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Cohen says he lied. TRANSCRIPT: 11/29/18, 11th Hour / Brian Williams

Guests: Emily Jane Fox, Bob Bauer, Cynthia Alksne, Robert Costa


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The breaking news tonight, Michael Cohen cuts a deal with Mueller, he`s now working for the feds as he admits to lying about Russia dealings in 2016 out of loyalty to Donald Trump.  It`s a bombshell in Mueller`s Russia investigation as Trump arriving tonight in Argentina calls off his weekend meeting with Putin.  And here at home, a huge reaction in the legal community. 

We have it all covered from the White House to Trump Tower, from the Justice Department to the FBI and CIA as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Thursday night. 

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 679 of this Trump administration.  The day the president was hit with a legal bombshell as Robert Mueller secures a guilty plea from the man who was once one of Trump`s most loyal lieutenants. 

Today, Michael Cohen, the president`s former personal lawyer, admitted lying to Congress about his boss`s involvement in a project to build a Moscow version of Trump Tower as he was securing the Republican nomination back in 2016.  And perhaps worse than that, Cohen admits to being in touch with the Kremlin during a presidential campaign.  Cohen`s plea came this morning in federal court in New York as part of a cooperation deal with Mueller. 

In court documents, Cohen explained his motivation.  "I was aware of Donald Trump`s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, and that any contact with Russian nationals by the Trump campaign or the Trump organization had all terminated before the Iowa Caucus in February of 2016.  I made these misstatements to be consistent with Donald Trump`s political messaging and out of loyalty to Donald Trump."  Cohen admitted to making false statements to lawmakers on Senate and House Intel committees in 2017. 

The court filing refers to individual, one, who Cohen confirmed in court is Donald Trump.  It reveals Cohen had told lawmakers that the development effort "ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with others in the company", meaning the Trump organization.  Now, Cohen admits the project "was discussed multiple times within the company and did not end in January 2016". 

He added, the discussions went on until June 2016, that he spoke with Trump at least three times, and with Trump`s family members about the project.  Cohen told Congress in 2017 that he "never agreed to travel to Russia for the project and never considered asking Trump to travel".  He now says he "agreed to travel to Russia and began planning Trump`s possible travel to Russia.  Cohen also originally said he "did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow deal".  That has changed. 

Now he says he "did recall that in or around January 2016, he received a response from the office of Russian Official 1, that would be the press secretary for the president of Russia, and spoke to a member of that office about the project". 

With regard to Cohen`s attempted travel to Russia, the filing details communication between Cohen and someone named individual two in the court document.  Prosecutors say that would be Felix Sater, the long-time business associate of Trump`s.  Sater was deeply involved in trying to get this project off the ground and get the Kremlin, namely Putin`s help to do so.  The court documents say Cohen and Sater were in talks about this proposed Russia trip from June 9 to June 14 of 2016, when Cohen decided not to go. 

We took a closer look at what was going on just before and after that period.  Early June was the first e-mail exchange involving Don, Jr. about damaging information on Hillary Clinton.  June 7, Trump essentially became the Republican Party nominee.  June 9 was the Trump Tower meeting with Russian nationals.  June 12th, Julian Assange says WikiLeaks had Clinton e- mails.  June 14, reporting emerges about Russian hackers getting into the DNC.  June 18, the opening of the Republican National Convention.  July 22nd of that summer, WikiLeaks releases a batch of DNC e-mails.  July 25th, Roger Stone e-mails Jerome Corsi about contacting Julian Assange. 

The next day, July 26th, Trump sends a tweet denying he has investments in Russia and read "for the record, I have zero investments in Russia".  That was a message that Trump worked hard to repeat on the campaign trail. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I will tell you right now, zero -- I have nothing to do with Russia. 

I have no relationship to Russia whatsoever. 

What do I know about the Russians?  What do I know about the Russians?  Then they said, he borrowed money from -- I don`t borrow money from the Russians.  I promise you, I`d never made, I don`t have any deals with Russia.  I had Miss Universe there a couple of years ago.  Other than that, no.  I have nothing to do --


WILLIAMS:  Michael Cohen is to be sentenced in two weeks, December 12.  He`s already pleaded guilty to a range of other charges including campaign, finance violations for his role in paying Trump`s alleged mistresses for their silence before the presidential election.  That guilty plea was with the Southern District of New York. 

Here is how the president reacted to today`s guilty plea from Michael Cohen. 


TRUMP:  He`s a weak person and what he`s trying to do is get a reduced sentence. 

