Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: November 29, 2018 Guest: Rosalind Helderman, Neal Katyal, Jason Leopold, Elie Mystal, Elizabeth Holtzman, Eric Swalwell, Ben Wittes, Kim Wehle
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CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They said maybe Donald Trump is involved in projects with the Russian. The answer`s no.
HAYES: Michael Cohen flips on Donald Trump and Robert Mueller lowers the boom.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: It`s not comfortable but I`m OK with it personally.
HAYES: Tonight the massive Trump lie exposed by former fixer.
TRUMP: I have no business whatsoever with Russia.
When I run for president, that doesn`t mean I`m not allowed to do business.
HAYES: Why today`s revelation is just the tip of the iceberg.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS: I think this is just a preview of coming attractions.
HAYES: Plus, new breaking details about Donald Trump and the so-called Moscow project.
FELIX SATER, REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER: It`s basically two old friends saying hey our guy can become president.
HAYES: What we know about Matt Whitaker`s role in today`s Cohen flip.
COHEN: I`ll do anything to protect Mr. Trump.
HAYES: And why the President`s family is now exposed like never before.
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: Time and time again, lie after lie.
HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.
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HAYES: Good evening from New York I`m Chris Hayes. The President of the United States has been lying to the American people for years now. Lying that he was ever doing any business with the foreign power which was at the same time committing criminal acts to help get him elected president.
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TRUMP: I mean, I have nothing to do with Russia.
I mean, I will tell you right now, zero. I have nothing to do with Russia.
I have no relationship to Russia.
I don`t deal there -- I have no dealings with Russia, I have no deals in Russia, I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we`ve stayed away.
I have nothing to do with Russia. I have -- John, John, how many times do I have to say it? Are you a smart man? I have nothing to do with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia.
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HAYES: We now know that in fact, Trump had a lot to do with Russia. According to Michael Cohen, Trump was trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016 a year after he announced his presidential run and at the height of the campaign, the same campaign that the Russians meddled in. And as he was about to become the Republican Party nominee, in fact, according to a new BuzzFeed report, the Trump Organization even offered Vladimir Putin or plan to offer flattering Putin a $50 million penthouse as a gift.
Much more on that story of one of the reporters who wrote it coming up, but first to Michael Cohen, the longtime Trump lawyer and fixer who today went to federal court and we had guilty again this time lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. I had asserted that all efforts concerning the project had ceased in January of 2016 when in fact they continued through June of 2016." Cohen also said he lied when he downplayed his conversations with Trump and others about the project and when he denied ever planning to visit Russia in connection with the project he did, in fact, plan to do just that.
So why did he do it? "I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual One`s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual One." I don`t have to tell you who Individual One is but it`s fun to say it anyway. Donald Trump, the President of the United States is individual one in the criminal information that was presented today in a federal courthouse.
Now, Cohen had already separately pleaded guilty to a range of other charges including campaign finance violations for his role in paying Trump`s alleged mistresses, their silence before the election. That guilty plea was with the Southern District of New York, that U.S. Attorney`s Office there. The new guilty plea is different. The new guilty plea is with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller and for the first time, it involves Cohen admitting to committing a crime in order to cover up the President`s dealings with Russia.
Mueller revealed in the filing today that Cohen even had a 20-minute phone conversation with an assistant to longtime Putin lieutenant Dmitry Peskov after requesting help in getting Trump Tower Moscow built. Peskov later denied that he responded to Cohen`s appeal which was a lie and it means that the Russian official told the exact same lie that Michael Cohen did. In other words, think about this, the president`s bagman and Putin`s deputy were both working on the same cover-up.
Confronted with Cohen`s testimony today, Trump displayed one of his truly distinct skills which is to pretend like he has not been caught when he so obviously has been.
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TRUMP: There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it. If I did do it, there would have been nothing wrong. When I run for president, that doesn`t mean I`m not allowed to do business. I was doing a lot of different things when I was running. Even if he was right, it doesn`t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.
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HAYES: Joining me NBC News Investigations Reporter Tom Winter who was inside the courthouse when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty today. Also with me Rosalind Helderman, Political Investigations and Enterprise Reporter for The Washington Post whose new piece details Trump`s 30-year quest to expand his business to Russia. Tom, I`ll start with you. What was that scene like this morning?
TOM WINTER, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER: Well, it was very different scene than past scenes. Before we`ve had several hours heads-up that there was going to be something, we`ve known for days in advance. Shortly after 8:15 this morning we received a note and the note said, USA versus John Doe and they`ll be a hearing at 9:00 a.m. And I called somebody and that person said I would strongly advise that you be there so it was a mad scramble for everybody to get to courthouse. We didn`t know right away what it was going to be.
We knew because Mueller`s prosecutors were in the courtroom and his spokesperson was in the courtroom, that it was going to be Mueller related. And then Michael Cohen just a few minutes before nine a.m. strode in. It was a much more confident, I think a much more calm Michael Cohen than we had seen in previous hearings.
