Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 7, 2018 Guest: Joyce Vance, Sari Horwitz, Eric Swalwell
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Ari Melber, in for Rachel Maddow.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Chris, any big stories break in your hour?
HAYES: Nothing basically. I saw down at the -- I saw you went down to the bar for three hours and between your two shows. You were just hanging out. So, for two hours I guess.
MELBER: We`re just floating. Thank you very much, Chris.
And thanks to you at home for joining us. Rachel does have the night off. She will be back tomorrow.
We have a big show because several breaking stories tonight. Actual change on gun control, thanks to that new student movement around the country. News tonight that special counsel Mueller gathering evidence into that mysterious meeting last year in the (INAUDIBLE) and those important stories later this hour.
And the breaking news right now on the Mueller probe into Russian election interference is new clues as to where they are headed. The special counsel probe did begin questioning whether President Trump obstructed justice since he allegedly pressed his own FBI director to back off. He asked him to famously drop an investigation of Trump`s own aide Mike Flynn who later pled guilty and fire that FBI director James Comey with, quote, Russia on his mind.
We know those questions of now this animated this probe from the start. They led to Mueller`s appointment. They occupied Mueller`s focus. So, that makes this breaking "Times" story so troubling for the White House.
Trump spoke to witnesses about matters they discussed with special counsel. "The Times" reporting Mueller has learned of two conversations in recent months in which Trump asked witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators, according to three people familiar with the encounters. It`s not just talking to witnesses either. This involves the efforts to fire Mueller himself.
Now, consider the two crucial tracks in the story. First, why this president would be talking to witnesses in the Mueller probe, and why he thinks that`s a good idea. Now, is it because the president just doesn`t care about the advice from his own attorneys not to do this kind of thing?
Does he think there`s no risk? He can outsmart one more problem? Does he think the risk is real but it`s somehow worth it? Or is this like some other stories, something smaller, it`s just a lack of impulse control?
Talking to witnesses in this case is dumb. It`s inappropriate. Alone, that talking is not a crime. That would require something more, like asking witnesses to lie for you. That`s what hurt Richard Nixon.
But to see just how serious this report is, take this brand-new reaction tonight. Moments after the story broke from a high-branching DOJ official known from his measured legal analysis, Neal Katyal who argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the United States as acting solicitor general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER DOJ OFFICIAL: It looks so bad, and basically, you`ve got Donald Trump acting like a two-bit criminal here and saying to witnesses like Priebus, hey, what did you say? Were you nice to me and so on? That is horrible.
I`m a defense lawyer, I love a challenge. You know, I represented bin Laden`s driver. And let me tell you, Bin laden`s driver acted with far more integrity in every stage in the investigation than Donald Trump has so far and this is just the published report of what we know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Worse than Osama bin Laden`s driver. I can tell you, we don`t usually hear Mr. Katyal speak that way about a president, even a president he vehemently disagrees with.
So, that is the witness piece and the headline in "The Times" tonight. Legally, though, the second track could actually be worse for Trump. And it builds on an incident the "times" broke on January 25th that this president under investigation in part for firing his FBI director also tried to get the special counsel investigating him fired. And then his White House counsel threatened to quit, which created the prospect of a Saturday night massacre. And then reportedly Trump backed because that man, counsel Don McGahn, threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive to fire Mueller.
"The Times" reporting Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials into his inquiry about whether the president obstructed justice. In this new reporting tonight, "The Times" says not only with Mueller being told about the president`s order to fire him, we know some of that.
It also says something important. That Mueller knew exactly what was happening inside the White House after this January story appeared. Look at this. The president told an aide that the White House counsel, Don McGahn should issue a statement denying the "New York Times" article in January. The article said McGahn told investigators that the president once asked him to fire the special counsel Robert Mueller III and according to three sources now tonight, McGahn never released the statement, later had to remind the president that he had indeed asked McGahn to see that Mr. Mueller was dismissed. Hold up. Quote, had to remind the president.
