Trump directed Cohen to lie. TRANSCRIPT: 1/17/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, I`m missing a blue blazer in my
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 –
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
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
Here is Democratic Senator Tim Kaine`s own personal Kaine mutiny on the
floor of the United States Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Objection.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection is heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I`m just shocked she`d
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And here`s the majority leader of the House of Representatives
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
JOHN HEILEMANN, NBC NEWS AND MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I want to
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
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
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.
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
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.
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: It
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
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
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?
ANTHONY CORMIER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS (via telephone):
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
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
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
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
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.”
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE AND HOUSE JUDICIARY
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
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
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?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: That – yes.
BARR: Any – well, you know, any person who persuades another –
KLOBUCHAR: Any? OK.
KLOBUCHAR: You also said that a president or any person convincing a
witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?
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?
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
KLOBUCHAR: OK. And you wrote on page 1 that if a president knowingly
destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction.
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
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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Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the