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Trump's ex-Lawyer jailed for three years. TRANSCRIPT: 12/12/18, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: David Jolly, Stu Zakim


TRUMP:  They`d rather say the tadpole.  It`s true.


TODD:  But again, crystal clear, right?  That`s all we have for tonight.  We`ll be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.

It`s "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" which starts right now.  In for Ari is Yasmin Vossoughian


TODD:  Good evening, Yasmin.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Nailed it, Chuck.

TODD:  You must -- by the way, you must love scrabble.  That`s all I`m going to say.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Thanks, Chuck.  Have a good rest of your night.

TODD:  You got it.  I will.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  I`m Yasmin Vossoughian, everybody, in or Ari.

And we begin with breaking news.  Donald Trump`s former lawyer going to prison.  A judge sentencing Michael Cohen to three years in prison for several financial crimes and two crimes linked directly to Trump.  Also today, another bombshell we didn`t see coming.  The tabloid company linked to Trump admitting to paying off a woman who alleged a relationship with him helping Trump win the election.

Cohen was emotional as he spoke in court today and blamed Trump for his actions saying "It was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light." Cohen said he had been "Living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day he accepted the offer to work for Trump.  And today is the day that I`m getting my freedom back."

But the judge said many of Cohen`s crimes were about personal greed.  He should have known better and his partial cooperation didn`t wipe the slate clean.  The New York prosecutors later saying they reached a deal with "American Media", the parent company of the "National Enquirer" which Cohen worked within the hush money scheme.

The feds saying they won`t prosecute "AMI" and in exchange, the company admitted it paid off Karen McDougal to help Trump in the election.  Trump has a long history with "AMI" owner David Pecker.  And earlier this year, the "Associated Press" reported the "Enquirer" kept a safe full of damaging reports about Trump that it had buried.

Today, reporters ask Trump about Cohen as he left a White House event.  Watch this.


TRUMP:  Thank you, everybody.

REPORTER:  Sir, do you have a comment about Cohen`s sentencing?

REPORTER:  Mr. President, your reaction to Michael Cohen`s sentencing?

REPORTER:  Mr. President, did Michael Cohen cover up your dirty deeds?


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Not surprising not much from him.  But Cohen`s lawyer Lanny Davis says Cohen will be talking a lot more comparing him to the key witness in Watergate saying "Remember John Dean?  It`s just beginning."  Cohen is ready to tell the truth about the president of the United States.  And lies are stubborn things.  It`s a stunning turnaround from the man who was once at the center of Trump`s inner circle.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL LAWYER:  I`m obviously very loyal and very dedicated to Mr. Trump.

The words the media should be using to describe Mr. Trump are generous, compassionate, principled, empathetic, kind, humble, honest, and genuine.

I`m going to be the personal attorney to Mr. Trump.

He`s more to us than just the boss.  He`s a mentor.  He`s a sage.  He`s like family.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  I imagine those words have now changed as we saw today.  Cohen must surrender to authorities on March 6.

With me, Megan Twohey, investigative reporter for "The New York Times" who`s covered Michael Cohen.  Dan Goldman who is assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and he was inside that courtroom today so he`s the man of the hour.  And Maya Wiley who worked as a civil prosecutor for the Southern District and was counsel to the Mayor of New York City.

Dan, I`m going to start with you.  You got all the color from inside that courtroom.  So talk to me about what you saw, what was it like in there?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  You know I`ve been in hundreds of sentencing not dissimilar to that in courtrooms, identical to that in that courthouse but this was an extraordinary one.  And the subtext, of course, to just about everything was Individual-1.  Even the judge referenced the fact, I think somewhat gratuitously that Michael Cohen committed the campaign finance crimes at the direction and coordination with Individual-1.

Michael Cohen spoke quite a lengthy speech that was emotional at times but it was all about Donald Trump.  The problem that Michael Cohen has here is that that`s not the only case that -- and those are not the only crimes for which he was being sentenced.  And at the end of the day, what really drove his sentencing was the case in the Southern District and primarily the five years of tax fraud that he committed and the bank frauds.  That`s what drove his guideline range so high.

So he had a lot of wood to chop to get down below that.  And he did a little bit, he got a break because of his cooperation with Robert Mueller.  But he didn`t get as much of a break as he wanted because he did not fully cooperate with the Southern District prosecutors.  And that was something that his lawyers took great the objection to, the characterization of his cooperation with the Southern District.

But at the end of the day, Judge Pauley agreed, because he understands how it works, that Michael Cohen did not voluntarily submit to the kind of debriefing that you would need to do in the Southern District.  He was happy to talk to Robert Mueller about things other people did but for whatever reason, he was not willing to talk to the Southern District about other crimes that he may have committed or I think more likely other crimes that people close to him committed.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So you say whatever reason and that`s what we`re trying to hone in on, right.  In his statement in the courtroom today, Michael Cohen said this with regards to his cooperation or lack thereof shall we say with the Southern District of New York.  He said this, "I believe during this process that there were only two things I could do to minimize the pain to my family.  Admit my guilt and move these proceedings along.  This is why I did not enter into a cooperation agreement."

