ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES March 16, 2018 Guest: Felix Sater, Jackie Speier, Natasha Bertrand, James Henry, Evan McMullins, Maria Hinojosa, Eddie Glaude
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: As the Mueller investigation officially enters Trump Tower, along-time figure in President Trump`s circle joins me live.
FELIX SATER, MANAGING DIRECTOR, BAYROCK GROUP LLC: I was working on a bunch of real estate transactions with Donald Trump of all people.
HAYES: Tonight, my interview with Felix Sater on his time working with Donald Trump, the Russia investigation and his double life as an American spy.
Then, explosive new allegations from the lawyer for Stormy Daniels.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was she threatened in any way?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER OF STORMY DANIELS: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was she threatened physical harm?
HAYES: As the president played reality show with his cabinet --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I read where oh, gee, maybe people don`t want to work for Trump.
HAYES: The incredible new scandal for his Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis when ALL IN starts right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. We have a very big interview for you tonight with one of the most compelling and mysterious figures in the Russia investigation. We learned yesterday of course that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization which, of course, oversees Donald Trump`s business ventures of for all documents related to Russia and other topics Mueller is investigating. For nearly a decade, a lot of those business ventures involved my next guest Felix Sater. He`s a guy with a colorful past which included spending a year in prison for slashing a man`s face in a bar fight and a stock fraud conviction involving a mafia-linked brokerage firm.
That`s just a tiny part of his story. Sater went on to partner with Trump on a string of projects, that`s Sater at the mic with Trump behind him at the launch the ill-fated Trump Soho in 2007. Last year we learned that Sater who is an American citizen was born in the Soviet Union wrote an e- mail to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen in 2015 vowing to engineer a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow writing "our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin`s team to buy in on this. I will manage this process."
Sater added I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. And now for perhaps the craziest part, what we`re just learning thanks to some great reporting over BuzzFeed, it turns out Felix Sater was also amazingly an intelligence operative for the U.S. government with a resume out of a spy thriller. BuzzFeed confirming this week that Sater obtained five of Osama bin Laden`s personal phone numbers before September 11th, helped flip a Taliban source to get information about al-Qaeda training camps, revealed plans for an attempted assassination of George W. Bush and Colin Powell and went undercover in Cypress and Istanbul to catch Russian and Ukrainian cybercriminals.
When the Senate was considering Loretta Lymph to become Attorney General, she was asked about Sater`s fraud case specifically which has been under seal and which she had overseen as U.S. Attorney. Sater had been convicted of a $40 million scheme but only ended up paying a $25,000 fine. Lynch help explained why. For more than ten years, Sater worked with prosecutors providing information crucial to national security and the conviction of over 20 individuals including those responsible for committing massive financial fraud and members of La Cosa Nostra. Joining me now is Felix Sater. I have never met anyone with that resume.
SATER: Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.
HAYES: I mean, here`s my take away from that resume. What kind of man are you, Felix Sater?
SATER: I guess complex, to say the least. You know, I`m an immigrant that came to this country at the age of 7, grew up here, went to school.
SATER: Went on to work on Wall Street. Had a very successful career on Wall Street as a young man. Unfortunately, one night in a drunken bar brawl, one guy went for a beer bottle, I went for a margarita glass, and that changed the trajectory of my life.
HAYES: You did a year for that.
SATER: I went to jail and I did a year for that bar fight. When I came out, I had no money. Young child, had no money and in a moment of weakness, nothing that I`m proud of then or now, or have I ever been, got involved in the stock scam which is the shady side of Wall Street which was something that was devastating to me because I had planned to have a very successful Wall Street career. And I did that for less than two years, left voluntarily on my own, got out of it and -- because I just hated it. I despised every day and every minute of it. And when I used to go to sleep, I used to hate it.
HAYES: Let me ask you this.
HAYES: If someone came to me, Chris Hayes, OK, and he said, hey, Chris, you`re in a jam with the law, but if you can do some things, if you can talk to these people, find out some information like for instance who sing at selling stinger missiles in Afghanistan, or what cybercriminals are up to in Ukraine, I would say that sounds great but I have no idea where to start. But you were a person who does know how to start. Like, explain to me that talent. You seem -- I`m serious. You seem to be able to find your way towards people like that and get them to trust you.
SATER: Well, first, let me clear up a small misconception that`s been reported is that the things that I`ve done in terms of national security in terms of my assistance to the government on financial crimes, whether it was Mafia or whether it was financial assaults on our financial institutions by cybercriminals, or terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, what`s most important and which has not been reported is that I started working for U.S. intelligence way before the stock case came around. So nobody came to me and said go do this for us and then you`ll get out of this.
HAYES: OK, but what kind of person does that? Like what -- how are you finding your way into these seamy underworlds to get information the U.S. government can find useful.
SATER: Well, let me tell you the story how that happened. After I got out of clearly the shady side of Wall Street, for about a year, I was working on very legitimate financial transactions. And I think anybody who researches me could see that I stopped in 1996 voluntarily just left because truthfully, I just didn`t want to do it anymore. It was disgusting, it was despicable and it was garbage. And I`m sorry and I -- very sorry that that happened. And I accept full responsibility. It was my fault and people lost money and -- because of the things that I did. And if I -- if I haven`t yet, anyone that is out there that has caused -- that I`ve caused any pain, I apologize too and I`m very sorry for. So in `96, I stopped, I got out of Wall Street but I started working on financial transactions.
