Michael Cohen Screenshots. TRANSCRIPT: 4/24/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Transcript:

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST:  And my final note on this today, I think all these

candidates really did a great service to the electorate by showing up

today, talking about issues, bringing their A game.  I think everyone

acquitted themselves in fine fashion just by being there.  It`s an

important electorate, and they had to be there. 

 

That`s it for ALL IN this evening. 

 

“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now. 

 

Good evening, Rachel. 

 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  You had such an incredible day today, Joy. 

 

REID:  It was – it started really early like at 3:00 a.m. out of my bed. 

So I was a little tired.  But it was really fascinating to hear how they

interacted with those crowds.  All of them were different.  All of them

were good in their own way.  It was really – it was a fascinating and

great day. 

 

MADDOW:  I mean, it was an amazing event.  It was very well moderated.  You

did a really, really, really good job. 

 

And the tape, just seeing as you say, seeing the different approaches of

all of those different candidates, seeing the interactions, seeing the

crowd response, seeing the way they handled the crowd response and how they

were able to convey their sincerity on these issue, it was just incredible. 

 

I`ve seen a lot of these forums.  I`ve seen a lot of these cattle call

events.  This one was just stunning.  You did an amazing, amazing job

today, Joy.  Well done. 

 

REID:  Thank you so much.  And kudos to Aimee Allison who put that whole

thing together and moderated with me.  She was amazing. 

 

And have a great show. 

 

MADDOW:  Thank you. 

 

REID:  Thanks.  Cheers.

 

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  It`s great to

have you here. 

 

So this I did not see coming.  “The Washington Post” tonight publishing an

unexpected op-ed from former secretary of state, former senator, former

first lady and the Democratic presidential nominee who received several

million more votes for president than Donald Trump did in 2016, but still

lost to him in the Electoral College.  Hillary Clinton publishing an op-ed

in “The Washington Post” tonight titled “Mueller documented a serious crime

against all Americans.  Here`s how to respond.”

 

And as the title implies, it is a prescriptive thing.  It`s essentially a

map for advancing from the Mueller report, and it does not pull punches. 

 

This is the lead, quote: Our election was corrupted, our democracy

assaulted, our sovereignty and security violated.  This is the definitive

conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller`s report.  It documents a

serious crime against the American people. 

 

The debate about how to respond to Russia`s sweeping and systemic attack,

which is how Mueller described it, and how to hold President Trump

accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law

has been reduced, Hillary Clinton says, to a false choice, immediate

impeachment or nothing.  History suggests there is a better way to think

about the choices ahead. 

 

She says, quote: What our country needs now is clear-eyed patriotism, not

reflexive partisanship.  Whether they like it or not, Republicans in

Congress share the constitutional responsibility to protect the country. 

Mueller`s report leaves many unanswered questions, but it is a road map. 

It is up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads, to

the eventual filing of articles of impeachment or not. 

 

Congress should hold substantive hearings that build on the Mueller report

and fill in its gaps, not jump straight to an up or down vote on

impeachment.  In 1998, the Republican-led House rushed to judgment.  That

was a mistake then and would be a mistake now.  She is referring there, of

course, to the impeachment proceedings in the House against her husband in

1998. 

 

She then says, quote, Watergate offers a better precedent.  Then as now,

there was an investigation that found evidence of corruption and a cover-

up.  It was complimented by public hearings conducted by a Senate Select

Committee, which insisted that executive privilege could not be used to

shield criminal conduct and compel White House aides to testify.  The

televised hearings added to the actual record and crucially helped the

public understand the facts in a way that no dense legal report could. 

 

Similar hearings with Mueller, former White House counsel Don McGahn, and

other key witnesses could do the same today.  Clinton then calls for the

House Judiciary Committee to appoint a respected leader to lead an

impeachment investigation, just as the Watergate era Judiciary Committee

did when they hired a former Justice Department official named John Doar. 

Clinton then calls for an independent bipartisan commission along the lines

of the 9/11 Commission to help protect our elections from future attacks

like the one we suffered in 2016. 

 

She cites “The New York Times” report today that White House chief of staff

Mick Mulvaney reportedly told the homeland security secretary that she

should not bring up the Russian threat to attack the 2020 election.  She

shouldn`t bring that up with President Trump because President Trump didn`t

want to hear anything about that.  Clinton references that report from “The

Times” today and calls that, quote, the latest example of an administration

that refuses to take even the most minimal common sense steps to protect

future attacks and counter ongoing threats to our nation. 

 

And, of course, at this point, you know, implicit there is the argument

that if the current president, if the sitting president isn`t protecting

the country, if he is effectively stopping the rest of his administration

and therefore the rest of the federal government from protecting the

country from this kind of foreign attack, well, then, somebody`s got to

step up and do it, right?  Implicit in this critique from Clinton is this

imperative that she feels that if nobody else is going to lead on this

because the president won`t or worse, then she`ll try to, even if all she`s

got is the op-ed page now from which to do it. 