So he`s making it, Maya, about his family.  Do you buy it?

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY:  It`s confusing.  I have to say if I were -- you don`t know what someone is really actually thinking.  Obviously, this is his position and it`s certainly plausible.  It seems to me, if I were him, I would have actually worked very hard for cooperation agreement very early and I would have spent all my time cooperating because I was thinking about my family in terms of the long- term.

But it does -- everyone is different, right.  And you have to really try to understand what peoples own personal dynamics were.  I did think it was unusual that he did not.  But remember also that when he walked into that first of the seven sessions of cooperating with Mueller`s team, he did not come clean on the Trump Tower Moscow efforts during 2016 that went -- led all the way up to June, until he was confronted with the fact that they had evidence.  So I think that kind of --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So Michael Cohen is a kind of guy that he needs evidence in order to actually cooperate.

WILEY:  Well, that`s --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  He needs to know that he`s guilty before he`s saying I`m guilty?

WILEY:  I think that`s the point is he was willing to talk about indictments that he knew he was facing or charges that he knew he was going to plead guilty to.  In the instance in which he didn`t know they had information, he was not coming clean.  And I think Dan is right, that there were probably people he`s trying to protect.  Not necessarily that he was trying to protect himself.  Doesn`t really matter.  What matters is if you`re actually thinking about your family then you actually come clean.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Yes.  You`ve been covering Michael Cohen for quite some time.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Is he covering for someone?

TWOHEY:  It`s hard to know if he`s covering for somebody.  I mean what`s clear is that he has been covering for Trump for quite some time when it came to the --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Not anymore.

TWOHEY:  Yes.  But he was covering for Trump for quite some time when it came to these campaign finance violations, the hush money that was -- that flowed to these women to keep them silent about the damaging stories that they had to tell during the presidential race.  It`s also clear that he appears to have been covering for the White House -- some people associated with the White House when it came to the Trump Tower Moscow project.

What we have realized as this story has continued to unfold is that not only did he lie to Congress but he did that in coordination with folks at White House, he`s now said.  And so that really raises questions about if that`s another crime that he has now been found and sentenced for.  Is there -- you know, are there people at the White House who are also connected to that who are involved in him basically lying about the Trump Tower Moscow project and the extent to which Trump was involved and how long those negotiations and conversations with the Russians went on into the presidential campaign.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So my big question here is, Dan, what type of legal peril now considering what we see Michael Cohen sentenced to, does this put the president in?

GOLDMAN:  Well, what really changed the president`s legal peril the AMI non-prosecution agreement.  But without Michael Cohen`s full cooperation in the Southern District and that campaign finance case related to AMI is in the Southern District, even if the -- forget about DOJ policy. Even if there were no DOJ policy, they would not be charging President Trump.

So Michael Cohen still has an option right now to fully cooperate and he could get some additional relief.  He probably will not walk out of -- never go to jail.  But if he were to cooperate, if he were to decide you know what, as Maya says, what really is best for my family is for me not to go to jail for three years.  I tried to skirt the system here.  I tried to game the system a little bit by keeping the things that I didn`t want to talk about to myself and talking about the things I did want to talk about.  I tried.  It didn`t work.  I`m looking at three years.  He can go in and cooperate now.

And when you add up Cohen`s testimony, as we know from what he said in court, the recording between Trump and Michael Cohen and now David Pecker and AMI`s cooperation, I would charge that case today.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  You would charge that case today?

GOLDMAN:  Right now.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  You think AMI is cooperating now with the Mueller investigation makes it that much stronger?

GOLDMAN:  Well, the one variable you`d have to know about and I`m making some assumptions here is that the AMI non-prosecution --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  And also, before you continue, why do think AMI is just so incredibly damaging to the president?

GOLDMAN:  Right.  So what AMI -- Michael Cohen handled the Stormy Daniels payment.  AMI handled the Karen McDougal payment.  When you have both people saying that it was to influence the election and that they knew that, and that they coordinated with the campaign, that gets you very far.  What you would need is to get to that president.  Michael Cohen has said it`s the president.  We don`t yet know from AMI`s documents that it is linked to the president.  But we do know that David Pecker has an incredibly close relationship with the president.

The reason why it`s such a game changer is you already had some corroboration from Michael Cohen`s testimony with that recording.  But now you have a whole another transaction and a whole another significant witness who is saying the same thing.  So even with Trump`s changing stories, pick whichever one you want, they don`t hold up against two witnesses admitting that they did this illegally and one recording where Trump`s voice is on it where he clearly knows what`s going on.

TWOHEY:  That`s also another potential can of worms for the president because up until this point, it`s been clear that AMI was involved and Cohen were involved in the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to hush them up.  But there have been these lingering questions about what else did AMI catch and kill on behalf of Trump?

