Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 10, 2019 Guest: Lanny Davis, David Corn, Barbara Res, Tony Schwartz, Nick Akerman; Maya Wiley; Jackie Speier; Lanny Davis
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Caught in the middle of this. People whose lives are being impacted. They can`t buy a house in time. They have to delay that. They`re getting hurt. All the while, the clock keeps ticking.
So in case you missed it, everybody in Washington, we`re about to hit the end of day 20.
That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.
"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now. Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. Thank you very much.
We begin tonight with the news rocking the Trump White House. Michael Cohen is ready for his John Dean moment. Trump`s former lawyer will testify in public to the U.S. Congress. Now, this is in response to a formal request from House Democrats.
He will speak on February 7 which he confirmed in a statement late today pledging a full and credible account of the events which have transpired and he knows a lot about them. That would seem to include Michael Cohen`s knowledge of Donald Trump, of the Donald Trump Organization where Cohen worked for a decade and held the senior title, and presumably some of the lies that we do already know Michael Cohen told apparently on Donald Trump`s behalf. The hearing as a matter of when it is, timing, well, just weeks before Cohen is scheduled to report to prison.
Now, let`s be clear. This will be an on-camera public hearing with public testimony that is already begun conjuring some comparisons to the Nixon era. It was Cohen`s own Adviser Lanny Davis who recently said, "Remember John Dean? It`s just the beginning"
Dean was famously Richard Nixon`s trusted lawyer until he wasn`t. And he went from Nixon confidante to star witness for the other side unraveling key parts of Watergate in public even as critics at the time attacked his perceived credibility.
Will Michael Cohen emerge in a similar role as you consider these two White House trial lawyers? Will he reveal things he`s only told to prosecutors up to this point? And why is Michael Cohen planning to apparently tell all under oath before he begins his prison sentence?
Well, let`s tackle those questions right now on the breaking news with former Watergate Special Prosecutor Nick Akerman and a former Federal Prosecutor Maya Wiley who served in the office that prosecuted Cohen`s case.
Good evening to both of you. Nick, how did your approach to John Dean as he was preparing for testimony work out in the Watergate example? And what do you think is important about Michael Cohen announcing to the world today he`s going to do this?
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, there are a couple of things. When John Dean testified, he was given immunity by the Senate Select Committee. The first thing I did for Archie Cox when he was special prosecutor was to put together all of the evidence that we had on John Dean so we could show that we had evidence independent of the testimony he was going to give before the Senate.
Any time you have a witness who is going to testify other than in court for the prosecutor is always a problem for the prosecutor. Secondly, John Dean is not nearly as important as Michael Cohen is in terms of Trump. John Dean was not that close to Richard Nixon. He had some important meetings with Richard Nixon but he was not his personal lawyer.
MELBER: Let`s pause on that. Some people view the John Dean comparison as a potential inflation, as a dramatization. You`re saying it doesn`t go far enough to capture just how much Michael Cohen knows about Donald Trump?
AKERMAN: That`s exactly right. Michael Cohen is much more intimately involved with the day to day activity of Donald Trump and was involved nowhere near as close as John Dean was. In fact, if you look at even the other two cooperating witnesses that are involved, Michael Flynn and the deputy campaign manager to Manafort, I mean these people are much higher up in the food chain than John Dean ever was in terms of having day to day contact with the president.
MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Yes.
MELBER: You agree with all that I take it.
WILEY: I agree. I think this is potentially even more important than the Mueller report. And the reason is because we don`t know what we will finally have as public from the Mueller report when it is finally written.
This is a central witness with direct factual information. Remember that in the sentencing memos, what we heard is that Michael Cohen was not only directed by the president at the beginning of his presidential campaign to have direct contact with Russians in order to move forward his business interests. We know that there was a transfer from his campaign manager Paul Manafort of campaign data to Oleg Deripaska who`s a very close Putin aligned oligarch.
We know that Michael Cohen, remember, he said wasn`t in Prague for a meeting in the summer of 2016 and now we know that there was cell phone data that demonstrated that he seems like he was.
MELBER: Seems close.
WILEY: Was at least close. What does that suggest? There`s -- and that in that sentencing memo, one of the things the Mueller team said was that he was correcting misstatements about interaction with Russians except we don`t know what those misstatements are.
MELBER: Two things here. One small and one large. Small is that "The Times" ultimately updated their reporting about which oligarch so that still sort being tracked down. Large is I just want to repeat what Maya Wiley, one of our trusted analysts here is saying. You think this news tonight and what Michael Cohen could say under oath to Congress could literally be bigger than the Mueller report?
WILEY: Well, in the sense that Mueller knows more. I don`t mean the Mueller report is unimportant or not central. But I mean we don`t because we know there will be a fight about what parts of the Mueller report we might be able to hear. This is a central witness who will speak directly and publicly and we don`t know the substance, obviously.
