Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 18, 2018 Guest: Greg Gordon, Michael Rothfeld
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here.
So as you know, we are on shutdown watch. We`re going to have the latest on this over the course of this hour, but right now as far as we know, we are headed toward a shutdown of the federal government as of 27 hours from right now, midnight tomorrow night.
A bill, even a very, very short-term bill to keep the government funded for a little while longer, that needs to pass both the House and Senate to avoid a shutdown. A short-term spending bill has already passed the House late tonight, but it`s starting to become clear that was the easier of the two chambers. We`re expecting maybe some procedural votes and stuff in the Senate, but the Senate, yes, there is -- if you need something from your government after midnight tomorrow night, start making other plans.
Again, we will have a fill update for you coming up over the course of this hour. It`s been a big day in the news today. In addition to the shutdown countdown, which we`ve been keeping an eye on all day, the McClatchy news service broke a big, big story about what is probably the most powerful interest group in conservative politics over the past several decades, the National Rifle Association, the NRA.
There has always been something unexplained and intriguing about the huge spike in spending the NRA had for the 2016 presidential race. They massively increased their political spending in the Donald Trump presidential race in 2016. It came from a very specific part of their organization. There is always a little intrigue around that.
Well, McClatchy today breaks news the FBI is now investigating whether some of that NRA financial spike into the election, which benefitted the Trump for president campaign, the FBI is reportedly investigating whether that may be linked to Russia. The reporter who broke that story is going to be joining us here live tonight.
Also, over the last few days, we have been somewhat uncomfortably rounding up the new flurry of reporting that is happening around women who claim to have had sexual relationships with President Donald Trump during his current marriage. The women that said they had affairs or sexual contact with him during his marriage. Several of these women are reported to have been paid significant sums of money right before the 2016 presidential election in an effort to stop them from talking about those alleged sexual relationships.
Now, whether or not you care about the president`s sexual behavior or marital fidelity, once people are being paid off immediately before elections to keep quiet about specific stories so as to not have those stories influence the election, that can be potentially a whole new type of legal scandal, separate and apart from any alleged sexual behavior. If these payments were made, what is particularly important is to know the source of those funds, where did the money come from?
Well, tonight, there has been a breakthrough on that part of this otherwise story we`ve been watching closely. The question of who paid. Tonight we have a lot more information about that and the reporter who broke the story, as well.
Last night we lead the show with former Trump campaign chief, former top White House advisor Steve Bannon. We`ve reported last night that the controversy over what exactly he was willing to tell congressional investigators about the Russia scandal on what basis he was refusing to answer their questions, we reported last night that that controversy might be a bit of a side show because new NBC reporting indicated that people familiar with the matter believe that special counsel Robert Mueller has essentially stepped in to claim some territory here, to stop Steve Bannon from testifying to Congress on Russia matters before Robert Mueller can obtain that testimony from Bannon first.
The theory of the case here is that the special counsel Robert Mueller is basically trying to protect the secrecy and therefore the integrity of important evidence in his investigation. Nobody except Steve Bannon and his counsel know exactly what Bannon has to say to investigators about Russia involving the Trump campaign or administration, but Robert Mueller and his prosecutors appear to have stepped in to make sure that they are the ones that will get access to that information before it ends up with members of Congress, who presumably would then either leak it to the press or maybe even back to the White House to help the president`s legal team prepare their defense for the president if Steve Bannon has anything important.
So, that was our reporting last night. Special counsel effectively taking action to block Steve Bannon`s congressional testimony. That was our reporting last night.
Well, then, today, Steve Bannon`s congressional testimony in fact was called off. We don`t know when exactly he will be called back to testify to Congress. Congressional investigators say they do still want to speak with him but it appears to be a good bet at this point that Steve Bannon will end up speaking with Robert Mueller and his investigators and the special counsel`s office before he is back on Capitol Hill talking to any members of Congress. Now, the Mueller interview does not have any announced date but we`re told to expect it soon.
You know, in all of that news, which unfolded over the course of the day today, that`s all obviously enough for a whole TV show tonight and more but then boom, it happened again. Last week on Tuesday, which is incidentally the same date we now know Steve Bannon got his subpoena from Robert Mueller, last week on Tuesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California dropped a proverbial bomb in Washington. Back in August, the founder of the firm that had commissioned the Trump, Russia dossier, Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, he had testified for about ten hours at the Senate Judiciary Committee. He testified about that dossier, about its origins, about his firm`s role in paying for that, how that information in that dossier eventually made its way to the FBI, et cetera.