When I run for president, that doesn`t mean I`m not allowed to do business.  I was doing a lot of different things when I was running.  That was a project that wasn`t done for a lot of reasons.  Number one is that I was really -- not that I had to do it, but I was focused on running for president. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If Cohen is such a bum, why did you hire him, have him on your payroll for 12 years and have him do so much of your dirty work like paying off a stripper? 

TRUMP:  Because a long time ago, he did me a favor.  A long time ago, he did me a favor. 


WILLIAMS:  The Cohen news unfolded just as the president was leaving for the G20 Summit in Argentina, an event Vladimir Putin is attending as well. 


TRUMP:  I probably will be meeting with President Putin.  We haven`t terminated that meeting.  I was thinking about it, but we haven`t.  They`d like to have it.  I think it`s a very good time to have the meeting.  I`m getting a full report on the plane as to what happened with respect to that, and that will determine what I`m going to be doing. 


WILLIAMS:  The report the president referred to concerns Russia`s latest conflict with Ukraine.  Less than an hour after he made those comments, Trump apparently changed his mind.  From Air Force One, Trump posted this.  "Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.  I look forward to a meaningful summit.  Again, as soon as this situation is resolved." 

With all that in mind, let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Thursday night.  From Jerusalem, Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and the Pentagon.  Former counsel notably to House Intel, in Tucson, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence who in the past has worked for Robert Mueller.  With us in New York and not in desert climates, Maya Wiley, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a professor at the new school. 

And Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter for Vanity Fair.  She was in the courtroom today.  Notably, her recent book is called "Born Trump: Inside America`s First Family".  It is reporting we will ask her to access as she answers our questions tonight. 

Jeremy, since you woke up the earliest, 6:08 a.m. your local time, you get to go first.  What did we learn today about Cohen, about Trump, and about Mueller? 

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Well, Bob Mueller is doing what we expected him to do.  He`s following the money.  He`s analyzing in great detail the financial ties, the financial leverage that the Kremlin has had over Donald Trump for a long time, and that that financial leverage extended all the way to the time that Donald Trump was the Republican nominee for president. 

At every turn, the entire senior cadre of the Trump organization and his political operation lied about it.  They minimized those financial terms to -- aspects, and here we have another guilty plea to follow on the Papadopoulos guilty plea, to follow on the prosecution of Paul Manafort, to follow on the Mike Flynn guilty plea.  And they lied about it, why?  Because having Russia, having such leverage over a presidential candidate was inappropriate, probably illegal, certainly unpatriotic and shameful. 

WILLIAMS:  And, frank, you come at this from so different directions given your professional life.  Let`s come at it, borrowing from Jeremy on the counterintelligence level.  For this to be true, this means the Russians knew there was business going on, talk going on while it was being denied at the top of the ticket in the Republican Party in this country.  And I ask that of you because you`re always looking for reasons for compromise. 

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, MSNBC:  Yeah, this is the definition of the Russian word kompromat.  So you handed your adversary a blackmailable set of facts.  You are publicly denying that you have any financial dealings, discussions or interests in Russia, and the Russian government, which means the Russian intelligence services knows full well that that`s not true.  And you have staff being briefed, family being briefed by Michael Cohen who is lying to Congress about it.  It doesn`t get much more compromisable than that. 

The question, of course, that we don`t know, the question that`s not answered in the information filed today by Mueller, is what have the Russians done with that?  What is the level of compromise?  What is the level of coordination amongst and between Trump, Cohen, family members about his congressional testimony?  Cohen has used the word, align.  I wanted to align my statement with public statements.  What does that mean?  Does that mean coordination?  Did Trump hand false answers to Mueller?  Based on an understanding of what everyone he thought was saying, the Russians have all of this.  The Russians have likely used it, and that`s at the heart of what`s being hidden by this president. 

WILLIAMS:  All right, Maya Wiley, put it that way, that gets your attention.  So I have two questions for you.  One is for Maya Wiley the person.  The other is for the sharp-eyed lawyer.  First of all, how did you react to this story today?  Second of all, the lawyer in you as you look at the timeline, what stands out? 

MAYA WILEY, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YROK:  So the person in me reacted like an American, which was to say, shocked and appalled that we now direct -- and believing, by the way, because we know we have a president who has lied multiple times about all kinds of things, not even just his role or relationship with Russia.  But that we have a president now squarely and directly having tried to make money from a foreign government that was in an adversarial relationship with United States on several issues, to advance himself. 

I mean -- so, just as an American, I -- that was shocking and appalling.  The attorney in me said Donald Trump should be feeling a whole lot of heat right now because while we don`t know all that Robert Mueller has, we know that what that information that was released in court today contained was not all the information that Robert Mueller has.  And so to Frank`s point, we don`t know all that he has and we don`t know if he answers all of Frank`s questions.  We certainly know that he`s got more than was stated in that document.  That means that we suspect that there are going to be family members, and potentially Don, Jr. would be the most likely, that should be worried about what kind of information Mueller has about his relationship to conversations with Russians. 

