Trump directed Cohen to lie. TRANSCRIPT: 1/17/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell.

John Heilemann; Jill Wine-Banks; Anthony Cormier; Eric Swalwell; Elizabeth Drew

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Rachel, I`m missing a blue blazer in my

closet upstairs. 




O`DONNELL:  I – yes.  Yes. 


Rachel, you will remember the night, I don`t know, it seems leek a couple

years ago, I think it was less than two weeks ago, where in our rushed

moment here, I suggested to you that there are ways for a bill to come to a

vote in the Senate without Mitch McConnell calling up that bill for debate

and a vote. 


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, “TRMS”:  Yes.  That was a very intriguing little

droplet you dropped that night.  I still had no idea what it meant. 


O`DONNELL:  And it`s wicked complicated and I have yet to explain it.  One

version of it actually occurred in the United States Senate today.  It was

captured on C-Span.  And so –


MADDOW:  Ooh. 


O`DONNELL:  Tonight is Senate procedure night here at THE LAST WORD. 

Because I finally have the teaching device I can use.  And I run the risk

of losing a large number of the audience when I get into this explanation. 


MADDOW:  Not me. 


O`DONNELL:  I`m going to do my best.  It`s going to be right here in the

next few minutes.  So don`t leave the building, Rachel.  This is the



MADDOW:  You are following the person who reads transcripts. 




MADDOW:  On TV at length through commercial breaks.  And people stay with

me, dude.  We`re here.  We`re all here. 


O`DONNELL:  I know two retired Senate parliamentarians who are just on the

edge of their seats right now. 


MADDOW:  And your colleague.  Your 9:00 colleague. 


O`DONNELL:  OK.  Thank you, Rachel. 


MADDOW:  Thanks, Lawrence. 


O`DONNELL:  Well, the day after Rudy Giuliani popped his eyes on TV and

said that maybe there was a little collusion between the Trump campaign and

Russia but Donald Trump knew nothing about it and with the “New York Times”

reporting that their inside the White House sources tell them that

President Trump believes he is getting crushed in the coverage of the

government shutdown that he caused, the president came up with a way that

he believed he could win the shutdown coverage today – take away the Air

Force plane that is used for flying the speaker of the House. 


And the president did that on the very same day that he authorized an Air

Force plane, same kind of plane, to fly Melania Trump to their home in

Florida for no government purpose whatsoever.  A story confirmed tonight by

NBC News, that Melania Trump flight. 


That is not going to change the 57 percent of voters who say in a Marist

poll, they will definitely vote against Donald Trump in the 2020 election. 


The speaker of the house is the second in line of succession for the

presidency, frequently referred to mistakenly as the third in line.  But

that counts the president.  Second is what she actually is.  If the

president has to leave office and the vice president succeeds him and then

if the vice president has to leave office, then the speaker of the house

becomes president. 


There is no public evidence that Donald Trump knows this, and it is very

unlikely that Donald Trump knows why the speaker of the house is flown on

government planes just like the president and the vice president.  It`s

because of 9/11. 


9/11 was the first time in American history where for a couple of hours the

national security apparatus of the United States and the full Congress and

everyone in America had a right to worry about the line of succession of

the presidency and exactly where everyone in that line was on that day. 

There were two hijacked commercial airliners headed to Washington, D.C.

believed to be targeting either the White House or the Capitol.  At the

Capitol, the speaker of the house could have been killed along with

hundreds of members of Congress.  And in the White House that day the vice

president could have been killed. 


And the president`s national security team and Secret Service were so

worried that President Bush could be killed that day that they kept Air

Force One flying zigzag patterns in the sky on its way to an undisclosed

location in Nebraska.  It was the first time in history that the speaker of

the house, the president, and the vice president of the United States were

all hiding out from an enemy attack that could kill them all. 


The president`s wife was hiding out in the basement of the Capitol, where

Laura Bush had gone that day to lobby Congress on an issue that concerned

her.  And while all of that was happening Donald Trump was on local

television in New York City, after the Twin Towers fell, proudly

proclaiming that he now had the tallest building in the area where the

World Trade Center once stood. 


So, Donald Trump doesn`t know that it is only since that day, that

nightmare come true, that the speaker of the House no longer flies

commercial.  Not since the day that national security experts and the White

House and the Congress finally realized that it really is possible to lose

the president and the vice president at the same time. 


Because Donald Trump knows none of that, he sent Nancy Pelosi a letter

today suggesting that she fly commercial.  After ordering the grounding of

the government plane that was going to take the speaker of the house to

Brussels to meet with NATO commanders and then Afghanistan to meet with

American military commanders and American troops, the president told the

speaker in a letter: Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by

flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.


There is clearly no one working in the Trump White House who knows why the

speaker does not fly commercial anymore.  Or perhaps this letter was

actually written by one of those people in the Trump administration who was

described in an anonymous “New York Times” op-ed piece last year as

secretly working against Donald Trump`s interests within his own

administration.  If that`s the case, the Trump opponent within the Trump

administration who might have had a hand in this letter would want the

letter to be as ridiculous as it could possibly be.  Mission accomplished. 


