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Transcript: Alex Wagner Tonight, 9/21/22

Guests: Susanne Craig, Timothy Snyder, Kurt Andersen


An appeals court has ruled that the Justice Department can have access to roughly 100 highly sensitive classified documents that were taken from Mar-a-Lago. This morning, he was sued by New York`s attorney general, a lawsuit that could potentially put him out of business in the state of New York.


ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris.

You know, it is a series of developments for Donald Trump and his legal woes.


WAGNER: And like as evidence of, that the fact that we are all going to be seeing the phrase on bank review, en banc review.

HAYES: Well, I`m going to do it like that because I said it --

WAGNER: With the French --


HAYES: -- I said it wrong, then I said it right. Do you find, human to human here, just ask you a question?

WAGNER: Not like their cameras on.

HAYES: It stresses me out, but the notion of having that much legal weight bearing down on me gives me like a visceral stomachache.


HAYES: And it is just wild to me to just live your life this way.

WAGNER: In the middle of a maelstrom at all-times. But obviously, his constitution is different than ours because he is sending up fundraising emails. To some degree, this is oxygen to him.

HAYES: Absolutely.

WAGNER: It is also elemental, right, because, wealth -- the cruel of wealth, success and winning, that`s central to his whole ideology, his being. And so, this is kind of the existential fight for his life that I think he relishes.

HAYES: So alien to me. Just as a person, like I can`t imagine.


HAYES: But, you know?

WAGNER: Well, I will think twice about suing you, yeah.

HAYES: Yeah. Please don`t.

WAGNER: Thank you, Chris, as always.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

It has been a bad day for Donald Trump. This morning, he was sued by New York`s attorney general, a lawsuit that could potentially put him out of business in the state of New York.

And tonight, just in the last few hours, Trump has suffered a legal setback in a different case, the one regarding the materials seized from his Florida beach club. An appeals court has ruled that the Justice Department can have access to roughly 100 highly sensitive classified documents that were taken from Mar-a-Lago. Trump has been arguing that all the documents seized from his club are his personal property and that if the FBI found anything classified in there, well, Trump magically declassified it when he was president, even though he has no record of ever having done that.

Trump got a lower court, Judge Aileen Cannon, who he appointed to agree that a special master should go through all the documents. And in a ruling that was widely ridiculed, Cannon said that while the special master is going through all those documents, the Justice Department is not allowed to look at the classified documents or to use them in a criminal investigation into Trump having the documents at his beach club in the first place.

But tonight, three judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, two of them Trump appointees, have brushed back that lower court, Judge Aileen Cannon, and said that yes the Justice Department can indeed have access to those classified documents after all. The judges write in their opinion, quote: For our part, we cannot discern why plaintiff Trump would have an individual interest in or need for any of the 100 documents with classification markings.

A person may have access to classified information only if among other requirements he has a need to know the information. This requirement pertains equally to former presidents.

And as to Trump`s argument that he secretly magically declassified the documents at some point, the judges write, quote, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it personal. So even if we assume that plaintiff Trump did declassify some or all of these documents, that would not explain why he has a personal interest in them.

This ruling is really a pretty full-throated rebuke of Aileen Cannon`s ruling in Trump`s favor, and it also seems like it allows the Justice Department to immediately resume its investigation into Trump for hoarding these classified documents in the very first place.

Joining us now to help understand all of this is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Barb, thanks so much for joining me and helping us all decipher the import of this most recent ruling here from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

It seems like a very big win from the Department of Justice. It seems like to the casual observer, a rebuke of Aileen Cannon down in the district court. How did you read all of this and what happens next?

BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, the same a resounding victory for the Justice Department and also a very swift victory. They filed their reply brief only yesterday and immediately, we saw the appeals court issue this ruling. I was a little stunned to see it come out so quickly frankly, but the language is very strong.

They explain why classified documents are so incredibly sensitive and incredibly important and not only removing these from the special masters review, but saying, of course, this is inextricably intertwined with a criminal investigation. You can`t possibly separate the two. Let you get back to work here you go take your documents and go.

I would imagine this will take effect immediately now. Donald Trump has some options here. He could file an appeal as you were just mentioning with the full 11th Circuit Court of appeals, that`s an en banc review for the full court to look at. That could happen, and I suppose from there, one could even go to the Supreme Court but this is such, such a loser, such a losing issue. I have to imagine even those decisions would be done very swiftly because of the recognized harm to national security that occurs every day every minute that goes by that the Justice Department does not have the ability to investigate the disclosure of these documents.