But also, if you put all the facts together, which we don`t even have time to do, you did a great job of running through some of it, we have all kinds of contact between the Trump campaign and Russians.  Remember that Michael Flynn -- he conceded that he lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition about softening his not being upset about what they were going to say or do about sanctions because of a different deal.  This was all happening in concert with Donald Trump in the campaign, trying to make money off of Russia.  And when you put all that together, you`ve got lots of motive, not both for the question of whether he was selling United States down the river, but you have a lot of motive for why he himself would want to be colluding with the Russians, to help his own election. 

WILLIAMS:  Yes, I`m glad you brought with you tonight, Maya Wiley, the lawyer, because you`re the only one of us who made that point all day about Flynn.  And I thank you for that. 

So, Emily Jane Fox, you got five of us on television right now from Jerusalem to Arizona to New York.  Of all five, you`re the only one who dealt with Michael Cohen today.  Tell us what this took to come about, and talk to us about the interesting factor of timing. 

EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR:  This was a surprise to even people who are close to Cohen, who talk to him regularly.  This is something that he kept very close to him.  I think it was tremendously important to him that this happen, that this go through, that this not leak out, to not anger the people from the special counsel`s office.  Because what this could mean for him is that when he is sentenced in less than two weeks in a courthouse just across the street from where he appeared today, is that the special counsel`s office said today that they were going to write the sentencing judge and say that he had been very cooperative in their seven or so meetings, taking up about 70 hours of time, and to consider that in their sentencing. 

And, over the last four or so months, the number one thing on Cohen`s mind has been, how do I reduce my sentence?  How do I do the right thing and come clean about what I know?  And from all of my reporting, he has come clean about what he knows in order to serve the least amount of time and to affect my family as little as possible. 

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, two reporters over at BuzzFeed who have gotten things right on this story, going back a number of months, broke the fact tonight that this aspect of this story that Putin was allegedly offered a $50 million value penthouse in the someday to be built Trump Tower in Moscow.  What does that tell you, if true? 

BASH:  Well, there`s no question that Putin sits atop a structure in Russia that provides him and his inner circle the oligarchs there with kickbacks.  He has to personally approve these major real estate transactions.  And this real estate transaction in question, the $3 billion construction of a Trump Tower in Downtown Moscow, was going to be the mother of all transactions. 

Putin was going to get certainly a huge kickback, but it was also a mechanism to funnel cash and money to the Trump organization, to Donald Trump, while he was the Republican nominee.  So here, we have the two avenues by which the Russians were going to have their individual, hopefully from their perspective and the White House, one was by funneling large amounts of cash and the other was by hacking and dumping e-mails, engaging in propaganda, placing agents of influence, all to effectuate American foreign policy going forward and that`s in fact exactly what has happened. 

WILLIAMS:  So, Frank, canceling the meeting with Putin, was that just for optics?  Because nothing about the Russia/Ukraine situation changed today, but there was obviously a shift in the people around the president.  It appears they might have prevailed upon him in midair. 

FIGLIUZZI:  So, let`s put this in perspective, this very principled decision by our president to not meet with President Putin.  Remember that we`ve just come off a decision that nothing is wrong with Saudi Arabia killing a journalist.  And so our relationship with them is important and should remain in place.  But, the Russians have had a skirmish in a strait of waters that`s, by the way, very contested with very questionable provocations on both sides that intelligence analysts are debating to this day, and the president decides that that`s enough for him to cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin. 

This is about optics.  This is about fear and perceptions of the public, and I think we are dealing with a president tonight who is very much in a mode of worry and anxiety in canceling this meeting.  Any other president would see this opportunity as a time to sit down with Putin and say, what went on in those straits in Ukraine in contested waters?  Knock it off.  But rather, we see an optics decision. 

WILLIAMS:  Maya, I often ask you about the iceberg theory, how much of this investigation is visible versus below the surface of the water.  In answering it, imagining tonight you`re on the Trump West Wing legal team, what must that feel like?  They have some idea of what`s been assembled against them. 

WILEY:  Yes, because Paul Manafort helped hand some of the confidential information to them which is outrageous. 

WILLIAMS:  You want to be technical about it, sure. 

WILEY:  Yes.  So -- and they were surprised they did -- at least according to the news reports, they didn`t know that Michael Cohen had been having all those conversations.  So when they answered those questions of Robert Mueller`s, they had some sense from Manafort about what they were -- what Mueller was getting.  They didn`t know -- they had to know he was cooperating some way obviously, but they didn`t know the amount of time he was spending with them and they seem to have been surprised. 