Somebody from the British Royal Family Lord Churchill, tells me he has a friend who is doing a telecommunications deal in St. Petersburg, Russia. Russia had just Soviet Union collapsed. It`s now Russia. It`s opened up. It`s the Wild West. He said could you help him? He`s having problems with his telecommunications deal. I said OK, no problem. So I fly over to Russia, I take a look at his deal, I realized that he`s beyond help. There`s to way to help him. His deal is going under. But I realize that there`s a very big opportunity in telecommunications. And I started negotiating with AT&T to rent the Transatlantic Cable. I figured I`ll have a Transatlantic Cable and I can sell phone minutes, phone cards, et cetera, etcetera. Now, telecommunications in the Soviet Union and then in Russia was pretty much controlled by Russian intelligence hard-core.
HAYES: So you start talking to those people.
SATER: I started talking to telecommunications executives who clearly were intelligence operatives.
HAYES: Are you the kind of guy that knows when you`re talking to an intelligence operative.
SATER: No, but I`m a pretty good judge of character and I sort of you know, figured that they couldn`t be regular joes.
HAYES: I ask because that`s a looming -- that`s something that looms over this whole story, right? Because it looms over Donald Trump and it looms over his campaign, right? Did they knew who they were talking to? Did they know it was in the other side? So let me ask you this, how did you meet Donald Trump?
SATER: I -- we formed a company in 2000 to do real estate development.
HAYES: That was in his office?
SATER: No, we were in the building. We were in Trump Tower. We were on the 24th floor. Trump Organization was on the 26th floor. I basically knocked on his door, said I think we should become partners. I have great real estate deals. I`m going to be a very successful developer and you want to work with me.
HAYES: It`s a very Trumpian move.
SATER: I don`t know. I think it was a very Felixy move.
HAYES: Did you guys get along?
HAYES: How would you characterize your relationship?
HAYES: Talked a lot?
SATER: Sometimes a lot, sometimes --
HAYES: When you worked on a deal, talked a lot, talked on the phone, talked in person?
SATER: Mostly in person. I was two doors down. I just go upstairs and speak to him. But to return to your question about how is it that I meet people like that, well, as an example, I was knocking on Donald Trump`s door and saying hi, let`s start working. When I was working on telecommunications deal, I was invited to a dinner party in Moscow. And there was a lot of Russians there and I was there and a guy walks in, an American guy older and somebody says, you guys should -- you guys should meet each other. You`re both CIA agents. I thought it was a joke. And all evening long --
HAYES: He`s predicting your future.
SATER: He was -- yes, I think so. I think he was. And he`s sitting there and peppering me with questions all night long. I go to the bathroom. He follows me into the bathroom and says can I have your phone number. I said sure. I`d like to talk to you about some business. I said great, no problem. I gave him my phone number. The next day I meet him in an Irish pub in Moscow not far from the Kremlin. His name is Milton Blaine where he proceeds to tell me he`s been a military intelligence operative for the U.S. government for the last 40 years of his life and that the U.S. government desperately needs.
HAYES: People like you.
SATER: Well, specifically that the people that I`m sitting with are high- end Russian intelligence operatives and he says Felix, they seem to like having a drink with you. They seem to make jokes with you. He said we`ve been trying to penetrate these people for years. I said, OK. He said, look, your country needs you, the Soviets at that point had developed a KH anti-radar system. He said, basically their planes could fly in and our radar can`t jam them and we need this equipment.
HAYES: So let me ask you this. You have a relationship -- you speak fluent Russian --
SATER: Yes I do.
HAYES: -- so you can go over and do business. You go back and forth. At one point you go to Moscow in the wake of this case, right? You go to Russia, you end up coming --
SATER: In the wake of which case?
HAYES: Of the fraud case. The stock fraud case. You go to Russia --
SATER: I went to Russia to work on a transaction. The stock -- the stock case happened in `96 which I did for about 18 months. I went to Russia in `97.
SATER: The -- what`s been reported that I ran away because -- that`s not true. That`s just not true.
HAYES: You go there and one of the -- one of the things you do where all these sort of different threads come together is you`re working on Trump Moscow, right?
SATER: Well, no, no, no. This is -- we`re now speaking about 1997, 98 --
HAYES: Right, but I`m saying though as a person who you have contacts from Russia, you speak fluent Russian.
HAYES: Later in your life you sort of become a business partner with Donald Trump. You guys work on Fort Lauderdale, right?
SATER: Fort Lauderdale, Phoenix, Trump Soho, a whole host of other projects.
HAYES: Right, a bunch of different place. But you end up working on Trump Moscow.
HAYES: That`s an important project that is -- that is -- that produced those e-mails and everyone knows about it`s the project that a lot of people are curious about and I want to ask you about your involvement in that project and what happened to it if you would stick around after this break. Will you do that?
HAYES: All right. Let`s go.
HAYES: Still with me here in New York, Felix Sater. Let`s talk about this Trump Moscow deal.
HAYES: You`re trying to build a deal there -- you tried to do business in Russia with Trump. At one point, you`re over there with the Trump kids, right?
HAYES: With Ivanka and Don Junior.
HAYES: How connected are you in Russia at that point?
SATER: I know some business people there. I know enough business people to try to put together a deal, plus I speak Russian. Plus I have no problem knocking on somebody`s door and saying hi, I`m here and we`re going to build something beautiful and let`s do business.
