The end of the beginning for Michael Cohen. TRANSCRIPT: 2/26/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Ton of fun. You can download it wherever you get
We – that is ALL IN for this evening.
“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Did I flummox you?
HAYES: Every time I do a podcast tease. See, we do podcast tease and
you`re out there and like stretch and tease. And when we don`t do it,
But when we do the podcast tease and like at the end of it, like, you can
get wherever your podcast, like stretch, which is iTunes and TuneIn –
MADDOW: Yes, I just want everybody to realize at home you`re doing this in
real time. This is live television. Somebody is in your ear piece saying,
we don`t know where Rachel is.
MADDOW: You know, I do this just to keep you on your toes.
HAYES: You do a good job tonight.
MADDOW: And I owe a lot, my friend. Thank you very much.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
All right. I told you this week was going to be nutty, right? In terms of
the amount of news we would be dealing with over the course of this week
but also every day. I don`t like to say I told you so, but I told you so.
So, it is, in fact – it is, in fact, becoming a nutty news week and today
has been sort of insane.
But let`s just jump right in. There`s a lot going on. I got to tell you
also the next 24 hours are going to be even nuttier than today was, so we
also need to pace ourselves a little bit.
But let`s start with what the House has just done tonight. The House of
Representatives tonight has just voted to block the president`s declaration
of a national emergency, which is the way he`s trying to go around Congress
to try to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Now, this
vote tonight in the House is not a surprise.
Today in Congress, the top U.S. military commander with responsibility for
homeland defense said directly that there is no military threat related to
anything that`s going on on the southern border, which is a specific way of
undercutting the president`s assertion that there is some sort of national
security emergency there.
This is also not a surprise in terms of this vote tonight because the House
is also now controlled by Democrats. The Democrats in the House are
unanimous that this emergency declaration from the president about the
border is bogus and potentially illegal. So, all Democrats voted against
the president on his emergency declaration tonight in the House.
What was perhaps a surprise is that more than a dozen Republican members of
the House crossed over to vote with the Democrats on this resolution. The
final vote ended up tonight being 245-182. Again, that is the vote to
block the president`s emergency resolution.
Well, now this heads to the Senate. They have no choice in the Senate but
to vote on the same thing the House just voted on. The Democrats we think
will all vote for it. If four Republicans cross over to vote with the
Democrats, this thing that just passed the House will also pass the Senate.
So far, already three of the four Republican votes needed in the Senate are
committed. So, it really looks like the president will likely lose on
this, that the Congress will block him from declaring his emergency so he
can build his wall. It`s just a matter of how long it`s going to take for
him to lose. The Senate has 18 days to take up this matter and they do not
have a choice, they have to vote on it now that it has passed the House.
Now, on a related matter, you should also know that the House today issued
its first subpoenas to the Trump administration since the Democrats took
control in Congress. The subpoena – the subpoenas issued today are for
documents from various federal agencies. Documents that the Trump
administration has thus far refused to hand over to Congress. All on the
issue of immigrant kids being taken away from their parents at the border.
There was a very dramatic hearing on that subject today. The Democratic
chairman of the judiciary committee, Jerry Nadler, put it bluntly. He
described that policy as kidnapping.
Again, though, that issue has generated the very first subpoenas from the
new Democratic-controlled Congress to the administration. The
administration has been having a very hard time coming up with a single
story to tell about the origin of that policy of taking kids away from
their parents, let alone the implementation of that policy, and
specifically they have not been able to explain how exactly they lost track
of so many kids, why they didn`t bother in the first place to track which
kids belonged to which parents. So, Democrats in Congress are going after
that issue as aggressively as they have gone at anything since they took
over, and the issue of kids being taken away from their parents at the
border, that today the subject of the first subpoenas from this new
Congress to the administration.
We`ll have more on that story ahead tonight, including a member of that
Judiciary Committee joining us live.
Today also was the first day of what are expected to be three days of
testimony from the president`s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Michael Cohen, of course, has pled guilty to nine felony charges, including
lying to Congress and two campaign finance felonies in which he and federal
prosecutors in the Southern District of New York told the federal judge
overseeing Cohen`s case that it wasn`t just Cohen who committed those
felonies, the president himself was also implicated in them.
