Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: May 16, 2018 Guest: Ronan Farrow, Adav Noti
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Busy day today and news still breaking tonight. Let`s get right to it. The president released his financial disclosure form today in which he admits despite his previous denials that he did in fact make a six-figure payment to an adult film actress right before the election to keep her quiet about her claims that she`d had an affair with the president. Now, this is something that the president has previously denied knowing anything about, but now he has copped to it in black and white.
Based on recent media disclosures by the president`s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, we had some inkling that this disclosure might be coming. But once the claim was filed in the president`s financial disclosure form today, it was quickly followed by a bona fide surprise. Alongside this public written declaration that he made this payment, the Office of Government Ethics also today referred this matter to the Justice Department in a letter addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
That is not a good development for the president in this matter. It was a legitimate surprise when the ethics office released that referral today. We will get some expert help in understanding what that might mean, how serious that might be for the president, coming up in just a few minutes.
Also today, the U.S. Senate released a statement from the Democratic and Republican leaders of the intelligence committee in the Senate. It`s a statement that will not sound controversial here on earth one, but this statement today from the intelligence committee does directly contradict what pro-Trump Republicans in the House said just a few weeks ago when they called off and shut down their own Russia investigation on their side of the Capitol.
The Senate intelligence statement today from Republican Chairman Richard Burr and the Democratic Vice Chairman Mark Warner, it basically asserts that the intelligence community was correct last year when they issued their report blaming the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 presidential election to benefit Donald Trump. According to today`s statement from the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, quote, the first task in our inquiry was to evaluate the intelligence community`s work on this important piece of analysis. Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work. We see no reason to dispute the conclusions. There is no doubt that Russia took an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections.
Quote: After a thorough review, our staff concluded that the intelligence community conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself with the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton. Again, not controversial here on earth one.
But this declaration today from the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee, this means that pro-Trump House Republicans now stand alone in their refusal to acknowledge what Russia did in the election and why they did it. It`s sort of rare in this day and age that you actually get Republicans in Congress disagreeing with other Republicans in Congress on something related to President Trump and the scandals surrounding this administration.
But in this case, there is a stark divide between what the Senate Republicans have done on this Intelligence Committee report and what house Republicans have refused to acknowledge, and ultimately down the road, this might make it harder for House Republicans if the Russia matter ever does end up getting adjudicated in Congress through some sort of censure resolution or even impeachment proceedings, them being isolated on this point of fact may ultimately be a problem for them. Stick a pin in that and come back to it and tell me I`m wrong some day. Try it.
All right. The Senate today also released thousands of pages of transcripts and exhibits related to the Senate Judiciary Committee`s investigation of that Trump Tower meeting that happened during the campaign, the one with the whole bunch of Russians linked to the Putin government and three top Trump campaign officials, campaign chair Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and the president`s eldest son Don Jr. There has been a lot of discussion of these voluminous materials that were released today, these text messages, e-mails and transcripts from multiple witnesses, each totaling dozens if not hundreds of pages.
Tonight here, this show there is so much going on in the news. We`re going to focus in on two questions, two brand-new questions that were raised in these thousands of pages of documents that were released today. These are two new mysteries we didn`t know about before we got these documents today, but they`ve now been presented to us in this gigantic sheaf of documents that the Senate Judiciary Committee released this morning. We`ve got two mysteries there we`re going to be focusing on in just a second.
And also because the news gods know you have enough bandwidth to absorb this much material in one day, "The New York Times" this afternoon published a big, long new report titled "Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Secret Origins of the Trump Investigation."
At one level, this new report from "The Times" is sort of a mea culpa. It`s a mea culpa for this now infamous piece that "The Times" published just before the 2016 election. Given the groundbreaking work that "The New York Times" has done on the seriousness of the links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the Russian attack on the election, given the almost uniquely aggressive reporting "The Times" has done about those links, about the FBI and special counsel`s investigations into those links, this piece from "The Times" from October 31st, 2016, it has stood out ever since as a sort of bizarre but very consequential outlier that contrasts with everything else "The Times" has reported and done on this subject.
