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Rick Gates close to a plea deal with Mueller. TRANSCRIPT: 2/15/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Ellen Weintraub

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: February 15, 2018 Guest: Ellen Weintraub

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.


MADDOW: And thanks to at home for joining us this hour.

There is significant breaking news tonight on the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation. We`re going to be getting to that in just a moment here on this show. It`s potentially the biggest advance in Mueller`s case since guilty plea agreements with two cooperating witnesses were announced in December. As I mentioned, we`re going to be getting to that news in just a moment including some very apt expert advice as to what it might mean.

The biggest news in the country today however continues to be the emotional reeling all across the country after the mass murder of high school students at a South Florida high school yesterday afternoon.

The 19-year-old alleged murderer was arraigned today. He has been charged with multiple murder counts. There were reports today that the suspect might have been associated with a little-known white supremacist anti- Semitic militia in Florida. Those reports however were based on claims that that was true from a guy who`s in this white supremacist anti-Semitic militia group in Florida. That`s not exactly the kind of guy where you just take his word for it, especially in the absence of any supporting evidence.

So, in terms of why this happened or whether he had associations of any kind that might change your view of why you did it, police continue to say the murderer acted alone. If you are looking for a motive for his mass murder, if that makes a difference to your understanding of this latest gun massacre against innocent American children, then maybe hold out hope that someday we`ll get word of what that motive might have been.

For now, what we know is that he`s the suspect. He had an AR-15 and tons of ammo. And police say it was all legally acquired, because the laws our lawmakers have made on guns welcomed a young man in his circumstances to arm himself the way he did. That ends up being the most important thing to know about how he came to a place in his life in this country where he could kill that many people himself.

There was no moment of silence today among our lawmakers in Washington for this massacre. Usually after the latest gun massacre of American children, they have a moment of silence. They did have one in the U.S. Senate today, but they didn`t have one in the House and that`s because they got disrupted in the House.

Now, we`ve got the tape of it you will actually hear it -- you`ll hear the disruption happen in this tape and you`ll see members of the House react, but the camera never pans up and shows you who is creating all the ruckus. It`s sort of oddly compelling.

Just watch this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chair notes a disturbance in the gallery and contravention of the law and rules of the House. The sergeant at arms will remove those persons responsible for the disturbance and restore order to the gallery.


MADDOW: At that point, they cut the audio but you can see all the members of the House looking up into the gallery then the audio comes back on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will be in order, members will please take their seats. The House will be in order, members please take your seats. Please remove your conversation from the House floor --


MADDOW: So you don`t see the people disrupting the House there, because the people who are disrupting the House -- you can see members of Congress looking up at them. Those people weren`t even allowed to have their own camera phones up there in the gallery, so they weren`t even allowed to document what they were doing themselves. But a bunch of people in the House gallery did get arrested today for this. This is a photo taken of them after they were released from custody.

The protestors today in the House were blind people and deaf people and people who use wheelchairs and people with other disabilities. You can see one man who uses a wheelchair getting loaded into a police van here after this disruption.

A bunch of Americans with disabilities including people in wheelchairs got arrested for this same cause two days ago as well. They were protesting in committee on Tuesday. They were protesting on the House floor today because today, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill to cut back the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Congressman James Langevin who has used a wheelchair for decades after an accidental shooting, Senator Tammy Duckworth who lost both legs in combat as a helicopter pilot in Iraq, both of them spoke vehemently against this. Congressman John Lewis railed against this as a rollback of American civil rights legislation.

But the Republican-controlled House passed it today and it passed as a standalone thing this wasn`t like part of the budget or part of some other big spending bill or some other omnibus approach to something where this was a line-item. This was a -- its own quiet little standalone bill to gut the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And nobody campaigns for Congress by saying, hey, send me to Washington, I`m going to gut the Americans with Disabilities Act, right? Nobody campaigns for Congress by saying, send me to Washington, I`m going to stick it to disabled people. Send me to Washington and when I take my votes, you`ll see blind people and people in wheelchairs being hauled out of the gallery and the House and arrested because I`m taking away the most important parts of the most important legislation that has integrated disabled people into mainstream life and American public accommodation, right?

There`s no -- I`m wheelchair users worst enemy caucus, right?

