CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Good evening from New York I`m Chris Hayes. Breaking news at this hour. The Special Counsel in a rare public statement disputing BuzzFeed`s blockbuster report that the President of the United States directed Michael Cohen, his former bag man to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower Moscow citing two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation. BuzzFeed reports the President also endorsed a plan to visit Russia during the campaign and meet with Putin personally to advance the deal and that the president and two of his children Ivanka and Don Junior all received regular detailed updates from Cohen on the status of the project which the president defended after Cohen`s sentencing.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There would be nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn`t have won in which case that would have gotten back into the business and why should I lose lots of opportunities.
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HAYES: The story`s most explosive and consequential claim is this, that according to BuzzFeed sources the Special Counsel`s office learned about Trump`s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company e-mails text messages and a cache of other documents. The President`s lawyer denied a BuzzFeed story which has not been confirmed by NBC News or any other outlet.
And tonight after declining to comment for almost 24 hours and not commenting in the story itself,0 the Special Counsel`s office issued a very rare and rather literally denial. I`ll read it in full. "BuzzFeed`s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel`s office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office regarding Michael Cohen`s congressional testimony are not accurate."
We should note that other reporting by the same team on this exact topic went uncorroborated for months until it showed up almost word for word in Mueller`s court filings. So it`s hard to know what`s true this time. There is already some public evidence of this latest report. Michael Cohen`s own lawyers claimed in a sentencing memo that in the case of his false statements, the conduct was intended to benefit Client One end in accordance with Client One`s directive.
That`s central allegation that the president the United States told Cohen to lie, that he suborned perjury may be the most clear cut of all the crimes of which this president has been accused. So much so that it came up earlier this week in the confirmation hearing for his attorney general nominee as an example of an obvious crime.
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SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: You wrote on page 1 that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction is that right?
WILLIAM BARR, NOMINEE, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes.
KLOBUCHAR: OK --
BARR: Or any -- well, you know, any person who persuades another, yes.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction, is that right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: So now in the midst of the longest government shutdown in this country`s history Congress could be facing a second emergency, wanted to do about a president accused of committing serious crimes while in office. Here`s that Democratic Senator Chris Murphy expressed the urgency of this moment in the wake of this piece. "Listen, if Mueller does have multiple sources confirming Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress, we need to know this ASAP. Mueller shouldn`t end his inquiry but it`s about time for him to show Congress`s cards before it`s too late for us to act.
Joining me now is Ken Dilanian Intelligence and National Security Reporter for NBC News Investigative Unit. And Ken, the Special Counsel`s office basically never says anything ever about any story ever. They`ve made an exception here. What do you make of it?
DILANIAN: It`s a stunning development, Chris, and a really bad development for journalism I think. And you`re right, it`s unprecedented. I cannot remember them ever commenting on a news story about their work. But my take on it is that they are not refuting in its entirety the story. They are not saying that this isn`t Michael Cohen`s testimony, that Michael Cohen said Trump told a lie. And as you pointed out, there is this line in the Michael Cohen sentencing memo that was filed in November that we`re now realizing says explicitly that he lied to Congress at the direction of Client One and Client One is -- was Donald Trump.
So that part appears to be the case, that Cohen -- it`s Cohen`s saying the Trump asks him to lie. The issue though as you pointed out, that the thing that got people really interested in this story was the notion that there was all this corroboration from the Trump Organization in the form of texts and e-mails and even testimony from people or interviews with people, and that you know by the time the Mueller got to Cohen, they already knew that Donald Trump had instructed him to lie. That seems to be a garble at best.
And it wouldn`t surprise me if in fact what those documents and texts and e-mails were about was in fact the Trump Tower Moscow project because we know from other documents that the Trump Organization was working on this project secretly during the campaign while not informing the American public about it and that Michael Cohen lied to Congress about the timing of that. But clearly these reporters got that part wrong and after you know, days, all day not doing all day not doing anything about it Mueller decides to put out the statement after business hours. (INAUDIBLE) agonized about it.
HAYES: Yes, let me -- let me just ask this. Do we know that that`s the part they got wrong?
DILANIAN: Well, that is the line that the Mueller statement refers to. I mean --
HAYES: I see.
DILANIAN: -- that`s the line that discusses information gathered by Mueller`s office.
HAYES: I see.
DILANIAN: Text, e-mails --
HAYES: Right. You`re saying -- so that paragraph, the paragraph that left out at everyone in that piece which is basically that this -- that they learned of Cohen being instructed to do this after gathering this evidence, the documents, the texts, the e-mails, the testimony, that the Special Counsel`s reference is to that paragraph in the statement?
DILANIAN: I believe so. And I have to say, I said this in the air today, that seems surprising to me the notion that all these people at the Trump Organization would be e-mailing and texting and discussing a directive by Donald Trump to Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. It doesn`t seem like the kind of thing you would put in writing. And I think what we`re left now, Chris, is the idea of wondering whether there is corroboration in any form for Michael Cohen`s story that Donald Trump directed into the lie.