WAGNER: You know, Trump clearly was rolling the dice here or at least his legal representatives were. They got a very favorable ruling initially from Aileen Cannon, the 11th Circuit, six of the judges on seated on that court are Trump appointees, perhaps they thought the math was in their favor. But as the document shows us, being a Trump appointee did not seem to matter here.

Two of the judges who ruled on this were Trump appointees, one was an Obama appointee and this was a per curium order which means no particular no particular judge takes credit for this. And that is meaningful do you think, Barb, in terms of showing judicial solidarity as it were?

MCQUADE: Yeah, I don`t know their motive in doing that, but I think it does. You know, to the extent people like to think of the world as Trump judges or Obama judges or it`s a great moment for the rule of law that the courts held.

You know, we saw this back in the election when all of these frivolous lawsuits, baseless lawsuits were being filed all around the country to try to get the election thrown out in various states and the courts held in 64 lawsuits. The Trump team failed to succeed in these frivolous lawsuits and that`s because our course held, even with Trump appointees.

And so, I think it`s really heartening to see here once again, you know, we had that bump in the road with Judge Cannon. I don`t know what her motives were, but she issued what, you know, really seemed like a nonsensical opinion. And now, to see these three judges, two of whom were Trump appointees, you know, completely reject those frivolous arguments I think is a very reassuring day for the rule of law.

WAGNER: And we like to hear that. So, if in other words, if Trump`s team does not make another move, the Justice Department could have these classified documents back in their possession, well, they are in their possession. But they could begin continuing to use them and also the intelligence community assessment, ODNI, that investigation, that assessment could continue as well, very important for national security.

Barb, in a minute, I want to get your thoughts on the other major news from Trump legal world that`s happened today. So hang with us if you might.

It is hard to recall now buried amid so many years of outrage and scandal in the Trump presidency and post-presidency, but before Donald Trump even entered the White House practically the very first thing he did after getting elected in 2016, the first thing almost was to pay out $25 million to thousands of people who claimed he had defrauded them. This was just 10 days after his election.

Thousands of former students at Trump University accused him of running a scam saying the whole university was a grift, a money-making scheme. And joining all those students was a New York attorney general`s office, because Donald Trump had been running the scam university out of New York, and the attorney general basically stepped in and said, no, not in my state.

So Trump had to pay up and Trump University is no more. A couple years later, the New York attorney general`s office came for Donald Trump`s sham charity. The Trump foundation was ostensibly Trump`s charitable organization but the New York AG alleged that it was basically a Trump slush fund. Trump used it for campaign stunts like handing out money to veterans charities even though he wasn`t actually given much -- giving much money to veterans charities, use the charity to settle hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of legal problems. He even used it for the charitable cause of buying a ten thousand dollar giant portrait of himself to hang in one of his golf clubs. Do you remember this?

The New York attorney general got that fake charity shut down, accusing it of engaging in quite a shocking pattern of illegality. Trump then had to pay two million dollars to actual charities. So if you`re sensing a theme here, you`re not off base. It`s all scams, frauds, university, the charity.

In that vein, it could make sense that Trump`s entire business might be run on scams as well and that is what is alleged in today`s sprawling 200-plus page lawsuit by once again the New York attorney general.

Today, AG Letitia James accused Donald Trump, three of his children and his company of having, quote, engaged in numerous acts of fraud and misrepresentation in representing the value of Trump`s assets. Inflated values they then used repeatedly and persistently to get more favorable loans and coverage from banks and insurers. In doing so, James said they, quote, violated a host of state criminal laws over a period of 10 years from 2011 to 2021. The lawsuit details more than alleged false asset valuations.

But here are just a couple of the big ones. There`s Trump`s famous penthouse apartment in Trump Tower, nice place, if you`re into gilding. And a 10,000 square feet by New York City standards, it is certainly a big apartment.

But for the purposes of valuing his assets, Donald Trump claimed the apartment was three times bigger, over thirty thousand square feet. And because it was so huge, a few years ago, Trump said it was worth $327 million.

Trump`s own chief financial officer admitted in testimony to Letitia James office that that valuation of Trump`s apartment amounted to an overstatement of a, quote, give or take, $200 million.

