Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 25, 2018 Guest: Kyle Cheney, Rebecca O`Brien
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That`s "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you with us.
All right. Playing the part of United States Federal District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, playing that part will be me and playing the part of Thomas M. Saunders, federal prosecutor in the national security section of the D.C. U.S. attorney`s office, that part will be played also by me, and playing the part of Robert Driscoll, who represents accused Russian secret agent Maria Butina, as her defense attorney, that part will also be played by me.
And I know that sounds cheap. It`s a delicate balance here, though. I mean, what we`re saving on the salaries of actors with speaking roles, we`re making up for in terrible acting by me. So what`s going on here is that accused Russian secret agent, Maria Butina, has been in jail a week and half.
She was arrested last weekend right before the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki. She was actually arrested before the summit started even though we didn`t find out about it at the time. The court didn`t unseal the case against her until a few hours after the summit was concluded.
Now, the coincidence of those two events is potentially interesting because she`s accused of being an agent of the Russian federation, right? Secretly mounting an influence operation in this country on behalf of the Russian government to influence the Republican Party around the 2016 presidential election.
Since they unsealed her case right after the summit ended, we have learned a lot of interesting stuff about what exactly the government is accusing her of. And it`s all fascinating, right? I think we are hardwired as humans to think that secret agent stuff is inherently fascinating. Otherwise there wouldn`t be, you know, books with shiny covers for sale in airport bookstores, right? We love this stuff.
But in terms of the news, in terms of the country, in terms of this presidency, in terms of the big scandal that has followed the president home from that summit with Putin in Helsinki last week, there does were one really big as yet unanswered question about the Maria Butina case. Does her case stand alone or does it link into the larger Russia scandal, the other prosecutions, the Russian government`s effort to swing the election? Does it link in to the crucial question of whether the president and his campaign were somehow in on that Russian operation to influence the election?
So, today, court hearing for Maria Butina. And I should tell you, the bottom line here is that part of what came out in this court hearing today is that prosecutors say her case is connected to the larger story, at least the evidence in her case is connected, they say, to other ongoing cases and investigations. I should warn you in advance, there`s also a little argument about sex and her personal diary. I swear it is relevant to the larger questions here, but you should know what happens.
OK, here goes. So, this is the initial discussion in court, starts right away. It`s about discovery. It`s about the evidence and materials the prosecution has seized in their case against Maria Butina. And this question is now being litigated in court as to whether and when and how her defense lawyer is going to be allowed to see all that stuff the government has seized.
OK. So, here we go. Mr. Saunders, the prosecutor. Good morning, your honor, thank you very much. The judge, good morning.
Prosecutor, we`ve had preliminary discussions about discovery. I think where we are right now is that the government has substantial discovery that they`re ready to turn over right away. Right now, we already have about 4 to 6 terabytes of data, the equivalent of over 1.5 million files that we`re ready to turn over just as fast as it can be loaded onto a portable hard drive. There`s another batch of data approximately 4 to 6 terabytes.
Then the judge jumps in. Let me stop you. With regard to that first batch, how long do you think that will take to transfer? Prosecutor, barring the issue of a protective order which I`ll get to in a moment it, shouldn`t take more than a couple days. The judge says, all right, OK.
The prosecutor, the second batch should be ready in maybe two weeks? And again, once it`s ready, it shouldn`t take more than a couple of days to put it onto a hard drive and provide it to defense counsel. The judge says, OK.
Prosecutor, so the bottom line is, the government wants to provide this to the defense right away immediately so that they can begin to prepare their defense in the courtroom. The problem we`re having is, your honor, agreeing on a protective order. And a protective order from the government`s positionings is essential not just for the normal reasons of protecting third parties` personal identifying information but also to protect potential ongoing investigations, and just given the sensitive nature of this case.