So what they are sitting there worried about is, did we sufficiently cover our tracks in how vaguely we answered those questions that we`re not looking down the barrel of a perjury charge?  That`s number one.  I want to go back to one other thing on Ukraine.  I -- remember that when Donald Trump -- that week of the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump, first of all, had campaign advisors meeting with the Russian ambassador --

WILLIAMS:  Right. 

WILEY:  -- talking about wanting better relationship with Russia.  And then they changed their RNC -- the Republican platform --


WILEY:  -- on the Ukraine to soften what was a very strong Republican position on Russia`s aggression towards Ukraine, including taking weapons and the potentially providing weapons to Ukraine out of the platform.  So, when you put all that together, the attorneys are sitting there thinking, this looks terrible for us.  We might be in -- we don`t know all the ways we might be in trouble.  We thought we may have known.  They are going back to what are very, very understandable legal defenses.  Cohen cannot be trusted, you know, Dershowitz coming forward and saying, none of this is a crime.  They don`t know what all of what Mueller has.  They know some of what Mueller has, and I would suspect they have to worry about what they don`t know. 

WILLIAMS:  That`s chilling.  Emily Jane Fox, about this company, people looking to diminish the Trump organization always say it`s a licensing outfit.  It`s a real estate.  They lend their name.  It is not a Fortune 500 company.  It has no board or boardroom.  The boardroom for the Apprentice finale was assembled in Studio 8H five stories above us and is still in a prop room somewhere.  But that is to say it`s a family business.  It`s a pretty tight circle.  Talk about Cohen`s involvement with that family core. 

FOX:  You are 100% right about what the Trump organization is like.  This is a mom-and-pop shop.  It is in the building where President Trump, then regular man Donald Trump lived, where Don, Jr., Ivanka, Eric grew up, where they went and played with Legos on his office floor and then later went to work.  It is very difficult to think that Michael Cohen, who worked there for a dozen years, did not know what was going on with the children, with his adult children, based on just the proximity and how small that office is.  What is even more difficult to buy is that Don, Jr. Ivanka and Eric did not know what Michael Cohen was up to. 

WILLIAMS:  On that note, we will take a break, with our thanks to our guests for a fascinating conversation on a busier than average Thursday night.  Jeremy Bash to Frank Figliuzzi to Maya Wiley to Emily Jane Fox. 

And coming up for us, every time this president has called this investigation a witch-hunt means it`s probably a good time to start to tally up the witches. 

And later, as the "Washington Post" tells it, the Trump family business has wanted to plant their flag in Russia for three decades now.  More on the money angle of today`s big story as the Thursday edition of THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway. 


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  And we`ll get right to it.  While his day comes to an end in Argentina tonight, the president started his day in the usual manner, attacking the Mueller investigation on Twitter.  "Did you ever see an investigation more in search of a crime?  When will this illegal Joseph McCarthy-style witch-hunt, one that has shattered so many innocent lives, ever end?  Or will it just go on forever?" 

Well, not long after that, we learned that his former lawyer Michael Cohen is now working for the feds and confirming he was, in fact, in touch with the Kremlin during the campaign and then some.  Listen to two prominent lawyers on two different networks tonight, both Neal Katyal, the former chief government lawyer before the Supreme Court and Jeffrey Toobin, the CNN legal analyst and author.  Both men were asked how big they thought today`s news was. 


NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think we very well could look back on this day, November 29th, 2018, as the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.  This isn`t just criminal.  This is the president campaigning in 2016 and hiding all of his negotiations with Russia, not the Russian-like businesses like Marriott Hotels or something, but with the Kremlin itself, and the number two person, as you were saying, at the Kremlin. 

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST:  Today is the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office. 


TOOBIN:  I mean, I think this thing is enormous. 


WILLIAMS:  In the Russia investigation so far, "The New York Times" points out today that Mueller has "issued more than 100 criminal counts against 33 people and three companies".  They include Cohen, former Trump campaign aides, Trump`s former campaign chairman, dozens of Russians and the president`s former national security advisor. 

So far, there have been seven guilty pleas.  We should note lobbyist Sam Patten`s charge stemmed from Mueller what was brought by prosecutors in Washington.  We`ve asked Frank Figliuzzi and Jeremy Bash to remain with us for just a few more minutes to take a few more questions. 

Jeremy, it appears the president will never put pen to paper and sign a bill that protects Robert Mueller.  But do you think Mueller has de facto protections of his own now?  And are you convinced he already has left an unbreakable and indelible mark on this presidency thus far? 

