IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Roger Stone pleads the fifth. TRANSCRIPT: 12/4/18, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Maya Wiley; Nick Akerman; John Flannery; Doris Kearns Goodwin; David Corn; Chuck Nice

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight we have a pretty big show.  We begin with this news breaking just within the last hour that Trump advisor Roger Stone is invoking the fifth amendment, rejecting a Senate request for an interview and documents.  This all comes one day after Trump sparked accusations of witness tampering over guess who, well his praise for Roger Stone for having "guts" in criticizing and refusing to testify.  All that about Russia.  It is big and we`re going to get into that.

Meanwhile, the political and legal world are waiting right now for a pivotal court filing from Bob Mueller.  It is due tonight so with this being 6:00 p.m. on the east coast, that could mean due this hour.  We could see it this hour.  And it will reveal some of the 18 months of cooperation that Mueller has gotten from Flynn.

Also tonight, new information about the connections, the twin Trump associates including Paul Manafort associations and WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.  And later tonight, my special reporting how U.S. corruption law governs that Trump Moscow project, whether the penthouse reportedly offered to Putin could actually be illegal bribery.

So we have a lot but we begin with this report that could drop literally any moment.  Bob Mueller filing a sentencing memo on former Trump National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.  As you probably know, he pleaded guilty a year ago to lying with the FBI to cover up his sanction discussions with a Russian diplomat, an issue back in the news with these reports that Trump was secretly pursuing funding from a yes, sanctioned Russian bank.

Now Flynn is one of the people long linked to Russia.  He sat next to Vladimir Putin at a 2015 dinner.  You can see that there.  He received tens of thousands of dollars for that dinner event and then ultimately denied that he took money from Russia.


MICHAEL ISIKOFF:  Were you paid any amount?

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  You`d have to ask my -- the folks that went over there to --

ISIKOFF:  No, I`m asking you.  You would know if you were paid.

FLYNN:  Yes, I mean I went over there.  It was a speaking event.  What difference does that make?  I mean somebody go "Oh, he`s paid by the Russians."

ISIKOFF:  Well, I mean -- well, Donald Trump has made a lot of -- the fact that Hillary Clinton is taking money from Wall Street --

FLYNN:  Yes, I didn`t take any money from Russia if that`s what you`re asking me.


MELBER:  It is legal to lie to Michael Isikoff.  It is illegal to lie to the FBI.  Flynn is central because his cooperation can give Mueller facts to resolve big questions.  And if people like Flynn and Cohen recklessly lied for no reason and Trump simply attracted or encouraged those kinds of aides, well in the big picture that doesn`t really hurt Trump much in the collusion case, that`s something Bob Mueller could find out from this cooperation.  Or if people like Flynn lied because there was a larger conspiracy about financial corruption or election hacking, then the truth that Flynn has been revealing, well that could change this whole investigation.

Now, for Flynn personally, his team has been hoping for leniency so he doesn`t end up in jail, a faith he once alluded to in an attack on Hillary Clinton that proved to be legally factually and hyperbolically hypocritical.


FLYNN:  Lock her up.  Lock her up.  And you know why?  You know why we`re saying that?  We`re saying that because if I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.


MELBER:  I would be in jail today.  Well, today we`re going to learn a lot more about whether Mueller thinks jail time is deserved for Flynn.  And we`re going to be learning a lot about why Roger Stone, as I was reporting at the top here, is now saying he will not talk to the Senate, he will invoke he says his Fifth Amendment rights.

I have quite a panel with me here in New York.  Maya Wiley, former Counsel to Mayor of New York, former Civil Prosecutor at the Southern District of New York Nick Akerman, a former Watergate Special Prosecutor and former Federal Prosecutor John Flannery.  This is a night that it`s good to have you.  I feel safer with so many lawyers here.

Maya, Roger Stone has every right to invoke the Fifth Amendment.  Us lawyers more so perhaps than other people in other professions, respect that and don`t infer too much from that alone.  But what do you infer from that plus what else we know about Mr. Stone?

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO MAYOR OF NEW YORK:  Well, what I infer is a little too little too late.  I mean Roger Stone has already made so many public statements that are inconsistent one to the other from, for example, saying he had contact directly with Julian Assange.  And then saying he didn`t have any contact with Julian Assange.  He has made those inconsistent statements publically.

According to Adam Schiff, he has seen inconsistencies in the testimony given to Congress from what appears to be public statements.  We don`t know all of what that is but we certainly know that the existence of e-mails between Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi are among the things that he thinks in of himself demonstrates that he was not truthful.  So I would say that Roger Stone did a whole lot of talking and there are a whole lot of documents already in the possession of Congress and probably Robert Mueller.  So it`s a little late.

MELBER:  You mentioned Mr. Corsi.  He publically admitted that he helped Roger Stone lie to Congress, the very thing Michael Cohen just admitted to if anyone needs a reminder that it`s a felony.  Nick, I want to play for you that because it was an exchange that was a little elusive as he admitted to telling the truth about lies, but he did get there and admit it.  Take a look.


MELBER:  How did they react to this other defense that you made on behalf of Roger Stone, which is you agreed to help Roger mislead Congress about how he found out about Podesta?