And in our discussions, the question that seems to be overlying the conflict between the two the parties, to put it frankly is, whether or not the defense counsel wants this information right away so he can prepare for a defense in this court or if defense counsel wants this information so that they can use it on cable news.
The reason I put it that way, your honor, is that we proposed a basic protective order that says the information can be used for their defense in this case. It gives the defense wide latitude to use it in this case, including showing it to the appropriate witnesses, showing it to those witnesses` attorneys.
The defense rejected that offer and the defense`s response is, no, we should have free rein to use that material however we want. Now, our protective order says that you can use it for this case but you can`t use it for other purposes, including public disclosure like going on the press. The defense says, no, no, no. We should have free rein. That`s an exact quote from defense counsel.
Now, our concerns about protecting this information would be -- and then the judge jumps in. Other than the personal identifying information, what are your other security concerns? Prosecutor, our concerns are protecting integrity of potential ongoing investigations not just related to this case but potential other cases as well. The judge says, all right.
Potential other cases as well that might be affected by the disclosure of the evidence in the Maria Butina case. So the prosecutors here are telling the judge it`s bad that Maria Butina`s defense lawyer has been going on dreaded cable news and talking about her case, defending her in the court of public opinion. And over the course of this hearing today, they go on to fight with him about why that is bad in and of itself.
The judge at one point says to Maria Butina`s defense lawyer, do you think it`s in your client`s best interests to have your case tried in the press? She later tells Butina`s defense lawyer bluntly, quote, I certainly don`t want to impose a gag order as other judges have in other cases in this court, but I will entertain a motion or a request to do so if you think that your statements violate our local rules so I am cautioning you.
So, there`s this fight in court today over the defense lawyer of Maria Butina talking to the press about her case and the prosecution is pressing their argument and the judge seems to basically agree that Butina`s defense lawyer shouldn`t be doing that. The judge bluntly warns her defense lawyer that basically he should watch it in terms of him talking to the press. She also later tells the defense counsel that there, quote, will be a protective order in this case, at least for some material, which means the judge said today in open court that she will set limits on what Butina can do and can`t do with the evidence against her that the government has turned up once the government has to hand that over to them so they can prepare their defense.
So, they had this fight today. It definitely lands in a very one-sided way. But for us watching this case and thinking about the national significance of this case and how this fits into the bigger existential scandal that looms over this presidency, right, on the big question of does this dramatic case against this accused Russian agent play into the larger scandal involving Russia and the election and all the other indictments that have come out, the prosecutors today said, yes, they said, yes, this case is connected. It`s connected to other ongoing cases and other potential cases as well.
And they`re saying that`s related to why we need to stop her attorney from putting the evidence against her out in the press. That stuff is sensitive. It relates to ongoing cases and potentially other cases, as well. The judge goes with that.
Here`s the defense lawyer, quote: Your honor, the government`s theory is that the documents and items possessed by my client before they were seized by the government somehow become confidential once they`re seized by the government. And when the government gives them back, they can protect them under a protective order.
The judge jumps in, but, Mr. Driscoll, if material that was seized that was in the possession of the defendant concerns material, for example, on her computer that the government is using in connection with an ongoing investigation, well, merely because it was in the possession of your client doesn`t mean that it doesn`t need to be kept confidential because there are ongoing investigations. The fact it was in your client`s possession doesn`t give it some kind of talismanic position. So, I`m not clearly understanding your position.
Defense lawyer, I mean, it`s my position it`s the government`s burden to say what needs to be protected and why. For example, my client`s diary, my client`s notes, all those kinds of things are just simply documents of my client. My client`s immigration papers, all those things simply because they came into the possession of the government, she doesn`t lose her First Amendment rights or her ability to do with those documents what she wants.
The judge, well, this is a pending criminal case. I`m sort of curious as to what you would be planning to do with her immigration documents or her diary in advance of the trial.