Just for context here, the most expensive apartment on the market in New York City last year was listed for $169 million. Trump said his apartment was worth almost double that seven years ago. Nice try, Donald Trump.

And then there`s Trump`s Florida beach club Mar-a-Lago. To get tax breaks, Trump signed on to all kinds of restrictions on what could and could not be done with that property, which included a prohibition on turning it into residential real estate, even under those restrictions, even under those restrictions, the club was worth a cool $75 million. But when it came time to assess its value as one of his assets, Trump pretended none of those restrictions existed and the whole place could be developed and sold for residential use. He said Mar-a-Lago was worth not $75 million, but $739 million, literally times its value.


LETITIA JAMES (D), NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: This investigation revealed that Donald Trump engaged in years of illegal conduct to inflate his net worth to achieve -- to deceive banks and the people of the great state of New York, claiming you have money that you do not have does not amount to the art of the deal. It`s the art of the steal, and there cannot be different rules for different people in this country or in this state. And former presidents are no different.


WAGNER: Letitia James said today that Trump`s conduct appeared to violate not just New York law but federal law as well, specifically laws against bank fraud and she says there may have been tax violations as well. So she has referred the evidence to SDNY, the U.S. attorney`s office in Manhattan as well as to the IRS.

But even if no federal charges come out of this, the New York AG has the power to impose severe consequences on Trump and his business . After all, that office already essentially shut down Trump`s sham university and his fake charity.

James can`t criminally indict Trump and she isn`t explicitly seeking to dissolve the Trump Organization the way the university and the charity were. But she is seeking to bar Trump and his children from ever running a business in New York again, to bar them from getting loans or acquiring real estate in New York for five years and to recover $250 million dollars in allegedly ill-gotten gains. That is no small sum.

Put all of that together and this lawsuit has the potential to put the Trumps out of business in the state of New York.

Joining us once again is Barb McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Barb, thanks for staying with me.

What do you make of the strength of the AG`s case here? It`s -- what we have, she cites 10 years of Trump`s statements on his wealth. This is a scathing, scathing document that she at 220 -- clocking in at 220 pages. How do you -- how do you -- how strong is this given the sort of bar in terms of standard of proof for a civil case?

MCQUADE: It looks incredibly strong to me, Alex. This is not the cliff notes version of allegations. This is detail, more than 200 pages detailing all of those fraudulent claims, some of which you just highlighted.

And you know, prosecutors love cases like this because they`re built on documents as opposed to eyewitnesses. Witnesses can fall apart later because their observations can be impeached, their credibility can be undermined on cross-examination. But documents -- don`t forget -- and documents don`t lie. If you show in one document that an asset was valued at one number and then in another document the asset is valued at another number, those inconsistencies can really only be explained by, you know, were you lying now or were you a lying then?

Some people steal money with guns .Some people steal money with lies. These were sophisticated schemes, but at the end of the day, it`s really just about stealing money. And I think the documents lay out the case in great detail.

You asked about the standard of proof, in a criminal case of course, the standard is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which can be a very high standard and sometimes very difficult to prove, especially when intent is an element. But here in a civil case, the standard is only preponderance of the evidence, which is just 51 percent. And so, with that standard and this detail and those documents as evidence, I like her odds.

WAGNER: Well, to that end Trump and I believe Eric Trump had to testify and answer questions about his net worth under oath. That was in August.

Both Trump and his son Eric took the Fifth for over 400 times. I think Trump took it 440 times, Eric took it over 500 times. That is meaningful in a civil case, is it not? And with all of the documents, the aforementioned documents we just assessed -- discussed?

MCQUADE: It is. You know, all of us have a Fifth Amendment right to avoid answering questions that might incriminate us in a criminal case. You know, that if they answered questions in the civil case, a criminal prosecutor could obtain those transcripts and then use that as a basis for a prosecution. So we all enjoy that right.

And if this were a criminal case, those statements could not even be introduced to a jury they couldn`t even know that the person had invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. That is not true in a civil case. A jury may draw an adverse inference from the fact that someone invoked their Fifth Amendment right.

And so, the jury would be told when the person was asked whether they have an honest explanation for these allegations, they invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. So that can be a powerful inference in those cases. You know, it doesn`t make the whole case, but if you`ve got other evidence that tends to show evidence of a crime and then the person stands silent in the face of those accusations, that that alone can really be that tipping point to put you over that 51 percent.