This article was published a week before the election, and it has stood out ever since as a weird artifact of very unusual reporting in "The Times" that looks nothing like the rest of their reporting. And it`s also stood out because of the effect that this article might have had on the results of the election, by appearing to exonerate the Trump campaign in the Russia matter just a week before people went to the polls.
Well, as of tonight, "The Times" is now finally admitting a year and a half later that maybe that article right before the election was not quite on point.
Quote: The facts, had they surfaced, might have devastated the Trump campaign. Mr. Trump`s future national security adviser was under investigation as was his campaign chair. One adviser appeared to have Russian intelligence contacts. Another was suspected of being a Russian agent himself.
Quote: But when "The New York Times" tried to assess the state of the investigation in October 2016, law enforcement officials cautioned against drawing any conclusions, resulting in a story that significantly played down the case.
They never say sorry, but this is the part that I think is supposed to function as an apology here. Quote: The resulting article on October 31st, 2016 said that FBI agents had uncovered no conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government, but the key fact of the article that the FBI had opened a broad investigation into possible links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, that key fact was published only in the tenth paragraph of the story.
Quote: The article`s tone and headline investigating Donald Trump, FBI sees no clear link to Russia, that gave an air of finality to an investigation that was, in fact, just beginning.
This is sort of an important moment for us as citizens who depend on journalism for an important check and window into the exercise of American power, right? This is this Titanic force in the world of journalism. For "The New York Times" to do this a year and a half down the road, to sort of come clean and at least explain what happened around that incredibly consequential, misleading article which may have helped sway the election, because of what turned out to be a pretty wildly inaccurate implication and headline about a presidential candidate.
It`s just a remarkable thing to see. This is a big moment in American journalism. But because this is "The New York Times," and you should never underestimate them, even when they`ve screwed up, they also break a ton of news in this new story that also functions as an apology. We get, for example, in this new story tonight the code word that was used inside the FBI to refer to the Trump Russia investigation. We`ve never had this before. Apparently, their code name for it was "Crossfire Hurricane."
"The New York Times" also breaking the news that FBI agents are a bunch of drama queens. Crossfire Hurricane.
We also got the information that FBI agents interrogated an Australian ambassador right at the outset of their investigation, literally on day one. "The Times" describes that as a break with diplomatic protocol, something that had to be intensely deliberated between law enforcement in Australia and in D.C. But FBI agents ultimately did succeed in interviewing that ambassador from Australia to find out what he knew about the Trump campaign and its advance notice of Russia`s attack on our election.
We get a bunch of new detail from "The Times" tonight about how secret the FBI kept this investigation, including the FBI not briefing the investigation to senior Justice Department officials like they normally would in any other case. We learn for the first time that instead of using normal subpoenas, the FBI used national security letters to obtain phone records and other documents in the early days of the investigation. National security letters, as far as I understand it, they`re a post-9/11 law enforcement innovation that basically lets them subpoena something in complete secrecy.
We get also confirmation from "The Times" tonight that there were four people in the Trump campaign who were under investigation by the FBI before the election. At the outset, those under investigation were Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page.
And when it comes to Carter Page, we get one gob-smacking new detail about why the FBI didn`t just think he had links to Russian intelligence, but they suspected him of being an actual foreign agent of the Russian government. This is brand-new. Quote, "Crossfire Hurricane" -- come on. It`s a great name for a squirt gun, but really?
Crossfire Hurricane began with a focus on four campaign officials, but by mid fall 2016, the Carter Page inquiry had progressed the furthest. Agents had known Mr. Page for years. Russian spies had tried to recruit him in 2013. And when agents warned him about that, he was dismissive.
Quote: That warning even made its way back to Russian intelligence, leaving agents suspecting that Carter Page had reported their efforts to Moscow.
Think about that for a second. This is a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. The FBI didn`t just know that he had been caught up in a Russian spy ring in New York, right, one that resulted in an actual Russian spy going to actual prison in the United States on espionage charges.
They didn`t just know that he had been caught up in that ring, that he had been targeted by that spy ring. They also reportedly knew, according to this new report in "The Times," that Carter Page funneled information about the FBI back to Moscow, back to Russian intelligence in Moscow. Which rhymes with pie and starts with "s."
