LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Really appreciate it. That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news tonight, Michael Cohen violent break with his friend and former boss. His day long televised takedown of the President, including some moments that will be replayed for years. His allegation that Trump knew about WikiLeaks in advance. The canceled check with that Trump signature as evidence of hush money payments as President. And there`s more.
And on the other side of the world in Hanoi tonight our American President arm in arm with the North Korean dictator and word emerging from their meeting that the U.S. won`t demand North Korea disclose its nukes and missiles. Our edition of THE 11TH HOUR for a Wednesday night starts now.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. This was day 769 of the Trump administration, dominated by a gripping and at times intensely personal day of testimony from a man who lied for Donald Trump, a now disbarred lawyer about to ship off on a three- year federal prison term. But on his way out the door and off the public stage he delivered a public and systematic takedown of his old friend Donald Trump.
And when it was over, we were left with distinct allegations of bank and insurance fraud and campaign finance violations for starters. Unlike most of the scandals and investigations of our television age, this one has not been hearing driven until now. That certainly changed today with Michael Cohen`s testimony.
Cohen was questioned by members of the House Oversight Committee for over seven hours. At the heart of his opening statement a damning indictment of the President`s character and his own remorse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump`s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a con man. And he is a cheat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Cohen is the only indicted Trump aide to talk about their crimes or the investigation under oath and in public. One of his big rest revelations today, confirmation of recent reporting that Feds in New York have not finished with him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL GOSAR, (R) ARIZONA: You`ve been in contact with the Southern District of New York. Is that true?
COHEN: I am in constant contact with the Southern District of New York regarding ongoing investigations.
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI, (D) ILLINOIS OVERSIGHT CMTE.: When was the last communication with President Trump or someone acting on his behalf?
COHEN: I don`t have the specific date, but it was a while ago.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: And what did he or his agent communicate to you?
COHEN: Unfortunately, this topic is actually something that`s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York, and I`ve been asked by them not to discuss it.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven`t yet discussed today?
COHEN: Yes. And again, those are part of the investigation that`s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Cohen also testified that Trump knew in advance that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would release hacked Democratic Party e-mails, something Trump allegedly learned from Roger Stone before the first batch of e-mails was released.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked documents, the Democratic National Committee e- mails, ahead of time. And the answer is yes.
Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that within a couple of days there would be a massive dump of e-mails that would damage Hillary Clinton`s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect wouldn`t that be great.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, in January of this year, 2019, "The New York Times" asked President Trump if he ever spoke to Roger Stone about these stolen e-mails, and President Trump answered, and I quote, "no, I didn`t. I never did." Was that statement by President Trump true?
COHEN: No, it`s not accurate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Today Julian Assange denied ever having a call with Roger Stone. And Roger Stone himself, despite being under a gag order, spoke up when asked to call Cohen`s statements "not true." Cohen also told the committee about his lies concerning the timing of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: I lied to Congress when Mr. Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow tower project in Russia. I stated that we stopped negotiating in January of 2016. That was false. Our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign.
At the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him. He would look me in the eye and tell me there`s no Russian business and then go on to lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way he was telling me to lie.
Mr. Trump`s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow tower negotiations before I gave it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you had a conversation with the President of the United States about your impending testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Is that correct?
COHEN: That`s correct.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN, (D) MARRYLAND OVERSIGHT CMTE.: Which specific lawyers reviewed and edited your statement to Congress on the Moscow tower negotiations, and did they make any changes to your statement?
COHEN: There were changes made, additions. Jay Sekulow for one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, today that very man Jay Sekulow, the Trump lawyer, responded to Cohen calling his testimony "completely false."
Cohen also spoke of the hush money payments, again implicating the President in a scheme to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels. Cohen provided the committee with copies of two checks that were used to reimburse him for that payoff. One check co-signed by Trump`s son Donald Trump Jr. and the CFO of the Trump organization Allan Weisselberg. The other signed by Donald Trump himself. Months after he had already become President. Cohen was asked about his public explanations concerning that payment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KATIE HILL. (D) CALIFORNIA OVERSIGHT CMTE.: Mr. Cohen, you sent a statement to the reporters that said, "I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to miss Stephanie Clifford and neither the Trump organization nor the Trump campaign was party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford and neither reimbursed me for the payment either directly or indirectly." Was the statement false?