Those are five ominous words for Donald Trump tonight. They suggest that McGahn had to resist Trump`s version of events, this false account where Donald Trump denies trying to get Mueller fired. If Trump is saying that false statement in the hopes that Don McGahn, his lawyer, would join him in it when he talks to Mueller, would lie to Mueller -- well, yes, that would be a kind of statement to a witness that could be the element of a crime, which lawyer Don McGahn knows so those are ominous words.
Now, the fact that tonight we know they`re in the "New York Times," those word, is even more critical because it suggests someone or someone close to McGahn or somewhat sympathetic to him or McGahn himself wants to be on the record in public tonight about this little memory game, you know, where we all remember the time the president tried to get his investigator fired while under investigation for obstructing justice.
And if this is what is leaking out from Don McGahn, what else is he telling Mueller about Donald Trump in private?
Joining me now is Michael Schmidt, one of "The New York Times" reporters who broke this story.
Thank you for joining me. What can you say about your understanding of why this is coming out now and the kind of legal peril it might pose for anyone at the White House?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER (via telephone): This incident, these incidents were things that concerned folks when they learned about it, people that were close to the investigation. And they believed Mueller needed to know about it because there was a perception that this could be some kind of witness tampering. It`s not that they thought in and of itself that it was witness-tampering, but it gave off this view, this look that if Mueller had found out about it and it had not been disclosed, it would be problematic, and it would raise questions of obstruction or many different matters.
So, the lawyers pushed ahead and this information got to Mueller.
MELBER: Is it fair to boil down what you`re saying to the idea that Donald Trump`s behavior here was so reckless or legally dangerous that people on his own legal team were sympathetic to those people, felt a duty to self- report this to the special counsel?
SCHMIDT: Well, one of the central, most basic things in investigations is that those under investigation should not try and talk to witnesses, just because it just gets into a very, very difficult area. There are lawyers that can talk to other lawyers about it.
The other thing is that they should not talk to law enforcement people. And what struck people about this is that the president had had such a bad consequence come out of the time he did this last February when Comey says he asked him one on one to end the Flynn investigation. When that came out, it led to Mueller being appointed and has put this dark cloud over the president. So, for the president, even as the investigation is intensifying, he was going against the advice of his lawyers and engaging with these witnesses about matters that he knew had come up in front of Mueller.
MELBER: Yes, your piece is significant. And your headline is arresting. And I don`t want to get into copy-editing your headline.
But I wonder if you could weigh in on the fact that the firing of Mueller part of this seems bigger than the witness part, because your paper and you and other reporters have documented how basically, I`m looking at the timeline that there was the alleged attempt to fire Mueller in June 2017 as you reported. And then you have Don McGahn speaking as a witness to the special counsel in November. And then you have the January report of the effort to fire Mueller.
If Donald Trump was, as you report tonight, trying to get Don McGahn to publicly lie about the firing of Mueller, isn`t that a legal problem as well?
SCHMIDT: I guess it could be. I think that the president was very upset with the report, simply just the fact that this was out there. And he thought it was wrong. And basically went to Rob Porter at the time and said, look, got to get a statement out there from McGahn. And if he doesn`t want to do this, we would get rid of him.
And the president was very agitated about it and pushed for it, but eventually had a confrontation with McGahn about it and McGahn had to say to him, look, this is what happened. And the president said he didn`t recall it that way, and they discussed the fact that McGahn had not directly told the president he was going to quit at the time in June. McGahn said that he had told other White House officials about it and then the conversation moved on to other matters.
MELBER: And briefly, any further context on why McGahn would be telling that to other officials but not the president?
SCHMIDT: What happened in June was the president had told McGahn to call Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is overseeing Mueller, tell him that Mueller had these series of conflicts and had to go. The president pushed McGahn to do this over the span of a few days and eventually, McGahn got fed up. He knew this was something he didn`t want to do. And he told the folks around him that he was going to quit.
Around that time, the president backed down and stopped pushing him to call Rosenstein and McGahn stayed on.
MELBER: McGahn didn`t want to do it or perhaps also felt legally he could not do it.
Michael Schmidt from the "New York Times" with the big story -- thank you.
SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: Stepping back for a moment, as I turned to my next guest, this reporting has two throw lines. The first is the president talking to these Mueller witnesses. The second is what we`ve been discussing, what we`re learning about the probe itself, and this likelihood that Don McGahn will continue to provide information that`s adverse to his boss, Donald Trump.