But it`s the potential to answer some very big questions that make it completely clear to the public directly that there was actual knowledge on the part of Donald Trump, potentially of engagement with Russians around influencing the election.
MELBER: Which goes, Nick, to the lies, which is we have an individual who has confessed to at least one lie to Congress. And Maya just put her finger on it. Was he lying for himself? Was he lying to say I should get a job or I should get something for myself? It would appear the entire lie about Trump Tower was to help Donald Trump hide something they felt they needed hidden.
And yet -- I see how eager you are to get in. And yet, it`s my obligation as a reporter to press the other side. There are more than one side to these cases. And the other side is what you dealt with in Watergate. I want to play some John Dean and have you stitch it back together.
What about the other side when people around Trump say this person, Mr. Cohen, is an admitted liar, an admitted felon and thus what about his credibility? Why is that worth anything? And here`s how that came up, as you know, although Dean did prove to be quite the witness. But it did come up in attacks on John Dean. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What makes you think that your credibility is greater than that of the president who denies what you have said?
JOHN DEAN: Well, Senator, I have been asked to come up here and tell the truth. I`ve told it exactly the way I know it. I`m telling you what I know. I`m telling you just as I know it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: How does that relate to did John Dean ultimately prove to be truthful and damaging to Nixon and how do you relate that to Cohen?
AKERMAN: OK. He definitely, later turned out that he was corroborated completely by the White House tapes. But I think what is really significant here is up to this point, the big difference with Watergate was very early on after Cox was appointed May of `73, and by June of `73, John Dean was testifying and the American public actually had a narrative of what happened that the story was out there.
Right now, we have been trying to put that story together on this show and other areas. What Michael Cohen is going to do is provide the narrative of what happened or at least a good part of what happened. And that`s what we`re missing right now.
MELBER: Well, that`s what your -- I think the implication that you make there, matches what Maya is getting at which is while the report ultimately will be fascinating for whatever complete narrative it gives, so little of that has been in public view, that to hear from this individual will say more.
As for what he intends to say, we reported his statement, it is quite crisp. It doesn`t really give a list. But then sometimes Twitter can make you dumber and sometimes it can make you more informed. Then I can tell you as I was walking out to the newsroom here, to the set, Michael Cohen retweeted a journalist, David Corn that I think our viewers will remember who wrote this.
Cummings announces Cohen will testify. Much to ask him beyond hush money payments campaign finance crime. Cohen can discuss Trump dealings in Russia and reaching out to Putin`s office and so much more. Buckle up.
That is the latest by retweet from Cohen. Go ahead.
WILEY: That`s it.
AKERMAN: Yes. That`s going to be the narrative.
WILET: I don`t have to say anything anymore.
MELBER: You`re done here?
WILEY: I`m done here.
MELBER: I know it`s a small mike. Are you going to drop it?
WILEY: I would -- I`m looking for -- can I have a camera? Can I drop the camera? No. But this is exactly -- and so we don`t know.
And I think to your point which is extremely important, it`s the bigger question is how credible is Michael Cohen going to be to the American public and how much corroboration? Because we know the response is going to be he`s lied before, he`s lying now.
The difference though is that we have been told and we have an indication that he has been highly cooperative. Mueller himself has said this is someone who has been cooperative and he no longer has anything to gain.
MELBER: No longer anything to gain indeed. This is the very unusual situation of the sitting president`s lawyer saying to the country tonight - - and this is the first time. I know when we cover this stuff, people say there is so much going on. No.
This is the first time the sitting president`s lawyer has said to the nation, "I need to speak under oath, which carries legal liability before I go to prison." He`s going potentially for up to three years and he`s doing it then.
But you mentioned the cooperation. This is what the federal prosecutors in New York who we`ve been covering, a tough office, this is how they put it to be clear. "Cohen repeatedly declined to provide what they called full information, specifically declined to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct if any in his past."
Maya, what do you say to people who point to that coming out of SDNY? That is not Hannity. That is not "Fox News". That is SDNY federal prosecutors saying not full information.
WILEY: This is an important point. It is -- the distinction here is Mueller has -- Mueller`s team has said forthcoming, SDNY has said not. SDNY, I think rightly has said his cooperation with us was supposed to be about anything and everything. And he was unwilling apparently to be forthcoming about potential crimes of others not connected to Russia.
MELBER: Right. So we`ve got a clean book of health from Mueller but not from the New York Fed.
MELBER: That`s something I want to ask Lanny Davis about when he joins us later tonight. Go ahead.
AKERMAN: But the important thing is he lied to the Southern District about these facts.
WILEY: That`s right.
AKERMAN: He just refused to do it. He had a very unusual arrangement there. Normally when somebody comes in, they cooperate, they sign an agreement. He didn`t do that to sign an agreement to testify and provide full information about everything he knew.