So, when the Republican-led Congress pursue standalone bills on issues like this. They know they don`t want to brag about this back at home. They know nobody promised their constituents they`d make things harder for disabled people when they got to Washington. They like to do these things quietly, and oftentimes these things proceed all the way through both Republican-controlled Houses of Congress and all the way to the president`s desk without anybody really making any noise about it at all, except of course for the activists who represent these communities whose lives are materially going to get worse because of this rollback of some of the most successful civil rights legislation in American history.

They`re the ones who make noise. They`re the ones who bring the House to a stop, make all those members of Congress turn around and try to figure out what`s going on. All right, even when no one inside the House is allowed to turn their cameras toward the gallery to see them, they make themselves heard.

On issues like this that Congress wants to keep as low profile as possible, it`s the outcry from the activist groups that is sometimes the only way we know these things are happening. They make sure there`s no press for this stuff. There was another quiet little bill like this that passed the Congress one year ago today.

It was actually the first materially significant standalone legislation that was passed after the election where Republicans won control of the House and the Senate and the White House it was a standalone single purpose piece of legislation to make it easier for mentally ill people to buy guns. That`s all it did. It passed through both houses of Congress as a year ago today, passed Congress today went to President Trump`s desk, President Trump signed it.

You have seen a gazillion photo ops of President Trump signing all sorts of things, right? Sometimes it`s legislation, sometimes it`s an executive order, sometimes it`s a decision memo, whatever that is, sometimes it`s just random pieces of paper to make it look like he`s accomplishing something in the legislative process even when he`s not. Anytime they can take an opportunity to have and show off that he`s signing a thing, they take that opportunity, except for the bill he signed that makes it easier for mentally ill people to access guns.

CBS News reported today that they have repeatedly requested -- they requested different times at the White House release a photo of president Trump signing that bill that eased up on our nation`s restrictions and people who have been adjudicated to be seriously medical mentally ill from accessing firearms. CBS News reports today, they asked times for it. They report today that a White House photographer has confirmed to them that there are existing photos of Trump signing that legislation about mentally ill people getting guns more easily.

But the White House won`t release any of those photos. It`s almost like they don`t want to admit that the first materially significant legislation this president signed was specifically and only designed to get more guns into the hands of more seriously mentally ill people.

This, of course, was President Trump`s response to yesterday`s latest gun massacre, quote: So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, so many questions about why anybody would take overt action to make sure people adjudicated to be seriously mentally disturbed could get guns more easily. But the president has never answered a question about that first materially significant legislation that he signed.

The White House is dodging those questions even now. Even now, they are refusing to release the photo of President Trump signing that legislation which in fact he signed. So, they`re not answering questions about it. They canceled yesterday`s White House press briefing, cancel today`s White House press briefing.

Individual members of Congress are having to answer questions here and there though. MSNBC caught up with Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa today to get his thoughts about what the nation should do to try to stop these gun massacres from happening. This was his response.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: We have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to concentrate on that. Thanks.


MADDOW: And then he walked away.

Now, Senator Grassley speaks in a sometimes elliptical manner. He can sometimes be a little hard to follow.

Here`s what he exactly what he just said: we have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to concentrate on that. That`s what he said.

To be perfectly and specifically clear here, Senator Chuck Grassley was the lead sponsor in the U.S. Senate of the bill that passed one year ago today that had one specific purpose which was to keep people who had been adjudicated a seriously mentally ill from having their names added to the FBI database that he`s talking about right there.

We haven`t done a very good job making sure people who have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun, they`re getting their name into the FBI files. That`s what he says the problem here. You have to go really far out of your way to choose as a legislative goal that people who are adjudicated to have serious, debilitating mental illness can more easily get guns by excluding them from the FBI background check database that has to be a really specific legislative goal. You don`t accidentally hit that mark in a standalone bill that only does that.

Again, this was not part of any larger piece of legislation this was not some dumb loophole in a bill that did something more important. This was targeted legislation that did only that. He was the lead sponsor and now today, he speaks in wonder in apparent outraged that for some reason, we can`t get the names of people with serious mental illness onto the FBI background check database. For some reason, he is personally and individually responsible for that being harder to do today than it was one year ago today.

Gun laws do not make themselves. We have the gun laws that we have today because of the lawmakers who we have today. None of them received our nation`s gun on tablets on a mountaintop. They`re all in control of what gun laws we have.