It`s a completely plausible story. It`s you know, it`s what he`s saying that he was directed to make illegal campaign finance payments by Donald Trump, but the question is, is it corroborated because the House is not going to impeach Donald Trump on the word of a convicted felon and an admitted liar.
HAYES: Well, that is definitely I think true. Final thing, you just mention this but the significance here of the time -- I mean here`s what strange to me about what happened. BuzzFeed writes this story. This is a very high stake story so this thing gets lawyered and it gets edited and they go back their sources. And I -- these reporters have a good track record on this story and the editorial team there, BuzzFeed is quite good I think.
They go to the Special Counsel`s office and say what should we do, right? Here`s your space for comment, they get a no comment. The story publishes and then 22 hours later we get this statement. That`s a strange, right, that`s a weird fact pattern.
DILANIAN: It`s very frustrating, Chris. I have to say the behavior of the Special Counsel`s office you know, they pride themselves on not saying anything but it`s to the point where the public is not well served because they are not helping people get it right and they`re not pointing out when people get it wrong. All they will tell you on background is 50 percent of the things that are written about our investigation are wildly wrong. Well, how does that help anybody?
DILANIAN: I understand their issue. They can`t talk about a pending government investigation, but in another context the government finds a way to help reporters get it right and Robert Mueller`s office is not doing that and this is the result.
HAYES: Yes. All right, Ken Dilanian, thank you so much for making time here at the top as we roll in with this crazy news day. For more on the consequences of BuzzFeed`s reporting, I`m joined by Neal Katyal, former Acting Solicitor General in the Obama administration who wrote the regulations governing the Special Counsel and he just wrote a brand-new op- ed with General Michael Hayden calling for impeachment proceedings to begin.
So there`s a bunch of things I want to get to with you, Neal. First as someone who wrote the Special Counsel regulations and I want to refer you back to what Chris Murphy said today. There is an increasing sense I think of urgency and democratic tension building about the nature of an -- of an inquiry that is being conducted in secret for -- in the midst of what is fundamentally a public matter of the utmost import that all of us need to know about.
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, UNITED STATES: Yes. No, that`s obviously a problem with any criminal investigation. It`s really important to have investigation of course because crimes were committed as Mueller has himself shown by getting criminal convictions of Michael Flynn, the president`s National Security Advisor, Paul Manafort the President`s numero uno campaign finance chair, campaign chair and the like. But there`s also this other public dimension, Chris, that you`re focusing on and this is where you know, today`s retraction or a disputations of BuzzFeed becomes so important because what are we talking about here?
We`re talking about a BuzzFeed story in which the argument of the pieces that President Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, to Congress not to private investigators or federal investigators but to Congress. And I think that underscores really this is a political thing. It`s about an offense that occurred if it occurred with Congress and that`s why you need after all congressional investigation and the mechanism to do that is an impeachment inquiry, not to impeach him, that`s not what we`re saying at all, but we are saying that the accusations here and so many other things.
I mean, just remember was a week ago that the New York Times reported that Trump was under investigation as a sitting president for being an asset of the FBI, and then the next day the Washington Post reporting all the stuff about the translator, Putin meeting secretly with Trump and the translator notes being seized by Trump and the like.
So all of those are the reasons why I think there is this public need for some sort of investigation that isn`t just a law enforcement one.
HAYES: Yes. So you -- the piece that you have just published with General Michael Hayden, it basically says -- and other people have made similar arguments about Bauer, former White House Counsel (INAUDIBLE). You`re saying both of you are saying it is time to initiate the formal inquiry in the House to have some public fact-finding undertaken.
KATYAL: Exactly. And you know, we come at this from very, very different perspectives. I mean, he`s a General, I was a Solicitor General which is not a general, it`s a lawyer. He is far more conservative than I am. We`re generationally different in so many things. But on this single point which I think underscores what you`re talking about which is the public`s need for some answers here. This is why I think Congress has got to start this inquiry.
HAYES: Let`s talk about the content of what is essentially alleged in this article. And I think it`s -- I think to Ken Dilanian`s point and I think to the filing in his own sentencing memo that this is a thing that Cohen it appears says the President did. As the corroboration, I think there`s a there`s a bit of a question mark about that.
That said, this is from the Barr memo, and I know you object to this Barr memo and the theory of executive power that has contained therein. But one of the things he does in the memo when he talks about basically making the argument that you cannot commit obstruction when you`re exercising your constitutional duties is basically to say, but let`s just be clear, if you do the following, if a president knowingly destroys or alters evidence suborned perjury or induces a witness to change testimony or commits any act too liberally impairing the integrity or availability of evidence then he like anyone else commits the crime of obstruction. Is that a consensus view?
KATYAL: It is. I mean, even when Bill Barr agrees with it who has a pretty outlandish view of executive power and presidential immunity from criminal wrongdoing, I think it means literally everyone agrees with it. I mean, maybe Giuliani but you know, anyone in the mainstream. And the reason for that is simple which is there`s no principle in Anglo-American law that`s more important than no person is above the law.