Today`s first day of testimony from Michael Cohen was in front of the
Senate Intelligence Committee, and although it happened behind closed
doors, so we don`t know directly what happened, CNN reports tonight that
one of the things that happened in that closed-door testimony is that
Michael Cohen apologized to members of the committee for having lied to
them the last time he testified to them. Again, those lies he told to
Congress are part of the reason why Michael Cohen is about to report to
federal prison in May. We`re expecting him not only to apologize to that
Senate intelligence committee today, but also to the House Intelligence
Committee when he testifies to them behind closed doors on Thursday.
Now, beyond his apology for his previous false testimony today, we know
very little about what Michael Cohen said to the Senate intelligence
committee today. Again, that testimony was given in closed session.
That said, I think personally for me, it was a little unnerving to see Mark
Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the vice
chairman of the committee, he walked out toward the end of Cohen`s
testimony today and he talked to reporters very briefly about how it had
gone with Michael Cohen. For me, it was a little unnerving, a little
unsettling that this is what Mark Warner had to say about what he heard
today from Michael Cohen behind closed doors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Quickly,
we`ve still got a little bit more time to finish, and the only comment I`m
going to make is that two years ago when this investigation started, I said
it may be the most important thing I`m involved in in my public life in the
Senate. And nothing I`ve heard today dissuades me from that view.
REPORTER: Did the president commit any crimes, sir?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And then he took no further questions.
Not long thereafter, Michael Cohen himself emerged from that close closed-
door hearing with Senate Intelligence Committee members. Cohen is not in a
position to be able to elaborate what he talked about in that closed
session. That`s why it`s a closed session. But he did thank everyone
staking out the hearing room and he did further raise expectations when he
testifies not behind closed doors but in an open hearing that will be
televised starting at 1:0:00 a.m.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: First of all, I want to thank you
for sticking around and waiting for me. At this point in time, I really
appreciate the opportunity that was given to me to clear the record and to
tell the truth, and I look forward to tomorrow to being able to in my voice
to tell the American people my story, and I`m going to let the American
people decide exactly who is telling the truth. So I want to thank you all
again for sticking around. Have a good night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You can hear where the scrum of reporters start shouting questions
to Michael Cohen about his testimony, about what he`s going to say
tomorrow, about what he`s going to say about the president.
The anticipation for what Cohen is going to say in this open hearing
tomorrow has been stoked all day today by multiple news agencies reporting
that Cohen is basically bringing a dump truck with him to describe his
years of dealings with president Trump and the Trump organization. We`re
told that Cohen is prepared to testify on matters touching on everything
from the president`s personal behavior to the way the president has filed
or not filed his taxes to alleged criminal behavior by the president during
the time he has been president.
And on that last point, which I think is maybe more important than we are
ready for heading into that testimony tomorrow, apparently Cohen is
prepared to bring documents tomorrow to Congress that specifically relate
to the campaign finance felonies for which Michael Cohen is about to go to
Now, “The Wall Street Journal” has put a finer point on this than anybody
else tonight in their new reporting. And the new reporting in “The Wall
Street Journal” tonight says that tomorrow, Michael Cohen is going to give
Congress a check, a check made out to Mr. Cohen for the purpose of
reimbursing him for the illegal hush money payments that Cohen made to
benefit the Trump campaign. The illegal hush money payments related to
Stormy Daniels, who had said that she had had a sexual encounter with
President Trump. That hush money payment was apparently made to stop her
from talking about that publicly before the election.
Again, that is a campaign finance felony to which Michael Cohen has pled
guilty and for which he is going to prison. Citing a person familiar with
Cohen`s planned testimony, “The Wall Street Journal” reports tonight that,
quote, in his testimony Wednesday, Cohen will provide documentation of his
reimbursement for the $130,000 payment he made to Stormy Daniels to keep
her quiet about her alleged affair with the president ahead of the
election. “The Journal” reports tonight that Cohen will show the oversight
committee tomorrow a signed check, quote, Mr. Trump signed some of the
checks reimbursing Mr. Cohen, which Mr. Cohen began receiving after Mr.
Trump took office.
So, again, that reporting tonight from “The Wall Street Journal” and,
again, this hush money stuff is not, like, the Stormy Daniels story, right?
This is not just a salacious story about the president and Ms. Daniels and
whether or not the president allegedly had an affair or a sexual encounter
with her. Separate and apart from any salacious or sexual content of this
story, the payoff element of this story makes this a criminal matter,
right? This is a felony to which Michael Cohen has already pled guilty and
for which he is going to prison, and in which the president – in which
prosecutors say the president is personally implicated, right?