He knew he was going to jail for a good period of time because of his tax and bank violations. That was a given. And I think his only get out of jail card here is to testify for Mueller, testify before Congress because he still has within a year of his sentence the opportunity to go before the sentencing judge and ask for a reduction based on this cooperation.
MELBER: And when you say cooperation, are you suggesting that it may be in Michael Cohen`s interests to be as full and accurate as possible before Congress and then take that to the judge as an additional public reason to give him some extra leniency?
AKERMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. To be able to go to the judge and say, look, I testified truthfully before Congress. I told the American people what I did. I told the American people what they had to worry about with this particular president and what this particular president did. And I broke open this whole case and was the first person to provide the narrative as to what really happened here.
MELBER: Well, as is often the case, I learn things from both of you. What I just learned from you as a part of what your analysis suggests is Michael Cohen`s rationale is a question I will put directly to Lanny Davis, his legal adviser when he joins me later in the show.
So we`ll find out if he agrees with what you say is motivating Mr. Cohen. Nick Akerman, thank you. Maya, stay right with me. I want to bring you into another segment in a moment.
Coming up, as mentioned, Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen`s advisor, and former lawyer joins me to discuss all of this breaking news.
Also, we`ll hear from Congresswoman Jackie Speier who may question Cohen behind closed doors. Rumors about that tonight. And Donald Trump trying to rewrite his own history on whether Mexico, as promised, will pay for the wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say Mexico`s going to pay for it. Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they`re going to write out a check.
They`ll pay, in one form or another. They may even write us a check.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A huge, huge lie. We have the fact-check.
But also, we go deeper on why Donald Trump is just so bad horrifically and embarrassingly at the deals he claims he was good at. Two insiders here, a former long-time executive with the Trump Organization and the co-author of "The Art of the Deal" Tony Schwartz.
In other words, what I`m saying, we have a lot left in this show. I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: The top story rallying the White House tonight, Michael Cohen talking and already since we`ve been reporting this out, more Democrats pouncing. You have one confirmed Michael Cohen appearance. That`s what we`ve been reporting.
But also now what looks to be two new additional requests because look at this. The House Intelligence Committee chairman says it`s necessary for Cohen to speak with them. And tonight, we`re hearing the Senate Intelligence Committee has Democrats reviewing conversations about trying to bring Michael Cohen back as well.
If people are wondering was Washington going to be very different with the Democrats in charge? Well, we`re starting to see that in the House. Cohen`s prior testimony, remember, was always under wraps. No one got to see it live. That`s why it wasn`t a John Dean moment.
This time for a lot of reasons, it`s going to be very different. Let`s get right to it.
Congresswoman Speier is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Maya Wiley also back with me.
Congresswoman, you made some waves talking about why you wanted Donald Trump Jr. to testify under subpoena if necessary. Why is that important? And what is your reaction to Michael Cohen tonight agreeing to come face the House?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER: Well, first of all, I do think that Donald Trump Jr. should face the music and come back to the committee after we have done a subpoena of documents and have him testify once against. I think Michael Cohen`s willingness now to testify before the Oversight Committee and a request no doubt will be made for him to come and speak in a classified setting with members of the Intelligence Committee is very important.
The one thing that`s happened with Michael Cohen is that he has, in some respects, gotten religion, whether he is truthful on all matters or not, I think he recognizes that he has everything to gain in the long term by actually telling the truth. And he is certainly not going to get any kind of a pass from the president of the United States. So I think we`re going to hear some legitimate commentary from him.
MELBER: That`s interesting. So your view here even though obviously, he has confessed to misleading the very body that you`re in, Congress, but he has also according to the law and according to the Mueller findings that we just referenced earlier in the show where they granted him for cooperation, you call it getting religion. Your view is at this point your belief is that he would be a very credible witness at this point?
SPEIER: I think he`s much more credible. He`s not going to get a pardon from the president of the United States. He tape-recorded many conversations. It was in those tape-recorded conversations that we found out that the president once again lied relative to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal because he was in the room when both of those payoffs were being discussed. So I think tapes, once again, are going to give us a lot of answers.
MELBER: Stay with me. Maya Wiley as I mentioned is here. Maya, when you look at all of this and the discussion of what to make of Mr. Cohen`s conduct and testimony, he actually stayed out of the public view for quite some time during this period.
When he did speak once after all the sentencing came out, he was very clear with George Stephanopoulos in that interview about what he thinks of his old boss Donald Trump`s credibility. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, THIS WEEK: The special counsel did say that you were doing your best to tell the truth about everything related to their investigation, everything related to Russia. Do you think President Trump is telling the truth about that?
MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP FORMER LAWYER: No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: How important does that figure in when you have a president who is going to be debating a witness presumably?