JEROME CORSI, ROGER STONE ASSOCIATE:  Well, see, in fact, that was the first -- there`s two rounds of this that they went through.  Round one, I openly discussed that with him and admitted it all because it was true.  I was telling the truth --

MELBER:  You were telling the truth about a lie?

CORSI:  No.  Well, OK, so yes.



NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  I mean he`s a liar.  I mean you know it because he wound up destroying all of his e-mails --

MELBER:  Mr. Corsi?

AKERMAN:  Mr. Corsi.  When he was called before the Senate Committee, rather than prepare to tell the truth, rather than go through the e-mails and give them to the Senate Committee, he sat there and he destroyed them.  He destroyed the ones that came out last week that basically put him in the soup with Roger Stone and incriminate him with Roger Stone and Julian Assange, and he continued to lie.

But the fact that he destroyed those e-mails in and of itself shows that there`s no way when he spoke to the Mueller group that he forgot what happened.  You don`t forget something that you would destroy e-mails on your computer.  It means you not only deleted them but you went into the deletion box and then permanently destroyed them.

MELBER:  Unless -- Nick, to be fair.  Unless you`re so good at cover-ups, you`ve covered it up from yourself.

AKERMAN:  Well, that could be but that`s the same as lying so that you can lie to somebody else.

MELBER:  Well, there are people --

AKERMAN:  You tell the truth about lying.

MELBER:  There are people, John who say some of the biggest lies we humans tell the lies we tell ourselves but those are not perjuries.


MELBER:  They just might get in the way of living a full life.

FLANNERY:  Yes.  I think that he wanted us to believe his lie but he`s a clumsy liar.

MELBER:  Mr. Corsi?

FLANNERY:  Yes.  And also destroying e-mails when they appear every other place is not a great approach.

MELBER:  Let me direct your attention back to the breaking news of Roger Stone pleading the fifth.


MELBER:  And again I say this seriously that I don`t infer too much from that.


MELBER:  But what do you think it means when someone does testify to Congress, doesn`t invoke the fifth, says things that now have been busted by his own associates.  I`m not talking about journalists.  I`m not talking about critics.  I`m not talking about the resistance.  I`m talking about Jerome Corsi, says, "Oh, yes, I helped Roger lie to Congress."  And now tonight we get this news that Roger says he won`t go to Congress, the day after Donald Trump gave him a shout out, a gutsy shout out for not testifying.

FLANNERY:  Roger Stone for all the mileage he has in being a political operator I think overthinks this.  And I think he`s saying to himself, "Well, I won`t tell Congress because that would be a lie they can prosecute me for.  But I`ll go on TV and I`ll say lies there and I`ll be OK", which is a wrong strategy for a couple of reasons.

One, he`s told so many different stories. He`s surrounded by contradiction by other reliable witnesses.  Corsi may find himself as a forced witness at some point or other, coerced to testify after he is or isn`t prosecuted.  This is a gang of hapless thieves that have no idea how to defend themselves.  And it`s a problem with any public figure.  They always think that they can talk their way out of it and they make the first mistake.  They give links and clues and stuff to people that no one would know about but for them talking.

MELBER:  You`re speaking to something that I think all of us have seen in various ways in legal situations, Nick, which is there are people who are dumb and think they`re smarter than they are.  But there are also people who are pretty smart who still think they`re smarter than --

AKERMAN:  I mean what happened during the Watergate Scandal.  Every one of the main people around Nixon went into the grand jury and they all testified.  I mean there`s a different dynamic going on in a case like this because it`s a political case.  And so if they go in and they tell the truth, they`re toast.  That`s the end of their political career.

MELBER:  Right.

AKERMAN:  The whole thing goes down the tube.  If they go in and lie, at least they think in their own minds, well at least we`ve stopped the damage.  It`s a whole different --

MELBER:  And they think they can walk away from it.  Let me play for you because you bring it up. Here was on Sunday, Roger Stone speaking in another television interview.  Take a look.


ROGER STONE, LONG-TIME TRUMP ALLY:  There`s no circumstance under which would testify against the president because I`d have to bear false witness against him, I`d have to make things up and I`m not going to do that.


MELBER:  On the narrow question, is that true or could he testify accurately and defend the president?

AKERMAN:  Oh, he can`t testify accurately.  I mean he is right in the middle of the soup here.  He is the person that is the link between the Russians, between Assange and Donald Trump.  He is the guy that left the campaign in late 2015, supposedly fired under that pretext so he could go out and have the plausible deniability of doing this usual having dirty tricks routine for Donald Trump and then come back --

MELBER:  You`re alleging his firing was a subterfuge for a plan to WikiLeaks --

AKERMAN:  A total subterfuge.

MELBER:  But you don`t -- do you have specific evidence of that?

AKERMAN:  Well, we know that he was talking to Donald Trump after he was fired.  How many times --

MELBER:  But you don`t know -- I mean you don`t know -- he also -- there was a lot of beef -- again, just to be clear about the history, there was a lot of beef between a lot of different Trump aides for a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with WikiLeaks.