Prosecutors have described the president as directing Michael Cohen to
commit this felony. They have described that in court filings. They have
described that through Michael Cohen`s allocution in open court before a
federal judge. If Michael Cohen is going to provide documentary evidence
tomorrow to that effect, if Michael Cohen is going to give Congress
evidence tomorrow that implicates the president in having committed
financial crimes while he has been serving as president, what is Congress
supposed to do with that? I mean, what is supposed to happen next after
hypothetically the Congress tomorrow gets evidence of the president
committing crimes in office?
I mean, this is not a totally, totally unprecedented situation. It`s
unprecedented in a lot of ways, but it at least has cousins, right? In the
case of Vice President Spiro Agnew, federal prosecutors obtained rock solid
evidence that Vice President Agnew had taken envelopes full of cash, bribes
and kickbacks in his White House office while he was serving as vice
president. The way federal prosecutors responded to that evidence when it
came to the vice president in 1972, 1973, is that they prepared a 40-count
indictment against Vice President Agnew and then they let the Nixon/Agnew
White House know that they had done that, that they had prepared that
Agnew and his lawyers argued publicly that Agnew couldn`t be indicted while
he was in office, but nevertheless, they then entered into secret
negotiations with the Justice Department, that Agnew would agree to leave
office, he would agree to resign as vice president in exchange for pleading
to just one of the counts that they were preparing to charge him with. And
because prosecutors in 1973 did not throw the book at Spiro Agnew, because
they did not end up bringing that 40-count felony indictment against Vice
President Agnew, because they let him resign instead of facing that
indictment, so he only had to plead to one count, because of that
precedent, the Agnew case is controversial, but it is also the precedent
And if this reporting tonight from “The Wall Street Journal” is correct,
and if Michael Cohen is in fact about to hand over to an investigating
congressional committee tomorrow evidence related to the president
committing financial crimes, felonies while in office, we are now getting
to point where that Agnew precedent sort of crashes in to the current
history we are living through with this current sitting president. So,
we`re going to have the lead “Wall Street Journal” reporter on that story
coming up here live in just a moment.
I will say, though, because of everything that`s being reported in advance
of Michael Cohen`s open testimony tomorrow, because of the anticipation of
the kinds of documents that Cohen might be about to hand over, what he may
be able to testify to in terms of the president`s behavior, I do think it`s
reasonable to expect that the prospect of Michael Cohen`s open testimony
tomorrow may be causing some consternation at the Justice Department right
now, right? I mean, this doesn`t happen very often. But if clear evidence
of the president`s involvement in felonies since he`s been serving as
president, if clear evidence of that is made public tomorrow – I mean, the
Justice Department has to be prepared tonight for how they`re going to
react or not to the public airing of that evidence. They`re also
presumably preparing for the possibility that this evidence may generate a
formal criminal referral from Congress concerning the president`s alleged
crimes. They may refer this matter for prosecution to the Justice
Now, in terms of whether or not the president can be indicted and can be
prosecuted for a crime, the somewhat shaky Justice Department internal
policy on that issue is based in part on the Spiro Agnew precedent. On the
Agnew-era Justice Department guidance which said that a vice president
could be indicted but a president could not. And I describe that as
somewhat shaky Justice Department policy, not only because of the evidence
we`ve turned out, which suggest that people involved in the initial
creation of that policy in the Agnew era, they never intended for that to
be the last word on whether or not the president can be indicted.
I mean, even if you ignore the historical origins of this Justice
Department policy, which suggests this should have never led to any
permanent policy that the president can`t be indicted, even if you ignore
that interesting history about the origins of that policy, you should also
just look at what`s going on with President Trump and that policy right
now. I mean, if this “Wall Street Journal” report tonight is correct and
Michael Cohen is in fact going to hand over financial documentary evidence
tomorrow of the president`s involvement in that illegal campaign finance
scheme, which Cohen has pled guilty to already – I mean, think about it,
this is already a case where federal prosecutors right now are butting up
against this idea that a president has nothing to fear from the criminal
law, right? This idea that a sitting president just can`t get in trouble
for any crimes he committed, either before or during his presidency.
I mean, on these specific issues, on this specific set of facts about which
Cohen is reportedly going to testify tomorrow and about which he is
reportedly going to hand over incriminating documents tomorrow, federal
prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have already told a
federal judge that the president is personally implicated in the commission
of these felony counts, right? If there is such clarity in the Justice
Department that a president has nothing to fear from the criminal law, how
does – how do you explain that, that federal prosecutors have already told
a federal judge the president is implicated in those felonies?