For more on that wrinkle in this story, I turn to Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor from Alabama.
Thanks for being here tonight.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Thanks for having me, Ari.
MELBER: When we know that Don McGahn has to play more than one role, he has the duty to serve the White House and the president`s role as commander-in-chief and give him legal advice in that role, but also has a duty and -- a legal duty, as I was just discussing with the guest, to comply with the special counsel probe, what do you see in this story that you think Don McGahn is likely to provide to Mueller?
VANCE: It`s an interesting question. McGahn has the duty of candor in response to Mueller. So, in response to questions that are posed to him, he must be truthful, like anyone else, he testifies in front of a grand jury. But that prohibition against not being fully truthful means a little bit more to lawyer who are officers of the court.
So, McGahn obviously has a lot of insight into his conversations with the president, and as we`ve learned tonight from this story, the president is prone to talk to witnesses. Something his lawyers have undoubtedly advised him against doing. Where this could become a crime, there`s a narrow species of obstruction, witness tampering.
It has its own statute, 18 U.S. Code 1512. And it makes it among other things illegal for someone to try to corruptly persuade, to intentionally influence a witness, to give false testimony in a court proceeding.
So, we`re not quite there on this story. We`re talking about McGahn being asked through a third person to go out and refute a newspaper story. But Mueller will want to press down on this and see if there were any further, more difficult conversations that the president had with people.
MELBER: If the attempted firing of Bob Mueller becomes a part of an element of the obstruction case against anyone at the White House, can Don McGahn then be called as a witness against people at the White House for that issue?
VANCE: McGahn works in the White House. He is a fact witness to what he observes. He is not the president`s lawyer. There is no lawyer-client privilege there.
The most realistic privilege he could assert, and we`ve seen no indication that this is the case, would be a Fifth Amendment privilege to avoid testifying in a way that would incriminate himself personally of a crime. We`ve seen no indication that he has that problem and every indication that he`s cooperated with Mueller.
MELBER: You are here as a former federal prosecutor and legal expert. I don`t want to try to conscript you into media analysis, but I think you know as a long-time participant in these types of high-profile cases which obviously inherently involve the press, that something Rachel has said on this program and that we`ve reported is, there are a slew of stories that seem to continuously cast Don McGahn as this hero of the republic who`s always saving everyone from themselves. Tonight`s story also does that.
Can you shed any light on the potential sourcing for that?
VANCE: So, I`m a willing conscript into that kind of a venture. Often in a case like this, in a public corruption case, you will have a person who is potentially a subject or someone of interest to investigators, and they will run a little bit of a PR campaign to try to enhance their image, at least in the public`s eye.
There`s some reason to believe that this is perhaps going on to some extent with Mr. McGahn. These stories do surface with regularity and they seem to be the type of stories that would be difficult to source without cooperation from Mr. McGahn or someone close to him.
MELBER: I think I understand what you`re saying.
Joyce Vance, as always, we appreciate your expertise.
VANCE: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: I want to turn to NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss, a close student of not only this story but its antecedents.
Your view of what this conjures?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It conjures a couple of things, Ari. One is Richard Nixon in `73 and `74. He was accused by the House impeachment inquiry of witness tampering as part of obstruction of justice, which was one of the counts against him.
His aide John Ehrlichman said it was pathological. Nixon was a lawyer. He knew to get involved in this was against his own self-interest, but he couldn`t help himself. He always had to get involved in this.
Bill Clinton, when he was pursued in 1998. His special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr accused him of witness tampering with Betty Curry, his secretary, who Starr charged had tried to unduly influence, Clinton said that wasn`t true. She said it wasn`t true either.
But, you know, another thing, Ari is that I think you would agree, as an imminent lawyer, presidents, those who are deft are also good clients when this kind of thing happens. Ronald Reagan was an excellent client during Iran-Contra. He took his lawyers` advice. He got out of the scandal.
Vice President George Bush was in danger of being dragged into Iran-Contra. He was advised deftly by a man his great friend and close aide and counsel, a guy named Boyden Gray, who kept Bush out of that scandal. And, you know, by the hand of faith, Ari, do you know where Donald Trump is eating dinner tonight?