AKERMAN:  Yes.  But for all beef, he continued to talk to Donald Trump.  I mean that relationship continued straight threw.  And then what was he doing during that period of time talking to Guccifer 2.0?

MELBER:  Right.  No, that part --

AKERMAN:  Right.

MELBER:  I`m just speaking specifically to what you said about his departure.

AKERMAN:  Right, right.

MELBER:  Maya, this, of course, raises another question we often ask in Brooklyn which is, what`s beef?

WILEY:  There`s so much beef.  So let me just go back to a couple of points that I think are important.  One is Roger Stone is an influence peddler and sells influence peddling.  So even if he was honestly, legitimately terminated from the campaign, he would have lots of interest in maintaining his relationship with Donald Trump.  Donald Trump will use anybody who will allow him to.  So I don`t know if Nick is right or wrong, I`m just saying there are multiple ways of looking at it.

I do think if you take Roger Stone at his word that he could -- which I wouldn`t do generally, that he could not testify without bearing false witness against Trump that that means that he has knowledge and information that would connect Trump to possible Russian collusion --

MELBER:  This is important.  I want you and then Nick on this point because you`re quoting Mr. Stone and this is a matter of hot debate and obviously that Mueller people are thinking about it.  He says I`d have to bear false witness, those words, against Trump.

What I take him to allege is that the Mueller folks are demanding answers and if they don`t get the answers they want, that are negative about their targets, they put on more pressure.  And this has been a right-wing talking point.  You`re saying it in a different way?

WILEY:  I am because what I am saying is, if you cannot answer that question, right -- so look, what we know right now is that he has lied.  What the truth is will be uncovered, but that he has lied, he has told inconsistent statements about communications he`s had around e-mails, right, around WikiLeaks.  That in and of itself does not directly connect to Donald Trump, to Russian collusion, right?

As far -- we all think that there`s probably more information and evidence there but just alone.  So unless he is put in a position where he is told that he has to give false evidence, right, so because that false evidence has to go to what Trump knew about e-mails and now he`s taking the Fifth.  So he can say, talking point.  But we know the way that this really works.  Robert Mueller`s job is to uncover the truth and the evidence and where the evidence leads him --

MELBER:  And not just to catch someone.

WILEY:  And not just to catch someone.

MELBER:  Nick?

AKERMAN:  I mean she`s absolutely right.  I mean Roger Stone has been a serial liar since the day I met him in 1973 and questioned him in my office.

MELBER:  You did interrogate him in the Watergate probe.

AKERMAN:  During the Watergate.

MELBER:  People forget that.

WILEY:  Yes.

AKERMAN:  That`s right.  And he has not changed one iota, his demeanor, his way of answering questions, his total lack of candor is absolutely --

WILEY:  And constructing false stories.


AKERMAN:  Yes, exactly.

MELBER:  In 2017 -- you know 2017 wasn`t that long ago but it was long enough ago that I was able to interview you and Roger together.

AKERMAN:  That`s right.

MELBER:  And although Roger has not responded to our recent invites, the invite remains open for him to come on one on one or come on with you again as he did then in those long ago days before the Mueller probe had begun.  What I`m going to --

AKERMAN:  And I might say what he did afterwards.  I don`t know if I ever told you this but he actually came up to me after that interview and said, "We should go into business together and do talks around the country and charge money to people so they can hear us debate."

MELBER:  He said that to you.

AKERMAN:  Yes.  And I said --

MELBER:  And what did you say to him?

AKERMAN:  Are you crazy?  No way.  I mean this is a guy who you would not trust with anything for a second.

MELBER:  So you wouldn`t go into business with Roger Stone --

AKERMAN:  I would never go.

MELBER:  Well, that`s another (CROSSTALK) tonight.

WILEY:  I`m so glad to hear that.

FLANNERY:  I think Roger Stone want to get the old gang together with Manafort and he had access because of that.  These two guys hoped they`d repair whatever their reputation and standing was in the world.

MELBER:  They certainly thought that installing Donald Trump as president was going to be better for their business --


MELBER:  I have to fit in a break but most of you are coming back.

Nick, my thanks to you.  Maya and John, I want to have you back later in the hour to discuss why Michael Cohen is invoking Willie Nelson and DMX in his new sentencing memo defense.  If you don`t know what that means, you two will explain it.

Also, new details tonight about this secret Paul Manafort trip to try to free WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.  And later, as promised, I have a special report on what federal corruption law says about that potential Putin penthouse.

And what does Michael Cohen have to do as I mentioned with John Travolta, Willie Nelson, and DMX?  I`m going to break down the bizarre legal defense that Michael Cohen has made in court.  And if there is DMX barking, we`ll deal with it too.  We`ll deal it with whatever facts come in.

I`m Ari Melber.  You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER:  Former Trump campaign chair and convicted felon Paul Manafort exposed today for his work on an unusual proposal to try to free Julian Assange while Trump was president.  To understand the story at all and why it might be bad for Trump, you kind of have to remember there are actually two Julian Assange`s.