It`s certainly unusual for the speaker to leave the country during a

government shutdown, but Nancy Pelosi has done everything she can to reopen

the government.  She has passed funding bills through the House of

Representatives that all of the Republicans in the Senate voted for before

Christmas, before Donald Trump changed his mind about those bills and

refused to sign them, and with that deliberately personally shut down the



You don`t need Nancy Pelosi or any member of the House of Representatives

to reopen the government now.  You simply need a vote by the United States

Senate to pass the bills that Nancy Pelosi has already passed through the

House of Representatives.  And today, a quiet version of chaos broke out in

the United States Senate because of Mitch McConnell`s refusal to move those

bills.  But it was chaos only in the eyes of Senate parliamentarians and

went virtually unnoticed by the news media. 


So here`s your Senate procedure lesson for the night.  It is up to the

Senate majority leader to bring bills to a vote in the Senate, right? 

Well, as with everything in the Senate, the answer is yes but.  The answer

is yes, but that is not a Senate rule.  It`s just a Senate tradition. 


The truth is anyone, any member of the Senate can ask to bring a bill up

for debate and a vote and they can do it saying exactly the same thing that

the majority leader says when he does it.  The tradition of reserving that

privilege to the majority leader is just to prevent an endless traffic jam

of legislation on the Senate floor.  But every once in a while, and this is

very, very rare, frustration boils over with the majority leader and some

other senator just decides to grab the microphone and stand up and ask to

take up a bill for debate and a vote. 


I saw that happen exactly once in all of my years working on the Senate and

on the Senate floor, and it was the senator I was working for who did it,

Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  And the majority leader had to literally come

running onto the Senate floor to object and stop him. 


And for Senate geeks it was a wild, out-of-control moment.  For most people

watching C-Span it was as if nothing happened.  And today, it was

Virginia`s junior Senator Tim Kaine who got mad as hell and just couldn`t

take it anymore, and he seized that tradition away from the majority

leader.  And here is what that stunning rebellion looked like on the Senate

floor today. 


Here is Democratic Senator Tim Kaine`s own personal Kaine mutiny on the

floor of the United States Senate. 




SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA:  Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that

the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of calendar number 5-

HR21, making appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2019. 

I further ask that the bill be considered, read a third time and passed in

a motion to reconsider be considered and laid upon the table with no

intervening action or debate. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is there an objection? 




UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Objection is heard. 




O`DONNELL:  That objection was from Mitch McConnell.  Huh?  Pretty exciting

stuff.  Could you just feel the tension in the room?  Could you feel

everybody`s anxiety, what`s going to happen? 


I`m telling you, every retired Senate parliamentarian sitting at home

watching that on C-Span today was on the edge of his seat. 


The Republican minority leader of the house, Kevin McCarthy, who was hoping

to be riding in the speaker of the house`s plane this year, today said he

was shocked, just shocked that the speaker would even consider leaving the

country during a government shutdown, but he apparently forgot to be

shocked when the president of the United States left the country after he

started the shutdown. 





even think that she would leave the country.  Why would you leave the

country with government shut down and you`re speaker of the house?  Why

would you even think –


REPORTER:  President Trump went to Iraq while the government was shutdown.


MCCARTHY:  Because Nancy Pelosi was where at the time when he went to Iraq

to visit the troops?  I think she was in Hawaii. 


REPORTER:  The president travel is based on Speaker Pelosi`s travel



MCCARTHY:  I don`t – well, you`re missing the whole point, I guess.


REPORTER:  Why are those two things equal?  The president traveled because

he wanted to travel.


MCCARTHY:  Being speaker of the House and leaving the country when it`s

shut down I don`t think that`s appropriate, especially – especially the

speaker thinks we shouldn`t even have the State of the Union. 




O`DONNELL:  And here`s the majority leader of the House of Representatives

Steny Hoyer. 




REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  I think the actions of the

president were petty, mean-spirited, and beneath any president of the

United States to take.  After all, Nancy Pelosi is the third in line to be

president of the United States.  Doing this small, petty act is

unfortunately all too regular for this president. 




O`DONNELL:  Leading off our discussion now, John Heilemann, national

affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.  He`s also the co-host and

executive producer of Showtime`s “The Circus.”  And Sam Stein is the

politics editor of “The Daily Beast” and an MSNBC political analyst. 


And, John Heilemann, NBC News reporting tonight that the plane that the

first lady used to fly alone, alone to Florida, is a version of the 757,

exactly the same plane that Nancy Pelosi was scheduled to use on her trip. 



note first before we delve into this matter that seeing you letting your

full Senate dork flag fly is a glorious thing. 


O`DONNELL:  Hard to contain myself. 


HEILEMANN:  Back in the day, Lawrence, back in the day, you used to let

that thing fly on a daily basis.  It`s a rare sight today.  Almost as rare

as what Tim Kaine did.  Our viewers should feel satisfied and happy to have

seen it.  I was on television with Sam earlier today and we were talking

about the Trump gambit. 


And at the time we did not know that Melania Trump had taken a government

plane to go to Florida.  At that time I thought that the maneuver by the

president qualified as tactically inept and strategically dim-witted.  I

now would like to revise and extend my remarks in the tradition of Congress

and say that tactically speaking it is now doubly inept, beyond inept,

glaringly obviously just – just such a blunder at a tactical level, the

optical level. 


All of the arguments Nancy Pelosi would have made about being denied her

chance to go on this important trip, seeing the troops, on learning things,

doing all that stuff that Trump was keeping her from doing that was

important to the United States` interests around the world are now added or

now compounded to those arguments by the juxtaposition with what they`ve

done with the first lady.  And then, of course, the strategic fallacy here

which is there is literally nothing in what Donald Trump did today other

than make himself feel good, it did nothing to actually advance his cause. 