COHEN: The statement is not false. I purpose left out Mr. Trump individually from that statement. That was what was discussed to do between myself, Mr. Trump, and Allan Weisselberg.
HILL: Did the President call you to coordinate on public messaging about the payments to Ms. Clifford in or around February 2018?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Congresswoman Katie Hill, California democrat you just saw there questioning Cohen, will join us later in this hour.
Tomorrow Michael Cohen will see his final day of testimony on the Hill when he appears before the House Intelligence Committee, unlike today, no live coverage of tomorrow`s closed-door event.
It`s been a lot, and with that in mind let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Wednesday night. Barbara McQuade, veteran federal prosecutor, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence. And Ken Vogel, veteran and political reporter for the "New York Times." Good evening to you tall and welcome.
Frank, I`m curious. Your mind trained in counterintelligence starting with the reported phone call from Roger Stone which we point out Mr. Stone denies. What got your attention today?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: That jumped out at me, Brian, as perhaps the most crucial piece of information coming from Cohen today. But then the investigator hat goes on and you start scratching that.
And as you said we`ve had denials that that occurred. So, I tried to break down Cohen`s statement today into what is verifiable and what can be investigated and confirmed and verified through records, phone logs, documents, banking, tax information, financial statements, and then what is going to be disputed to the point of really never coming to a conclusion.
Now, if you look at the Stone issue you`re going to have Roger Stone saying look, I`m a blowhard, we`re all trying to get in position with Trump and get in his good graces and really think that we`re more valuable than we are, and I was making stuff up. You know I`d heard rumors from others, et cetera. Trump says I never remember any of that. And there we are.
You can check phone records. You can put phone calls and dates and times and people and places. But if Stone says I was making it up and Trump says I don`t even remember it, we could have a problem.
What then I shifted to was this possibility of suborning perjury. And that is when Cohen says that Trump`s lawyers changed or edited my testimony to Congress, I need more information. And we`re looking at the possibility of lawyers now testifying as to what they knew and didn`t do and what Trump told them to do or not. It`s a mess. But today looked to me like a mob informant trying to rat out an entire corrupt organization.
WILLIAMS: Very dramatic front page. That is tomorrow`s "New York Times." If you think today was not a moment of great consequence, think again. They don`t do that type headline very often.
So Barb, Frank just put on his former FBI hat. I have one for you. It says former federal prosecutor. With that in mind, how did a potential case against Donald Trump advance today in your view?
BARBARA MCQUJADE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: I thought some of the things Michael Cohen said did add strength to a couple of things, both the Russian interference case as well as obstruction of justice. With regard to that phone call from Stone, you know, Michael Cohen`s testimony alone is not going to make a chase but it can be one small piece of a larger body of evidence.
And the one key factor he was able to provide today was a link between Roger Stone and his activity with WikiLeaks and President Trump`s knowledge of it. And so in that way there is also already an allege conspiracy with the 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking, stealing, and this is the important part, staging the release of e-mails of the DNC.
And so if President Trump participated in that last piece of releasing the e-mails, staging that release, timing it to coincide with important events in his campaign or coordinating the messaging around that release he could be a participant in that conspiracy. That`s the conspiracy to defraud the United States by interfering with the fair administration of elections. So I thought Michael Cohen advanced the ball on that count.
And the other place, the one Frank just mentioned, was in the obstruction of justice. I think even William Barr, the attorney general, would agree that if someone encourages a witness to lie, it suborns perjury. Even the President could be guilty of obstruction of justice in that scenario.
And so again, Michael Cohen`s testimony alone does not establish that but it advances the ball. What did these lawyers do? Did they change testimony to make it false? Did they know it was false? Did President Trump by looking Michael Cohen in the eye and saying there is no Russia collusion know that he was persuading him to lie?
