Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: August 23, 2018 Guest: Carol Leonnig, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Holtzman, Jess McIntosh, John Flannery, Betsy Woodruff, Ted Deutch, Eric Boehlert, Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.
"THE BEAT" starts right now. My friend Ayman Mohyeldin is in for Ari tonight. Good evening, Ayman.
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Hey. Good evening, Chuck. I appreciate that history lesson. I`m surprised you didn`t dig up who was the first president to say China the way president --
TODD: Teddy Roosevelt was always known for his in fact China.
MOHYELDIN: Absolutely. All right. Thanks, Chuck. Appreciate it.
Hello, everyone. I`m Ayman Mohyeldin in tonight for Ari Melber. We`re covering several developing stories tonight.
Ahead, I`m going to talk to the wife of the Trump aide who pleaded guilty in the Mueller probe, her first interview since the Michael Cohen news broke. And Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer joins me on his new ad campaign focused on impeaching President Trump.
But we want to begin this evening with some breaking news. "The Washington Post" reporting late today that Trump asked his lawyers for legal advice about pardoning Paul Manafort, Rudy Giuliani telling "The Washington Post," Trump`s lawyers told him to hold off until the Mueller probe is over and that Trump agreed.
In a moment, I`m going to go to our panel on all of the stories breaking today. but we do want to begin with the reporter who broke that Manafort story, "The Washington Post`s" Carol Leonnig. She joins us now live from Washington, D.C. Carol, good to have you with us this evening. Bring us up to speed on what exactly Rudy Giuliani told you.
CAROL LEONNIG, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: So when we talked this afternoon, Rudy and I were talking about a lot of things. He was in Scotland. It was sort of later in the evening there, but I had a lot of questions for him about some of the issues that have been arising in the last few days and some of the president`s tweets, and Michael Cohen`s guilty plea agreement.
So, anyway, what he said essentially was that the president had sought his and also Jay Sekulow`s advice on whether or not to pardon Manafort and the timing of that. And he said later that this was really a conversation about everyone linked to the probe. And he said that his advice and Sekulow`s advice to the president was you can`t do this now, you have to wait. The public opinion about you pardoning any of these individuals is going to be quite dubious, and you should hold off on making those decisions.
Now, I want to give Rudy some credit as well. He called me back later, after we posted the story, and wanted to stress that he had remembered it imprecisely. And actually, he feels like this conversation happened weeks earlier than he thought. First, he thought it was three to five weeks ago. He called back and said he thinks now, maybe it was two months ago. The senior administration official believes that the president discussed this with his aides a few weeks ago.
MOHYELDIN: Hey, Carol. Do you get a sense though that the timing of that conversation occurred while the Manafort trial was underway?
LEONNIG: Again, I`m going to credit Rudy Giuliani in his last corrected statement in which he says to me that he believes it was quite a bit longer before the trial. Now, Manafort was facing a lot of charges in a pretty damning case of tax evasion and bank fraud. It was fairly, you know, high odds that he was going to be convicted based on those charges and the evidence that the government had.
But, again, I`m just going to let Giuliani say what he wants to say, which is that now he remembers it really probably was in June rather than in August.
MOHYELDIN: So further along than recently. Did you get a sense at all, Carol, from your conversation with Rudy Giuliani as to why today did he mention this? I mean he`s obviously given a lot of interviews in the past. Was it your reading of his intent that maybe he was trying to send a signal to Paul Manafort?
LEONNIG: I don`t try to speculate or read people`s intent. I take them at their word, I quote them verbatim. And what Giuliani was doing was what he does whenever we talk, which is he answered my question. I said, have you discussed the Manafort pardon with the president, and he said yes.
MOHYELDIN: Fair enough. OK, Carol Leonnig, appreciate it. Thank you very much.
And now to the panel who may help us try to understand what all of this means and the day`s fast-moving developments. While Trump is looking friendly toward Paul Manafort, he appears to feel differently toward this man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MALE: Where we going?
MICHAEL COHEN: For a long walk. Thank you so much.
MALE: Good luck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: So Trump today trying to create distance from Michael Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEMALE: Michael Cohen, tell me about your relationship with him.
DONALD TRUMP: Well, he was a lawyer for me for one of many, you know, they always say the lawyer, and then they like to add the fixer. Well, I don`t know if he was a fixer. He`s been a lawyer for me, didn`t do big deals, did small deals, not somebody that was with me that much. They make it sound like I didn`t live without him. He was somebody that was probably with me for about 10 years and I would see him sometimes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Almost sounds like he`s trying to make it sound like he`s the Trump Organization`s coffee boy but that`s far from reality. Cohen worked for Trump for over a decade on deals like a Trump Tower in Moscow. His office was a few doors down from Trump`s in a space previously used by his daughter Ivana. And Trump`s only pushing Cohen away after his guilty plea.