And that is, you know, all the more amazing when you consider that the Republican and White House pushback on the Mueller investigation now one year into the Mueller investigation is mostly based on the idea that we Americans should all be outraged that there was any surveillance of Carter Page as a potential foreign agent. Honestly, Carter Page is reporting on the FBI back to Russian intelligence in Moscow, presumably on one of his many visits to Moscow when he was lying about not contacting government and intelligence officials there.
I mean, if you`re not going to surveil Carter Page as a potential foreign agent, who would qualify as surveillance for a potential foreign agent? I mean, there`s those cartoons, Boris and Natasha, maybe? And Carter?
"The Times" also breaks one other big piece of news here. Just a red-hot previously unknown aspect of this investigation, which I can tell you right now is going to be the source of considerable controversy tonight and in an ongoing way.
According to "The Times" tonight, quote, "at least one government informant met several times with Carter Page and George Papadopoulos during the course of the investigation.
We had not previously known that this FBI investigation that preceded the election somehow included U.S. law enforcement having an informant somewhere in the mix, an informant who was meeting at least once with at least two Trump campaign officials who they had under active investigation. That is new.
Who was the informant? How did they set this up?
As I said, that is -- that is red hot. That will likely be the source of a lot of controversy going forward. I imagine there may be more news to break on that subject even over the course of this evening if I play my cards right. But then there is also this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. Wylie, have you been interviewed by the Department of Justice?
LAWYER: No comment. No comment right now.
CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA WHISTLEBLOWER: Sorry?
REPORTER: Have you been interviewed by the Department of Justice?
WYLIE: I`ve met with them and I`m going to continue meeting with them.
REPORTER: Do you have a date for your next meeting with them yet?
WYLIE: Not yet.
REPORTER: Have you been contacted by the Mueller investigation yet?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should we just walk straight in?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I`m looking for Heather.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we just walk straight in.
REPORTER: Have you been contacted by the Mueller investigation?
WYLIE: I`ve been contacted by the FBI.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I`ve been contacted by the FBI.
All right. Last night, we talked about this new news that the data firm used by the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, Cambridge Analytica, is now reportedly the subject of an active FBI investigation. This story was also broken by "The New York Times" last night.
"The Times" reported that Cambridge Analytica`s -- that the Cambridge Analytica investigation was being led by at least one cybercrime specialist agent at the FBI and a very senior prosecutor from the Securities and Financial Fraud Division at Main Justice. "The Times" reporting last night that it wasn`t clear whether or not the Cambridge Analytica investigation was related to the Robert Mueller investigation and the special counsel`s office, but it at least involved Main Justice and the FBI.
Well, today, that footage that you just saw was the former research director for Cambridge Analytica, for this data firm, his name is Christopher Wylie. He`s the gentleman with the pink hair. He has recently become a whistle-blower on that firm`s activities.
He confirmed to reporters while he was walking through the halls in Capitol Hill today, confirmed that he has been contacted by the FBI for questioning about Cambridge Analytica. Asked -- you heard there at the end, asked specifically if he was contacted by Mueller`s office, Mr. Wylie just said he has been contacted by the FBI.
So, we still don`t know if the Cambridge Analytica investigation is part of Robert Mueller`s inquiry, but we do now have confirmation from one of the people apparently caught up in that investigation that it`s under way. The FBI is questioning people. Other than what we can infer from the reported expertise and affiliations of the FBI agents, prosecutors who are working on that case, we don`t yet know what Cambridge Analytica is being investigated for, but while Christopher Wylie was on Capitol Hill today, what he was there for was to testify to Congress. And one of the things he was repeatedly questioned about today, and he gave very stark answers to the questions about it, was the issue of Cambridge Analytica embarking on a voter suppression campaign specifically targeting black voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRISTOPHER COONS (D), DELAWARE: I want to ask you in the time I have remaining about your experience working with Steve Bannon, one of President Trump`s senior campaign advisers, and the goals that he used Cambridge Analytica to achieve. Was one of his goals to suppress voting or discourage certain individuals in the United States from voting?
WYLIE: That was my understanding, yes.