Now, Barr has written it fairly outlandish memo that says when the President is engaged in his official duties, he can`t obstruct justice so he fired Comey, Barr argues. But he`s the president, can fire any executive branch employee so therefore no crime is committed. That is a bogus theory. I mean, I have the right to walk around and destroy my laptop anytime. I have the constitutional right to throw it in the river, but I don`t if the FBI is coming to seize it because it`s gotten you know, dangerous information.
But you know, what -- but that`s why this is so significant if the BuzzFeed story has legs to it, and it may not, but if it does, that`s you know, the -- even Barr agrees that is squarely a crime by the President of the United States.
HAYES: Yes. And what`s the significance of that? I mean, so what -- in the sort of scheme of things because the President has already been named as essentially as Individual One in a federal court filing in which he is named as the person who directed Michael Cohen to commit a federal felony which was the illegal campaign contributions that he made. So that`s already there sort of hanging out above us all. What`s the significance of this were this to be confirmed?
KATYAL: It`s big, indifferent, and about the president directly. So with campaign finance, you`ve got arguments, well, the President`s motives might be different. Maybe he was doing it because of family reasons. He wasn`t doing it for campaign reasons. I don`t think it`s a particularly good argument but at least it`s something out there. It`s arguably lying about sex which is different. So you have all those things. The story yesterday, none of those defenses are available. It`s a very serious felony to order someone to lie to Congress. Everyone agrees it is exactly what Article 1 Section 3 of the Nixon impeachment was about and it is something that people go to jail for.
And you know, Michael Cohen most famously is going to jail for this very crime. So the anomaly of having the guy, the lackey go to prison for it but not the guy the boss who orders it is I think pretty striking.
HAYES: You know, I think BuzzFeed in response to the statement by the Special Counsel`s office. This is BuzzFeed news response. "We are continuing to report and determine what the Special Counsel is disputing. We remain confident in the accuracy of our report." We will note that BuzzFeed of course for the folks that publish the dossier to begin with, they were sued over it by none other than Michael Cohen who would later drop the suit after it went through a few rounds. So just sort of keep that in the -- in the background of this.
What would the -- so let`s say that we you know, we now have Congress -- you saw Chris Murphy right? You have Congress saying look, we`re the sort of victims of the crime here. We deserve -- of the alleged crime. We deserve to know that if that knowledge is currently being held at a Special Counsel`s office. And you and Mike -- and General Hayden saying it`s time to start a formal inquiry. What does that inquiry look like? What does that mean?
KATYAL: I think it you know, it`s done with deference to the ongoing law enforcement investigation by Mueller and by the Southern District in New York. We`re certainly not advocating and I don`t think anyone in Congress would some sort of investigation that tramples over the law enforcement ones. But to the extent you can start developing factual information, bringing witnesses before the committee to understand what happened. I mean, this dispute between Mueller and BuzzFeed tonight is example A of why you need this process to begin because these are offenses against the Congress of the United States and ultimately the American people.
HAYES: All right, Neal Katyal, thank you very much for making some time tonight. I appreciate it. For more of the implications of BuzzFeed`s story, I`m joined by MSNBC Legal Analysts Cynthia Alksne, former Federal Prosecutor and Ian Bassin, former Associate White House Counsel of President Obama and Executive Director of Protect Democracy. Cynthia, as someone who has worked in high-stakes legal environments, let`s start with your reaction to what we have presented before us tonight which is the Special Counsel`s office speaking for the first time though doing so after 22 hours of not speaking. What do you make of that?
CYNTHIA ALKSNE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYSTS: Well, what I make of it is we -- that they dispute that there`s corroboration. And there is no case if there`s no corroboration. Now, there may be -- it may turn out there`s corroboration, it may turn out that Felix Seder`s corroboration, it may turn out that there`s a lot of corroboration about the President and his children discussing this, but you know, it`s a put the brakes on moment for everybody. It really is.
I mean, Mueller hasn`t spoken this whole time and now he`s spoken quite clearly. Everybody should just take a breath and just wait and see a little bit. Just let things settle down for a minute. You know, there was sort of a free -- feeding frenzy today. Let`s start -- that`s how -- you know, sometimes when Congress gets involved in investigations they mess things up. Let`s not mess this up. Let`s get it right Oliver North and John Poindexter got off because things went wrong in the way the investigation went in Congress. And I would hate to see that happen here.
If the president when he`s acting in his -- acting as the president, this is not some pre-election event. If when he is the president, he directed Cohen to lie to Congress as it appears he did, let`s get that right. Let`s not mess that up. Because remember, it comes in the context of we know that Cohen lied because he`s admitted he`s going to jail for it, and we know that the president knew he lied because of what he lied about. So let`s just slow down and get it right.
HAYES: That`s a good point. Yes. Your thoughts, Ian.
IAN BASSIN, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think one thing that we`re missing in all this and this happens often with President Trump when it`s look over here and then you don`t look over here is that Bill Barr memo talking about what was clearly criminal for a president to do wasn`t just suborning perjury which has been the news of the day, but it was also inducing the witness to lie through intimidation. And let`s remember that when the BuzzFeed story came out, how did the president respond to it in a tweet, he responded by trying to intimidate Michael Cohen by saying watch his father-in-law, trying to intimidate a witness.
