Cohen lied to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow. TRANSCRIPT: 12/12/18, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests:
Lanny Davis
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  And thanks to you at home for being with us

today.

 

You know, this time last year, the finance chairman of the national

Republican Party was this man, a man named Steve Wynn.  He was named

finance chair at the request of President Trump.  Since then, of course,

Steve Wynn has had to resign that job as finance chair of the National

Republican Party, and he`s also had to resign as the head of his

multibillion dollar casino empire because of serious allegations of sexual

abuse and sexual misconduct at his business that were made public against

him. 

 

At the same time, the National Republican Party got that guy, same time

they got Steve Wynn as their national finance chairman, the National

Republican Party also got this guy named to be one of the deputy finance

chairman for the Republican Party, another Republican Party appointment to

reflect the new Trump era in the history of the Republican Party.  Since

then, he too has had to resign from the Republican Party after admitting to

paying more than $1 million in hush money to a woman with whom he

supposedly had an affair who told him he got her pregnant. 

 

Bizarrely or not, for that hush money effort, Elliott Broidy, the former

deputy finance chair of the Republican Party, he appears to have used for

that hush money arrangement the exact same lawyers, including Michael

Cohen, who were involved in hush money deals designed to silence at least

one woman during the campaign who said she had had an affair with Donald

Trump.  Elliott Broidy has since been reported to be entangled in multiple

investigations for illegal lobbying and influence peddling and money

laundering.  Nice. 

 

But wait, there`s more.  Because at the same time the National Republican

Party last year got Steve Wynn as their finance chairman and Elliott Broidy

as their deputy finance chairman, at the same time they got those guys

installed at the top of the RNC, welcome to the Trump era, there was one

another deputy finance chairman that was appointed at the same time.  And

that was this guy, Michael Cohen, who also ended up having to resign his

new deputy finance chairman post at the Republican Party.  Michael Cohen

today was sentenced to three years in federal prison for his role in

multiple federal crimes, including two campaign finance felonies, in which

prosecutors and the judge today, said he was in cahoots with the president

of the United States in committing those crimes. 

 

And I know everybody today was sort of – you might have seen either in the

news, in the newspaper or online today, a lot of people making charts about

all the people in the president`s orbit who have confessed to felonies and

are maybe awaiting sentencing or heading off to prison, but honestly, as

we`re thinking about the president`s whole political orbit, either planning

to go to prison or going to prison, honestly, just spare a thought for the

Republican Party, too.  I mean, it`s not like the infection that seems to

be spreading out from the president is confined just to Trump world.  He`s

brought all the best people into the upper echelons of the formal

Republican Party, too.  And then they all have to quit when they get caught

and when they go to prison. 

 

Today was a big day, obviously.  And what we`re going to go through, we`re

going to go through some of what happened today in a couple of parts. 

Where we`re going to land, I`ll tell you right now, is what appears to be

potential legal jeopardy for the president`s company and specifically for

the president`s oldest children on the felony counts in which Michael Cohen

himself, federal prosecutors in New York and now a federal judge in New

York, have all said the president was involved in. 

 

And there`s a lot of questions that are raised by Michael Cohen`s

sentencing today and the way it went down we`ll get to some of those over

the course of this hour.  To me, there are still some things that don`t

make sense necessarily about Michael Cohen`s defense and his approach to

this case.  We will talk about that tonight with two people who have been

in communication with him extensively, and have some insight into his

defense.  But let`s talk first specifically about what went down in court

today, and why it looks like the president`s business and his eldest

children might be in the legal crosshairs heading out of today. 

 

All right.  Let`s start in court.  At the very start of the proceedings,

the deputy clerk calls the case, announces this is the case, case number,

the attorneys on all three sides, they all introduce themselves to the

judge.  That`s the lawyers for the federal prosecutor`s office in the

southern district of New York.  Also, the prosecutors from the special

counsel`s office led by Robert Mueller, and also the defense lawyers

representing Michael Cohen.  So, two different sets of prosecutors and the

defense for Cohen. 

 

The judge, quote: Good morning to all of you.  And I note the presence of

the defendant, Mr. Cohen, at the counsel table.  This matter is on for

sentencing.  Are the parties ready to proceed? 

 

Nick Roos for Southern District of New York says: Yes, sir, your honor. 

Guy Petrillo for Michael Cohen`s defense says, yes, your honor.  Jeannie

Rhee from the special counsel says, yes, your honor.

 

And then the judge says: Mr. Petrillo, do you wish to be heard on behalf of

Mr. Cohen?  Guy Petrillo says: I do, your honor, thank you.  May it please

the court, your honor.  My partner, Amy Lester, and I have had the

privilege of representing Michael Cohen and the honor of having met some of

the members of his family who are present here today in court. 