Other evidence will be necessary. But that certainly is some evidence of obstruction of justice.
WILLIAMS: All right. Ken, as we show these front pages tomorrow, it is certainly dramatic. Using the figurative hat, you never remove, that says journalist, how did the story advance today?
KEN VOGEL, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think we saw the most flesh put on the bones of the financial, the tax, and the campaign finance crimes. And we actually saw the most hard evidence presented on that front with those two checks that you mentioned, one signed by Donald Trump, one signed by Donald Trump Jr., and Allen Weisselberg, his top accountant at the Trump organization, reimbursing Michael Cohen for his $130,000 hush payment to Stormy Daniels that he made before the election.
However, these checks were signed by Donald Trump and by his son, a top executive at the Trump organization, after he was already President. So that takes the potential financial crime here and the potential campaign finance crime into the period when he was President and we heard a lot of Democrats talking about that as a key element not only for the financial crime. There`s a potential -- rather financial fraud aspect of it. There`s also potential campaign finance aspect.
Was that an over the limit contribution made to affect the outcome of the election? Michael Cohen certainly suggested -- stated as much but he didn`t offer as much evidence that Donald Trump knew or thought of it as that, and it`s important for him to know for a violation of that kind to be knowing and willful in order for it to be an actual potential crime as opposed to a civil infraction.
That said, we do have another key element from those checks, and that is that he signed -- he knew that he had debt to Michael Cohen from this payment that he was -- from this hush payment that he was going to pay off and yet he signed a personal financial disclosure statement in June of 2017 where he did not list that as a debt. He subsequently in 2018 did include that as a debt that he was paying off, but that`s another area where you see Democrats talking about a potential commission of a crime, knowingly and willfully falsifying a personal financial disclosure statement.
WILLIAMS: Barbara, I need your read on something else. I`m going to play a brief bit of this. This is -- let`s call it a description of a kind of Trump communication code. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For example, you said, "Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That`s not how he operates," end quote. Can you explain how he does this?
COHEN: Sure. It would be no different if I said that`s the nicest looking tie I`ve ever seen. Isn`t it? What are you going to do? Are you going to fight with him? The answer is no. You say yeah, that`s the nicest-looking tie I`ve ever seen. That`s how he speaks.
He doesn`t give you questions. He doesn`t give you orders. He speaks in a code. And I understand the code because I`ve been around him for a decade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Barb, I`m not a lawyer but it seems to me that would make for a challenging case to prove if on top of everything else you`re dealing with a subject or a witness that said we had a way of speaking.
MCQUADE: It does make things difficult if he is speaking in a code that is not on its face illegal or giving him directives to commit crimes. The way that you would corroborate that if I were prosecuting a case like that is to get other witnesses to tell the same story. That we all knew that that that`s the way he operated, he would make an assertion and we were all to get on board and to give examples of that.
So that when he said things like there is no business in Russia and then in the next breath asking for an update on the status of negotiations with Russia he could explain how that is consistent with President Trump`s behavior. It is an uphill battle but it is not insurmountable.
WILLIAMS: And Frank, I`ve got two for you. This first moment is Cohen on collusion. And then I have another.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. And I want to be clear that I have my suspicions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And then, Frank, a few moments later we were treated to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: I remember being in a room with Mr. Trump probably in early June of 2016 when something peculiar happened. Don Trump Jr. came into the room and walked behind his father`s desk. Which in and of itself was unusual. People didn`t just walk behind Mr. Trump`s desk to talk to him.
And I recall Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice which I could clearly hear and saying the meeting is all set and I remember Mr. Trump saying "OK, good, let me know."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: OK, Frank. So, to your investigative ears a critique of both of those moments.
FIGLIUZZI: Well, let`s do the last one first, which is this issue of how you interpret Don Jr. leaning over saying that the meeting is set. Barbara mentioned earlier how important it is that whatever Cohen provides is pieced together with other parts of the puzzle and what I`d like to remind people of is that Mueller has much of that puzzle in place and much of that comes in the form of classified intelligence, grand jury material, human sources of information, technical sources of information and the entire panoply of techniques from the U.S. intelligence agencies and allies.