COONS: Was voter suppression a service that U.S. clients could request in their contracts with Cambridge Analytica while Bannon was vice president?
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: One of the most horrifying things from our hearings that I saw were he`s ads that were clearly made to suppress the votes of African Americans. Do you have any knowledge about the scope of this activity and how often it occurred out of the company?
WYLIE: My knowledge relates to the tail end of my engagement with Cambridge Analytica. One of the -- one of the things that did provoke me to leave was the beginnings of discussions about voter disengagement. I have seen documents that reference voter disengagement, and I recall conversations that -- that it was intended to focus on African American voters.
KLOBUCHAR: And can we get those documents?
WYLIE: I will -- I will discuss with my lawyers the best way to get you that information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, the data firm used by the president`s campaign during the 2016 election is now confirmed to be under an active FBI investigation right now. A whistle-blower from that firm is agreeing to hand over documents to congressional investigators today about voter suppression efforts by that data firm specifically targeting black voters.
So, all that happened today. And then this happened. As you can tell, my highlighter is getting a workout.
This is brand-new reporting just out tonight at the "New Yorker" magazine from Ronan Farrow, who if you`ve been paying attention has been a bit of a scoop machine recently. He is fresh off winning a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting this last year on sexual assault allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Ronan Farrow`s scoop tonight at "The New Yorker" is -- it`s a bit of a meteor strike.
I started off the show tonight by mentioning that the president has filed new financial disclosures that showed that he paid a large amount of money, six figures, to an adult film star, to pay her off, to keep her from talking about her alleged affair with the president. A payment for that purpose was reportedly made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels via the president`s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. And that payment was made just days before the 2016 election. The amount of the payment was reported to be $130,000, and that`s within the range that was reported today by the president.
As that story has gradually made its way into public view in recent weeks, we`ve learned more and more and more and, oh my god, there is still more about Michael Cohen and this arrangement and the financial vehicle that the president and his lawyer Michael Cohen used to make this hush money payment that they obviously hoped to keep secret, even though that effort to keep it secret failed since we all now know about it.
The story of that payment to Stormy Daniels became much bigger than the cover-up in the alleged affair when documents were published last week by stormy Daniels`s attorney, Michael Avenatti. Those documents appeared to show that it was not just 130 grand for Stormy Daniels that passed through that little company that was set up right before the election by Michael Cohen. It was actually millions of dollars passing through that company.
Since then, AT&T has fired its chief lobbyist and admitted that it was a mistake for that company to put Michael Cohen secretly on their payroll after the election. Those payments from AT&T to Michael Cohen were first disclosed in these financial records that were made public last week. Similarly, the pharmaceutical company Novartis has just today fired its general counsel after also admitting that its payments to Michael Cohen through this little shell company were also a mistake.
There are continuing reverberations and serious questions that remain about other corporate entities who were revealed to be paying Michael Cohen in these financial documents that were published last week an investment firm with ties to a Russian oligarch who is close to Vladimir Putin and sanctioned by the U.S. government, a Korean aerospace company that was paying Michael Cohen for lord knows what, but they were at the time competing for a multibillion-dollar Pentagon contract when they were shoveling Michael Cohen cash.
Well, now tonight, Ronan Farrow has broken the story of where this information came from about Michael Cohen`s finances and his banking records, how this information ended up in the public domain. And the implications of what Ronan Farrow has just broken tonight are very, very serious.
This is a big scoop. It has just come out. Ronan is here to walk us through it next.
Stay with us. You`re going to want to see this.
MADDOW: Ronan Farrow with the "New Yorker" magazine is out with a big scoop tonight about how we got that financial information about Michael Cohen last week. Cohen`s financial information that was disclosed last week, it was itself big news, but what may end up being the bigger story here is how that financial information came to be public knowledge, who released it and why. That`s Ronan`s scoop tonight.
You see the headline there. Missing files motivated the leak of Michael Cohen`s financial records.
Here is the story, quote: Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen, President Trump`s personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms of business before the Trump administration. In the days since there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, the Treasury Department`s inspector general has also launched a probe to find the source of the documents.