But if we were -- if we were thinking they might reflect on that today in a moment of silence for all these American kids who were just murdered -- well, they were scared away from doing their moment of silence on that today because there were people with wheelchairs and people who are blind and deaf trying to stop them from taking the action that they took today to go out of their way to hurt disabled people in America. Your tax dollars at work today. In many ways, today was as much a day of rage as it was a day of grief.

In the aftermath of an event that shakes the country like yesterday`s shooting did though, there are political professionals among us with ice water in their veins who look at a tragedy like this and see opportunity. It`s the opportunity to dodge some of the consequences of unflattering news. For some folks in Washington the day after a particularly repulsive massacre of American children is a good time to empty out the hamper, air out the proverbial dirty laundry they don`t particularly want people to focus on too much while they`re worried about bigger and more tragic things.

So, "The New York Times" was the lucky recipient today of the long, long, long, long delayed release of financial documents from the Trump inaugural committee. Now that may seem like kind of a picayune concern, right? Random accounting matter related to the Trump administration, why focus on that?

Reason it`s important -- the reason that it very well may not be a coincidence that they finally chose to release information about the inaugural committee on today of all days, it`s because the Trump inaugural committee was run in a way that no other inaugural committee has ever been run. Inaugural committees aren`t supposed to be secretive. They`re not supposed to drag on and on with no disclosure. They`re not supposed to be a source of intrigue, they never are.

I mean, like that standalone bill they pass today to attack the rights of disabled people and gut the ADA, or like that standalone bill they passed a year ago today to help mentally ill people get easier access to guns, an inaugural committee just does one thing, it`s just as a standalone discreet thing, an inaugural committee raises money once for a one-time event that is over in one day, and then when it`s done, you know, they square up the accounts, they close themselves down and they cease to exist. That`s it, even for really gigantic inaugurations like Barack Obama`s in 2009, the inaugural committee fundraising set up, execution and shutdown, it`s the sort of thing that takes a few months.

Open -- exact -- open, execute, shutdown, that`s it. As financial things in Washington go, this is one of these simplest financial things in Washington. They open, they execute, they shut down.

Not the way it happened with the Trump inauguration. Trump inauguration, for reasons we will not go into here, was a fairly small inauguration. There were not very many inaugural balls. There were no big glitzy attendant events where hundreds of thousands of people went right.

At the inaugural parade, it was cold. A lot of the stands were empty. There were lots of protesters. I mean, for this inauguration though, the Trump inaugural committee inexplicably raised more than doubled the amount of money ever raised for any other inauguration, and that led to questions that could really only apply to this inauguration, namely, where`s all the extra money, because this was not a hundred million dollar event,

Over the course of the past year, the inaugural committee for President Trump has refused to release any accounting of what they did with the more than hundred million dollars that they raised on at least four separate occasions. In response to reporters` questions, they said they were just about to put out the numbers, just about to put out the accounting. They`re going to release all their records and close up shop any day now.

One time, they even claimed that they had just passed with flying colors a formal audit announcing that raised the prospect that we would all get to see that audit, so we`d all be assured there was no funny business going on with any gigantic Trump-oriented slush fund in Washington. They never released that audit.

Along with other news organizations, we`ve been trying for months to get any sort of accounting at all for what happened to all that leftover money. Slush funds tend to attract scandal, so we`ve been trying to figure out what happened to the tens of millions of unaccounted for dollars that must have gone along with the Trump inauguration, it`s been sort of a difficult slog.

The chairman of the inaugural committee is a close friend of the president. He`s the one who announced the phantom audit and then never released it. The treasurer of the inaugural committee never got back to us despite our attempts to contact him, although that may have had something to do with our reporting that he had been an unindicted co-conspirator in a giant tax evasion scheme on Wall Street.

There was also the deputy chair of the inaugural committee. He turned out to be very hard to reach as well because his name is Rick Gates. He was also the deputy chairman of the Donald Trump for president campaign and he is currently facing multiple felony charges in federal court brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Now, we`ll get back to him in a second. The information quietly released today to "The New York Times" indicates that the reason we haven`t been able to find out what happened to any of the leftover money from the Trump inauguration is because there`s almost no money left over from the Trump inauguration, which is astonishing. They say they`ve got $2 million. $3 million dollars left in the bank from $107 million that they raised. Biggest inauguration ever was about $50 million, how did they spend over a hundred million dollars on this particular inauguration that they put on?