So, what does that mean? It means that, you know, you can put people in times and places. You`ve interviewed dozens and dozens of people. You`ve checked video surveillance of building CCTV and security cameras. And if this piece of the puzzle fits into a timing of a theory that Trump knew about the meeting and knew its purpose then this has been extremely helpful.
Now, on the collusion side it makes sense to me that Cohen would not have been in that circle or would not have been someone who was privy to truly getting inside Trump`s head and determining whether he knew that Russia was helping. I think that`s another form of communication he`s having with other people. And whether or not WikiLeaks -- whether he understood that WikiLeaks was getting their material from a Russian hack and was merely being utilized to disseminate that stolen material, we don`t know yet but I`m increasingly convinced that investigators do and we`ll soon find out what that truth is.
WILLIAMS: Ken, bad day to be named Weisselberg. This is a guy, an accountant who became chief financial officer. He dates back in the Trump organization to Donald Trump`s father. About 40 years of employment. Loyal employment.
He is suddenly mentioned every other sentence today. I`m imagining and I`m curious to see if you agree that the committee has a few questions for him.
VOGEL: Oh, absolutely. We heard members of the committee say that he was next on their list. It was fairly impressive. A lot of times you have committee hearings like this that really just form a platform for grandstanding by the members of the committee. But in this case you did hear several members try to build out the case asking questions about who would know more about this given subject.
And in a lot of cases when those questions are asked Mr. Weisselberg`s name came up. We do know that he has talked to prosecutors already. I don`t know if he would necessarily come before a committee like this in a public setting given as Michael Cohen indicated that there are still ongoing investigative measures and law enforcement probes going on a number of these fronts, which is also an interesting revelation from Cohen, sort of coming right up to the line of saying what the Southern District and other prosecutors are still looking at before pulling back.
But rest assured, if these prosecutors are still looking at any other things that Cohen talked about that deal with the Trump organization they`re probably going to be talking to, working with or trying to work with Allen Weisselberg.
WILLIAMS: After this long day`s journey into night, our big three guests wearing three invisible hats, and we`re very happy they agreed to come on our broadcast tonight. Our thanks to Barbara McQuade, to Frank Figliuzzi, and to Ken Vogel. Really appreciate it.
And coming up tonight, one of today`s biggest revelations about Trump`s hush money payments came from questions asked by our next guest.
And later, today`s other major story from the other side of the world. We`ll have the latest on this U.S.-North Korea summit going on now. The two men have just faced cameras. One of our colleagues is on the ground standing by. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started as we look at the nation`s capital on a Wednesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: I am humbled. I am thankful to Chairman Cummings for giving me the opportunity today to tell my truth.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND OVERSIGHT CMTE: I believe he told the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That was Michael Cohen and House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings after today`s hearing.
Returning to our broadcast tonight, Congresswoman Katie Hill, newly elected California Democrat on the Oversight Committee who took part in the questioning of Michael Cohen today on Capitol Hill.
And Congresswoman, we realize it`s been a long day. Thank you very much for coming on tonight. Your questioning resulted in us knowing about 11 checks. What else were you driving at? What else were you trying there to establish?
HILL: Well, the biggest thing for me was trying to figure out whether the President committed a crime while he was in office. Because everything else is, you know, is really important for us to understand the character of the President. There have been a lot of guesses going on or a lot of things that have led us in that direction about what of a kind -- what kind of person he`s like. And the testimony was really critical.
But ultimately, the crime, while he`s in office, is the piece of information that we have to establish in order to kind of pursue any further action. So, I really wanted to get to that, and I think the testimony that Mr. Cohen provided today and the checks, the copies of the checks is absolutely vital and shows some very disturbing information for us.
WILLIAMS: I looked up at Fox News tonight during their 9:00 p.m. Eastern hour. One of their headlines on one segment was "still no collusion." Do you concur? Does it matter?