It turns out Ronan Farrow has found the source of the documents. He reports that it is a law enforcement official. Ronan is not disclosing the law enforcement official`s identity, but he does explain the motivation that led to this official deciding to disclose the secret information, which was a serious decision to make.
This is a fairly serious crime to disclose this sort of private information, one that comes with pretty serious financial and criminal penalties. But this official has decided to make this information public because of this, quote, the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen`s financial activity in a government database.
Some financial records related to Michael Cohen missing from the database.
Here`s what`s going on here. Banks have to file something called a suspicious activity report. It`s S-A-R, SAR, if they suspect something hinky is going on in somebody`s bank account, something that looks like it might be money laundering or fraud or some other kind of criminal conduct. It doesn`t get you arrested but the bank has to file a suspicious activity report. They go to a law enforcement database, and then law enforcement can access that database and use it as a source for leads to go and investigate you if it turns out any of this hinky stuff your bank thinks you might be up to might turn into a criminal case.
According to Ronan`s reporting tonight, quote, these reports are routed to a permanent database maintained by FinCEN, which is the Treasury Department`s Federal Crimes Enforcement Network. That database can be searched by tens of thousands of law enforcement and other government personnel.
That document about Michael Cohen that was released last week, according to Ronan Farrow`s new reporting was based on one SAR, one of these suspicious activity reports that was filed at the First Republic Bank, which is the bank where Michael Cohen`s little shell company, Essential Consultants, had its bank account. That one suspicious activity report included transactions between September 2017 through January of this year.
But according to Ronan`s source, that`s not the only one. There are two other suspicious activity reports about this same account at this same bank concerning this same company, and those two suspicious activity reports have apparently mysteriously disappeared from what is supposed to be that permanent database. Quote: These two reports detail more than $3 million in additional transactions, triple the amount in the report released last week, which individuals or corporations were involved remains a mystery.
But according to the official who leaked the report, the SARs were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department. This official, who has spent a career in law enforcement tells Farrow, quote, I have never seen something pulled off the system. The system is a safeguard for the bank. It`s a stockpile of information. When something isn`t there that should be, immediately became concerned. That`s why I came forward -- meaning that`s why I leaked the report we all saw last week.
Quote, whatever the explanation for the missing reports, the appearance that some but not all had been removed or restricted troubled the official into releasing the report last week.
"Why just those two missing?" the official said. The official told Ronan Farrow that he or she feared that the contents of those two reports might be permanently withheld. The official said, quote, that is what alarms me the most.
So, according to this new reporting, there are three suspicious activity reports, three SARs filed by that bank where Cohen has the bank account for that little company that paid off Stormy Daniels that mysteriously had all that other money flowing through it for all those corporate entities. There were three SARs. Just one of them produced all that news and all that scandal last week.
The reason that one SAR was released is because the two other reports have gone walkies. Somebody knew that there was supposed to be three reports and only one was there. And that someone, that law enforcement official decided to leak that one report to draw attention to what was going on here.
If those two SARs disappeared from this supposedly permanent government database, why is that? That database isn`t supposed to have stuff missing from it. Those missing reports are why this law enforcement official broke the law, himself or herself, to leak that information about Cohen`s bank records to the public.
Here is how Ronan`s piece ends tonight. Quote, the official said we have accepted this as normal, and this is not normal. Things that stand out as abnormal, like documents being removed from a system, are of grave concern to me. Of the potential for legal consequences the official said, quote, to say that I am terrified right now would be an understatement.
But the official said, quote, this is a terrifying time to be an American, to be in this situation, and to watch all of this unfold.
Joining us now is Ronan Farrow, contributing "New Yorker" writer who broke this scoop tonight.
Ronan, back so soon.
RONAN FARROW, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, NEW YORKER: Good to be here again, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you. Congratulations on this.
Let me make sure that I understand this correctly. Your source says that he or she was the source of the information that was reported last week which has since been substantially confirmed --
MADDOW: -- based on a suspicious activity report from Michael Cohen`s bank which showed all of these previously unknown payments to Michael Cohen -- into and out of that account, it should be noted.
MADDOW: Your source says the reason he or she did that was because of concern about other similar reports that are gone?