WILEY: I think it`s incredibly important because you have someone again with direct knowledge of not just some specific transactions that will be at issue but literally the behavior and the way the president has operated as a person in the world for a decade.
So this is someone who knows and has said that he was directed by the now president, then-candidate for office to make payments. We haven`t really talked about this because of the Russian example of this. But we`re talking about someone who literally hid and violated campaign finance laws that are in and of themselves crimes and can testify more directly to the American public to Congress about crimes.
MELBER: And that goes exactly into something that we just got into the newsroom. And Congresswoman, I`d like to build on what Maya mentioned and play for you which is Congressman Cummings talks about the limitations on what they might expect to hear from Mr. Cohen.
Of course, as just referenced on our broadcast, much of those campaign crime issues were not in the Mueller probe. So presumably they could be discussed. Let`s look at what your colleague just said moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: He said that he will not answer any questions about the Russia investigation.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: We will -- there will be limitations. We don`t want to do anything to interfere with the Mueller investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Congresswoman, I`m sure you recognize what they sometimes call a scrum there which was how your colleague on camera was overwhelmed by reporters with their phones out. But what he is saying very clearly is they`re going to focus on what does not interfere with Mueller. In your view in the Cohen case, what would that involve publicly and what else might it involve with the Intelligence Committee if they hear from him privately?
SPEIER: So what I`ve been told is that Mr. Cohen wants to tell his full story so it will probably be outside of the issues relative to the campaign in which he was directed to make these payments. But there are probably many other aspects of his 10 years with Donald Trump that will come into focus, whether it`s the Moscow hotel or the other various hotels in which Donald Trump invested in Toronto, in Soho, and in Panama.
I mean I think what we`re really going to find over the long run is the money laundering that went on very volitionally by Donald Trump`s organization is probably what`s going to bring him down.
MELBER: I mean don`t we have to call it alleged money laundering at this point or you are breaking news with a confirmation of that tonight?
SPEIER: No. But I would think that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act required him to make sure the money that he was receiving, whether it was for the purchase of condos or for those investing with him in the properties in Toronto and Soho and Panama would have to be clearly reviewed to make sure that they were not money laundered. And so many of those individuals were, in fact, persons that were oligarchs that were laundering money in my view.
MELBER: Congresswoman Speier, also a very interesting stuff. Thanks to both of you and Maya Wiley for joining me.
SPEIER: Thank you.
MELBER: As promised, I turn now to Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen`s former lawyer, and legal advisor and a veteran of many White House conflicts including the Clinton era investigations.
First of all, this is a big news night for you and Michael Cohen. So thank you for coming on THE BEAT, Lanny.
LANNY DAVIS, LEGAL ADVISOR TO MICHAEL COHEN: Thank you for having me. And I am now back to being a legal advisor for the purpose of helping Michael through these congressional inquiries.
MELBER: So let`s start there. What does today`s announcement, the first time Mr. Cohen has ever confirmed publicly that he will address the Congress and the public? What does this mean?
DAVIS: Well, first of all, Michael`s family is in severe distress as is Michael because he`s going to be going to prison in about six or seven weeks. And secondly, he wanted an opportunity after his life has been so virtually destroyed, he wants an opportunity to at least tell the truth as he said to Mr. Stephanopoulos on July 2 and recently about what it was like working for a man in the private sector who lies, acts immorally or abusively and has no barriers on ethics.
What is it like when you actually realize that this very same man who Michael admitted to shamefully helping in his private sector job as an attorney when he recognized the same man was now president of the United States, he wants to tell a story about what caused him to change and to now want to tell the truth, how dangerous it is to have this very same man who acted this way in the private sector to have the powers of the presidency and how dangerous that is for his family and for his country.
MELBER: Will Mr. Cohen`s testimony reflect a very busy executive and candidate in Donald Trump who is out of the loop? Or a detail-oriented one who knew what was going on on his behalf and inside the Trump Organization?
DAVIS: Well, he`ll answer the questions truthfully what it was like working for Donald Trump. He has told me many times that nothing went on inside Trump Tower that Donald Trump didn`t know. It was kind of a rotating door in and out of his office.
And he`ll get into anecdotal personal memories of what it was like to work for Trump. But I just want to clarify something earlier. The only time that Michael has admitted to lying was lying on Mr. Trump`s behalf, not for Michael Cohen`s benefit. But at the time, even consulting with the White House on the lie about the Moscow Tower and that Trump was involved in those discussions all the way through even Mr. Giuliani says through November of 2016.
MELBER: You`re saying Michael Cohen consulted with White House staff about that misleading testimony to Congress?
DAVIS: It`s a matter of public record that he did talk to White House officials. But the point is --
MELBER: Which officials?
