 

 

KIM:  I mean, as you know, there is an Office of Legal Counsel memo out

there originally from 1973 and then reconfirmed in 2000 I believe where the

Justice Department has decided or has a memo that says sitting president

cannot be indicted by a prosecutor.  As much as the Southern District of

New York takes pride in being independent and making its decisions based on

the facts and the law, not being influenced on anything other than that,

they are still part of the Department of Justice.  I would think they are -

- would follow the guidance that`s provided by the Office of Legal Counsel. 

 

Now, your question is does that mean they`re going to think about statute

of limitations?  I would think that`s something you would have to think

about.  If there is a reason you can`t – if you`re considering bringing a

charge against anyone, just hypothetically, and there is a reason you can`t

for a certain period of time, you have to think about what that does to the

statute of limitations.  That`s a legitimate question. 

 

MADDOW:  In normal cases, is there a way to sort of hit pause on the

statute of limitations so that for what – again, for whatever reason, not

necessarily specific to the president, if you can`t charge somebody who you

might otherwise charge, the statute of limitations doesn`t run out while

you`ve got that interregnum? 

 

KIM:  There are a few statutory provisions, for example, if you`re a

fugitive.  There is also a statute that says, if you`re – during a time, a

fraud against the government, the statute of limitations for that holds. 

There is also a somewhat limited concept of equitable tolling. 

 

But, you know, this is where we are in I think uncharted territory.  There

is not a lot of precedent in terms of – or any precedent that I`m aware in

terms of what does – does the statute of limitations against a sitting

president toll during his presidency.  I don`t believe there is a clear

answer to that out there.  There is no statute that says it will toll –

 

MADDOW:  Uh-huh. 

 

KIM:  – during that period, presumably Congress could do that.  You could

enact a law that says generically, you know, while a sitting president is

in office that the statute of limitations of any crime will toll.  But

there isn`t anything like that.  So I would think the only tolling that one

could rely on is an equitable tolling. 

 

MADDOW:  So that would be – so you`re essentially saying in non-legalese,

you`re saying this isn`t a settled matter.  So if this is going to become a

factor in terms of the president`s personal legal liability, it will be new

ground that the southern district has to look at. 

 

Looking at the Michael Cohen Southern District filing on Friday night, the

president is described as individual 1 in that filing.  When you look at

that filing, and I don`t – again, campaign finance cases are not the most

common cases, you know.  We don`t see a lot of prosecutions for this.  And

so nothing about this is entirely typical. 

 

But if individual 1 were not president of the United States, didn`t have

this potential immunity from indictment and prosecution, would you expect

that somebody described the way that individual one is described in that

document would themselves end up getting charged in conjunction with this

case? 

 

KIM:  It`s hard to generalize.  People describe in court submissions in

that manner are generally referred to as unindicted conspirators.  I mean,

I think it was pretty clear and I think even before the sentencing

submission at the time of his guilty plea, Michael Cohen volunteered he had

made those payments at the direction –

 

MADDOW:  He had conspired with someone else and was directed. 

 

KIM:  I believe he volunteered that with his plea allocations.  So,

although the sentencing submission said that as well from the government`s

mouth, or in their submission, it was something that had been out there

before.  It`s one thing to accept a guilty plea from someone prepared to

plead guilty to a crime, and it`s another to charge someone else with

aiding or abetting or conspiring to commit that crime. 

 

There`s a number of different things that a prosecutor would have to

consider first.  The proof – is there enough proof to charge the other

people? 

 

MADDOW:  Would the prosecution make a contention to a judge without having

proof to support to assertion? 

 

KIM:  Well, this was a contention made to the court based on his

submission.  So, the language I believe that he`s now admitted that he did

so at the direction of individual one.  It certainly read like they have

other corroborative evidence, but you don`t know for sure. 

 

And with respect to any prosecution decision, the decision needs to be made

individual by individual.  So first there will have to be a determination

whether there`s sufficient proof and also determination whether this is

prosecution we should be doing because prosecutors have discretion.  And

so, there`s no easy answer or clear answer to is anyone described in this

way in a court submission, do they always end up being charged.  I think

there`s no clear answer. 

 

MADDOW:  In this case, it`s possible but not definitive. 

 

Joon Kim is the former acting U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New

York – Mr. Kim, it is an honor to have you here.  Thank you very much for

being here.  I really appreciate it.

 

KIM:  Appreciate it.  Good to be here.

 

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

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Here`s one to keep an eye on.  In the spring of 2017, the

president was having a hard time finding a good lawyer.  At the time, his

chief lawyer was a guy named Marc Kasowitz, who`d been a lawyer for the

Trump real estate business for years.  He represented Trump on everything

from fraud cases on Trump University to Trump divorce records. 

 

He wasn`t well versed at all, though, on anything remotely close to the

Russia investigation.  So in the spring of 2017, the president was in the

market for new representation.  He reached out to four top law firms

looking for representation.  They all reportedly turned him down. 

 

But now, thanks to Michael Isikoff at Yahoo News, we know the president

also reached out to another lawyer at the same time, a new lawyer, another

lawyer who`s all of a sudden very famous again right now.  According to

Isikoff`s reporting, the president reached out to William Barr who had been

an attorney general under President George H.W. Bush.  Barr reportedly

caught Trump`s eye when he wrote an op-ed defending the firing of James

Comey. 

 

Barr was apparently not interested in becoming Trump`s Russia lawyer at the

time.  He reportedly said he had other obligations, he`d think about it,

never came to be.  Rudy Giuliani eventually took the gig. 

 

But now that reporting from Isikoff raises a whole bunch of new questions,

because now, of course, Donald Trump has nominated that same guy, William

Barr, to be attorney general of the United States.  So that White House

meeting where Trump asked him to be his Russia defense lawyer, it now has

some legal experts calling for William Barr to recuse himself from

overseeing the Russia investigation if in fact he is confirmed as attorney

general.  Yes, another one.  As I say stick a pin in that one, this one is

going to become important in days ahead. 

 

Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  A little bit of further breaking news following onto our top story

this evening.  Betsy Woodruff, who`s a great reporter at “The Daily Beast”

who`s done of the seminal reporting on the Maria Butina case, she`s just

reported online tonight.  She just posted at Twitter that in the Maria

Butina case, quote, in case there`s any confusion, Maria Butina has agreed

to fully cooperate, no holds barred. 

 

Again, this latest reporting following – from Betsy Woodruff at “Daily

Beast”, following the news that we had first from ABC News today and then

corroborated by some other news organizations that Maria Butina apparently

is going to become the first Russian national who will plead guilty in the

Russia scandal.  That news tonight followed by the revelation that she

apparently is going to plead guilty in conjunction with a plea agreement

that will result in her cooperating, in Betsy Woodruff`s words, fully

cooperating with prosecutors from this point forward. 

 

That`s a remarkable turn.  Anytime somebody flips in this case after

initially pleading not guilty, that`s a big deal when you are an accused

Russian agent agreeing to flip and cooperate with the FBI and federal

prosecutors, that`s a whole different kind of big deal. 

 

That does it for us tonight.  See you again tomorrow. 

 

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

 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

 

                                                                                               

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