And there`s one institution and a couple of individual there who can answer that question.  David Pecker is one of them.  So if he`s cooperating now, he`s cooperating with the Southern District moving forward -- and if this is an ongoing investigation into the campaign finance violations, if they are going into the Trump world, if they are going into the campaign, if they are digging further into AMI, I think it raises questions of whether or not there were other campaign violations that took place as part of the catch and kill practice that they had.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  All right.  Two things.  Were you completely surprised, caught off guard by the fact that AMI decided to cooperate with the Mueller investigation?  Also the story out there about this safe that may have sort of damaging information, more damaging information on President Trump.  What do you know about this?

TWOHEY:  Well, I think that to go back to the -- you know Dan brought up the recordings.  So Cohen and when it became clear after Cohen`s office was raided and the feds started to get their hands on some of these implicating documents that have led to these convictions.  One of the first things he did was he leaked this phone call that he had had with Trump in which they were discussing a potential, like not just this one particular payoff to one particular woman but buying up a whole series of stories that AMI had potentially damaging to Trump.

And so in some ways that was kind of a verbal discussion of what you could imagine a safe looking like, a safe full of like these damaging stories that AMI had gathered on Trump.  And so there have been really -- there have been questions.  What are those stories?  What else did AMI have?  What else did they potentially help the president -- then-presidential candidate cover-up during this race?

We`ve learned a couple of things.  Like we know that in 2015, I did report in -- I was one of the reporters who looked at what were some of the things that were -- they were trying to cover up at that time.  As early as 2015, there was a hedge fund manager who went to Michael Cohen with pictures of Trump with a bare-breasted woman and he steered this guy to AMI.


TWOHEY:  To David Pecker.  There was also been reports of a doorman at Trump Tower who had a potentially damaging story that AMI purchased and the story never saw the day of light, the light of day.  Now, listen, I don`t know how valid those stories are.  There are sort of allegations and tips that I --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Up until this point, David has been his ultimate protector.

TWOHEY:  And David has been his ultimate protector and has also insisted that he didn`t do anything on behalf of the president, that these were just -- that this is -- listen, this is just how AMI --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  But the fact that he`s cooperating doesn`t necessarily --

TWOHEY:  Well, this is a huge --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  -- back that up.

TWOHEY:  This is a huge turnaround.  If he was one of the president`s -- well, presidential candidate and then the president`s biggest protectors and concealer of damaging information, the fact that he might now be working -- well, the fact that he`s now working with the feds, raises, suggests that he could be one of the people like Cohen who could help reveal all the potential damaging stories.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Why now?  Why now with AMI?

WILEY:  Well, presumably because prosecutors could show them some evidence they had and that they were going to come for them and they decided to cooperate --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Evidence that they obtained from Michael Cohen?

WILEY:  From Michael Cohen, from e-mails that they could -- I mean who knows what else they have, right.  I mean we know that they would have information presumably from Michael Cohen himself but also from getting communications.   So it could be others as well and they`re not going to tell us.  But presumably, that happened in a conversation with AMI.  And AMI said, "We`re in.  What do you need?"

And one other point I just want to make because it`s so important.  We`re having this conversation. Obviously, this is a legal conversation but we have just gotten a second confirmation -- what appears to be a confirmation that the campaign, I mean this goes back to Dan`s point, hasn`t necessarily said Trump specifically but the Trump campaign was very much managed by Donald Trump and his children.  It was not -- it was a small operation.  Just like Trump, the Trump Organization is a small operation.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Which goes back to the report that we were covering on this show on Monday which is the fact that federal prosecutors are now looking into the Trump Organization and the Trump family.

WILEY:  Exactly.  And to the extent we have been hearing senators in Congress on the political side of this question since there isn`t going to be a criminal indictment despite Dan`s statement which I think is incredibly important on the law, that those Senators who are saying we don`t care, it becomes harder and harder not to care.

GOLDMAN:  Two real quick things.


GOLDMAN:  You don`t have to take my word for it, the Southern District --


GOLDMAN:  -- put it in their sentencing memo that clearly it was a clear sign they have a lot more evidence that Donald Trump was orchestrating this.  And the other thing to remember, that was one recording.  There were 11 others that were subject to some dispute between Trump and the U.S. Attorney`s office.  And ultimately, Trump`s lawyers withdrew their claim of privilege which I believe is because they are incriminating recordings that fall under the crime-fraud exception.  We don`t know what are on those 11 other recordings.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Just quickly, can we assume that the federal prosecutors have this safe if in fact, it does exist and David Pecker didn`t get rid of it?


WILEY:  Absolutely.

GOLDMAN:  But part of the corporation cooperating, they are going to give everything.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  They have to.

WILEY:  They have to.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Wow.  Quite a day everybody.  Megan Twohey, Maya Wiley, thank you.  Dan Goldman, you`re sticking around.  Sorry, bud, you were inside the courtroom so you got to stay a little longer.