Well, now, we know part of how they spent that was by sending $26 million to a company that was only created one month before the inauguration happened. A company created in December 2016 which was paid $26 million out of the inaugural fund. The company that was created by Donald Trump`s wife`s good friend. She herself reportedly cleared well over a million and a half dollars on the deal.

But her company cleared this gigantic amount of money. I mean, even if you take out the money she just stuck in her pocket, her company cleared like $25 million for the inauguration. Now, to be clear there a general contractor which basically does every inauguration. This one for Trump, both of them for Obama, both of them for George W. Bush, both of them for Bill Clinton.

There is one big contracting firm called Hargrove that`s kind of always in charge now of the major preparations for the inauguration. That company did the Trump inaugural like they`ve done all other recent inaugurations and they got paid $25 million to do it. That sort of makes sense. That`s sort of in keeping with other inaugurations.

But then in addition to the general contractor who does all the inaugurations getting paid twenty-five million dollars in addition to that. this woman who knows Melania Trump also got paid another $25 million, plus a million and a half for herself, and nobody is quite sure what that`s all about. But maybe nobody will remember to ask about it since they snuck the news out in the middle of an all-encompassing show-stopping national tragedy.

But I mentioned at the top here that there was some important breaking news on the Mueller investigation, that actually relates to Rick Gates who was the deputy chairman of the Trump inauguration, the very unusual Trump inaugural committee, as well as being the deputy campaign chairman of the Trump campaign. Rick Gates was arrested in October and charged with multiple felonies alongside Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. They`ve been rumblings for a while but there might be something going on.

In Gates` criminal case, he had dumped the first lawyer who was representing him. For a couple of weeks now, there have been some intriguing and mostly secret court proceedings that made it seem like maybe he was either dropping or getting dropped by his second legal team as well.

CNN`s Katelyn Polantz was first to report that a third legal team led by veteran Washington scandal lawyer Tom Green might be taking over Rick Gates` representation and potentially negotiating a whole new relationship between Rick Gates and the prosecutor Robert Mueller. Well, tonight, Polantz at CNN is first a report based on multiple sources that Rick Gates, the president`s deputy campaign manager, is in fact about to flip and become a cooperating witness for Robert Mueller.

Mueller has already obtained a guilty plea and a cooperation agreement from Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and from Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn.

If he also gets Trump`s deputy campaign chair who was on the campaign longer than Paul Manafort was, he was still there after Manafort got fired. He was an integral part of the presidential transition. He was number two in charge of the Trump inauguration. He was a frequent presence in the White House for the first months of this administration. If he flips, this would be the biggest development that we could see publicly at least in the Mueller investigation since Flynn and Papadopoulos announced that they would become cooperating witnesses.

Again, NBC News has not confirmed this reporting. This is CNN`s story at this point, but they`re citing multiple sources and they`ve got one super intriguing, super specific detail about what has happened legally already between Robert Mueller and Rick Gates. It`s a detail that we`re definitely going to need an expert to explain.

That part of the story and the expert are next.


MADDOW: NBC News broke this scoop this afternoon. Former White House senior strategist and Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon met with special counselor Robert Mueller multiple times over the past week. Quote: Bannon spent a total of some 20 hours in conversations with Robert Mueller`s team.

After that NBC News scoop, "The A.P." reports tonight based on a single source that, quote, Bannon answered every question that was put to him by Mueller`s. Now, 20 hours is a lot of testimony. That said, we have no idea what the questions were. We have no idea what Mueller wanted that much testimony from Steve Bannon about.

But after that NBC news scoop from Hallie Jackson today, we got this breaking news from CNN tonight that Trump campaign advisor Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with the special counsels office, quote, indicating he is poised to cooperate in the investigation.

Now, special counsel has two cooperating witnesses from the Trump campaign already, George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn. If this CNN report is right tonight and Mueller is about to get a third cooperating witness that is a major advance in the special counsels position in this investigation. That said I`m not a lawyer and there is part of this reporting for which I need some help.

I just need some help understanding this part. This is CNN`s report tonight, quote: Gates has already spoken to Mueller`s team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. Gates has had what criminal lawyers call a queen for a day interview.