It`s almost as if with this guy he`s like a Russian nesting doll of criminal activity where you open up one investigation and other appears and emphases clearly on the Russian. But let`s not lose sight of that other thing that happened today which was also a serious offense.
HAYES: I want you to respond that as Cynthia`s point there about sort of not -- what of what I am wrestling with and I think what the country is wrestling with at this point is the -- there is this secret law enforcement investigation that may or may not have explosive facts about either the culpability or exculpatory facts about the president of the United States. And this sort of feeling that the Republic is you know, here we are to shut down and the Republic just sort of circles around orbiting waiting for this thing that feels profoundly inert from a kind of deep Democratic standpoint.
BASSIN: So our organization protect democracy just did in a research report that we put out on all of the independent investigations under the Special Counsel`s statute and the regulation since Watergate. There have been 19 of them.
BASSIN: Five of them have involved a question about what the president knew or was involved in. Four of those made sure that there was a congressional investigation that went along with a Special Counsel one. The only one that didn`t, Jimmy Carter`s peanut farm investigation which I will note at the conclusion of it when the Special Prosecutor chose not to indict issued a public 180 page report of his findings. So if there`s a question of whether the public will see what Mueller does, there`s a precedent.
But the reason for that, the reason for these public congressional hearings which is what Ken has been talking about and Neal has been calling for is the American people need to be brought along to understand what happened. I remember my father talking about watching John Dean testify on television every day slowly revealing the criminal activity of the president. That is what helped move the American people from a place where there was hyper- partisanship around it to a place where people understood what needed to happen.
HAYES: Do you agree with that Cynthia?
ALKSNE: Yes, I agree with it in good time. But I mean what`s happened here is we`ve gotten over our skis. And I think we need to just slow down and make sure. You know, we had all day this BuzzFeed article which may very well be true. You know, they got the -- they`ve been right a lot of the time. But we didn`t have any corroboration from NBC News.
ALKSNE: We didn`t have corroboration from any of the other places. So that`s all I`m saying. I would agree we have to bring the American people along. I would agree we need to have hearings. And you know, there`s a lot of at stake besides just this. We also know that there`s a real issue here about Don Junior and what he testified to about this. And there were really interesting questions that the Special Counsel asked the President about this, about you know, when were you discussing or did you discuss during the campaign this Russian Trump Tower and who did you discuss it with.
All these questions are out there and he responded to them before he knew that Cohen was cooperating. So there`s so much with the Special Counsel. And you know, I want to get to it as badly as anyone, but I want to make sure it`s done right.
HAYES: You know, that that`s a good point there about the subject of the duration of this deal being very clearly I think in a confirmable sense based on the pleading of Michael Cohen about lying to Congress, right, and what the Times reported about the questions that Cynthia was just talking about. That key question about how long were you engaged with the deal and why was it -- why were you lying about it publicly, and that also I think is confirmed is obviously central here.
BASSIN: And what was the rest of your relationship with the Russian Federation.
BASSIN: This is the story from last week about a counterintelligence investigation into whether the President had some inappropriate relationship with the Russians. And I think the reason I disagree with Cynthia here on the importance of public hearings, and you don`t have to call them impeachment inquiries right but oversight is because the Special Counsel`s office is looking into whether a crime was committed for which the standard is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
But the standard for whether we can accept a President who there`s a material risk is working either knowingly or unwittingly on behalf of a foreign adversary. That`s not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Do I want a president who there`s a material risk of that? The American people should be able to make that decision with information presented to them by the country.
HAYES: Which is distinct from the criminal exposure that other non- presidents follow this I think have. Cynthia Alksne Ian Bassin, thank you both very much. Almost a full day after the BuzzFeed story dropped, an impeachment talk ramped up, the Special Counsel is responding pushing back. So what does Congress going to do about all this? Congressman Jamie Raskin joins me on that next.
HAYES: Joining me now Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Member of the House Judiciary Committee and a House Democratic caucus leadership representative. And Congressman, it`s been quite a day. Obviously, I saw a lot of members of Congress somewhat aghast by the facts laid out in the BuzzFeed article last night. There is now this statement from the Special Counsel`s office which I should read again, we could put it up on the screen for a moment. The Special Counsel`s office saying right before we went on air at around 7:45 this evening disputing certain parts of the accuracy of the BuzzFeed story. Your response.
HAYES: Do we have Jamie Raskin?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D), MARYLAND: Yes I`m there. I think I got some feedback from someone else on your stuff. Yes, but I`m sorry, what was your final question, Chris?
HAYES: So just obviously there`s been sort of an arc over the last 24 hours with regards to this story because it is obviously such a kind of pungent allegation particularly as it regards Congress, particularly as regards impeachability. How are you taking all this in as someone who sits on the House Judiciary Committee?
RASKIN: Well, look, it was I think shocking and stunning revelation for everybody precisely because of its historical resonance. I mean, these were precisely the kinds of charges that led the Nixon impeachment articles which in turn brought him to his resignation and they were also the basis for the House of Representatives ill-fated impeachment of Bill Clinton for lying about a sexual affair. But lying the Congress and obstruction of justice are cardinal constitutional sins.