Today, we learned new details about that case. Prosecutors granted immunity to Trump friend and tabloid executive David Pecker who told them about the payments Cohen made to silence women alleging affairs with Trump. But Cohen isn`t the only lawyer Trump`s going after today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department. Jeff Sessions never took control of the Justice Department and its sort of an incredible thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: So that outburst prompting a rare public response from Sessions who says he, "Took control of the Department of Justice the day he was sworn in, and that it won`t be improperly influenced by political considerations."
With me now, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman was a member of the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach then-president Richard Nixon. Jess McIntosh, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, Betsy Woodruff of the "Daily Beast" and former federal prosecutor John Flannery. Great to have all of you with us. So lots to break down this hour.
Congresswoman, if I may, I`ll begin with you. Trump, on one hand, slamming his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, the man he put in there saying he did it because of his loyalty. He also went after Michael Cohen. But seems that at least floating the idea through various comments, either through Rudy Giuliani or ambiguous answers on Fox News that he is considering a pardon for Paul Manafort. What do you make of this?
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, FORMER MEMBER, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, I`m going to go back to Watergate and I`m going to say that part of the articles of impeachment that were voted by the House Judiciary Committee had to do with offers of pardons to the burglars to keep them quiet. Let`s just not forget that. That was part of it. The president of the United States authorized pardons for people, the burglars, to keep them quiet.
MOHYELDIN: Are you seeing parallels? At least maybe not --
HOLTZMAN: Of course.
MOHYELDIN: What are the parallels? Is it the tone?
HOLTZMAN: Of course.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. But I`m saying like maybe back then they were a little bit more explicit. Right now, we`re not having a single person from the White House coming out and saying "Yes, he will pardon Paul Manafort."
HOLTZMAN: You don`t need to say "Yes, he will." That was very secret, the pardons. The hush money was secret. The pardons were secret. That as part of the cover-up that got Richard Nixon re-elected. What are the parallels? The president of the United States knows, Donald Trump knows that Manafort may have some very, very damning information about him. It could even be criminal. It could even have to do with collusion.
Remember, Manafort was in Ukraine dealing with the president of Ukraine, Putin was supporting that guy, and now Manafort becomes the campaign manager. Manafort may know a lot.
MOHYELDIN: So definitely it`s the parallels, yes.
HOLTZMAN: May know a lot. So wouldn`t you want to keep Manafort`s mouth shut? And this is not the first time, by the way, that we know that issues with regard to pardons have come out. Rudy doesn`t just spill out stuff that`s not relevant. He`s sending a message to Manafort, keep your mouth shut, don`t say anything.
MOHYELDIN: Jess, I see that you`re kind of wanting to get in on this part of the conversation.
JESS MCINTOSH, FORMER AIDE, HILLARY CLINTON: Yes.
MOHYELDIN: What`s your take?
MCINTOSH: I think the congresswoman is absolutely correct about this. There are -- and it`s hard to keep track because we literally had that Tuesday split screen courtroom situation, but there are actually two criminal conspiracies that were involved in putting Donald Trump in the White House that right now don`t have much to do with each other.
You have Michael Cohen and the hush money to the mistresses. You have Paul Manafort who is at the crux of the collusion conversation. And right now, Trump and his team seem really adamant about moving the goal posts to say that this hush money to mistresses doesn`t matter. Of course, it does, it violates U.S. law, but there`s no collusion and we don`t have that. And they seem pretty sure that they can be out on a limb with that.
And I think that`s probably because they seem pretty confident that Paul Manafort will keep his mouth shut, perhaps because of a possible pardon hanging out there for him.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. To quote the president, he says a crime is not a crime, or he`s at least suggesting that what Michael Cohen did is not a crime. John, let me ask you really quickly, can Donald Trump really distance himself here from Michael Cohen?
JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I don`t know. If you know somebody for ten 10 years, it gets a little hard. He was described as a fixer by no less than Rudy Giuliani who said that`s what we do at law firms, then he lost his job the next day, which tells us that maybe law firms have a better ethical standard than Rudy and the beast, if you will.
I don`t see how he gets away from it. And if you just even listen to the one tape recording we had, it sort of puts the light of this whole mess about the girlfriends, and that is that he`s in a conversation, and it`s all about the campaign. One is about talking to reverends in the south somewhere. Another is about whether Ivana`s divorce and those details will come out before the election is over. And then the third one is how do we pay off AMI? How do we do that? And he says cash. That is Trump says cash. And as Cohen comes back and says "No, no, no, we`ll do it by checks."