Coming up, everybody, we`re going to fact check Trump`s shifting claims about the crime that landed Michael Cohen in prison.

Plus, first on THE BEAT.  My interview with a former national enquirer executive on why the tabloids struck a deal.

Also, GOP lawmakers stunned by the Cohen`s sentencing and Trump`s oval office chat with Chuck and Nancy.  We`re still talking about it.

Also, the Rev Al Sharpton will be here and talk about Trump, Cohen and his recent meeting with Beto O`Rourke.

I`m Yasmin Vossoughian, in for Ari Melber.  You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Back with the breaking news, Trump`s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen sentenced to three years in prison and ready to speak out on "Donald Trump`s lies".  Cohen lands behind bars after implicating Trump himself in a hush money payoff to women.  Trump saying, he did "nothing wrong" by directing Cohen to pay women who alleged affairs, affairs Trump and the White House have directly denied.  He`s now calling the payments a "simple transaction".  Here is what he said in the past.


REPORTER:  Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP:  You have to ask Michael Cohen.  Michael is my attorney.  You`ll have to ask Michael.

He made the deal.  They weren`t campaign finance.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Also today, the tabloid that caught and killed damaging stories about Trump is cooperating with the feds, admitting it made the payment in concert with Trump`s campaign.  Everyone involved agrees the hush money was about the election except the president.  Now, a man who was so loyal to Trump, he vowed the take a bullet for him is ready to tell all.  His former lawyer telling NBC News Cohen is going to expose Trump`s laying saying, "Remember John Dean?  It`s just the beginning."  John Dean was Nixon`s loyal White House counsel who flipped blowing the lid off the Watergate cover-up.


JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL FOR FORMER PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON:  I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency.  And if the cancer was not removed, the president himself would be killed by it.  I also told him that it was important that this cancer be removed immediately because it was growing more deadly every day.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Joining me, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman.  She as on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon.  She`s also the author of "The Case for Impeaching Trump".  Former Federal Prosecutor Dan Goldman is back with us, along with Richard Painter, former White House Ethics chief under Bush 43.

Congresswoman, I`m going to start with you on this one.  John Dean.  The new John Dean, integral to the Watergate cover-up.  The guy who flipped.  What do you think here?  Do you think Cohen is the new John Dean?

FORMER REPRESENTATIVE ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, MEMBER OF JUDICIARY COMMITTEE THAT IMPEACHED RICHARD NIXON:  Well, Cohen could be one of the John Deans because Cohen obviously was very close to the president.  He was carrying hush money payments, was arranging for them, was involved in interfering with the election.  John Dean was part of the cover-up.  There`s no question about it.  He ultimately told about that and he paid a terrible price for it but he came clean.

But we had someone else.  Also, a counsel to the president, Herbert Kalmbach who carried the hush money payments and he also was prosecuted.  He was connected to Nixon too.  The people involved in the cover-up are going to be in trouble.  And Mueller is slowly and systematically is unpeeling this onion and we`re going to see the whole truth and it`s going to point, just as Watergate did, right at the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  There was something else that took Nixon down and it was the tapes.

HOLTZMAN:  Yes, of course.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  And there are tapes on the president.  I want to take a listen to those just to jug everybody`s memory and then we`ll talk.


COHEN:  But you never know where that company -- you never know what he`s - -

TRUMP:  Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN:  Correct.  So I`m all over that.  and I spoke to Allen about it.  When it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP:  Wait a sec, what financing?

COHEN:  Well, I`ll have to pay him something.

TRUMP:  (INAUDIBLE) pay with cash --

COHEN:  No, no, no, no, no.  I got it.  No, no, no.

TRUMP:  Check.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Go ahead, Dan.

GOLDMAN:  The parallels are interesting because what we`re now starting to see is there are some tapes.  I don`t think the smoking gun tapes thus far that existed in Nixon`s case.  But similarly, the cover-up here, we`re starting as we`re peeling this onion here as Ms. Holtzman said, is starting to become bigger and bigger and bigger.

We know that there are campaign officials or potentially members of the Trump Organization or both who were involved in the AMI conversations that we just learned about today.  Michael Cohen said he coordinated his false testimony to Congress with members of the White House and members of the White House counsel.

The smoke around the cover-up here is starting to really billow.  And it is getting bigger and bigger and bigger.  And what you`re also seeing is that when confronted with it, people fold.  Michael Cohen folded.  AMI, David Pecker, his close friend is folding.  People don`t want to go to jail.


