Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: March 1, 2019 Guest: Ben Smith, Elizabeth Holtzman, Dan Froomkin, Ro Khana, Maxine Waters
STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The real question is maybe influence thought. The Clinton vets, the activist, the folks who do hold a grudge from `16. Well, they raise their voices loudly to try to stop him. And if they do, will democratic voters listen to them?
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Chris will be back here Monday night, 7:00 Eastern and "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.
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CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as Cohen is concerned, he`s convicted, he`s a liar.
HAYES: A lying about a liar`s lying for a liar continues.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: He said to me at least a dozen times that he made the decision on the payments and he didn`t tell you.
HAYES: Tonight, from Cohen to Kushner and beyond.
IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: The President had no involvement.
HAYES: This President`s destabilizing assault on reality.
COHEN: Every day most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something. It`s exactly what`s happening here in government, sir.
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Reclaiming my time.
HAYES: Congresswoman Maxine Waters on the President`s criminal behavior, impeachment, and her interest in the Trump Foundation. And after a week of hearing from Michael Cohen --
COHEN: I`ve never been to Prague.
HAYES: Where we stand on the big Russia questions with BuzzFeed`s Ben Smith.
COHEN: There`s just so many dots that all seem to lead to the same direction.
HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.
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HAYES: Good evening from New York I`m Chris Hayes. The President and his allies are fully invested in trying to discredit and destroy Michael Cohen repeatedly calling Cohen a liar.
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TRUMP: As far as Cohn is concerned, he`s convicted, he`s a liar, he`s defrauded at a high-level. He got a lot of problems, and you know it was very interesting because he lied so much.
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HAYES: Yes. Yes, the president -- the president just says something true. That`s true. Michael Cohen is a liar. He`s a completely unreliable character. But that`s not our fault. We`re the people on the outside of Trump`s insane tangle of lies attempting to get to the truth. We have to deal with what Trump has given us, and he has surrounded himself with liars.
He`s a liar, his kids are liars, everyone around him is a liar. The Trump campaign organization is full of on-the-record liars who have been indicted or pleaded guilty for lying. President Trump does not get to defend himself by saying everyone around me is an unrepentant liar. Yes, that`s the problem. And amidst this miasma of lies, were the ones left trying to figure out the facts.
What did he do? What did the president do? What crimes has he possibly committed or not committed what exactly happened with the Russians or didn`t happen? I don`t care what the facts are. They could be exculpatory like the fact that Michael Cohen apparently did not go to Prague, says he was never there in contravention of the dossier. I just want to know them.
But we cannot know them because the president and everyone around him lie constantly. I would like it to be that there`s one reliable person at Trump`s organization but there is not. And the thing is now, his organization is our government, ours, represents us. They`re going hard right now on Michael Cohen and yes, as I said he`s a liar. Everyone who worked for the president basically is a liar.
Paul Manafort is a liar, Rick Gates is a liar, George Papadopoulos is a liar, Michael Flynn is a liar, Jared Kushner a liar, Don Jr. is a liar, Ivanka is a liar, every one of them is a liar. John Kelly got up and lied, Kirstjen Nielsen got up in lied, Mike Pompeo lied, Sean Spicer lied publicly nearly every time he opened his mouth. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has done exactly the same thing.
They all lied. They all lie. They lie about big things and they lie about small things. They lie about consequential things and they lie about trivial nonsense. And then when they get caught lying, they don`t even admit it. The best example is that Trump lied for years about the Trump Tower Moscow deal whether he was working on it during the campaign. His personal lawyer pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about it, and then the president who had lied about it over and over and over and over and over again comes out he`s like yes, yes, we wanted to build the tower and pursued it throughout the campaign. So what?
Today they did the same thing, the same exact thing about Jared Kushner`s security clearance. Kellyanne Conway said today the president has the absolute right to grant clearance. That`s true. Completely true. So why did the President and his senior advisor lie about it at least nine times?
This House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said at the end of Micheal Cohen`s hearing earlier this week, the deception is overwhelming.
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REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: You know, I mean come on now. I mean, when you got according to the Washington Post our President has made at least 8,718 -- 8,718 false or misleading statements, stunning. That`s not what we teach our children. I don`t teach mine that.
Well, we`re dancing with the angels. The question will be asked. In 2019 what do we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?
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HAYES: Joining me now, a member of the House Oversight Committee, Congressman Ro Khanna of California who is questioning Michael Cohen earlier this week. Congressman, I want to talk about the specifics but first I guess the question is are we closer to the truth? Do you feel after the hearing and with the agenda before your committee now that we are getting closer to the truth?
REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: I think we are. We know that there was a criminal conspiracy between the President, his son, Weisselberg, and Cohen for financial fraud and that the Southern District of New York is investigating this ongoing conspiracy. So that is closer to the truth. We need more people that come before the committee and testify to continue to corroborate it.