BASH:  Unquestionably.  And I think also with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives, and people like Adam Schiff now in control of the House Intelligence Committee, they`re going to want to accelerate the inquiry because, of course, they were lied to.  They were lied to by Michael Cohen as evidenced by today`s criminal information, and they were lied to by others. 

But I think there`s also another point here, Brian, which is Aras Agalarov was the individual who brokered the original business deal between Putin and Trump to build Trump Tower in Moscow.  He was also the person who reached out to Don, Jr. through Rob Goldstone to say the Russian government delegation wants to come talk to you about what the Russian government is going to get in exchange for all this help.  Namely, relaxation of the Magnitsky sanctions. 

And so the two Trump Towers, and I`ve said this is a tale of two Trump Towers.  The Trump Towerof Moscow and the Trump Tower meeting in New York are inextricably linked and this is what Bob Mueller knows about and this is what he is zeroing in on. 

WILLIAMS:  Frank Figliuzzi, again, the part of your resume that deals with counterintelligence, what does it say to you that Cohen was talking to a guy in the Kremlin, a guy who had to say to Cohen, hey, we probably shouldn`t do this over e-mail.  Can you give me a call instead? 

FIGLIUZZI:  Understand the significance of this, right?  Even if Michael Cohen did not, so, you`re talking to the assistant to the press secretary for Vladimir Putin, and you`re communicating via e-mail.  Presumably via e- mail that is government -- Russia government e-mail.  And the response is, hey, we shouldn`t be doing this on e-mail.  I`m going to give you a phone number to call me on.  This is a clue in the FBI.  This means that you`re moving to a more covert means of communication.  And why are you doing that?  Because it`s the Russian government, because you`re not supposed to be talking business with them, because it`s covered by intelligence services, and you`re moved -- being moved to a line that they don`t think is covered. 

But ironically, when you -- when the person you`re talking to announces the phone number for you to dial, you`re giving other intelligence services the number that you should now cover.  So, we`re talking about a president running for -- Donald Trump running for president of the United States while his attorney, while his family is getting briefed, while his staff is getting briefed on business negotiations with an adversarial government.

WILLIAMS:  Hard to believe all of it when you put it together like that.  Our thanks to these two gentlemen from the Middle East, to the southwest.  Jeremy Bash early in the morning in Jerusalem, thank you.  Frank Figliuzzi late at night in Tucson, Arizona.  Thanks to you as well.

And coming up for us, a former federal prosecutor and former White House counsel standing by to answer some of the many legal questions raised by today`s major developments.  We are far from done, when we continue.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  What he`s trying to do, because he`s a weak person and not a very smart person.  What he`s trying to do is end -- and it`s very simple.  He`s got himself a big prison sentence and he`s trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up this story.


WILLIAMS:  Employing scoresese (ph) in dialogue points today, President Trump had that to say about his former long-time personal attorney.  But as the "New York Times" points out, quote, "that charge conflicts with Rudy Giuliani`s assertion that Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump have now given prosecutors much the same account".  Giuliani maintains that Trump`s written answers to the special counsel match what Michael Cohen told that judge today.

Cohen`s surprise court appearance come just nine days after Trump submitted responses to Robert Mueller.

With us to talk about all of it, Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor and a veteran of the Justice Department who has worked with Robert Mueller.  And Bob Bauer, former White House counsel to President Obama.

Bob, it`s good to have you back on the broadcast after a long absence.  I have to start with you with this question.  By my account we have in the space of this week seen the President of the United States referred to in court documents twice as individual one.  That can`t be good, can it?

BOB BAUER, FMR WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  No, of course it`s not good.  And with all the attention today on Michael Cohen`s plea agreement, let`s not forget within the last 48 hours, it was also revealed that the President was, in fact, in regular contact with Roger Stone over this same period of time Stone was acting as an advisor, a strategic advisor.  And it`s now known that Stone was working with Jerome Corsi and others to establish a direct link with WikiLeaks over the hacked e-mails and their use for purposes of political sabotage.

And the President, I think, is going to have to answer some questions about what he knew about this activity and what he approved.  So, all in all, the last 48 hours I think has individual one in some hot water.

WILLIAMS:  Cynthia, every time I ask you about your former colleague, Mr. Mueller, you usually answer with a hint of a smile, as you have right now, that I presume is based in the strength and confidence you have in him.  What does today tell us about Mr. Mueller`s effort?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FMR FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  You know, I cannot stop thinking about, as from one professional looking at another professional, the beauty of this week.  If you just go to 30,000 feet and look what`s happened, they waited until Trump got his answers in, and then, bam, all kinds of things have happened.  And especially today.  Today they snuck in Cohen.  He was a John Doe when they came in at first, and reporters were, you know, milling around and they realized it was Mueller`s team that was there.  And they took this plea.