 

But in this surprise op-ed tonight, she is calling on Congress to take the

reins on this, and she is calling on regular citizens to make them do it. 

She says, quote, we have to get this right.  The Mueller report isn`t just

a reckoning about our recent history.  It is a warning about the future. 

 

Unless checked, the Russians will interfere again in 2020 and possibly

other adversaries such as China or North Korea will as well.  This is an

urgent threat.  Nobody but Americans should be able to decide America`s

future. 

 

And unless he`s held accountable, the president, meaning Donald Trump, may

show even more disregard for the laws of the land and the obligations of

his office.  He will likely redouble his efforts to advance Putin`s agenda,

including rolling back sanctions, weakening NATO, and undermining the

European Union.  Of all the lessons from our history, the one that`s most

important may be that each of us has a vital role to play as citizens. 

 

She closes: A crime was committed against all Americans, and all Americans

should demand action and accountability.  Our founders envisioned the

danger we face today and designed a system to meet it.  Now it is up to us

to prove the wisdom of our Constitution, the resilience of our democracy

and the strength of our nation.

 

Hillary Clinton writing tonight in “The Washington Post” in response to the

Mueller report and in response to the ongoing fallout and political fights

that have happened since the report was finally released in redacted form

last week.  I think the headline here is that she is calling not for an

immediate vote on impeachment the way the Republican-led Congress

immediately went right to an impeachment vote as soon as they got the Ken

Starr vote.  She is calling instead for the Watergate model, the

Democratic-led committees in the House and I think she would say the

Republican-led committees in the Senate is what she is implying should open

investigations that build on the Mueller report, that fill in the gaps. 

And if they lean toward impeachment, let them do it.  But they ought to

fill out this record on their own. 

 

Now, we have asked Secretary Clinton if she wants to come on the show and

talk about this and talk about her response to the Mueller report more

broadly.  I have nothing to report to you at this point in terms to the

response to that request, but you will be first to know if and when to

schedule that interview.  I will keep you posted. 

 

But on the subject of the fallout from Mueller`s report and the response to

it, I will tell you, I was surprised to see this Hillary Clinton op-ed

tonight.  I was even more surprised to see a super strange development in

the aftermath of the Mueller report tonight that was published by Bloomberg

News.  It was right around the time this Hillary Clinton op-ed posted. 

 

We got this gem posted at Bloomberg News.  It`s a screen shot of a series

of text messages, and the date on this string of text messages is

supposedly October 30th, 2016.  So right before is the 2016 presidential

election.  And you can read what it says there. 

 

To Michael M. Cohen, the president`s long-time personal lawyer.  Outgoing

message to him says, quote: Stopped flow of some tapes from Russia, but not

sure if there is anything else.  Just so you know. 

 

Cohen then responds: Tapes of what?  The sender responds: Not sure of the

content, but person in Moscow was bragging had tapes from Russia trip. 

 

Next message: We`ll try to dial you tomorrow, but wanted to be aware.  Next

message: I`m sure it`s not a big deal, but there are lots of stupid people. 

 

“Bloomberg” then reports that the next two checks in the chain are Michael

Cohen saying you have no idea and the initial sender replying back to him,

I do, trust me. 

 

So, you know what that`s about, right?  I did not see this coming. 

Specifically, in the most immediate sense, what this is about is a very

provocative little tiny piece of Mueller`s redacted report.  A little piece

of Mueller`s report which raises eyebrows for everybody who looks at it,

but nobody really knows what to do with it. 

 

It`s from the part of the Mueller report where Mueller is describing

Trump`s interact was former FBI Director James Comey, and James Comey`s

contemporaneous notes and memos and all their interactions.  This part of

the report explains how during the presidential transition, January 2017,

before the inauguration, Comey and other law enforcement and intelligence

officials went to Trump tower to brief Trump and some other transition

officials on Russia`s attack on the election, and then thereafter, Comey

also privately briefed Trump on the contents of the Steele dossier, this

document that was circulating in journalistic and law enforcement circles

in D.C. and Comey briefed the president on it privately, one to one,

basically because these law enforcement officials and intelligence

officials believed that the president-elect should know that this document

was out there and what it said. 

 

Now famously, of course, one of the things that Steele dossier said was

that part of the Russian government`s leverage over Trump is that there was

allegedly some tape, some videotape showing Trump`s behavior in Moscow

during a previous business trip which was supposedly of a salacious and

embarrassing nature, something involving a hotel and some ladies and never

mind.  Nobody has ever proved this tape or these tapes exist.  The whole

point was that in this dossier, which was circulating in D.C., that tape or

those tapes were alleged to exist. 