HAYES: The Trump Moscow deal you`re pursuing, that e-mail, here`s the way people read that e-mail, is that there`s some -- basically that there`s some back story here in which the deal is part of the election interference. There`s some quid pro quo or there`s some idea. And here`s the one -- we talked about the "we can get our buddy elected." But here`s the one I think is interesting in the New York Times characterized the e- mails. They said Mr. Sater was eager to show video clips to his Russian contacts of instances of Mr. Trump speaking glowingly about Russia and said, he would arrange for Mr. Putin to praise Mr. Trump`s business acumen if he says it, we own this election, Mr. Sater wrote. You wrote that?
SATER: Yes. I did wrote that. Yes.
HAYES: Why did you -- why in these e-mails? There`s two of them here. Why are you guys making this connection between building this building in Russia and his electoral success?
SATER: Me personally, I was trying to build the tallest building in the world or in Europe.
HAYES: One second, why is Donald Trump going to be elected President if he builds a building in Europe -- in Moscow?
SATER: Well, because doing a gigantic deal, it would have looked good. It was -- it was good for business. It could have potentially ushered in an era of detente or good will between the nations because a businessman came in and it`s better than politicians.
HAYES: At no point at any point did any Russian communicate to you interest in cultivating Donald Trump on behalf of the Russians, Russian government, Kremlin-friendly forces?
SATER: I have risked my life to try to protect our country for over 20 years in situations and places that would make your hair stand on end. The insinuation that I would get together with anyone, especially Russia of all places or any other country in the world for the detriment of our country is not only insulting but laughable.
HAYES: That may be the case but I`m just -- did not answer the question.
SATER: I`ll be more than happy to answer the question.
HAYES: Did anyone -- did anyone ask -- suggest to you an interest in cultivating Donald Trump on behalf of either the Kremlin, Kremlin allied forces, people in Russian intelligence when you were working on this Moscow deal?
SATER: Absolutely not.
HAYES: Was it ever communicated to you that they were interested in Donald Trump for reasons other than business?
SATER: Absolutely not.
HAYES: Why does the deal fall through in Moscow?
SATER: Because the Trump Organization announced that they are not going to do any more international deals.
HAYES: Did you seek to acquire funding through Russian banks for the deal?
SATER: To build a building like that in Moscow, the only banks you go to are Russian banks.
HAYES: Was one of them VTB?
SATER: Yes. It was.
HAYES: So you did seek to acquire funding through VTB?
SATER: Well, there was developer -- it wasn`t my deal. There was -- I put the deal together. I came to Michael Cohen who`s old and dear friend, part of the e-mails says I`ve known him since I`m a teenager. So it`s basically two old friends saying hey, our guy can become president. We were excited. It wasn`t something surreptitious, it was two guys who knew each other over 30 years excited somebody that you --
HAYES: Wait, can I -- can I say something about. I`ve heard -- I`ve heard you say that before.
SATER: And that`s true.
HAYES: I understand that. But you`re a very -- you`re not a kid and not a naive dude.
SATER: No, of course.
HAYES: Right? I mean, you just told me you`ve been in situations where your hair stands on and you`ve been flipping Taliban people, you`ve been talking to La Cosa Nostra, right? The idea that this was just -- do you understand why people might be skeptical this is like giddy enthusiasm?
SATER: Yes, I`m sure -- I`m sure they are. And the e-mails may sound damning. But at the end of the day, it was e-mails between two friends about a real estate transaction and me from my -- from my perspective, from my side, I`m trying to build a billion dollar deal. So the reality is, Putin, Trump, and if I knew people in China, I would have tried to get the premiere of China involved and get a trifecta going.
HAYES: Let me just make sure that I nail this part down. So the people associated with the deal, you said you put the deal together, it wasn`t your deal, a developer Russia was looking to VTB for financing.
SATER: I had a local developer there and I had the Trump Organization here and I was in the middle. And the local developer there would have gotten financing from VTB and or another Russian bank but VTB was at that point the go-to bank for real estate development. That`s why VTB.
HAYES: Your business has been sued before, Bayrock.
HAYES: And I want to read you part of that lawsuit and I know you deny this but I want to get you on the record.
SATER: No problem. No problem.
HAYES: In a lawsuit that was filed by -- filed by someone in Bayrock of course, was the group that helped develop Trump Soho here in New York City.
HAYES: Someone that you worked with said in the lawsuit, tax evasion and money laundering are the core of Bayrock`s business model. The lawsuit alleges it said Trump Soho building specifically which you also developed with the President was a monument to spectacularly corrupt money laundering and tax evasion.
SATER: Yes, it was an employee who first reached out to me who said let`s get money from your partner and from the law firms and he sued me and 12 other law firms and over 100 individuals for $1 billion. Subsequently, in that lawsuit, a federal judge referred the lawyers who were handling that for criminal prosecution to the U.S. Attorney`s Office.
HAYES: Do you think this is just -- that`s not a denial though.
SATER: It`s absolute denial. It`s 100 percent denial.
HAYES: Did Bayrock -- did Bayrock ever launder money.
SATER: Absolutely not.
HAYES: Did the Trump Soho deal depend on money that was being used -- purchases that were being used to mask transaction for the purpose of laundering?
SATER: No, absolutely not.
HAYES: You can know that definitively?
SATER: Well, us building the building and the money that came from came from Tom Sapir, who was a very large landowner in the New York. That`s what we -- that`s the money that we used to build it. The buyers of those units, well, like anyplace else --
HAYES: You don`t know.
SATER: Some of them are LLCs. You don`t know who the owners are. You don`t know who`s behind it. But whether you were involved in selling to someone for the purpose of masking anything, absolutely not.