On the other hand, it fits in very nicely with what everyone understands about Donald Trump and his White House where lying is standard operating procedure. I think the Washington Post is tallied up more than 4,000 lies that he`s told so far. So it doesn`t take a lot of effort to imagine that he would have cooperated with his private lawyer who did a lot of his dirty work to lie to Congress and to urged him to do that.
So you know, I was listening to some of the other guests and I know everybody is very eager for justice to be done here because the government has been shut down and it looks like we`re living through full-blown assault on the American constitutional order. And all I can tell you is that the Democratic majority that is taken over in the House of Representatives is ready to lead and we are extremely eager to get going on our constitutional oversight responsibilities.
We have a constitutional duty to ferret out corruption and lawlessness in the executive branch of government and we`re going to be doing investigations into the abuse of power, into the obstruction of justice, into Emoluments Clause violations, and all of the sins that the House Judiciary Committee should have been looking at over the last two years but all of those opportunities were wasted by the GOP majority in their wild goose chase to ferret out a completely mythological and fantastic deep state conspiracy to make fun of Donald Trump or what have you.
So those days are behind us and we`re about to get to work.
HAYES: Those -- all the things you just said are not the beginning of a formal impeachment inquiry which is the kind of thing that both Bob Bauer and the Atlantic and you heard Neal Katyal and General Michael Hayden have called.
HAYES: What`s the difference in your mind between those things and that and what`s the significance of not doing that?
RASKIN: Well, you know, during our first two years in office, everybody accused us of being trigger-happy on impeachment, now everybody`s accusing us of being fraidy-cats about impeachment. Look --
HAYES: Well, that`s what comes with the gavel and the power, Congressmen.
RASKIN: Well, you`re exactly right. And we`re feeling it. But look, we`ve got to keep Congress together, we got to keep our majority together, and we have to keep the country together. And people understand we`re dealing with a very unusual situation, with the corruption and the criminality in the White House are pervasive. So we`re going to be moving very quickly to try to get to the bottom of it and impeachment is no fetish with us but it is no taboo either. We understand that impeachment is very much part of the Constitution.
Both parties have used it at different points in our history and it has played an important role in our constitutional toolbox. So it is a tool that is there. It is the principle final mechanism for a constitutional self-defense of the Congress and the people against a president who insists upon acting like a king. And we don`t have Kings here. And so when presidents decide that they can set themselves at war against the Constitution and the rule of law, then impeachment may be the end of the road indeed.
HAYES: Let me let me establish something here because you mentioned the Nixon articles of impeachment Article 1, the Obstruction of Justice Article Paragraph 3, approving, condoning, acquiescing in, which is an interesting word, and counseling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings.
So, the question is this, and I think you`ve commented on this, but I just want to get you on the record here, which is if it were the case that a president, any president, were to order a subordinate to lie to congress, is that be an impeachable offense?
RASKIN: Of course it`s an impeachable offense. Why? Because, one, under our system of law nobody is above the law; and number two, every citizen, including members of congress and the president, owe the sovereign, truthful testimony.
So, the whole reason we have the rule of law is to try to control people with power, that was the design of our constitution. You know, people who don`t have power are generally very subject to criminal control, but the magic of the rule of law is we say to people who have power you are going to be subject to constitutional requirement such as you have to tell the truth when you testify, no, you can`t organize conspiracies to lie to congress or lie to the courts.
HAYES: All right, Congressman Jamie Raskin on the House Judiciary committee, thank you very much.
Still ahead as the special counsel`s office disputes the Buzzfeed reporting, what we now know about the deal at the center of it all. Julia Ioffe on the infamous Trump Tower Moscow deal next.
HAYES: So, as we reported breaking news at this hour, the special counsel`s office making the extremely rare move of issuing a public statement about that big Buzzfeed story everyone has been talking about over the last 24 hours, saying Buzzfeed`s description of specific statements to the special counsel`s office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office regarding Michael Cohen`s congressional testimony are not accurate.
Just a little while ago, Ben Smith of Buzzfeed responding, "in response to the statement tonight from special counsel spokesman, we stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, we urge the special counsel to make clear what he`s disputing." That`s the Buzzfeed news official response.
And joining me now by phone is the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed News, Ben Smith.
Ben, what`s going on?
BEN SMITH, CEO, BUZZFEED NEWS: Thanks for having me on, Chris.
I think your description of it was accurate, and the special counsel issued this very vague statement. We are eager to know what he`s talking about.
HAYES: Do you stand by the reporting that you guys published, which is a, you know, is a scoop that no one else has or has confirmed?
SMITH: Yes, as we wrote, we have two federal law enforcement officials, no game plan with those titles, who have told us that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
I mean, as you know that Trump Tower in Moscow, which we reported on many months ago, the same two reporters, was at the heart of the indictment of Michael Cohen and really at the heart of a lot of this investigation.
HAYES: Do you -- are you now reporting out what is going on here? Do you have...
SMITH: I am on with you because Jason and Anthony are still reporting.