WAGNER: And we now also know that the SDNY, the Southern District of New York and the IRS, this case has been referred to them. They are not giving up any information on that but we will be eagerly awaiting developments on that front as well.

Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney, thank you for your time and your expertise as always.

MCQUADE: Thanks, Alex.

WAGNER: Much more ahead on Trump`s legal problems this hour coming up. I will speak with someone who first started documenting Donald Trump`s rise back when he was just a New York City real estate mogul.

But next, New York Times investigative reporter Suzanne Craig won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on Donald Trump`s finances. She joins us here next.

Stay with us.



WAGNER: In a 200-page filing today, New York Attorney General Letitia James laid out the case against Donald Trump, his children and the Trump Organization for financial fraud, and the business`s multiple attempts to conceal that fraud to financial entities. Attorney General James notes in her suit that when Deutsche Bank, for example, asked Trump and his businesses questions related to this "New York Times" article from 2020, which mentioned an IRS investigation into a $72.9 million tax refund, the Trump Organization did not respond for months.

That reporting is just one of a series of blockbuster reports by Susanne Craig, "New York Times" investigative reporter. She has covered Trump`s finances and tax dodges for years and she has won a Pulitzer Prize for her work in the year 2019. She was one of the first people to shed light on Trump`s potentially illegal financial schemes and now, today, the New York AG is carrying that mantle potentially to court.

Joining us now is Susanne Craig, "New York Times" investigative reporter.

Susanne, thanks for being here tonight.

I feel like this is the culmination of so much work you said in motion. So let me just first ask, what stood out to you from this? It`s a monster -- it`s a monster lawsuit.


WAGNER: And there`s so many egregious examples.

CRAIG: There`s -- I think just the volume and the specificity page after page after page and what I found compelling as somebody, you know, as a reporter, we usually, you know, a lot of stories take different components to piece it together, sometimes you have one case in 2020, we just had we had a huge volume of this tax returns in 20-some years, and other stories, we have a lot of component pieces, and in 2018, we did and we were able to show because we had bank statements and we had financial statements, we were able to show a fraud.

And that`s what they`ve got here. They have got statements. They have got interviews from people, emails across a huge -- you know, just a number of entities from the accountants to bankers. And that`s when I was reading it. I was just page after page of like different.

WAGNER: It`s full color. It`s full spectrum.

CRAIG: Yeah.

WAGNER: Is there a property that struck you as the most egregious in terms of asset inflation in terms of fraudulence?

CRAIG: I don`t. There`s two different questions, so that the asset inflation, it was -- it was striking to see just the percentages some of them were over a thousand. Jupiter was one that where -- the, you know, they were inflating that asset by just huge amounts. It`s like --

WAGNER: He bought it I think in five million dollars, the Jupiter Golf Club, 5 million in cash, less than a year later, Trump values the same property at $62 million.

CRAIG: Right, I mean, those sort of numbers, you know, in -- in when you`re doing appraisals and I`ve learned this just you know over the years having covered Trump`s finest there`s sort of a language among the people who do appraisals, you phone them and you say, I`m going to make a charitable donation, you don`t need to say go high. Appraiser, kind of, knows that. You`re -- oh, I`m going to value something for an estate and that`s code for go low, because you don`t want to pay the taxes on that.

So there`s an understanding and I think there`s some leeway in what you can do, but this is -- some of this stuff`s just off the charts.

WAGNER: Eleven hundred percent is not normal.


Do you feel -- okay, so the when we`re talking about this lawsuit, it is centrally about Donald Trump but what makes this different and perhaps more damning for Trump writ large is that it also implicates his children.

CRAIG: That`s right.

WAGNER: Right? We`re talking about generational fraud. He is naming Ivanka. He is naming Eric. He is naming Donald Trump Jr. And for Donald Trump, that seems meaningful.

Now, Bill Barr earlier today was suggesting that, quote, dragging the children into this was an unsavory thing for the attorney general to do. But from what you`ve read, does it sound like they played meaningful roles in all of this?

CRAIG: I`m going to say two things. And I`m going to -- I want to take you to an example --

WAGNER: Please?

CRAIG: -- I think they`re powerful. But the Trump Organization is not, you know, Fortune 500 company where there`s thousands of people. There are a small group of people and Donald Trump has by, you know, his decision to whittle it down to the top executives are largely his children. He`s made that that decision. So there`s a small group and the children are very involved.