I mean, depending on what happens tomorrow and what evidence Michael Cohen
makes public, potentially we are getting to the part of the plot here where
we`re going to learn if there are federal prosecutors who may try to
challenge that internal Justice Department policy which says you can`t
indict a president. If prosecutors don`t intend to try to defy or
challenge that policy directly, there is also the possibility, which is
being increasingly discussed in legal circles, that prosecutors may try to
interpret that current Justice Department policy in such a way that they
wouldn`t attempt to directly prosecute the president right now while he`s
still in office, but they might potentially bring a sealed indictment
against the president. One that would only be unsealed once the president
was no longer in office.
Now, such a move would have two advantages from prosecutors` perspective.
First, it would effectively stop the clock on any statute of limitations,
on any crimes committed by the president, right? That would make it so the
president couldn`t use his de facto immunity from prosecution while he`s
serving in office to run out the clock on the statute of limitations for
any of his crimes.
So, that`s one benefit to this sealed indictment approach. Of course, the
second major benefit to prosecutors if they brought a potential sealed
indictment against the president is that that could set the stage for
negotiations of the same kind that the Justice Department entered into with
Spiro Agnew in 1973, right? Negotiations in which this office holder knows
that he is up against serious felony charges but he has this one great
advantage in his plea negotiations with prosecutors, the great advantage
that almost no other criminal defendant has, which is that this office
holder, in this case it would be the president could, like Agnew, offer to
trade away his resignation, just like Agnew did, in exchange for
prosecutors making some or all of those criminal charges go away.
So, again, I think this might be a – I think what`s about to happen might
be a bigger deal than we are broadly grappling with. On the eve of this
testimony from the president`s longtime personal lawyer, with these reports
that Michael Cohen is about to provide evidence in public and to Congress
of the president committing criminal acts while in office, it`s starting to
look like we`re getting into the kind of territory where the Agnew
precedent becomes very relevant, where the issue of the president`s
potential indictability, potential prosecutability are maybe treated as
Maybe the president can`t be prosecuted now under Justice Department
policy, but maybe that`s a separate issue from whether or not the president
can be indicted. And if the president can`t be indicted, is the president
allowed to essentially negotiate with prosecutors over his own fate, as it
balances against those potential criminal charges? If that is the part we
are getting to, then this is also the part of American history where the
character and the independence of the U.S. Justice Department becomes the
most important thing we may ever need to know about this moment in American
I mean, just think about this from the big picture, right? Think about
this like it`s 50 years from now and your grandkids or great grandkids are
looking back at this time in history, right? If we are living through a
moment in which there is an active criminal in the White House, somebody
who is committing felonies while serving as president of the United States,
if we are living through a moment in American history where there is a
criminal in the White House but the Justice Department and our system of
law enforcement and oversight has integrity and is independent and acts the
way it is supposed to when confronted with bad actors like this, then the
history of this moment is the fact that there`s a criminal in the White
House and it becomes an interesting story in American history about that
criminal in the White House.
But on the other hand, if there is a criminal in the White House, if there
is somebody who is serving as president of the United States and committing
felonies while holding that job, and our Justice Department and our system
of law enforcement and oversight doesn`t have integrity and isn`t
independent and goes along with it and helps to cover up those crimes,
helps to make it OK that those crimes were committed simply because the
criminal held a high office when he did it – well, in that case that means
this moment in history is not just about there being a criminal in the
White House, that will mean we have a real problem as a country. That is
going to be harder to fix than if this is just a problem with one bad guy.
So, this scandal surrounding this president and the ongoing legal troubles
of this president at one level are a human drama. At another level, they
are an American drama, and the independence and the integrity of the
Justice Department right now is the pivot on which we decide which of those
this is. So, this is a very delicate moment, and this is a very important
Tonight, a pro-Trump Republican member of congress, congressman from
Florida, got online and started threatening Michael Cohen ahead of his
House testimony tomorrow. That has led to a burst of controversy and
discussion as to whether or not a sitting member of Congress can be legally
liable for violating the federal laws that protect against intimidating
witnesses who are participating in law enforcement proceedings, including
proceedings before Congress.