GOLDMAN:  And what we learned today is -- and this is also an underrated takeaway from what happened.  Judge Pauley sentenced Michael Cohen to two months in jail for lying to Congress.  Even though that was a zero to six- month guideline range and he cooperated.  He cooperated. He should have gotten probation hands down.  But Judge Pauley made the point and he also fined him an extra $50,000 to make the point that this is very serious.  So what we are starting to see is things are starting to really close in around the network of cover-up, of obstruction, and it`s hard to imagine that it can hold.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So you guys are starting to see that things are closing in, Richard.  But is Washington, are Republicans starting to see that things are closing in?  Because so far, what we have seen as Republicans have stood by the president and said he`s done nothing wrong, at what point is this straw going to break the camel`s back?  Because as Dan just put it, I mean there`s a lot -- there are a lot -- a lot of things are closing in on the president right now.

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH:  Well, publicly, the Republicans are, many of them, still supporting the president but this is a very bad situation for the president.  The president`s lawyer got three years in prison for crimes that he committed on behalf of the president, his client.  And that`s not just the payoffs for these women that were illegal campaign expenditures but a range of different crimes.

If the lawyer gets three years, how much time should the client get?  And that doesn`t even include whatever Bob Mueller comes up with respect to Russia and obstruction of justice and the crimes that were committed there.  This is entirely a plaque for the Russia investigation.  Donald Trump is in serious trouble.  His lawyers ought to be telling him to negotiate a plea deal.  It`s time to negotiate a comprehensive plea deal for Donald Trump that includes federal and state charges, reduced charges, and return for his resignation.

That`s where this ought to be headed.  That`s where the Republicans in Congress ought to be driving this, toward a comprehensive plea deal for Donald Trump and his family members.  Get him out of the White House.  Have him resign.  Plead guilty to lower charges and let`s move on as a country because it`s quite clear his goose is cooked here.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So you have Richard Painter suggesting the president negotiate a plea deal.  That`s obviously going after the big dog here.  What about the Roger Stones of the world who are looking at this as precedent right now seeing Michael Cohen get three and a half years?  Are we assuming right now he`s making a phone call to Mueller and saying, "Hey.  I`m ready to talk.  I`m ready to cooperate."?

HOLTZMAN:  No.  These people aren`t going to -- people like Roger Stone, in my opinion, they`re going to fight until the very end like Haldeman, like Earl McMahon, the people who are closest to Nixon, a lifelong friend, aide, staff.  They didn`t fold.  They were there to the bitter end.  But he handwritings on the wall for all of them, and that`s really the point here, the cover-up has expanded, has mushroomed.  We see how big it is.  And these people aren`t going to escape.

And as far as the Republicans, go back to Watergate, Howard Baker, co-chair of the Senate Watergate Committee, vice chair of it, Republican from Tennessee started out as a Nixon partisan.  He started asking these famous questions, what does the president know and when did he know it?  He was convinced the president knew nothing and wasn`t involved.

But the facts changed his mind.  And the facts changed the minds of the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.  And the facts, as they come out, will change the minds of the senators and the Republicans on the House.  But if they don`t change their minds, the American people will force them to change their minds.

PAINTER:  One of the concerns though is because there was this --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Quickly Dan because we got to wrap this up.

GOLDMAN:  -- where there was this smoking gun in Watergate that there now is a new barometer where people seem to require a smoking gun.  That, of course, is not necessary in a criminal case and it`s not necessary in common sense but if that`s the measure, then we may not get that.  So that`s something to keep in mind.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  I will say we`ve been waiting to hear from the president and what we have heard so far is just talk of his chief of staff.  So kind of shows where his psyche is at possibly right now hearing about Michael Cohen.  I don`t know.  Just a window into it maybe.  Congresswoman Elizabeth Holzman, Dan Goldman, Richard Painter, thank you all.

Ahead, everybody, an exclusive interview with a former "National Enquirer" insider on the tabloid flipping.

But first, the fallout from the brawl in the oval office.  Why Trump was furious and throwing papers and what the next two years is going to look like when we`re back in 30 seconds.


YASMIN VOSSOUGHIAN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Today a top Democratic senator connecting Trump`s legal exposure to yesterday`s meeting with Chuck and Nancy.


SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO:  I would maybe suggest that his sentencing in the President`s temper tantrum yesterday was -- were related.  Whatever the number of people that have pled guilty or been sentenced to just one after another and these are important, very, very important people to the President`s life.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Trump in that meeting saying he`d shut down the government to get his border wall. 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck.  I will take the mantle.  I will be the one to shut it down.  I`m not going to blame you for it.  The last time you shut it down, it didn`t work.  I will take the mantle of shutting down.  And I`m going to shut it down for border security.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  But Republicans not thrilled with that.  GOP Senator John Thune saying "I heard it was very entertaining television.  And when asked if he`d watch the meeting, Senator John Cornyn replied "I did, unfortunately, I wish I didn`t.  With me now is David Jolly, former Republican Congressman of Florida and Sam Seder Host of the Majority Report radio show.  First, David, I`m going to go to you on this one.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  What do you make of this link between the Cohen pressure and Trump appearing pretty rattled yesterday, to say the least.