HAYES: I want to play you something that Rudy Giuliani said about the reimbursement payments. Of course, this is something they have lied about over and over. The President lied to everyone on Air Force One when he was asked about it. He lied about it subsequently. And this is -- this is Giuliani today, today, what he had to say. Take a listen.
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RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: We brought out ten months ago that he made the payment. It`s our -- its our view of it that the President didn`t know about it at the time. And then, the President, when he found out about it, made arrangements for reimbursement.
HAYES: There is literally tape of him talking to Michael Cohen about it at the time. What is your response when they try to sort of gaslight us all this way?
KHANNA: Well, obviously, they`re lying but it`s more serious than that they`re lying. The President didn`t just pay Michael Cohen through his personal check. He set up an elaborate trust through his financial organization, the Trump Organization and they cooked the books in the Trump organization to reimburse Cohen. And Cohen brought in the checks.
Here`s the thing, every time they attack Cohen`s credibility, you don`t have to believe a word Cohen says. He has smoking-gun evidence. Just look at the evidence. Cohen corroborated everything he alleged with evidence. The evidence was that the President, his son, and Weisselberg elaborated their whole scheme to commit financial fraud.
HAYES: You`re committee has announced, the chair Elijah Cummings already was looking into the security clearances issue which has been an issue above and beyond just Jared Kushner. The chair wrote another letter today in the wake of the Kushner revelations from the New York Times. Explained why this is an important issue for oversight and isn`t just something that the President can grant or not grant as he pleases.
KHANNA: Well, here`s why it matters. The President has had a systemic assault on expertise and civil servants in our democracy. Look, I know Jared Krishna. We worked at the White House office of innovation to pass a bill on the Idea Act and this isn`t a partisan issue. But who puts Jared Kushner in charge of Middle East peace? And when you give him a top secret clearance, and you know that he`s on WhatsApp with MBS at Saudi Arabia. And then this may be affecting things like the war in Yemen, there are real concerns.
So this isn`t some partisan issue this is saying that the president has disregarded foreign policy advice. He`s put his son-in-law in charge of the Middle East peace process and the son-in-law is getting sensitive information that he may be sharing with MBS and who knows else around the world.
HAYES: There`s reporting today from NBC that the House Democrats are preparing a case to request the President`s tax returns. That would be the Ways and Means Committee. That that`s the one that has jurisdiction, but it`s been coordinated with chairs of other committees. Is that something you would support?
KHANNA: Absolutely. And let`s remember why we have this authority. It goes back to the 1920s, the Teapot Dome scandal when there was corruption and bribery. And then Congress said, well we can`t just rely on the President to tell us that if there`s corruption we got to get the tax returns. And so there`s precedent for this and we should absolutely get the tax returns.
HAYES: All right, Congressman Ro Khanna on the Oversight Committee, thank you so much. Joining me now former RNC chair Michael Steele and Michelle Goldberg Op-Ed Columnist at the New York Times, both our MSNBC Political Analysts.
You know, it`s just -- I find myself just exhausted. Today is -- today is one of the -- no, this is one of those weeks where it`s exhausting that Giuliani clip because if -- unless you are paying -- because -- here`s why it`s exhausting. It is effective in its own way.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, it is.
HAYES: Unless you are paying extremely careful attention, it`s my job to do that, I even was like oh right, did you know about the time? Then someone had to be like, buddy, there`s a tape like play that. I was like all right, no we already know that. But the barrage of the lies is so constant. It creates a kind of noise. It sort of can hollow out people`s memories.
STEELE: And that`s the whole point. You put your finger on the play from the very beginning of this. And it -- and it is I think you know, sort of the calling card of the Trump environment that you throw everything at once into the -- into the mix and let people figure it out.
HAYES: Right. That`s right.
STEELE: Meanwhile, I`m going to skip to the lieu over this way --
STEELE: -- and when you catch up to me, I`ve got another pile of this to throw out there --
STEELE: -- for you to look at too.
HAYES: And when you catch up to me -- this is the key part. When you catch up to me, I`m never caught.
STEELE: Never caught.
HAYES: That was to me the Kellyanne Conway, it`s like, oh, the President has the authority.
STEELE: That`s right.
HAYES: Right. So then, why did you lie about it?
HAYES: That`s -- oh, yes, we want to build a Moscow tower. Right, but then why did you lie about that.
STEELE: Because you spent all the time going after the President`s lie. And then they come back and go well, he had that authority all along and why you so -- why are you so upset, Chris.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it`s not just Trump, right? I mean, this is a hallmark of a lot of modern authoritarian states I think no -- none more so than Russia, right? There`s this book called nothing is true, everything is possible. That`s just spoke about modern Russia. That will actually give you a tremendous amount of insights into the sort of epistemological terrorism of that the Trump administration practice is on us every single day. To keep us in this state of kind of arrangement and feeling slightly off centered and not being able to get your bearings in this miasma.