And it was a way of Mueller and his team looking the President in the eye and saying, we got you.  It was, like this.  That`s what it was today.  It was just a thing of beauty from somebody who has done this before.  I just thought, I`ve had so much admiration for the manner in which it`s done.  It just made me smile.

WILLIAMS:  Bob, about this President, the charitable way to put it is he has an agnostic view of business deals.  The less charitable way is, when you balance the job of President-elect and/or President up against head of a family, you know, real estate licensing firm, those are not equal.  One has to yield to the other in terms of being a steward for our nation.  Talk about the fact that there was some equivalence going on here.

BAUER:  It`s clear that he simply has never recognized the constraints on him as a public figure, as a presidential candidate or as a President.  And one of the disturbing story lines I think which has gotten additional boost in the last 24 hours, is that to him, everything is a deal, and all deals can somehow be made compatible.  He can run for President and negotiate a business deal with the Russians.  At the same time that he`s doing that, he can bring the Russians potentially and think about how similar this is into a deal about the advantage to him and to that foreign government of his being elected President and seek their assistance for that purpose as well, which is why he also brought in this week`s evidence of the connection between the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks/Russian political sabotage with the hacked e-mails.

It`s all one potential deal in his self-interest, and the constraints that others normally would observe on what they can do officially -- excuse me, what they can do personally given the responsibility they hold in the public world.  I don`t think there is any evidence that it makes much of an impression upon him at all.

WILLIAMS:  Cynthia, back up to something you said.  So, the written answers are in from the President.  The White House legal team took it as something of a victory that they were able to narrow the scope of the questions.  The President somewhat bragged that they were, indeed, his answers.  We`ll allow other people to say yes or no to that.

But the answers arrive.  And in the space of days, Manafort`s cooperation plea is tossed out, and Cohen is put in front of a federal judge in New York.  Is it coincidental, or do you believe it is because of the substance of the answers bumping up against the truth?

ALKSNE:  I don`t think it`s a coincidence.  I don`t believe in coincidence.  But I think that they didn`t want to proceed until they got those answers.  Well, probably the answers are marshmallow and they`re not worth much because they`ve been chewed over by Giuliani and other lawyers.  It was just no good lawyer would turn in answers, really, that matter that amount to much.  But they still wanted them and they got them.  And they waited and they held everything else until they got those answers.

WILLIAMS:  Bob, tomorrow, Manafort`s lawyers appear in federal court.  Are we expecting anything from that beyond a cursory exchange, or perhaps this narrative you`re talking about, does that continue at all?

BAUER:  It could.  I`m a little less clear about that.  But if I could, I`d like to go back, because we may hear even more from the President tomorrow when something does happen, if something does happen in this Manafort episode.  I want to go back very quickly if I could to the President`s answers to questions.

I completely agree with Cynthia, the lawyers can chew over them and chew over them, but at the end of the day they provided answers.  And I suspect even if it`s at the margins, the President put himself at risk.  Not clear why he did that, but sometime ago it occurred to me he had one of two choices.  He could simply refuse to cooperate and, in effect, play a daring game with Mueller, or he could take the 5th.  I don`t understand the strategy that he`s pursued to this point any more than I can understand why he continues to publicly comment on all the witnesses and attack the Mueller investigation.  But this is a President who seems to me who has one of the most strikingly peculiar legal strategies that I`ve seen at this level.

WILLIAMS:  It is why we will invite both of you back, and we`ll keep talking about these developments as they get tossed at us.  Cynthia Alksne whose fault it is we`re suddenly craving marshmallows, thank you.  Bob Bauer, thank you as well for coming back on the broadcast.  Appreciate it again.

Coming up, what today`s developments could mean politically for President Trump as the Democrats remained poise today take control of the House in a month, let`s not forget, Robert Costa of the "Washington Post" shares his new reporting tonight with us after the break.



REP. JERRY NADLER, (D) NEW YORK:  Why did he lie?  He lied to Congress, apparently, about the dealings between Trump and Russia, and that leads me to suspect that there are more dealings that the President wanted hidden.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL, (D) CALIFORNIA:  We have in the basement of the Capitol pages of lies of Trump campaign witnesses and their transcripts.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA:  We believe other witnesses were untruthful before our committee.  We want do share those transcripts with Mr. Mueller.