HILL: I honestly don`t think it matters. First of all, that wasn`t the subject of today`s hearing. That is what`s going to be discussed in large part tomorrow in the intelligence hearing that is -- that`s really not up for us to kind of be debating right now because we were really trying to be careful about staying out of any -- out of the way of any investigation that`s going on within the Mueller investigation.
So you know, I think that the fact that they keep using this word of collusion and just continuing to harp on about that is to me it`s trying to hide something else. And what we know from today is that there is very strong evidence that of course needs to be further backed up but that suggests that the President of the United States committed a crime while serving in the Oval Office.
And if that`s not disturbing to our Republican friends across the aisle who are supposed to be staunch supporters of the Constitution and the utmost patriots then I don`t know what is.
WILLIAMS: Let me ask you a dual question. If you`d been handed another round, and I`ve yet to meet a member of Congress who would turn one down, what would you have asked? And who do you think you should next hear from?
HILL: So actually, that`s a great question. The piece I would have asked is directly to Mr. Cohen of who else do you think we need to hear from? And you know, we asked that in our individual segment but I would have wanted to ask kind of more direct questions in that regard of, OK, your testimony is over for today. But if you were sitting on our side who else would you be wanting to call up here for us to ask questions of? And where do you think we need to be going from here?
And I think that that`s just a really important perspective for us to get and I hope, you know, I have my ideas of who we need to be calling forward next. But I hope we have the opportunity to continue in that dialogue and hope it informs our decisions of who we do bring forward and moving as we continue.
WILLIAMS: You are free as far as we know of your television obligations for the day. With great thanks from us for staying up. California Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill, thank you very much for coming back on the broadcast.
And coming up for us, the scene that came to mind while we watched the scene that was unfolding in that hearing room today. Right when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: In closing, I`d like to say directly to the President, we honor our veterans even in the rain. You tell the truth even when it doesn`t aggrandize you. You respect the law and our incredible law enforcement agents. You don`t villainize them. You don`t disparage generals, Gold Star families, prisoners of war, and other heroes who had the courage to fight for this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: After that lengthy and often contentious hearing on Capitol Hill today Michael Cohen, as you saw there, closed with something of a set piece, his closing remarks directed at President Trump. Cohen also said the President`s behavior is un-American and denigrates the Office of the President.
With us by phone tonight is the former CIA Director John Brennan, also happens to be our senior national security and intelligence analyst.
And, Director Brennan, after a life in intel, looking at this through your eyes was there a tipping point today? What stood out to you?
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well there, were several things, Brian. First of all, I was sorely disappointed that there wasn`t any member of the Republican Party who are trying to find the truth about what happened and what Mr. Trump was involved in.
And unfortunately, I think, partisanship still reigns on the Hill. And if we`re going to get through this very sad and painful chapter of our history, we need to have both parties, the Democrats and Republicans, really trying to do the right thing together.
Secondly, as you point out, Michael Cohen`s final statement there I think pointed out just how important it is that we have somebody in the Oval Office who`s going to honor the values of this country, honor those heroes in the FBI, intelligence community, CIA and others, and to send a very strong signal to them that he or she in the Oval Office is going to support them. And unfortunately, I think we are still at a point where Mr. Trump has failed to fulfill his solemn responsibilities and has lived up to the standards that we expect of a president of the United States.
WILLIAMS: And can I ask you about this story that Roger Stone denies. Calling in on speakerphone saying in effect, boss I talked to Assange, he`s going to come through for us. Do you believe it?
BRENNAN: Yes. Well, I don`t see what Michael Cohen has to gain by lying now. I think he has, as he has said, experienced the pains that go along with having this blind loyalty to Mr. Trump for so many years, doing things that were clearly were wrong, illegal, criminal. And now I think he is trying to set the record straight. I know that there are credibility issues with him.
But the fact that he is now providing some corroborative evidence and material, I think his continued work with the Southern District of New York and with the special counsel, I think he has a lot of knowledge, a lot of insight that will give us more of a clearer sense of what Mr. Trump did, who was involved, in some of these activities that clearly were beyond the bounds of ethics, principles, and maybe even the law.