HAYES: You know, here`s the statement, I thought this is amazing statement. It is sort of epistemological terrorism -- term I think you`re just going. So you know, nine times the President of the United States, Kushner, and Ivanka all deny that Jared Kushner was granted special clearance over the objections of others.
HAYES: We now know that`s not true. There`s a memos memorializing it from Don McGahn and John Kelly. So confronted with this, Abbe Lowell, a spokesperson for Abbe Lowell who represents Kushner says the following. In 2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone. That was conveyed to the media at the time and news stories, if accurate, do not change what was affirmed at the time.
Meaning we lied. And just because it`s now true, doesn`t mean that we didn`t lie.
HAYES: What the hell kind of a statement is that?
STEELE: Because, again, if you want to -- if you want to deconstruct the administrators state, it starts to deconstruct the way you think and the way you perceive reality.
HAYES: OK. But is it that strategic or are they just hustlers who are caught. You know, like --
STEELE: Even hustlers have strategy.
HAYES: That`s true. That trues.
STEELE: Even hustlers have strategy.
HAYES: Michael Cohen showed that actually, if I understand, a canny hustler.
STEELE: Particularly when they`re in an environment where they don`t have absolute control on every inch of the outcome.
HAYES: Yes, that`s right.
STEELE: Which is one of Donald Trump`s biggest frustrations is that he doesn`t know exactly all of what Mike -- what Mueller has. And so now with Cohen sort of filling in some very important gaps, you know it gets a little bit more dicey. So what do you do, Chris, you throw a little bit more miasma in the miasma and you`re ready to go.
HAYES: Well, and there`s also -- there`s all the fact, Michelle, that what is remarkable that there is I think a broad consensus. You even almost kind of saw it from the Republicans defending Trump. I think they`re generally consensus the President has probably committed indictable crimes. I don`t think people really think that`s outlandish, right? That`s just price (INAUDIBLE). It`s just like --
GOLDBERG: Even Donald Trump Jr. at one point was saying well, they`re going after things from 2006 is that you get like a quota you know.
STEELE: If not, a pass because it was 20016.
HAYES: But in a weird way it`s like the sort of estimation of his character which I think is low even among I think Republicans on the Hill, right, what they think he can or is not capable of.
STEELE: There is a genuine concern about how this plays out legally from a federal standpoint. What I`ve always said and I think all of us here know, his problems just are beginning at the federal level. It`s the state of New York they`re sitting there waiting for him in either 2021 or 2025. So the reality for Donald Trump is he still has to keep throwing as much of the bright shiny stuff out there. The question for the press is and for others is how much of that do you discount and just flat-out set to the side.
GOLDBERG: Well, I also think the Democrats might be making a mistake by sort of waiting for this consensus to emerge that a certain level of criminality isn`t tolerable, right. I mean, somebody has to build the narrative. Kind of they have to go hard, make the Republicans set -- you know, make them say outright we`re willing to tolerate this amount of criminality, you know.
Kind of -- the Republicans did that with kind of completely non-issues you know, Benghazi, you know, complete fantasies but they were able to build a narrative and put Democrats on the defensive. And I think Democrats are waiting for the reality to set in independently and then they`ll act on it.
HAYES: I think it`s a great point and I just saw some polling about -- people were asked when Cohen was rated, is he part of a larger pattern of illegal wrongdoing and 38 percent said yes and now it`s 41 percent. I think there has been a -- I mean, the thing I keep coming back to is the president is implicated in a federal crime that`s already been pleaded to.
GOLDBERG: Right, a federal crime that`s --
HAYES: That like, it`s not a theoretical --
GOLDBERG: And a federal crime that`s material to the election.
HAYES: Winning the election.
STEELE: But you have -- here`s the problem, and this is why the Democrats move the way they move on this part of it is because you still have the question of can you actually bring this man to heel. Can you actually indict him? Can you actually bring those charges and make them real? You don`t want to be the Democrat out there swinging from that limb to have it sawed off at some point not by Republicans but by other Democrats. And that -- and that`s the problem.
HAYES: But I think the point there is that they have not worked to build the political -- I mean, I think they slowly but surely are, but in some ways what`s weird --
GOLDBERG: Right. You might be going on a limb to say let`s indict him for being a Russian asset, but you`re not going out on a limb to say that he was part of a criminal conspiracy involving campaign finance reform and that he probably wouldn`t have been elected absent this crime.
STEELE: And so then the question becomes so what? What do you do about that and how do you legally address that issue with the sitting President of the United States?
HAYES: And the answer to that, I mean, you know, there`s this all this question about indicted --
HAYES: And Benjamin Netanyahu got indicted today, Silvio Berlusconi formally, like other countries do it. But in our system is generally agreed that you have to do impeachment and it`s amazing to watch them --
STEELE: That is going to change after this.