WINTER: You know, you and I talked when he pled guilty back in August, you know I think the enormity of that moment really kind of hit him and he got choked up at one point. Today he was almost anxious. He was ready to deliver this allocution. He was ready to speak at his notes and was ready to go. So I think it was -- it was much different feeling in the courthouse today and I think that`s somebody who`s been involved with this prosecution team now for some time.
HAYES: Rosalind, as someone who`s covered this intensely, what new information got entered into the record today from your perspective?
ROSALIND HELDERMAN, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS AND ENTERPRISE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think that the thing that you mentioned about the conversation between Cohen and the assistant to Dmitry Peskov is hugely significant. We now know that there was direct contact between the Trump Organization and the Russian government as early as January 2016 where there was some conversation about what Trump wanted. And the question becomes did the Russians kind of think about how they could do things that Trump might want and does that ultimately then result in part of the decision that Putin makes to go ahead and push so hard in the U.S. election to help elect Trump and give him what he wants.
HAYES: That is a great point which I had not thought of in quite that sequence. I want to read from this criminal information today because I think -- this conversation to me is kind of mind-blowing. I mean, to set the scene here, Peskov is Putin`s number two. I mean, this is like he`s got --
WINTER: This is -- he`s a press secretary but he`s not Sarah Sanders to President Trump.
HAYES: No, this is --
WINTER: This is the right-hand man.
HAYES: This is Putin`s right-hand man. So here`s the criminal information. On or about January 20th, 2016 -- so like campaign is happening, like it were in the thick of it. January is like Iowa, New Hampshire -- like we`re going into the whole thing. On or about January 20th, 2016 Cohen received an e-mail from the personal assistant Russia Official One, that`s Peskov, stating she had been trying to reach Cohen requesting he call her using a Moscow based phone number she provided. Shortly after receiving the e-mail, Cohen called Assistant One and spoke to her for approximately 20 minutes.
Cohen requesting assistance in moving the project forward both in securing land to build the proposed tower and financing and construction. Assistant One ask detailed questions and took note stating she would follow up with others in Russia. This is the President of the United States` personal bagman yes secretly calling the Russian President`s office to ask, to beg for help to get a deal clear.
WINTER: It`s an extraordinary moment in there. I mean, this is something that he`s lied about, that he did not -- he was not truthful with Congress about so he`s lied. He hasn`t -- he hadn`t fully disclosed that before today. And then you have this discussion. And what`s interesting to me is everything in this -- in this criminal information, even though Michael Cohen pled guilty to it, everything in here, the special counsel`s office, they have to back it up. It`s their duty to back it up.
So the fact that notes were taken, the fact that there were these type of intricate details that are in there, the fact that there are elsewhere in the -- in the information it states there`s actual messages that are quoted in there tells me that they have a lot of evidence, direct evidence --
HAYES: That is a great point. Because this is -- this is -- Assistant One asked details and took notes. Like how do they know that Peskov`s assistant took notes?
WINTER: Yes I think that`s very interesting. And presumably, Michael Cohen doesn`t know you know, whether or not somebody`s taking notes. He`s having a phone call with him. Now, did -- was that because the assistant followed up with a no later? Was there email traffic that occurred between Michael Cohen or somebody else in the Trump Organization with this assistant? It raises a lot of questions about what we don`t know here.
HAYES: Rosalind, something else that shows up in this criminal information that jumps out at you off the page, the family, that Michael Cohen briefed members of Individual One, the President of the United States` family about this deal.
HELDERMAN: Yes, that`s right. He had previously said that he spoke to Trump only three times. He now says that was a lie. He talked to Trump more times. They have not given us an exact number but he spoke with the President repeatedly about this and they also say he briefed members of the President`s family. And of course, Don Jr. at least has also testified on the Hill.
We were closely reviewing the one transcript that`s been public from his appearances there to the Judiciary Committee today to see how they Square. I would imagine that Mueller`s office is looking at his appearances that we don`t have in front of Senate and House Intelligence as well to see whether or not he was truthful about these events.
HAYES: We should note that the Wall Street Journal reporting that investigators have e-mails from late 2015-2016 in which Cohen copies Don Jr. and Ivanka on exactly this, that Ivanka at one point recommended an architect. We`re going to talk a little more about that as the night goes on. Tom Winter and Rosalind Helderman, thank you both for being with me.
And I want to bring an MSNBC Legal Analyst Daniel Goldman, a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The first question I want to ask you is -- and Tom actually made this point earlier when he was talking to some of us here in the office that the difference between that first time that Michael Cohen is in there with the Southern District where it`s stuff that`s in their purview and the fact he walks in today with Mueller`s team by his side. This is a Mueller phenomenon. What does that mean?
DAN GOLDMAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it`s a significant event. Obviously, he`s been meeting at least seven times with Mueller and he`s entered into this agreement with the Special Counsel. So obviously the Special Counsel has found there to be a lot of material to be going over with Michael Cohen. He may have just pled guilty to these specific false statements related to Trump Tower Moscow but you can assure that Michael Cohen is giving Robert Mueller a lot more information about a lot more topics than just this.