And we now know that that turned out not to be a good idea, for a couple reasons, including it would identify the fact that there was no journalistic behavior on the part of AMI and the "National Enquirer" so they stopped that. But we have the other example in which plainly cash is being channeled around and it`s not from a campaign and it`s from Trump and Trump is being contradicted by Cohen and details and facts and all sorts of things. But that`s what he does.
MOHYELDIN: Let me share with you guys some news that we are getting here, and you talked about AMI and the David Pecker situation. Obviously, he`s agreed, or at least received an agreement of sorts in the Michael Cohen connection about the payments. But we got this wire from the AP a short while ago, the "National Enquirer" held damaging Trump stories.
The "National Enquirer" kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Donald Trump leading up to 2016 presidential election, people familiar with the arrangement have told the associated press. We have that up there on the screen. So another interesting layer in development here.
Betsy, let me ask you really quickly about Cohen`s plea because Trump said today that Cohen`s plea was really about other business, it wasn`t about crime. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It was in another business, totally unrelated to me where I guess there was fraud involved and loans and taxi cabs and all sorts of things, nothing to do with me because he had an outside business. He worked for me -- you could really say it was more or less part-time. He had other businesses. He had other clients. I`m not his only client.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Betsy, what do you make of that? The president there trying to distance Michael Cohen, trying to belittle him in stature, in his role, not in stature. So how do you see that playing out as a defense strategy? Is that going to work?
BETSY WOODRUFF, REPORTER, DAILY BEAST: To be fair, there is a greater truth in what the president is saying here. Some of the charges to which Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty aren`t directly related to the work that he did on behalf of the president or on behalf of then-candidate Donald Trump. But, of course, the most interesting part of that plea deal are the two campaign finance violations to which Michael Cohen did plead guilty. And that Cohen himself said under oath that the president of the United States directed him to engage in illegal activity to help the president`s campaign.
All the throat clearing in the world, all the shiny object waving in the world is not going to change the fact that the president`s former lawyer said that under oath. And the fact that he said it under oath is really important. Any journalist who covered the 2016 presidential campaign, myself included, can tell you that Cohen had a reputation for saying things that were not true, that he lied like a dog. It was kind of his thing, as did many people in Trump`s orbit. And the fact that he said this under oath is really significant and points to potential legal jeopardy here.
MOHYELDIN: John, let me come back to you just really quickly about this " National Enquirer" that they`ve had this safe that have these documents potentially damaging documents. And just to get it accurate, I want to make sure it has the documents on the hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its relationship, cozy relationship I should say, with Donald Trump. Are those documents now subject to Federal review given the fact that you have David Pecker cooperating with authorities?
FLANNER: Well, I don`t know if he`s cooperating. He has immunity. At least that`s the story I read meaning he`s being compelled to testify and "To cooperate" under penalty of contempt. And if he lies, the perjury. But that`s what I understand his circumstance is so he`s probably a reluctant cooperator.
MOHYELDIN: So there is -
FLANNER: Yes, all the documents will come to the government and what they`ll identify, or not, is that there was a lot of goings on that had nothing to do with journalistic enterprise and that these organs of AMI, particularly "National Enquirer" were being used as part of the election and they weren`t being declared on any filing.
But on top of it, what we have is I think a typical conspiracy to defraud the United States by undermining the election process. So there`s a whole series of things that are opening up. And the fact that they want to give immunity to Pecker means that they`re interested in getting others. Now, who? Well, we`re going to have the president, perhaps, as an unindicted co-conspirator.
I hope somebody has the gumption to name him in an indictment because there`s nothing like this in the history of America. A president so un- American who`s not a Republican, who`s compromising the United States and using these pardons that he suggests, that`s a violation of his oath of the due process. That is to say, he`s using his oath to protect himself from an investigation. And those he would keep quiet, just as in Nixon. And if you can give Nixon credit, as Elizabeth might --
HOLTZMAN: I wouldn`t.
FLANNERY: He was not as bad as this guy if that`s possible to conceive of.
MOHYELDIN: And let me ask you, Jess, when you think about the fact that Michael Cohen recorded his conversations with the president, that you have somebody like Omarosa recording some of her conversations at the White House.
You have now the "National Enquirer" holding onto these documents, these stories that were supposedly killed, the trace of the hush money payments. It seems that anybody who was in President Trump`s orbit at least in some case was trying to keep record of some of this negativity and some of this fallout just in the event that they would be in the position that they`re in today.
MCINTOSH: I`m so glad you brought that up because I`ve been really drawn to this part of the story. The number of people who are very close to him, who had known him for a decade plus, who were apparently either trying to cover their own actions by having a tape of him doing wrongdoing, or waiting to set him up years down the road.