It has changed nothing about the politics of the shutdown.  It has got him

not an inch closer to getting the government back open or to getting his

wall built.  And so, he`s managed to make a fool of himself tactically

while accomplishing absolutely nothing strategically.  Good day, Mr.





SAM STEIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, there`s not much to add to

that.  Trump operates off this idea that if he just what they say own the

libs, if he shoves it in your face it will be beneficial.  And clearly,

there`s no strategic imperative here which is advanced. 


We were talking about this earlier.  Something he could have done was take

a second trip himself abroad to say thank you for your service, I`m so

sorry the government`s shut down but you keep doing what you`ve got to do. 

He didn`t do that.  He stayed at home. 


One thing he could be doing is talking to red state Democratic senators or

members of Congress who hail from districts he won in 2016.  We talked to

every single Democratic office from a state or a district he won in 2016. 

Only two have heard from him. 


So, he`s not doing the sort of practical things that one would do to try to

break this impasse.  What he`s doing is sort of stagecraft.  And he`s not

doing it particularly well as the polls show. 


O`DONNELL:  But as the top government worker on the organizational chart,

he does feel free to speak for all government workers.  We`re going to have

a furloughed federal worker on later in the hour because I don`t really

know how they`re feeling.  I`m going to ask them. 


Donald Trump never has.  But he`s telling us that all these 800,000,

they`re fine with the shutdown according to Donald Trump. 


HEILEMANN:  Well, I think obviously Donald Trump doesn`t know anything

about most working people and certainly most government workers, and

there`s been some reporting which strikes me as wholly credible, the notion

that what Trump thought at the outset, he liked the notion of the shutdown

because he thinks all the government workers and many of them he encounters

in Washington, D.C. are in fact Democrats. 


But, of course, he forgets there are tens of thousands of federal employees

spread out across the country doing vital things.  Those people are many of

them Trump voters.  And in certain places where I think where some of the

political pressure that might bring the shutdown to an end because of the

political pressure on Republicans and on Mitch McConnell, when the

transportation issues start to really bite, when the storm hits, when it

turns out that one of the major hub airports gets locked up because there`s

an issue with the air traffic controllers or with TSA. 


Donald Trump is going to realize something he doesn`t even know now, which

is I`m sure – again, I bet every dollar in my pocket that Donald Trump has

no idea that the air traffic controllers are federal employees.  He doesn`t

know the main thing about that.  Not only can he not speak for them, he

doesn`t really know who they are. 


O`DONNELL:  Sam, the reason I ran the Tim Kaine video is not just my

geekery.  That for me is the pebble running down the mountain that could be

the avalanche.  It means that procedurally there can come a day when a

Democrat stands up and does that – 




O`DONNELL:  – and Mitch McConnell isn`t even physically there on the

floor, deliberately, to run out there and object and the word goes out to

the Republicans, don`t object.  Let it come to a vote.  Or even if there`s

an objection, let it move over into the space where we have the 60-vote

threshold vote to overrule the objection. 


In other words, let this thing procedurally happen the way Tim Kaine tried

to do today.  We could be two weeks away from that happening or three weeks

away from that happening.  But that is the way that it could unfold in the

end, that Nancy Pelosi`s bills are taken from the House of Representatives

and passed with 60 votes or more in the United States Senate and Mitch

McConnell doesn`t touch it. 


STEIN:  You would know more about the procedural stuff than I do here.  But

at that juncture Trump will be faced with a choice, right?  I can veto this

and send it back or I can just swallow my pride and sign the thing. 


My suspicion is he`ll probably end up vetoing the measure and putting Mitch

McConnell back on the stand basically again to say, well, will I allow the

veto to go through? 


But in the end, I think we both all agree, which is that this gets done

from a parliamentary standpoint if you chip away at the Republican

opposition.  And so far, you`ve seen a handful of Senate Republicans say

let`s open the government, let`s debate border wall funding while the

government`s open, but Mitch McConnell remains firm in saying, no, we`re

not going to have a vote yet. 


O`DONNELL:  And, John, in Georgia, we have Republican Senator Johnny

Isakson, who is among other things the senator representing delta airlines

since their headquarters is down there.  Giant Hartsfield Airport there. 


Here is his advice, his public advice for ending the shutdown.  He has

advised the TSA agents to all go on strike, which is illegal for federal

government workers.  In other words, the Republican senator from Georgia is

advocating the end to the shutdown is you government workers commit a crime

and then we in Washington will be then forced into some kind of solution

here in the Senate and Donald Trump will be forced into a solution. 


But unless the government workers commit a crime, Johnny Isakson is not

going to do anything legal in his job in the United States Senate to solve

this problem. 


HEILEMANN:  It`s doubly crazy because he`s not only advocating they commit

a crime, he`s a Republican in 2018 urging government employees to go on

strike.  When is the last time you`ve heard an elected Republican

advocating a labor – organized labor action, collective action on the part

of a union?  Look – unionized employees. 


Look, it`s obviously nuts.  And again, I think your point is really well

taken because one guess is – Tim Kaine is not quite the Senate dork you

are.  But he`s a Senate dork.  And my guess is part of what he`s doing, he

did not expect – he knew that that objection was going to come from Mitch

McConnell or one of the other Republicans. 


But he`s putting – it`s not just a pebble in the pond.  He`s putting his

toe in the water to kind of say this is the first – this is possible. 

This is how you do it. 