HAYES: Yes, so when the first -- the first round of charges he pleaded guilty to which had to do with the Southern District of New York and a variety of things with tax evasion and criminal violations of compound campaign finance law which he said came in the direction of the President, we should note, he was talking to Southern District. He`s now talking to mothers people seven times at least. What -- how extensive does that cooperation look to you as someone who worked in the U.S. Attorney`s Office once?
GOLDMAN: It`s a lot. And I -- and there`s reporting that he`s also been talking with the Southern District as well and perhaps even the State A.G.`s office. The way these things work and I think this week is a really good example of how it works in dealing with someone like Jerome Corsi and seeing Paul Manafort, the Mueller team is going to gather all of the documentary evidence that they have collected whether it`s e-mails, phone records, contracts, bank records, I mean everything you can imagine, and they have those records that are relevant to that witness in front of them. And they will go through e-mail after e-mail after e-mail and say what is this, what is, this what is this and -- when someone is cooperating.
So Michael Cohen can provide a roadmap to any e-mails that he`s on but he can also explain the context for other e-mails they have. And what we saw this week Chris, and Tom mentioned it a little bit earlier is Mueller has documentary evidence for everything that he asserts. You saw it in the Jerome Corsi draft statement of offense where their e-mails. You see it today in the information where there are written communications. And you can be sure that they are not accusing Paul Manafort with lying just based on the testimony of others.
So when Donald Trump claims that everybody else is lying and that Robert Mueller is forcing people to lie, he`s playing a very dangerous game because at some point this documentary evidence is going to come out and it is going to corroborate the allegations and assertions and testimony of the witnesses that Robert Mueller has.
HAYES: Final question. You had tweeted this today. There were some news about Deutsche Bank being raided. Deutsche Bank has been in the target of a lot of international law enforcement, the looks of money laundering. You said, so far today in coordinated fashion it appears Michael Cohen pleaded guilty related to Trump ordeal. FBI searches Trump Org outside counsel likely base in an info provided by Cohen. That`s I believe a reference to Chicago Alderman Ed Burke and Trump Org primary lender D.B. also searched. Do you think those are all related or do you think this is coincidence?
GOLDMAN: You know, it may be. It was -- it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek because all -- it is interesting that all of these events have connections to Michael Cohen. Obviously, his guilty plea, the Aldermen -- Michael Cohen would know who they`re used as outside counsel for the Trump Organization. And we know Deutsche Bank is the banker for the Trump Organization, sort of the last one. There are -- there`s additional reporting that it may relate to another investigation and it was massive undertaking in Germany so it`s unclear that it`s directly related to this.
But I think the point is that the world seems to be closing in around particularly the Trump Organization and their financial dealings in somewhat of the offshoot of that is some of the campaign-related information. But it`s just another example, it`s another day where we see a lot of legal activity that can relate back to Donald Trump.
HAYES: Daniel Goldman, thank you for making some time tonight. Joining me now is Georgetown Law Professor Neal Katyal who`s Acting Solicitor General in the Obama Administration who`s argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court. Neal, what`s the significance of today to your mind?
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, UNITED STATES: I mean I think it`s huge. So I think you know, the facts aren`t all in but I think we very well could look back on this day November 29, 2018, as the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency. And I say that for three reasons. One, what we`ve been talking about the criminal stuff that Mueller has on Trump but there are two other important things going on. One is the House investigation.
Now the House is controlled by Democrats. They`ll take power in January. They`ll be able to investigate all of these lies to Congress. And the second is even if the Democrats don`t want to do it, impeachment, they almost are going to have to look at it very, very seriously now because this isn`t just criminal. This is the President campaigning in 2016 and hiding all of his negotiations with Russia, not the Russian like businesses like Marriott Hotels or something but with the Kremlin itself and the number two person as you were saying at the Kremlin.
So that -- you know that`s bad and the American people obviously should have had a right to know that at the time. But also just think about the last two years have been a period of intense kompromat. The Russians have known that Trump lied to the American people for two years. And imagine all the things, subtle things they could have done to get their bidding done over the last two years.
HAYES: It`s a great point and you know, independent of whatever they else they may have on him. They did know that he was lying to the American people about this deal because they were on the other side of it.
KATYAL: Exactly we`re very much at the pants on fire states. We as Americans are only learning about it today but the Russians have known about it for two years because obviously, they were party to all of those transactions. So this is now not just a criminal matter but this is -- and not just a political matter, this is a matter about the national security of the United States.
HAYES: There`s two points I want to follow up on. One is about the Constitution and the Founder and obviously, there`s someone who studies a Constitution and has argued a variety of cases for the Supreme Court. The Founders really were obsessed with foreign independence, of American officials not being dependent on foreigners, not being dependent on foreign interests, and here you`ve got a guy who would later become president having his person calls up at the president`s office of Russia, a hostile foreign power to basically say can you work something out for us. That is dependence on its face.
KATYAL: Absolutely. The Founders put things like the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution, several federalist papers are all about this, the danger of our president being beholden to some foreign power. And you know -- they had -- they cared about that. They also cared about one other thing which was popular accountability. They said look, sometimes every executive is going to have to do things that you know, come up to the line. But as long as it`s disclosed to the people and the public -- and the president is accountable, then it`s may be OK in certain circumstances.