JOLLY:  Well, I think we`re seeing that increasingly almost week by week as the Mueller probe is moving towards finality.  And you would have to suspend belief to suggest that everybody around Donald Trump is falling and copying to please and being convicted and yet none of this touches the President.  He knows that Mueller is heating up on him or his family and I think that`s why we see it.

But look, to the substance of the meeting, I think every Republican cringed when they heard him say that piece you just played there when he said I`ll own the shutdown, there are no winners in shut down politics, there are only losers.  And Donald Trump is playing with fire suggesting that he`ll own a government shutdown. 

VOSSOUGHIAN:  But you know, we have this new poll out saying 65 percent of Republicans from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Polls 65 percent of Republicans say that President Trump should not compromise on the border wall to avoid a shutdown.  They support what he`s doing.

SAM SEDER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes.  Well, I mean this is the problem that the Republicans have is that Donald Trump speaks to the majority of the Republican Party but not nearly to the majority of the American people.  And so they have this dilemma.  I mean, it`s frankly why the Republican Party has fallen in line with Donald Trump since day one.  It is because he is the Republican Party.  And so they are handcuffed. 

They don`t -- they are stuck between that a rock and a hard place.  And frankly, I don`t see how they don`t try and give him his wall, at least the Republicans, but I also don`t see how they get that through the Senate.  So --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  But at what point do you say we need to be -- do what`s best to the American people and avoid a government shutdown?

SEDER:  If I`m a Republican lawmaker?


SEDER:  I don`t think there is that point to be honestly with you.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  There`s never that point.

SEDER:  I don`t think here is.  I think they go down with the ship because they -- their voters want them to follow Donald Trump.  I mean, this is a problem that has been growing in the Republican Party for over a decade, maybe a couple of decades, and I don`t think this gets reversed.  I mean, I think this is -- this is the Republican Party.  This is not just about Donald Trump.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  David, I can`t help but think this is what we`re in for the next two years, zero bipartisanship in Washington D.C. and a complete back and forth between the Democrats and the President.  I`m not sure we`re going to be able to get anything done really.

JOLLY:  Yes, sure.  Look, a lot of people say this is what divided government looks like.  But I think more importantly this is what it looks like when Congress has a spine.  Look, we`ve lived through two years of Congress being the lap dog to this President and a lot of people cheered yesterday not because it was Democrat standing up for Republicans but because we saw Congress that actually was saying you know what Mr. President, we`re going to make decisions on our own as well.

There was a glimpse there and this is very important we`re Chuck Schumer saw an opening because it would be difficult for Democrats to say the President wants border security, we want operational control.  Democrats may indeed lose an argument if they get too nuanced in this. 

But what Chuck Schumer said to the President yesterday is Mr. President let`s continue what your Department of Homeland Security has been doing for the last year.  Let`s just continue that for the next year.  Because the Senate actually has already appropriated Trump`s original request of $1.6 billion, the House gave him $5e billion.  Trump changed the rules of the game over the summer and said no it has to be $5 billion or nothing at all. 

And Schumer just said hey, let`s keep doing what you`ve been doing, what you`ve been bragging about Mr. President.  We`ll do that for one more year.  If Democrats stay in that lane, they`re in a very safe place.  They`ll make the President look like he`s throwing a tantrum every time he yells at them about this.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  All right, Congressman David Jolly and Sam Seder, thank you both for joining me.  I appreciate it.  Ahead everybody, Reverend Sharpton prayed with Michael Cohen last summer.  He joins me live on today`s sentencing.  But first, the tabloid with decades of Trump dirt is now cooperating with the feds.  A former executive for the Enquirer as the owner joins me exclusively next.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Tonight, the major tabloid that has long cozied up to trump flipping on Trump.  The parent company of the National Enquirer, AMI, admitting that it coordinated with Michael Cohen on a payment to Karen McDougal buying her story of an alleged affair with Trump in order to bury the story and help the campaign. 

In a moment I`m going to speak with former National Enquirer Insiders Stu Zakim.  He worked with AMI CEO David Pecker who was a longtime friend of Trump.  Pecker reportedly amassed decades of dirt on the President, keeping much of it a secret -- in a secret safe, excuse me.  Pecker now cooperating with prosecutors.  He was named checked in that infamous Trump-Cohen phone call.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER, DONALD TRUMP:  You never know where that company --you never know what he`s --

TRUMP:  Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN:  Correct. So,  I`m all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP:  Wait a sec, what financing?

COHEN:  Well, I`ll have to pay him something.

TRUMP:  (INAUDIBLE) pay with cash.

COHEN:  No, no, no, no, no.  I got it.

TRUMP:  Check.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  All right, with me now Stu Zakim, former Senior Vice President of the National Enquirer`s Parent Company American Media Inc.  Stu, good to have you.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  I imagine we`re not the only phone call made to you this afternoon.

ZAKIM:  No, it`s been kind of --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Yes.  What do you make of AMI cooperating here? 