One of the -- one of the examples that stood out to me today was the appraisal and what happened at Seven Springs. Seven Springs this is a state, it`s in New York. He -- Donald Trump bought it for a few million dollars in 1995, and then turned around and later, the number I`ve got it yet here for the -- he later puts at $250 million valuation on it.

Well, Seven Springs is important and for a couple reasons. First of all, Eric Trump is very involved in it. He has at times lived there. He proposed to his now wife there. He has a very sentimental attachment to it. But this is a project -- Donald Trump bought it with, you know, I think just grand ambitions for it. He wanted to put a golf course on it. He wanted to put some mansions on it.

And, boy, did he hear from the neighboring community, very wealthy, four or five different municipalities who just screamed, you know, bloody murder on him. And then separately, there was lawsuits from the nature conservancy. So, they -- they then went and they decide that they would make -- it was a charitable contribution, they would donate some of the line in order to get a charitable contribution, which is great for your taxes.

And in here it says and they point out that Eric Trump was very involved in that he knew that the projections that they had and that they were giving to appraisers were not feasible, and then secondly, it says here they failed to inform the appraisers of the restrictions. They push the appraisers to do other things. They falsely informed the appraisers about other things, like this is like -- I`m just reading this list --

WAGNER: They`d be implying, from Trump Organization, including Eric Trump.

CRAIG: Right, and then it says that the Cushman appraisal resulted because of what the attorney general is saying is these false misrepresentations that the appraisal that came out of it materially overstated the value of the Seven Springs property by tens of millions of dollars. And then you turn the page, and guess what? They submitted to the IRS as part of this, something that reduced Mr. Trump`s tax liability by $3.5 million, I was able to reduce his taxable income by that much.

Because of what the attorney general is saying, there`s a lot of false information that was given to the appraisers led by Eric Trump.

WAGNER: And also, the IRS has mentioned, they -- this case has been referred to them. It`s hard to imagine that they don`t see an interest in following --

CRAIG: And I can`t imagine it`s not been on their radar. We`ve written about what other people have written about it, but the granular like the details in here, you know, we knew about it, but you read sort of point --

WAGNER: But it`s almost a forensic kind of examination of what`s going on.

I know what you did with less -- with more limited information. I am eager to see what you do with all of this information.

Susanne Craig, "New York Times" investigative reporter, it is really good to have you on set on nights like this. I really appreciate your time.

CRAIG: Thank you.

WAGNER: Thanks for being here.

We have more ahead this hour. Coming up next, I will talk with Kurt Andersen, the former magazine editor who covered Donald Trump back during his New York City real estate mogul days.

And later, Tim Snyder, an expert on authoritarianism, joins us to discuss Vladimir Putin`s major escalation of the war in Ukraine .

Stay with us.



WAGNER: Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened the west with nuclear war. In a pre-recorded televised speech, Putin lied, claiming that NATO countries had threatened to use nuclear weapons against Russia. He then said that, quote: In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff.

The mention of territorial integrity of Russia there is significant because on Friday, the four regions of Ukraine that Russia has seized in this war will begin to vote in a referenda on whether or not to officially become a part of Russia, and its territorial integrity. Those referenda are fully expected to be shams.

Now, the White House has said the U.S. will not recognize those results but Russia would, and then these areas ones that are currently the active front line of Russia`s war of aggression, they would become places Putin claims Russia would use nuclear weapons to defend. So there`s that.

And then there was the other more immediate escalation Putin announced today, although he stopped short of declaring a full national draft.


Today, Putin announced what he called a partial mobilization. What that means is mandatory deployment to Ukraine for 300,000 of Russia`s military reservists. Estimates now put the Russian troop number in Ukraine somewhere around two hundred thousand, so an influx of 300,000 new reservists could more than double Russia`s military presence in Ukraine. That is a major escalation, but it is also a sign of desperation.

Last month, before Ukraine`s latest big military advance, the Pentagon estimated that as many as 80,000 Russian troops have been hurt or killed in Ukraine, taking them out of commission for this fight.

Last week, video surfaced showing the de facto leader of a Russian mercenary group offering Russian convicts the chance to get out of prison in return for a six-month combat tour in Ukraine. He tells them they have to make the decision in five minutes.