Defense lawyer, well, I mean, they might be evidence at the trial but there might be other purposes for which they would be used. There are ongoing congressional investigations, for example, that we`ve been dealing with. A lot of these same documents have already been introduced to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Judge, well, certainly if those documents are subjects of a subpoena you can go to the government and says these documents or items have been subject to subpoena.
So, this is the judge whittling the defense lawyer down to a toothpick here. He`s saying, hey, this was her stuff that the government seized. We should be able to do whatever we want with it. You can`t stop us from giving it to the press. The judge basically says, seriously, it`s evidence in a criminal trial and if what is seized from her is relevant to other ongoing open investigations, then, of course, you can`t do anything you want with it.
And on that last point of the transcript about how his client has already been questioned by other parts of the government where he raises congressional investigations and stuff, that actually ends up being important, too. We`ll come back to ha in a second.
But there`s just this one last thing you should see from the hearing today. I mentioned there was a discussion about sex related allegations. This is that part. It does not go well for the defense lawyer.
But remember where this came from. Last week, the prosecutors laid out a case for the judge that Maria Butina shouldn`t be released on bail. They were arguing she`s a flight risk, that she might basically go back to Russia. They said there was no reason to expect that she`d feel bound to stay in the United States and face this trial.
And in order to make that case, the prosecutors argued what appeared to be her personal ties, even her emotional ties to the United States, they argued that those ties weren`t real. This is what they filed with the court last week under the headline Butina`s, quote, tie to the United States is a duplicitous relationship.
This was prosecutors a few days ago. Quote: during the course of this investigation, the FBI has determined that Maria Butina gained access through U.S. person one to an extensive network of U.S. persons in positions to influence political activities in the United States. Butina, age 29 and U.S. person 1, age 56, are believed to have cohabitated and been involved in a personal relationship during the course of Butina`s activities in the United States. But this relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Maria Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.
For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. Further in paper seized by the FBI Butina complained about living with U.S. person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. person 1.
So that was the prosecution last week. They`re saying, listen, she`s a spy, she`s only involved with this guy because it`s part of her cover as a spy.
Today, Butina`s defense lawyer went off on that. He and his client are absolutely not going to stand for that from the prosecution. He went after them on this specific issue in court today and it didn`t go well.
Defense lawyer, we did make a special request with the government to receive on an expedite basis any evidence they had to back up their claim that Miss Butina traded sex for a job. That has become unfortunately a big issue in the media. It was proffered, you know, as proffered in the bonds hearing before. We have no idea what the government`s talking about. We don`t believe it`s true.
The government has -- we presume they could just give that part of it to us so we could see what it is. And the government has not agreed to do that. They said we can wait for discovery to do that.
The judge jumps in, Mr. Saunders, she`s speaking to the prosecutor now, Mr. Saunders, prosecutor, what`s your position with regard to the information Mr. Driscoll just requested? Prosecutor, our position is twofold. One is we want to make sure the protective order is in place before giving over anything and second, we`re concerned about to what use anything will be put. And if the defense is seeking particular pieces of evidence to take them to the news media, we don`t want that violation of the local rules.
The judge, right. I mean, I think, Driscoll, you`re certainly entitled to discovery and to know the basis of the charges against your client in accordance with our local rules, but I`m not sure you`re entitled to specific pieces of evidence to rebut media reports. You know, I`m sure it`s not pleasant to read incorrect things about your client. No lawyer likes that.
My obligations here are to get this case resolved whether that be through trial or any other way in an expeditious and fair manner. As to when you get that information you will get it as you would any other information in this trial.
So, No, I`m not helping you figure out why the government said that thing about your client and trading sex for a job. The prosecution has said that part of Maria Butina`s secret cover for her operation in this country on behalf of the Russian government is that she was supposedly romantically involved with this older man, a Republican political activist in South Dakota.
Now, the government is making that case because they say that relationship wasn`t an earnest relationship, it wasn`t real. They`re saying that was part of her cover story as a secret agent carrying off this influence operation on behalf of the Russian government. Now, whether or not it turns out to have been true love, this ends up being sort of a key element in how the Maria Butina secret agent case relates to the rest of the Russia scandal and potentially the president`s campaign.