First, the fugitive hated by the CIA and rumored to be a prosecution target by the DOJ, a man who`s unpopular with a lot of U.S. officials.  But second, the right wing folk hero who dented Hillary Clinton`s reputation by posting her stolen e-mails on WikiLeaks.  That`s the Assange that Trump cheered on during the campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This just came out.  WikiLeaks.  I love WikiLeaks.  WikiLeaks, right?  You hear this?  WikiLeaks unveils horrible, horrible things about Hillary Clinton.  Boy, that WikiLeaks has done a job on her, has he?


MELBER:  It`s that Assange popular for covering Hillary that gives context to this news that Manafort flew to Ecuador last year, met with their president, and talked to him about negotiating a deal for the handover of Assange to the U.S.  Manafort`s team admitting this tonight.  They say he listened to the Ecuadorian president`s ideas about removing Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy there in London.

Within days though, the DOJ appointed Bob Mueller.  The talks ended all of this from a pretty blockbuster "New York Times" report.  Well, if the DOJ is considering indicting Assange in a normal time obviously, it would be bad for him to come to America.  But the idea he could come to America as a place of refuge to escape legal jeopardy, that is popular among some Trump boosters pretty obsessed with WikiLeaks.

Like Roger Stone who told Randy Credico, he was working with others to get Assange a blanket pardon from Trump, or Sean Hannity who`s promoted the Assange argument that maybe Russia wasn`t the source for those e-mails.  You can see it here.  Well, Hannity says he believes "every word Assange told them".  And the banner announces to the "Fox" audience, Russia not source for hacked e-mails.

And the idea that a Trump victory could help Assange also came from WikiLeaks itself.  They were lobbying Donald Trump Junior privately after Trump`s victory saying, "Hi, Don.  Hope you`re doing well.  It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to D.C."  And last year, Assange publicly tweeted Trump could still welcome him as an ambassador where he could "open a hotel style embassy in D.C. with luxury immunity suites for whistleblowers."

OK.  And those older pictures to have echoes in the new story in the "Times" because they report that Ecuador secretly pursued the plans to provide Assange a diplomatic post albeit in Russia.  So it`s an awful lot to talk about making Assange a diplomat between WikiLeaks and Don Junior, between Manafort and Ecuador suggesting this world where Assange doesn`t come to America as a defendant but rather as an ambassador.

Now, why would he want that, other than, I don`t know, he`s used to spending time in an embassy?  Because Julian Assange wants diplomatic immunity, then he could evade the authorities that are pursuing him.  He could get out of London.  Maybe he could keep on leaking.  And to be clear, Assange can advocate for his own freedom and argue he`s wrongly accused or that he`s a publisher entitled to free speech rights.

The question though is why Trump advisors were so receptive to those arguments, including one convict from the Mueller probe and another apparent target of the Mueller probe, one with known links to Russia and another who literally bragged about his back channel to Assange before taking it all back.

I am thrilled to be joined by presidential historian Doris Kearns-Goodwin.  Her new book is "Leadership in Turbulent Times" and she has a longer arch view of this kind of foreign policy fracases and David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief from "Mother Jones".

David, what is the significance of this admittedly convoluted trail for Assange?

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES:  Well, you did a good job of trying to cut through the convulsions here.  To me, one of the most remarkable things is that when Paul Manafort was disgraced and was sort of in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors, he was able to convince the Chinese that he was a man of influence who could broker a deal with Ecuador.  And when he gets into a deal, like with him everything is on the table.

You have a concern about Assange, you want him out of the embassy in London because he`s been there way too long, bad roommate, I don`t know why but I`m happy to see what I can do.  As part of this deal, to broker Chinese investment in Ecuador through which I get a cut.  Now, it seems to me that indicated that he did not really realize at that point in time what his status was in the United States.


CORN:  He was seeking, going down fast, and the fact that he could calm the Chinese into believing he could cut a deal like this, you know, is somewhat remarkable.

MELBER:  So you don`t think the deal was in the (INAUDIBLE).  Doris, when you look at history, can you think of any other times where you have a president with people around him basically trying to make this kind of deal or this kind of offers, not for U.S. foreign policy but for some other potentially elicit private goal?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  I mean we`ve had scandals before.  We had this whiskey scandal during Grant`s administration.  We had the teapot dome under Harding.  And obviously the Nixon scandals with the Watergate.  But the idea that we`re involved with a foreign government, the idea that we have social media breaking news hour by hour, this is what makes this new and the idea that the people representing President Trump, then-candidate Trump, have not got experience in foreign policy.

I mean we have just been celebrating Bush 41`s incredible experience in foreign policy, how he was able then to deal with the complexities of the challenges that faced him with the Soviet Union falling apart.  And here are these guys talking to foreign governments, making deals, and we have to ask what is the deal going to do for President Trump potentially if there`s a relationship to him.

CORN:  And you know --

MELBER:  Well, I want to play one more thing for Doris which is Julian Assange speaking about this because again it does seem like a different challenge.  Obama and Trump have both struggled to figure out even what they want to do with someone like Assange as a non-state actor.  And unlike some other publishers and I think this is going to be relevant in the probe, he spoke more forcefully about picking sides.  Here, he was speaking about Clinton.


JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS:  Well, I think Trump is a completely unpredictable phenomenon.  You can`t predict what he would do in office.  You can predict a bit more what the Republican party would do in office.  From my personal perspective, well, you know, the e-mails we published show that Hillary Clinton is receiving constant updates about my personal situation.  She has pushed for the prosecution of WikiLeaks which is still in training.  So we do see her as a bit of a problem.


MELBER:  Are there very few historical guides for how presidents should even deal with someone like Assange?

GOODWIN:  Certainly not.  I mean I certainly can`t think of all the presidents I`ve studied, the ones that I`ve lived with overnight waking up in the morning what advice they could possibly give him.  I think the interesting thing about all of this, and it`s partly what David was talking to too is chronology, as my heroine Barbara Kopman said, is the spine of history.

What is going to be figured out my guess is in the Mueller investigation is who knew what when, who did what when, and what were the motivations behind each one of those.  That`s the puzzles that are falling into place right now and we`re all going to wait to see how it works.

CORN:  You know there was one scandal that Doris didn`t mention which, Iran Contra which George H.W. Bush was very much involved in.

MELBER:  Sure.

CORN:  And there we saw a bunch of corn stealers and profiteers, Richard Secord, Albert Hakim and people in the Middle East getting and working with people in the NSE and in the Reagan-Bush administration.  And I think there`s a strong corollary there given what we see now with people like Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi and Paul Manafort all circling and being a lap.  The important point is they`re allowed to be part of the team.

MELBER:  Well, and in that investigation, you had pardons, you had smoke but no smoking gun, unlike Watergate.  So it makes a very interesting corollary.  My special thanks to Doris Kearns Goodwin.  We always love your historical perspective and congratulations again on the book.  And David Corn who is known around here as a Lil Skeptic.  Great to have you as always.

I won`t bother you with a nickname because I consider you Doris more prestigious than David Corn.

CORN:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

MELBER:  I had fun with all of you.  Thank you again.

Up next, DMX, Floyd Mayweather, John Travolta, all cited that Michael Cohen`s odd new celebrity defense when we`re back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER:  Now to a new twist in the Mueller probe and this is not about our show`s interest in music.  Everything I`m about to report for you is drawn directly from Michael Cohen`s new legal filing.  So here we go.  According to Cohen`s lawyer, what do the following people have in common, boxer Floyd Mayweather, rapper DMX, singer Willie Nelson, actor John Travolta, hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz, and comedian Chris Tucker?  If you`re thinking they`re all talented, no.

Now, I`m about to get into this with a pretty great panel.  If you`re thinking all these celebrities push the envelope in their own fields, no.  Now, here`s the answer.  Let`s get to it.  Each one of these people was name-checked by Michael Cohen in his new sentencing memo asking federal prosecutors to spare him jail time.  That`s how you know it`s the right answer.  It`s also how you know you`re on THE BEAT.

CHUCK NICE, COMEDIAN:  There you go.

MELBER:  Also, thanks for being here.

NICE:  It`s a pleasure, man.  Air horns and all.

MELBER:  And all.  Now, Cohen`s lawyers do have a tough case because he pled guilty to several felonies.  So they invoked these famous cases where convicts got less than they could have, like DMX who faced up to five years but caught a one-year sentence.  We have reached a point in the Mueller probe where Trump`s lawyer is using the DMX defense.

Now, let`s be clear.  DMX had a harder life than Cohen.  And in the case Cohen cites, DMX committed fewer felonies than Cohen.  But the anchor`s rapper knows exactly what Cohen is doing.  In fact, he`s described this kind of desperate bargaining once by saying, "You can blame me for not wanting to be held locked down in a cell where a soul can`t dwell."

And Willie Nelson, who owed the IRS $16 million in back taxes and never did time, well his rap sheet was also lighter than Cohen`s who could have followed some of Nelson`s classic advice.  He said, "If you can truthfully say that you`ve been true just one day, well, that makes one in a row.  If you can look into my eyes one time without telling lies, well, that makes one in a row."  Michael Cohen lied to Congress.  He lied to the IRS.  He lied to a bank.  He up lied to the FEC.  He lied to the public.  Now he says he`s starting to tell the truth and if the judge spares in jail, it`ll be on the belief that he`s going to get on a roll that`s more than one in a row.  Let`s get to it back with Maya Wiley, John Flannery, and Comedian Chuck Nice.  Nice to see you, everybody.  What do you think of this defense?

CHUCK NICE, COMEDIAN:  First of all, I don`t -- you can`t blame a man for trying, OK.  That`s the first thing.  Can`t blame for trying but all I could say is this.  Did you see that video of DMX, you may not want to go to a judge and let that be the voice of reason.

MELBER:  We might be able to bring that back in a minute.  You`re talking about the idea, you`re invoking DMX, Roughriders --

NICE:  Right to -- like any sitting judge would probably look at that and be like, you know, I`m going to increase your sentence.  Look at that.

MELBER:  Yes.  This is the microphone defense.