 

And then Guy Petrillo goes on to talk about the family members of Michael

Cohen who are there, and talks about the letters of support that he and his

co-counsel have submitted to the court from people who like Michael Cohen

or say he`s helped them in some way in the past.  But pretty fast, Michael

Cohen`s defense lawyer goes right to the big picture, right to making the

case to the judge for why Michael Cohen should be treated with mercy, with

thanks, even, from a grateful nation. 

 

Guy Petrillo, quote: Unless your honor would like me to proceed otherwise,

I would like to first address the remarkable nature and significance of the

life decision made by Mr. Cohen to cooperate with the special counsel and

the relevance and, respectfully, the importance of that cooperation, not

only to this specific man and your honor`s evaluation of this specific man,

but also to the court`s consideration of how Mr. Cohen`s cooperation

promotes respect for law and the courage of individual to stand up to power

and influence. 

 

When Mr. Cohen authorized us to contact the special counsel`s office in

July, he did so to offer his relevant knowledge to the investigation,

knowing that he would face, as a result, when his offer became public, a

barrage of attack by the president.  He knew the president might shut down

the investigation and he knew there might come a time when he would appear

in court and there would be no special counsel to stand up for him as there

is today.  He moved forward nonetheless.  He came forward to offer evidence

against the most powerful person in our country. 

 

He did so not know what the result would be, not knowing how the politics

would play out and not knowing whether the special counsel would even

survive, nor could he anticipate the full measure of attack that has been

made against him.  Not only by the president, who continues to say that

people like Mr. Cohen who cooperate with the special counsel are weaklings

and that those who hold fast and clam up are heroes, but also attacks by

partisans and by citizens who happen to be aligned with the president.  And

those attacks have included threats against him and his family. 

 

So, respectfully, your honor, this is not a standard case of cooperation. 

The cooperation here should be viewed in a nonstandard or in a nonstandard

framework.  Special counsel`s investigation is of the utmost national

significance.  No less than what was seen 40-plus years ago in the days of

Watergate.  In the light of that reality, respectfully, your honor, it is

important that others in Mr. Cohen`s position who provide assistance to

this historic inquiry, take renewed courage from this proceeding and that

law enforcement and the promotion of respect for law also receive a boost

from what happened here today. 

 

So, that is how Michael Cohen`s defense opens up.  He stood up to power. 

He stood up to the most powerful person in the country.  In helping Robert

Mueller, which Mueller absolutely says Cohen has done, Michael Cohen took a

gamble.  He believed the president could have killed off the Mueller

investigation at any time, which would have left Michael Cohen with no one

to vouch for the fact that he had tried to help. 

 

Michael Cohen should be treated leniently.  If he is treated leniently, not

only will that be the right thing to do by Michael Cohen, given his

bravery, but it will give others the courage to also come forward to help. 

Very heady stuff. 

 

And then this, the very next thing he does.  This is when Cohen`s defense

lawyer throws a big spitball at the president`s campaign chairman, Paul

Manafort, who it should be noted is also a felon. 

 

Quote: Your honor, in this exceptionally important matter, Mr. Cohen`s

cooperation is overwhelmingly the factor.  We submit that should

substantially mitigate his sentence.  And his action stands in profound

contrast to the decision of some others not to cooperate and allegedly to

double deal while pretending to cooperate.  You know who you are, small

Manafort, pretending to cooperate. 

 

On the issue of just how helpful Michael Cohen was to prosecutors other

than Robert Mueller, just how helpful he was or wasn`t to the prosecutors

in the Southern District of New York, that ends up being a really major

factor today in Cohen getting three years in federal prison.  We`re going

to have some fresh reporting on that in just a few minutes.  I think that`s

actually still a pretty opaque issue and it`s one that`s ended up being

really important for Michael Cohen`s ultimate fate. 

 

But you should know, you should also know, because this really is a

historic thing today, you should also know what happened when Michael Cohen

himself stood up today, literally stood up, to make his case to the judge. 

Because the way it went down is, after all the lawyers had said their

piece, it was Michael Cohen face to face with the judge, Michael Cohen

making his own case for himself.  And then the judge, right then and there,

immediately in response, telling him his fate. 

 

Quote, the judge: Mr. Petrillo, does your client wish to address the court

before sentence is imposed?  Mr. Petrillo: He does, your honor.  Mr. Cohen

would like to be heard.  The judge: Fine.  I`ll hear from Mr. Cohen now. 

 

The defendant, Michael Cohen: Your honor, stand here or to the podium?  The

judge: I think it would be best to take the podium.  Michael Cohen: The

defendant, thank you, your honor. 

 

I stand before your honor humbly and painfully aware that we are here today

for one reason, because of my actions that I plead guilty to on august 21st

and as well on November 29th.  I take full responsibility for each act that

I plead guilty to, the personal ones to me and to those involving the

president of the United States of America. 