HAYES: And are there any updates, or do you have any indication of -- Ken Delanian sort of floated the theory that the sort of situation is that Michael Cohen is making this contention that he was directed by he president, but that the existence of corroboration is what is in dispute from the special counsel`s office. Is that your understanding of their statement?
SMITH: You know we don`t know anything beyond what is in this statement. And as you say very hard to understand what they`re saying.
HAYES: Do they not communicate with you off the record? I mean, let me ask you this, you did go to them with a story or with specific...
SMITH: Absolutely. You know, we went to them 24 hours ago and they declined to comment on it and has been silent on it.
HAYES: And what do you make of that time frame?
SMITH: You know, I don`t know. We`re still reporting and we just really hope that the special -- I mean I think that, you know, obviously the special counsel prefers to control the timeline and for reasonable reasons wants to operate on his own timeline and without revealing a lot of details. But I think, you know, he`s made these sort of -- these statements and we`d really like to know what he`s talking about.
HAYES: All right, Ben Smith who is the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed News. Thank you so much for making a little time tonight.
SMITH: Joining me now is Julia Ioffe, she`s a correspondent from GQ and has been reporting on the Trump/Russia business connection for a very long period of time.
Julia, you have done a lot of looking at the nature of the relationship, which is the background predicate to all of this. Putting aside for a moment the facts in dispute, the Buzzfeed story. What we do know is the Trump Tower Moscow program went on way longer than initially it had been said. That`s Michael Cohen lied about that before congress. He was charged for lying about that to congress.
And there were other details. There was higher level communications about the nature of the deal than had been revealed by the president. What do you think the centrality or importance of those connections are to the overall story?
JULIA IOFFE, GQ: I think it`s hugely central. I did some reporting early on in the cycle of the drama about why Donald Trump in 30 years of trying to build something in Moscow and it turned out that nobody took his no one took him seriously in Russia, and nobody took Felix Sater seriously in Russia. And they all thought he was too sketchy. And when the Russians think you`re too sketchy, you have a problem.
But, you know, suddenly things took a sudden shift and people on the Russian side suddenly started taking them seriously. When did that happen? Around the summer of 2015. And what happened then? Donald Trump declared that he was running for the president of the United States, and suddenly the Russians were interested in doing business with him.
HAYES: One of the things that we do know for certain, because of Michael Cohen`s plea is that Michael Cohen lied to congress under oath, the Senate, about how long that deal was in development. And the president himself lied repeatedly on the campaign trail about it.
I want to play just a little sampling of what he talked about when he was on the campaign trail. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: But zero. I mean I will tell you right now zero. I have nothing to do with Russia.
I have nothing to do with Russia, folks. They said maybe Donald Trump is involved in projects with the Russians. The answer is no. No.
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. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.
That I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: I mean, of that was a lie.
IOFFE: Yeah, yeah it was. And what else they were lying about is also interesting. It turns out not only was Donald Trump lying, Donald Trump Jr. went to Russia many times trying to get a deal and said, you know, this place is kind of scary and corrupt and I don`t really understand it.
And we have learned that -- and The New York Times did corroborate this part of the Buzzfeed story that Donald Trump Jr. was briefed on these -- on this ongoing deal, and he sounds like he lied to congress about this as well when he said that he was only peripherally involved, didn`t really know anything. Ivanka has also denied that she knew anything about this deal when a lot of the reporting around this suggests that she knew a lot more than a little.
HAYES: One of the key things about the Moscow Tower deal that I find clarifying when you`re thinking about the campaign and the motivations of candidate Trump in, say, his refusal to ever say a single bad thing about Vladimir Putin, is that it would be a lucrative deal, and that -- this was a deal that, it`s not like you`re just like, oh, you talked to the Moscow planning board, like it was being run through the Kremlin.
The person who gives you the thumbs up and signs off on the deal is going to be ultimately Vladimir Putin, right?
IOFFE: Right. And, you know, I was actually in Moscow when that story broke that I think it was also from Buzzfeed that they offered Putin a $50 million penthouse at the very top. And my Russians friends were like, oh, that can`t be right, because Vladimir Putin would get half the building.
HAYES: Right, that`s too little.
HAYES: There`s also the fact that Putin and the Trump team synced up their lies a bit. We know that, for instance, Dmitry Peskov, who is a sort of key lieutenant of Vladimir Putin, he said -- he said about this matter back in August, since I repeat again, we do not react to such business topics, this is not our work. We left it unanswered.
That`s him basically saying we got call from Trump`s people. We didn`t respond. But we now know that, too, was lie, right?
IOFFE: Right, which is, you know, fair that like now we know that Donald Trump`s denials are very similar to Putin`s denials. When he says no, he means yes; when he says he didn`t do something, probably means he did it; when he says he`s not going to do something, invade Crimea, he`s probably going to do it.
The other thing that we shouldn`t forget is while all of this is happening, they`re helping Donald Trump win the election, right? We know this from the American Intelligence Community, from a unanimous report from the American intelligence community that came out in January 2017. So -- and then Donald Trump gets briefed on it before he is inaugurated and continues to lie about this business dealings.