 

And the point of that being mentioned in the dossier was this allegation

that President-elect Trump was somehow over a barrel with Russia.  They

could blackmail him.  They had leverage over him.  They had something on

him that he wouldn`t want anybody to know about. 

 

And so, since that accusation about the president-elect was circulating,

intelligence and law enforcement officials at the highest level believed

that the president should know about it.  They`re not going to keep it from

him.  They should know that that is out there. 

 

That`s the context about this part of the Mueller report describing that

briefing.  Pop down to the footnotes for the real news here, though. 

Footnote 112. 

 

Comey`s briefing included the Steele reporting`s unverified allegation that

the Russians had compromising tapes of the president involving conduct when

he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe

Pageant.  During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have

reached candidate Trump.  Oh really? 

 

On October 30th, 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian

businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze.  Rtskhiladze said that – told Cohen that

he, quote, stopped flow of tapes from Russia but he`s not sure if there is

anything else, just so you know.  Again, this is a footnote in the Mueller

report. 

 

The Mueller report then cites a October 30th, 2016, text message from

Rtskhiladze to Cohen.  Rtskhiladze said tapes, referring to compromising

tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian

real estate conglomerate Crocus Group which helped host the 2013 Miss

Universe Pageant in Russia. 

 

And continuing with this part of the Mueller report in this footnote. 

Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from

Rtskhiladze.  Cohen said that in an FBI interview, according to Mueller`s

report.  Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not

communicate that to Cohen.  He said that in an FBI interview. 

 

So, I mean, first of all, let me just be clear – I have no idea if that`s

actually how you say this dude`s name, OK?  He is a Georgian businessman,

not Atlanta, Georgia, the former Soviet Georgia.  He was involved in Trump

business deals over there.  He is now, I should tell you, Georgian-

American.  He became a naturalized citizen a couple of years ago. 

 

But his name – his last name literally starts with five straight

consonants before you get to a very unhelpful vowel.  And so, I apologize

for not knowing how to pronounce things that start with the letters RTSKH,

in that order.  I really don`t know.  I`m sorry.  I`m going to go with

Rtskhiladze.  Rtskhiladze.I`m going to go with Rtskhiladze until I`m

corrected.  So, I`m sorry about that. 

 

But the news here unfolds in an odd way.  Republicans in particular, the

White House specifically, and a lot of the press have derided the

Christopher Steele dossier, right?  And they have particularly derided this

claim about there being this alleged tape of Trump`s behavior from a Moscow

trip, a tape being held in Moscow as leverage against him.  Well, that`s

been derided left, right and center, that claim from the Steele dossier,

right? 

 

But according to the Mueller report, it turns out before the election and

well before any of the Steele dossier or anything like that claim ever saw

the light of day, a guy Trump actually did know from business connections

in the former Soviet Union actually did get in touch with Michael Cohen to

tell him to tell Trump that he was stopping the flow of some tapes from

Russia.  Person in Moscow bragging “had tapes from Russia trip.” oh, good,

he stopped the tapes from getting out of Russia. 

 

And according to Mueller, Cohen then told Trump about that before the

election.  So that means Trump knew that somewhere in the former Soviet

Union, a business buddy of his had taken action to make sure tapes,

supposedly from Trump`s trip to Russia, those tapes weren`t getting out. 

Don`t worry, all taken care of.  I took care of that for you, right? 

 

And that`s – that`s in the Mueller report.  Footnote 112, volume 2.  Just

dangling out there like a thread that`s screaming tie me off!  Are you

crazy?  Snip me.  Snip.  This can`t be left. 

 

Now, “Bloomberg News”, Stephanie Baker and Helena Bedwell at “Bloomberg

News” have got ahold of the Trump business contact from Georgia who

supposedly took care of this tapes problem for him.  He is the one who

provided to Bloomberg today this longer screen shot of what he says was his

text exchange with Michael Cohen right before the election so we can see

the full context of his remarks about the supposed tapes. 

 

And remember, in the Mueller report, they only quoted this one text:

Stopped flow of some tapes from Russia.  Not sure if there is anything

else.  Just so you know. 

 

Well, now, this businessman is providing the texts of the rest of the

conversation as context, because this lawyer tells “Bloomberg News” the way

that message shows up in the Mueller report isn`t fair.  Rtskhiladze`s

lawyers telling “Bloomberg” that Mueller`s report`s footnote includes only

part of the text exchange with Cohen, failing to provide the full context. 

The FBI and Mueller`s team, quote, spliced the dialogue to produce the ugly

insinuations and allegations of footnote 112 to attract publicity. 