 

Viktor Frankl in his book, “Man Search for Meaning”, he wrote, there are

forces beyond your control that can take away everything you possess except

one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. 

Your honor, this may seem hard to believe, but today is one of – but today

is one of the most meaningful days of my life.  The irony is today is the

day I`m getting my freedom back. 

 

As you sit at the bench and you contemplate my fate, I`ve been living in a

personal and mental incarceration since the fateful day that I accepted the

offer to work for a famous real estate mogul whose business acumen I truly

admired.  In fact, I now know there is little to be admired.  I want to be

clear, I blame myself for the conduct which has brought me here today and

it was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to

choose a path of darkness over light. 

 

It is for these reasons I chose to participate in the illicit act of the

president rather than to listen to my own inner voice, which should have

warned me that the campaign finance violations that I later plead guilty to

were insidious.  Recently, the president tweeted a statement calling me

weak, and he was correct, but for a much different reason than he was

implying.  It was because time and time again, I felt it was my duty to

cover up his dirty deeds, rather than to listen to my own inner voice and

my moral compass. 

 

My weakness could be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump, and

I was weak for not having the strength to question and to refuse his

demands.  I have already spent years living a personal and mental

incarceration, which no matter what is decided today, owning this mistake

will free me to be once more the person I really am. 

 

Now, at this point, his statement goes on and he makes what seems to be a

heartfelt statement of love for his family and his shame for having brought

them so much pain by his actions and his crimes.  This is, in fact, where

Cohen says he didn`t enter into a cooperation agreement with federal

prosecutors in New York in order to spare his family, and again, that`s

kind of an opaque thing.  We`ll have more on that later. 

 

But then this is how he closes his statement, with him begging the judge

for his consideration, with an apology or two or three, and him also

bringing it all back to the president. 

 

Michael Cohen, quote: For months now, the president of the United States,

one of the most powerful member in the world, publicly mocks me, calling me

a rat and a liar and insists the court sentence me to the absolute maximum

time in prison.  Not only is this improper, it creates a false sense that

the president can weigh in on the outcome of judicial proceedings that

implicate him.  Despite being vilified by the press and inundated with

character assassinations over the past almost two years, I still stand

today and I`m committed to proving my integrity and ensuring that history

will not remember me as the villain of this story.  I now know that every

action I take in the future has to be well thought out and with honorable

intention, because I wish to leave no room for future mistakes in my life. 

 

And so, I beseech your honor to consider this path that I am currently

taking when sentencing me today and I want to apologize to my entire family

for what my actions have put them through.  My family has suffered

immeasurably in the home and the world outside.  I know I have let them all

down.  It will be my life`s work to make it right and to become the best

version of myself.  Most of all, I want to apologize to the people of the

United States. 

 

And at this point, Mr. Cohen tears up in his statement in court.  He says:

You deserve to know the truth and lying to you was unjust.  I want to thank

you, your honor, for all the time you`ve committed to this matter and to

the consideration you have given my future.  Again, I want to thank my

family, my friends, many who are here today, who are with me, especially

all the people that wrote letters on my behalf. 

 

In addition, I would like to thank the tens of thousands of strangers,

despite not knowing me at all, not knowing me personally, have shown

kindness and empathy in writing letters to me and offering support and

prayer.  And I thank you, your honor, I`m truly sorry and I promise I will

be better.

 

The judge: You may be seated, Mr. Cohen.  Mr. Cohen, the defendant, thank

you. 

 

And then, if you`ve never seen one of these things, the real life drama you

don`t realize until you`re in the middle of it, is that right after the

defendant, Michael Cohen in this case, makes this tearful, standing, man-

to-man, you know, beseeching and personal plea to the judge, right then,

the judge lays it down.  There`s no interregnum.  There`s no buffer there. 

It just – it`s dramatic. 

 

Here`s how that part of the transcript goes.  The judge says: You may be

seated Mr. Cohen.  Mr. Cohen says: Thank you. 

 

And then the judge says: The defendant, Michael Cohen, comes before this

court having plead guilty to five counts of income tax evasion, one count

of making false statements to a banking institution, one count of causing

an unlawful corporate contribution and one count of an excessive campaign

contribution and one count of making false statements to the U.S. Congress. 

Each of these crimes is a serious offense against the United States. 

 

And this is immediately after Cohen is standing there crying and beseeching

the judge for his forgiveness. 

 

The judge then explains the sentencing guidelines range for Cohen`s crimes

and explains his reasoning at some length as to why some things about the

Cohen case make things worse for him when it comes to his sentence, some

make it better.  The judge says one thing about the president specifically

that`s very important and a very specific thing.  We`re going to get to

that in a second. 