HAYES: Well, it`s -- yes, that might change too because watching everyone sort of twist themselves to knots to deal with this is really something else. Michael Steele, Michelle Goldberg, thank you both.
Up next Congresswoman Maxine Waters on the appearance criminal behavior of President Trump and why she`s now calling for an investigation to the Trump foundation. What she`s learned in two minutes.
HAYES: One of the most interesting takeaway from the Cohen testimony is the daunting awareness that there now seems to be plenty of evidence that the President committed crimes. And the big question is so what are Democrats going to do about it which might seem to be an odd way to look at things but inevitable one nonetheless since the only thing Republicans have done is to insulate the president from accountability.
Joining me now one of the president`s most outspoken critics, Congressman Maxine Waters Democrat from California and the Chair of the Financial Services Committee. Congresswoman, do you feel like you learn new things at the Cohen testimony? Did you change your mind? Did it intensify your feelings about things you already thought?
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA), CHAIRWOMAN, FINANCIAL SERVICE COMMITTEE: Well, as you know, I have been looking at this President before he was inaugurated and I came out early talking about impeachment because I knew all about a man of fortune, Flynn and Sater, and all of these people. And so I`m not really surprised, not a lot of new information, but it`s information that needs to be investigated, needs to be explored because the Republicans certainly did not do anything with this information.
And so whether we`re talking about collusion or obstruction of justice, we`re talking about finances, we`re talking about the foundation, this really needs to be investigated and explored.
HAYES: Well, is it -- I mean, don`t we already -- I guess my question is, is there not already evidence that he has -- he has implicated in at least one criminal conspiracy what has to do with the hush money payments and is that not in your mind a high crime or misdemeanor?
WATERS: Oh certainly. Absolutely. This president has lied. He said that you know, he had not -- the President said he has not paid off anybody, but he certainly has.
HAYES: Let me -- let me ask you this. There`s now a movement among -- you`re in Democratic leadership. Of course, you chair the Finances -- Financial Services Committee. There`s a move among leadership sort of coordinated move that chair of the Ways and Means Committee is going to move towards the President`s taxes. That`s something you`ve called for in the past. Are you happy that seems to be happening?
WATERS: Well, as you know, there`s a coordinated effort between all of us, the five different committees that we chair. I`m on Financial Services and of course, we have Judiciary, and we have Oversight and Investigations, and we have the Ways and Means Committee, and Foreign Affairs Committee. We`re meeting so that we understand what each other are doing and that we`re not necessarily bumping into each other. And so we`re coordinating our efforts and I think it`s a very good thing that we`re doing.
HAYES: Do you -- just to be clear. You favor or endorse them moving forward to try to acquire the president`s tax returns?
WATERS: Oh absolutely. And that`s in the Ways and Means. And yes, absolutely. This president has lied about his tax returns. He said that they were being audited and that -- because of that he could not share them, but he`s never intended to share his tax returns because he knows we`re going to find out a lot about him when he does and the lies that he`s been telling.
And what I really want to know and it may not be in my jurisdiction, but what I really want to know is whether or not he performed services that he got paid for and he did not want to pay taxes on him and so he told the people to put the money into the foundation.
WATERS: I believe there`s a lot of evidence for that. I`ve even gotten some calls from people who are close to this information who`s sharing it with me. And it may be information that I give to the Ways and Means Committee. We`ll see how to work it, but there`s a lot of information about how this foundation was used or misused.
HAYES: Interesting. The foundation -- I want to ask a few other oversight questions. You already sent a letter to Mick Mulvaney who of course the head of OMB, the chief of staff and current chief of staff acting, and was the head of the CFPB for a short while saying that you may want him to come before your committee to talk about his tenure there. What do you want to -- what do you want to learn about what he did there?
WATERS: Well, we know that Mulvaney was sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in order to dismantle it. The Republicans hate the Financial Services Protection Bureau. They hate the bureau and so they want to get rid of it and they have undermined it in every way that they possibly can. And so Mulvaney was sent there to do it. And basically, we want him to come and talk about some of the things that he has done to undermine the Financial Services Protection Bureau and see what he has to say.
HAYES: Another area of oversight that you`ve been focused on for quite a while has to do with Deutsche Bank which is in your portfolio at Financial Services. There`s also the sort of loan bank lending to Donald Trump after his multiple bankruptcies. There`s some indication they are cooperating with your committee now and investigating or with the Democrats more broadly? What`s going on there?
WATERS: Yes, they are. As you know, we started sending letters to Deutsche Bank last year and they were not responsive because they did not feel that we had the authority to demand anything from them, the documents that we wanted. But now that I`m chairing that committee and the Democrats are in charge of the House, they have said they will cooperate.