DAVIS: Well, I don`t know now. And I won`t say now what specific officials. There are matters that Mr. Mueller is looking into that we are going to be careful about. But I did want to --
MELBER: Do you think -- I`m going to let you make your point. But just on this, do you think that Mr. Cohen will be in a position to name names in that testimony?
DAVIS: I don`t know. We`re still going to be looking for guidance from Mr. Mueller as I know Mr. Cummings is. And I want to clarify --
MELBER: And how does --
DAVIS: -- that we have had --
MELBER: How does that -- and I`ll let you get there. But just while we finish this up, how does that work? Do you, you know, lawyer to lawyer, Lanny, I got to do it, do you and the other folks on this team proactively call the special counsel`s office to find out the boundaries for this testimony? Or how does this work? Because this is a somewhat unusual situation.
DAVIS: Yes, for sure. I know Mr. Cummings has and I intend to be sure that the areas under investigations by Mr. Mueller and others he will not be able to answer. And I do want to get the opportunity in here to clarify, no agreement has been reached with either the Senate or the House Intelligence Committees.
But I will say that during some conversations today, I have to consult with my client Mr. Cohen, there will be no need for a subpoena. We are voluntarily testifying before Mr. Cummings and the truth will now empower Michael Cohen, the michaelcohentruthfund.com is, I hope, going to be looked at by the American people to help Michael Cohen through this ordeal.
And I also do want to remind you, Ari that on this program I mentioned the disproportionate prison time that Michael Cohen is now forced to endure compared to many others who have much more grave offenses compared to his, disproportionate injustice is an issue that I hope I will bring to the attention of the American people as I did first on your program.
MELBER: You mentioned two things. One is as you say how the federal prosecutors in New York handled this and the sentencing which as you mentioned is something we`ve been reporting on and discussed with you. Let`s take both of the two points you just raised. First, you`re referencing the fact that in addition to tonight`s news that Mr. Cohen will address the Democrat`s House requests in the Oversight Committee, there`s other discussions with other committees.
So Lanny, when you say tonight that no subpoena is necessary, are you suggesting that you are close to having a voluntary agreement to address other committees as requested?
DAVIS: I have to consult with my client this is all very new today. But the answer is we have had constructive discussions. I don`t want to name the specifics, but I know that Mr. Cohen wants to be voluntary, wants to be truthful. His days for lying for Donald Trump being directed to do a crime, paying hush money to corrupt the presidential election which he did at the direction of Mr. Trump. Those days are over. He`s now committed to telling the truth and we will work with the other committees to answer your question to be voluntary rather than to be under a subpoena.
MELBER: Right. And so what I hear you to be saying is that it`s very possible that there could be an agreement for him to do more than one appearance although you`re not yet confirming that and I take your point. As for the other issue raised, this came up earlier in the show with Nick Akerman who many of our viewers know who has Watergate experience. He was saying that it may be the case that a truthful and full account before the House by Mr. Cohen could help in reducing his sentence in the future through the legal process that occurs. Is that in your view possible? Is it a goal that`s been discussed?
DAVIS: It`s certainly my aspiration, my hope, and I will remind your viewers that Mr. Mueller praised Mr. Cohen while also obtaining a guilty plea for the lies regarding the Moscow tower matter. Praised Mr. Cohen for cooperation, even the Southern District of New York prosecutors praised him for being credible, and the judge did as well. I`m hoping, yes.
The answer to your question, Ari, is that by looking at the actual length of the sentence, he`s taken responsibility to all of the crimes that he confessed to in his allocution. But the length of the sentence compared to others who have done far worse, to me together with his testimony and his commitment to the truth, and let me remind your audience, he has already said he would not accept a pardon from Donald Trump if it was offered and I am sure it won`t be offered. He`s committed to the truth and the MichaelCohenTruthFund.com I`ve got to give that a plug again is about helping him and his family as he goes off to prison, for now, a three-year term that I hope will be reduced.
MELBER: So I think -- I think there`s two ways to look at that. One is you`re doing your job which is advocating for this individual that you`ve represented. And he and his family have a great personal interest obviously in any potential reduction of the sentence. The other way to look at it is for people who are simply following this at a distance and wondering who`s telling the truth in an environment where I think you and I could agree, Washington does not feel normal. Things do not seem to be working and there`s a lot of people accusing each other of lying.
Does the fact that Mr. Cohen have that he has and his family has an incentive here to be truthful to avoid or reduce prison time, does that in your view make him potentially a more credible witness against Donald Trump when he speaks to the House?
DAVIS: Well, I would simply quote the answer as, yes, Ari. I would quote Mr. Mueller who praised him for 70 hours and seven days of conversation and cooperation. And whatever credibility issues that have been raised that he has confessed to, I remind everyone was for the benefit of Donald Trump and his admission to complicity and enabling Donald Trump when he work from him in the private sector has now been converted into fear for our country and our family knowing Donald Trump`s flaws, deeply flawed character traits that we now are witnessing as endangering our country.