WILLIAMS: John Brennan, thank you for always taking our questions. We appreciate it after this long day. The former CIA director with us by telephone tonight.
For a lot of folks watching today, especially those who may be fans of Coppola, today`s Cohen hearing was a callback to an earlier depiction of a similar scene.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We call it the Corleone family, Senator. We call it the family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your position?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At first like everybody else, I was a soldier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, Senator. Come on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don`t know. Tell me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the boss says push a button on a guy, I push a button. See, Senator?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean you killed people?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I what?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You killed people at the -- at the behest of your superiors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that`s right, Counselor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: In real life today`s dialogue came very close to mob parlance. Nobody got whacked. But again, it was close.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever seen Mr. Trump personally threaten people with physical harm?
COHEN: No. He would use others.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER, (D) CALIFORNIA: How many times did Mr. Trump ask you to threaten an individual or entity on his behalf?
COHEN: Quite a few times.
SPEIER: Fifty times?
SPEIER: A hundred times?
SPEIER: Two hundred times?
SPEIER: Five hundred times?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It went on about like that.
With us tonight to talk all about it, Rebecca Davis O`Brien, reporter for the "Wall Street Journal" who was covering the Cohen hearing today, and Kimberly Atkins, senior Washington correspondent for WBUR, Boston`s NPR News station.
Rebecca, we`ll start with you. And sometimes we in television do too good a job living in the moment and it`s our print colleagues who can take just a second and sit back and wonder what just happened. We showed "The New York Times" front page from tomorrow. It`s striking. Your own paper`s front page just emerging from mockup tonight for tomorrow. It gets your attention. So in your view representing all of print journalism, what just happened?
REBECCA DAVIS O`BRIEN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORTER: Well, we have to usually reflect on this after deadline because the journal has early deadlines. But I guess three things really stand out to me now that I think about today`s testimony. The first is that, as you pointed out, Michael Cohen painted a pretty vivid picture of what life is like in Donald Trump`s immediate orbit and what President Trump is like as a man in his eyes.
Secondly, he presented evidence today that implicates the President further in crimes he`s already been implicated in. It sort of flushes out this picture of multiple alleged crimes and confessed crimes on Mr. Cohen`s behalf and describes others involved in the Trump Organization who were involved in that as well.
Are and finally, I think that he pointed -- it`s worth noting, as Mr. Brennan did earlier, that he also, while he said he didn`t know much about the collusion issues, he did talk -- he did remind us that he`s speaking with prosecutors in the Manhattan Southern District. So there`s more to come potentially.
WILLIAMS: Yes, that fell like a lead balloon in the middle of the hearing several times, I noted.
Kim, you may have already shared this with your listeners on WBUR. You can share it with our audience. And that is where do you see the story going next?
KIMBERLY ATKINS, WNBUR SENIOR NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean it`s tough to see. Look, while this was really dramatic today, we`ve heard really most extensive comments we`ve heard from Michael Cohen yet, detailing all the inner workings of his 10 years or more with the President.
There wasn`t any huge bombshells. Yes, there were more pieces. He tried to -- he gave testimony that potentially connects Trump to that Trump Tower meeting saying that he remembered that there was something there, that it was a conversation between Trump and Donald Trump Jr.
There are pieces there. And it underscored a lot of other things that we`ve already known about Trump`s character. There`s already been accusations as well as his own behavior, for example, that has led to -- for people to call him racist. Michael Cohen got into that a little bit.
I think what happens next is all of those question marks you were talking about, the fact Cohen said he is talking with federal prosecutors. There were some things he couldn`t talk about publicly. Those things will probably be on the agenda tomorrow when he speaks in another closed session at Congress.
And we`ll have to see what the federal prosecutors out of the Southern District and the Mueller investigation really come out of this. But it seems that this underscored a lot of things I think that we already knew in places that we knew that this investigation was going.
WILLIAMS: To our audience on this busy night, thankfully Rebecca and Kimberly have agreed to stick around for a bit.