What on God`s green earth is a queen for a day? I mean, it sounds awesome. Is this like -- well, all right, here`s what they say.

Gates has had what criminal lawyers call a queen for a day interview in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors team including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed. In a queen for a day interview, a defendant can typically admit to crimes with little additional consequences unless he or she lies. After the queen for a day interview, there`s a -- there`s only a very small chance a defendant could turn back toward fighting the charges.

All right. Again, as a non-lawyer, I get that it would be a very big deal in the Mueller investigation if Mueller and his team are about to flip a new cooperating witness, right, one who was there for the campaign, even after Manafort, one who was there for the campaign, the transition, the inauguration and beyond. That said, I have no idea what to make of this queen for a day interview stuff.

Luckily., we are joined now by former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who is very pleased plain-spoken on these and other matters .

Barb, thank you for being here.

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Oh, you bet, Rachel. Glad to be here.

MADDOW: So, queen for a day isn`t a joke on non lawyers to make us all look up something that has nothing to do with the law and then we all look like dunces, queen for a day is a real thing?

MCQUADE: It is a real thing. It`s kind of an old-school term. In my office, we refer to these as proper meetings or debriefing sessions.


MCQUADE: But it comes from an old TV show, a game show from the `50s that I think was on radio and television where women would compete to be queen for a day and win prices by telling their sob stories.

But what it means is the witness or defendant comes in, and in exchange for an agreement, than those of those statements will be used against him, answers all questions truthfully, including questions that may implicate criminal behavior by himself.

MADDOW: So, you have to tell the truth and you can`t later take the stand and contradict what you say in this interview or they`ll use it against you. But aside from those two prospects, you`re supposed to feel free to confess to anything and everything even stuff, you were involved in, safe in the knowledge that it won`t be used to put you in jail?

MCQUADE: Yes, in fact. You have an incentive to be very forthcoming because anything you say there can`t be used against you. So, if you hold back and the prosecution finds out about something that you did, you can be charged with that.

So, it creates this incentive to be very forthcoming and as you said the only limitation really is if you lie and if you get caught lying then the deal is off and all of those things you said about yourself can be used against you.

MADDOW: Now, do agreements like this, do interviews like this always happen in conjunction with someone pleading guilty? It seems like a guilty plea a plea deal has to be part of that kind of negotiation?

MCQUADE: Yes, almost always, I`m not sure I`ve ever seen it happen where somebody actually sat down and went through this process and then backed out of it. They could theoretically, but once you`ve told the prosecution all of the bad things you`ve done and you`ve talked to them about bad conduct by other people, usually, you`ve come to a point where you`re ready to flip, to join the other team, to plead guilty to try to minimize your own exposure in terms of sentencing.

Now, would there ever be a circumstance or have you ever seen a circumstance in which somebody came to an agreement to do this kind of interview to start talking to prosecutors in this way and change to a guilty plea because we know Mr. Gates has already pled not guilty to these charges but then they didn`t also become a witness for the prosecution, a cooperating witness to help them build a case against another person or is that again always part and parcel with this kind of a deal?

MCQUADE: It`s certainly contemplated that the person would become a witness. Now, it may be the case later down the road that he`s not needed as a witness because the co-defendant pleads guilty for example. Other witnesses are identified so they`re no longer needed, but it`s certainly contemplated that you will be willing and able to testify.

MADDOW: Now, CNN is also reporting tonight that Mueller`s prosecutors are preparing to file new charges against both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. They say for Gates, they expect it will be tax-related charges. How should -- how should the prospect of new charges coming very shortly, how should that fit into our understanding here?

MCQUADE: Well, I think it`s not surprising that we might see additional charges. As early as this initial indictment was filed, I think many people speculated where are the tax charges because it seemed obvious that if you`re hiding all this income, that their tax charges would also be likely. So, sometimes those come later in a superseding indictment, because the charges aren`t ready, you don`t have all the information you need.

Or sometimes prosecutors strategically hold back some of those charges and say, we`re going to allow you to plead guilty to the indictment as it exists today. We`ll continue to investigate and it might get worse for you later, so an early plea has some advantages to you and then if there is no plea, then they need to follow through on those promises that additional charges are forthcoming.