We have people that are going up to New York to sit with these people and to go over our document requests and we`re going to find out a lot about Deutsche Bank and that banks relationship to the President. We are very concerned about money laundering. We know that Deutsche Bank has had a reputation for money laundering for a long time. And it`s the only bank that would really deal with the President.
The other bank said hands off, they had enough of him. His bankruptcies, his suing, you know, even Deutsche Bank. And so Deutsche Bank is you know, the bank that he has been dealing with and his family have been dealing with Deutsche Bank. They all I think have loans, big loans from Deutsche Bank. So we`re really interested in his finances. And they have done reviews. We want to know what those reviews tell them about what he`s doing.
HAYES: So you have staffers that are coordinating with I imagine attorney`s at Deutsche Bank on document production right now.
WATERS: Yes I do.
HAYES: Wow, OK. I think I learned something new there. Congressman Maxine Waters thank you so much for making the time.
WATERS: Well, thank you so very much.
HAYES: Still to come, Michael Cohen`s testimony shed light on some of the biggest outstanding questions from the infamous Steele Dossier. We will go over it all with BuzzFeed`s Ben Smith next.
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BEN SMITH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, BUZZFEED: The Special Counsel issued this very vague statement. We are eager to know what he`s talking about. 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 the Trump Tower in Moscow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: You may remember one of the biggest questions heading into Michael Cohen`s testimony this week was how to understand that blockbuster report from BuzzFeed a few weeks back. In it they said the President directed Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow project they were working on through the 2016 campaign which would be a crime.
Robert Mueller`s office took the unprecedented step of shooting down the thrust of that report though BuzzFeed`s editor Ben Smith stood by his reporters and their story. The whole thing was genuinely baffling. Then this week Cohen himself appeared to resolve the tension testifying the President sent in a clear message without explicitly instructing him to lie.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a conversation with the president United States about your pending testimony before the House Intelligence Committee is that correct?
COHEN: That`s correct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the nature of that conversation?
COHEN: There is no collusion, there is no -- there is no deal. He goes, it`s all a witch-hunt and it`s -- he goes this stuff has to end.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you take those comments to be suggestive of what might flavor your testimony?
COHEN: Sir, he`s been saying that to me for many, many months. And at the end of the day I knew exactly what he wanted me say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Cohen also confirmed some other key aspects of Buzzfeed`s reporting and explicitly addressed some of the most contested parts of the Steele Dossier, which you might remember Buzzfeed first published just over two years ago.
For an update on where all this stands, following Cohen`s testimony, I`m joined by Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith who was sued by Cohen over the dossier until Cohen dropped the lawsuit.
Good to have you here.
BEN SMITH, BUZZFEED EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Thanks for having me on.
HAYES: So we were all -- everyone was trying to make sense of this situation. You have this reporting with reporters who had a incredible track record, particularly on this story. The special counsel`s office came out fairly carefully worded pushing back. Do you feel like you understand the discrepancy now?
SMITH: You know, I feel like I understand what we reported and what Cohen said. I think I still would -- I think there`s still questions exactly -- you know, it`s a very careful statement from the special counsel. And just to step back, you know, when he put out that statement you were fairly cautious about what you said about it, but a lot of people said what that means is he is rejecting the core elements, the central thesis of the Buzzfeed story.
HAYES: The whole thing is knocked down.
SMITH: I mean, I if you watch what Cohen said he -- you know, the two really core central pieces of that story were Cohen thought he had been told to lie. He certainly said that. He used the word told. And two, and this was in our story, although it didn`t get that much focus, and then was in the testimony that the president`s lawyers allegedly conspired to on his false testimony to congress. I mean, that`s a very important claim.
HAYES: Yeah, we should and Cohen alleged that. Again, you don`t have to believe Michael Cohen, but I do think that if you read our story and you watched Cohen`s testimony, I think those things line up.
I should say, here are a few key details independent of did he tell -- instruct him to lie -- that appear to be confirmed, right. So that Cohen briefed Trump on Moscow project around ten times during the 2016 campaign. Confirmed in the testimony, and also a kind of jaw-dropping part of that story.
SMITH: Yes. I mean, there`s just to step back. I mean, the core -- the most -- the reason that the Moscow tower project is now right at the center of every -- you know, of this conversation or come from Russia, is because of how jaw-dropping it is. This is deep into the 2016 campaign. We`re talking about the summer of 2016. And this is what Jason and Anthony revealed, that they were having these conversations about a $300 million deal to build, and to build the tallest building in Europe and give Vladimir Putin a penthouse, I mean that is an amazing thing.
HAYES: And also that he briefed Ivanka and Don Jr. on the Moscow project, that he considered traveling to Russia during the 2016 campaign, and that, like you just said, and this again, sort of a bombshell moment, one of the biggest takeaways, is that the lawyers edited Cohen`s House intel testimony.