I mean, there`s a few of these connections, actually, this is one of them. One of the links already established, is that prosecutors say Maria Butina was funded for this U.S. operation by a Russian billionaire. "The Washington Post" has since named that Russian billionaire. They have also reported that that Russian billionaire`s son worked on the Trump campaign.
We have contacted the Trump campaign to ask them about whether that`s true and if so, what role was played on the campaign by the son of the man who is alleged to have funded this Russian influence operation during the campaign. So far, we have not heard back from the campaign on that and we will let you know when we do.
Another potential link to the Trump campaign is through this guy, U.S. person one, the unnamed American citizen who Maria Butina was involved in this ersatz personal relationship. He lives in South Dakota. And I am here to sing the praises of a local hero South Dakota journalist named Seth Tupper from the "Rapid City Journal" because Mr. Tupper today tracked down a proposed order of cooperation between Maria Butina and federal prosecutors in South Dakota and an offer that dates back to May of this year.
Maria Butina was apparently considering offering testimony or evidence to prosecutors, to federal prosecutors for their investigation of her supposed boyfriend in South Dakota. She was offering the U.S. attorney in South Dakota or considering an offer from the U.S. attorney in South Dakota that she would cooperate with them in their investigation of her supposed boyfriend.
Now, depending how things worked in that particular relationship, that would seem to bolster the prosecution`s case that maybe this wasn`t true love, right, if she was talking to prosecutors about what evidence she might be able to give them against her guy. Well, her guy, this American man, has not been charged with anything as far as we know but he is described in court filings as beak a co-conspirator helping her with her efforts to influence the Republican Party in large part through the NRA.
It is -- I just have to say, just stepping back for a second, it is remarkable that the NRA has had no comment on this case at all. No comment on this indictment since it was first unsealed. I mean, this is federal prosecutors itch including veteran counter espionage prosecutors now saying in court and offering evidence in court that the NRA was used extensively by the Russian government in an illegal intelligence operation.
Really? No comment on that at all NRA? Not at all? For more than a week now?
In January, "McClatchy" reported that the FBI was investigating whether the Russian government funneled money through the NRA to help Trump win the election. That might have seemed nuts at the time when "McClatchy" published that report. But you know what? That was before we got this indictment how else Russia was using the NRA to try to influence the election. That was before Butina`s defense lawyer said in court that Maria Butina was contacted by the FEC in March about, quote, whether or not certain donations had been made to political campaigns.
That was before the "Washington Post" reported today that Maria Butina testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that one of her sources of funding in the United States in 2016 was a $5,000 a month consulting deal she had with the Outdoor Channel television network to provide advice on a planned program on hunting in Russia. How did she get hooked up with the Outdoor Channel?
Quote, the Outdoor Channel`s chief executive, Jim Liberatore, accompanied an NRA delegation that was hosted by Maria Butina in Moscow in December 2015. And indeed, red arrow, there`s the guy from the Outdoor Channel and a whole bunch of officials from the NRA in Moscow in December, 2015, with accused Russian agent Maria Butina. December 2015, that`s exactly the same time that Trump national security advisor, Mike Flynn, was also in Moscow sitting next to Vladimir Putin at a banquet dinner for Russian state TV. Same time period, December 2015, right before the Republican presidential primary started.
What was the NRA all doing in Moscow right before then? What was Mike Flynn doing in Moscow before then?
The Outdoor Channel would not confirm to "The Washington Post" today they did have this accused Russian agent on their payroll for $5,000 a month in 2016. But we actually were able to reach them late in the day today and they did confirm to us that, yes, they did, they had her on the payroll, $5,000 a month. There`s no reason to think that the Outdoor Channel knew at the time that the person they had put on their payroll was a secret agent who is now accused of running a Russian government influence operation to influence our election -- there`s no indication that they knew that`s what they were doing at the time but that is what they did.