Coming up, the House Republicans were on a mission targeting an audience far beyond the Rayburn House Office Building but maybe not as far as Hanoi. We`ll explain that when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. The Republican strategy during Cohen`s testimony on Capitol Hill today was pretty simple. We did not hear a defense of their own president. Rather, the game was clearly try to further discredit Cohen. And what he did to deserve the three-year prison term he`s about to embark on. And repeatedly call him a liar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIM JORDAN, (R) OHIO, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I want everyone in this room to think about this. The first announced witness for the 116th Congress is a guy who is going to prison in two months for? Lying to Congress.
REP. MARK GREEN, (R) TENNESSEE, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Your star witness here broke the law with regards to the IRS at least five times. He pled guilty on cheating on his taxes, lying to the IRS. He`s the best witness you`ve got?
REP. JODY HICE, (R) GEORGIA, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Here we are today, our first big hearing, with as you -- and we all know a convicted liar, lying to Congress, a criminal.
REP. PAUL GOSAR, (R) ARIZONA, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: you`re a pathological liar. You don`t know truth from falsehood?
COHEN: Sir, I`m sorry, are you referring to me or the President?
GOSAR: Hey, this is my time.
COHEN: Are you referring to me or the President?
GOSAR: When I ask you a question, I`ll ask for an answer.
GOSAR: There`s no truth for you whatsoever. That`s why that`s important for you to look up here and look at the old adage that our moms taught us. Liar, liar pants on fire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: To drive that last point home, that Congressman, Congressman Gosar, during questioning an aide put up a large sign that read in fact, "Liar, liar pants on fire," with an image for good measure of Michael Cohen in case anyone missed the subtlety of his questioning today.
Still with us, Rebecca Davis O`Brien and Kimberly Atkins. Just a point of order the committee chairman pointed out, late in the day their first hearing was about prescription drugs. Their second hearing was about voting rights. So this was not the first sworn witness.
Kim, the GOP notion of all offense today and no defense, meaning no vigorous defense of Donald Trump, what did you make of it?
ATKINS: Well, look, clearly, the strategy by the Republicans, as you said, was to attack Cohen just -- from the beginning. Not based on what he said, really before he even testifies, or in lieu of asking him questions, just saying look, you are convicted of lying, you`re a liar, you cannot be believed. And discredit him entirely as opposed to asking him questions and maybe trying to pick holes in his story.
I mean, some of it wasn`t very firm. I mean he based this connection between that Trump Tower meeting and President Trump having knowledge of it, for example, on a really kind of fuzzy recollection by his own admission. They could have -- there was actually there there for them to pick apart. But instead they went at him directly. And I`m not sure that was the best strategy.
First of all, it allowed Michael Cohen to rebut that by saying, you know what, I see what you`re doing, you`re protecting the President. I have a lot of experience doing that. I`ve done it for 10 years and look where I ended up. And it also makes the Republicans, if President Trump himself is found to be lying, it puts them in a tough spot if they say that Michael Cohen can never be trusted again if he`s caught lying. What would that mean about the President?
WILLIAMS: Rebecca, what was all this meshugas today about a book deal? Anyone who`s ever smelled anyone involved in this case has a book deal already. Why was there such attention on whether Michael Cohen would swear to never agree to a book deal?
O`BRIEN: You know, that`s kind of a mystery. I think part of this is, you know, they`ve tried to paint him as being interested in the spotlight and leaking to the press or, you know, in trying to profit from his crimes in someway which of course, you know, some questions about that legally.
But I think, you know, I don`t entirely understand why. Maybe he`s -- there`s concern that he`s out to aggrandize himself, as some of the congressmen pointed out today, that there was some element of his own ambition at stake here in the presidency.
WILLIAMS: It was not a boring day.
O`BRIEN: It was not a boring day.
WILLIAMS: Thank you very much for being part of it and part of our broadcast tonight as we attempt to sum it up. Rebecca Davis O`Brien. Kimberly Atkins, two of our returning veterans. Thank you both so much.