 

But here`s how the plot ended today in court for Michael Cohen.  The judge,

quote: While Mr. Cohen has taken steps to mitigate his criminal conduct by

pleading guilty and volunteering useful information to prosecutors, that

does not wipe the slate clean.  Mr. Cohen selected the information he

disclosed to the government.  This court cannot agree with the defendant`s

assertion that no jail time is warranted.  In fact, this court firm little

believes that a significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this

highly publicized case, to send a message to those who contemplate avoiding

their taxes, evading campaign finance laws or lying to financial

institutions or Congress. 

 

Our democratic institutions depend on the honesty of our citizenry in

dealing with the government.  And so, it is against that backdrop that I am

prepared to sentence the defendant.  Mr. Cohen, I`d ask, sir, that you

stand at this time.  Mr. Cohen, it is my judgment, sir, that you be

sentenced to a term of 36 months of imprisonment to be followed by three

years of supervised release. 

 

And then the judge spells out the fines and the restitution and the

forfeiture of funds that Cohen is sentenced to, adds up to a couple of

million dollars.  Also, Cohen technically gets two months in prison,

specifically for lying to Congress, but that won`t be extra time, the judge

says that two-month sentence can be served concurrently with the three

years he`ll otherwise be doing. 

 

But that`s how it ended today for Cohen.  Cohen will report for prison in

the first week of March.  Today, he left the courtroom and then he left the

courthouse in Lower Manhattan without saying another word. 

 

But there are pieces of this that follow him out.  And part of it is the

question of his ongoing cooperation, and again, we`ll have more on that

coming up on the show tonight, including from people who have spoken with

him as he approached his sentencing today.  There`s also the very brief

Russia specific comments made by the special counsel`s office in court

today, too.  Very brief comments for the prosecutor from the special

counsel`s office, saying that he has helped substantively on the core

questions that relate to Russia that are at the heart of the special

counsel`s inquiry. 

 

We got no further elaboration on that.  There remain interesting questions

as to what Michael Cohen exactly can help with when it comes to the Russia

part of this. 

 

But here`s the thing that I think is most immediate, and the most important

big new thing that happened here today.  Right after Michael Cohen was

sentenced today, the federal prosecutor`s office in the Southern District

of New York, so, the same prosecutors who just prosecuted him for these

crimes today and put him away for three years, just minutes after Cohen`s

sentence was handed down today in this dramatic hearing with the judge,

that same prosecutor`s office unsealed this.  It is a statement of admitted

facts and a non-prosecution agreement that were unsealed today as soon as

Cohen was sentenced. 

 

And what these documents are, they`re basically the first public

revelations of an agreement that was secretly entered into between these

same prosecutors and one of the other parties who was involved in the

campaign finance felonies that we learned today are going to put Cohen in

prison and these are the same federal felonies that Cohen himself, the

prosecutors in the case and the federal judge in this case all say that

President Trump was involved in, too. 

 

Now, I mentioned just a moment ago that there was one thing that the judge

said at the end of the sentencing today that was specific and important and

it was about the president.  This is it.  These were those comments from

the judge that I think are really important as to what might happen next

here.  The judge says, quote, Mr. Cohen committed two campaign finance

crimes on the eve of the 2016 presidential election with the intent to

influence the outcome of that election. 

 

He made or facilitated payments to silence two women who threatened to go

public with details of purported extramarital affairs, and Mr. Cohen

admitted that he did so in coordination with and at the directional of

individual one.  That is the judge speaking today from the bench,

individual one in this context is, of course, the president of the United

States, and those felonies, according to prosecutors and now according to

the judge, involve Michael Cohen and the president, making or facilitating

payments during the campaign that were illegal payments designed to

influence the election. 

 

So, moments after we get that important statement from the judge,

underscoring that part of the prosecution`s case, hey, this is about Cohen,

but he did this with the president, moments later, we get formal notice

from the prosecutors in this case that, yeah, one of the other parties who

participated with Cohen and Trump in the commission of that felony, the

media company AMI, American Media Inc, which made one of these illegal

payments that was facilitated by Cohen and Trump, turns out AMI have been

cooperating with prosecutors with this matter for months, and now we know

that in September, that company secured a formal agreement that protects

them from being prosecuted for this crime, because they`re helping

prosecutors nail it down. 

 

Well, prosecutors are nailing this down, who all is implicated in this

illegal payment scheme?  Well, Michael Cohen.  They`ve got Michael Cohen

now.  He`s going to prison for it.

 

They`ve effectively named the president as his conspirator, right?  But his

co-conspirator in this felony, but maybe the president himself can`t be

indicted while he`s president.  Well, now we know as of today, they`ve told

the media company that committed this crime with them that the media

company is off the hook in exchange for their cooperation. 