 

And so, therefore because it`s been so taken out of context and this is so

unfair, this Georgian businessman wants these other texts in the same

string of conversation to be made public too, including the immediate

follow-on text which explains that these tapes were allegedly were from the

Russia trip, which is exactly what you would expect to see here if it

really turns out in real life that Trump knew full well he was explicitly

warned ahead of the election while Russia was interfering in the election

to help him that there were some sort of tapes about him, allegedly from

his Russia trip back in the day, and those tapes were being kept inside

Russia by a business associate who was doing him a favor. 

 

And just so you know, Michael Cohen, I`m on it over here when it comes to

those tapes.  I`m stopping the flow of those tapes out of Russia, because

otherwise, they`d be out there without my intervention. 

 

I mean, honestly, personally, the one thing I refuse to let myself think

about was the prospect of incriminating salacious tapes or Trump being

warned that there were incriminating salacious tapes of him in Russia,

tapes that Russia could let out into the world, but they were stopping that

from happening.  I mean, that`s the one part of this whole ridiculous D-

grade movie we have been living through that I refuse to let sit in my

brain when thinking about this president and this scandal and Russia

messing with our election to benefit him, and him potentially be

compromised by Russia at the same time. 

 

I mean, I just didn`t want to think about the whole tapes thing, but now,

here`s the whole tapes thing.  And the revelation in the Mueller report

that Trump was not hearing about those supposed tapes of him in Russia for

the first time when he heard about it from James Comey during the

transition.  He had already heard about it from this connected businessman

in the former Soviet Union before the election. 

 

So that happened today.  Enjoy your dinner.  Tums and roll aids right there

next to the TV, take as many as you need. 

 

The aftermath of the Mueller report is apparently even today still opening

up new spigots of information, but it is starting to become clear that

there are two areas of trouble that appear to be most unsettling to the

president at this point in the process.  Two areas where the president and

the White House are scrambling harder than they are on anything else to try

to stop ongoing investigations in their tracks.  The first clearly is

financial issue, the money trail. 

 

There is no indication in Mueller`s report that Mueller investigated

anything having to do with the president`s business or financial

entanglements at all.  There just isn`t information than stuff in Mueller`s

report or any reference that we can see at least in the parts that are

unredacted.  That`s actually in keeping with warnings that we`ve had from

months from Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. 

 

Adam Schiff has repeatedly said that Mueller wasn`t looking at that.  That

said, today, the president spoke to reporters at the White House and said

oh, yes, Mueller did do that.  He must have. 

 

The president told reporters today at the White House, quote, now, Mueller,

I assume checked my taxes, checked my financials, which are great.  All you

have to do is go look at the records.  They`re all over the place.  But

they checked my financials and they checked my taxes. 

 

They did?  You know that?  Really?  Turns out no, the White House does not

know that.  An anonymous source quickly walked that back to CNN`s Jim

Acosta tonight saying actually, despite the president`s remarks to that

effect, they have no idea, they have no idea if Mueller looked at Trump`s

taxes or financials. 

 

But there is a reason President Trump is saying that anyway.  There is a

reason he is saying oh, sure, Mueller looked at my taxes.  Mueller went

through all my financials.  That`s done.  No need to look there.  It`s

already taken care of. 

 

I mean, the president made those soon-to-be walked back comments about

Mueller`s investigation today in the middle of him arguing to reporters

that his financials and his taxes are all out of bounds for any further

investigation.  And, you know, sometimes he says that`s because his taxes

are under audit, and so nobody`s allowed to look at them.  Sometimes he

says his finances are just a red line, and crossing that red line would

give him grounds to fire anyone who tries to take a look at them. 

Sometimes, now as of today, he says oh, Mueller already looked at all of

that stuff, and turned out it`s all fine. 

 

None of those things are true, but he rolls out new excuses and new

explanations for why people can`t look at his finances and his taxes all

the time.  He really doesn`t want any investigators looking at his finances

or his taxes.  His actions tell you that even more emphatically than his

words. 

 

We are now two days in to the IRS just flatly refusing to hand over the

president`s taxes to the ways and means committee chairman.  They are

required by very simple direct law to do that.  It`s a law that as far as

we know nobody has ever broken before.  So we`re not sure how this is going

to be adjudicated now that they`re just saying no. 

 

One former treasury saying now if Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

continues to block the IRS from handing over the returns, if Mnuchin,

quote, does not turn over the requested turns, he has likely engaged in the

most serious executive branch defiance of law since the Nixon

administration.  That`s becoming a theme. 

 

In addition to, as far to them just defying the law in the issue of the tax

returns, there is also this funny little lawsuit the president has filed in

his personal capacity to try to stop his accounting firm from handing over

financial documents about him to the oversight committee.  We`ll have more

on that a little later on this hour.  But the law really isn`t on the

president`s side on stopping this kind of oversight.  Being under audit

doesn`t help him.  Call it a red line doesn`t help him.  Lying what Mueller

looked at doesn`t help him. 