So, it wouldn`t surprise me that they`ve been working toward that and we might see it. I know it might frustrate the trial judge who wants to set a trial date because new charges can sometimes cause a delay in the trial while the defense attorney prepares for these new additional charges.

MADDOW: One last question for you, Barb. My sense as a non-lawyer that the Mueller investigation getting a third cooperating witness would be a big deal, would be a serious change in their position in terms of this overall investigation. Am I right to see it that way?

MCQUADE: I think it`s a big deal you know it may be that Gates in light of his position with a campaign is directing -- direct -- deputy campaign chairman has information about connections between the campaign and Russia, but even if the sole basis of his knowledge is about Paul Manafort and he agrees to testify and cooperate against Paul Manafort that in turn could induce Paul Manafort to cooperate. That is the methodical way that prosecutors often work their way up the chain and so, I think in either scenario this inches us a little bit closer toward getting into the Trump orbit.

MADDOW: Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, you are exactly the person who I knew could understand -- both understand and explain this in a way that would make me understand it. Thank you for helping us through it tonight. Much appreciate it.

MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. We are very lucky to have her on deck for us. Honestly, we have a lot of great lawyers and a lot of people who are ex- prosecutors and stuff who helped explain stuff. But honestly, when there`s something so complicated to the point it seems funny, Barbara McQuade is one person who will damn straight always make sense of it.

We`ll be right back.



DAVID SHULKIN, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFARIRS: -- recognize the optics of this are not good. I accept a responsibility for that and -- but I do believe it`s important the United States continued its work with its allied countries.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: It`s not the optics that are not good. It`s the facts that are not good.


MADDOW: Optics, check, facts, check, but also the timing is terrible. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin would probably have picked any other day for his routine budget hearing on Capitol Hill, but as luck would have it, his appearance on the Hill today came one day after a really quite scandalous inspector general`s report about his conduct in office, conduct for which the Trump cabinet secretary has apologized and even written a personal check in hopes of saving his job.

We`ve got much more on that very serious story coming up. Stay with us.


MADDOW: So for over a month now, ever since "The Wall Street Journal" published this bombshell report the president`s personal lawyer had arranged $130,000 payment to porn stars Stormy Daniels, ever since that came out, we`ve been trying mightily not to think about the president`s sex life at all. But to ask the crucial question, who paid -- who paid that money to Stormy Daniels to make this story of an alleged affair with the president go away? The initial flimsy denials in response to "The Wall Street Journal" were about the sex side of the story. But nobody even bothered to overtly deny that somebody really had paid Ms. Daniels right before the election.

Well, shortly, after "The Journal" story was published, the watchdog group Common Cause filed a complaint calling on the FEC and the Justice Department to investigate this matter. The group said this payment of $130,000 violated campaign finance laws because it wasn`t reported on campaign filings, because it exceeded campaign contribution limits and they said it was clearly paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election. That complaint vote floated three possible original sources of the 130 grand that was paid to Ms. Daniels.

They`re guesses for who paid: number one, the Trump for President Campaign Committee, number two, the Trump organization, or, number three, John Doe, the unknown source of funds paid by Essential Consultants LLC, which was the name of the company that was reportedly set up by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to cut this check. So, that was the complaint.

Then two days ago, this turned up in "The New York Times": Michael Cohen, Trump`s longtime lawyer, says he paid Stormy Daniels out of his own pocket.

That headline may have been a little ahead of the story. Mr. Cohen didn`t say he paid out of his own pocket. What he actually said was, quote: I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels.

Then he said this: Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction, and neither reimbursed me for the payment. So, he said he wasn`t reimbursed by the campaign or the Trump Organization, but there was no denial that he might have been reimbursed by Donald Trump himself. And, of course, when he says he used his own funds to facilitate the payment, obviously, that means he could have paid out of pocket for the stamp on the envelope with somebody else`s check inside, right? I mean, to facilitate that payment getting to its destination.

So, who paid? And there`s also this matter now of why Michael Cohen would come out and admit this payment right now?

Now, "The New York Times" suggested in their report that his statement was linked to a deadline requiring him to respond to the FEC complaint that had been filed by Common Cause. That doesn`t make sense either. Michael Cohen does not appear to be one of the official respondents in that case.