This is that evil combination in which you`ve got negotiations with a foreign government and for money, for greed, and things like that, and it was hidden from the American people for the last two years. And it took Mueller, the so-called witch hunt to find that out. And you know, Mueller deserves a lot of credit tonight for bringing this scheme to the floor.
Hayes: Question about -- final question about the Department of Justice and the Acting Attorney General there Mr. Whitaker. Washington Post reporting that he was notified in advance of the Cohen play, he didn`t appear to veto it. Does it ease your concerns at all about the integrity of the rural law and his position that he did not block this?
KATYAL: No it doesn`t. In fact, you know, it means -- so first of all, I think Whitaker is Trump`s Lackey. He is the most unqualified person to serve as Attorney General in any lifetime -- in any of our lifetimes and cut the Constitution doesn`t allow him to serve because the Senate requires it. But beyond all of that Post story causes I think grave concerns me because the Ethics Office should have been examining whether or not Whitaker could actually serve as the Acting Attorney General given all of his statements about Mueller and the like.
HAYES: That`s a great point.
KATYAL: And so there`s only two possibilities. Either -- and they`re not telling us which is the most amazing thing. We don`t know. Either the American people don`t know who is the acting Attorney General for purposes of supervising the Mueller investigation. The two possibilities are number one, they`re still waiting for an answer in which case the idea that Whitaker had advanced heads-up on this is absolutely a violation of every Justice Department protocol, if you might be recused you can`t sit on it, or number two, very concerning for Trump, Whitaker has been cleared which you know, I can`t imagine given all the things he said but somehow maybe they`ve got a Lackey in the ethics office.
And if Whittaker is cleared and he still let the Mueller investigation do what it did today, boy that`s a really bad news for Donald Trump and I suspect the next shoe to drop will be something about Mueller.
HAYES: All right, Neal Katyal, thank you for your time tonight. Still ahead, the growing list of Trump associates caught lying about Russian connections. Much more on the widespread implications of Michael Cohen`s shocking guilty plea today and the Trump family members he might have implicated.
Plus, why were members of Trump Org planning to offer Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow? I`ll talk to the reporter who just broke that story next.
HAYES: The extraordinary report from BuzzFeed tonight that the Trump Organization was planning to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a penthouse in Trump Tower in return for the Moscow project. It was apparently the brainchild of Michael Cohen and the man labeled in today`s Mueller filing as Individual Two Felix Sater. Sater told BuzzFeed news today that he and Cohen giving the Trump Towers most luxurious apartment, a $50 million penthouse to Putin would entice other wealthy buyers to purchase their own.
BuzzFeed also reports that Michael Cohen discuss the idea with a representative of Putin`s press secretary and they add "two FBI agents with direct knowledge of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations told BuzzFeed news earlier this year that Cohen was in frequent contact with foreign individuals about the real estate venture and that some of these individuals had knowledge of or played a role in 2016 election meddling.
This comes of course from the same reporting team that six months ago wrote this piece that almost matches word-for-word of today`s indictment. They got it completely and totally right. Here to talk about all of it, one of those reporters Jason Leopold, Senior Investigative Reporter at BuzzFeed News. I will start by saying the piece that you and Anthony broke six months ago really bears out today in the federal court where basically everything you said shows up to date. The reporting you have tonight, what was this plan and how far did it get?
JASON LEOPOLD, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: Well, first thank you, Chris. I appreciate that and the kind words. The plan was discussed prior to January 2016 when Michael Cohen said that all of the negotiations related to Trump Tower Moscow ended. Felix Sater is the one who said he came up with the idea for giving Vladimir Putin or handing that penthouse to Vladimir Putin as a way to entice oligarchs into purchasing the rest of the apartments in Trump Tower Moscow in which you know, Trump organization and Michael Cohen and Felix Sater could earn quite a bit of money.
It apparently obviously didn`t get very far because the entire project fizzled but Michael Cohen did discuss this as you noted with a representative of Vladimir Putin`s press secretary. And as we saw in today`s -- in the complaint against Michael Cohen, what we saw was that there were phone calls that Michael Cohen had with Dmitry Peskov, with representatives for Dmitry Peskov, in which he said previously that those communications never took place.
He sent an e-mail to an e-mail address and that was the last of it. But we now know that those conversations were quite extensive.
HAYES: Just to be clear, so yes -- again, you got the President as basically his Number Two, his deputy Michael Cohen talking to Putin`s -- the office of Putin`s Number Two, whether that`s Peskov himself or his assistant. OK. You`re reporting suggest that the plan to give Putin the $50 million penthouse, that was actually discussed by Cohen when he was talking to Peskov`s office.
LEOPOLD: Yes, in fact, it was. We have confirmation from that -- of that from at least four sources. And I want to make clear that Anthony and I had been working on this for a good six months. And obviously what transpired today sped up our reporting quite a bit so we you know, we put this together at this point.
HAYES: But that`s -- I mean, I just take a step back here. That`s an astounding thing to say. I mean the man who later become president partly because of the criminal sabotage employed by Vladimir Putin at Vladimir Putin`s direction, that at the beginning of the year that would elect him president, his number two`s in direct contact with essentially Putin`s number two offering Putin a $50 million gift?