 

The financial stuff is going to get out.  I mean, it`s already getting out. 

 

Just today, CNN is reporting that Deutsche Bank is now in the process of

handing over their Trump-related financial records in response to a

subpoena from the New York state attorney general, documents about Trump

himself, the Trump D.C. Hotel, the Trump Chicago Hotel, the Trump Doral

property in Florida, the failed Trump effort to buy the Buffalo Bills,

which is an effort Michael Cohen says the president radically inflated his

assets in an effort to get bank financing to do it.  All those documents

are now in the process of being handed over. 

 

The president is scrambling to try to stop the money trail from being

followed.  But he is not going to be able to stop those records from

getting out.  Even if you just look at Deutsche Bank alone, they`re

cooperating with Financial Services Committee too, and the Intelligence

Committee in the House.  We know as of today with the CNN reporting that

they`re handing over subpoena documents in New York to New York law

enforcement.  I mean, it`s on. 

 

The president is scrambling here, including making stuff up now about

Mueller`s investigation saying Mueller covered all.  This nobody else need

to do it.  Nice try, but it`s on.  It`s happening. 

 

And simultaneously, the second area, the other most acute area of trouble

for the president, the other area for which he is scrambling the fastest

right now, other than his financials is his newly emergent, very serious

John Dean problem. 

 

John Dean in 1973 had just left the Nixon White House under contentious

circumstances.  When Dean was called to testify before Congress before the

Senate Watergate Committee, that Dean testimony ended up being blockbuster

stuff about the Watergate cover-up and the president`s role in it, and

dangling pardons and clemency to people to shut them up, and intimidating

witnesses and obstruction of justice and the Nixon enemies list.  And even

from John Dean, they got the first inklings there might be a White House

taping system. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  The president almost from the

outset began asking me a number of leading questions, which was somewhat

unlike his normal conversational relationships I`d had with him, which made

me think that the conversation was being taped and a record was being made

to protect himself.  I do not in fact know if such a tape exists, but if it

does exist and has not been tampered with and it`s a complete transcript of

the entire conversation that took place in the president`s office, I think

this committee should have that tape because I believe it would corroborate

many of the things this committee has asked me to testify about. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  At that point, Watergate investigators didn`t know there was a

White House taping system.  John Dean indicates to them that things about

the president`s behavior in the Oval Office suggested to him that there

might be a taping system somewhere, and they should follow that up.  They

did.  We know how that ended. 

 

John Dean had been Nixon`s White House counsel.  President Nixon tried to

keep John dean from testifying after they called him to come testify before

that Watergate committee.  Nixon held a press conference in which he said,

of course, he would object to dean testifying.  He said, quote: No

president could ever agree to allow the counsel to the president to go down

and testify before a committee. 

 

Of course, he felt that way.  It was a nice try from Nixon, but it didn`t

work.  It didn`t work thanks in part to the response it earned from Sam

Ervin, who was the head of the Watergate Committee in the Senate at the

time. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He let loose a blast at the president, which people

will be talking about for some time.  Ervin said under no circumstances

will he accept unsworn testimony, and he said if subpoenas are issued for

White House aides, and those aides don`t appear, he will ask the Senate to

issue warrants for their arrest. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  Oh, you want to stop White House staff from giving sworn

testimony, Mr. President?  We will arrest them.  We will arrest your White

House aides and your former White House counsel and anybody else you`re

trying to keep from testifying to us.  We will arrest them and compel their

testimony.  You sure you want the say that he can`t be here? 

 

That was the response from the Watergate Committee in 1973.  And so, yes,

John Dean testified, and we know how that worked out in 1973.  It took a

long time after his testimony, but a little over a year later is when

President Nixon had to resign.  That`s when they moved toward passing the

articles of impeachment against him. 

 

Well, now, this president is trying to as of today stop all White House

staffers, including specifically his White House counsel Don McGahn from

testifying under subpoena from Congress.  You can see why the president

would be wanting to block all White House aides from testifying and

specifically Don McGahn. 

 

But it turns out the way President Trump is trying to stop that testimony

before Congress not only looks like it won`t work, it might also be getting

this president in further trouble.  And what`s interesting to me about that

prospect is that this president right now, president Trump is being warned

about that now by a former lawyer for a president named Richard Nixon.  And

when Richard Nixon`s lawyer is warning the current president that he is

doing stuff that might get him in trouble, that lands a little differently

than when anybody else says it. 