MELBER: I appreciate you coming here to share your views on this big news night. As I was mentioning earlier, it`s not every night in American history that you have a situation like this. A former lawyer to a president pledging to address the public under oath before he goes to prison and as a past lawyer for that lawyer, I really appreciate you walking us through your perspective tonight, Lanny.
DAVIS: Thank you for having me on, Ari.
MELBER: Thank you, sir. What we`re going to do is fit in a very short 30- second break and come back with the man that Michael Cohen was retweeting tonight about Russia issues, David Corn as well as reactions from Nick Akerman. We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: He`s saying very clearly that he never directed you to do anything wrong. Is that true?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: I don`t think there`s anybody that believes that. First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was a run through Mr. Trump. He directed me as I said in my allocution and I said as well in the plea, he directed me to make the payments.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He was trying to hide what you were doing, correct?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And he knew it was wrong?
COHEN: Of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Michael Cohen making waves and now pledging to testify in response to Democrats requests in the House. David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief for Mother Jones joins me, Nick Akerman is back. David, what is your view of both the news that Michael Cohen is doing this and what we just heard from his advisor Lanny Davis?
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Well, we knew we were heading in this direction. Lanny and others have been talking about a big moment from Michael Cohen. We really seen that Michael Cohen wants this moment and the question was OK, when is this going to happen, what committee, under what auspices, and also now the question is what are the limitations?
You noted it earlier -- I`m going to look at this -- you noted that earlier today Michael Cohen retweeted one of my tweets. Now, I noted in this tweet that he could talk about campaign hush money issues that he pleaded guilty to --
MELBER: Yes, let me just -- for the viewers. We`ve got on the screen.
MELBER: We`ve got your cartoon face, David. You`re one of those people who went with the cartoon picture rather than a real one and you say much to ask Cohen beyond hush money payments campaign finance crime. Cohen can discuss Trump dealings in Russia and reaching out to Putin`s office and he retweeted this tonight.
CORN: Yes. That was interesting to me because in this case, a retweet might indeed be an endorsement. But Lanny just pointed out to me during the break after you`ve finished with him that Cohen is committed to not saying anything at this particular hearing that we`re talking about on February 7th that might reveal anything that Robert Mueller is still working on. Presumably, he`ll still be working, we don`t know. Maybe there`ll be some finale before that point. But at the same time, the House Intelligence Committee is interested in speaking with him as are -- as the Senate Intelligence Committee. And that may be enclosed the hearings that may become you know, may be made public later.
So I still think at the end of the day whether it`s February 7th or not, Cohen will be talking about all he knows about Donald Trump`s Russian connections and there was a very interesting line, I think you and I talked about it and the Mueller sentencing memo about Cohen that came out a month ago or so. Can I just go through this very quickly. Cohen provided the special counsel with the useful information concerning discrete Russian related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with company executives during the campaign. Executives.
CORN: That would be Donald Trump and who knows, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka, who else works at the Trump Organization? So there is still more to the Trump-Russia`s story that Michael Cohen can tell us. And whether it comes out in February 7th or not, I believe Democrats now will get it and eventually the public will learn about it.
MELBER: What do you think, David, coming to U.S. from Washington of the way this has come about that it is Congressman Cummings scoring the ultimate witness if you will, and then the other committee chairs quickly clamoring about how they want a piece and what Mr. Davis confirmed to us that was not a full-blown scoop but is what we might call a scoop lit. Lanny Davis made a little news tonight on this show in saying well, we`re going to try to do those as well. Meaning there may be additional under oath opportunities for testimony.
CORN: Well, you know, we`ve say this all the time. Elections have consequences. For two years you had a Congress controlled by Republicans who really didn`t give a damn about the Trump-Russia scandal at least not in telling the public what really went on --
MELBER: In fairness, David, I think they would say they gave at least a darn.
CORN: A darn, OK, but I said a damn. And they try to smother it, they try to come up with distractions on the House side. We don`t know exactly what`s happening in the Senate Intelligence Committee. But now we have not just the Trump-Russia stuff, not just the hush money stuff, but whether it`s emoluments, nepotism, conflicts of interest, you know, we have members of Congress who care about oversight which is a basic function of Congress.
MELBER: And as you lift it out it just -- it sounds like several chapters, Nick, in a criminal law textbook.
NICK AKERMAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Exactly. A lot of chapters in a criminal law textbook. I mean, the real question is going to be is Mueller going to step in and not let him testify about what is the really juicy stuff here which all relates to Russia. I mean, the I`m going investigation here clearly is the Russian conspiracy, the one relating to the break-in at the Democratic National Committee, the use of social media. Will he allow him to do that before he comes down with an indictment on the American side.