Now, although Senate Republicans had initially said they would vote to release the transcript of those 10 hours of testimony, they then changed their minds over a period of a few months at a time when congressional Republicans were starting to change course a little bit on the Russia investigations. And the last few months of last year, Republicans in Congress increasingly started to see the various Russia investigations, not as a means of figuring out what Russia did to influence our election and whether or not they had help from the Trump campaign, over the last few months of last year, Republicans in Congress changed course. And they increasingly started to see those congressional investigations as just a way they could help the White House develop their events on this scandal. They started increasingly to use the Russia investigations in Congress as ways to create new anti-Hillary Clinton story lines to try to, you know, excite Republicans about alternate scandals they might enjoy hearing about more than the real Russia scandal.
Well, over that period of time, Republicans on the judiciary committee appeared to change their mind about releasing the transcript of those ten hours of testimony from the head of Fusion GPS.
Well, last week, Dianne Feinstein, top Democrat on that committee, she just threw her hands in the air like she just didn`t care. She said, forget it, you know what, this should be out there. The witness wants it out there. We had said before that we would put it out there, this is a great public interest here. She just released it on her own without permission from the rest of the committee, 312 pages. A transcript of 10 hours of testimony.
And that is how we learned last week why Fusion GPS felt it was necessary to bring their research to the attention to the FBI. That`s how we learned that Fusion hadn`t just started looking at Trump and Russia. They had started looking at Trump business practices all over the world, including in Latin-America and places like Scotland. That`s how we learned that the origin of the Steele started with curiosity about Trump`s business trips to Russia that never appeared to result in him actually doing any Russian business deals.
So that testimony was fascinating. It was released very controversially last Tuesday. But that testimony, that was one of only three appearances that the founder of Fusion, Glenn Simpson, made under oath behind closed doors, speaking to Congress about that dossier, what fusion knew about the dossier`s veracity and its connections with the FBI investigation into Trump`s Russian contacts.
The first time he testified was Senate judiciary. The second round of testimony was before the House Intelligence Committee in November. Well, now, as of today, we`ve got that one, too.
This one represents about seven hours of testimony. It didn`t get leaked by anybody or released by anybody without permission. The intelligence committee actually took a vote and decided to release it.
And whether or not you ended up actually going through the transcript that Dianne Feinstein released last week, whether or not you actually ended up looking at that on your own, there are two things you need to know about this new one that has just come out late this afternoon. First thing you should know is honestly reads like a spy novel. I read it in one sitting. You should totally read it. It`s going to be cold this weekend. There`s only football games on one day of the weekend. Spend the other day reading this, it`s totally worth it.
The other interesting thing about this transcript or at least about the hearing that resulted in this transcript is that the Republicans on this committee mostly appear to have not been there. I mean they`re definitely there at the beginning. There`s questioning right off the top from Congressman Trey Gowdy, Congressman Rooney, but after that, it sort of seems like the Republicans got bored and bailed.
Just what seems like a couple hours into the testimony, the Republicans just don`t show up anymore I mean there`s a Republican staffer here and there that pops up to ask little tiny bursts of questions about Hillary Clinton, right, but other than that, this is almost entirely just the Democrats eliciting information from Fusion, from the firm that commissioned the dossier, and that did their own research on Trump and Russia aside and apart from the dossier.
And because the Democrats by and large aren`t -- you know, they don`t have a -- they don`t have a parallel mission here, they`re not distracted by trying to make this into an alternate reality scandal that somehow involves Hillary Clinton and, you know, uranium or something, because Democrats want to talk about Russia, Glenn Simpson actually gets a ton of room to just explain his research, explain what Christopher Steele found, what his firm found, what they think it meant, why they think it was true, why they felt it necessary to give it to the FBI.
So -- all right, if you`re looking for an overall theme here you actually get it I think the best statement of it is right at the end of the transcript, the second to last page, at which point Glenn Simpson is pretty clearly exhausted. He`s already said on the record at this point how tired he is it`s after o`clock at night he`s been testifying all day. And I think because he`s tired, he just kind of exasperatedly blurts out the big picture of how his little research firm ended up in the middle of this gigantic story.
The second to last page of the transcript he says this, he says, quote: You know, we threw a line in the water. We just threw a line in the water and Moby Dick came back, and we didn`t know what to do with it.