FARROW: Yes. And we can absolutely report that those other two that you referenced that are now unaccounted for exist. They are internally referenced in the third suspicious activity report.
FARROW: So that is not in dispute. What is in dispute is how and why.
MADDOW: Let`s slow it down. So the one that came out last week, the documents we saw last week were based on a suspicious activity report. That report -- and we haven`t seen the original of that. We`ve only seen a derivative document that was publicized by this lawyer last week. That original document references the existence of two prior reports.
MADDOW: So we know they exist, but they`re not in the database.
FARROW: They exist. They should be tied to the same identifier numbers in the system when you search for Cohen`s name, they should come up in the normal course of business. They do not.
MADDOW: So how -- can you tell me how your source discovered this?
FARROW: You know, what I can say is that in general terms those -- tens of thousands of law enforcement and other personnel who have access to the FinCEN system, that`s the technical term for this database, would routinely do these kinds of searches. Even based on seeing in the news that Michael Cohen is being investigated for various things that. They might want to check if it`s in their jurisdiction or not or if someone else is handling it. That part of it is routine.
MADDOW: We contacted about a dozen sources and experts that we know in this field as soon as your report came out, trying to figure out the importance of what you had brought to the public`s attention tonight. And what we asked people specifically was do you know of any previous example of a SAR, of a suspicious activity report existing but somehow being pulled from or hidden within the database, not being evident in the database? Every single person we talked to told us they know of no other example of this.
FARROW: And, Rachel, we went through a very similar process. We talked to seven experts, people who had been involved in leadership positions around this database, and again and again they said this is highly unusual.
MADDOW: The question that -- the sort of follow-on question for me upon learning that this is apparently unprecedented, or at least as far as we can tell unprecedented, is it possible? Is there a technical, logistical means by which a SAR can be disappeared or removed from the database?
FARROW: So I want to point out a couple of caveats that are important for people as they digest this news.
FARROW: One is that, you know, we are not reporting that there is foul play here. Indeed, amongst those experts, some of the first and most plausible speculation we received was maybe special counsel Mueller or the Southern District of New York or any jurisdiction that has a stake in perhaps lording over a particular piece of evidence came in and said, you know, please restrict this.
But I think what is true regardless, Rachel, is this is a murky area, not a lot of transparency or accountability. And we may never get clear answers as to how politically motivated it was if these were indeed yanked from the system.
FARROW: And we did find obscure regulations and data retention policies that say technically they reserved the right to do this, but everyone says it never happens, and prosecutors we talked to and law enforcement personnel we talked to said they didn`t know of any set procedure by which you could achieve such a thing.
MADDOW: So, theoretically, it could be the prosecutors of the southern district of New York. It could be the special counsel`s office saying we know this suspicious activity report exists. We don`t want it on the database because that is so sensitive, we can`t have tens of thousands of law enforcement personnel having access to this information.
Theoretically, that`s a possibility. But from your reporting and our reporting today, nobody knows of any example of this ever happening in any previous case.
FARROW: That`s right.
Ronan Farrow, contributing writer at "The New Yorker" who broke this scoop tonight -- I never thought this stuff would be so fascinating, but I am literally on the edge of my seat to find out.
FARROW: We all know the intricacies of FinCEN, a term we haven`t ever heard on a program like this.
MADDOW: All I want is more. Ronan, thank you. Congratulations.
FARROW: Thank you, Rachel. Always a pleasure.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: By now, I`m sure you`ve seen the three-inch-tall, five column wide headlines across the country. U.S. president acknowledges previously secret six-figure payment to adult film actress. Stop presses.
That in fact did get acknowledged today by the serving president of the United States, a headline like that or anything even remotely like it would be enough to sink any other presidency in the history of the republic, but in this presidency, it barely breaks the top ten of scandals for today.
The president has previously denied any knowledge of the supposed affair with adult film actress stormy Daniels. He has also specifically denied any payment to her, but he is now admitting in black and white, it`s acknowledged, a little awkwardly, 40 something pages into the president`s new financial disclosure form in a footnote. Because of this payment to the adult film actress and her acknowledged affair with the president, because it`s a slow-boil scandal we all knew to look for this financial disclosure, to maybe expect it in this form when it came out today.