The man ran his business like a small-time crime boss and he brought people around him, the thugs who threatens people when they try to take his ties out of Macy`s, all the way up to his fixer lawyer Michael Cohen, he surrounded himself with these people who played these small-time crime syndicate roles. And I guess they played them well enough that they knew to record the boss telling them to break the law because one day they might have to play that in court. And today is that day, I guess.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. It seems like trust was very low among all those parties. Congresswoman, before we go, I`d like to ask your thoughts on the fact that Jeff Sessions today responded to the president. He`s been the subject of many attacks, but to see the attorney general defend his own position and what he`s been doing at the Department of Justice, what do you make of that, rare?
HOLTZMAN: Well, it is rare. It`s a surprise because Jeff Sessions has been pretty quiet about all this stuff. But I just want to go back to the point I made before about pardons and that John Flannery mentioned. It`s not an issue of due process. It`s called an abuse of power and that is an impeachable offense.
Abuse of power, to use your power, a pardon to shut people up because they could tell the truth about you when you`ve violated the law. Trying to get rid of Sessions because he recused himself, which he had to do, under ethics rules of the Justice Department, because what Trump wants is to shut down the Russia investigation. That`s an abuse of power.
What we are seeing here is the president of the United States systematically, time after time, this circumstance, that circumstance, abusing the power of his office. The swamp wasn`t in Washington. The swamp was in Trump Tower. And it`s now in the oval office.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. I wonder if he`s being advised against firing people like Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions in the same way that we heard Giuliani advising him against pardoning Paul Manafort. It would be interesting to see how that all plays out. Fascinating conversation.
Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, Jess McIntosh, Betsy Woodruff, thank you very much. John Flannery, I would ask you to stick around with me for a little bit.
Big show ahead including the question, did Trump accidentally confess to a crime in his Fox interview? Plus this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`ll tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: I`m going to talk live to progressive billionaire Tom Steyer who is leading the impeachment charge.
Also joining tonight, the wife of the guilty Trump aide who`s been cooperating with the Mueller probe, her first interview since the Cohen news broke.
And Trump rebuked by the South African government over a bizarre tweet he lifted straight from Fox News.
I`m Ayman Mohyeldin, in for Ari Melber and you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MOHYELDIN: So as President Trump reportedly considers pardoning Paul Manafort, he is desperately trying to distance himself from Michael Cohen. Well, today, Trump hammering his new defense, crimes aren`t crimes. And just in case you didn`t hear him the first time, he made sure to hit that point a few more times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He pled to two counts that aren`t a crime, which nobody understands. Those two counts aren`t even a crime. They weren`t a crime. A lot of lawyers on television and also lawyers that I have say that they`re not even crimes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: All right. Let`s be very clear about this. These are crimes and Michael Cohen, in fact, admitted to them. I mean, generally, a judge does not let someone plead guilty to something that isn`t a crime. And then trying to deny the crime isn`t a crime. Did the president accidentally confess to committing one in that interview?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They weren`t taken out of campaign finance, that`s a big thing. That`s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn`t come out of the campaign. They came from me. My first question when I heard about it was, did they come out of the campaign because that could be a little dicey. And they didn`t come out of the campaign and that`s big. But they weren`t -- that`s not a -- it`s not even a campaign violation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: That could be a little dicey. All right. Joining me now is Florida Congressman Ted Deutch of the Judiciary Committee. And back with us once again, John Flannery.
Congressman, let me begin with you if I may and to get your assessment. Did the president admit to committing a crime in that sound bite, in that interview that you heard?
REP. TED DEUTCH, D-FLORIDA: Of course, he did. Look, Ayman, let`s be clear about what got us to this point. What`s missing from this whole conversation is the president`s understanding of campaign finance laws. He contributed tens of millions of dollars to his own campaign, and he reported it. You know what he didn`t report on his campaign finance filings? The two six-figure payments that he made to silence women in an attempt to win the election. So he knows what he`s supposed to do, he knows what he didn`t do here and he knows why he didn`t do it.
He can talk all he wants about how a crime isn`t a crime, just like he sends his lawyer, Rudy out to say the truth isn`t the truth. The fact is, the president of the United States is an unindicted co-conspirator based on what his lawyer said in court just this week.
MOHYELDIN: John, your reading of that interview. Did the president admit to committing a crime?
JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, he basically said I paid the money, and combined with prior statements by his counsel, and by himself, about how he paid the money, that doesn`t protect him. In fact, what he`s telling us is I`m concealing the money, I put it into the campaign, you don`t know about it. It was staged how he did it, and the dividing line is the congressman will probably tell you is whether it was willful or not. What could be more willful than concealing these payments and discussing how he wanted to silence somebody because it would affect the election?
MOHYELDIN: John, really quickly, does that tape become admissible as evidence, the president in his own words in that interview?