In other words, they were not expecting to find out what they found out when they started this investigation into Donald Trump.
Page seven, question, what were you asked to do? Answer, it was an open- ended look at Donald Trump`s business career and his litigation history and his relationships with questionable people, how much he was really worth, how he ran his casinos, what kind of performance he had in other lines of work. It was a very broad, unfocused look which is the way we do our business.
Page 23, at the very beginning of this project, one of the very first things I focused on was Donald Trump`s relationship with a convicted racketeer named Felix Sater, who was alleged to have -- who was alleged to have ties to organized crime. He was alleged to have an organized crime, Russian organized crime background.
Over the course of this first phase of this, we developed a lot of additional information suggesting that the company that Donald Trump had been associated with and Felix Sater at Bayrock was engaged in illicit financial business activity and had organized crime connections.
We also had sort of more broadly learned that Mr. Trump had longtime associations with Italian organized crime figures. And as we piece together the early years of his biography, it seems as if during the early part of his career he had connections to a lot of Italian mafia figures, but then gradually during the `90s, he became associated with the Russian mafia. All of that had developed by the spring of 2016 to the point where it wasn`t a speculative piece of research, it was pretty well-established.
Page 35, question: so during the period of time you were working for "Free Beacon", remember, the initial Fusion GPS work was paid for by a conservative group "Free Beacon" and then the later stages of it were paid for by a law firm associated with the with the DNC, right?
So, question: during the period of time you were working for the "Free Beacon", so the initial Republican funded part of your research, you came across some of the first information about candidate Trump`s business ties in Russia including those with Felix Sater.
Answer: Yes. That`s correct, and lots of other issues came up during the primaries that raised concerns in my mind about whether Trump might have unexplained connections to Russia or people involved in that part of the world. I mean, among other things eventually Paul Manafort was appointed to his campaign as first the convention manager and then the chairman. I knew a lot about Paul Manafort from my career at "The Wall Street Journal". I`ve written a number of stories about his involvement with Oleg Deripaska and the pro-Russia party in Ukraine, and another oligarch named Dmitri Firtash. I had even written a story about whether he should have registered as a foreign agent, a matter that appears later in palmetto for its indictment all that had occurred years earlier so when he suddenly surfaced in the Trump campaign, I was you know struck by that.
And this is Adam Schiff, Congressman Adam Schiff questioning Glenn Simpson at this point. He says, quote: So if you would, go through with us some of the Russia-related things that concerned you, that you learned in this first phase of your research while you were doing work for the "Free Beacon". Answer: well, the funding of Bayrock was I think was much of what we were initially concerned about and focused on. The company seemed to have some sort of funding source from either Russia or the former Soviet Union that was opaque. We spent a lot of time looking at the people around that and their backgrounds and why Trump would be in business with them. That was another one that was one of the major issues. Remember, Bayrock is the firm that developed the Trump SoHo with Donald Trump in his business.
Another issue that surfaced was the amazing number of people from the former Soviet Union who had purchased properties from Mr. Trump, including Dmitry Rybolovlev who purchased a derelict estate at an extreme markup in Florida. Remember the fertilizer king, Dmitry Rybolovlev? Right. On that story in particular, Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California picks up that questioning a little later on.
Page 124: Congresswoman Speier says: Thank you, Mr. Simpson, for being here. I`d like to focus on some of the real estate. That mansion in Florida was purchased by Mr. Trump for $41 million and then sold to Mr. Rybolovlev for $95 million.
Since there have been a few improvements made by Mr. Trump what`s your opinion as to why that big hike in the sale price? Simpson: Well, I originally dismissed this transaction as not relevant. I`d never heard of Dmitry Rybolovlev. It seemed like an absurd acquisition but the explanation for why he overspent was that he was hiding money from his wife. The depiction of him as a sort of reckless big spender, it was pretty thoroughly developed in the press. This guy was spending money like a drunken sailor on all kinds of things. People were ripping him off in art deals. So, that was my original take on this.
Later though, I began to learn more about Dmitry Rybolovlev and that changed my view. In particular, I hadn`t known that he was closely linked to Igor Sechin. Igor Sechin is a very powerful figure in the Russian government, very closely linked to Vladimir Putin. He controls Rosneft, which is the biggest oil and gas company in the world. It`s the state- owned Russian gas company.