 

That lawyer joins us next.  Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  With the White House now asserting that they will block all White

House current and former personnel from responding to any congressional

subpoenas, with the White House amping up its criticism of former White

House counsel Don McGahn for his very effective testimony to the Mueller

investigation, particularly about the president`s alleged obstruction of

justice with a specific pledge from the Trump White House now that they

will try to keep Don McGahn from testifying to Congress, despite the fact

that he has already been subpoenaed to testify, there are now today

warnings about the behavior of the president and the Trump White House here

that are coming from some interesting and unexpected quarters. 

 

Quoting from politico.com today, quote: This is risky, says William

Jeffress, a prominent Washington defense attorney.  Jeffress continues: I

find it surprising because the president is taking these shots at witnesses

who gave information to Mueller.  I think he has got to be careful because

there is an explicit federal statute punishing retaliation against

witnesses.  This is risky what the president is doing, particularly with

Don McGahn. 

 

You know, it`s one thing if you are the chairman of the House Oversight

Committee, you`re Congressman Elijah Cummings or chairman of the Judiciary

Committee, Jerrold Nadler, and you`re out making this kind of argument

about how the president is behaving and trying to block witnesses in coming

before their committees, how the president might even be in trouble for

behaving that way toward potential witnesses before those committees.  You

might expect that from those players in this drama, right?  You would not

necessarily expect it from one of President Richard Nixon`s lawyers, but

that is who William Jeffress is.

 

And that makes it all the more interesting that he is issuing this warning

today for the behavior of this president and this White House today. 

 

Joining us now is William Jeffress.  He is a lawyer who represented

President Nixon after he left office.  Mr. Jeffress, thank you so much for

joining us tonight.  It`s great to have you here. 

 

WILLIAM JEFFRESS, FORMER NIXON ATTORNEY:  Good evening, Rachel. 

 

MADDOW:  In what sense do you mean that the president`s behavior right now

might be – might be risky, might be legally risky? 

 

JEFFRESS:  Well, through his tweets if nothing else, President Trump has

made it clear that he is furious at a number of people, certainly including

Don McGahn, including Michael Cohen, likely including others who provided

information to Mr. Mueller.  And that information made its way into the

report and was embarrassing to President Trump. 

 

Now, there is a criminal statute on the books.  It`s called retaliation

against witnesses.  It punishes anybody who takes action to retaliate

against a witness who has provided truthful information to law enforcement

authorities. 

 

And President Trump and his lawyers have got to be very cautious in taking

any action other than words against any of these people who he is angry at. 

 

MADDOW:  In terms of – what you just said there, other than words, with

the kind of criticism that the president has levied already against people

who have testified, potentially be shaky ground given the possibility of

intimidation of witnesses being invoked here as a relevant statute, would

it have to be some sort of act of furtherance to try to cause harm to those

persons?  Obviously, we have seen at least one act taken by the White House

in that they have fired Don McGahn`s law firm with some White House

anonymous sources telling reporters that that was taken specifically in

response to Don McGahn essentially becoming an enemy of the White House

based on his testimony. 

 

JEFFRESS:  The way the statute reads is if the president causes any harm to

an individual in retaliation for his testimony, that`s a criminal offense

carrying a prison sentence of up to 10 years.  And, yes, I think if you

caused the firing of a law firm that caused harm to the witness and you did

that specifically with intent to retaliate against the witness` testimony,

that would unquestionably be a crime. 

 

MADDOW:  Mr. Jeffress, there is an interesting question arising now about

whether or not the White House can block former White House counsel Don

McGahn from testifying.  They have expressed that they want to assert

executive privilege here.  Obviously, this is something that was very

interesting point of contention in the Watergate conflict. 

 

A lot of people have said that because Don McGahn testified to the special

counsel`s office, because his testimony to the special counsel`s office was

in fact made public in the redacted version of the report that was released

publicly, that doesn`t give the White House a very strong leg to stand on

in terms of claiming that those things that he testified about are covered

by privilege and can`t be conveyed to Congress. 

 

What do you think of that debate? 

 

JEFFRESS:  Well, I agree with the point you just made, the fact that the

executive privilege is designed to protect the confidentiality of

communications between the president and his staff or between other

government officials regarding government policy. 

 

None of this is confidential anymore.  Don McGahn talked freely to the

special counsel.  That testimony has been made public, and so long as the

Congress confines its questions to Mr. McGahn to the subjects on which he

talked to Mr. Mueller, I don`t think they have a leg to stand on. 

 

But there is another reason.  The other reason is Don McGahn is not a

government employee.  The government doesn`t have the right to demand that

he keep his mouth shut.  This is not attorney-client privilege where McGahn

is bound by law or by ethics to keep his mouth shut about communications

with the president. 

 

He is a former employee.  If the White House had the right to instruct

former employees not to talk about their conversations with the president,

we`d certainly have a lot fewer tell-all books by former White House

staffers. 