 

Well, is there anybody else potentially in trouble for this felony, given

what prosecutors have made public about the nature of this crime and what

they know about it?  Yes.  Yes.  As it turns out, yes, there is someone

else potentially in trouble here. 

 

And they don`t have a non-prosecution agreement.  And they don`t have

immunity.  Because that`s the president`s company, and specifically, the

decision-makers inside his company who would have had the authority in that

company to help pull something like this off at the time that it happened

during the campaign. 

 

And there appear to be five people who fit that bill.  One of whom is the

Trump organization`s financial – chief financial officer Allen

Weisselberg.  He has also reportedly been granted immunity by prosecutors

in exchange for his assistance in this matter. 

 

And then the other four people who were inside the Trump Organization at

the time this felony was committed who apparently would have had the

authority within the company to make something like this happen, they

happen to be four people who were employed as top executives at the Trump

organization who all have the same last name. 

 

We have known already for months that there is an open federal grand jury

investigation into the Trump Organization in New York, the president`s

business.  Prosecutors have now made clear to the court in public facing

filings and statements that the Trump Organization was used to aid in the

commission of a campaign finance felony.  A campaign finance felony, which

at least one person is already going to prison for. 

 

As of today, everybody else involved in that felony is either going to

prison or they have been granted immunity.  They were either granted

immunity directly by prosecutors or they were granted immunity indirectly

by virtue of the fact that being president may grant immunity of its own. 

 

But you know what?  Being the president`s business does not grant you

immunity from prosecution, nor does being the president`s adult child.  How

exactly they`re implicated in this and what they might be looking down the

barrel of from federal prosecutors in New York is something that we can

detail quite granularly.  And we`ve got more on that next.  

 

Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  You know it`s a big day when the president`s long-time personal

lawyer getting sentenced to three years in federal prison isn`t the news

that`s most legally worrying for the president that day.  Moments after

Michael Cohen was sentenced today, the New York federal prosecutors who

brought the case against him unsealed this non-prosecution agreement that

they had made with a company involved in one of the felonies that Michael

Cohen was sentenced for today.  This essentially is a partial immunity deal

for American Media, Inc, the company that runs “The National Enquirer”. 

 

The company and its chairman, a long time friend of the president named

David Pecker, I know, ha-ha, you can get the jokes out of your mind right

now.  We`ll leave those where they are.  The company and its chairman

secretly entered into this deal with prosecutors in September.  And in this

deal, prosecutors said the company wouldn`t be prosecuted for making an

illegal campaign contribution to the Trump campaign when they paid $150,000

to a woman specifically to keep her from talking about her alleged affair

with Donald Trump before Election Day. 

 

Now, in exchange for that non-prosecution, the company had to agree to help

prosecutors, and they had to admit their conduct.  This is from prosecutors

today, quote, as part of the agreement, AMI admitted it made the $150,000

payment in concert with a candidate`s presidential campaign, and in order

to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the

candidate before the 2016 presidential election.  AMI further admitted that

its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman`s

story so as to prevent it from influencing the election. 

 

So, AMI had previously maintained this fiction that they were really

interested in paying this woman $150,000 for her tips on, like, toning your

abs and stuff.  Had nothing to do – yes.  They`re admitting that was a

$150,000 payment designed to influence the election. 

 

So, this is federal prosecutors getting an admission from this company that

the 150 grand was intended to influence the election.  And importantly, it

was spent in concert with the president`s campaign.  That`s the language

that they`re using. 

 

Now, we know that the president`s campaign in this instance means Michael

Cohen.  We also know that it means the president himself, landmark

reporting on this story in “The Wall Street Journal” just last month,

showed that when they were setting up this scheme to have AMI pay off women

to benefit Trump during the campaign, Trump himself directly worked with

Cohen on the overall plot and on the specific payments.  So, we know the –

doing this in concert with the campaign means Cohen, through good open

source reporting, we believe it also directly means the president himself. 

So that`s one thing to know here.  The campaign here means the president,

at least the president, if not others. 

 

But then the second thing here is the money.  So, the Justice Department

went out of its way to say this when they announced Cohen`s sentence today. 

Quote: In 2016, Michael Cohen made or caused two separate payments to women

to ensure that they did not publicly disclose their alleged affairs with

the presidential candidate in advance of the election.  In one instance,

Cohen caused American Media Inc, AMI, to make a $150,000 payment to one

woman.  In the other, Cohen made $130,000 payment to another woman through

an LLC he incorporated for the purpose of making that payment. 