SMITH: I mean, and again, these are Michael Cohen`s allegations. And you can certainly see why a prosecutor would be uncomfortable going to court with Michael Cohen, a convicted perjurer, as his star witness. That was the point Republicans made over and over and over and over during that hearing. But this is -- as we reported what Michael Cohen had told, as we reported, the special counsel`s investigation, or the investigation in general and then, you know, told congress.
HAYES: You know, when you guys published the dossier, which was extremely controversial at the time. You faced, if I`m not mistaken, multiple lawsuits about that haven`t you?
SMITH: There were initially three.
HAYES: There were initially three, right. Are you down to one now?
SMITH: It`s going through the courts. But we won a really crucial verdict in Florida.
So, Cohen was one of the people that initially sued you. He also -- I think he like gave a picture of his passport, you know, he said. And the reason is because it alleges that he plays a central role, in the dossier, it says that Michael Cohen traveled to Prague and he picked up the deal from Manafort to pay the hackers basically. It`s a very James Bond clock and dagger thing.
I want to play the testimony of him saying I did not go to Prague, which is a big moment in that testimony. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NORMAN: Have you ever been to Prague?
COHEN: I`ve never been to Prague.
NORMAN: Never have?
COHEN: I`ve never been to the Czech Republic
ROY: You testify today you have never been to Prague and have never been to the Czech Republic, do you stand behind that statement?
COHEN: Yes, I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Does that have some meaning or significance for you since you guys first published the dossier?
SMITH: I mean, I think that was an incredibly explosive allegation.
I want to separate these things, though, the story that we were reporting, you know, about Cohen`s testimony to the special counsel was based on senior law enforcement sources, the dossier we published and we knew -- you know, we said it was an important, important historical document that was not verified.
HAYES: Yes, you did not -- you do not vouch for everything in there.
SMITH: No. And so, I think, you know, those are really important claims. I think Cohen, under oath saying he hadn`t been to Prague. It`s pretty -- you know, that`s important. And there has been compelling evidence that he was in Prague.
HAYES; Where are -- you know sort of grand sense, as someone who`s editing Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, particularly on the Moscow tower, which is front and center. Do you feel like you have a clear picture of where we stand?
SMITH: You know, I think that anybody who think -- who is pretending to know what Bob Mueller knows, don`t believe him. I certainly don`t think I know that. He has been in some sense lowering expectations for the Mueller report, which either means you should have low expectations, or you should have high expectations. And I think it`s -- I have not talked to anybody who really thinks they know.
HAYES: About what he is up to.
SMITH: About what he has.
And I think he has a lot of different ways he can have things that you and I do not have, and know things you and I don`t know. And so I think we`re all waiting for that.
HAYES: Ben Smith is the editor of Buzzfeed -- Buzzfeed News, it`s great to have you here.
SMITH: Thanks for having me on.
HAYES: Thanks a lot.
Ahead, the problem with framing the impeachment question as a political calculation for Democrats, the bigger question at hand coming up in Tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two starts next.
HAYES: Well, it`s that time of year again, CPAC time, the Conservative Political Action Conference. It used to be, or at least used to think of itself as a forum for principled conservatism. But in the years since Donald Trump got elected CPAC has pretty much devolved into a sort of MAGA head cos play convention where attendees can find tasteful paints of the man god himself tapped to lead this country, that is according to the guy in the pillow commercials.
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MIKE LINDELL, MYPILLOW FOUNDER: As I stand before you today, I see the greatest president in history. Of course he is, he was chosen by god.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: This week, the true believers at CPAC could enjoy a symbolic version of the wall Trump has failed to build and a cocktail named after his broken promise that Mexico would pay for it.
CPAC was the place to hear how Hillary is going going to pay, and to watch third tier right-wing media personalities mock transgendered people and attack the late John McCain.
The one and only Sebastian Gorka, late of the Trump White House, still has the art war (ph) mobile. Although, after his speech today, the time on the parking meter is over. What kind of jack-booted thug would ticket the Gorka?
CPAC did also get big names, including Trump, who will, of course, speak tomorrow.
We`ve already heard from Mike Pence and Ted Cruz and Senator Josh Hawley who hilariously was served with a subpoena as he exited the CPAC stage.
But the biggest star of the conference so far is not any of those people, it is, instead, a certain democratic socialist that the CPAC crowd just cannot stop talking about. And that`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.
HAYES: So there were two main themes from the MAGA friends at CPAC this year, the glory and wonder of Donald Trump and, oh my god, we`re obsessed with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Everywhere you looked it was the very, very scary AOC and she`s apparently coming for your cows?
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REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: With this Green New Deal, they`re trying to get rid of all the cows.
SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: Let me say I support cows. I hope to see PETA supporting the Republican Party now that the Democrats want to kill all the cows.