HAYES: How interested is Donald Trump and the people on the other side of the deal from him?
SATER: Like any developer, very little. If they bring a check to buy an apartment, and the check clears, they`re a good customer.
HAYES: That`s his M.O.
SATER: No, that`s every developer in New York`s M.O.
HAYES: Not every developer in New York though has run for president, right?
HAYES: So all of a sudden, you take that M.O., you put it in a different situation like would you take a meeting for dirt on your opponent, right?
SATER: I don`t know. I`m not a politician. I`m assuming every politician would but I don`t know.
HAYES: My question to you is having worked with the guy, is he the kind of person who would be open to that kind of thing?
SATER: I don`t believe that Donald Trump would -- open to what type of thing money laundering?
HAYES: Accepting dirt from a foreign adversary about his opponent. We know his son said if it`s what you said, I love it, about that Trump Tower meeting. I`m asking about the President, someone who`s character you know, someone who`s business M.O. you know, and just described as a person in a development situation who`s if the other person on the side of the deal`s check clears, he doesn`t want to ask questions. My question to you is in a political context if the other person on the other side of the deal is offering dirt on his opponent, is he the kind of person who says I don`t want to know where this came from but I`ll take it.
SATER: Well, I guess from the reports of the meetings that happened, obviously the answer is yes.
HAYES: For Don Junior, I`m talking about the President.
SATER: I don`t know if I can answer that. I don`t know if I can answer that question. I don`t believe that Donald Trump would ever meet or collude with a foreign power against our country. I certainly would never even speak to him if I ever thought that was the case. I don`t believe that other than getting dirt on an opponent, that it was thought through a lot. I don`t believe the idea was thought through of where it was coming from, who it was coming from. It was political. Oh, we`ve got some dirt on our opponent, great, let`s take it.
HAYES: Do you think the Russians meddled with the election.
SATER: 100 percent.
HAYES: What`s your feeling about that?
SATER: I think they attacked us. I think it`s an act of war and I am absolutely disgusted that our politicians are having a one and a half year post-mortem about how they meddled and what they meddled. I grew up in Brooklyn. It`s a very simple place. Somebody attacks you, you punch them back not once but twice. And at this point, doing something about it is very important for America to show everyone don`t mess with us.
HAYES: So why is -- why is the man that you worked with, that you know, why is he not?
SATER: You have to ask him that question.
HAYES: But I`m asking you because you worked with him. I didn`t.
SATER: I worked with a lot of people. I can`t speak for all of them.
HAYES: But you know something about how the guy operates, right?
SATER: Yes, I believe so.
HAYES: Let me put it this way. There is a supposition of some that the reason that he is not acted more forcefully against Russia is because they have something on him or he is engaged in a quid pro quo. Is that plausible story to you?
SATER: No, it is not.
HAYES: It`s not a plausible --
SATER: I do not believe so. Look, anything`s possible. I wasn`t in every meeting. I don`t know. I wasn`t part of the campaign. I wasn`t part of the election. And I was out of the Trump Organization in 2010. That was years before and I only showed up just to do the Trump Moscow deal. I don`t believe so but I don`t -- I wasn`t there and I don`t know. And I don`t believe so but if you showed me proof that it happened, I certainly would take a look and say, or course.
HAYES: One of the things the President says, I got no deals in Russia. And we know that`s true. I mean, there`s no -- he doesn`t have deals in Russia, right?
SATER: That`s right.
HAYES: No building bearing his name. The question everyone wants to know is, is there Russian money in his properties, right? The question is, was Russian money directed to his properties? Was it money that passed through different LLCs? Do you know the answer to that?
SATER: I have an assumption about that. For anyone in the Russian government to pass money through to the Trump Organization, through his properties which had to have happened way before the election, I doubt anyone has a crystal ball and truly believed that one day this developer is going to be the President of the United States so let`s start funnelling money to him.
HAYES: But they did take an interest in him.
HAYES: The Russian. They bring him over for -- they bring him over for the pageant.
SATER: Yes, of course. But that was business. That was business. I truly -- look --
HAYES: Well, wait a second. Wait a second. This story starts with you telling me that you`re at a business meeting about the telecom industry in Russia and an American intelligence guy pulls you in the bathroom and says these are all high ranking operatives that we need to get interested. So then you can`t turn around and say that was just business because it seems like business and other things are pretty intertwined in Russia.
SATER: Yes, they are. 100 percent, 100 percent
HAYES: Right? I mean, so if Donald Trump`s going and he`s doing the pageant in Moscow with the Agalarovs, right? The Kremlin knows what`s going on.
HAYES: They got people in the room.
SATER: 100 percent.
HAYES: Right. Do you know the Agalarovs?
SATER: I`ve met one of them but I don`t know them personally well at all.
HAYES: You met them in person.
SATER: I met one in person.
HAYES: Was it the son, Emin?
HAYES: In what context?
SATER: Dinner party in Moscow.
HAYES: This is my finally question for you.
HAYES: It`s established that you worked with the government as an intelligence asset, right?
HAYES: There is no parentheses, no bookend, no close on that relationship, correct?
SATER: No, there is no bookend and close end and I would work with my government in any capacity that they would ask me today, tomorrow, until the day I die.
HAYES: You worked for the FBI?
SATER: Yes, I do.
HAYES: You worked with Andrew Weissmann who is a lawyer at the DOJ, right?
SATER: Yes, he signed my cooperation agreement.
HAYES: He signed your cooperation agreement. Andrew Weissmann now works for Robert Mueller, correct?