Today, in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., the special
counsel`s office had a major and long-awaited legal victory, a bunch of
defendants and witnesses in the Russia scandal so far have tried to
challenge the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller as
unconstitutional or somehow improper. Mueller has thus far beaten back all
of those court challenges. By my count there have been four or five of
them before today.
Today, though, Mueller beat back the most serious one. This was the case
involving Andrew Miller, one of the somewhat random young men who is
loosely connected to the president`s longtime political adviser Roger
Stone, who has recently been arrested and charged with seven felony counts.
Andrew Miller had been subpoenaed by the special counsel`s office last year
to supply testimony to the grand jury. Miller had resisted the subpoena
and then conservative legal organizations had taken up Mueller`s case as
their best hope vehicle to try to challenge the existence of the Mueller
investigation, to basically have the Mueller investigation declared
illegal, to have the whole Russia investigation annulled legally.
Well, today in a unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel on the D.C.
Circuit Court, Andrew Miller and those conservative legal organizations
lost that case against the special counsel`s office. Now they may yet
further appeal either to the full on bank D.C. Circuit or to the Supreme
Court, but as of now, they`ve lost, and it looks like as of now Andrew
Miller is going to have to respond to that grand jury subpoena and we will
find out in the end, we expect, what exactly that grand jury subpoena might
be leading toward when it comes to Andrew Miller`s testimony. It also
means that the Mueller investigation is still batting 1.000 in terms of
defending its own existence against these various challenges.
Also today, the accused Russian agent Maria Butina appeared in court in
D.C. for what many observers thought would be the end of her case.
Butina`s lawyer told us last night her passport had been handed over to
U.S. immigration authorities in hopes to quickly facilitating her
deportation to Russia, upon which they hoped and expected to be the quick
conclusion of her case.
Well, at her court hearing in Washington, it didn`t go that way.
Prosecutors told the judge, actually Maria Butina is not done in her
Cooperation with the federal government. They are not ready to move
forward with her sentencing. They don`t expect to be back in court to
start her sentencing process for at least another four weeks.
Now, we don`t know what she is still cooperating on, but prosecutors do say
they want more of her time.
So we are in this moment, right, where we have seen all these obituaries
for the Russia investigation, all these stories about how the Mueller
investigation is wrapping up and they got nothing and it`s all coming to an
Turns out it all proceeds a pace, including from the special counsel`s
office specifically, but this thing that`s going to happen tomorrow in
Congress is potentially a huge deal, with Michael Cohen`s expected
testimony tomorrow we are hitting what appears to be a significant
crossroads. If “The Wall Street Journal” is right tonight and Congress is
about to be given evidence tomorrow, physical evidence of the president
committing financial crimes while he has been serving as president, as a
country, we`re going to have to decide which way we go with that right
away. Like right away. Like before this time tomorrow.
So let`s get to that. The lead reporter on the story from “The Wall Street
Journal” joins us next.
MADDOW: So here`s from “The Wall Street Journal” tonight.
Quote: Michael Cohen, Donald Trump`s former lawyer, plans on Wednesday,
meaning tomorrow, for the first time to publicly accuse President Trump of
engaging while in office in criminal conduct related to a hush money
payment to a porn star. Quote, Mr. Cohen`s planned testimony comes 13
months after “The Journal” first reported that Cohen paid $130,000 in
October 2016 to former adult film star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence
after she alleged having a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.
In December, federal prosecutors in New York for the first time directly
implicated the president in the payoff scheme, referring to him in court
papers as individual one, alleging that Trump had played a key role in the
payments. Cohen plans to give his most detailed public account to date of
Trump`s alleged direction of the hush payments as well as how Trump was
involved in efforts to conceal them from the public weeks before the 2016
election. Cohen also plans to allege that Allen Weisselberg, the Trump
Organization`s chief financial officer, was involved in those efforts.
In his testimony on Wednesday, Cohen will provide documentation of his
reimbursement for the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, which he received
in monthly installments of $35,000 throughout 2017. In other words, while
Trump was president.
Quote: Mr. Cohen intends to show the panel a signed check.
This the news tonight broken by “The Wall Street Journal.” The president`s
longtime lawyer is going to show the House Oversight Committee a signed
check documenting him being reimbursed for this illegal campaign
contribution hush money scheme, which raises some questions, right? Some
very important questions in terms of what`s about to happen next with this
If the checks to Cohen covering that illegal campaign contribution hush
money payment were checks that were signed by the president, what does that
mean legally for the president? And if, as prosecutors say, the money for
those hush money illegal campaign contributions was falsely booked at the
Trump Organization, at the president`s business, as some kind of legal fee
when in fact it was not at all, what does that mean legally both for the
president and for the president`s business itself?