And so, last point here. Were these gun rights folks potentially a conduit for Russian money alongside other forms of Russian government influence on our 2016 campaign? I mean, "McClatchy" was on that story first. Honestly, they took tons of heat for that story and stood by it throughout.
But now, I mean, I don`t think they`d take heat for that story today. Now, it is a much more open question. It would be really, really good to find that out.
The NRA, according to federal prosecutors, was a conduit for a secret Russian government operation designed to hit the campaign. Were they a conduit for another kind of influence from Russia, too?
"McClatchy" reports the FBI has been looking into Russian money flowing into the NRA to benefit Trump. Did that happen?
On the day we learned Maria Butina was arrested, on the day her arrest warrant and criminal complaint against her, the FBI affidavit against her, the day that was all unsealed, on the day of the Trump/Putin summit in Helsinki, the Trump administration that day unveiled a new rule. They announced they would be dropping the requirement which has existed for nearly 50 years in this country, they would be dropping the requirement that organizations like the NRA have to disclose their major donors to the IRS, on the day the Maria Butina case was unsealed, they dropped that requirement. Seriously.
Why that new rule and why that day?
MADDOW: They are taking their first whack at it. Here we go. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, of course, is not just the second in command at the U.S. Department of Justice. He`s also basically Robert Mueller`s boss. He`s in charge of overseeing the special counsel`s investigation.
Because of that, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has been under months of sustained attack from House Republicans who are trying to protect the president by undermining the Mueller investigation however they can. The most controversial way that they have approached that effort thus far is by demanding that the Justice Department hand over lots of secret law enforcement sensitive material from the ongoing investigation so that the Congress can get hold of it and so in many cases it can either be made public or presumably given to the White House for their defense or both.
Well, we`ve been watching that for months. Now, Republicans in Congress have gone to a new level, pro-Trump Republicans in Congress late tonight introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. They are accusing him of high crimes and misdemeanors, both times, high crimes and misdemeanors.
These congressional Republicans are alleging in five articles of impeachment Rod Rosenstein has failed to respond to their demands to hand over Justice Department materials related to the investigation. They say he signed off on improper searches and surveillance. They say, quote, by such conduct, he warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office.
The attacks by pro-Trump Republicans against the FBI and Justice Department have been going on for the better part of a year now. Senior officials at the Justice Department and FBI have promised that they wouldn`t give in to efforts to shut down their work, they would hold a firm line against any politically motivated attacks that were designed to undo or undermine the ongoing work of the Justice Department and FBI as law enforcement agencies.
Tonight, 11 Republican congressmen have now changed that fight. They`re calling for the deputy attorney general to be thrown out of office. It`s not clear tonight whether or if Republican leadership might take this thing up, but the president`s conservative allies in Congress are officially now making their run at it.
What happens next here?
Joining us now is Kyle Cheney. He`s a congressional reporter at politico.com who`s been covering this closely tonight.
Kyle, thanks for being here. Much appreciate it.
KYLE CHENEY, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO (voice-over): Great to be here, Rachel. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, we had heard that these articles of impeachment were around. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had actually made comments on them at a public appearance where he teased the House Republicans for leaking their own draft of these articles of impeachment. We`ve known they were circulating for a while.
Do we have any understanding of why they may have been actually introduced tonight?
CHENEY: Well, this has been, as you noted, long in the making. These pro- Trump Republicans in particular have made Rosenstein the symbol for all of their frustrations with the Justice Department and with the Mueller investigation.
Why tonight? It`s not entirely clear. But they are -- the House is about to leave on a five-week recess. By dropping this tonight, it insures that this is part of the conversation going forward at sort of a critical moment in some of these investigations. There`s been a lot of new headlines in the Mueller investigation lately. And, you know, this will now be part of that discussion over the next few weeks.