So, Simpson says: I didn`t know Rybolovlev was closely linked to Igor Sechin and that Rybolovlev was accused of essentially destroying an entire city environmentally with his mining operations he was criminally accused and he managed to get out of it and walk out of Russia with billions of dollars with the apparent assistance of Sechin and Sechin`s people. I am now very suspicious that he was deliberately overpaying.
What we have seen is that a number of oligarchs have left Russia in recent years who seemed to still be doing the bidding of the Kremlin. To some extent, they like to have an image of someone who`s on the outs with the Kremlin, but when you look closely they`re not. When we looked at Rybolovlev`s plane travel, you could see that he was going to Moscow all the time and then all his legal problems went away, and that there were questions about whether he really did get ripped off in these art deals or whether he just said he got ripped off as a way of accounting for all the money that`s missing. So, I`m now of the view that this Florida transaction with Donald Trump is suspicious.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier: And the additional plus million dollars that Donald Trump received was for what purpose?
Simpson: I don`t know. I mean, you mean the profit from that?
She says, right. That Simpson says: Well, Trump just claimed it was one of his great business deals. He just claimed he talked him into paying double, which was odd because the market was going south at that point.
Now, again, I mentioned that for this hearing and for most of this transcript the Republicans appear to have just left. I don`t know if they had really important other stuff to do or if they just didn`t want to participate in this conversation but the Democrats just get to run the table because the Republicans aren`t there. They get to ask Simpson about what Fusion found in its research, what they felt was important about it, why they believed it was true.
So, for big swaths of this, Simpson just gets to explain what he and his researchers found about Trump`s business career that led them to believe that it was a credible allegation when their subcontract -- subcontractor Christopher Steele reported that the Russian government had been involved in a years-long campaign to cultivate Donald Trump and to make him essentially blackmailable by the time the presidential election rolled around.
Page 95, quote, by 2003-2004, Donald Trump was not able to get bank credit. If you`re a real estate developer and you can`t get bank loans, you know you`ve got a problem. Well, there`s a variety of alternative systems of financing one of the things we now know about how Trump`s condo projects were financed is that you can get credit if you can show that you`ve sold a certain number of units turns out that`s one of the most important things to look at this is especially true of the early overseas Trump developments like Toronto and Panama. You can get credit if you can show that you`ve sold a certain percentage of your units.
The real trick is to get people who say they have all those units and that`s where the Russians are to be found is in some of those pre-sales. That`s how for instance in Panama, they got the credit, they got Bear Stearns to issue a bond by telling Bear Stearns that they`d sold a bunch of units to a bunch of Russian gangsters. And, of course, didn`t put that in the underwriting information we`ve just said we`ve sold a lot of units and here`s who bought them and here but that`s how they got the credit. That`s sort of an example of the alternate financing.
Page 41: what`s well known and well established in criminology now is that the Russian mafia is essentially under the dominion of the Russian government and Russian intelligence services. The Russian mafia in the U.S. is believed by law enforcement criminologists to be under the influence of the Russian security services essentially if people who seem to be associated with the Russian mafia are buying Trump properties or arranging for other people to buy Trump properties. It does raise a question about whether they`re doing it on behalf of the government.
Question: It would be known to the Russian government if it`s on any substantial scale? Answer: Certainly, yes. Question: Might that provide the Russian government leverage vis-a-vis now President Trump? Answer: yes.
Question: So, if as the president`s son boasted some years ago, they were getting lots of financing from Russia and that financing were elicit, that would be known to the Kremlin? Answer: Yes. I think that`s true.
And then there`s the stuff about the NRA. That`s next.
MADDOW: This is Mallorca. It is a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea, directly south of Barcelona. It is obviously a very lovely place known for its beaches, its mountains, known for its Roman and Moorish remains. I`ve never been. Some day, I`ll get fired from this job and I`ll go travel.
I`ll go to places like that, I swear to God. Honey, it will happen, some day.
Back in the summer of 2013, this man, Alexander Torshin, who is the deputy governor of Russia`s Central Bank, a very close ally of Vladimir Putin, he had plans to travel to the island of Mallorca to attend a birthday party for one of his Russian friends. Now, at the time, Spanish prosecutors have been putting together a story about what they believed. They pieced tailgate a web of covert, financial and money laundering dealings between Torshin and his Russian friend, a guy who was about to have a birthday.