MELBER: No, I don`t.
BESCHLOSS: He is eating dinner at the home of Boyden Gray, the same guy in Georgetown who just by chance happened to be holding a dinner for Republican donors. It`s said to be about the first time Donald Trump has gone to a private home in Washington for dinner.
MELBER: That might be some fascinating history in the making. When you mention Nixon, people who lived through that era and the students of that history recall the central role of a lawyer John Dean and the initial thinking among Nixon`s inner circle was if they were pushing him into the criminal conspiracy, then that would help him for self-interests, not rat on them.
MELBER: And, as you know, I sometimes turn to music and lyrics to understand things.
BESCHLOSS: I know.
MELBER: Jay-Z is quite knowledgeable at criminal procedure and he famously said plead the Fifth when it comes to the fam. I`m like a dog, I never speak, but I understand. The idea of using the Fifth Amendment testimonial privilege to not get anyone in trouble.
John Dean, though, ultimately did speak and got people in trouble. Do you have see any parallels here about the roles lawyers choose to play and what they choose to say?
BESCHLOSS: I do. And, Ari, you know, Jay-Z and I are both Chicagoans. So, thank you for mentioning him tonight.
In Nixon`s case, one thing John Dean says to this day was that one way he knew that he, Nixon, was trying to make him the fall guy was he`d go into the Oval Office and Nixon would say of course I did not try to do such and such, order a break-in into the Brookings Institution or something like that. And Dean knew that Nixon was trying to get Dean to be a witness to Nixon having behaved well.
What Dean did not know was that Nixon was making secret tape recordings of these conversations but he quickly began to suspect that he was.
MELBER: Right. And those tapes ultimately had quite the shelf life.
Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, thank you.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Ari.
MELBER: So, that is one of the big, breaking stories tonight in the probe. Now, as we were getting ready to go to air, another story was breaking. That is next, along with one of the reporters who broke it.
Stay with us.
MELBER: There is yet another story breaking tonight about the special counsel investigation. This is new details on what Mueller is investigating and evidence his team is gathering regarding the secret meeting in the Seychelles islands from during the transition period.
Now, tonight, "The Washington Post" on this one, reporting the special counsel has gathered new evidence that a meeting between Erik Prince, a fairly controversial Trump campaign donor, he`s also the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and a Russian official close to Putin were meeting just days before Trump`s inauguration. The report is that this was in fact part of an effort to establish, wait for it, a secret back channel with Russia.
Reading from this new report: Special counsel Bob Mueller gathering evidence that a secret meeting in the Seychelles just before the inauguration of Trump was an effort to establish this quote, back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin. Apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants. A witness cooperating with Mueller told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
That cooperating witness is George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who told Mueller`s investigators he helped to organize and attend the meeting.
Again, this new information is important, because it would seem to contradict this testimony that Prince gave to House investigators last year, and that`s like an oath proceeding. You have a legal obligation. Erik Prince saying he attended the meeting in the Seychelles islands as a private business person. He denied it had anything to do with the Trump transition. He said the encounter with that Russian fund manager, Kirill Dmitriev, was an unplanned, casual discussion over a drink.
I turn now to Sari Horwitz who is one of the two "Washington Post" reporters who wrote this breaking story tonight.
Thank you for joining me.
Some of this topic has been out there, this idea that Mr. Nader was cooperating with Bob Mueller and that there was this set of meetings. What is new in your story, so viewers understand, so we understand that advances this?
SARI HORWITZ, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): Hi, glad to be on your show tonight.
That`s a good question. Some of this has been out there. What`s new is that we now have information that we`re reporting tonight that contradicts one of the participants who was at this meeting, Erik Prince, who testified on Capitol Hill, who told lawmakers back in November, that, as you said, this was just not an official, planned meeting. It was an unplanned, and an unimportant encounter that came about just by chance because he happened to be in a luxury hotel in the Indian Ocean island nation with officials from the United Arab Emirates.