MELBER: Nick and David joining me on a big news night. Thanks to both of you. Coming up as promised, Trump`s wall fiasco and unpresidential comments about where the blame should go I`ve got Trump insiders Tony Schwartz and Barbara Res here right now. Stay with us.
MELBER: Donald Trump did a photo op a the border today. This is a trip he called reporters he didn`t even think worth making as the shutdown gets longer. It is on set, on pace to break the record for the longest shutdown by this weekend. And all this can turn the focus away from the wall and back inside the U.S. where furloughed workers and protesters are hitting the streets and getting attention for it.
Meanwhile, U.S. residence, many saying they oppose the wall in their backyard, all that has some Republicans in both chambers starting to walk away from Trump. That`s a problem for the self-proclaimed dealmaker who likes to be the one threatening to walk away. Two former insiders of Trump are with me tonight to explore why the bluster isn`t working this time.
Trump used to claim his strategy was to take things to the edge but then make a deal. Once saying you take people to the brink of breaking them without having them break to get a better deal. And Trump could always walk out if he didn`t get a better deal, he could walk to bankruptcy. But the federal government can`t declare bankruptcy. They can`t stay closed forever. Trump insisted Mexico would pay for the whole wall. He didn`t push them to the brink of breaking or get them to cover say half the wall`s cost or a quarter. He got nothing. And he got nothing from the U.S. Congress for the wall.
And when called on all that, Trump says now the buck doesn`t stop with the President anymore. Watch this sad decline.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mexico is paying for the wall. OK?
It`s an issue of least importantly dollars. We have to finally do it. The wall will pay for itself on a monthly basis.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the buck stop with you over this shutdown?
TRUMP: The buck stops with everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
I want to bring some special guest Barbara Res, a former Trump Organization Executive. She`s also the author of All Alone on the 68th Floor. And Tony Schwartz, Co-Author of The Art of the Deal, a friend of THE BEAT and the author of The Way We Work Isn`t Working.
Barbara, it is easy to normalize what should not be normal. So for your view, the man you know, I to replay that last moment, the President of the United States on where the buck stops. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the buck stop with you over this shutdown?
TRUMP: The buck stops with everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What kind of deal-making are we seeing here?
BARBARA RES, FORMER TRUMP ORGANIZATION EXECUTIVE: Yes, I never thought he was a great deal maker, to be honest with you. And in terms of taking the responsibility for the buck, just would never do it. It`s not in his DNA. He`s never responsible. It is always someone else`s fault.
TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, ART OF THE DEAL: Yes, I found myself going back to The Art of the Deal and looking over those deals that I, unfortunately, described 30 years ago and realizing that most of those deals in that book were failures and the number of deals he`s made over the years since then have overwhelmingly been failures. It`s an accident of history that he is president. But as a deal maker, he is really one of the worst I`ve ever come across.
You know, when you think about deal-making, what is it actually require? It requires understanding the other side. It requires empathy. It requires humility. It requires courage. These are qualities Donald Trump does not have in spades.
MELBER: And to your point, if the deal is about agreeing to do something real, while there may be negotiation and some exaggeration of business, the fundamentals have to be true otherwise you end up with a fraud which is illegal even in tough business deals. Here was Donald Trump, let`s take a look, claiming that he actually is honest when he negotiates. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: A lot of negotiations about honesty, be honest because the other side you`re dealing with intelligent people, they`re going to see it. But have an idea, make sure it`s the right idea, and never, ever quit or give up on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And yet he has been lying about the funding for this wall from the start. I mean, isn`t that the fundamental con? If someone else could be made to pay for it, some people might feel differently about the proposal. That was always the proposal. Other people pay.
SCHWARTZ: It`s been fraud all along. So when you say that a deal has to be -- has to be legitimate or else you`re libel, or fraud, well, that hasn`t stopped him in the past. And we know he made a series of fraudulent deals. And this is, or the failure to make this deal, this is the most fraudulent attempt yet. He`s got a claim about what`s going on at the border that is transparently not true.
MELBER: And when you look at how Nancy Pelosi is dealing with him, how does that compare to other people you saw on the other side of the table? Is she doing this the right way?
RES: Well, she`s doing I think a great job. And part of the reason for it is she has as much power as he does. This is a very first time I`ve ever seen him in a situation where he doesn`t have the leverage. He was a great deal maker because he sued everybody and ran them dry. I mean he`d never agreed to arbitration because that goes quickly. He dragged them through the courts until they reach a point where they go broke or make the deal he wanted.
Now all of a sudden he`s up against a woman which is a whole other story, and she`s got as much power as he does in the circumstances.
MELBER: So do you think he understands that right now?
RES: No, I don`t.