But when this disclosure arrived today, it did come with a surprise in the form of this letter to the honorable Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general of -- deputy attorney general of the United States. Quote: Dear Mr. Rosenstein, I write to you in connection with the complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on March 2018 with the Department of Justice and with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.
Specifically, the complaint requested that DOJ and the Office of Government Ethics investigate whether a payment made by Mr. Michael Cohen to a third party constituted a loan to the president that should have been reported as a liability on his disclosure report, the one that was signed in June 2017. If so, whether the failure to report it was knowing and willful.
Today, I certified President Trump`s financial disclosure report signed on May 15th, 2018. The Office of Government Ethics has concluded that based on the information provided as a note to part 8, that would be the aforementioned footnote, the payment made by Michael Cohen is required to be reported.
OGE has determined that the information provided in that note meets the disclosure requirements for a reportable liability under the Ethics in Government Act.
Now, here is the nut. I am providing both reports to you because you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the president`s prior report that was signed on June 14th, 2017. And it`s signed: Director David J. Apol, acting director of the United States Office of Government Ethics.
The president had to disclose today that he made that payment to the adult film actress. The one he did not disclose last year but he is disclosing it now. Alongside that disclosure, the Office of Government Ethics is referring that disclosure to the Justice Department. You may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing. Why are they notifying the Justice Department of that and in that way?
There`s an answer to that. And I think we might be able to get to it right here, next.
MADDOW: Today, I pretty much thought we would learn that the president is finally admitting paying off an adult film star right before the election so she wouldn`t talk about her alleged affair with him. I thought we`d learn that today, that the president was admitting it. I definitely did not think that that admission from the president would also be immediately and formally referred to the United States Department of Justice because it may relate to an ongoing investigation.
But here`s the referral, quote: Office of Government Ethics has determined that the information provided in this declaration meets the disclosure requirements for a reportable liability. I am providing both reports to you because you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the president`s prior financial disclosure report that was signed in June of last year. Sincerely, David Apol, acting director of the United States Office of Government Ethics.
Joining us now is Adav Noti. He`s a senior director of trial litigation at the Campaign Legal Center.
Mr. Noti, thank you very much for joining us. I appreciate your time.
ADAV NOTI, CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER SENIOR DIRECTOR: Thank you.
MADDOW: What`s your understanding of this -- I`m calling it a referral. I`m not actually even sure if that`s the right way to describe it. This letter from the head of the Office of Government Ethics to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein -- what exactly is this, and how important is it?
NOTI: It`s very important. It is for all intents and purposes a criminal referral. The Office of Government Ethics looked at the nature of the liability that the president disclosed today. They looked at when it was incurred, when it was paid and what it was for and determined that it should have been based on those facts reported on last year`s personal financial disclosure.
And so, they notified the Department of Justice of that fact, because intentionally omitting information from a personal disclosure report is a violation of federal law.
MADDOW: A violation of how big of federal law? Is this a sort of technical -- a technical foul of the sort of thing where you apologize and promise not do to do it again? Or is this the sort of thing that sometimes gets prosecuted?
NOTI: It really depends on the state of mind in which it`s done. If it`s inadvertent, nobody is going to be criminally prosecuted, but it is a crime, a criminal offense to omit something from a personal financial disclosure report knowingly and willfully. And, you know, I think there are facts out there that we know about how the repayment to Mr. Cohen was structured, how it was funneled, to use Mr. Giuliani`s term, to Mr. Cohen through a law firm that indicate that there was some potential intent to deceive.
MADDOW: The disclosure from the president today in his financial disclosure form is a little bit -- it`s a little bit unusual. It`s 40- something pages into the declaration. It happens in a footnote. And basically, in the footnote, while making the declaration, the president asserts that he doesn`t really need to be making this disclosure, that it`s just in the name of transparency that he is -- that he is -- that he`s putting this out there.
The Office of Government Ethics seems to be saying that the president is wrong there, that the president didn`t have a choice about whether or not to disclose this, that he was required to and in fact he was required to not this year, but last year.
How unusual is that, for the Office of Government Ethics to be materially disputing something in the disclosure that they`re releasing to the public?