Just to give your viewers some context because it`s a complicated story. There`s a secret meeting in the Seychelles in January of 2017 just before the inauguration of President Trump. At the meeting is Erik Prince who you mentioned, who is representing the Trump transition team. There`s a Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. There`s officials from the United Arab Emirates and there`s a Lebanese-American businessman named George Nader.
Now, what we`re hearing, what we`re reporting, this is an effort to establish this back channel. What Erik Prince told lawmakers in November is again, he just coincidently ran into people at this hotel. He went there as a private businessman, not as an emissary from the Trump transition team and he was discussing possible business deals with UAE officials, and he`s there, and they unexpectedly suggest he visit the hotel bar and meet the Russian official Kirill Dmitriev who`s very close to Putin.
He says he told officials he talked to the Russian official for, oh, about 30 minutes or about the time it took him to drink a beer, nothing substantive in terms of the Trump transition team at all.
MELBER: Why would they want a secret back channel to the Kremlin?
HORWITZ: Well, this was, this is in the transition period. And this is during the time when the Trump administration is believed to be wanting to talk to Russian officials. We don`t know what went on in this meeting specifically. We don`t know if the whole issue of sanctions was discussed. Now this was two weeks after the very controversial phone call between Flynn, the national security adviser --
HORWITZ: -- and Kislyak.
MELBER: Sari, I want to push you a little bit. And I appreciate your careful, measured approach. But I guess what I`m getting at is Bob Mueller`s investigating Russian collusion and quid pro quo. Now, we`re learning about an additional, potential effort to have a secret back channel to the Kremlin. They could obviously use the transition government mechanisms at their disposal.
Is the back channel a clue that Bob Mueller is probing whether there was an attempt to do something off the books, secret because it was maybe bad?
HORWITZ: Yes, we know he`s investigating the circumstances of this meeting. And more broadly, he is examining, investigating apparent efforts by the Trump transition team to create this back channel for secret talks, and you ask why would they need this?
Well, Mueller, the Seychelles meeting is of great interest to Mueller`s team because it`s also investigating whether any foreign money or foreign assistance fueled the Trump campaign. And he`s looking at how Trump officials during the transition and the early days of the administration communicated with foreign officials.
And this was seen to be one of the first meetings where that was done. Where there`s communication, it`s a back channel.
MELBER: Right. And this, this fact of Mueller looking at, it gives a greater context to the period of time that goes well beyond the campaign to whether the instrumentalities of the transition of government were abused, something that Mike Flynn pled guilty to lying about. And your reporting zeroes in on a very key part of that tonight, which makes it I would say a great investigative interest.
Sari Horwitz, thank you for your time.
HORWITZ: Thank you for having me on, Ari.
MELBER: Still ahead, after months of pressure, the White House now responding to an adult film star. Our breakdown, straight ahead.
MELBER: Stormy Daniels is suing the president. She was barely mentioned during the 2016 campaign. The former adult film actress spoke to a news network about potentially discussing her alleged relationship with Trump. But the story faded, the Trump campaign said then it was absolutely, unequivocally false that Trump ever had a relationship with Stormy Daniels.
And then this January, news leaked that Daniels received $130,000 right before the election, part of an agreement precluding her from discussing the alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump back in 2006. That reporting, that journalism has now begun to make some changes. It has forced lawyer to reveal more information about this issue and forced a White House spokesperson to get a little more vague.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Is the president aware that his lawyer paid that kind of money to a porn star to buy her silence? Does he approve of that?
RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I haven`t asked him about it but that matter has been asked and answered in the past.
REPORTER: Can we find out in the president approves -- will you ask him about that?
SHAH: I haven`t asked him about it. Ken?
REPORTER: But will you ask him about it?
SHAH: I`ll get back to you.
REPORTER: Did the president and Michael Cohen talk about this at any time during the campaign or thereafter?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not that I`m aware of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Not that I`m aware of, and there`s no reason she would be. This was hush money. The first rule of hush money is you don`t talk about hush money.
But even in the White House, some dodges don`t last. Today, Sanders shifted, effectively confirming more of this story by claiming Trump and his lawyer won an arbitration case over it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Did the president approve of the payment that was made in October of 2016 by his long-time lawyer and adviser, Michael Cohen?