So, there`s all this other -- you know, like the hotel thing or the Trump Tower thing, that is problematic, but that`s also happening on top of -- you know, when he says I thought I was going to lose anyway, well, the Russians were clearly helping him to not lose at the same time.
HAYES: What is your current understanding of where we are in this story? You and I have talked about this through the years. We`ve done events together. You`re someone that speaks fluent Russian, has reported from Russia quite a bit on this story and other stories. Where are you on this now?
IOFFE: I just want to see -- I don`t know if you`ve ever seen the documentary Icarus where the whistle-blower comes forward and lays out in great detail the scheme of how the Russian government, at the direction of the FSB and the Kremlin, doped the entire Russian Olympic team that the Sochi 2014 Olympics. And when you see the details, you`re like holy molly, how did they think of that?
And you can`t -- like you can reverse engineer it once you know that that`s what they did. And you`re like, oh, that makes sense. But at this point we had this gap where we don`t know what -- you know, it`s like it`s time for Mueller to drop the -- you know, drop what he has, because we`re all guessing. We`re all speculating. But ultimately I think what we do find out is going to be beyond what we could have ever imagined, because the Russians are really sneaky and inventive.
HAYES: Julia Ioffe, thank you very much.
Still ahead, much more on this still developing story. Lisa Green and Elie Mystal join me ahead.
HAYES: This is what the Trump shutdown looks like after 28 days. Federal workers waiting in long lines for free meals in the capital as the suffering gets worse and worse across the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hailey Vacca (ph) is pregnant. The mother of a 5- year-old...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want to wave at the camera?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the wife of an enlisted Coast Guard petty officer second class in San Diego.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There absolutely was no paycheck come the 15th, which was kind of shocking. We`ve reached out to creditors. Some creditors are a little bit more understanding, others not so much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We definitely did not think it would come to this, you know, waking up Monday morning, still checking our bank accounts for that hope that, you know, our check would be in there. And you never think of those little things that -- how important they`ve become to you until you can`t afford them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s tough when your livelihood is affected this way. Politicians need to understand we are people and we are hurting through no fault of our own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Critical government services are also deteriorating. Food safety inspections have been curtailed. The FBI and federal agents are seeing their cases hampered, according to an article in The Washington Post. There`s been a slowdown in planning for hurricanes and other disasters.
Trump today promised a, quote, major announcement tomorrow afternoon about the shutdown, though we have no idea what it will be.
So far, for 28 days, a president who declared that he alone owns the shutdown, proudly take the mantle of it, has refused to do anything to end it. And the only other person who could reopen the government. Mitch McConnell, has blocked repeated votes to do just that. And that has left some to conclude that the only way out of the shutdown would be some kind of disaster that changes the dynamic.
A stressed out air-traffic controller causing a plane crash, or some kind of terrorist incident, or a widespread food safety scare. This is what Donald Trump has wrought, a situation where some now believe the own way to end one disaster is just to wait for another disaster to strike.
HAYES: Tonight, the special counsel`s instituting aspects of Buzzfeed`s reporting. The president of the United States directed his attorney to lie to congress. What is not in dispute is the president keeps on intimidating the key witness in this whole affair.
Trump spent months attempting to intimidate Michael Cohen. Last month on Twitter, right before Cohen sentencing hearing, Trump said that Cohen makes up stories to get a great and already reduced deal for himself and get his wife and father-in-law, who has the money, off Scot-free. And Cohen should serve a full and complete sentence.
Trump made similar comments in an interview on Fox News last week regarding Cohen`s upcoming testimony before the House Oversight Committee, and then today Trump tweeted Cohen is, quote, lying to reduce his jail time, watch father-in-law.
I`m joined now by Lisa Green, attorney and author; and Elie Mystal, executive editor for Above the Law.
You know, the thing about Trump is if we caught him doing things behind the scenes he does in public there would be scandals. But right now, he really is engaged in a full-scale campaign of witness intimidation right in front of everybody`s faces.
LISA GREEN, ATTORNEY: Let`s put aside the Buzzfeed story for just a moment and talk about other ways this administration is destroying the foundations of justice, and certainly having a president insist on prosecution or investigation of someone`s family member, someone who`s a key witness, is one way.
I`ll tell you another way. I was checking out perjury law on the Department of Justice website, figuring we would talk about it. And across the top in bold letter it says essentially thanks to the shutdown, we`re not going to be updating this website any more. And I thought, huh, this is another way, you know, the foundations are crumbling. So, let`s not forget about that as we talk about the news of the day.
ELIE MYSTAL, EDITOR, ABOVE THE LAW: The other thing is we`re living in, like, some kind of weird Republican goal post moving, right, where we`re always trying to figure out like what is it going to take for Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham...
HAYES: It`s like, oh, it`s got them...
MYSTAL: ...to do their job, right, like that`s why people were excited about the Buzzfeed story, because it was something that McConnell couldn`t get away from.
At the end of the day, the Buzz -- the truth of the Buzzfeed story is actually not up for debate. We all kind of already know that Trump told Cohen to lie, because there`s no other reason for Cohen to have lied. And there`s no other reason for Cohen -- for Trump to keep lying about Cohen, right?