FLANNERY: Sure, absolutely. It`s an admission against interest. The only time you can believe what Mr. Trump has to say is when he`s admitting to a wrongdoing, or he`s making a false exculpatory statement like, "Oh, that meeting, it was about the adoption of Russian children." That is the only time you can believe what he has to say.
MOHYELDIN: So Congressman, if it`s simple that you can just get around campaign finance laws by just not using campaign funds, is it the fact that Trump -- I mean can`t the president make the argument that he`s paying these women or to cover this issue from his personal money to save his marriage, that it was not political in nature?
DEUTCH: Well, except that that`s -- well, he can make that argument, except that that`s not what happened. He looked at the timing of this. If you look at what we already know about this, he made these two six-figure payments to these women to silence them in an attempt to win the election. That`s what`s readily apparent to anyone who`s looked at this.
It shouldn`t be at all surprising that he`s grasping for straws looking for any other way to talk about this. But the record is clear. This wasn`t the only time he made payments on behalf of his campaign. He did it over and over, tens of millions of dollars, except in this case he intentionally tried to hide it because he knew that he was violating the law.
And by the way, if I can, Ayman. It`s not just -- I`d like to say, this isn`t just a question of what the courts do, it`s a question of what Congress does. The Judiciary Committee has a responsibility right now based on this information to get together and to start holding hearings to parse this information, to figure out what we`ve got and to figure out what kind of political step we can take next.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. And very quickly, do you want to see Michael Cohen in front of the Judiciary Committee?
DEUTCH: We ought to be talking to Michael Cohen. We ought to be talking to the president`s chief financial officer of his company. We ought to be talking to the prosecutors in New York, everyone who can provide us with the information that we need to do our job to hold the president accountable in this instance.
MOHYELDIN: All right, Congressman Ted Deutch, John Flannery. Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time.
Ahead, I`m going to talk to the progressive billionaire Tom Steyer who`s calling tonight for Donald Trump`s impeachment.
But first, Donald Trump`s legal strategy and the risk of adopting talking points from Fox News. We`re going to be back in 30 seconds.
MOHYELDIN: The other top story tonight, Donald Trump in the eye of the legal storm and talking about where he`s getting his legal advice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He pled to two counts that aren`t a crime, which nobody understands. I watched a number of shows. Sometimes you get some pretty good information by watching shows. Those two counts aren`t even a crime. They weren`t campaign finance. A lot of lawyers on television and also lawyers that I have say that they`re not even crimes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: All right. So Trump talking about the "Shows" and it`s pretty clear which ones he means, the shows on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS: They wanted something, anything, they could use to get the president.
MEGYN KELLY, HOST, FOX NEWS: Cohen changed his story.
HANNITY: I would argue, knowing him all the years I`ve known him, probably forced by prosecutors.
MARK LEVIN, RADIO PERSONALITY: Lanny Davis, he had his client plead to two counts of criminality that don`t exist.
GREGG JARRET, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: This is not an illegal campaign contribution.
HANNITY: Manafort, Papadopoulos, others, they have just become pawns in Robert Mueller`s effort to take down the president.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: The special counsel is not interested in Manafort`s alleged crimes. They`re only interested in squeezing him in order to get him to flip.
HANNITY: Nothing to do with collusion, nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do with the campaign, nothing to do with Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: All right. Here`s the problem with all this for President Trump. Copying talking points from a right-wing echo chamber, as you could imagine it has risks. And again, it happened just last night when Fox`s Tucker Carlson was reporting, not on the Mueller probe but on this story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FOX NEWS: The president of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa has begun and you may have seen this in the press, seizing land from his own citizens without compensation because they are the wrong skin color. Does our current bureaucratic elite agree with that? Apparently they do. Nothing to see here says Mike Pompeo at State Department. It`s totally OK for South Africa to steal property for racist reasons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: All right, so you can imagine what happened next. About two hours later President Trump tweeting about that very exact story and calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to closely study the large-scale killing of farmers. All right, let`s be clear about something here. There is no large-scale killing of farmers in South Africa and today the South African government said that it rejects the quote narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation. Tonight Donald Trump is under historic legal pressure and it increasingly appears that partisan talking points aren`t going to help him. Indeed they may undermine his own case when it comes to the Mueller investigation.
With me now is Eric Boehlert, a Senior Writer at Shareblue Media and a longtime Fox News critic and Malcolm Nance MSNBC Terrorism Analyst. Eric, Malcolm, great to have both of you. Let me begin with you. Your reaction to President Trump`s interview there and that echo chamber that we just outlined.
ERIC BOEHLERT, SENIOR WRITER, SHAREBLUE: Yes, the interview itself was not surprising. A lot of wallowing, a lot of self-pity, it was kind of a disaster. You know, I can`t imagine there are five Republicans running for Congress who saw that interview and said OK White House said it`s under control. They have a plan. There`s a communication strategy, complete disaster. But the important part is the one you mentioned we are -- we`ve crossed another line in terms of Fox News, in terms of the Republican relationship. We are now -- we have Trump regurgitating misinformation he hears from Fox back to Fox News.