NICE:  The scariest black man in entertainment.  That`s what you use as like, hey, you actually get a lighter sentence.  And on top of that, I mean, let`s be honest.  Willie Nelson, you should never even invoke Willie Nelson.  Willie Nelson is beloved, OK.  I couldn`t name three Willie Nelson songs and I loved Willie Nelson, OK.  There is no way -- you are attached to the most polarizing figure in modern history.  People can`t determine whether they like Donald Trump or cholera better, OK.  So seriously I can`t believe that you are attaching yourself that like, Willie Nelson, we loved it, Willie Nelson.  Nobody loves you -- nobody loves you, Cowen.  I`m sorry.

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Cohen is Willie Nelson, it`s hard to imagine.  And I don`t think the judge would know who DHX is. 


NICE:  I don`t think -- I don`t think --

FLANNERY:  I don`t know who he is.

NICE:  I don`t know who DHX is.

FLANNERY:  I don`t know.  I never listen to it.

MELBER:  DMX was -- he`s a Yorkers rapper.  He was very audient.  Two number albums in the same year.  At one point he was higher at the Billboard charts than Jay-Z who you probably have heard of.

FLANNERY:  I do know him.

MELBER:  And he was also known for his characteristic barking on tracks. 

FLANNERY:  So his lawyers are rapper aspirants who have an argument that`s not going anywhere when the better argument is this guy`s done so much for us, the 65 years he faces which is nothing like the rapper did, is successive.  We got a lot out of this guy including the plea last week.  That`s the argument, not the one that we`re reading about. 


MELBER:  Who we`d be?

FLANNERY:  Who we`d be?

WILEY:  Hurt the pain, the dirt the rain.  So I think that`s all we need to say.

NICE:  No, you might -- you might --

WILEY:  But, no -- but seriously now, there`s nothing really historic about a white man thinking he should get less time in prison than a black man.


WILEY:  So if we just stop right there, I think we know exactly what`s going on.

MELBER:  Well that goes to -- so there`s a -- there`s a ridiculous -- there`s a pretty ridiculous part of this right and I think we`ve done service to that, but there is a serious part too.  I mean, I`ll read from the filing where they compare Michael Cohen to -- his a government named Earl Simmons, U.S. versus Earl Simmons and they say, "a recording artist known as DMX engage in a brazen multi-year scheme to fraudulent conceal millions of dollars in income and they`re basically arguing that Cohen should get the DMX treatment to get less than the full -- the full -- fully sentence guidelines max. 

WILEY:  And if we dial it back, Michael Cohen did something most defendants don`t do if ultimately they cooperate.  They start cooperating before they go and then plead guilty, right?  They say I`m going to -- let`s figure out.  I have -- I`m going to come clean.  I want to come clean.  Let`s talk about this.  Let`s come up with something.  I think I have something to offer you because I want to make this right.

He pled guilty which was already unusual for someone who was then going to start cooperating.  And we know from some news reports there`s a suggestion that he thought he was going to get pardoned by Donald Trump.  So when you put that timeline and his -- and his initial hard to understand behavior into perspective, one narrative is that he was really holding out for a pardon that didn`t come and then he thought it was --

MELBER:  Well, and you`re laying it down -- your laying it down.  So Chuck, that raises the question to quote DMX again was this a lot of chutzpah.

FLANNERY:  I don`t think DMX would use that right?

NICE:  To answer that, I would say the other DMX that suggests from what you said would be snitches want to try, snitches what a lie -- and the rest of it, I don`t want to say. 

MELBER:  And then it -- and then it gets too rough even for a Michael Cohen sentencing memo. 

NICE:  Right.  But all I could tell you this.  Michael Cohen is not ride or die.  See, you got to be rotted die in order to ask for that.

MELBER:  I got to say, this came up when we were reporting on Cohen and 50 Cent responded and said hear from the neighborhood.  He`s going to plead out and then he did and we`ve talked about that.  And so, well, obviously as I mentioned at the top of our -- of our show, we are interested in these stories.  There is something else bigger going in New York where Cohen and the people are always trying to compare him to these other people in this situation.

The other point I want to make sure does not get lost here is and the lawyers I think will appreciate this, they kept comparing to cases where there was a single count of back taxes that celebrities didn`t pay and they have their managers and their agents and all the issues.  Michael Cohen is facing many counts, many felonies that he pled to lying to all these different institution.

FLANNERY:  Yes.  And you know, he`s in this position where but for the search we wouldn`t be able to put the lie to him, and but for Lanny Davis and Rudy Giuliani he wouldn`t have had this tape go out there that corroborated him enough that these deals were going on paying off wind for favors and that that just killed him.  And he had -- he had a significant choice and I think Lanny signed up because he was convinced this guy would now see the light and tell the truth and he could be the most -- he could be the most explosive thing that`s happened.  It`s out of Washington, it`s in New York, do what you want to Mueller.  This guy can take down the president.

MELBER:  We`re out of time.

NICE:  Well, I`m not a lawyer, I know we`re out of time.  I`m not a lawyer and I know all of you are, but I do watch an extraordinary amount of Law and Order and --

FLANNERY:  That`s it.  That`s does it.

NICE:  And with that, I will tell you that when you give the right information, OK, you should get something in return.  It`s not quid pro quo but that`s the way DAs work.  Well, and Law and Order is also just the news in 2018 these days.  Chuck Nice, David -- Maya Wiley, and John Flannery, my special thanks to each of you.  Up to the next, as I promised, a breakdown on the corruption law that applies to the Trump Tower deal.