LEOPOLD: Correct. And in addition to that, as we know, I mean, working very diligently to try and move this project forward. One thing I do want to note is that Anthony and I obtained documents, text messages between Michael Cohen and Felix Sater. You can see in these text messages how -- I hesitate to use the word desperate but I`m going to use it here, how desperate Michael Cohen was to get this project off the ground.
I mean, he and Felix Sater were going back and forth with each other. They were cursing quite a bit. And Michael prior to this phone call in January 2016 was pressuring Felix to get this done. So this was clearly a top priority for Michael Cohen.
HAYES: OK. I want to -- I want to ask you two more questions.
HAYES: So one is about how long this goes. So we`re all focused on the January 2016 which again, I just think that you cannot overstate enough the significance of the fact that Michael Cohen has got a direct line to Putin`s guy. Like that`s -- we`re there between these two guys. Like they`ve got -- they`ve got a channel open right, and they`re discussing business, and they`re discussing high-stakes business. They`re discussing the possibility of Donald Trump giving Vladimir Putin $50 million worth of real estate. OK.
HAYES: Number two here, the thing keeps going till June right? I mean, one of the things we learned -- that`s also striking to me. They`re talking about this a lot and discussing on getting this plan as Donald Trump starts to win primary after primary, as he goes from like sort of weird joke to the actual Republican nominee, this thing is still playing out.
LEOPOLD: Yes, it`s going deep into June and close to the Republican convention. In fact, Felix Sater, and Michael -- discuss with Michael Cohen when he should expect Donald Trump to go -- to go to Russia to perhaps discuss this and when Michael intended to go. And that discussion took place in June. Michael said -- actually in May of 2016, Michael said, me first before Cleveland and then after the convention Donald Trump.
So these discussions were taking place deep into the campaign and -- which is what we reported earlier this year.
HAYES: All right. So then yes, exactly. All that cut, you guys nailed this. Again, as I said, just a tip of the cap. So here`s my question. Why it ends up getting canceled? June 14th is a key date in the criminal information. I want to show you what Felix Sater said to me when I asked him why it fell through and what we actually know about the reason. Take a listen.
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HAYES: Why does the deal fall through in Moscow?
SATER: Because the Trump Organization announced that they were not going to do any more international deals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That`s not true. They dropped the deal in June 14th before they make any kind of announcement like that right.
LEOPOLD: Right. I think that, first of all, from what we`ve seen in the text messages, it`s a little unclear as to why this -- these discussions just abruptly ended, because they were making plans to go to the economic forum where they would be discussing this deal and the financing revolving around the deal. Then the text messages from what we have that were turned over to the FBI, turned over to congressional investigators, they just sort of ended.
And I think that that is the excuse or the rationale that the Trump organization put out there at the time, but we have not been able to determine exactly why the talks just abruptly broke down.
HAYES: Yeah, let me just say that my understanding is Felix Sater is on the record tonight to someone basically saying that the publicity from that story on June 14 that (inaudible) the Russians hacked the DNC is what abruptly cuts it.
But one could also imagine other reasons why that that spot being blown up might chase people away.
LEOPOLD: Right, and you know Felix was working directly through Michael. In some of these text messages, as we reported, he`s saying that he will kind of be in the shadows on this. And Michael Cohen is the point person.
So what Felix was told was coming directly from obviously from Michael and he was apparently getting some word from higher ups inside of the Trump organization.
HAYES: All right, Jason Leopold who is part of an amazing investigative team over there at BuzzFeed, who has done -- who is a great journalist and has been a great journalist for a long time, is doing great work. Thank you very much, Jason.
LEOPOLD: I appreciate that, Chris, thank you.
HAYES: All right, today, we learned new details about the Trump family`s involvement in the effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to the charges filed against former Trump fixer Michael Cohen by the special counsel today. He, Cohen, briefed family members of individual one, that`s the president, within the company about the project in Moscow.
Now, that`s especially interesting considering what the president`s son and top organization official Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Intelligence Committee in September 2017. Trump Jr. said he knew, quote, "very little" about the Trump Tower Moscow deal and he wasn`t involved.
I`m joined now by Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee, which also interviewed Donald Trump Jr. and Michael Cohen about Russian contacts last year.
Congressman, did they tell you the truth?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL, (D) CALIFORNIA: I don`t think they did, Chris, and we have had this concern for a long time. And I think that Mueller actually could have reached this plea today much earlier had Chairman Nunes and the Republicans allowed us to send over to the Mueller team our transcripts.
We have in the basement of the Capitol pages of lies of Trump campaign witnesses and their transcripts. They came to us. And those witnesses and their transcripts sit in the Capitol protected by Chairman Nunes. And I think that is delaying the Mueller investigation.
HAYES: Wait a second. Wait a second. I knew -- I was operating under the knowledge that the Senate transcripts made public and yours did not. But I just figured they`d been shared with Mueller even if they hadn`t been made public. You`re saying Mueller hasn`t seen them?