For decades -- for years and decades Fox News or the Republican Party -- the Fox News created the misinformation and then the Republicans would work with them. Now we have Trump just regurgitating it back to them. It`s -- we hit a new dimension in this kind of closed-loop echo chamber.
MOHYELDIN: What does it say to you that he`s adopted his legal strategy from Fox News?
BOEHLERT: Well he`s grasping to anything that sounds good right? And particularly Fox in the prime time, it`s all about making Trump feel better so they have on Alan Dershowitz. Sean Hannity pretends he understands the law and they tell them exactly what they want to hear. You`re getting you know, this is a conspiracy, they`re making up charges, Cohen file, Cohen agree to crimes that don`t exist as if that`s how it happens in state and federal court.
So it`s amazing. It`s amazing. And again, what`s really unusual here is he is just feeding back into the same loop. It`s about this, it`s unprecedented.
MOHYELDIN: Malcolm, let me ask you about the South Africa story because I know that was something that I saw you today on Twitter very impassioned about. You had a Senator Bob Corker saying that this was something that was a base stimulator, what was the significance of what President Trump tweeted out? I mean, how do you read that tweet?
MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well if that`s a base stimulator than his base is the white supremacist. Base that story has been bandied about for some time amongst a white South African neo-Nazi group that says that there are these horrific attacks against farmers. Well, if anyone`s ever been in South Africa and I worked there in a security environment, you know that that country is primarily agrarian -- an agrarian country with a 40 percent unemployment rate of the -- of the almost 45 million blacks who were there. That`s 20 million people with no jobs.
The crime rate there in certain places is horrific. Crime out in rural areas happens. But to say that white farmers specifically are being targeted and this group calls it white genocide and projecting that through Fox News to the President of the United States to the Secretary of State to look into it, to do something about it you`ve essentially as the government of South Africa said have gone back way before 1994 when apartheid ended. You`ve gone back to an argument literally made by the bow of war trekkers who of course invaded and took that country and it`s absolutely you know, fantastic that the President of the United States would suddenly use that unless it was a distraction.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. That is a very valid point as well Malcolm. Let me play you this because you brought the issue of how Alan Dershowitz and others on the right-wing media that the President then adopts their talking point. Watch this montage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama who received $2 million in illegal campaign contributions.
TRUMP: If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, LAWYER: Every candidate violates the election laws when they run for president.
TRUMP: Almost everybody that runs for office has campaign violations.
GREGG JARRETT, HOST, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK: His close friendship also a mandatory disqualification, his close friendship with Comey.
TRUMP: When you see a Mueller with the conflicts, he`s so conflicted. Comey is his best friend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: All right, so how is the right-wing media here influencing the president and we put a little montage but it goes deeper than that.
BOEHLERT: They are the presidency. I mean, when we talk about the Fox News presidency, there is no acting president right? The white -- the West ring is essentially vacant. Fox News is generating these narratives, these storylines and then there`s just a feedback loop. I have to say though. You know, I`m not sure it`s working that well this week. You know, Tuesday that you know, with the blockbuster revelations it was reporting that the White House was stunned by the Michael Cohen revelations.
And so the strategy has always go run on Fox News, we`ll ride this out, we have our base. I don`t see this as being contained this week. And you know, Cohen and Manafort were supposed to be subplots to the big story the Mueller report. If this is how they`re dealing with the Cohen story, when the Mueller report could be five, ten times worse, I don`t think just hanging around Fox News is going to get them through a major crisis.
MOHYELDIN: Yes, we`ll see how it all plays out. Eric, Malcolm Nance, thank you very much for joining us. Sorry we`re running a little bit out of time guys. It`s a fascinating conversation. All right, coming up, billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer is here on impeaching Donald Trump. We`re going to talk to him next. Stay with us.
MOHYELDIN: All right, so debate today is raging among Democrats over political strategy in the wake of the bombshell Cohen news earlier this week. In a moment I`m going to talk to progressive billionaire Tom Steyer, a major Democratic donor planning a new ad campaign that calls precisely for impeaching Donald Trump. He is reportedly thinking as well about a 2020 presidential bid. Some Democrats and Congress are pushing back against that approach though, some out of concern that it could backfire.
Nancy Pelosi saying it`s "not a priority on the agenda." And joining me now is Tom Steyer. Tom, great to have you with us. So as we were mentioning some of the top leading Democrats, they`re warning that impeachment talk could actually backfire in the midterms, could mobilize Trump`s base. Are they wrong in that approach?