SANDERS: Look, the president has addressed these directly, and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration, and anything beyond that, I would refer you to the president`s outside counsel.
REPORTER: You said that there`s arbitration that`s already been won by whom and when?
SANDERS: By the president`s personal attorneys and for details on that, I would refer you to them.
REPORTER: But you`re aware of it so what can you share with us?
SANDERS: I can share that the arbitration was won in the president`s favor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You said what now what else can you tell us?
That was a moment. If Trump had no relationship with Stormy Daniels, and his lawyer made a payment on his own authority, as the White House had been implying, what else would be arbitrated? I mean, this new information, obviously, raises more questions than it answers, and it`s coming out because of this new lawsuit from Stephanie Clifford, aka, Stormy Daniels, versus the president, noting that a non-disclosure agreement not to disclose that an intimate relationship with Trump exists.
But she argues now, it shouldn`t be legally valid because it`s missing a signature, Trump`s signature.
Now, I can tell you, the missing signature isn`t the strongest reason to object to a contract. It also alleges that Michael Cohen was back at it just last week pushing a, quote, bogus arbitration proceeding against Daniels on Tuesday, which she views as an attempt to intimidate her into silence and to shut her up.
So, Cohen has now admitted he facilitated this payment to her. And under the journalistic and legal pressure in this case, that pushed him. But he still won`t answer directly whether he was reimbursed. And his payment itself got formally flagged as suspicious and reported to the Treasury Department. That was by both the sending and receiving bank, including a flag that came in September, that`s almost a year after the election-eve payment, which is an abnormal delay for a suspicious activity report.
This all suggests something going on, more than the payment itself. More than that original sum that triggered investigative concern. And we don`t know exactly what else that would be. We can also report tonight that Cohen has added, Donald Trump`s lawyer tried to silence adult star Daniel Daniels. According to NBC`s reporting obtaining a secret restraining order in, yes, a private arbitration proceeding warning she faces penalties if she publicly discusses a relationship with the president.
From this new NBC report says on February 27, Cohen obtained this temporary against Daniels from a private secret arbiter, a retired judge, barring her from disclosing, quote, confidential information relating to the NDA from October 2016.
And that move could be the victory Sanders was citing today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: I can share that arbitration was won in the president`s favor, and I would refer you to the president`s outside counsel on any details beyond that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So, did this whole thing end with a victory in arbitration in or was a ruling on confidential information more narrow or even more temporary, as Daniels continues to make her wider case in court and in public?
Michael Cohen did not respond with any further details tonight, but this story is much broader than Daniels versus Trump and whatever history they do or do not share. This is also the story of a president who, despite his denials, evidently does have accusations he wishes to keep private, evidently is willing to oversee a system that pays to keep them secret, and continues to employ a lawyer working the case.
All of that in contrast to, of course, remember during the campaign, when Trump loudly denied all accusations of sexual misconduct, even pledging to sue his accusers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: All will be sued.
You know, pledging to take someone to court can sound tough. Makes it sound like you`re so convinced of your innocence or that you`re right that you`re ready to prove it in open court.
Of those 19 accusers who came forward during the campaign, Donald Trump has sued zero. None of them. He didn`t bring a single case to court in public as he threatened. And yet, tonight, we learn that his lawyer, Michael Cohen, did bring an arbitration case against one woman, Ms. Daniels. The difference between court and arbitration is the difference between night and day. Under the law, court is open. In this kind of arbitration, it`s secret.
And if this was a victory, as the White House spokesperson said today, why would you only want to win in secret?
MELBER: Tomorrow, the House Intelligence Committee will hear testimony from the former campaign manager for Donald Trump. You see him there, Corey Lewandowski. This is his second appearance before the committee. He did refuse to answer many questions about his interactions with President Trump when he appeared in January.
Now, it`s unclear what Lewandowski will do. Will he answer those questions this time?
But one thing that does seem clear is that after him, Republicans want to wrap it up. They now openly say they plan to bring this whole probe to an end in the near future. "The Washington Post" reporting Republicans on the panel trying to roll out a final report on the Russia probe in the coming weeks, and Lewandowski is the last witness currently scheduled for an interview. And that`s according to multiple sources.