As outlandish as that sounds it fits into Russia`s strategy so far in this war Putin has been doing everything he can to keep Russians with any semblance of political power as far from the realities of this war as possible, recruiting soldiers in rural poor areas. One of the reasons today`s announcements shows desperation is because it breaks with that strategy. The Russian legislature literally passed new laws yesterday that make deserting the military punishable by up to 10 years in prison. And now, 300,000 Russian reservists are being told they have to go fight. That is going to take the war home for all of those people`s friends and families across Russia.

And we are already seeing how well the people of Russia are taking this news. Flights out of Russia to countries, where you don`t need a visa are selling out or they are skyrocketing in price. Inside Russia tonight, more than a thousand people have been arrested in 38 different cities, all of them protesting against the new military mobilization. As brutal as this all is, it also really shows how much Putin has been backed into a corner. So what comes next?

Joining us now is Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University. He`s also the author of "On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century", and he is just back from a visit to Ukraine where he met with President Zelenskyy in Kiev last weekend.

Professor Snyder, thank you so much for joining me.

What is your reaction to the assessment that this latest maneuver from Putin is a sign of desperation, that he is in fact a man in a corner?

TIMOTHY SNYDER, HISTORY PROFESSOR: Yeah, militarily, it`s a sign that they`re losing. He needs these 300,000 men that he imagines will appear in order to build up and defend the line. The Ukrainians are winning the war. The Russians are losing. Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Russian point of view has to be stopped. That`s what these 300,000 men are for. Politically speaking, he`s been in a rock in a hard place. He doesn`t want to mobilize the population because the population doesn`t want to be mobilized it just wants a TV war, it doesn`t want a real war.

On the other hand, there are zone propagandists and his own hardliners who are saying we have to win now. And so, he`s looking for a middle route. He`s saying, well, it`s immobilization but it`s not really immobilization. It`s just a partial mobilization. It`s a sign of someone who`s feeling pressure from both sides.

And his defense minister is can currently sort of trying to downplay exactly how many people this is going to be, right? He said, the Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu said only those with relevant combat and service experience will be mobilized, 25 million Russians fit that criteria but only about one percent of them will be mobilized.

SNYDER: Well, on the one hand, the law that they passed says that essentially anyone in the country can be mobilized. It uses the phrase partial mobilization, that we should understand that a little bit like we understood special military operation. It`s a euphemism. Basically, any man in Russia can now be mobilized.

Shoigu and Putin`s gloss on this is that no, it`ll just be a few people for now. But I think Russians quite properly understand that it could be anybody.

WAGNER: It could be anybody, which is why you`re seeing young men trying to leave the country in droves. I wonder, you know, obviously, there is a reality of war. There`s the reality of the politics back at home. But it also feels like some of Putin`s allies around the world are tiring of this, that they`re beginning to break with him. Whether they they`re actually tired of it or they think Russia is weakened and weaker than they previously thought it could be with the military the size of what we had presumed the military to be.

Indian Prime Minister Modi last week said now is not an era of war. Chinese President Xi Jinping has, quote, questions and concerns.

Turkish President Erdogan this week says Russia should return Ukraine`s land. I want to, quote, the lands which were evaded inside -- the lands which were invaded will be returned to Ukraine. This is what is expected. This is what is wanted.

I mean, in no uncertain terms speaking to Putin how meaningful is it that those men are saying these things at this juncture?

SNYDER: Well, when you run a regime which is based upon the idea that might is right and power is everything and then you`d lose a war. Obviously, you`re going to lose credibility around, the world, I mean, Putin doesn`t actually stand for anything, except the idea that Russia is a superpower, right?


The way he`s prosecuting this war involves horrible crimes, when the things that I saw in Ukraine involved, you know, crimes against humanity, things that amount to genocide and so, in addition, to the leaders you list there are also the people who care about things like that as well as the Ukrainians themselves.

But the fundamental point I think with the men that you`re mentioning is that he`s losing the war. China would be happy that was -- was happy to have a quick war, but it`s not just like the Russian population would be happy to have a TV war, but now, it`s not getting the TV war. And I agree with you, that`s why we`re at a turning point.

WAGNER: What if Zelenskyy, you saw him last week, he is speaking for she spoke virtually at the United Nations. Do you have a sense of how much he is -- was prepared for something like this to happen to the degree that Putin has been sort of telegraphing a ramping up if you will?

SNYDER: Yeah, we have to distinguish between how we react and how the Ukrainians react because much of the rhetoric that Putin uses is meant to push our buttons. For example, when he tries to connect the nuclear threat to other things, he`s been talking about nuclear war for six months, basically uninterrupted. But he knows that that will push our buttons and he hopes that that will stop us or hinder us or at least slow us down from helping Ukrainians.