He`s suggesting the possibility.  He`s getting that – the scent in the air

of the kind of rebellion of what passed for rebellion in the United States



STEIN:  But to your point, what`s remarkable about the Isakson solution is

just the pure abdication of responsibility and power.  These people have

agency.  They have votes.  They can pass legislation. 


They can actually buck the president.  But his solution is –


HEILEMANN:  At least go talk to Mitch McConnell. 


STEIN:  His solution is not to even cast a vote, is to pass it on to the

poor government workers working without salary to have a collective action

moment and therefore force the president to buckle.  It`s remarkable.  It`s



O`DONNELL:  I promise you, if there`s anything left of the reasonable

Republican Mitch McConnell who I knew when I was working in the Senate,

when Tim Kaine was up there saying that, there was a part of Mitch

McConnell`s brain saying, well, I just stay sitting down, why don`t I just

not say a word, let this thing go. 




HEILEMANN:  You go.  You go, Tim. 


O`DONNELL:  Exactly.


Sam Stein, John Heilemann, thank you both for starting us up tonight.


And when we come back, Donald Trump`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani admitted on

national television that members of the Trump campaign maybe, maybe

colluded with Russia.  What`s the big deal?  No collusion doesn`t mean no



And increasingly, the question of impeachment is becoming a question of

timing.  An important new article in “The Atlantic” says that Congress

should not wait for Robert Mueller to finish his investigation. 




O`DONNELL:  Remember no collusion, no collusion?  Well, Rudy Giuliani went

on TV last night and popped those eyes wide open to say that, well, OK, not

exactly absolutely no collusion.  Maybe some collusion? 


Here are Rudy Giuliani`s exact words when he changed his story last night

about collusion.  He said, I never said there was no collusion between the

campaign or between people in the campaign.  I said the president of the

United States.  There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the

United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspired

with the Russians to hack the DNC.


And I slowed down that reading because I just want to leave that picture up

as long as possible. 


Chris Cuomo, of course, told him in the middle of that, interrupted and

said no, no, no, you did say there was no collusion at all. 


A new “Wall Street Journal” report also is revealing that Michael Cohen

hired a technology company called Red Finch Solutions to solve a problem

and that is rig online polls in Donald Trump`s favor during the

presidential campaign.  Michael Cohen promised to pay the firm $50,000, but

the owner said he was only given a blue Walmart bag containing between

$12,000 and $13,000 in cash and randomly a boxing glove that Mr. Cohen said

had been worn by a Brazilian mixed martial arts fighter.  In Trump world,

it turns out that actually is what they mean by $50,000. 


Cohen, however, still asked for and received a $50,000 reimbursement from

Mr. Trump and his company for the work by Red Finch.  Today, Cohen

confirmed the report on Twitter and implicated Donald Trump in this scheme

to manipulate online poll results just as he had manipulated individual 1,

Donald Trump, in his illegal hush money payments to women claiming they had

affairs with Donald Trump during the presidential campaign. 


Michael Cohen said: What I did was at the direction of and for the sole

benefit of Donald Trump.  I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who

doesn`t deserve it.


Joining our discussion now, Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate

special prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst.  And, John Heilemann is still

with us. 


And, Jill, kind of depending on where this is in the calendar, there`s an

issue of campaign finance violation here, too.  And this one is cash.  It

isn`t the movement of $130,000 checks to Stormy Daniels.  But this is

everything about the Trump world wrapped into this new Michael Cohen story. 



absolutely is.  And it may be one of those things that as Joyce Vance says

is awful but lawful.  But this one also could be a campaign violation.  It

certainly was misleading the public. 


And we know from Watergate that misleading the public can be grounds for

impeachment.  It was one of the things that we included in the road map

that we gave to the House for impeachment, was all of the false statements

that Nixon made, which pale in comparison to the number of lies that Donald

Trump has told. 


O`DONNELL:  And, John, depending on how the cash was obtained, there could

be some currency violations there.  There could have been a banking

transaction to obtain over $10,000 that wasn`t reported.  But again, this

is the Michael Cohen – you I suspect were not surprised when the Michael

Cohen definition of paying you $50,000 turns out to be a bag with about

$13,000 in it and a boxing glove. 


HEILEMANN:  Jill owed me at some point 50 bucks recently and she gave me a

bag.  It was actually more of a sock.  It had $11 and a boxing glove in it



WINE-BANKS:  And a Wu-Tang Clan pin. 


HEILEMANN:  So I consider that recompense. 


I was not surprised at all.  I harken back to Jill`s Watergate days.  A

name familiar to anyone who`s seen all the president`s men or is familiar

with history is a man named Don Segretti.  And Don Segretti was the classic

dirty trickster who was engaged in the 1972 campaign in all kinds of small,

petty, sometimes mildly impactful, sometimes a little more impactful but he

was not John Ehrlichman, he was not H.R. Haldeman, but he was one of the

many people who was caught in the web of the giant conspiracy. 


And when you are a dirty politician, when you`re someone who`s corrupt and

campaigns in a corrupt way, your corruption can be vast and consequential

as it is when you`re cooperating with a foreign adversary and it inevitably

is going to run the gamut and is going to touch small things like this kind

of stuff where your bag man, literally a bag man with a bag, stuffed with

cash and a boxing glove is going to be running around doing things in 2016

that don`t look like the Canuck letter and Muskie in 1972, they look like

this, manipulating an online poll that the drudge report is associated with

that you`re going to somehow try to make your boss – because you know the

one thing your boss loved to do more than anything in the campaign, brag

about his poll numbers. 