This is despite the fact on the Democratic side they want dozens of more witnesses, including witnesses that are blocked from testifying by their fellow Republicans on the panel. In fact, if there is an appetite for anything right now the GOP side, it is for something new entirely -- a new special counsel.
The latest to join that call is Trey Gowdy. He`s on the Intel Committee. He`s chairman of House Oversight, and he says we need a special counsel to probe, yes, the FBI and DOJ themselves, regarding the surveillance warrants that monitored at a minimum former Trump adviser Carter Page.
Now, Gowdy is joining two other senators, Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, plus 30 House Republicans calling for this special counsel and the idea would be to investigate everything from the alleged surveillance abuses to Uranium One issues, to even the FBI`s handling of that old favorite, the Clinton e-mail probe.
It`s not clear what the legal basis would be to appoint a special council for those things. The House probe into Russian election interference is of course something they want to end. So an investigation that Republicans have basically worked to stymie in various, very public ways from the start is now on the verge of ending for good with what would be, as Rachel has mentioned previously, partisan reports coming out when it`s all done.
And that leaves the Senate Intel Committee probe, which does continue to investigate these witnesses, and conducted its own work largely out of the public eye. That would be the only truly bipartisan congressional probe in town.
This demise of the House probe comes even as today, this new information comes out about outgoing White House communication director Hope Hicks, that she told the committee in her interview last week, her own e-mails had been hacked, plus those allegations that leaked information from inside the committee and this was big, was passed to a potential target, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, and as "The Washington Post" tonight breaks this other news, that one of the committee`s witnesses may have misled them, that is may have criminally lied about a participation in the meeting in the Seychelles island as part of an attempt to establish a back channel to the Kremlin.
It is a lot to unpack, but we have the right guest, Congressman Eric Swalwell is a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Thanks for being here tonight.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Of course. Good evening, Ari.
MELBER: Good evening to you.
You now give us a front row seat to what Sari Horwitz reporting earlier right here on the show. Erik Prince had told your committee, this meeting was casual. It was not about a back channel. Her "Washington Post" report says it was a back channel of the Kremlin effort, and that effectively that means he`s accused of lying to your committee.
SWALWELL: It`s all the more reason, Ari, that our investigation must continue. As we learn about this, this evening, we`re on the eve of what is our last witness that we know about in this Russia investigation. The best thing we can do to defend our ballot box and make sure this doesn`t happen again is understand who in the United States worked with the Russians.
Now, Adam Schiff and I both asked Mr. Prince a number of times, who did you meet with over there? Did you ever try to establish a Russia back channel? Did you ever try to meet with UAE and Russians while you were in the Seychelles to help the Trump campaign? And he denied it at every step.
If he met with George Nader, of if he tried to meet and establish a Russian back channel, he lied to Congress. And we need to bring him back in and we need to bring others in. But, Ari, I`m afraid right now we`re seeing in response to Russia`s attack and attack on our own police, and that`s not how you respond to what Russia did. We should complete our own investigation, impose sanctions already passed in Congress against Russia and provide defenses to state and local election officials so this doesn`t happen again.
MELBER: Do you think Erik Prince lied to you? If so, what do you do about it?
SWALWELL: Well, I want to find out. So, that means you subpoena travel records, bank records, communication logs and you also hopefully bring George Nader in as well. But Erik Prince had every opportunity in the questioning that occurred to tell us if he met with anyone other than this Russian banker and UAE officials and he never disclosed that.
And again, this just goes to the larger issue which is, Ari, these witnesses come in at a take them at their word investigation. They sit in a seat. We ask them questions. And Republicans say that`s great. We`re not going to check to see if any of this actually checks out. We`re not going to subpoena any third-party records. These individuals on the Trump team are not worthy of being taken at their word.
MELBER: When you see Republicans on your committee that say it`s time to wrap it up. What do you say to the argument from people in the country that many key witnesses have appeared before the committee, whatever you did or didn`t get from them, it`s happened, and that this has been going on for a long time? What do you say to that argument?