Ukrainians on the other hand have already factored this in long ago. They read the Russians much more quickly and effectively than we do, and their fundamental reaction is this just means we have to win the war by the fall.

WAGNER: Their tenacity and resilience in this has been absolutely stunning.

I want to ask you about one last thing as we talk about Putin`s standing in Russian -- in Russia. There have been reports from inside Russia that Russian businessmen are being -- are dying from suicide, accidents. It sounds like it`s the FSB at work, eliminating people who may be threats to Putin`s power.

Ten people have died under suspicious circumstances since the war in Ukraine began. Do you draw any lines there in terms of Putin`s paranoia, his power grabs? I mean how do you frame that in the context of this war?

SNYDER: I think we`re in the late stages of a regime where the various entities, among which Putin kept the peace are now beginning to sort of centrifugally separate from one another. They`re the -- the Chechens, there`s the FSB, there`s the army with its laws and prestige, there are the businessmen, there are a lot of things going on, in addition to the deaths, things are blowing up inside Russia. Military recruiting posts are being set on fire and that`s not all the Ukrainians.

So it`s hard to do the criminology but I think you`re basically right that what we`re seeing is that a man who is always the arbiter is losing his ability to hold things together.

That seems both like perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel but also like we are in a very unstable and precarious moment. They always fall. The dictator is always fall. You just have to be ready.

WAGNER: We will leave it there with you. Professor Snyder, Tim Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, great to talk with you. Thanks for joining me, author, of course, of "On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century". Thanks again for your time.

Coming up next, Kurt Andersen, the former magazine editor who covered Donald Trump going back decades, joins me to react to today`s big Trump legal news.

Stay with us.




WAGNER: Trump the game, it`s not whether you win or loss, it`s whether you win? That was a tagline for Donald Trump`s board game in the late 1980s, at the time Trump was just beginning his journey from New York celebrity to nationally recognized figure, and it played out basically the same way everything else plays out when it comes to Donald Trump. You caught what they were saying at the end there, and Mr. Trump`s proceeds from Trump the game will be donated to charity, Trump claimed to have donated a million dollars in proceeds from that game to charity.

Years later, "HuffPost" did some digging and found out that surprise, there is no evidence Trump ever did such a thing. Back in 1989, the nation had yet to learn the extent of Donald Trump`s hucksterism, his propensity for shameless lies and endless self-promotion. But in his hometown of New York, Trump was already well known as a charlatan and perhaps no one knew that better than the good folks at "Spy Magazine", the irreverent and satirical magazine made it their mission to poke and mock and expose Trump at every turn.

The same year that Trump the game came out, "Spy Magazine" ran an article titled, "The art of the art of the deal", dedicated to exposing Trump`s many lies about his wealth. It was perhaps the very first investigation into Trump`s inflated assets. By 1991, they had dug even deeper into Trump`s financial chicanery with an article titled "All of the people, all of the time: How Donald Trump fooled the media, used the media to fool the banks, use the banks to fool the bondholders and use the bondholders to pay for the yachts and mansions and mistresses".

As "Vanity Fair" writes, its founding editors of "Spy Magazine", Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen, recognized Trump for what he was, the end of New York City writ large, a bombastic, self-aggrandizing, unself-aware bully, with a curious relationship to the truth about his supposed wealth and business acumen.


Now, more than three decades later, Trump is finally facing accountability for his alleged financial misdeeds, with the New York attorney general filing a lawsuit accusing Trump of systematically misstating the value of his properties to the tune of billions, purely for financial gain, and it`s fitting that it`s happening right here in New York, the place that made Trump could now unmake him.

I can think of no one better to talk to in this moment than Kurt Andersen, one of the founding editors of "Spy Magazine", and the author of "Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America".

And Kurt Andersen joins me now. It`s great to see you.


WAGNER: I mean, that article basically should be cited in Letitia James` lawsuit, right? It just outlines everything that he`s been doing for years, Kurt. And my question is, why did it take so long?

ANDERSEN: Well, it is extraordinary, and it`s one thing to be able to say 31 years later, we told you so. But I -- like you, read that story today, in my case for the first time in 31 years when you didn`t read it then because you were a child, but it was extraordinary. It is the same stuff. It is inflating wealth to cheat investors basically and just as he`s been alleged to have done by the state of secretary general of New York and again and again and again in doing that, and again we had this is this nine piece -- nine article -- nine page story that had him to rights you know and he never denied it he never sued us, he never did anything of course he threatened us by more than once.