SATER: Yes, he does.
HAYES: OK. People look at this and they maybe start to think two and two equals four. You`re a guy who knows how to talk to people and pass information along, you have a relationship with the FBI and you got a relationship with Andrew Weissmann, Andrew Weissmann is currently working for Robert Mueller. Are you working for Robert Mueller?
SATER: I`m not working for Robert Mueller nor have I ever worked for Robert Mueller.
HAYES: Have you cooperated with the FBI in its investigation?
SATER: I`m sorry, I can`t answer about anything about any on-going investigations that are happening. That`s not for me to say.
HAYES: Do you understand why people might come to that conclusion?
SATER: Of course. That doesn`t mean it`s true just because they come to that conclusion.
HAYES: Felix Sater, you can read more about his pretty incredible life in BuzzFeed. And it was great to have you on the show. Do you want to come back and --
SATER: I would like to say that all I can be say is after so much terrible things written about me, I`d like to thank Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold --
HAYES: You`re trying to clear your name, that`s what you`re doing?
SATER: I`m not trying to clear my name, I`m just trying to give everyone a full picture of everything that I`ve done. A full picture so that there can be a balance instead of just reporting what I did in my 20s and I`m 52 years old and reporting them as if it happened last Tuesday which it didn`t.
HAYES: And there`s a lot.
SATER: There`s a lot. Yes, there`s a lot.
HAYES: Thank you for coming by. I really do appreciate it. Come back, all right?
SATER: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. Thank you.
HAYES: Ahead more on where things stand for the President as Robert Mueller starts looking into the Trump Organization, Russian dealings. Plus a lawyer for Stormy Daniels says she`s been physically threatened to stay silent and the new scandal for the Secretary of Defense, the massive fraud. You probably heard about his involvement with coming up.
SATER: The insinuation that I would get together with anyone, especially Russia of all places , or any other country in the world, for the detriment of our country is not only insulting but laughable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: We`re back to digest my conversation with one of the most fascinating figures in the Trump Russia story, intelligence operative, convicted felon, former Trump business partner, Felix Sater.
I want to bring in Congresswoman Jackie Speier, member of the House intelligence committee who joins me tonight from joins me tonight from California. Here in New York, Atlantic staff writer Natasha Bertrand, who has covered the Russia Trump nexus extensively. And investigative economist James Henry who joined a lawsuit to unseal the criminal records of Felix Sater and has compiled an examination of trump`s private Russian connections for the American Interest magazine, which is a fascinating read.
And congresswoman, I will start with you. You did not have an opportunity to speak to Felix Sater as part of the House intelligence investigation, but the majority staff did. Do I have that right?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER, (D) CALIFORNIA: That`s correct. I mean, there were a couple members who were able to go up to New York.
Get this, the majority decided to travel to New York City to question Felix Sater when everyone else was brought to Washington, D.C. to be interviewed. So I`ve always thought that was peculiar that they made that accommodation for him.
HAYES: Do you think he`s an important figure to your investigation?
SPEIER: I do think he`s an important figure.
You know, I thought it was a fascinating interview you had with him. I wanted you to ask him whether or not Ivanka did sit in Vladimir Putin`s seat.
HAYES: Putin`s chair has been -- yes.
In fact, he did tell --
SPEIER: Because he makes it seem like he didn`t have any relationship with Vladimir Putin tonight, but it certainly seems like he was making that case previously.
HAYES: Natasha, what did you make of that?
NATASHA BERTRAND, THE ATLANTIC: You know, I think that Felix Sater has actually been pretty consistent on this point for a long time. He and I have been going back and forth for just as a reporter trying to get kind of information out of him and his consistent point is, it`s as you been you don`t understand the relationship that I have with the U.S. government. And he was never willing to really expound upon that.
There were always kind of rumors about, you know, the possibility that he had been working undercover with the FBI, there were some reports early on from like the `90s that he had been doing that. But this is something he was kind very, you know, just kind of evasive about. He wouldn`t really go into it. He said I would never betray the United States.
But I think that what this interview did show is that he knows a lot about Donald Trump. And he knows a lot about the history of Donald Trump`s business dealings, his real estate empire. And did he work in the Trump organization very closely with him of course before he ran for president.
One of the things that I found kind implausible was towards the end when he said, you know, there was no way that the Russians could have known if he was running for president, therefore, why would they be funneling money to him beforehand. The Russians have had their eye on Donald Trump since the `80s. And of course as we know Donald Trump has been weighing a run for president since well before he announced it in 2015.
HAYES: And in fact I should have noted there`s a famous tweet at the Miss Universe in 2013 of one of the Russians there saying he`s going to make a great president. So there was some idea.
BERTRAND: Right. And there`s also some dispute between whether or not Michael Cohen and Felix Sater have a close relationship. In the interview, Sater mentioned that he and Cohen were kind of just going back and forth as old friends whereas Cohen told me recently that he doesn`t really know Sater all that well.
HAYES: Well, we should say that the president himself once said in a deposition he couldn`t pick him out of a room which is not credible or plausible.
BERTRAND: This is another question is why does the president feel compelled to distance himself from Felix?
HAYES: You have been tracking Felix Sater for a long time. You have a sort of both skeptical and bemused look on your face. What are you thinking?
JAMES HENRY, ECONOMIST: Well, I think he`s a financial Whitey Bulger. You know, it may be or may not be true. I`d love to have some CIA people come forward and actually go on the record about this, that he`s done all these wonderful deeds.