Joining us now is Rebecca Ballhaus, White House reporter for “The Wall
Ms. Ballhaus, congratulations on this tonight. This is an important story.
REBECCA BALLHAUS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thanks
for having me.
MADDOW: So, your reporting at “The Journal” that Cohen intends to accuse
Trump of criminal conduct while in office. So I imagine the distinction
there is between what he said in his allocution in federal court when he
accused the president of having directed the commission of this felony.
That was something that would have happened during the campaign before he
was sworn in.
You`re saying what he`s going to provide tomorrow is that the president`s
criminal involvement in this scheme persisted and extended into his time
when he was serving as president.
BALLHAUS: That`s right. And it`s a key distinction when a lot of
lawmakers have raised questions about if you`re beginning impeachment
hearings or even looking at that, can you examine actions that were done to
win election or does it need to be actions that were committed while in
MADDOW: In terms of the check that Mr. Cohen is due to show this committee
tomorrow, this is a check – is it clear from the context or from the
document itself that this check is in fact a reimbursement for Cohen`s –
Cohen putting forth money in this illegal scheme as opposed to this check
being for some kind of legal fee or legal retainer as it appears the Trump
Organization might have put it in their books?
BALLHAUS: That`s a question that we don`t yet know the answer to, and I
think the context in which Cohen puts this tomorrow is going to make all
the difference. We do expect him to, as you mentioned, show a signed check
to the committee that is a reimbursement for the payment that he made to
Stormy Daniels in October 2016. We don`t know if the check is going to be
marked for Stormy Daniels.
I, in fact, would expect it would not be marked that way. We don`t know if
he`s going to talk about any conversations he had with the president about
that reimbursement while he was in office. Something like that would make
the difference in terms of making the point that the president was aware of
this Stormy Daniels payment in 2017, which the president has said he was
MADDOW: If the president`s business was used essentially to try to cover
up and hide the existence of this illegal campaign contribution, right, I`m
describing it as an illegal campaign contribution because that`s what
Michael Cohen has pled guilty to when this set of facts was described in
relation to his charging documents when he pled guilty to these two
campaign finance felonies. If this was all done, if this was all covered
up through the president`s business, what`s the significance of the
president as an officer of that business versus Allen Weisselberg who is
the chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, how is Mr.
Weisselberg play into this? How is the president`s business potentially
implicated here as a business entity?
BALLHAUS: Well, I think we know already from the charging documents from
August that were filed in the Manhattan – by the Manhattan U.S. attorney`s
office that the – that officers of the Trump Organization are implicated.
We`ve reported that executive one, who is named in the documents, is Allen
Weisselberg, the company`s longtime CFO.
And we know that Michael Cohen is going to testify tomorrow and has already
told prosecutors that Weisselberg was involved in trying to cover up this
Stormy Daniels payment. We also have reported that SDNY since Michael
Cohen`s guilty plea has kind of broadened its organization to look at the
Trump Organization and possible campaign finance violations by the company.
I think the degree to which the president is implicated in the
investigation into the company remains to be seen. He, of course, has
turned over management of the company to his adult sons and to Mr.
Weisselberg. He does still retain ownership of the company, and I think
the degree to which he was involved in organizing that reimbursement and –
when he signed those checks could be really important here.
MADDOW: Rebecca Ballhaus, White House reporter for “The Wall Street
Journal.” “The Wall Street Journal,” of course, has done absolutely
pioneering work on a number of aspects of this story as it relates to
Michael Cohen but this hush money payment in particular. Thanks for
helping us understand your reporting, Rebecca. We appreciate you being
BALLHAUS: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We got much more to get to tonight. Do stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: In your opening
statement, you say, and I quote, the threats to our nation from our
southern border are not military in nature, closed quotes. So just to be
clear, in your professional opinion, does the illegal crossing of the
border by civilians represent a military threat?
GEN. TERRENCE O`SHAUGHNESSY, COMMANDER, U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND: Senator,
first, I would say first that I do think a secure border does reduce
threats to the homeland. Now specific to your question about is it a
military threat that is coming towards us, it is not a military threat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It is not a military threat. That`s the top U.S. general for
homeland defense saying clearly today there is no military threat emanating
from the U.S. southern border.