 

MADDOW:  William Jeffress, attorney who represented former President

Richard Nixon after he left office – sir, thank you for helping us

understand your perspective on this.  I hope you come back.  It`s a

pleasure to have you here. 

 

JEFFRESS:  Thank you. 

 

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

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Congressman Elijah Cummings is chair of the Oversight Committee. 

He is not known for backing down when pushed.  That`s why it was greeted

with some surprise when he said this week that he would allow for a delay

in the enforcement of a subpoena that he has already sent to the

president`s accounting firm, a firm called Mazars, which seeks ten years of

Trump`s financial record. 

 

The president, of course, has filed a lawsuit to try to block Mazars from

responding to that subpoena.  In response to the president filing that

lawsuit, it was a little surprising when Chairman Cummings said, OK, he was

going to put a delay on this.  He would be happy to wait until after there

could be an initial court hearing on the president`s lawsuit.  That will

happen in about three weeks. 

 

And I know there has been some impatience out there that Chairman Cummings

might allow for that delay given that the Trump strategy here is clearly to

run out the clock and delay everything as much as they can.  Why would you

give them a delay? 

 

Here`s I think one little hint as to why Chairman Cummings might feel

confident about just taking that delay.  About just taking that and not

worrying about it.  It may be that he is just feeling very confident in his

own side`s prospects of prevailing in that lawsuit, which was filed by the

president. 

 

In order to make their argument that Congress has no right to subpoena

these records from Trump`s accounting firm, one of the things the

president`s lawyers do is they make a sort of lengthy argument citing a

Supreme Court case, Kilbourn versus Thompson from 1880, back to the 19th

century. 

 

It seems like a very erudite and advanced thing to do, right?  Foundational

president of the American judicial canon.  This goes all the way back to

1880s, the precedent here that is relevant. 

 

It should be noted that case was actually overturned in 1927.  So, it has

not been followed for 90 years.  That case, they missed the whole part

where that was overturned that is no longer the ruling precedent. 

 

One law professor and former acting House counsel tells “The Washington

Post,” quote, by reaching back to the precedent to the 1880s, Trump`s

lawyers are seeking to overturn the entire modern case law to respect

Congress` investigative power.  These suits look like an act of desperation

by the Trump`s lawyers. 

 

And it`s not the president`s only desperate act on this front.  We`ve got

news on that ahead.  Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Yesterday, the White House ordered a former White House official

who oversaw the issuing of security clearances, the White House ordered

that official to defy a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee. 

 

In response, that committee is now moving toward holding that former White

House official in contempt.  That was yesterday.  Then today, the White

House also ordered a Justice Department official to defy a subpoena from

the oversight committee as well. 

 

This is apparently going to be a theme.  The Trump White House is now

saying, President Trump himself is now saying they are going to defy

basically all subpoenas from Congress.  Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings

responded today with a warning, not just to the White House, but to the

people the White House is preventing from testifying. 

 

Quote: These employees and their personal attorneys should think very

carefully about their own legal interests rather than being swept up in the

obstruction schemes of the Trump administration. 

 

The Oversight Committee is a powerful body in Congress.  Its members now

have to figure out what to do in the face of this across-the-board decision

by the White House that their subpoenas will be ignored and that officials

who are subpoenaed will be ordered not to appear. 

 

One of Elijah Cummings`s first moves as chairman when Democrats retook the

House was to bring on to the committee some of the new tenacious house

freshmen.  In fact, he made one of them the vice chair of that committee. 

 

Joining us now is Congresswoman Katie Hill, House vice chair of the House

Oversight and Reform Committee. 

 

Congresswoman Hill, it`s very nice to have you with us tonight.  Thanks for

being here. 

 

REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA):  Thank you so much for having me. 

 

MADDOW:  So how does this standoff end?  The White House is ordering people

to ignore subpoenas from your committee, not just in terms of documents,

but also in terms of appearing.  How does this resolve? 

 

HILL:  I mean, this is completely unprecedented, right?  We don`t have

examples of this where we have attempt after attempt after attempt to

obstruct every kind of oversight into this administration.  It`s really

embarrassing.  And not just embarrassing, it`s dangerous. 

 

So, right now, we have this investigation into security clearances where we

have a whistle-blower telling us about absolutely dangerous practices that

have potentially put our national security at risk, and to make it so that

we are unable to conduct our duties of oversight is completely

unprecedented and unacceptable.  And what it boils down to is that what Mr.

Cummings said is we have the – the employees need to look at their own

best interests, their own self-interests in this and not allow that

obstruction to really guide them, the attempts of obstruction from the

White House to really guide them. 

 

And we`re going to have to follow this where it goes and use every possible

tool in our tool kit and not take no for an answer. 