HAYES: Right. We know that Cohen lied. We know that Trump lied on the campaign trail. We know that Cohen was consulting with Trump`s people before he did his testimony. All that`s established.
MYSTAL: Right, so there`s no chance that the Buzzfeed story is wrong. The question is simply can they prove it? And that`s always been the question up in the air. And when we say can they prove it, we`re not really talking about can they prove it in a court of law. Can they prove it to Lindsey Graham. Can they prove it to Mitch McConnell? Can they prove it to the point where the Republicans have to do something about the crazy liar that happens to be running the country.
HAYES: And this is the -- the sort of -- that point about waiting for the got `em moment has been this kind of perennial issue here. I think that -- you know, and ultimately it all does turn on what Lindsay Graham and the Senate Republicans...
GREEN: Yeah, I mean, Ken earlier was speaking and I totally feel his pain about how frustrating it can be to work on Mueller`s time. But he has the ball, at least until some congressman decide to move impeachment.
A point about Michael Cohen and why the Buzzfeed issue of corroboration is so important. Without it, you`re left with Michael Cohen testifying.
HAYES: Right, of course.
GREEN: And he`s no John Dean, just going to say it.
HAYES: No, he`s a liar. He`s...
MYSTAL: He`s a rented taxi cab lawyer.
HAYES: Inveterate, inveterate, inveterate liar.
MYSTAL: That`s a huge problem.
HAYES: No, and that`s why -- that`s precisely why this is so important, right? Like, what was reported and what is disputed, and why it`s so important in the broad scale of things, because ultimately, there will be a question of what the public evidence says about what happened, right? And that goes to the core of the issue of what will be either adjudicated in courts of law, if it`s people not having to do with the president, or adjudicated in essentially the United States congress and public...
MYSTAL: But that`s the other issue here, and I wasn`t super impressed with the Congressman Raskin`s answers earlier on your program.
Look, I like Buzzfeed too. I trust them. I also want to know which Game of Thrones character I am most like. But at the end of the day, we are outsourcing whether or not the president of the United States is a Russian asset in lots of ways to the news media and to a secret investigation.
HAYES: It`s a very good point.
MYSTAL: That`s not how it`s supposed to be. This is supposed to be done in public. The public is supposed to have an opportunity to know if their president is a crook, like that`s an actual thing we`re allowed to know.
And so -- and I understand Congressman Raskin. I understand the Democrats in congress`s reluctance to do this, because it didn`t work on Bill Clinton or whatever. But we are well past the point where congress needs to act and bring these allegations and the evidence out into the public.
GREEN: And what will be really interesting -- you know, in the normal course, these are not normal times, DOJ and congressional, you know, hearings, committees, can work together.
HAYES: Yes, they have. And in fact that was Ian Bassin`s (ph) point earlier in the show. This has happened before. The criminal inquiries happen parallel to congressional inquiries. And they figure out how to have them.
But the point of it, is that it is public. It is public presentations of facts.
GREEN: And it`s still the case, if I may, that if the issue is someone who lied to congress, then congress ought to be a little motivated...
MYSTAL: Should care about that.
GREEN: ...to get to the bottom of it.
HAYES: Well, and you did see -- I thought you saw a turn in the initial response to the story on precisely those grounds. I mean, members of congress all say, and I think this is a consensus view, and it`s been, I think, everyone has said this -- I mean, even William Barr, that it is a black and white impeachable offense, and it`s a black and a white crime, if you say to someone go lie for me in front of congress.
MYSTAL: Right. So let`s bring Hope Hicks down. Let`s see what she has to say in front of congress, right.
There are so many tendrils that we`re constantly grasping on because we don`t really know what`s going on. We don`t we really know the facts.
We were talking earlier, empty wheel makes this really good point about whether or not the corroboration that Buzzfeed has is coming from SDNY as opposed -- these are all closed black box investigations and it needs to be out in public and it needs to be done in front of congress, and congress really no longer has the kind of -- I understand the politics of it, but for the legal good of the country, this stuff has to start happening in public.
GREEN: Or we let Robert Mueller finish on his own time. Just saying, it`s an option.
HAYES: Those are two views. And they`re two contrasting views that have been presented. And I personally I think as a journalist, and as a member of the fourth estate and also as a sort of citizen, I always err towards the public, honestly. And when you talk to former prosecutors, they`re all, like, no, this is the way it has to be, all of them through the line.
But I do think the terrain we`re on constitutionally is extremely treacherous terrain. We`re in day 27 or 28 of this shutdown. There`s sort of a seeping sense of unease that has only deepened, particularly in the wake of the revelations we`ve gotten this week. And ultimately, presentations of public fact will have to be how this is sorted out. I put myself on the side of the public or at least the public presentation of fact.
The other thing is the question of the timeline, right. So when you say wait for Mueller, it`s one thing if that`s two weeks, it`s another thing if it`s four months or six months or a year.
Lisa Green and Elie Mystal, thank you both for joining us.
That is All In for this evening. The Rachel Maddow show starts right. Good evening, Rachel.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END