So you want to make sure every poll has good numbers that he can brag

about, this is the way you do it. 


O`DONNELL:  And Jill Wine-Banks, one of those great Giuliani lawyerly

moments last night where no collusion becomes, well, OK, no collusion by

Donald Trump but I have no idea how much collusion there might have been by

everyone else in the Trump campaign. 


WINE-BANKS:  It`s what we used to call throwing people under the bus.  And

that`s exactly what they`re doing. 


But this is so typical of their whole strategy of first you deny that they

did it.  Then you say, well, I might have done it but it`s not illegal. 

Oh, but if I did it, actually, it wasn`t me, it was someone else. 


So, it`s the diversion tactic.  It`s the blame someone else tactic.  They

keep on doing it. 


And unfortunately, some people are falling for it.  But I think at some

point the facts are going to just be so blatantly obvious.  He can`t keep

saying don`t believe what you hear, believe only what I say. 


We can play all the tapes of Rudy Giuliani saying there was no collusion by

anyone in the campaign.  We can play at least three or four or five of

them, maybe more.  And now, he`s saying I never said that and I didn`t mean



And Donald Trump does that all the time.  He says oh, no, I didn`t say the

Mexicans were going to pay for the wall.  We`re going to make enough money

from a new trade deal that that`ll pay for the wall.  That`s just a lie. 

He said it was going to be paid for by the Mexicans. 


O`DONNELL:  John, quickly, is this something to take as an indicator that

maybe Rudy Giuliani knows that there`s something coming in the Mueller



HEILEMANN:  Yes.  There`s one parallel here.  Rudy spouts a lot of

incoherence and randomness.  He`s not – we all observed his behavior over

the last year and had a lot of critical comments. The important parallel is

the Stormy Daniels parallel where President Trump comes out and says “I

know nothing about it, I didn`t pay her any money.”  Then Rudy says the

same thing.


Up until one day with Sean Hannity when he says “Oh, of course, we paid her

the money.”  This is I think about what`s to happen – what`s about to

happen now.  Then Trump later says, “Well, yes, of course, I paid her but

it wasn`t a bad thing.”  We`re about to see that same – that to me is the

precedent for what`s happening here.  Denial, denial, denial.


Rudy then crosses the Rubicon.  And pretty soon, we`re going to have Donald

Trump saying “Well, of course, my whole campaign including probably my

children and my family colluded with the Russians but there`s not a problem

with that and it wasn`t me.”  That`s where we`re headed.


O`DONNELL:  So Rudy Giuliani is the leading indicator of a story shift. 

John Heilemann, Jill Wine-Banks, thank you both for joining us on this



And when we come back, the question of impeachment seems to now be a

question of timing.  We will take up that question next.




O`DONNELL:  We have just been handed some important breaking news from a

report in “BuzzFeed”.  This is about the Russia investigation.  The

headline of this report which I have to hold here and read for you is

“President Trump directed his attorney to lie to Congress about the Moscow

tower project.”


We will be joined in just a moment by one of the reporters who has filed

this report.  The lead of this article says, “President Donald Trump

directed his long-time attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about

negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow according to two federal law

enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.  Trump

also supported a plan set up by Cohen to visit Russia during the

presidential campaign in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin

and jumpstart the tower negotiations.”


“Make it happen”, the sources said Trump told Cohen.  And even as Trump

told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said

Trump and his children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., received regular,

detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they

put in charge of the project.


We are joined by phone now by Anthony Cormier.  He is an investigative

reporter for “BuzzFeed News”.  He`s one of the reporters on this story. 

Anthony, the headline contains the most devastating part of your article

and that is President Trump directed his Attorney to lie to Congress.  What

more do we know about this?



Hi, Lawrence.  Thanks for having me.


We know that this is based on a series of documents and interviews with

witnesses before the special counsel even got to Michael Cohen.  So the

special counsel`s investigators had an inkling or an awareness of this

directive from the president to Mr. Cohen, even before Michael went in and

testified recently.


And when he did, he did go in, he did tell them that yes, indeed, I was

directed to do this.  It put them over the top.  It gave them all of the

evidence that they needed to at least establish this.


O`DONNELL:  And do we know in that session, did Michael Cohen have to raise

his right hand and take an oath to testify?


CORMIER:  I don`t know.  That`s a question I think – I can try to ask him.


O`DONNELL:  OK.  Because sometimes in these situations they do, sometimes

they don`t.  But in any event, lying to Congress is in many instances a

crime, a federal crime.  And so there`s the president of the United States

directing his personal attorney to lie to Congress.


Do we expect this to be part of Michael Cohen`s testimony when he testifies

just I think 22 days from now in a hearing in the House of Representatives?


CORMIER:  That`s a really good question.  My understanding is that comment

team, the folks on that panel that are setting this up have made an

agreement not to ask questions that may overlap with the office of special

counsel`s investigation.  That`s a little bit fluid, I`m told at the

moment.  So we`ll sort of have to wait and see.


O`DONNELL:  I mean I would think some of what`s fluid about it is the

investigators want to protect information that other people who might be

questioned in that investigation don`t know about.  But if, for example,

now that you have made this public, now with your public reporting on this,

it is entirely possible that this opens up an avenue of inquiry in that

hearing that might otherwise not have been opened up.


CORMIER:  It certainly does.  I don`t imagine the Congress being terribly

happy that – number one, they`re not happy that they were lied to by Mr.