ZAKIM:  I think it`s perfectly natural.  David Pecker looks out for David Pecker.  So clearly the signs were saying to him time to take care of yourself.  And you know, it`s not unnatural for him to throw people under the bus for his own benefit.  David is a survivor.  The guy lands on his feet no matter what has happened through his career.  And this is a perfect example of him figuring out how to make that happen again.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Do you think that he was waiting to see what happened to Cohen in order to make this cooperation?

ZAKIM:  No, I think if you look at the information they posted online today these conversations happened in August.  And when it was all happening, I think he knew what Cohen was doing.  They`re operating separately but both trying to get save their own skins and one did and one didn`t.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  What does AMI have on the President Trump.  What do you think they have on President Trump?  Well you have to look back at the wound for the friendship, not just AMI but Pecker and Trump`s friendship that goes back a couple decades at this point.  And I`m sure between all the sources that they have, there`s a lot of information whether it`s an infamous safe that you refer to or other things that peckers got.  But at the -- you know, nevertheless, I believe that there`s a lot of good information that will come out when he does testify.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  So you brought up this safe and there`s information that there`s a safe and that it does exist and it has information on -- damaging information on the President.  In the story of the safe there was a that I want to read to you.  It says fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker removes them from the safe in the weeks before Trump`s inauguration. 

Do you think it`s likely that the safe is still there, that he still has the documents, that they exist, that he has cooperated so fully with the Southern District that he`s handed over those documents?  Does he understand what cooperation is that he does have to hand over those documents by cooperating?

ZAKIM:  I think if he -- if he and his attorneys read the letter that they got -- that they published they rather, of course, he knows because he spelled out quite clearly what he can`t and what cannot do.  Because if he messes up on one of those things, he`s back in court again.  So he really cares about himself.  He`s going to make sure that they don`t violate any of those rules.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Do you -- did you ever hear of a safe like this existing when you were there?

ZAKIM:  No, but I`m not surprised because look at the culture of The Enquirer.  You know, it`s all about lock and key and keeping things secret.  It would be perfectly natural for than have a safe even though it`s kind of antiquated in today`s world, everything is digital.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Why have a safe?

ZAKIM:  Just power, influence, leverage.  I got the goods.  Don`t mess with me.  It`s really what it`s about. 

VOSSOUGHIAN:  It doesn`t necessarily seem like an up-and-up practice to have a safe like that with --

ZAKIM:  Well, with the National Enquirer, you can say up and up and speak about The Enquirer in tabs in the same breath.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Should the President be nervous right now?

ZAKIM:  I believe he should be very nervous.  I mean, look at what we`re seeing today.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Yes.  All right, Stu Zakim, thank you so much for joining us.

ZAKIM:  Thank for having me. 

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Very much appreciate it. 

ZAKIM:  Thanks.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  All right, coming up, everybody.  What else does Michael Cohen know about Donald Trump?  The Reverend Al Sharpton has met with Cohen with the legal saga and he joins me next. 


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Welcome back.  What else does Michael Cohen know?  Hinting today in court at "dirty deeds he did for Donald Trump."  In a moment I`m going to be joined by the Reverend Al Sharpton.  He`s known Trump for years and he also knows Michael Cohen, praying with Cohen in the fall right after Cohen pled guilty to campaign finance violations and more.

Cohen and his family appearance shaken today as they arrived for his sentencing hearing.  Cohen telling the court he is "suffering knowing his actions brought pain and shame upon his family."  With me as promised is the Reverend Al Sharpton, Host of "POLITICS NATION" here on MSNBC.  Reverend Al, good to have you.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Thanks for coming in.  Give me your thoughts on today. 

SHARPTON:  I heard his statement and it was very similar to he had met with me twice this year -- he reached out, and he was more concerned about his family than anything else.  And in our last meeting where -- when I was getting ready to leave the restaurant, we had breakfast both times, he said to me pray for me Reverend because I`m going to go to jail.  I kept saying well you`ll see what -- you know I`m going to jail.  So I was not surprised when he talked about his family and I think he meant that.  I think he was very concerned about his family.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  What about the President?  He talks a lot about the President in court today.  I want to -- I want to read to something that he said.  He said, recently the President tweeted a statement calling me weak and he was correct but for a much different reason than he was implying.  It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass. 

It seems as if Michael Cohen is having a -- not really quite sure how to say this -- coming to Jesus moment.

SHARPTON:  Well, I would hope that so.  I know that through the years and most of my relationship with Donald Trump was adversarial fighting him on birther, fighting him on Central Park Five case.  And they -- and Michael Cohen was the one that would always be the guy to call you and try to arrange the meeting, can`t you talk.  He was always in the room.  So clearly --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  He was his fixer.