 

Cohen was reimbursed for the latter payment in monthly installments

disguised as payments for legal services performed pursuant to a retainer

when, in fact, no such retainer existed.  Cohen made or caused both these

payments in order to influence the 2016 election, and did so in

coordination with one or more members of the campaign.  So, part of the

scheme here, as outlined by federal prosecutors, as they secure prison time

for Michael Cohen in conjunction with these felonies, part of the scheme

here, according to prosecutors, is the fact that Cohen was paid back the

money that he used to commit this felony. 

 

It was the Trump Organization that paid Michael Cohen back.  But according

to prosecutors, not just according to open source reporting but according

to prosecutors, the Trump Organization covered up what the money was for. 

They called it a legal retainer for Michael Cohen when in fact it was no

such thing.  Again, that`s according to prosecutors today. 

 

We also know that the Trump Organization paid Cohen a ton more money than

he supposedly need as this reimbursement here.  Cohen paid out $130,000 in

that illegal campaign contribution, but the Trump organization quote

reimbursed him way more than that.  He paid out 130, they pay him back 420,

$420,000.  What was all the extra money for? 

 

I mean, if the cover-up of the illegal payment is part of the crime that

prosecutors are pursuing here, all of this financial dancing around and all

of this financial lying, in order to cover up what was really going on

here, if the financial cover-up is part of what prosecutors are pursuing

here, and as of today, it seems like they are, then are they about to

charge the Trump organization for falsifying their own records to cover up

what Michael Cohen did? 

 

I mean, prosecutors are saying those were false records.  That covered up

what Michael Cohen did when he was committing this felony, in concert with

the campaign by which we mean Donald Trump.  The Trump organization covered

it up by lying in their financial records about what the trail was of the

money. 

 

Well, who actually cut those checks to Michael Cohen, when they`re giving

him hundreds of thousands of extra dollars on top of what they were calling

his legal retainer, even though it wasn`t a legal retainer and it was

understood to be reimbursement for the illegal payments he had made to

benefit the campaign?  If that`s part of what prosecutors are pursuing

here, we should know who cut those checks, right? 

 

In a deposition about the Trump University fraud in 2015, Allen

Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization, said under oath in a

deposition that the same small group of people have check writing authority

across all of the different Trump-related entities.  This is from that

deposition. 

 

Question, as you sit here today, do you believe anybody beyond you, Mr.

Trump and Mr. Trump`s children, do you believe anybody else other than that

core group was authorized to sign checks on behalf of Trump University? 

Answer from Weisselberg: I would say that seems to be the group that we`ve

used over the last number of years to sign checks over all our entities. 

All our entities. 

 

So the answer is, Trump, Trump`s adult children, and Allen Weisselberg. 

Those are the people that could cut checks at all Trump related entities. 

Well, you can hive off Weisselberg from that because he has reportedly been

granted immunity now in this case as well, in exchange for him helping

prosecutors.  AMI got immunity.  Allen Weisselberg got immunity. 

 

Well, that leaves the president and his adult kids.  And the overt

contention by federal prosecutors now is that whoever had check writing

authority at the Trump Organization, they used the president`s business to

cover up the financial trail of this felony, which is apparently a trail

these prosecutors are pursuing, in part by giving immunity in exchange for

cooperation to everybody else involved in this felony who isn`t named

Trump.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  The president`s long-time personal lawyer was sentenced to three

years in federal prison today. 

 

Joining us now here live in the studio is Lanny Davis.  He`s an advisor to

Michael Cohen who, until today, was also part of Michael Cohen`s legal

team. 

 

Mr. Davis, it`s good to have you here.  Thanks for coming in. 

 

LANNY DAVIS, ADVISOR TO MICHAEL COHEN:  Thanks, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  Why until today?  You have left – you are no longer a lawyer

associated with Michael Cohen? 

 

DAVIS:  Well, lawyers have constraints, and the cases over the sentencing

process is completed.  Now my media ability to talk and explain and

certainly understand Michael Cohen, I can speak much more freely, and I`m

now exercising my First Amendment rights. 

 

MADDOW:  OK.  You have said in the wake of today`s proceedings, and

actually heading into today`s proceedings, that Mr. Cohen wants to not only

to continue to cooperate with the Mueller investigation and continue to

speak with prosecutors, but he wants to speak publicly about what he knows

about President Trump. 

 

What do you mean by that? 

 

DAVIS:  I am thinking of John Dean in 1974, whose crimes included very

serious obstruction of justice, tampering with witnesses, doing a lot of

the evil work in the Nixon White House that he ultimately owned up to.  But

there was a moment, and he and I have talked about that moment where he

needed to tell the truth about what he had seen and heard, even though he

was involving himself in all of those crimes.  And that moment will come

for Michael Cohen, not before Mr. Mueller does his work, and makes his

report. 