Now, we spoke to watchdog Common Cause. They genuinely seemed surprised that Cohen had voluntarily admitted this information unprompted. We also then reached out to Michael Cohen and asked him why he volunteered this information if he didn`t need to.

He told us, quote: I am the respondent. You really need to get your facts straight. He then told us to take this matter up with his attorney who then never got back to us.

OK. Is Michael Cohen saying definitively that he is John Doe in Common Cause`s FEC complaint, that he is the ultimate source of funds? Didn`t just facilitate the payment?

There`s still a lot to sort out here, including this still central question of whether this now acknowledged payment violated campaign finance laws.

Well, I`m very happy to say that joining us now is the vice chair of the FEC, Ellen Weintraub. I should point out, she cannot discuss this specific case in detail but she obviously has more knowledge about these issues than anyone alive.

Commissioner Weintraub, I really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you for being here.


As you said I`m not talking about any cases that may or may not be before the agency, but if you want to talk about the law, I`m here for you.

MADDOW: That`s exactly what I want you to talk about. Nothing that is pending before the commissioner that might go before the commission. But in a general sense, can you give us a sense of how long it usually takes for the commission to decide whether it`s going to take up a complaint such as this one.

WEINTRAUB: It really varies. Whenever we get complaints, our lawyers will take a look at them and do an analysis for us and present a recommendation to the commission. And then the commission, depending on how many cases are in the queue ahead of them, sometimes it takes a little while before the commission can get to the point of having a discussion about it.

We could vote just based on the recommendation on what we call tally, but usually, somebody wants to talk about it. So, we have to wait until there`s an opportunity to discuss it at a scheduled meeting of the commission.

MADDOW: Now, in this case, which again you`re not going to talk about directly, Michael Cohen says this was a private transaction. He says this is totally separate and apart from anything having to do with the campaign. In a general sense, what are the -- what are the general factors that the commission looks at in deciding whether or not campaign finance law is implicated, whether or not an expenditure of some kind or some sort of financial action of some kind has a link to a campaign?

WEINTRAUB: OK, again, talking about --

MADDOW: As a general matter, how do you -- can you tell us some things related to a campaign?

WEINTRAUB: As a general rule, it`s usually actually pretty transparent if a contribution is -- a contribution is related to the campaign, because it`s usually a check or an electronic transfer that goes directly to the campaign account. But the law says that a gift, loan, advance, money anything of value that is made for the purpose of influencing an election is a contribution. So, that`s a fact-based determination as to whether a particular payment is for the purpose of influencing an election.

MADDOW: So, as a legal matter a check does not have to go into the coffers of a campaign specifically in order for you guys to be able to say that is a check that was designed to influence the outcome of a campaign?

WEINTRAUB: Not necessarily. It could -- it does not necessarily have to go into the campaign. There are what are called in-kind contributions and we`ve had cases where some paid an expense of a campaign and that was considered a contribution to the campaign because it saved the campaign the expense of having to pay it themselves.

MADDOW: Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, would you just stay with us for one more second? I have a couple of other things that have come up tonight that you`re the perfect person to ask and I feel like I would like to hold on to you. Would you mind?


MADDOW: Very good. Commissioner Ellen Weintraub is the vice chair of the FEC. We`ll be right back with her. Stay with us.


MADDOW: -- at long last, we got a 116-page tax filing from the president`s inaugural committee. The filing revealed among other things that $25 million or so went to the general contractor who`s run all the other recent inaugurals as well. But in addition to that, another $25 million or so went to a brand new firm run by an advisor to the first lady, a firm that was only formed the month before the inauguration happened. That`s interesting.

The inaugural committee reported all that to the IRS, but the IRS isn`t the only agency with some degree of oversight when it comes to the inaugural committee. The other -- the agency that actually hears from them first is the Federal Election Commission.

Happy to say we`re still joined by Ellen Weintraub, vice chair of the FEC.

Thank you.

Ellen, what kind of what kind of scrutiny do inaugural funds get? If hypothetically there were something hinky or unexplained or inappropriate in inaugural tax filings or in the inaugural filings or financial filings more generally, who would catch it? Who would look at it?

WINTRAUB: Well, it`s an interesting question, Rachel, because there isn`t a lot of law or regulation that governs these inaugural committees. They have to report to us who their donors are, where the money comes from, but there actually is no requirement that they report where the money goes. And I think that`s something that people might want to think about as they look forward to future inaugurations now that inaugural committees are raising so much money, that maybe a little bit more transparency wouldn`t be a bad thing.