Cohen.  And they`re certainly not going to be happy to learn that he was

told to lie by the president.


O`DONNELL:  And the other way to do this, if the Congress really wants to

take testimony on this from Cohen, would be to work out some kind of

arrangement with the special prosecutor where this part of their testimony

if the special prosecutor insists takes place in private and is not public



But it`s hard to believe that they will have Michael Cohen in the House of

Representatives testifying under oath and no one there will be able to ask

him about your reporting that the president of the United States directed

him to lie to them.


CORMIER:  Right.  Certainly.  You would expect that the very people that

were lied to would want an explanation of what happened.


O`DONNELL:  And does – do you have any – I don`t want to get into your

sources here, but what do we know about what Michael Cohen has done with

this information?  Who has Michael Cohen told the president directed me to

lie to Congress?


CORMIER:  He told the special counsel`s team.  I don`t think he`s told a

whole bunch of people.  He didn`t tell me.  It appears to us that from our

sourcing that they have the broad contours of this, of this directive

before he ever showed up.


And when he did, this is one of the lines of inquiry that they pressed on

him.  And if you look at his sentencing memo, the special counsel indicates

there that Mr. Cohen gave credible and helpful information about how he put

together the letters and his testimony to Congress.


So it appears that in the sentencing memo, I think it was last month, the

special counsel was leaving at least a breadcrumb or clue.  He was

suggesting publicly that there was something in here about Michael Cohen

preparing his testimony to Congress that was of interest and of use to the

special counsel.  So it was sort of sitting out there and perhaps hidden in

plain sight.


O`DONNELL:  And reading from your reporting, Anthony, saying that the

special counsel`s office learned about Trump`s directive for Cohen to lie

to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump

Organization and internal company e-mails, text messages, and a cache of

other documents.


Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interview with that

office.  And this brings us back to the extensive criminal investigative

discovery that the prosecutors have been doing inside the Trump

Organization, inside the Trump Company.


I know they have to some degree the cooperation from the chief financial

officer in there.  Donald Trump`s in effect long-time accountant within the

company.  And so that`s – for Michael Cohen to be walking into an

interview where they`ve already obtained references to these kinds of

things through Trump Organization e-mails and texts, as you say, Michael

Cohen had to know right away.  They know this story.


CORMIER:  Yes.  The jig was up.  When he walked in, it became very clear to

him.  I`m told, after the first interview, he comes back for another and

it`s very clear to him that they`ve got the goods, right?  They have

receipts on this stuff.  And he just – he tells them that I was directed

to do this.


O`DONNELL:  Anthony Cormier, thank you very much for your invaluable

reporting tonight.  And thank you for being able to join us so quickly. 

Really, really appreciate it.


CORMIER:  You got, it man.  Thanks, Lawrence.


O`DONNELL:  We will be joined by Congressman Eric Swalwell.  But first back

with us, Jill Wine-Banks and John Heilemann, who were not allowed to leave

the chair during the commercial break when I was handed this breaking news



And so Jill, to the sentencing of Michael Cohen, we all noticed that the

special prosecutor was much more satisfied with Michael Cohen`s cooperation

with his office than the local U.S. attorney in Manhattan was satisfied

with his cooperation with his office.


This could be why.  This is Michael Cohen giving the special prosecutor his

own account of something they apparently already had through electronic

communication of the president of the United States directing Michael Cohen

while he`s president, right from the oval office, to lie to Congress.  This

truly is a Nixonian moment.


WINE-BANKS:  This is absolutely one of those moments where you go when is

enough sufficient?  This is when it is because this is exactly the

Watergate model of Nixon saying you can always say I don`t remember, I

don`t recall, even though you do.  That`s subornation of perjury, plain and



It is a direct act of the president while he`s president interfering not

only with an investigation but of directly conspiring to obstruct justice. 

And this should be enough for even the – and remember, he lied – that is

Cohen, he told Cohen to lie to the Senate.  Even the Republican Senate is

going to have to say we`ve been had, we can`t have him lying to us.


And in the end of Watergate, it was the Republicans who went to Nixon and

said, “You have to resign or we will convict you in the Senate.”  And

that`s going to happen here.  We`re getting closer and closer.


O`DONNELL:  John Heilemann, as usual, it`s very hard for me to think of

what Rudy Giuliani will say about this.  But this time, he`s going to have

to tell you that is not smoke coming out of that gun.


HEILEMANN:  Yes, I can`t imagine what Rudy will say.  Just looking through

this article, just to put a very fine point on it, the thing that caught my

eye right after the thing you read, Lawrence.


It says this revelation is not the first evidence to suggest the president

may have attempted to obstruct the FBI`s special counsel`s investigation

into Russia`s interference in the 2016 election but Cohen`s testimony marks

a significant new frontier.  It is the first known example of Trump

explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings

with Russia.


I am certain it will not be the last.  And the reality is that there is

right now going on behind the scenes in Washington a lot of conversation

with many of the former Trump administration officials who have testified

behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate

Intelligence Committee about things that they said that have now been shown

to be false.


There are a number of them who are currently in the process of lawyering up

in a serious way because they committed perjury in those instances.  I

happen to know that from my reporting.  It is inconceivable to me in the

context of this reporting that Michael Cohen will be the only one who lied

at the instruction of the president.