 

MADDOW:  I mean, that`s a pointed warning from the chairman, saying that

these individual government employees and their personal attorneys need to

consider their own legal status here if they`re defying subpoenas.  They

may be doing so on an order from somebody else, but they are the ones who

are potentially going to be on the hook here. 

 

What sort of legal liability are we talking here?  I know yesterday the

committee seemed to indicate that you`re moving toward holding this one

White House official on the security clearances issue, you`re moving toward

holding him in contempt. 

 

What kind of penalties does that open him up to?  What sort of leverage

does that give you over him to compel his testimony?

 

HILL:  So, there`s – you know, when you told somebody in contempt, there

are a few different things that can happen.  That could mean jail time

where we have a conundrum right now is that the Department of Justice is –

we`ve got Barr who is acing more as Trump`s personal attorney and so, I

think where we have to figure out what the path that we go down is going to

depend on whether we can count on the Department of Justice to really

uphold the Constitution and uphold the power of Congress as an independent

branch. 

 

And if that`s not the case, we have to look at different options here. 

It`s important for us to get back into session next week to meet with the

different chairman and leadership and figure out exactly where this leaves

us.  But what this shows more importantly to me than anything else is that

we – it should be undeniable to the American people that this

administration is doing everything that it can to cover up so many facets

of what it has done since what Trump has done both before and since he

became president, and so many people within his administration, as well. 

 

So, where do we draw the line and say as an memory people regardless of who

is in power and that this is unacceptable and this has too many

implications for the future of our democracy and not just this very moment

we`re living in right now. 

 

MADDOW:  Congresswoman Katie Hill, the vice chair of the House Oversight

and Reform Committee – thank you.  You guys are in the thick of it right

now.  I know that a lot of these things are moving at once.  I hope you`ll

come back and keep us apprised as these things move forward. 

 

HILL:  Absolutely.  Thank you so much. 

 

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

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  This one felt different before it even really started. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REV. LEAH DAUGHTRY, FORMER DNC CHIEF OF STAFF:  We say to the candidates,

you can overlook us, dismiss us, demean us, and patronize us if you want

to.  But you do it at your own peril.  You put us last on your list, we put

you last on our list because our votes matter. 

 

Our votes matter!  Our votes matter!  Our votes matter! 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  That was the Reverend Leah Daughtry today, former DNC chief of

staff.  She`s worked in Democratic politics for years.  And that was how

they opened up the floor today at the first ever She the People

presidential forum where eight of the leading Democratic hopefuls for

president this year made their case for why voters should pick them to be

the Democratic Party`s nominee to go up against Donald Trump. 

 

This was a presidential forum set up by and for women of color, 1,700 women

from all over the country travelled to Houston today to be in this

audience.  And it was not just an audience.  This was a participatory

thing. 

 

One by one, women got up on the stage to ask each of the eight candidates

why they deserve their vote, how they`ll stand up for women of color.  In

the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections when Barack Obama was on the

ticket, African-American women turned out to vote at a higher rate than any

other demographic group in the country.  Nobody voted for, when Barack

Obama was on the ticket than African-American women. 

 

And that changed in 2016.  Turnout among African-American women dropped in

2016 and, of course, Democrats felt it, Democrats lost the White Houses in

2016 to Donald Trump.  Winning over the votes of women of color in this

country, inspiring women of color in this country to vote in great numbers,

that is mission critical to any Democrat trying to win enough votes to

become the nominee of the Democratic Party for president. 

 

But crucially, it is also absolutely mission critical to getting enough

votes to win the White House and in 2020 to beat Donald Trump.  Women of

color are the alpha and the omega of how you do it. 

 

And that`s why it was so powerful for Democrats to have this event today. 

Today is the last day in which there will be only 19 candidates in the

Democratic field.  Tomorrow, the Democratic field will get a little bigger

when former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to formally enter the race

via a campaign video. 

 

It`s already the biggest field of presidential candidates the Democrats

have ever seen.  It is going to get bigger with the biggest name yet with

Joe Biden being added to the mix tomorrow.  It`s only just starting to get

as interesting as it`s going to get. 

 

Watch this space. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  Thank you for being with us tonight.  Again, tomorrow we are

expecting big political news in the form of former Vice President Joe Biden

becoming the 20th, 20th Democratic candidate to join the race for president

which means now you can no longer count them on your fingers and toes

alone. 

 

After Joe Biden gets in there, if anybody else jumps in, you have to do

fingers and toes and something else.  It`s going to get awkward in all

sorts of ways.  We`re already in the biggest field we`ve had among

Democratic candidates.  Tomorrow, Joe Biden will the biggest name yet. 

Lots to come.

 

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

 

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

 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

                                                                                                               

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