JERRY FALWELL JR, LIBERY UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: As far as those cows you mentioned, I`ve got 100 cows. You just let Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez show up at my house and try to take my cows away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love cows, Jerry. They`re delicious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The obsession with Ocasio-Cortez was truly something to behold. Panels were named after AOC and dedicated to attacking her, and videos splashed the word radicalism in scary font while showing the scary new congresswoman from the Bronx.
One CPAC party featured a life-sized cardboard cutout of her cleverly situated next to a pretend bread line. Someone has also cleverly scrawled a derogatory Spanish word on her face.
And you have to think that AOC must truly be on to something if she can inspire this kind of terror into the manliest of manly men.
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SEBASTIAN GORKA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: That is why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez...
GORKA: Has introduced has introduced the Green New Deal. They want to take your pickup truck. They want to rebuild your home. They want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamed about, but never achieved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Here in the United States, there is currently a very active debate about whether a sitting president can be indicted. But some other countries have already decided that, yes, you can indict the sitting head of a government.
In Italy, for example, Silvio Berlusconi was indicted while still prime minister. And in Israel, the attorney general has announced his intention indict Prime Minister and Trump ally Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges.
Now, you will never guess how Netanyahu is attempting to fight off the charges. As the BBC reports, he said, quote, the left knows it cannot beat us at the polling booth, so for the past three years they have been carrying out an unprecedented witch hunt, which has one aim: to topple the right-wing government which I lead.
There is a question, of course, about whether Netanyahu`s hard-right supporters will even care even if he`s indicted or even found guilty. But this makes the obvious the connection between corruption and the worst elements in domestic politics, because when faced with a looming indictment, Netanyahu turned to an alliance with a political party, a hard right political party so despicable, so outwardly racist, that groups like AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee took the very rare step of denouncing the move.
One Israeli journalist writing for Axios described it as, quote, equivalent to a U.S. president cutting a political deal with David Duke, the former KKK leader. All which makes one wonder what exactly will Donald Trump do politically if he`s the one backed into such a corner?
HAYES: In the wake of Michael Cohen`s testimony, there is a strange congealing conventional wisdom about what impeachment of President Trump would mean politically. And it`s not strange because it`s necessarily wrong, but the notion is that the Democrats have a dilemma on their hands because while there seems to be evidence the president committed a crime or more, there is a strong impulse among many to pursue impeachment, there are possible political risks in doing so.
And all of that may be true enough, but is also kind of misses the point. And there is something odd about framing the president`s criminality as a problem for Democrats.
As journalist Dan Froomkin writes, "by any normal standard, Trump has committed numerous impeachable offenses. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is almost assuredly going to tell us about many more. And if impeachment is the remedy to a manifestly unfit president, it`s long overdue."
Joining me now is Independent Accountability Journalist Dan Froomkin, editor of White House Watch, along with former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman who served on the House Judiciary Committee, which voted to impeach Richard Nixon and is author of "A Case for Impeaching Trump."
Dan, I really liked your piece. What were you trying to get at there?
DAN FROOMKIN, JOURNALIST: Well, I`m really disappointed in the coverage of the topic of impeachment in mainstream media. They tend to cover it as just sort of a horse race, as a political story, about optics, you know, when will the Democrats do it. You know, will they? Will there be a backlash. And I think that the country is actually in need of a really full-throated discussion about has Donald Trump committed impeachment offenses? What are they? You know, and they need to be laid out in front of the country by congress, and whether you call this -- you know, there is a big difference between impeachment and impeachment hearings, or investigative hearings or select committee investigation of impeachment.
I think those are necessary. And instead,we`re having -- the press is talking about, you know, will the Democrats, you know -- are they ready for a backlash or what have you? I think it`s crazy.
HAYES: What do you think?
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, AUTHOR, "THE CASE FOR IMPEACHING TRUMP": Well, I agree with Dan. I mean, this is a really important conversation to be had. The problem is as I see it , is that Donald Trump is a genius at just throwing facts against the wall, I should say lies, against the wall every single day and new facts about criminality, misconduct every single day, and it`s impossible for the public to absorb this and put it into a narrative, and that`s what needs to be done.
But I think the other thing is the Democrats need to stop thinking about the Clinton impeachment and go back to the road map that was created in the Nixon impeachment effort. And there what happened was you have a Senate select committee. They did some very, very important work. They educated the public. They had the key witnesses were there in public. They framed the issues for the public. Did the president orchestrate the coverup? Did he know about the coverup? Or didn`t he?
And so when the Saturday Night Massacre happened and the special prosecutor was fired, the American people said enough is enough.
HAYES: Dan, what do you think about the relationship between the sort of impeachment is a political process and the Democrats in the House and the Mueller report? Because I think that`s one of the most vexed part of this.