So this will not, I think, be the only instance in which we have reporting

like this.  This is suggestive to me not just of an incredible frontier

being crossed but of a frontier that we`re going to see – this now is the

Rubicon has been crossed.  We`re going to stay on that side of the Rubicon

where I see other examples of this come up.


O`DONNELL:  We`re going to go now to one of the members of Congress who was

lied to apparently by Michael Cohen at the direction of the president of

the United States.  We are joined by phone by Congressman Eric Swalwell. 

He`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary



Congressman Swalwell, your reaction to this breaking news report tonight

from “BuzzFeed” with the headline “President Trump Directed His Attorney to

Lie to Congress.”



COMMITTEES (via telephone):  Good evening, Lawrence.  I view this as

powerful evidence of collusion.  And I say that because it is a

consciousness of guilt.  He is asking Michael Cohen to lie because the

truth would expose what was going on with the Russians early on in the



And you`re right, I was on the interview team that interviewed Michael

Cohen.  And I hope those transcripts are released soon.  But you will see

an intense interest in understanding what was Donald Trump`s knowledge at

the time that Michael Cohen was working up a Trump Tower proposal in



Also, it`s corroborated by the way that Donald Trump has acted with other

witnesses in the Russia investigation.  It sounds a lot like what he said

to James Comey when he said, “I hope you can make the case go away with

Michael Flynn.”  He is someone who always is seeking to take up a shovel

and bury the evidence and directing his subordinates to do that.


So I hope now, you know, Congress will have, especially the Intelligence

Committee, an opportunity to hear from Michael Cohen.  And you know,

Lawrence, if the president did not do this, he would be racing over to Bob

Mueller`s office to sit in a chair and give the other side.  And he`s just

not eager to do that at all.


O`DONNELL:  Congressman Swalwell, you were in the room when Michael Cohen

lied to you, lied to Congress according to Michael Cohen`s own admission

apparently.  Did you swear him in?  Did he have to raise his right hand and

take an oath?


SWALWELL:  He did.  He was under oath, you know, for the testimony.  And

you know, he had serious questions for nearly eight hours posed to him. 

And you know, we were, you know, on the topic of Russia.  That was the

focus of our investigation.  And you know, we left that interview not

believing that we got the full truth, and that was confirmed by his own

guilty plea.


O`DONNELL:  So Congressman, just to review the possible legal jeopardy

here.  The lying to Congress is in and of itself, can be a crime in some

instances.  Not necessarily in every instance.


But once you`ve raised your hand and you`ve taken the oath, you`ve stepped

into possible perjury territory.  What do you see in this as the possible

criminal liability for Michael Cohen and, more importantly, for the person

who according to Michael Cohen told him to lie, the president of the United



SWALWELL:  I think the biggest criminal exposure is for the president, for

obstruction of justice, for suborning, you know, perjury of another

witness.  I believe that Michael Cohen just based on the hours he spent

with Mueller, he has probably come clean about this.


If he didn`t, you can expect that he will probably have.  If this is true,

you know, more charges added.  But I suspect that he has probably come

clean and that Mueller knows this.  And that`s probably why Donald Trump is

doing all he can to avoid the Mueller team and not come in for an



O`DONNELL:  There`s a sequence of questioning now that we will all be

replaying as soon as we can cue it up of William Barr`s confirmation

hearing in which Senator Amy Klobuchar went through a list of things that

she put in front of him and asked is that a crime?  If the president of the

United States does this, is that a crime?


One of them was suborning perjury.  One of them was apparently exactly what

Michael Cohen is now testifying to.  And William Barr said yes, that is a

crime.  Your reaction to that, Congressman?


SWALWELL:  So Lawrence, my suspicion, as your other guest mentioned, is

that the president probably instructed other witnesses who came before us,

particularly his family members, to also lie about their contacts with the

Russians.  Again, it`s just all of the arrows point in that direction. 

There`s been no arrow that points in the other direction where the

president said go forward, be truthful.


And if you remember, Hope Hicks.  I questioned Hope Hicks and I had the

exchange with her where she told me that she had told lies for the

president before when he was a candidate and as the president.  So we know

this is just his modus operandi.


O`DONNELL:  Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much for joining us

for this breaking news.


SWALWELL:  My pleasure.  Thanks, Lawrence.


O`DONNELL:  Really important to have you.  Really appreciate it.


And Jill Wine-Banks, he took an oath.  They swore him.  Eric Swalwell was

there.  He was asking the questions.  They swore him in.


What do you see – what`s the legal checklist here for Michael Cohen and

for the president?  Is Michael Cohen – if this is proven true guilty of

lying to Congress as a crime, is he guilty of perjury as a crime?  Is the

president of the United States guilty of suborning perjury if this report

is true?


WINE-BANKS:  Yes, yes, and yes.  Absolutely.  And it means that I want to

have a big box of popcorn on February 7 when he testifies again.  This has

gotten even more exciting for his testimony before the House now.  I can`t

wait for that.


O`DONNELL:  The control room is telling me that we do have Amy Klobuchar in

the confirmation hearing asking William Barr about exactly this.  Let`s

look at this.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA:  The president persuading a person to

commit perjury would be obstruction.  Is that right?






BARR:  Any – well, you know, any person who persuades another –




BARR:  Yes.


KLOBUCHAR:  You also said that a president or any person convincing a

witness to change testimony would be obstruction.  Is that right?


BARR:  Yes.


KLOBUCHAR:  OK.  And on page 2, you said that a president deliberately

impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an

instruction.  Is that correct?


BARR:  Yes.