WILLIAMS:  Those Democrats we just heard from are poised to become the leaders of the Congressional Committees that led the now defunct investigations into Trump and Russia.  Cohen`s admission that he lied to Congress is reenergizing their effort now to issue more subpoenas and work with the special counsel.

With us for more tonight, Robert Costa, national political reporter for the "Washington Post" and moderator of Washington Week on PBS.  And we keep saying, what a week it`s been, what a job to have in Washington.

Bob, perhaps you heard the assessments of Katyal and Toobin earlier in our broadcast, that this was a day of note.  They both, paraphrasing, said that this might be the date of the beginning of the end.  You`ve spoken to people with an R at the end of their name, elected Republicans.  Does anyone share that sense of moment tonight?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST:  Brian, it was a day of trembling for many within President Trump`s circle about the unknown that`s out there with the special counsel`s investigation.  But here on Capitol Hill, talking to veteran Republicans, top advisors to the country`s leaders, inside of Congress, there was not a lot of movement, not a lot of discussion.  They`ve been dealing with Mueller for months.  They are alarmed at the possibility that this report could be a major political problem for them, for the Republican Party, but they`re not moving today, Brian, to try to protect Robert Mueller`s investigation in the U.S. Senate.

WILLIAMS:  Rudy Giuliani got a little sideways in his messaging perhaps today.  I know you have spoken with him.  What did you learn from him?

COSTA:  What I learned from Giuliani, the talking to the former New York mayor, is that this is a legal team that`s really gearing up for political war.  He started to tell me that he may not even engage with Mueller at some point if there are further questions.  And I pressed him on that.  I said, are you really not going to engage with the special counsel?  He said, well, if they do have a question, I may consider it.

But he spent most of our conversation going back to Michael Cohen, taking shots at Michael Cohen, calling him a liar, trying to set this up as a credibility war against Michael Cohen, against Mueller.  And this is -- a White house and a legal team that`s in that battle mode, and the Republican Party is watching it with an eye a little bit askew, but they`re not taking action, because they still want to get their agenda done.  That`s the political bargain they continue to have with this President.

WILLIAMS:  It is hard to imagine this ramped up.  It is hard to imagine what happens when this President and the White House, west wing staff, really go to the mattresses.  As it is tonight, he`s in Argentina, quoting Greg Jarrett of Fox News on Twitter, which may indicate to us that he is watching the coverage.  What is it going to be like?  And is that legal team preparing for -- every day should feel like the night before Katrina.

COSTA:  They know, Brian.  Robert Mueller, whatever the report says, is clearly painting a picture, a pattern of behavior within President Trump`s inner circle.  Whether it`s Roger Stone or Michael Cohen, there is a time line that is being laid out.  Giuliani told me they`re being asked about the time line, asked about the Trump Tower meeting, they were asked about the President`s knowledge of different discussions, different exchanges.

Robert Mueller is trying to build a case.  Maybe not a legal case that would lead to an indictment of a President, but a case about his behavior, about what he has done.  But Republicans believe the institutional credibility of the media has been eroded by the President`s fake news charges, and that there are people like Greg Jarrett, other conservatives out there, who will be on the barricades politically for President Trump.

WILLIAMS:  Have you paused for a second today, Bob, to consider that during those days early on in the campaign, you were covering this guy and the entourage flying around that sometimes with them, that this was going on in the background, that that phone call you might have seen Michael Cohen take might have gone to the Kremlin on the other end?

COSTA:  Brian, it`s actually not that surprising because when I first started covering then Mr. Trump in 2011, 2012, 2013, you never went to an office that was a political office.  Or campaign office.  Even when he announced in 2015, I`d go up and visit him at Trump Tower and stacked next to him would be blueprints for golf courses, for buildings alongside campaigns, memorandum.

This has always been a man who has blended business, family and politics.  There were blurred lines from the start.  I didn`t see many lawyers except Michael Cohen around trying to make sure that the candidate was working in a way that would channel this there, and channel that there.  Was always blurred.  It was always going to be a problem but they didn`t think through it.

When you talk to the Trump campaign officials at the time, they weren`t thinking about the consequence of the actions.  People on the periphery, people in the family may have been taking.

WILLIAMS:  What a superb and candid answer from the always superb Robert Costa.  Thanks for staying up with us at the end of a longer than average day.  We appreciate it.

Coming up, Trump`s 30 year obsession with expanding that business to Russia.  When we come back.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump`s hope of having a property with his name on it in Russia have long been in the making.  The "Washington Post" pointed out today that Trump first visited Russia back in 1987 where he investigated sites back then for a possible luxury hotel.  Post reports Trump`s most recent attempt for a Moscow property, quote, capped a 30-year-long effort by the celebrity mogul to do business in Russia.  Again and again Trump pursued his Russia project, traveling to Moscow and unveiling four ultimately unsuccessful plans to put his name on a building in the Russian capital before he announced he would run for President.

"Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment," Trump said in a 2007 deposition.  We will be in Moscow at some point.

Well, here to talk about it is David Fahrenthold, Pulitzer Prize winning "Washington Post" reporter, who as luck would have it covers the President`s businesses and conflicts of interest.  And so, David, in that vein, here is a federal court filing in your lane, and having said that, what stuck out to you?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, WASHINGTON POST REPORTER:  Well, a couple of things.  One, the dealings that Michael Cohen had -- we`ve talked about this as a development President Trump wanted in Moscow.  You know, he was trying to build a tower.  But they were dealing with the Russian government.  And, you know, obviously in Russia, oligarchs, developers, the government are all kind of mixed together.  But Michael Cohen reached out to Dmitry Peskov assistant, to someone in Russia the high levels of the Kremlin.

So wasn`t just that they were talking to investors or possible partners in Russia about this plan.  They were talking to Vladimir Putin`s closest aide.  Today in fact as Buzzfeed first reported were thinking of offering Putin himself a $50 million penthouse at the top of the building.

So, I was struck by that in connection to the Russian government particularly.  But also that we`re now seeing what we always suspect it was happening, which was that Robert Mueller in his investigation -- you know, Robert Costa, my colleague just a minute ago, talked about how Trump mixed business and family and politics.  We`re now seeing that Mueller`s investigation is not respecting those boundaries either.  He is looking across the -- not only at Trump`s politics, but also at Trump`s business because Trump mixed those together.

WILLIAMS:  Let me ask on behalf of viewers who`ve been with us the whole hour and may be wondering, what is it about Russia?  We had Russians at the GOP convention in Cleveland, for God sakes.  You just don`t see that every day.  What is this obsession with planting the flag in Russia?

FAHRENTHOLD:  What it looks like to me was that Trump relied on Russian money, Russian investors, Russian partners at a number of his other sort of licensed deals, other projects in other cities outside Russia.  And Toronto, Panama, Soho in New York City.  They were -- it was Russian money, Russian buyers involved in those places.  And you know, I think he saw this as like, well, let`s go to the source.  One, why, you know, deal with Russian buyers in New York or in Florida when I can just go to Russia?  There`s probably a lot more Russian money there.  I think that`s part of the attraction.

WILLIAMS:  We have a couple seconds left.  I have to ask you, Deutsche Bank was a lender that did business with Donald Trump at a time when few were willing to separately.  Deutsche Bank headquarters in Germany raided today.  Is anyone drawing a parallel?

FAHRENTHOLD:  Deutsche Bank has had a lot of trouble with money laundering accusations that go -- you know, had nothing to do, as far as we know, with Donald Trump.  I don`t see any reason to believe this is connect with Trump if they raid the office on Park Avenue where Trump`s personal banker from Deutsche Bank gave out loans, then I would certainly think there`s a connection.  So far I haven`t seen one.

WILLIAMS:  David Farenthold, thanks for your always great work and always great contributions to this broadcast.  We appreciate it mightily.

FAHRENTHOLD:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  The last thing before we go here tonight, as we showed you earlier, the President touched down in Buenos Aires, Argentina, one of the most beautiful cities in South America for the G20 Summit.  The story of the Michael Cohen flip broke before his departure, and the President delivered his angry remarks about a man he was once spoke warmly of as he left the White House.

The President has ample reason to view this trip with trepidation given the fact that his overseas travel history coincides with some huge stories breaking back here at home.  His first overseas trip as President to Saudi Arabia, of all places, came as word broke that Jared Kushner was being looked into as that Russia collusion person of interest.  Then came his trip to Poland and Germany.  That`s when we learned about the Don Jr. Trump Tower meeting.  The fake cover story was drafted on the flight home from that trip.

Bastille Day 2017 in France, that`s when Don Jr.`s e-mails were made public revealing the real story of the meeting.  Just before the Asia trip a year ago, that`s when Mueller charged Manafort, Gates, Papadopoulos.  It was during the trip to Davos, Switzerland, when we learned Trump threatened to fire Mueller until his own White House lawyer threatened to quit if he did.

Just this summer in July, during the trip to the U.K. and Finland, Mueller indicted 12 Russians for hacking the DNC, which brings us to tonight.  The President is in Argentina and the lead story back here at home is his former personal lawyer, now working for the feds, admitting along the way the Trump team was in touch with the Kremlin during the Presidential campaign.

And that is our broadcast for this Thursday night.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Good night from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END