But I think there`s also another interpretation. We know from a lot of work that a core group of journalists, people like Zembla (ph) and ZDF in Germany and The Netherlands have been doing, is that Felix Sater has been involved in financial fraud and money laundering right up to 2014, 2015, helping say set up companies in The Netherlands back in 2007 to help kleptocrats take money out of Kazakhstan and park it in the Trump Soho and round tripping it. These are people -- kleptocrats are people like a fellow Abel Yazov (ph) who had a $10 billion bank fraud, you know, end up lending much of the money to himself.
HAYES: And you`re alleging that Sater played a role in being the sort of conduit for that money.
HENRY: He formed those companies with his partner Kraponov (ph) who is now in Geneva having flown the coop with $300 million.
So, the problem is with -- and, you know, it`s hard for broadcast journalists to do sound bite journalism on this guy. It`s an extraordinarily complicated story. But one basic question for Felix is, have you stopped money laundering? Are you profiting from this? What happened to the $40 million to $60 million of financial profits that you took from those victims of the fraud back in 1998?
HAYES: It was a 40 -- it upwards of $40 million.
HENRY: There is a victims restitution act and for all of his contrition these days has been unwilling to say what happened to all that money.
HAYES: Well, and it is a remarkable set of facts here that he was convicted and implicated in that just if you look at the stock fraud scheme, which he talked about, and never really -- you know, he didn`t go to jail for it. He paid a $25,000 fine and the reason that Loretta Lynch has to answer for it in her hearings is because it`s such a remarkable bit of forbearance on the part of the government in terms of his punishment.
HENRY: Well, the secrecy deal enabled Donald Trump to raise money in conjunction with Felix Sater, for Sater to go and raise hundres of millions of dollars --
HAYES: Because it was all sealed?
HENRY: Because it was all sealed until at least Fred Overlander (ph), an attorney in New York helped to reveal it in 2011. There was also a New York Times report in 2007. But we think that Trump actually knew about Sater`s background, failed to disclose it to his co-investors, and that`s a concealment fraud. The statute of limitations for that doesn`t run out until November 2020.
HAYES: Congresswoman, are you confident that -- that someone, whether it`s you -- although probably not the House intelligence committee giving as how the majority has closed down the investigation, or Mueller, will be able to sort of get their arms around the actual truth about either Sater or Trump or Trump Moscow and the kind of financial background to the possibility of entanglements?
SPEIER: That is where the crimes have been committed. It`s the money laundering. I thought the fact that Felix Sater said, well you just accept the money and any developer and certainly that`s what Donald Trump did, there is a law in this country, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, that requires to you make sure that the money you`re getting in a real estate deal is not laundered.
So, I think that Mueller is going directly there. And the money laundering that went on in Soho, that went on in the Florida properties, all of which have gone belly up one way or the other. And in many of these projects, they were all cash transactions. And they were all LLCs, so they were all shell companies so you couldn`t track who was actually buying these properties. And I think he was the go between.
HAYES: One significant little part of the story that Sater was able to confirm here was the source of possible funding on the development of Trump Moscow. Take a listen to what he said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Let me just make sure that I nail this part down. So the people associated with the deal, you said you put the deal together. It wasn`t your deal. A developer in Russia was looking to VTB for financing.
SATER: I had a local developer here and I had the Trump organization here and I was in the middle. And the local developer there would have gotten financing from VTB and or another Russian bank, but VTB was at that point the go-to bank for real estate development. That`s why VTB.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Significant because that`s a sanctioned Russian bank.
BERTRAND: Right, exactly. And we were kind of trying to get this answer out of the House intel committee for a number of days and they just refused to answer the question of what sanctioned bank this actually was.
VTB is the second largest Russian lender. It is massive. And it`s not necessarily surprising that they would be the ones to be giving funding to Trump Tower Moscow. But of course this was something that Donald Trump was pursuing during the presidential election. And he was -- factually, he was pursuing this deal with a sanctioned Russian bank. And so that is significant.
And it also shows exactly the extent of what Felix Sater knows.
HAYES: Just say that again. While he was running for president, he was pursuing a deal with a sanctioned Russian bank.
BERTRAND: Right. And this is something that Felix Sater was able to reveal. And I think that that kind of shines light on the importance of Felix Sater to the special counsel and to kind of this entire investigation.
HAYES: Will you just for a second zoom out for a bit, right? Because part of what we`ve seen in the complaints against Manafort and part of what is being sort of called into question here with Felix Sater what you just said is, the remarkable flows of money that come out of Russia and the former Soviet Republics in concentrated very intensely in a group of oligarchs who are doing a lot of the things to get that money out into places in the west.
HENRY: That`s the original sin in this story, which is the failed transition in the `90s when we basically handed off Russian to 30 or 40 oligarchs, and that created the base not only for Putin and the counter revolution that he held, but also for Trump who ended up being financed at a time when he wasn`t able to borrow from U.S. banks because he had had four to six bankruptcy in the `90s. He had rely on money from the former Soviet Union capital flight and dirty money.
HAYES: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Natasha Bertrand, and James Henry, many thanks for joining me tonight.
SPEIER: Thanks, Chris.
HAYES: All right, still to come, the surprising new name on list of Trump administration officials that are mired in scandal and why no one seems to want to talk about it.
And Marco Rubio`s dedication to protecting daylight savings, that`s Thing One, Thing Two next.