I think there`s a sense in which Democrats will say we have to wait for the Mueller report, and I understand that on one level. But it also seems like outsourcing of a constitutional duty that is just fundamentally and firmly theirs.
FROOMKIN: Right. I mean, I think there is certainly and understandable a thinking process that a lot more will come out when the Mueller out, which I think is a reasonable expectation.
But that shouldn`t forestall their investigation. There is no reason why they have to wait until the Mueller report is out to begin investigating all sorts of things much more openly then they have.
And to Liz`s point, I think that the antidote to, you know, the crazy coverage of what is Trump lie about now, what did he say now, is putting this in the context of impeachment and putting it in the narrative of what happened-- what did the president do -- what is he doing -- what is he lying about now so...
HOLTZMAN: Well, I think one of the key things to start out with is you don`t have to commit a crime to have an impeachable offense. The whole second article of impeachment -- there were three articles of impeachment against Nixon, the whole second article was about abuse of power. It did not talk about crime, even the first article did not mention criminal code, so we don`t need that.
What people have to understand is that, yes, right now you have outlines of impeachable -- a number of impeachable offenses, what congress has to do is strategically fill in the facts. It`s like you have the outline of a puzzle, put the facts in. They`re not doing that yet.
I mean, we should say that the House Oversight Committee had this big public hearing. It was the first public hearing of its kind. They`re now talking about calling other people. Felix Sater is going to be testifying publicly.
Part of the issue, though, to your point, Liz, is that there is no select committee. There is no sort of central warehouse. And to your point, Dan, impeachment itself actually provides a narrative framework, because it`s the question is that`s the thing that you`re filling in, otherwise it`s sort of scatter.
FROOMKIN: Right. And it`s important for the press to keep reminding you of that, because otherwise it sort of -- it becomes too normalizing of this very abnormal presidency.
HAYES: Do you think there -- do you there is -- what do you think about the political point that is being made about Democrats? I mean, I can`t sort of figure out the degree to which that is a kind of story from the outside and how much it`s actually reflective of an organic sort of thing that they are working through?
FROOMKIN: I think it`s a legitimate story, to some extent. I mean, I think they do have a political conundrum on their hands. But that is so far and above not the issue that I think we should be discussing front and center.
HAYES: You know, the thing that I keep coming back to is just the straightforward and simple story right in front of us, which is that the president`s henchmen, fixer, bag man, lawyer, already pleaded guilty to a federal felony that he`s going to do time for, that he says was directed by the president, that he has evidence was done by the president, he has a phone recording conspiring with the president to do, that he has a check that the president wrote him to pull off, and said crime was committed in pursuit of the election itself, like that is on its face, that`s all right there.
HOLTZMAN: Could well be an impeachable offense.
But there are other things that he has done. For example, all the efforts to dangle pardons in front of people to keep them from cooperating with Mueller. That was part of the impeachment of Richard Nixon. All the efforts to shut down the investigation, that was part of what the articles of impeachment were. So, you just need to -- people need to know that. And you don`t have to have a crime.
FROOMKIN: And also, you know, there are the emoluments issue, there is issue that Liz describes as just having a totally inappropriate response to the Russian hacking. I mean, her book is litany of really terrific examples. If you -- your benchmark is Nixon, even by Nixonian standards, this guy is ripe.
HAYES: And part of the issue here, right, is this basic conceptual question we keep coming back to. What are we talking about? What is the thing that`s an impeachable offense? Is that the category of the federal criminal code?
HOLTZMAN: No, definitely not. Definitely not. You don`t have to -- the whole Nixon impeachment never mentioned violation of a single statute. It`s really important to understand that, never mentioned the violation of any statute.
HAYES: Why not? Why that choice?
HOLTZMAN: Because we don`t want to be bound, Congress can`t be bound by what is in the criminal law.
HAYES: Because it`s a completely different proceeding?
HOLTZMAN: Correctly, not only a different proceeding, but the idea is an impeachable offense is an egregious abuse of power, misuse of the power of the office of the presidency, and that`s the key.
HAYES: That`s the deep constitutional question. I will note that one of the articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached, was basically about how he talked about congress, and how he lied. Literally, it was about his rhetoric.
Dan Froomkin and Elizabeth Holtzman, thank you both.
FROOMKIN: Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: I should mention our podcast "Why is This Happening" has some great episodes about these very questions we`re talking about. For instance, Nick Ackerman talked to me about his own personal story about investigating the president during Watergate. We did an hour with Zephyr Teachout (ph) about why Trump`s corruption matters. And my own wife, the great Kate Shaw, was a guest to talk about the rule of law in the Trump era.
While your binging, may I recommend our most recent episode with Stacy Abrams who is just a truly captivating, surprising person with tons I learned from her. I had the great pleasure to interview her live. You can find all of those episodes wherever you get your podcast.
That is ALL IN for this evening. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END