MELBER:  There is a big story causing big problems swirling around Trump right now and it could have major legal consequences.  You may have seen the headline.  Trump`s company was discussing giving Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse as a kind of a gift to sweeten this now infamous skyscraper plan in Moscow which brings me to our special report tonight. 

That offer alone, $50 million for a foreign leader could itself be illegal.  We`re going to get into why.  But first, you may have heard the larger defense to all of this kind of stuff especially if you know Trump defenders because they often say look Donald Trump`s a novice, a newcomer, a disrupter and as such he could barely understand the intricacies here.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  I think President Trump is learning the job and some of the things that were said during the campaign I think he now knows those simply aren`t the way things ought to be. 

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER GOVERNOR, NEW JERSEY:  They elected an outsider president.  They elected someone who`d never been inside government. 

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  He`s new at government and so, therefore, I think that he`s learning as he goes.


MELBER:  He`s new.  He`s learning.  He doesn`t know how anything works.  But actually, on this story, Donald Trump I`m going to show you is intimately familiar with the criminal law.  In fact, he`s known about the most important federal anti-corruption law here that applies to this potential Moscow deal for years.  It`s something called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and it basically makes a bribery of foreign officials a felony punishable with prison. 

In fact, long before Trump ever got into these politics and took office, he was denouncing this law.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It`s a horrible law and it should be changed.  I mean, we`re like the policemen for the world.  It`s ridiculous.  Every other country in the world is doing it and we`re not allowed to, so it puts us at a huge disadvantage and lets them clean up their own act.


MELBER:  It puts us at a huge disadvantage.  That was his public view and that the law should basically be taken off the books.  And Donald Trump`s own Deputy Attorney General has a different view right now, and this is from just last week.


TRUMP:  It`s a horrible and it should be changed.  I mean we`re like the policemen for the world.  It`s ridiculous.  Every other country in the world is doing it and we`re not allowed to, so it puts this at a huge disadvantage.  And let`s them clean up their own act.


MELBER:  You may have noticed that while Donald Trump might like to be his own Deputy Attorney General or Attorney General, that was a different sound we wanted to use.  But what I`m referring to as his speech that Rod Rosenstein gave just last week reinforcing why this law is important and the DOJ will keep enforcing it.

Now, if all of this sounds like we`re getting real deep into the law and we do that around here, I admit.  Let me tell you this is a law that is so important and so dramatic because it`s enforced, it`s even come up in some pretty big Hollywood movie plots.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And it is illegal to offer gifts, money, the promise of money, or anything of value to influence foreign officials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is it?  I have personally seen a bill from your law firm to the government of Saudi Arabia for $36 million.


MELBER:  So that`s the movies.  But this hasn`t snared a lot of real corporations and embarrassing and news-making cases.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  There are a number of ways in which this plan could turn out to be illegal.  If Blackwater followed through with the bribes, the company or its officials could face charges of obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  There are questions about whether the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has been violated by Rupert Murdoch and his news empire.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Walmart is accused of using bribery to help expand its business in Mexico and then covering it up. 


MELBER:  And those big stories have led to big consequences.  Avon once paid over $100 million for this, a congressman who violated it among other charges face 13 years in prison, which brings us to Trump Moscow because the report is that the Trump Organization was looking into giving Putin this $50 million penthouse.  We know Michael Cohen was also giving Trump updates at least in general about the project and that his work on the deal which he lied about initially continued until June 2016. 

We don`t know and the BuzzFeed reporting on this is instructive whether Trump himself was aware of this offer and the Moscow project wasn`t ultimately something that was built.  But I can tell you that we have surveyed here at THE BEAT multiple attorneys who specialize in this law and they tell us even an unsuccessful offer could be a felonious bribe under this law.  And we don`t know where this goes next.  This could be under the jurisdiction of the SEC although note that the man that Trump nominated to run it Jay Clayton has been criticizing this law that Trump already knew about and didn`t like saying its zealous enforcement might actually make corruption worse.

There`s another road this could go down as well.  If this offer and I say if because this is legal analysis was found through the evidence to be in a larger plot to collude with a foreign power.  If it relates to Bob Mueller`s charge to look at Russian election interference and collusion, well, then it`s under Bob Mueller`s jurisdiction.  So here`s where we go and I`m about to bring in some experts who are all over this story.  Mueller operates by the book.  If he thinks this was isolated corruption, he`ll hand it off to the SEC.  Maybe it was done by a random person and Trump never knew about it.  But if Mueller finds evidence showing it was part of a larger plot, you can bet he`ll keep it and stay on it.

I`m joined now by Anthony Cormier, the BuzzFeed reporter who broke this story originally and former Federal Prosecutor Paul Butler.  Anthony, you brought this w ole plot to light.  What do you think is important about where the story is now?

ANTHONY CORMIER, REPORTER, BUZZFEED:  I think it`s important to know that Michael Cohen directly asked the Kremlin about this.  We reported first that he went to the assistant of Dmitry Peskov.  So this wasn`t a harebrained scheme matched up by him an associate to market it.  This was a thing that they directly offered during a phone call with the Kremlin. 