SHARPTON:  He was the guy that everybody knew was the one -- when he called, he was calling for Trump, he`d be in the room.  So he knew what was going on.  So there`s no way of getting around that he has a lot of information because he was sitting there most of the interactions that Donald Trump had, even with people like me that were adversarial from a civil rights point of view.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  There`s talk that Michael Cohen could now cooperate with the Southern District considering he got three and a half years in jail today because he doesn`t want to spend that time there.  Considering what you know of him and the fact that you`ve known the President for so long as you have and dealt with Michael Cohen.  Do you think he could actually do that now?

SHARPTON:  I think he could and I think --


SHARPTON:  I think that given his concern about his family, it`s very possible.  I mean, he can`t predict what someone will do but it`s very possible that if he`s looking at his family and looking at the president now denouncing him, what would be his motive to continue in this pathway he`s going to go to jail if in fact, he has information that is of value?

VOSSOUGHIAN:  I just had obviously a lot of lawyers throughout this show and they`re saying there`s a lot of evidence building up on the President especially with this new AMI information coming out and they`re cooperating with the Southern District.  You remember in Michael Wolff`s book Fire and Fury, he said the President did not even want to win that election back in 2016.  He did not want to be President of the United States and it was quite a surprise that he actually won.  Is the presidency the worst thing that has happened to Donald Trump?

SHARPTON:  It looks like it may end up being that.  I know that many people have said that I know that know him know the President that he was the most surprised person when he won and that would lead to a lot of the speculation that he was really setting up deals for when he lost that he would be able to go and finish those deals which may mean that he did things that now will come out that were not legal or ethical.  We will see. 

But clearly if you are not thinking you`re going to be president, you operate in a certain way that is not careful and then there`s not presidential or even ethical.  And I think that that`s what we`re beginning to see unravel around the President.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  OK, while I have you, I want to talk to you out Beto O`Rourke.  He`s actually leading in a brand new poll of potential 2020 contenders running for president.  You met with him. 

SHARPTON:  I talked to him.  He called --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  You talked to him.

SHARPTON:  He called me -- we talked Friday.  I reached out to him about some of the activities we`re doing civil rights wise and voting rights wise next year and he couldn`t fulfill one of the request but he called me to talk about it.  And he`s very personable.  He`s certainly a very attractive candidate.  And I think that he has a lot of potential.  Whether he runs or not he did not say.  He didn`t say he --

VOSSOUGHIAN:  Did you ask him?

SHARPTON:  I said to him there`s a lot of things going on out there and a lot of people are interested.  He didn`t -- he kind of chuckle.  He didn`t say yes or no.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  I mean, who does until they do.

SHARPTON:  I think it is clear that he`s something that is going to be affected and so well Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum.  I mean, you`re talking about he made a real inroad into voters in Texas Stacey in Georgia, and Andrew Gillum in Florida.  In the deep south, you cannot in any way act like that`s not a major, major factor. 

VOSSOUGHIAN:  I literally have 20 seconds, but you don`t think we -- there should there should be a minority running?

SHARPTON:  I think that I would love to see a minority but I will take whoever can get the majority and take the White House back from this kind of atmosphere that we`ve had to operate under.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  There you have it.  Thank you so much, Rev.  Good seeing you.

SHARPTON:  Thank you.  Good to see you.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  And of course, don`t miss Rev. Sharpton on "POLITICS NATION" right here on MSNBC 5:00 p.m. Eastern on the weekends.  You do not want to miss that show.  It`s a great one.  We`ll be right back everybody.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Welcome back.  Late night hosts having a feel day with Mike Pence`s silence during yesterday`s contentious Oval Office meeting.  Not only did the Vice President stare blanklessly around the room, he failed to mutter a single word.  While it was too good for the  comedians to pass up on, the Daily Show tweeting out that Mike Pence looks like a guy whose edibles just kicked in while Stephen Colbert tried to guess  what was going through the Vice President`s mind.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I wonder if I sit real still if people will even notice I`m here.  I`m a Manila envelope taped to a beige wall.  No one can even see me.  President Pence, the Pence administration, the Michael Pence presidential library and casino.  Nobody even noticed.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  He even got a sombrero on in the end.  I`ve had a lot of fun, everybody, filling in for Ari this week but I know it has been rough for some of my colleagues who have had to confront my last name.  It`s a tough one.


KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST:  Yasmin is in for Ari.  Yasmin, I don`t know how to say your last name.  I`m going to be honest.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  I mean, who doesn`t.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  THE BEAT starts right now.  Yasmin Vesuvius -- I`m sorry, Vossoughian.  I knew this.  I`m better at this and I should be.  My apologies.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  I said to Dan the E.P., did you talk to Chuck about the name.

TODD:  I had it -- I had it, and then -- and then I blew it.

VOSSOUGHIAN:  And then he didn`t.


VOSSOUGHIAN:  Vesuvius has a nice ring to it, but it`s not my name.  But nothing can compare to the value and effort from my colleague Keir Simmons last year.


KEIR SIMMONS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  I`m Keir Simmons, I`ll be back with you at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time.