 

But I am certainly hopeful that Michael Cohen will have that moment to tell

the American people as he so eloquently and humbly did today in his

statement to the court, not only his regret in taking ownership of all of

the things that he did for Donald Trump that he`s not proud of, but the

truth about what he knows about Donald Trump that led him to what I believe

is a genuine change in himself, to change and tell the truth because he

found the president, Donald Trump, as dangerous to his family and to the

country. 

 

MADDOW:  That pivot point for Mr. Cohen, did that relate specifically to

the core issues at the heart of the special counsel`s investigation? 

Special counsel prosecutor Jeannie Rhee today said in court that Mr. Cohen

has provided evidence that`s directly related to this core issues, Russia

related issues. 

 

Is that part of what made Michael Cohen decide to essentially flip against

the president, his concerns on the Russia matter? 

 

DAVIS:  First of all, thank you for reminding everyone that Mr. Mueller

used those words – core issues. 

 

MADDOW:  Uh-huh.

 

DAVIS:  Very important words.  And Michael Cohen spoke to them and they

have not been set forth yet. 

 

Secondly, there were multiple, emotional, personal changes that occurred in

Michael Cohen after Donald Trump became president, leading him to call me

in long, heartfelt conversations about the changes he was undergoing, the

regrets that he had. 

 

It all comes down to a sentence that he said to me, and I remember the

moment, and I called my law partner to say, I think this is for real.  And

that was, he recognizes Donald Trump as president, was a danger to his

family and to the country.  And he emphasized as president what he had done

before Trump became president, because he never imagined he`d ever be

elected president – he felt shame about and he articulated that. 

 

But the notion that this man, that he did so much bad things for and

defended so many bad things, was now president of the United States showing

the mental instability that scared him regarding the safety and welfare,

not just of his family, but the country, to me was the pivotal moment on

the telephone that I thought this is for real. 

 

MADDOW:  The count that Mr. Cohen pled guilty to last, lying to Congress

about the Trump Tower Moscow project, he received a $50,000 fine for that

today and two months concurrent running with his otherwise three-year long

sentence.  There have been suggestions in the court filings around that

charge, that Mr. Cohen was in communication with the White House about that

testimony before he gave it.  The question is – I feel like we`re very

close to having an answer to the question of whether or not the White House

or President Trump specifically advised Michael Cohen to lie to Congress

about Trump Tower, Moscow. 

 

Did Cohen come up with those lies on his own or did he get advice from the

White House telling him that he should lie about that matter? 

 

DAVIS:  So, I`m dedicated tonight, not to answer questions that only Mr.

Mueller knows the answers to and let him give the answers, and then Mr.

Cohen, I hope, will be elaborating. 

 

But I can answer that Mr. Mueller was very harsh about Mr. Cohen,

premeditatively publicizing those lies, and consulting with the White

House, and nobody at the White House told him not to lie. 

 

MADDOW:  So Cohen was open with the White House about the fact that his

testimony – about the fact of what his testimony is going to be, that it

was going to be testimony is a lie and the White House didn`t say, don`t do

it?

 

DAVIS:  Correct. 

 

MADDOW:  OK.

 

DAVIS:  And Mr. Mueller is the one who said those words, when he said

premeditated, and he publicized the remarks to Congress that were lies

about the Moscow – the timing of the communication with high officials –

 

MADDOW:  The president had to know those were false, he knew that Cohen was

going to say it and he didn`t –

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

DAVIS:  He released his testimony according to Mr. Mueller before he gave

it, at the same time he was talking to the White House.  And nobody in the

White House said that`s not true, don`t lie. 

 

MADDOW:  Cover-up often worse than the crime. 

 

DAVIS:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  Lanny Davis who, until today, was a lawyer associated with Michael

Cohen, has left the legal team but continues to speak with Mr. Cohen.  I

imagine will be involved as a spokesman role going forward, perhaps? 

 

DAVIS:  You can see by my gray hair, I`m an adviser – 

 

MADDOW:  Adviser.

 

DAVIS:  – and a friend. 

 

MADDOW:  Lanny Davis, thank you for coming in.  Much appreciated.

 

DAVIS:  Thank you, Rachel.

 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much to come.  Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Joining us now is someone who was not just in the courtroom today

as Michael Cohen was being sentenced, but who has been covering him closely

all along.  Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter at “Vanity Fair”, our Michael

Cohen whisperer. 

 

Thank you very much for being here.  Much appreciated.

 

EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR:  Thank you for having me. 

 

MADDOW:  I understand that you have spoken with Mr. Cohen since the

sentencing? 

 

FOX:  I was in court today.  I saw him and his family actually enter the

court as they happen to be entering at the same time.  It was a – it was

interesting, because half the room was reporters, right?  So half the

people have notebooks in their lap and were writing everything down, and

half the room it felt like were people who were Cohen`s family and very

close friends.  And so, you had a group of, let`s call them looky-loos

trying to absorb all the information we were getting and it was a lot of

information. 