So, the Spanish police knew that Torshin was planning to come in for the birthday party, and they planned to arrest him on his arrival. Then, he never showed up. Torshin was apparently tipped off by a Russian prosecutor that he was going to get arrested when he landed, so he cancelled his trip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Spanish judicial sources say they were investigating allegations in 2013, Torshin was directing a money laundering operation for the Russian mob.
Spanish police tell us they were ready to arrest Torshin the second he stepped off plane. They say they had teams here at the airport and prosecutors were on stand by around the clock for days.
Torshin never showed. Commander Francisco Martinez says the case was closed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hope that he come here, but the end, no come here so.
REPORTER: Can`t do anything.
UNIDENTIIFED MALE: I couldn`t arrest him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In the end, no come here.
Turns out to have been a very valuable tip that guy got, right? Alexander Torshin is a former senator from the Russian Duma. He`s now, as I mentioned, deputy governor of Russia`s central bank. He has substantial suspected ties to money laundering and is considered to be a high-level Russian organized crime figure. Spain really was ready to arrest him when he set foot in their country.
He`s a close ally of Vladimir Putin and for an American spin on this story, you should also know that he is a lifetime member of the NRA, and during the 2016 presidential campaign, he tried on multiple occasions to arrange back channel meetings between Russia and Donald Trump. In May 2016, a veteran conservative operative who was a fundraiser for the NRA, who had ties to Torshin, he reached out to Trump campaign adviser, now deputy chief of staff at the White House, Rick Dearborn, offering to arrange a backchannel between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. He did it by email with the unsubtle subject line, Kremlin connection. Quote: Putin wants to extend an invitation to Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election.
That overture did not work, but then that same month, Torshin himself also reportedly sought a meeting with Donald Trump at an NRA convention, a meeting at which he said he would be speaking on behalf of Vladimir Putin. That one did not pan out, either. But Mr. Torshin did get to spend some quality time with the president`s son, with Donald Trump Jr., at a private gala hosted by the NRA in conjunction with that convention.
After Donald Trump became president, Torshin did line up a meeting for himself with President Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. That meeting between Torshin and Trump was reportedly only cancelled at the last minute. Mr. Torshin also makes an appearance in the House Intelligence Fusion GPS transcript that was just released this afternoon.
It`s towards the end of the transcript on page 142. Quote: There is a Russian banker/Duma member/mafia leader named Alexander Torshin, who is a life member of the NRA. He`s a well-known to Spanish law enforcement for money laundering activity. You have probably seen the press articles.
I think the Spanish files on him should be available to you. He`s one of the more important figures but another woman with whom he was working, a woman named Maria Butina was also a big Trump fan in Russia. She suddenly showed up and started hanging around the Trump transition after the election. She rented an apartment and enrolled herself at A.U., American University, which I assume gets you a visa.
Question: she rented an apartment here? Answer: AU Park in Tenleytown, went to American University and rented an apartment up there. We just started seeing this when the Russia stuff started bubbling up, and the thing I found most absurd about this is that, you know, Vladimir Putin is not exactly in favor of universal gun ownership by Russians. It`s a big charade basically.
That excerpt about Alexander Torshin, his money laundering and Russian organized crime background, his links to the Russian government and his links to the NRA all got neatly knitted up today in a big scoop from the McClatchy news service. Here is the headline: FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump.
Quoting from the article: The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency. Quote, FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of Russian`s central bank, known for his close relationships with Russian President Vladimir Putin and NRA.
McClatchy points out that the, quote, extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA or of the NRA`s participation in the transfer of funds could not be learned. But to put things in perspective, the NRA reportedly spent $30 million in this past presidential election to support Donald Trump, $30 million by that one organization. That is real money and that`s triple what the NRA spent on, say, the last presidential election before that when they tried to boost mitt Romney in 2012. How come they tripled their spending for non-gun owner Donald Trump? He doesn`t even hunt varmints.
Most of that money was that funneled into the election was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors at all. What could possibly go wrong?
Joining us now is Greg Gordon. He`s an investigative reporter fro McClatchy D.C. He is the lead author on this article.
Mr. Gordon, thank you very much for being with us. I really appreciate you being here to talk about your work with Peter Stone to put this piece together.
GREG GORDON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, MCCLATCHY DC: Rachel, thank you very much for having me. Actually, I have to say Peter is the lead author, but I was very much part of it and Peter did some great sleuthing for us.
MADDOW: Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, absolutely. Got it.
Let me ask you first of all in explaining the context here and the background, the importance of your reporting. Did I sort -- did I get that right? Is anything I`ve messed out there?