And coming up, we turn our attention, let`s not forget, back to this day`s other dramatic and somewhat made for TV event. It is taking place right now in Vietnam. We`ll dip into there when we come back. We`ll dip into there when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Twelve hours difference between the east coast of the United states and Hanoi, Vietnam. So 11:51 Eastern Time right now. Coming up on noon local where Trump is well into his second summit with Kim Jong-un. They started their day with one-on-one time, then an expanded bilateral meeting. That basically means the two of them and aides. And soon both of them are going to take part in what`s been labeled a working lunch.
For more, we want to bring in Jonathan Allen, our NBC News national political reporter who joins us tonight from Hanoi. We also want to welcome to the broadcast Elise Hu, correspondent for NPR and former NPR bureau chief for the Koreas and Japan.
John, I`d like to begin with you. Set the scene. What does it feel like there? And are reports correct that the press corps kind of settled into some chairs for an alcoholic beverage last night? Somebody spotted the White House chief of staff and the hearings had already started on the TV over the bar.
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, it`s almost impossible, Brian, not to notice that the major world event going on right now is not a nuclear summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, but, rather, the Michael Cohen hearing that was going on earlier today in Washington. Everybody was paying attention to it. Obviously, Donald Trump was paying attention to it. He tweeted about it after the hearing.
There`s really no two ways about it. There are other major world events going on, including this tension and actually shooting between Pakistan and India at the moment.
So this is actually in some ways a minor news event so far. We did just have a little bit of news, though. Kim Jong-un, who rarely speaks to reporters, if at all, was asked a question about whether he was willing to consider denuclearizing and he answered and said he wouldn`t be here if he wasn`t.
So that was a little bit of news on his part and yet at the same time our colleagues Carol Lee and Courtney Cuby with a big exclusive report today saying the United States entered these s negotiations having decided abandoned the goal to getting Kim to agree to disarm at these talks. So it looks like that`s not going to come out of these negotiations today.
WILLIAMS: John, indeed, a ton of folks are very nervous about India and Pakistan. It`s a situation we`re watching and only because of the press of other news today did we not get to it tonight.
Elise, I have to say it`s been interesting to see Chairman Kim in what passes for almost western clothing, to hear his voice, to know that he`s interacting with western reporters, which is kind of unheard of. What remains on the short list of things both sides could agree to to make it look like an actual deal emerging from this?
ELISE HU, NPR CORRESPONDENT: Well, the stakes because the summit is now the second one, this is no longer the meet and greet that happened in June of 2018. The stakes have been raised but the State Department heading into this particular summit. They have been signaling they want this parallel approach, that is a more holistic approach that makes denuclearization part of the general goal for the U.S. policy change, but also that it wants to improve relations and cool tension with North Korea.
And so previously denuclearization or a tangible step toward it was a starting point, but the State Department heading into Hanoi has already relaxed that a little bit, saying, you know what, we want to walk and chew gum at the same time. We want to cool tensions and further this engagement, but also keep the pressure on denuclearization.
WILLIAMS: Hey, John, I have to ask you, I watched some Fox News here in the states tonight, wrote down two of the headlines on screen. Number one, Trump talks peace abroad while Democrats focus on Cohen saga, number two, Democrats` war on the American dream. They`re giving heavy air cover to the Trump forces here in the states. Does this -- are you getting that same message from the traveling White House?
ALLEN: Not at all, Brian. The White House`s message so far here has been that the President is 100% ready to negotiate with Kim, focused on this summit. There is some acknowledgement, of course, that the Cohen saga is going on back in Washington, D.C., but the idea is that at the White House that the President`s able to keep his mind on Kim Jong-un and not on Michael Cohen. They`re trying to play down the effect that this would have on the President. Of course, the President obviously and always betraying what his own White House is saying with his own tweets.
WILLIAMS: Going to ask you both to stick around. We may need you at the top of the hour. We`re just going to bridge the top of the hour and then we`ll join "The Rachel Maddow Show" in progress.
That will do it for this hour of coverage. Our coverage, however, continues this evening.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END