SWALWELL: Well, I say if you think we are safer today than we were back in 2016 from Russian interference, then let`s wrap it up. But if you believe Mike Pompeo and you believe Rex Tillerson and if you believe Mike Rogers at the NSA that the Russians are still in our system and still seek to attack us, then we should fully understand what they did, who they worked with, whether our response was adequate and tell the American people we`re not going to let this happen. I believe those intelligence officials.
MELBER: I want to ask you with the special counsel. You know, my job is to look as fairly as possible at arguments. But legally, it`s very hard to find what even the legitimate argument would be for a second special counsel because there needs to be some underlying crime that they`re looking at.
Are you familiar with what the basis is for that?
SWALWELL: The basis is to distract, Ari. The FISA issue has been resolved. I think most legal experts have concluded that the surveillance that occurred on Carter Page was more than warranted. This is just an effort to undermine Bob Mueller. That`s too bad, because Russia attacked us. And instead of defending ourselves against Russia, they`re attacking our own police.
This, Ari, would be like after Pearl Harbor if you decided the most important thing we should be doing is to go after the air traffic controllers. That`s the level of incompetence that they are demonstrating by showing this focus on a special counsel.
MELBER: Intelligence committee member, Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you for your time.
SWALWELL: Of course. My pleasure.
MELBER: Still ahead tonight, another very important story -- actual legislative strange driven by students affected by the Florida high school shooting three weeks ago today. That is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STUDENTS: Show me what democracy looks like!
This is what democracy looks like!
Show me what democracy looks like!
This is what democracy looks like!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Students staging a sit-in outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell`s office today. They were calling for what they say is common sense gun control. This is three weeks to the day after the horrific Parkland High School shooting in Florida.
A short time later, Capitol Police asked them to disperse. And when they refused, one by one students were picked up, their hands tied behind their back. And these students, you see them walked out of our nation`s capital, eight arrested for unlawful demonstration.
In the three weeks since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, there has been a drum beat of student marches, and protests and walk-outs and sit-ins. There are even bigger marches coming up. In fact, what we`ve seen after other mass shootings, there is something different -- there is something in a kinetic energy we`ve seen this time that for three weeks now has been a sledge hammer chipping away at an issue that often feels like it can`t be changed.
Take a look in the past three weeks real progress across the nation from banning bump stocks to the so-called red flag bills that keep guns away from higher risk people, happening from Oregon to Rhode Island, Utah to Alabama. There is, we see now, this nation-wide domino affect, the latest domino Florida.
Today, the Florida house passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. This is a new bill. It raises the age for buying rifles to 21. It adds a three-day waiting period on all firearm sales. It bans bump stocks.
Now, it`s not all traditional gun regulation that these activists have advocated because this proposed law would add an idea that President Trump`s promoted, creating a school marshal program to arm some teachers.
But if this bill becomes law, it will be Florida`s first actual gun control measure in 22 years. This is a state that`s generally gone in totally the other direction, pro-NRA bills, leading the way. This is where stand your ground laws were passed. They`re favored by gun advocates, like the NRA, which was fighting this bulletin, urging people in Florida to vote no on this.
Now, families of the victims of the shooting in the Parkland, Florida, had their own call to action. They said, we must be the last families to suffer the loss of a loved one of a shooting at school. The moment to pass the bill is now.
Today, they did. The Florida House passing 67-50. With bipartisan support, it is headed to the governor`s desk.
So if this does become law, this kinetic energy from these past three weeks, clearly, will have played a role.
Here`s Florida Representative John Cortes today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE REP. JOHN CORTES (R), FLORIDA: The last thing I want to say is I want to thank the kids who protested from Parkland had the gall to come here and protest going to the situation and the kids who helped them, who protested with them. I would like to see you go on and protesting for your rights and let your voices be heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A shout-out there from a Republican state legislator.
And those voices could be heard again today, protesting another Republican, Mitch McConnell, and taking student activism to a national level.
(BEGIUN VIDEO CLIP)
STUDENTS: Hey, hey, ho, ho, the NRA has got to go! Hey, hey, ho, ho, the NRA has got to go!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That does it for us. Rachel will be back tomorrow. You can always find me at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on my show "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER".
But something important right now. Stormy Daniels` attorney is about to appear live on "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL" which sounds pretty interesting.
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END