MELBER: So how many people -- this is one of those things that happens in interviews, Tony, a potentially unanswerable question. But how many people in America are going to have to pay for his learning curve? Because both of you have a unique insight into this. You look at the actual data we`re seeing. I just want to put up on the screen so people understand. You have 38 million low-income Americans that if this grinds on they`re not going to have food assistance.
You have 800,000 people, the government being a major employer going without paychecks. And of course, you have the federal court system slowing, which is part of the security he claims this is for.
SCHWARTZ: You know, what has happened to humanity? You know, in a way, it`s almost not about Trump because he is lacking the shame gene. So he doesn`t care that there are 38 million or 380 million who are suffering just as a whole series of autocrats he admires don`t care what happens to people. But sitting behind him are you know, 50-plus Republican Senators you know, 180 Republican Congress people for whom you would assume this would be meaningful. They`re being intimidated by someone who is just barely human.
MELBER: I wonder, Barbara, when you see how many people including the President`s allies, Republican members of Congress, public narrators and reporters who do try to be objective, referring to him in a way you would refer a six or eight-year-olds level of discipline. Was it always like that? I mean, when you work with him, was it -- was it something where people said, well, he got through a whole day without a tantrum? Was it that narrative or has that gotten worse?
RES: It`s gotten worst. There was a time when he would actually listen to people`s advice and often follow it, mine included.
MELBER: Did he know you were a woman?
RES: He never, ever treated me like a woman. And I always said that he didn`t discriminate against me because he thought I was --
SCHWARTZ: He may have treated you like a woman. He didn`t treat demeaning, you`re saying?
RES: Yes, OK.
SCHWARTZ: I hope he treated you like a woman.
MELBER: Well, according to the allegations, he didn`t treat you the way he`s accused of treating some other women?
RES: Absolutely not, never. But he knew I was good and he always though it was smart. I mean, he thought it was better than all women.
MELBER: So when did -- when did it slide? This idea that oh, don`t talk to him before he has lunch, don`t talk to him at the end of the day. Oh, he got through the meeting without a tantrum? I mean, that`s where we`re at.
RES: I think it happened when he -- after Trump Tower was done, I left and went to work for Renaissance and I build his corporate office building. And then I came back and saw a very different man.
SCHWARTZ: But I think it`s been progressive, Ari. I think you know, you can mark November 2016 as the it biggest moment of shift, which is the more power he has -- you know, this is the classic example of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. He was corrupt with power. He`s absolutely corrupt now and insensible to any kind of input.
MELBER: Well, it`s fascinating to hear from both of you. I`m also very much looking forward to -- I know you may be working on probably on this book when he`s out of office. He`s sort of the library.
SCHWARTZ: You know, he hasn`t come to me yet.
MELBER: Well, we`ll see. You`ll never know. Maybe there`s a deal in the offing. Tony and Barbara, my special thanks. We have one more thing you got to see when we come back.
MELBER: Congress has proposed ending this whole shutdown by just funding border security. Now, Donald Trump insist it`s not good enough. You need a physical wall because walls stop people. A point he actually once argued against as the Daily Show found.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TREVOR NOAH, HOST, DAILY SHOW: Nothing will stop immigrants from trying to come to America. And I know Donald Trump understands this. Because of this video, we found from 15 years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Never, ever give up. Don`t give up. Don`t allow it to happen. If there`s a concrete wall in front of you, go through it, go over it, go round it, but get to the other side of the wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: This actually is not the first time Trump has mused about getting around a wall. During the campaign, he oddly speculated how people might use different objects to scale the wall he planned to build which John Oliver highlighted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There`s no ladder going over that. If they ever get up there, they`re in trouble because there`s no way to get down, maybe a rope.
JOHN OLIVER, HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER: Yes, this. Your brilliant plan has been undone by mankind`s third invention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Maybe a rope. It`s funny because it`s true or not funny depending on your point of view. Now, tonight, the joke is an actual story which brings us to this. The hole in the wall story. You are looking at Trump`s own actual steel slat prototype and you`re looking at giant hole in it that was cut by saw. This is a real thing now, not comedy. And this real thing was documented in a photo that NBC News obtained exclusively, the photo you`re looking at.
Meanwhile, Trump`s longtime friend Howard Stern recently offered a window into this whole Trump mindset saying the wall is only appealing if you ignore the obvious examples of how to get around it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD STERN, COMEDIAN: The wall is a problem because it`s a waste of money, even Donald knows that. The wall is a simplistic answer to our problem with immigration. It`s something that you know, morons can get behind because they`re like, oh yes, if build a wall, no one can get over. But it`s not that simple.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It`s not that simple. And as you just saw, the people who know that include Donald Trump recently, Donald Trump a long time ago and whoever can cut the giant hole in Donald Trump`s steel slat wall model. That`s all the time we have on THE BEAT. Thanks for watching. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END