But it -- the fact people in New York who were around then say, as your introduction suggested, oh, we knew he was a shark. We knew he was a -- but we really did. And it wasn`t just we knew it like you have a hunch --

WAGNER: It was in broad daylight, right? I mean, there were ads for Trump the game, right? And the tagline is he donated the money to charity and, of course, he didn`t donate any of them. But he was allowed to go on as this kind of larger than life character in New York.

And I want to get your sense of how moments like today might be hitting someone who`s whose central being is tied to the notion of wealth and success. We talk a lot about how Trump is terrified of being a loser, but you know, it`s in the filing. The New York AG quotes a "Forbes Magazine" article that says no one has been more fixated with his or her net worth estimate on year in year out basis than Donald Trump. It is a subject that he cares about to the depths of his soul.

ANDERSEN: Right. No, and he spent a lot of time wheedling and bludgeoning the "Forbes" people each year to try to get him on higher and higher on that list, sometimes under pretending to be his publicist and calling them up and badgering them. No, it is clearly -- beyond his pathological addict-like need for attention, which is like no person I`ve ever seen, this particular thing of "I am richer than I am" has always been his thing.

And it`s always looked like, oh, yeah, he exaggerates, as his famous phrase for it in "Art of the Deal", his first book, it`s truthful hyperbole. Well, it wasn`t truthful. It was just lies. But you called it truthful hyperbole, but it was never -- at least back then, regarded, he never really got called out, let alone sued or charged criminally for it. And now, perhaps, he will be.

WAGNER: Do you feel like there`s some -- as a New Yorker, as a denizen of this town, as someone who`s chronicled Trump`s exploits, do you see some sort of poetic justice here that New York, the city that really did make Donald Trump, could be courtesy of Letitia James, a city that does something to him, it won`t probably -- this will not land him behind bars, but it could stop him from doing business in the city. And to Trump, that feels like a blow like no other.

ANDERSEN: I think that`s right, and stop his children from doing business.

WAGNER: Yes. and of course, we all saw -- or some of us saw Bill Barr on Fox News today saying, oh, why did she drag the children into it? The 38, 40, and 44 year old children who were EVP and chair of the company respectively. I mean, it`s ridiculous.

But yes, New York -- I mean, Letitia James is not in New York City, but she is certainly the state AG, and no, there is something in fiction, it would be almost too path that this is perhaps where the walls begin to really close in on him.

WAGNER: And one -- one does wonder how a man -- I was talking about this with Chris Hayes -- how he is managing these parallel investigations and fundraising off of all of it, with a sick joy at the same time?

ANDERSEN: This one though will be somewhat harder to fundraise. I mean, he can say it`s political and she ran -- Letitia James in her campaign said, I`m going to go after Donald Trump, what she did and that was a mistake, as she I think admitted.


But this is less obviously political. It`s not the FBI and the Department of Justice. It`s not anything he did as president. It`s what he has done recently, not years and years ago, not when we were writing about it at "Spy", but the last decade to essentially cheat banks and the degree, the brazenness of his -- of his exaggerations we were talking about it before we started, but six and ten times their actual value, rent-stabilized apartments. No, they`re worth several million dollars a piece. Or Mar-a-Lago, it`s worth -- it`s worth whatever he said it was, 250 -- 750.

WAGNER: Seven hundred and fifty.


ANDERSEN: And, yet -- and, of course, his first -- the Trump Organization`s first defense is, well, these banks knew what -- knew I was lying essentially.

WAGNER: Right, they were in on the grift.

ANDERSEN: These banks went along with it, yeah, it`s remarkable. And it would -- and it is great to have it spelled out this way and have to have him be held accountable. And I mean, again, the fact that he -- this is the case, people may not put all connect all these dots, in which he took the Fifth Amendment for more than 400 times.

WAGNER: Four hundred times. You know, go read your old "Spy Magazines" is what I have to say to all of our readers.

Kurt Andersen, co-founder of "Spy Magazine", thanks for being here tonight, Kurt.

ANDERSEN: My pleasure.

WAGNER: We`ll be right back.


WAGNER: That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence. I know you have a lot to get to.