HAYES: Thing One tonight, three weeks after a room full of Florida students booed Marco Rubio for his weak stance on new gun laws in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas massacre, the junior senator from Florida this week announced a bold new legislative action, not on guns, of course, he wants to make daylight savings time permanent. And with that announcement came a whole new round of booing and a harsher view from the last prominent advocate of killing the biannual clock change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIMOTHY SIMONS, ACTOR: Mr. Speaker, daylight saving -- not plural -- time has never saved us from anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.
HAYES: One month after the Parkland, Florida shooting, Senator Marco Rubio took to Twitter with a big announcement today taking the lead from Florida legislature and Rep. Jay Nunez. I will be filing legislation to make daylight saving time year round.
OK. You almost have to wonder is Marco Rubio purposely acing like an absurd character from "Veep"?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMONS: Mr. Speaker, daylight saving -- not plural -- time has never saved us from anything. This bill will be a call for less government from our clocks to our privately built for profit prisons and yes, to the very watches on our wrists.
The daylight savings time loving bureaucrats have been punching the clock on the taxpayers` dime for too long. Well, now it`s time for me to punch a clock with a hammer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Help him. Help him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Timothy Simons, the actor who plays that fictional congressman and noted bafoon Jonah Ryan, definitely noticed that Marco Rubio has taken this bold new position on what time it is. In a retweet of the senators announcement, he said, quote, "literally this is a stance we thought was so dumb that Jonah Ryan would support it. Sponsor gun control legislation, you spineless turd. Children are being slaughtered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Donald Trump, the master of commanding media attention seems to have met his match in Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Avenatti continues to drop newsworthy bread crumbs in every interview he does, the latest this morning on this very network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE BRZEZINSKI, CO-HOST, MORNING JOE: Was she threatened in any way?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY: Yes.
BRZEZINSKI: Was she threatened physical harm?
JOE SCARBOROUGH, CO-HOST, MORNING JOE: Did it come from the president directly, physical threats?
AVENATTI: I`m not going to answer that.
SCARBOROUGH: Will you deny that the president of the United States threatened your client?
AVENATTI: I will not confirm or deny.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Avenatti, who is smooth, declined to give more details, although in subsequent interviews today he again mentioned threats of physical violence. Avenatti didn`t name anyone making those threats, but coincidentally enough, just for your information, Donald Trump`s lawyer, MIchael Cohen has a history of hyper aggressive tactics.
In 2015, for example, on the Daily Beast reported on rape allegations by Ivana Trump against Donald, which he has since withdrawn, Cohen responded by threatening the reporting, quote, "I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we`re in the courthouse and I will take you for every penny you still don`t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else you possibly know, Cohen said, and this is my favorite, part so I`m warning you tread very F-ing lightly, because what I`m going to do to is going to be F-ing disgusting, do you understand me?
On Josh Marshall`s podcast today, Avenatti was asked about Cohen`s penchant for these kinds of tactics in other cases.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AVENATTI: If anybody, and by that I mean anybody -- if anybody engages in tactics like that in this piece of litigation with me or my client, there is going to be a reckoning. I`m telling you that right now, because we will not tolerate conduct like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Now Bloomberg reporting the president is moving his attempt to keep Stormy Daniels quiet about an alleged affair to federal court. The White House denies the allegations. And Michael Cohen is hardly the only dubious character with whom Donald Trump has surrounded himself. There is a long list now of Trump administration officials past and present who have been caught up in some kind of wrongdoing.
Among them, several cabinet secretaries who reportedly called to the White House for private meetings and scolded for ethics scandals, but absent from that group was Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Even though he has now been implicated in what the Securities and Exchange Commission called a, quote, elaborate years-long fraud at the blood testing start up Theranos where he was a board member.
Matt Iglesias writing in Vox that nobody in Washington wants to even talk about the defense secretary`s link to massive corporate fraud, because, quote, "everyone in Washington is more or less convinced that Mattis` presence in the Pentagon is the only thing standing between us and possible nuclear Armageddon.
Joining me now, Evan McMullin, 2016 independent presidential candidate, Eddie Glaude who is professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University, and Maria Hinojosa, who is host and executive producer for NPR`s Latino USA.
I thought the -- I mean, first of all, Mattis has a lot to answer for. He was on the board of a company to which he lent his name and his credibility and part of what they were selling was the credibility of their board. That was engaged in a massive fraud and at the same time, I saw you nodding your head to the idea that like, oh gosh, don`t go after him.
MARIA HINOJOSA, NPR`S LATINO USA: Well, to me when I was reading into this is just like wow, there is whole clique thing that goes on, that if you`re part of that clique, you`re going to want to build up the clique, you`re not -- I`m like these are people who are sitting on board of directors and they did not know or they knew and they were letting this happen and it`s just like people covering for each other.
I don`t know.
HAYES: And that, I should say, that is a phenomenon that predates Donald Trump. I mean, the world of sort of board circulation that happened and the way that Theranos cultivated people.
HINOJOSA: But the fact that it`s happening right now in this context for all of us when everything is happening, let`s be really clear about how things have been done in this country.
EDDIE GLAUDE, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, there seems to be an ethics deficiency among the folks who hang around Donald Trump. And we`re making this kind of cost benefit analysis. Mattis isn`t as bad as all of these other folks. And to the extent to which he isn`t as bad as all of these other folks, he is still doing some good because he`s probably the last adult standing. And if he -- if we go after him based upon this kind of behavior, what do we leave ourselves with?
HAYES: And that gets to this question about the conundrum of should people serve in this administration? I mean, that`s a deep and profound question particularly at this point as they cycle through all these people. What is your answer to that?