SWALWELL: He has not seen any of our transcripts with the exception of Carter Page`s and also Eric Prince`s because they asked for them to be released. But Roger Stone, for example, who did not testify to the Senate, his transcript sits locked up in our basement. And we have tried -- Mr. Schiff has asked a number of times, he has made motions to send those transcripts to the special counsel because we have concerns about the voracity of the statements, and Devin Nunes has blocked it each and every time.
HAYES: Did you guys ask them in those hearings -- did you ask Michael Cohen and Don Jr. about Trump Tower Moscow?
SWALWELL: So, Chris, I have honored the agreement that that I`m not going to talk about it until it becomes public, but you can be assured that it was a thorough examination and that`s why we wanted those transcripts first to go to Mueller and also, as soon as possible, to go to the American people.
HAYES: So you`re going to get the gavel in a matter of weeks, I guess, at this point.
SWALWELL: I think it`s 34 days. Who`s counting?
HAYES: Right, exactly. Not fun to be in the minority in the House.
So what are you going to do?
SWALWELL: Well, first thing we`re going to do, we`re going to send those transcripts over to Mueller. We`re going to make sure they`re seen by the American people in short order as well. But most importantly, we`re going to follow the money. We wanted to look at the money laundering issues for a long time, particularly with Deutsche Bank, particularly with bank records that would never be subpoenaed and bank witnesses that we could have brought in. So we will first, you know, answer those questions.
But also as it relates to the Trump tower meeting, we will know what knowledge Donald Trump had because there are a lot of gaps that the Republicans would not let us fill in, particularly around who Donald Trump Jr. was talking to on the phone, or messaging at the time that the meeting was set up.
HAYES: There`s a report in Politico today that Democrats think Cohen, Michael Cohen, could be a linchpin in their upcoming efforts to spotlight the president`s relationship with Russia. They`re hoping to call him to testify before the House once they seize control of congress. What do you think of that?
SWALWELL: Well, few witnesses lived in all three of Donald Trump`s worlds -- his political world, his financial world and his personal world. And Michael Cohen lived in all three. And now that he has come clean and come forward I think he could shed light on what we all would like to know, which was what was candidate Trump`s knowledge, what actions did he direct others to do, and whether or not he, today, as president of the United States, is compromised?
HAYES: What do you think about pleading to lying to congress, and what legal exposure that might open up for other people?
SWALWELL: It should send a message that it will be prosecuted, and as I said there are a lot of witnesses who came in and we don`t think were straight with us, but we weren`t allowed to test their testimony or to contradict it or collaborate it. So, I hope that when that`s sent to Bob Mueller that he does hold those individuals accountable and that when people come forward in this new investigation that they come clean, because there`s really no way around the MRI that Bob Mueller and his team will take to the truth.
HAYES: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you for joining me.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
HAYES: Just ahead, while the president frantically rambled about his former lawyer pleading guilty in court today, something he said does not add up. We`ll explain right after hits.
HAYES: Before Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to congress, there were signs the president might be worried about something. Last night he suddenly up and bailed on the national Christmas tree lighting ceremony without White House staff notifying a pool of reporters assigned to monitor the president`s movements or his whereabouts.
This morning, before the public knew that Cohen flipped, Trump fired off a tweet calling Mueller`s federal investigation a, quote, "illegal Joseph McCarthy- style witch hunt," and "no collusion with Russia."
Tonight we basically know it was chafing him. CNN reporting tonight the Justice Department notified the Trump legal team on Wednesday night about Michael Cohen`s planned plea.
But perhaps the strangest turn of events took place after Cohen pleaded guilty, that`s when Trump came out and said Cohen was lying to get a lighter prison sentence. But Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told The New York Times that the president`s written answer to Robert Mueller`s question about the Trump Tower Moscow project was basically identical to what Cohen admitted today in court.
In other words, Cohen is a liar who is telling the truth on this and also the president is too.
To talk more about how the president is handling all this, I`m joined by Kim Welhe, a former assistant U.S. attorney, and Ben Wittes, MSNBC legal analyst and editor-in-chief of the Law Fare blog.
Ben, I`ll start with you, you just wrote a piece on the Law Fare blog about all this that happened today. how to read Michael Cohen`s latest plea and its revelations about the Trump organization, what is your takeaway about the import of today for the president and the president`s answers that he submitted to Mueller?
BEN WITTES, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that`s one of the big questions, you know, if the president submitted answers that are, you know, inconsistent with this document, and I notice that Giuliani was quoted today saying that everything the president said is consistent with this document, you know, that`s a potential problem because this document is not simply what Mueller has from Michael Cohen, it`s what mueller has from Michael Cohen that he can corroborate, feels he can prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt.
And so I do think to the extent that there`s major inconsistencies between anything the president said in that testimony -- in those written Q&A and this document, that`s going to be a major problem.
Now, if you were his lawyer, and you were competent, and you had the opportunity to be -- to answer questions in writing, you might try to do them at a level of altitude and vagueness that`s so extreme that it`s not amenable to factual contradiction. And if you look at what Giuliani says they said in that written submission, it`s kind of at that level of altitude.