And I think that it`s instructive to sort look into the future or at least begin to try to understand whether the report is going to go and we know right now the President Trump knew about this deal.  We know that at least Ivanka Trump -- we`ve report in the past -- knew about the Trump Moscow deal.  It would be highly unlikely for those three figures, for Donald, for Ivanka, and for Don Junior not to have understood that this was on the table.  It`s hard for me to believe.

MELBER:  You`re saying you`re reporting doesn`t confirm that, but it points that way?

CORMIER:  Not at the moment.  My reporting is that Michael Cohen was taking instructions on Trump Moscow from the President and his two children.  Whether or not they directly told him to take this step I can`t report yet but --

MELBER:  Do you view -- do you view the core of your story that you broke here on Trump Tower as something that is embarrassing and unseemly for the president or that could be this kind of corruption violation?

CORMIER:  I mean, I know the Office of Special Counsel is taking it very seriously that this is -- that Trump Moscow is not -- we`re not done hearing from the Office of Special Counsel on Trump Moscow.

MELBER:  Which is a broad way of saying that they think a felony may be implicated.

CORMIER:  They`re looking at this for not the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act but also potentially collusion.

MELBER:  Right.  That`s bigger then.


PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  So I`m going to quote the day`s legal expert DMX who we be the jerk, the thing, the work, the game.  So Michael Cohen is caught up in the game.  If Donald Trump`s Senior, Junior, Ivanka, they`re caught up as well, then they are guilty of at least one federal felony.  So the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it a crime to offer a bribe to a foreign government if you`re a citizen of the United States. 

So the issues here will be as you know, first, it has to be to influence a corrupt act.  The defense as we know it is that yes, we`re going to give Putin this $50 million condo but it was a marketing ploy to get other rich Russians to buy in the building.  If that`s true, then that`s a defense.  If on the other hand it`s about trying to get Putin and other Russians to approve the construction, then that`s a crime. 

MELBER:  That`s when it violates this law.  What does it tell you that in contrast to the way a lot of Trump critics talk about him, that he is a bumbling ignorant, whatever, I`m putting that all in quotes.  In fact, he seemed very knowledgeable about this law to the point that he wanted it eliminated.  To you and then you.

BUTLER:  Because as you know, Ari, the question with Trump is always criminal intent.  Is there proof of motive to be corrupt or is he just ignorant?  We know he`s not ignorant about this act because he doesn`t like it.  He thinks that U.S. citizens should be able to bribe foreign officials because he thinks that that gives them a competitive advantage.  So he knows that.  The other question is how much did Michael Cohen communicate to Trump when this was going down.  And what we know is that Special Counsel Mueller, he has text messages, he`s got cell phones, he`s got computers.

Remember that read or in Cohen`s offices in April, his office, his home, boxes, and boxes of documents President Trump went ballistic?  Now we know why. 

CORMIER:  I think -- I think that the critical question is going to be how much pressure or how much did Donald Trump tell Michael Cohen to pursue this deal?  And we`ve seen in some of the text messages and the e-mails that we`ve published that that Michael was deathly afraid of losing his job, that he was afraid that he was going to embarrass himself "in front of Mr. T" which suggests to me that that the organization itself was driving this, that they asked Michael to be quiet behind the scenes to get this done, to not make it public.  I think there are going to be other shoes to drop and I think it`s going to be critical to look at the organization, Trump, and then the kids roll with it.

MELBER:  Well it`s significant and it speaks to when you broke the story initially, it was all about the offer and the work.  And now it`s breaking in a way that shows it`s central at Michael Cohen`s pleas and we`re not done with what he`s handed over.  And on a lighter and more superficial note, because people could tell what a hardscrabble reporter you are, you`re a bit like the Silicon Valley CEOs where the more important they are, the more underdressed they --

CORMIER:  I was reporting all day.

MELBER:  All day.  So you`re actually doing the work.

CORMIER:  I`m not done yet. 

MELBER:  And some of these lawyer reporter types are just dressed up with nowhere to go.  I really appreciate you taking the story here.  Paul as always, I appreciate --

BUTLER:  Always a pleasure. 

MELBER:  -- your expertise on this.  I don`t think this is the last we`re going to hear of it.  Anthony and Paul, thank you both.  When we come back one more thing you might want to hear.


MELBER:  Sometimes we bring you a lot of big news.  I would argue other times we bring you the clock.  It is 654 p.m. on the east coast which means we are within a six-hour window as I told you the top of the broadcast to get the Mueller filing on Michael Flynn that everyone`s waiting for.  But as of this hour, as of this moment, we do not have it.  It will break sometime tonight if they reach the filing deadline and everyone will be talking about it. 

But as of this hour 6:55, we don`t have it yet and I wanted to tell you that update since we said it might come up.  We`ll be right back.


MELBER:  Amongst all the other news, we wanted to show you something that occurred moments ago.  Former President W. Bush coming back out.  Here you see him greeting people of mourners at the rotunda, celebrating and commemorating the great life of his father President George H.W. Bush.  We wanted to show you a couple of those moments that just happened. 

That does it for us.


Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC.  All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.