Why is this -- is this coming to light now? I have heard a lot of interesting background reporting. A lot of interesting stuff about Mr. Torshin and that Spanish investigation in the past, the big breakthrough that I`m seeing in your reporting is the news that the FBI is looking into this. Do you know anything about the timing of the FBI`s interest? Is this a longstanding? A longstanding investigation?
GORDON: Not a lot. Not a lot. It`s a counterintelligence investigation. As you can imagine, it`s really hard to find out about it. And it took us a long time. We`ve been trying to get to the bottom of this for quite sometime to determine if there was a live investigation.
And the issue here is it goes to the whole question of how Russia tried to influence our elections because we`ve seen it and it seems like at every turn when there is a new revelation, you need to take a step back and try to look at it again to see -- you`re very good at that, Rachel. I watch and see how you peel back the layers.
So, now, we have the very first story that we wrote which was the first U.S. story about this investigation, about a year ago and it said that there was a working group of government agencies that was trying to get evidence of Russia money possibly moving to the Trump campaign. We haven`t heard much about money movement since then. We`ve heard about approaches by Russians to Trump campaign advisors, Papadopoulos and later to Trump Jr., Donald Trump Jr. and we`ve also heard about bombardment of social media attacks on Face -- via Facebook and Twitter, fake news, harsh criticism of Hillary Clinton, but we hadn`t heard too much about money.
So, now, we`re hearing about this and I think that given the Citizens United ruling in 2010 which created the flood of dark money, money that doesn`t have to be reported, donors don`t have to disclose publicly and NRA has an arm that accepts dark money. We don`t know too much about that obviously. So, we`re not saying that Russian money -- identifiable Russian money just flew into the NRA`s coffers but this does raise the question about whether some money was maybe laundered or maybe disguise in someway or did the NRA even know about it, or was it some other form of assistance to the NRA that enabled them to maybe shift money around or maybe it didn`t happen at all.
We don`t know whether we`re going to find out about this, what the outcome is because it`s a counterintelligence investigation and they don`t always report the results of what they find. It will be interesting to see.
MADDOW: Yes, it will be interesting to see if at the end of that investigation, we find out what they found but you being able to figure out, you and Peter Stone begin able to figure out that this investigation is underway is a heck of a scoop.
Greg Gordon, investigative reporter for "McClatchy News", thank you for helping us understand your reporting, sir. Congratulations.
GORDON: Thank you, Rachel.
GORDON: Great to be here.
MADDOW: I will say, when the ex-CIA Director John Brennan testified about the Russia matter in an open hearing last year, one of the things that he said that`s been dangling out there since is that part of the reason that U.S. intelligence agencies started a counterintelligence investigation during the summer before the presidential election in 2016 to figure out what Russia was doing to influence the election, is that he said they saw evidence of Russian money flowing into the U.S. election.
We still don`t know what he meant by that, which money they saw, where it was going, how they know it was Russian. That`s a piece of it given to us at the very beginning of our public understanding of this scandal.
We still don`t have any explanation of it. This NRA story is the first money piece of it we had in a very, very long time. Hopefully, we will all learn this -- we will learn all of this in the end.
All right. Much more to come. Busy news night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: At midnight tomorrow, the government runs out of money and shuts down. If the government does not pass a spending bill before midnight tomorrow, the government will shut down. Tonight, the House passed a temporary spending bill to keep the lights on through mid-February. It passed by 33 votes.
If that stopgap spending bill passes the Senate and the president signs it, that would kick this fight down the road for another 30 days whereupon we have this happen again in 30 days. I`ll meet you right back here, we can have this same chat all over again every 30 days for the rest of our lives.
But tonight, that prospect of that bill that passed the House passing the Senate is a giant if. That`s why everybody in the D.C.-Metro area is counting to 14 over and over and over again tonight.
Republicans control the White House, and the House and Senate, that`s why it`s weird we might have a government shut down. But to pass any kind of spending bill, they do need 60 votes in the Senate. There`s only 51 Republican senators. Tonight, Senator John McCain is not there, he`s at home in Arizona recovering from cancer treatment so he can`t vote.
In addition to John McCain not being there, there are four Republican senators who say they are a hard no on this bill. Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Mike Rounds and Lindsey Graham, they have all told reporters they won`t vote for this temporary spending bill for various reasons.