But then, of course, you raise the question that you just raised, which is how then is Michael Cohen supposedly lying?
HAYES: Right. And that`s -- and I thought it was interesting today, the first initial instinct is, Michael Cohen`s lying, but then he comes out and says, you know, when he`s standing by the helicopter, you know, look, we had -- I`m doing deals, you know, and if I lose, I got to go back to doing deals which of course contradicts everything he said.
And Kim, you worked for Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel under a different statute, and obviously the president at that point, Bill Clinton lying became a huge part of the impeachment proceedings, he lied in a deposition, or accused of lying in a deposition. In that case, he`s got a talk in the moment. Here you`ve got the written answers. There`s a big difference there, right?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Oh, there`s a tremendous difference. Although, with respect to this grand jury testimony there were some, you know, rules set up that made it easier for him.
But sure, I agree with Benjamin that lawyers are going to craft these things in a way that makes them almost bullet proof for a perjury and obstruction of justice charge.
But there are lots of differences between the Whitewater investigation and today. One is what you mentioned, is under that investigation, it was actually a statute that insulated Ken Starr from Bill Clinton`s influence. We don`t have that here. We have a regulation that`s internal that Mr. Whitaker technically, arguably has some power, unless someone holds him accountable. We don`t know how much influence he`s having. We don`t even know what information he`s sharing with the president day-to-day.
We heard a lot about Manafort`s lawyers talking to him. We don`t know what Mr. Whitaker is telling him.
The other thing that`s different is just the internet and the sort of rapidity, how quickly news comes out. The president using tweets. We used to circulate Xeroxed clips.
But the last thing that also I think what struck me as a young lawyer in that investigation was just how expensive and time consuming this process is, for everyone within the executive branch, who gets a subpoena, who has to respond to these as well as the lawyers, I think they`re probably thinly staffed and there are regular people that are career public servants that get hurt by this process.
WEHLE: And that also, I`m sure, is going on to a large degree right now and we -- it`s the last thing I think on everyone`s minds because the implications are much bigger here for democracy than they were under Ken Starr.
HAYES: I think that`s right.
Ben, the president has already put the rhetoric up to ten and there`s a sort of question of where could he -- how does he go to 11 at this point, right? I mean, he said everything he could possibly say about Robert Mueller. His acolytes and allies have gone after him. What is containing him right now? What are the available avenues for him?
WITTES: For the president?
WITTES: I mean, I think nothing is containing him. He is a -- you know, he`s giving vent to his anger on a regular basis both in -- on Twitter and to anyone who will ask him about it.
Look, I mean, the thing that constrains him, to the extent that anything does, is, I think, that his lawyers, at least Don McGahn used to, have some ability to say if you do this the consequences will be such that I can`t protect you.
WITTES: And there do seem to be a set of things that he decided to do and then backed down from, because he couldn`t actually face the likely consequences of doing them. And I actually continue to believe that firing Jim Comey was something he did kind of by accident., that he thought that Chuck Schumer was going to call him and congratulate him for it, because everybody was mad about the Hillary Clinton email stuff.
And, you know, his bark generally is worse than his bite. Whitaker, the appointment of Whitaker is certainly an exception to that. But, you know, generally if you look at the list of things that he`s threatened to do it is much, much longer than the list of things that he`s actually done.
HAYES: What do you think of that, Kim?
WEHLE: Well, I think as a factual matter, the Mueller investigation and what`s being -- what we know publicly, we`re getting close and closer to what the president calls collusion -- no collusion. I mean, the dots -- we`re lining everything up and connecting the dots with respect to that connection.
So, then the question really becomes how does the house of cards fall or not? I think at this point it`s really unlikely it won`t fall. But I think the two big pieces for this president would be his family, number one, and his organization. And so if he`s going to pull a lever, I don`t think it`s going to be around Michael Cohen yet.
HAYES: Kim Wehle and Ben Wittes, thanks for joining us.
Coming up, Donald Trump`s lie about doing business with Russia during the campaign is just the latest in an unthinkable series of lies over many years by the president and just about everyone around him. We`ll try and put it all in perspective next.
HAYES: The president and nearly everyone associated with the president have lied so often, so freely, so brazenly about every aspect of the Russia story from the first moments right through today.
It began back in 2016 when they tried to pretend we don`t even know who did the hacking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don`t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She is saying Russia, Russia, Russia. But I don`t -- maybe it was. It could be Russia. It could also be China. It could be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don`t know who broke into DNC.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Ah, yes, the 400-pound hacker.
Well, we do know -- we know now, we have a good indication then it was Russia. And long after the intelligence community had so publicly concluded it was Russia, of course, the president kept denying it, kept throwing ink in the water, even siding with Vladimir Putin, standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the Helsinki summit.
All along the Trump team was lying about ever having had contact with Russia during the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I -- I joined this campaign in the summer, and I can tell you that all the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people.
Of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Why would there be any contacts with anyone but the American people? But there was contact with Russia. Here`s a partial list of Trump associates or campaign officials who had contact with Russians during the campaign: Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn -- remember that guy -- Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos -- currently in prison -- Carter Page, Roger Stone.