GLAUDE: Yeah, first of all, look, I have to say clearly there is a deficiency, an ethics deficiency in this administration. And it starts from the top. And there are signals are sent down and everybody follows. There`s a huge problem.
EVAN MCMULLINS, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I can`t claim to know Mattis well, I don`t want to say that. But I do know him. And I know him by reputation because I served overseas when he was serving overseas. You know --
HAYES: He has a good reputation.
MCMULLINS: He has a good reputation. And I can`t imagine he would, as a member of a board of a biopharma company, knowingly push a product that was a complete farce.
HAYES: Let me just say, that may or may not be true. My thing about Mattis right now is he has got questions to answer. I mean, like, we need to know --
HINOJOSA: Do we trust?
HAYES: Yeah, like just like .
HINOJOSA: I know that you know him, but do we trust?
MCMULLINS: I do. I do. In this age where we have got so much filth on the right and the left, and I don`t mean politically, I just mean with the Trump administration, there is one guy I believe who still has some honor, at least, and at that level and it is Mattis.
Now, I could be wrong and he has to answer these guys.
HAYES: That`s my point. We need to get answers, that`s my point.
MCMULLINS: But the larger point is also true, which is this is an administration full of people who are absolute swamp dwellers and this is what populists do, by the way. They say the elites are harming the people, the elites are corrupt, et cetera, even though it`s a lot of that is imaginary, and then they come to power themselves and they are worse than anything they ever sold the people.
GLAUDE: Certain populists.
MCMULLINS: Right. Well --
GLAUDE: Populists as such.
MCMULLINS: No, no, I would say -- I believe populists as such. Look --
HAYES: You really believe that?
MCMULLINS: Yes, I do.
Look, we tend to confuse the word populist with democracy. And, look, we have a democracy. It`s not populist. Populist is this idea that you are going to sell ideas to the people -- policy ideas, for example, like the wall, like a Muslim ban, these things that are fantasies that you`re not going to be able to do at least in our system. And even if you did, they wouldn`t solve the problems. But they inspire people`s fear and they play on people`s prejudices. That`s what they do.
But they are worse than all of them, the populists, I tell you.
HAYES: Let me --
HINOJOSA: The word that actually has been swirling in my brain because I`ve been thinking a lot about my studies in college a long time ago studying Latin American studies, and the slip into authoritarianism. And what we are witnessing -- I mean, people are talking all about the death of Marielle Franco in Rio de Janeiro. She was an elected official, an activist who became an elected official, murdered in -- she was very outspoken about the police presence and police violence, and now she`s dead.
So I`m thinking about what people in Brazil are feeling in this moment of my god, this feels very much like our slip into --
HAYES: Although, let me just say, Brazil also stands in the other direction.
HAYES: For me, which is, whoa, is it way much worse -- like what has happened there in terms of the displacement of the duly elected leader and the levels of street violence. Like, when you come back to the U.S. and you think about what the institutions have done and how they`ve held, if feels like a --
HINOJOSA: It does, but we`re also talking about this when you were just talking about possible threats of violence against Stormy Daniels.
HAYES: True. No, that`s true. That`s a serious thing.
HINOJOSA: And we`re also talking about certain immigrants, documented -- with or without documents -- who are being targeted as we speak tonight. So --
GLAUDE: When we think about the Trump administration, though, it`s really interesting. The populist billionaire, right? And what you just described, Evan, is a kind of standard worry, critique of democracy, right, that there is this worry that the mass, that the unlearned mass will threaten the power, right?
And so we get here, I`m reminded of that moment in Walt Whitman`s 1871 classic Democratic vistas where he talks about the hollowness at the heart of the present moment where business elites are robbing the public coffers, where selfishness and greed, right, have overrun the country. A corruption of men, a corruption of the state, which leads to a corruption of the national soul.
That`s not the possession of populists, that`s the possession of elites who -- plutocrats -- who think they can exploit people`s fears to let me again, fill the pots.
HAYES: Let me also say one more thing about this in terms of the sort of ability of Trump to paper all this over, right, it does have an affect. These ethics scandals do matter. They get coverage. They reason they all got called in the White House to get yelled at is because they don`t like the fact that they`re on -- like people do care that, you know.
HINOJOSA: You can`t hide it.
HAYES: And, B, we always have got to remember, the guy is at 40 percent approval and he didn`t win the popular vote. So, you know, in terms of who got swindled here.
MCMULLINS: Yeah, and look, I`ll say this topic of populist, academics argue a lot about what populism actually is. It`s a word that has a lot of definitions, but one of the most accepted is populism as a political tactic, not a philosophy, in fact, populism often becomes a tactic of authoritarians or nationalists and of socialists and that`s the reality.
Now, it doesn`t mean that we shouldn`t confuse -- yes, there is corruption and there can be corruption at the top. Yes, the wealthy can take advantage of the poor. And yes, the rights of the majority are that we are majority rule, but we have -- but the minority has rights that cannot be infringed upon.
HAYES: Well, and the question right now is how strongly those institutions hold, particularly when you look at other places, Turkey and Brazil
Evan McMullin, Eddie Glaude, and Maria Hinojosa --
HINOJOSA: We didn`t get to talk about the high schoolers.
HAYES: Don`t forget, if you missed the beginning of tonight`s show and my interview with Felix Sater you can listen to it any time by downloading the All In podcast. Tonight`s will be available in about half an hour from now wherever you get your podcasts. Check it out.
That is All In for this evening. The Rachel Maddow Show starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.