KLOBUCHAR:  OK.  And so what if a president told a witness not to cooperate

with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?


BARR:  You know I – I`d have to know the specific.  I`d have to know the

specific facts.


KLOBUCHAR:  OK.  And you wrote on page 1 that if a president knowingly

destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction.


BARR:  Yes.


KLOBUCHAR:  OK.  So what if a president drafted a misleading statement to

conceal the purpose of a meeting?  Would that be obstruction?


BARR:  Again, you know, I`d have to know the specifics.


O`DONNELL:  Joining our conversation now, Elizabeth Drew.  She`s a

political journalist and author.  She covered the Watergate scandal that

led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for “The New Yorker.”


Liz drew, we had invited you to come on tonight to talk about this

important new article about impeachment, but let`s talk about what`s

breaking right in front of us right now.  And this really seems like a new

level of jeopardy for the president.  Here you have Michael Cohen

describing exactly what Donald Trump`s nominee for attorney general

described in his confirmation hearing as a crime.


And it is a crime, if committed even by the president, that there is no way

that the president could argue any form of innocence or any form of

presidential authority that gets him out of this.  This really seems to be

a new level of jeopardy for the president tonight.  Is that the way you see



ELIZABETH DREW, POLITICAL JOURNALIST:  Well, in my ever-lengthening list of

impeachable offenses –




DREW:  – against the president.  And there`s another aspect of this,

Lawrence.  We haven`t gotten into this ever before in our history, but this

shows how much the president lied to the American people during the

campaign.  He didn`t have any business with Russia.  Did he say I never

made a phone call to Russia?


Well, he did have business with Russia and there`s a whole series of things

that happened.  The payoff to the ladies, women he slept with it.  It

wasn`t an affair.  It was a one-night stand with Stormy so let`s not overdo



It`s a – if he went to such nefarious, dishonest lengths to win the

nomination, to – and the New York U.S. attorneys have already said that

this was a felony, the paying off, then there`s a real question if somebody

does these things in order to gain the presidency, can they be impeached

for that?  I think so.


O`DONNELL:  And Jill Wine-Banks, this does feel, in many ways – we always

reach for Watergate parallels because it`s the only case we have in our

history that is so clearly like this.  But there was that moment when

because of your investigation, but also because of the simultaneous

investigation by the House of Representatives, which did not wait for you

to complete your work before starting their impeachment process.


They started the impeachment process not knowing what the evidence was. 

And through the process and through their subpoena power, they discovered

what became known as the smoking gun in a Nixon tape.  And what we heard on

that tape was President Nixon basically directing the criminal activity.


What we have here from Michael Cohen is, and I`m not even – I`m not sure

this is without tape, but we have a similar situation and so far without

tape.  But we know Michael Cohen tape-recorded phone calls.  Michael Cohen

might have this as a tape-recorded phone call.  The president saying this

to him.


But even if he doesn`t, it is essentially the same thing.  It essentially,

here is the president of the United States in the oval office, presumably,

on the phone, telling Michael Cohen to commit federal crimes and do it

right there in the House of Representatives.


WINE-BANKS:  And, you know, as a trial lawyer, what`s important is that

there be some corroboration because otherwise, it`s Michael Cohen who`s an

admitted liar against the president who is a knowing liar, but not admitted



And so the fact that this article says that there are documents, there are

e-mails, there are text messages – it doesn`t mention tapes, but I think

you`re right, there are enough tapes that maybe if we`re lucky, this is on

tape, but there are other forms of corroboration like these text messages

that could do it.  And I think that we really are in new territory tonight. 

I think Elizabeth is exactly correct on everything she has said.


O`DONNELL:  And John Heilemann, this was Trump Company business we`re

talking about.  That`s why presumably, according to this report, e-mails

and texts exist within the Trump Company that could involve people not

named Trump or it could involve people named Donald Trump Jr. where they

are saying, they`re communicating about the Trump Tower deal in Moscow, and

they are also getting their story straight for possible talking to the

House of Representatives about this.  And in there, there might be, you

know, dad says he told Michael Cohen to not tell the truth, basically.


HEILEMANN:  I think you read a story like this and there are a couple –

just two quick things to think about.  One is, every time a story like this

breaks and particularly in this one, you think about the sourcing here and

the sequence that`s described of the accumulation of the evidence and then

the turning to Cohen and Cohen confirming is it just reinforces the notion

that I think we`re going to learn to the extent we haven`t already learned

it which is that Mueller knows everything, right.  Mueller knows

everything.  And that`s the first thing.


The second thing is as we get closer to Michael Cohen going to jail and

closer to Michael Cohen`s public testimony on February 7, this story is

related in a weird way to the thing we were talking about before about the

crazy story about him manipulating the polls.  The Michael Cohen stories,

anything he touched, they`re starting to tumble out.  And you said earlier

that you thought that this was one piece, perhaps, of why Mueller was so

much happier with the level of cooperation he had with Cohen.  This was an



I don`t think – just like the earlier thing, I don`t think this is the

only one of those.  I think we`re going to start to see more and more of

these.  This may be – this is a bombshell.  I think we`re going to hear a

lot, much louder explosions as we get closer and closer to February 7 just

over the next couple weeks.


WINE-BANKS:  This is obstruction and collusion.


O`DONNELL:  Obstruction and collusion.  I have to fit in a break here. 

Elizabeth Drew, Jill Wine-Banks, John Heilemann, thank you all for joining

our discussion.  We`re going to be right back.







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