And of course the lie, the big lie about having any business dealings in Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I mean, I have nothing to do with Russia. I don`t have any jobs in Russia. I`m all over the world, but we`re not involved in Russia.
I`ve had audits for 15 or 16 years, every year I have a routine audit. Under audit, when the audit is complete, I`ll release them. But zero. I mean, I will tell you right now, zero. I have nothing to do with Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: OK, that`s July 27th, 2016, it turns out that his surrogates were discussing the Moscow tower deal just like a month earlier.
Well, today we found out Trump was looking at business deals with Russia during the campaign and after Russia had hacked into the DNC. The president and his associates have repeatedly and voraciously lied about Russia from the start, so what happens now that is all catching up with them? Next.
HAYES: Let`s bring in attorney Elie Mystal, editor-in-chief of Above the Law, and former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman who served on the House Judiciary Committee which voted to impeach Richard Nixon and wrote the special prosecutor statute. It`s also the author of "The Case for Impeaching Trump."
In terms of historical residents today, as someone who was there with Nixon, what do you make of the significance of this day?
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, of course the dangling still of the pardon to Manafort. Remember, one of the grounds of the impeachment of Richard Nixon is that he dangled pardons, authorized pardons to be dangled before the burglars to keep them quiet and protect him and his aides from prosecution.
HAYES: That was one of the reasons he was impeached?
And another reason that he was impeached was that when the attorney general went to congress to be confirmed as attorney general, Richard Klein Deans, and Klein Deans lied to the Senate, and Nixon knew that he lied and failed to correct the record, that was another ground for his impeachment.
And so if we think about the people who now appear to have gone before the congress and lied, and if the president knew, kept quiet, this could be impeachable offense.
HAYES: That`s amazing. Basically, the congress says you have a duty to uphold the law, that if one of your surrogates or underlings comes before us and lies to us and you know it, you have a duty to correct the record.
I mean, there is like ten articles probably staring in the face of the president right now.
ELIE MYSTAL, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, ABOVE THE LAW: If we were in real life, this would be game over already, right. But we`re more in like a crazy Trump movie. And I just think that today is the day -- today is the part of the movie where Michael Corleone brings Carlo into the room and tells him that he knows what`s really going on and asks Carlo to tell the truth, right.
Robert Mueller has basically told Donald Trump I got your Manafort, I got your Cohen, KI got your Barzini (ph), I`ve got your Tatalia (ph), I`ve got your Jim Corsi, I`ve got your Assange. Don`t insult my intelligence, right?
All of the walls are closing in on him, and we also know that Trump is scared of this, because he is reacting like a feral cat in a corner, lashing out on Twitter to all these people.
So I really think earlier in the day Katyal said this could be the beginning of the end. I think in the movie version of this, we are finally getting to that.
HAYES: It always feels -- the thing about Donald Trump, it feels like the beginning of the end from one week into his campaign, OK. When he said like about John McCain, I like people that weren`t captured, it was like, well, OK, well this is the beginning of the end.
So, never underestimate the ability of the guy to survive. That`s all I`ll say.
But that`s why it`s important to me in some ways to look at what we`re learning, because the actual substance of what we`re learning, like what you`re saying there, that was an article of impeachment of Richard Nixon, he didn`t correct the world. We`ve got his people going before committee after committee, one who just pleaded a lying to congress, and it looks like a lot more probably did.
HOLTZMAN: Correct, and he knew about it. I mean, this is an abuse of the power of his office. What people don`t really understand -- need to focus on here is that this is not just about one particular misdeed, another particular misdeed.
HAYES: That`s right.
HOLTZMAN: This is about an investigation into whether a foreign government, the Russian government, tampered with and interfered with our presidential elections. That is primary.
MYSTAL: And he is basically admitting it.
HAYES: Yeah, that`s a good point.
MYSTAL: The key issue today is that Trump is basically running around saying like I never sniffed any glue, and Michael Cohen is like dude, I bought you a whole glue factory. And now today Trump is out here saying, like, yo, I could have sniffed glue, I could have sniffed all the glue I wanted and it wouldn`t have been a problem. Like, he literally today admitted the thing that he had been lying about all this time.
HAYES: That moment today was so remarkable, and it`s part of his pattern of course where he goes from denial to being like of course I did that. And I just imagined a universe that we will encounter where he`ll be like he will come with the helicopter whirring in the background and scowl and be like, yeah, I included. Of course, I said all along I colluded.
HOLTZMAN: But that`s not a crime.
HAYES: Yeah, exactly -- but because the seamlessness with which they go from denial to be like it`s not a big deal.
But the point, though, is, it`s still a big deal on its own merits, whatever weird sort of Jedi mind trick the president tries to do about it, and particularly when it`s Robert Mueller who still holds the cards here, and also, as he flies down to Argentina and cancels a meeting with Vladimir Putin we should imagine the fact that never have the Russians had more leverage over him than right now. Think about that. Think about the things they still know that we don`t know as he goes down to negotiate with world leaders.
Elie Mystal, Elizabeth Holtzman, thank you both.
That is ALL IN for this evening. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
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