NOTI: The entire thing is extremely unusual, the back and forth where the president inserts that footnote and says I`m not required to tell you this, but I`m going to anyway, and the Office of Government Ethics says well, actually, no, you were required. None of that is usual. But what matters is that the president doesn`t get to decide what he should or shouldn`t report. The Office of Government Ethics does, and they determined that he should have reported this debt last year.
MADDOW: Adav Noti, senior director of trial litigation at the Campaign Legal Center, I really appreciate your time tonight. Thank you for being here.
NOTI: Thank you.
MADDOW: Again, the intriguing part here for me is when the Office of Government Ethics sends this to Rod Rosenstein and says this may be relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the president`s financial disclosure last year. Is the Justice Department already pursuing an inquiry into the president`s financial disclosures last year? If they are, we didn`t know that.
I don`t know if the Office of Government Ethics knows something that we don`t. But if so I guess this goes in the file. Remarkable news day today. We`ll be right back. More to get to.
MADDOW: So, who else spent today reading 2,500 pages from the Senate Judiciary Committee? How`s your eyestrain? Mine`s fine.
Among many contenders, I want to look at two questions raised by these hundreds of new documents released today. One of the transcripts we got today was of the committee`s interview with Rob Goldstone, colorful music publicist who asked Donald Trump Jr. if he`d host a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 with a whole bunch of Russians for the purpose of getting Russian government dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The Judiciary Committee today released a new batch of Rod Goldstone`s e- mails and texts. And the one I`m interested in is from about a year later, in June of 2017, a year after that Trump Tower meeting, Goldstone writes rather frantically to a contact in Russia, Emin Agalarov, who had asked him to set up that Trump Tower meeting in the first place.
Quote: That meeting I set up for your father with the Trump campaign and the Russian attorney and her colleagues, it`s causing massive problems. I`ve been interviewed by attorneys for the second time about it. They`re concerned because it links Don Jr. with officials from Russia which he has always denied meeting. I did say at the time this was an awful idea and a terrible meeting. I am really not happy being put in this situation with federal attorneys investigating, et cetera.
Federal attorneys investigating, et cetera? I mean, as far as we know, when Rob Goldstone was writing this e-mail, June of last year, this special counsel`s office, the Mueller team, didn`t yet know about the Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr. and all those Russians. The Mueller team reportedly didn`t know about the Trump Tower meeting until it was reported in "The New York Times." This e-mail was sent 11 days before that report in the "New York Times."
So, who were the federal attorneys investigating who were asking him questions and bothering him in this matter? That`s mystery number one. I don`t know what to make of it.
Mystery number two -- again, there`s a million things, right? Here`s the second thing I want to focus on. In the midst of a flurry of calls and e- mails setting up the Trump Tower meeting, Don Jr. had an 11-minute call with a number that was a blocked number, a phone number that was blocked.
The Judiciary Committee asked Donald Trump Jr. who that call was with? Who was on that blocked call line? He said he doesn`t remember. Then he was asked, quote, does your father use a blocked number on his cell phone or any phones that you call him on? Donald Trump, Jr. responded, quote, I don`t know.
Quote, so you don`t know whether or not this might have been your father? Answer, I don`t.
Here`s my question: Who doesn`t whether or not their dad has a blocked number, first of all? But if that -- if that call is important enough that it has surfaced in the Mueller investigation, if that is part of what they`re looking at, if they`re trying to figure out whether there was obstruction of justice or whether this is relevant to the collusion investigation, who was in on the Trump campaign meeting planning, who was briefed on it after it happened, here`s my question: Is that number blocked for everybody?
If the Mueller investigation is looking at that blocked number and who Donald Trump called in the lead-up to setting up that meeting and right after the meeting was over, if they want to know who that blocked number was, can the Mueller investigation find out?
It`s blocked to us. It`s blocked to the Judiciary Committee. Would it be blocked to them? I know, I have many, many questions after 2,500 pages of new stuff. It almost seems greedy to want more. But I want answers to those questions.
MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with the great Lawrence O`Donnell.
Good evening, Lawrence. Plenty to chew on this evening.
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