 

And you had a group of people who were incredibly emotional about the

decision.  This was something not just a piece in the puzzle of Mueller`s

investigation or a plot line in this insane telenovela that we`re all

living through every day, this is a very personal, human thing to half of

that room.  And so, to have that split was fascinating to watch, and I

don`t think that anyone, whatever side you were on, walked out of that

courtroom not feeling something. 

 

The judge made very clear today that these are very serious crimes and that

is why he was sentencing them in a tough way, that he was getting 36 months

in prison and hefty fines and financial penalties and there was a strong

case and reason for that.  That is not to say that you didn`t feel for the

human being in that room who was standing up there, saying, I made mistakes

because I was weak and I made mistakes because I didn`t listen to my inner

voice and I vow to do better and I`m sorry for my family and that`s the

worst sentence of all. 

 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about part of it that didn`t make sense to me,

though.  Like I understood the case that he`s making.  In a very heartfelt

case talking about how much he loves his family and speaking in very blunt

terms about the president and what went wrong between him and the

president, and when you talked about having admired the president`s

business acumen. 

 

FOX:  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  That all rings very true and I get hit and I`m following him.  And

then, I don`t get it when he talks about why he didn`t enter into a

cooperation agreement with New York federal prosecutors, which ultimately

is the thing that probably resulted in him getting the sentence that he got

today.  Federal prosecutors in New York argued, yes, we understand he was

helpful to the special counsel, he wasn`t helpful to us in a way we value

in this district, because he wasn`t willing to enter into a cooperation

agreement with us, we`re not going to tell the judge to go easy on him. 

 

So, Guy Petrillo, his lawyer, stands up and says, it is not the case that

Mr. Cohen has declined to answer questions from the Southern District, or

from our duly authorized U.S. attorneys offices, state law enforcements and

Congress, he`s ready to do that.  He`s wary of a long-term cooperation

agreement for personal reasons and because he wants both to remove himself

and to remove his family from the glare of the cameras and try to work his

way and their way back from an abnormal life. 

 

The period of such an agreement would be indeterminate.  The press is

overwhelming on this case, but none of this to say he won`t make himself

available for questioning on investigative matters.  And then Michael in

his own comments to the judge reiterated that with a sort of twist and

said, I want – I didn`t cooperate because I want to be sentenced quickly

so my sentence will end more quickly, so I can get home. 

 

I mean, had he cooperated, it`s possible to have no sentence at all. 

 

FOX:  Sure.

 

MADDOW:  How do you make sense of this?  What they`re explaining isn`t

logical. 

 

FOX:  So, what their explanation is, if you are a cooperating witness, it

could go on for months, you could be in this sort of legal purgatory for

months, it could go on for years, and their assessment was, let`s get the

sentence and get this over with. 

 

Now, it`s hard for me to imagine that it would go on for more than three

years which is what he`s going to serve in prison. 

 

MADDOW:  Uh-huh. 

 

FOX:  The way I understood it before I heard that explanation over the last

couple of days, as it was explained to me, was to be a formal cooperating

witness is in the Southern District of New York, which is distinct, you

have to tell them everything you have done wrong from the day you were born

until today, and not everything you did, but everything everyone around you

has done wrong. 

 

MADDOW:  And (INAUDIBLE) you`ve ever witnessed.

 

FOX:  You`ve ever witnessed from anybody.  And I think for some people,

that is a deterrent. 

 

MADDOW:  Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter at “Vanity Fair” – thank you very

much.  I have a feeling this is not the end of the Cohen saga. 

 

FOX:  Stay tuned. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you, my dear.  Appreciate it. 

 

FOX:  Thank you.

 

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

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  It`s Advent calendar season, which means every day, you open a new

tiny door to discover a new bit of wonder.  Behind tomorrow`s door will be

a very important legal proceeding involving Maria Butina, accused of acting

as a covert Russian agent to influence the Republican Party in the 2016

campaign. 

 

The last few days, we`ve learned that Butina has reached a deal,

unbelievably, to plead guilty and start cooperating with the FBI and

prosecutors in her case.  Today was the day she was supposed to enter that

plea and we expect to learn more about that deal, but it was pushed to

tomorrow, that will happen tomorrow, 10:30 a.m. Eastern. 

 

One of the big question marks in her case concerns her long-time boyfriend,

Republican operative named Paul Erickson, and his role in this scheme.  He

is known as U.S. person one.  So, there`s considerable suspense around his

potential case and whatever else we`re going to find out in federal court. 

But again, 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, new Advent calendar door pops open.  `Tis

the season. 

 

Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow when

it`ll be more stuff like this because we`re going to have another wild

legal day tomorrow in the Russia scandal. 

 

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

 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

 

                                                                                               

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