MADDOW: Ellen Weintraub, vice chair of the Federal Election Commission, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I know it`s awkward to not talk about anything pending before the commission, but you`ve still been very enlightening in terms of how you approach your work. Thank you very much.

WEINTRAUB: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: A very senior member of the Trump administration, a cabinet secretary, is in hot water tonight over misuse of government funds. This is the same type of scandal that claimed the job of Tom Price a few months ago.

It`s the same type of scandal that`s currently plaguing Trump`s controversial EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who`s recently found himself up a creek and unable to paddle around. His claim that he has to fly first class on the taxpayer`s dime because he`s had interactions with people in coach that he`s found unpleasant. It`s the same scandal that ended the career of Tom Price, that now threatens the tenure of EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.

But in the case of V.A. Secretary David Shulkin, it`s worse on several levels. First, there`s a damning inspector general report about his behavior out this week and that includes that he repeatedly lied about his travel and using government funds to pay for his wife. The report refers to the chief of staff to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution.

It stems from a trip that Shulkin took his wife on last summer in July, over 10 days in Europe, Secretary Shulkin he had 3.5 days of work, but the rest of time was -- we have a list from the inspector reports, touring Amalienborg Palace for the changing of the guard, visiting Christianborg Palace, visiting Rosenborg Castles, visiting Frederiksborg Castle, taking a boat tour of Copenhagen from a canal I definitely cannot pronounce, shopping in Copenhagen, a cross-border excursion to have dinner in Sweden, a visit to the Churchill War Rooms in London and to Buckingham Palace and to Kensington Palace, and to Westminster Abbey, and another river cruise, and a visit St. Paul`s Cathedral, and a visit to Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys, and a visit to Tower Bridge, and a visit to Shakespeare`s Globe Theater, and a trip up in the London Eye, which is that Ferris wheel thing, and another castle, Windsor Castle, all on the taxpayer dime.

But what, there`s more, Shulkin also took his wife to the Wimbledon`s Women Final on the trip. He told investigators it was OK accept those tickets without paying for them because they were from a friend. But when investigators contacted this supposed personal friend of the Shulkins who provided them with these tickets, that person admitted to investigators in an interview that she didn`t know Shulkin`s wife`s name.

Shulkin`s staff also reportedly charged taxpayers nearly $4,000 for which they described as airport parking. Where did you park? Nobody has even explained that one yet.

In the course of repairing this report, the inspector general referred the V.A. chief of staff to the Justice Department for altering internal V.A. emails to make it seemed like Secretary Shulkin is going to get an award in Denmark, which would have justified the taxpayers paying for his wife`s plane ticket. He wasn`t actually getting an award in Denmark, but Shulkin`s office apparently changed these e-mails to lie and say that he did.

Now, the Justice Department decided not to pursue criminal prosecution at this time, maybe the Justice Department would let that go, but not Secretary Shulkin, interesting. On that point, he suggested last night that maybe that e-mail was doctored by a hacker. Huh?

Well, then, this morning, secretary arrived on Capitol Hill for what was supposed to be a budget oversight hearing. Watch his response when a lawmaker suggested they should take this hacking quite seriously.


REP. TIM WALZ (D-MN), RANKING MEMBER, VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I would just say before moving to the budget, the allegations of a potential hacking of a V.A. computer system with ill-intent is a serious matter. I would ask you, Mr. Secretary, we`re prepared to ask the Department of Justice to look into that if you feel that`s appropriate and we`ll see if that`s the appropriate action to go on.


MADDOW: Oh, you would like to look at which now? So, I said that my chief of staff couldn`t have possibly messed up that e-mail, her email must have been hacked. You`re going to send it to the Justice Department for investigation now? Sure. Of course, that would be very serious.

Tonight, Leo Shane of "Military Times" reports that Congressman Tim Walz has, in fact, referred the V.A. secretary`s allegation of hacking as his justification for this scandal, he has referred it to the Justice Department for investigation.

Meanwhile, these can`t be fun days for V.A. Secretary David Shulkin. The taxpayer funded trip to Europe with his wife might have been really fun at the time, but this part today look like no fun at all.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.