TOM STEYER, DEMOCRATIC DONOR: Well, I mean, let me explain to you how we think about proceeding with our need to impeach campaign. We look at it in with two basic questions. Are we telling the truth and is it -- is it an important truth and are we standing up for the American democracy and the American people? And if the answer to both of those questions is yes, then we think it`s absolutely important to go forward with our petition drive to enable the American people to have their voice be heard.
MOHYELDIN: OK, so Nancy Pelosi had this to say on that very subject of impeachment. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: But let me say about impeachment, we can`t be political about it. We can`t be political in doing it and we can`t be political in not doing it. We have to seek the truth.
You ask questions about impeachment, well let`s seek the truth and see where the truth leads us. But if I were President Trump, I`d be very worried.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: So it`s not -- it`s not a committed answer to the topic of impeachment it`s about finding out the truth, you`re trying to get signatures for the need to impeach through your campaign. Have you met the threshold of the American public on mass to go to Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats and say the American public not wants this? What is that threshold?
STEYER: Well, let me say this. We understand that impeaching and removing an American president is a very serious undertaking and we know that it has always involved a very long educational process. If you look at the most recent polls, just under 50 percent of Americans believe that this president should be impeached and removed from office. That`s the kind of level that was true it with regards to Mr. Nixon just months before he resigned from office because he knew he`d be impeached and removed.
But what`s going on and what we see is that it`s necessary to bring the information to the American people to make it clear that this president has more than met the criteria to be impeached and for that we got 58 constitutional scholars to weigh in and basically we put it on the web it`s a lay down case. And then we have to ask is it urgent to get him out of office? So really what we`re looking at here aiming is a question of is this the most important truth in American politics right now and do we need to stand up for our democracy and for the safety of the American people? And we believe strongly that the answer to both is yes.
MOHYELDIN: Tom, before I let you go, very quickly, you spoke about the high office. Have you yourself considered running for office, yes or no? Are you going to run for president, yes or no?
STEYER: So Ayman, I don`t know if you`re aware of this but the organize -- the organization that I founded almost six years ago is running the largest youth voter mobilization program in American history this year. We also were running a petition drive that will end up having six million signatures by election day and we`re going to go to those six million people which is 15,000 people per congressional district and try and make sure that they turn out and may have their votes counted which normally way more than half of them wouldn`t.
So between now and November 6th which is election day I am head down working as hard as possible to make sure that as many Americans are engaged in the process and show up at the polls as possible and we still don`t have any idea what`s going to happen on Election Day.
MOHYELDIN: All right, so I guess then we`ll have to ask you on November 7th and when there`s -- all right.
STEYER: We`re going to do our work and make a decision when I know the facts.
MOHYELDIN: All right, Tom Steyer, I really appreciate your time and thank you very much. Always a pleasure.
STEYER: Thanks for having me.
MOHYELDIN: Ahead I`ll talk to the wife of the first person to plead guilty in the Mueller probe, her first interview since the Cohen and Manafort news broke.
MOHYELDIN: With me now is Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, the wife of former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos. He ignited the FBI`s Russia probe after telling an Australian diplomat the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last year. Now, the Department of Justice is asking for a sentence of up to six months. In a moment I`m going to get reaction from Watergate special prosecutor Nick Akerman, but first Papadopoulos his wife revealed he is considering backing out of his cooperation deal with Mueller. All this as Rudy Giuliani tells The Washington Post that Trump inquired about the possibility of pardoning Paul Manafort who is not cooperating with Robert Mueller
Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, great to have you with us. Thank you very much for being here. Let me begin with --
SIMONA MANGIANTE PAPADOPOULOS, WIFE OF GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS: Thank you for inviting.
MOHYELDIN: Of course. Let me begin with this possibility that your husband George is going to break his cooperation deal with the special counselor. Can you give us any update as to where that decision stands?
PAPADOPOULOS: As I mentioned many times, there are -- first of all George this time cooperated for more than one year. He`s -- the recommendation from the special counsel present some discrepancies and there are many bands that came out recently and that changed completely the assessment and the context of this alleged lies if that lasted. We know today that Mifsud is likely to have played no role whatsoever in the scheme of the Russian interference with American elections.
We suspected that Mifsud could be a Russian agent but at the time of today, we don`t have any evidences that link Mifsud to Russia.
MOHYELDIN: OK, can I -- can I -- I`m sorry to interrupt you. I just want to -- I just want to be clear to understand. Can you just -- tell us is there -- is there a decision, has he made a decision, has George made a decision.
PAPADOPOULOS: No, the decision -- the decision hasn`t been made. That was just trying to light at the grounds of the this -- the fact that George is challenging the guilty plea and why I was the one suggesting him to vacate the plea agreement. We have the --
MOHYELDIN: OK, so you`re suggesting -- sorry so you`re suggesting --
PAPADOPOULOS: No decision has been made.