So, assuming John McCain and those other four Republicans, assuming those five Republican missing votes stay missing, assuming nobody has a sudden change of heart, Republicans actually will need 14 Democratic senators to crossover and agree to vote for their bill before midnight tomorrow if the government is going to stay open. They need 14. Right now, they have one. Democratic yes vote, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of 14.
Democrats have been committed and quite open about the fact that they will not vote for any kind of spending bill that doesn`t protect the Dreamers. The young immigrants who were shielded by President Obama under DACA, a program that Donald Trump tried to kill last year.
Other than Joe Manchin, it appears that the Democrats are really not going to budget on that. They`ve been quite open about the fact that they won`t.
It is not inconceivable that enough Republicans agree with the Democrats on that matter specifically, that they could pass a standalone bill to sort out the Dreamers issue on its own. But Mitch McConnell is not doing that. He`s trying to do it -- the Dreamers issue as part of this gigantic oleo of this mixed issues to keep the lights on for the federal government, he`s expecting Democrats to cave on that issue and it really is not working.
So, let me tell you what`s happening right now. The Senate is debating the short-term spending bill. There needs to be a vote to end that debate so the Senate can vote on it. They have to end the debate and take the vote. That`s a part that needs 60 votes. That`s the vote that we`re pretty sure they can`t get to.
We don`t know when exactly that 60 vote threshold, cloture vote will happen. We`ll be watching the floor through the course of the night. We`ll keep you posted.
I mean, never in the history of this country have we had a true government shut down when one party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House. But keep making history almost every day it seems.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: This is 1209 North Orange Street in Wilmington, Delaware. I know you`re thinking, not much to look at.
Maddow, why you`re having me look at this little, unassuming building with a green awning. 1209 North Orange Street in Wilmington, Delaware, I`m here to tell you, it`s home to something like 300,000 businesses.
I know. How do they all fit? They must be teeny, teeny, teeny, tiny little businesses -- 300,000 in that one building. It`s only one story.
Delaware has a well-earned reputation as a good place to in-name only register you business to avoid taxes and regulations. It`s also a good place to fake headquarter your business if what you want is secrecy. Delaware is a great place to set up, for instance, an anonymous shell corporation.
Here is another unlikely mega business hub in Delaware, 160 Green Tree Drive, Dover, Delaware.
Today, "The Wall Street Journal" reports that in 2016, just a few weeks before the presidential election, that building in Dover, Delaware, became home of a new private corporation established by Donald Trump`s personal lawyer. That new corporation appears to have been established for a very, very specific purpose, and it`s clear why he wanted to keep it secret.
That bombshell story and "The Wall Street Journal" reporter who broke it today, just ahead.
MADDOW: -- "The Wall Street Journal" broke this story, alleging that one month before the election, the president`s personal lawyer, arranged for a payment of $130,000 to be made to a woman named Stephanie Clifford. Stephanie Clifford has a stage name in the adult entertainment industry. She`s known as Stormy Daniels. "The Journal" reported on Friday that $130,000 payment was intended to buy Stormy Daniels`s silence. In exchange for the money, she would agree to not talk about her alleged extramarital affair with Donald Trump.
Now, when that story broke in "The Journal" on Friday, Trump attorney Michael Cohen didn`t deny the money part of it. He denied the affair part of it, but he, quote, didn`t address the $130,000 payment. We have since tried to chase that down with Michael Cohen and found the same thing, denying the affair, but not the payment.
So, that was really interesting reporting from "The Wall Street Journal" Friday. It left open a lot of questions, though. Where did that money come from? Who paid? And how did that money get from point A to point B? That was where we had the story as of Friday.
Tonight, that same reporting team from "The Wall Street Journal" has started to figure it out. They have started to find the money. "The Journal" reports tonight this Delaware registered company, Essentials Consultants LLC, is how that $130,000 moved from point A to point B. Corporate documents show that, quote, Michael Cohen established Essential Consultants LLC on October 2016, right before the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen then used a bank account linked to the entity to send the payment to the client trust account of a lawyer representing Stormy Daniels. Registering the company in Delaware, quote, offers privacy and simplicity because Delaware doesn`t require companies to publicly disclose the names of their managers.
"The Journal" reports, quote, to further mask the identities of the people involved in the agreement, the parties used pseudonyms with Stormy Daniels identified as Peggy Peterson. We once again asked Michael Cohen and also the White House for comment on the story, we haven`t heard anything back.