Now that, of course, is not helpful to a president who is trying to declare
the southern border to be a national emergency to justify the president
taking money from the military`s budget to instead build himself a wall
between us and Mexico.
But now, this is interesting. Today, two members of the House Armed
Services Committee sent this letter to the Pentagon demanding written
justification for the idea of using the military`s money to build the
president`s wall. What is most interesting about this is this is a
bipartisan letter. This is signed by John Garamendi, who is the chairman,
the Democratic chairman of that subcommittee. It`s also signed by Doug
Lamborn, who is the Republican ranking member of that subcommittee, which
has oversight over how the military spends its money.
They are demanding an answer to their letter by Friday, demanding a
justification for why the president is going to take military money to
build that wall on the basis of that so-called emergency declaration. So
stick a pin in that. They say nothing bipartisan ever happens anymore.
That was bipartisan.
This has been a day of a lot of unusual things happening on Capitol Hill.
The other must-see news from Congress we`ve got coming just ahead. Do stay
(BEGN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: When a stranger
rips a child from a parent`s arms without any plans to reunify them, it is
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The subpoena cannon fired its first shots today. The House today
approved the first subpoenas of the new Congress since Democrats have taken
control. The subpoenas will require the White House to turn over records
about the Trump administration`s policy of taking kids away from their
parents at the southern border.
This was a bipartisan move today. Two Republicans voted with their
Democratic colleagues to issue these subpoenas. The Democratic chairman of
the committee that ordered them Elijah Cummings said today that the
subpoenas are part of his committee`s job to protect kids from what he
called government-sponsored child abuse.
When the Trump administration started forcibly taking little kids away from
their parents at the border, as a matter of policy, part of the moral and
legal disaster of that policy is that they made no plan to track those kids
after they took them away from their parents, let alone a plan to
eventually reunite them with their moms and dads.
Today, the Democratic-led Judiciary Committee held a hearing to try to find
out why. Most of the headlines about the testimony today were about how
senior Trump administration officials admitted they did nothing when they
were warned that family separations would harm these kids and harm their
families. They went ahead with it anyway.
But part of what was so striking about this hearing today was the way
members of Congress have started talking about the family separation issue.
The focus was not just on the numbers of kids taken away, the statistics,
trying to get a handle on the size of the problem, from the beginning
today, it was striking. This hearing was about what this policy did, what
the U.S. government has done under President Trump to essentially negate
the value of these families who have come to the United States, to nullify
the idea of them having meaningful family ties.
It was about the impact that the Trump administration in this policy has
had on moms and dads and kids and about the outrage that came out of what
the Trump administration did when they basically decided to annul the
family bonds of these families. To dissolve what held them together and
pretend that nothing relevant did. No regard for their value as a family.
No plan to put them back together again.
When you treat families like their family bonds don`t matter to you and
don`t exist, it ultimately leads to criticism like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADLER: When a stranger rips a child from a parent`s arms without any plan
to reunify them, it is called kidnapping.
REP. MARY GAY SCANLON (D), PENNSYLVANIA: When the issue is framed as an
invasion by aliens and when we refer to children as UAC`s, it`s easier to
pretend they`re not human or worthy of compassion.
CARLA PROVOST, U.S. BORDER PATROL CHIEF: But the focus was on, first and
foremost, criminal aliens.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: By criminal aliens, you mean human
beings, is that correct?
PROVOST: Yes, sir, illegal alien is a term in law, but, immigrants, yes.
JEFFRIES: OK. Undocumented immigrants.
REP. SYLVIA GARCIA (D), TEXAS: Did you ever just say this really goes
against humanity, we should not be doing this to children?
SCOTT LLOYD, FORMER OFFICE OF REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT DIRECTOR: I did not see
anything along those lines, as apparent in the –
GARCIA: Did you ever think of your own child and what would happen if
someone took your child from you?
REP. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: If a parent is deported and they know
where their child is in the United States, how do they get their child
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Congresswoman Karen Bass from California there at the end asking a
question that the Trump administration had no plan to answer when they
started taking kids away from their parents, how do they get their child
Joining us now is Congresswoman Karen Bass. She`s a Democrat from
California, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and she`s chair of
the Congressional Black Caucus.
She was here at today`s hearing on family separations.
Congresswoman, it`s a really pleasure to have you here tonight. Thank you
for joining us.
BASS: Thank you.