MOHYELDIN: OK, no decision has been made but you`re recommending or suggesting to George that he should vacate that plea, that guilty plea.
PAPADOPOULOS: Yes. The main reason why I did it is because first of all, today we have access to new evidences that made this -- the same state of offense quite incoherent which is the reason for George to lie to the FBI. When we know that Mifsud play no role in the Russia scheme --
MOHYELDIN: Simona, are you denying that George lied to the FBI or are you aware that --
PAPADOPOULOS: I`m just trying to give -- I`m just -- I`m just trying to give my legal assessment. That simply that sure that George wanted to take responsibility for his less candid assessment during this interview would Mueller. He`s less candid because I think we are talking about an inaccuracy in the timing --
MOHYELDIN: So you don`t think he lied. You`re just saying --
PAPADOPOULOS: I`m just saying that it`s probably -- it`s probably considered on the American law a lie but if -- I would never accept the plea agreement myself under this condition given --
MOHYELDIN: And George admitted to lying.
PAPADOPOULOS: Yes because it`s personal. First of all, pleading guilty is very -- you know, it`s a personal choice. My legal assessment of this lie as I said today mostly in the light of the context says, it came out mostly when we look at the central figure -- central figure that I know personally and is the reason why I have been interviewed by the FBI and by the Congress is Mifsud. He appears to play a role in the Russia gate which is the motive in the state of mind for Georgia to lie.
MOHYELDIN: I want to try to cover some of this ground because there`s a lot to get your take on. Has anyone -- has anyone from the Trump legal team contacted you?
PAPADOPOULOS: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. And as I said I just -- I`m not trying to explain why George pled guilty to lying. I`m just trying to explain why to me he should drop off the agreement which are the legal and the logical weaknesses is behind that.
PAPADOPOULOS: As I said, we should look at the facts today. After (INAUDIBLE) investigation, we don`t know who Mifsud is and we just know that is a Clinton supporter because it self as stated this in an article in the journal Republica. We know he`s a teacher at (INAUDIBLE) trained Western intelligence officer, and we know he`s -- he has ties so MI6. It was very disappointing to see that the recommendation didn`t show any assessment about the Mifsud role --
MOHYELDIN: OK, Simona, let me ask you this. Let me ask you this because we`re talking a little bit about pardons today. Do you still want president Trump to pardon, to possibly pardon George?
PAPADOPOULOS: I think he`s the only -- he`s the one that deserves the pardon above any other in a Trump campaign adviser. First of all, he`s not involved with any financial crimes, his responsibility is limited to as I said that in accuracy in the timing of his meeting with Mifsud. Today we know Mifsud had no role in the Russia interference unless the prosecutor will show otherwise. So I don`t see why if the President says this is a witch-hunt it would allow George was immediate sacrificial lamb of this witch hunt.
MOHYELDIN: All right, Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate you coming on and explaining your position.
PAPADOPOULOS: Thank you very much. Thank you.
MOHYELDIN: All right, with me now is former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman. Nick, good to have you with us. So first of all your reaction to what you just heard there in the argument that Simona was making.
NICK AKERMAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, none of these arguments make any sense. They`re all over the boards. He committed an extremely serious crime. If you read the government sentencing memo, it`s quite clear that if he had told the truth about the professor who was the Russian that he met in England and had come clean with the FBI in January of 2017, the FBI would have been able to arrest this professor while he was in the United States. So this was a lie that was extremely material that had a huge impact on the FBI`s investigation, a negative impact.
MOHYELDIN: What does George Papadopoulos gained by withdrawing his deal from cooperating with Mueller? Is there anything?
AKERMAN: Well, first of all, the odds of him being able to withdraw it are about zero. It`s almost extremely difficult to do it.
MOHYELDIN: It`s not a unilateral decision, it`s not up to him right?
AKEMAN: No, of course not, of course not. He has to have -- it`s a heavy burden to me to do that. But if he were to be successful, what that would mean is the government could then turn around and prosecute him for the crime of lying to an FBI agent or even worse obstruction of justice. The crime of lying to the FBI agent carries five years. So right now he`s limited to six months that he could be sentenced to in prison. If he suddenly lost this deal he could wind up in jail for 10 years for obstruction of justice.
MOHYELDIN: All right, Nick Akerman, thank you as always for breaking it down for us. I appreciate the legal insights. Of course, we`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MOHYELDIN: All right, that does it for me tonight, I`ll see you back here tomorrow morning bright and early starting at 5:00 a.m. Eastern and I`ll be right back here on THE BEAT tomorrow night. Of course, you can reach out to me anytime on social media. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Up all night. Let`s go HARDBALL.
Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
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