But joining us is Michael Rothfeld, one of "The Wall Street Journal" reporters who broke the story tonight and the one on Friday.
Mr. Rothfeld, thank you for being here.
MICHAEL ROTHFELD, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: I knew you would keep working on this where did the money come from thing. I didn`t think we`d have you back so soon.
So you examined the record that is show Cohen set up this LLC right before the election and then move into Stormy Daniels` lawyer`s accounts. If Delaware allows you to set up companies that shield your identity, how did you figure that out?
ROTHFELD: Through our reporting, we had thought Michael Cohen used an LLC to pay Stormy Daniels before we wrote the first story. We had been looking for that LLC for some time and just through the reporting chain, we were able to learn that he used this company, Essential Consultants, we looked at a lot of LLC and pulled the papers for this one, and lo and behold, his name was on there.
MADDOW: You also found another LLC and there was an interesting, very quick timing in terms of the dissolution of one LLC by Michael Cohen and the creation of this one. Can you explain that or say what you think it means?
ROTHFELD: Yes, absolutely.
Well, we -- so he likes to name companies according to what he`s going to do with them, based on his past companies that he`s created. So, Resolution Consultants we believed was a company to resolve a problem with Stormy Daniels and we found he created that on September 30th. He had been talking to Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford, and her lawyer for some time and had been late in making the payment.
And so, during that period of time, he apparently for some reason couldn`t use Resolution Consultants. So, on October 17th, he creates this new one, Essential Consultants and two minutes later, he dissolves Resolution Consultants.
MADDOW: Two minutes later.
MADDOW: OK. So, Essential Consultants is the vehicle through which the payment was made to Stormy Daniels.
ROTHFIELD: That`s right.
MADDOW: So, now, following the money further back, you say you`ve identified the bank account associated with the company that made the payment. Can you figure out who put the money in the bank account?
ROTHFELD: Not at this point. We`d like to do that. And we`re continuing to report on the story to figure out whether Cohen used his own money, or used someone else`s money, or was he reimbursed later on for that. Those are questions we`re still reporting on.
MADDOW: In terms of the people understanding the importance of the story, again, whether or not you care about Donald Trump`s sex life, the concern here in part and we`ll know once we know more, is that that money may have been an in-kind campaign contribution or that may have had some sort of other legally dubious or improper source until we know who was paying for that kind of dispute or conflict resolution for Trump right before the election, there`s a potentially serious legal consequence or legal implication in terms of where that money came from.
ROTHFELD: Yes, there are some lawyers who had speculated that if you made an undisclosed contribution in kind to influence an election, it could be a violation of campaign finance law.
John Edwards was prosecuted on a theory like that, and he wasn`t convicted. But, you know, you never know what kind of case prosecutors might make. I don`t know.
MADDOW: We`ve had, just to tie up this knot, we have not been able to get -- we`ve had communication with Michael Cohen about this story, where he`s given us repeated denials about the underlying substance of the story, hasn`t denied to us anything about the payment. Does that remain the case with you as well?
ROTHFELD: Same with us, yes.
MADDOW: Michael Rothfeld, reporter for "The Wall Street Journal", I hope to see you sooner rather than later, sir. Congratulations on your progress thus far.
ROTHFELD: Thank you.
MADDOW: This is an important story. Leave the sex part of it aside. I`m telling you, this money part of it, it`s a big deal.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Our government shutdown watch is 26 hours and a few seconds. What`s going on right now in Washington is that the House has passed a short term funding bill to keep the lights on for the federal government, and the Senate is still talking it out. There continue to be discussions between the two sides.
The Democrats essentially have the cards here. Republicans need some Democrats to cross over and vote for this thing if they`re going to keep the lights on. Democrats say, among other things that the Dreamers need to be taken care of for them to do that.
One thing to watch here, if there is going to be a federal government shutdown tomorrow -- I mean, anybody can tell you one way or the other how they think it`s going to go -- but we just learned that the president is going to Florida. He`s going to Mar-a-Lago tomorrow. So, apparently, he`s not that concerned.
And we also believe the Vice President Mike Pence is leaving tomorrow to go to the Middle East. So, that means he`s not that concerned. And it also implies they`re not going to need Mike Pence to be an extra vote as a tie breaker in the United States Senate. So, you know, depends on whether this stuff keeps you up at night, I guess. It makes -- depends on whether or not this stuff worries you. But the president is planning on going back to his Florida club.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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