MADDOW: First of all, I`m struck by the fact that as far as I can tell,
these are the first subpoenas to the Trump administration from Congress
since the Democrats have taken control, and to have it happen on this
issue, to see that pointed and emotional hearing today, I just wanted to
get big picture your perspective on whether or not this is going to change,
whether this is something that can be remedied. Whether you think Congress
can make progress on this.
BASS: Well, I absolutely think it has to be remedied, but I think there is
going to need to be legislation that absolutely requires the government to
take responsibility for reunification because you know right now the
government is not responsible. I think that the parents that were
deported, they need to send the children back. They also need to incur the
expense because I have been told on numerous occasions that families have
to pay to have their children flown home.
But one of the things that concerns me a lot, Rachel, is this category of
parents that were considered ineligible to reunify with their children.
There is no basis for a border patrol agent to determine who is eligible or
ineligible to be a parent. We do not treat children that way in the child
welfare system when their parents have been charged with neglect and abuse.
So, why on earth would we do that to parents who have no charge at all?
MADDOW: The slipperiness of this policy has made it hard I think to cover
and hard for the general public to keep track of whether or not progress is
being made and whether or not the general public outrage over this policy
is being attended by this administration. Part of I feel like what you
were getting at today in your questioning and some of your other colleagues
on your committee as well was the issue of whether or not the
administration actually has a coherent policy on this, whether or not it
ended at a specific time. Whether there are still ways that families are
being separated, even when the – when the administration says that the
policy broadly is over.
Do you feel like you and your colleagues are getting to the bottom of
whether or not this is still happening and to what degree?
BASS: No. I think we`re right at the surface, but I do think they have a
coherent policy. Their policy is to punish parents and to have that be a
deterrent so that people won`t continue to come across the border. One of
the most egregious policies I think that we will look back years from now
and say we cannot believe that our government actually did this.
So I think they have a coherent policy. I do think progress is being made
on the children that are party to the lawsuit of the ACLU, but the children
that were not involved in that lawsuit before the case was filed and after,
I`m not sure what`s happening there. I do believe separations are
continuing because it`s not clear who they decide is a family member or
Does a grandmother qualify? Does a sibling qualify? Does an aunt qualify?
I don`t believe they do.
And they do still separate the children, and I don`t believe that they know
how many children were separated. I believe that they are only accounting
for the children in the lawsuit, not the ones before and not the ones
MADDOW: Congresswoman Karen Bass of California, thank you for your time
tonight. I know that this is just the start with the Judiciary Committee
and with Congress in general. I hope you`ll keep us apprised as you guys
keep digging into this. Thanks for being here.
BASS: Absolutely. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right.
I need to tell you, since we`ve been on the air tonight, we have just
gotten an opinion, an important opinion on this question, which may be
coming up soon, which is the question of whether or not a sitting president
can be indicted. Since I have been on the air tonight, we`ve had an
opinion issued on that subject from someone who is very qualified to take a
position on it. I`m going to get this together in the commercial break.
It`s just happened. We`ll have that story for you next.
MADDOW: Former Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly mulling a potential
run for president this year. Attorney General Holder has not yet said one
way or the other if he is going to run, but the fact that he last talked to
reporters about that possibility while he happened to be visiting Des
Moines, Iowa, tells you that is he definitely thinking about it.
Tonight, however, former Attorney General Eric Holder has just made some
news for a different reason. Since we have been on the air tonight, just a
few minutes ago amid this cascade of news about the president`s former
lawyer Michael Cohen testifying in open session tomorrow to what we`re told
to expect will be alleged criminal conduct by the president while President
Trump served as president.
While we have been talking about that anticipated testimony tomorrow from
Michael Cohen, Attorney General Eric Holder has just tweeted moments ago,
quote: A sitting president can be indicted. He wrote, quote: The
Constitution does not anticipate allowing a president who used fraud to
obtain the office to remain in power. Executive branch paralysis during
the criminal process is not a compelling argument against the ability to
indict a president, consider the 25th Amendment, a sitting president can be
Again, Eric Holder posting that this hour.
We are living through a wild moment in American politics. We are living,
frankly, through a wild moment in American history, but there`s more to
come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: I can`t imagine you have not already called in sick on the
occasion of this, but just so you know, the Michael Cohen testimony
tomorrow is due to start at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. You should absolutely
plan to watch it live right here at MSNBC throughout the duration of that
hearing. Then we`ll see you here tomorrow night.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the