MADDOW: That makes it sound like the strategy is sort of a political messaging strategy rather than a legislative strategy. Do we -- to that end, do we have any indication from leadership in the House as to whether or not this might conceivably come up? I mean, they`re not bringing this up as a privileged motion. They`re not forcing this as a matter for the House to vote on it and not sure whether this is anything other than a message motion.
CHENEY: Exactly. That`s how you know it`s a message motion because there was an opportunity to force a vote on it. And these Republicans decided not to go that route this time. This is not a unanimous feeling among House Republicans. House leaders, Speaker Ryan has kind of minimized their dispute with Rosenstein and the Justice Department and not really favored this drive towards impeachment.
This is really coming from members of the Freedom Caucus, coming from Trump`s strongest allies in the House. It really divides the Republican conference here. So, there`s not a big appetite among leaders to take up this fight especially in the homestretch of an election year.
MADDOW: Yes, I was thinking about those comments a few days ago from Trey Gowdy who is retiring but influential member of House leadership who was asked about the possibility of impeaching Rosenstein and he said, impeach him for what? So, clearly, a divisive issue among their own members.
But let me ask you, on the specifics of this, Kyle, I know that today, a couple members of the Freedom Caucus who filed this motion tonight, Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, were told that they met today with the general counsel of the FBI Dana Boente and also with the inspector general of the FBI, Michael Horowitz, or inspector general of the Justice Department.
Do we know if that meeting -- if how that meeting went had anything to do with the decision to file these tonight?
CHENEY: Well, it certainly did. I think this was a last ditch attempt to getting to and try to head something like this off. Other members were in that meeting. People like Trey Gowdy and Bob Goodlatte, two powerful committee chairmen, didn`t come away necessarily with the same rejection of what DOJ had to say.
So, it really is sort of where these members were going into the meeting is kind of where they were when they left. And so, it just didn`t solve anything. That`s why they came out and filed all the impeachment articles pretty much right away after this meeting.
MADDOW: Kyle Cheney, congressional reporter at politicom.com, joining us on short notice tonight after these impeachment articles were filed -- Kyle, thank you very much. It`s really good to have you with us tonight.
CHENEY: Glad to be here. Thanks so much, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. I should tell you, in terms of the response to this, as you just heard Kyle report there, and he`s very clear about it, this is not something that is expected to unify Republicans, nor is there any indication that there`s going to be any actual legislative movement on this. This is sort of an effort by pro-Trump Republican members of Congress to I think hype up their constituents before they head home for a long recess maybe?
But it is being greeted critically and seriously by people who oppose it. I should just tell you that Dianne Feinstein, veteran Democratic senator who`s the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, she reacted strongly to Republicans doing this. I think a lot of people are dismissing this as another pro-Trump Republican stunt by House Republicans tonight. But Senator Dianne Feinstein had a really strong response. She called the filing of these impeachment articles partisan nonsense. But then she also said, quote, it`s dangerous for the rule of law and it needs to stop.
So, they`re clearly doing this as some sort of messaging thing. The message may be loud on this on both sides. We shall see.
Much more to come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Sacrilegious question, I know, so forgive me ahead of time. But does that tape thing really matter at all? That tape, that tape of Donald Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, talking about how to pay off Karen McDougal for her killed story about her alleged affair with Donald Trump and maybe there was a check or maybe it was cash and then somebody said Pam or maybe somebody said hon and somebody said get me a Coke, I mean, the tape, right?
Did we actually learn anything from that tape? I know it`s gotten a ton of news coverage but does it deserve it?
Honestly, is there anything we have learned from that thing other than the fact the president apparently did not tell the truth when he said he didn`t know anything about any payment to Karen McDougal. Yes, we`ve learned that.
But in terms of like potential legal jeopardy and how this might relate to other difficulties the president is facing on a legal front, honestly, I don`t know. It doesn`t sound like there was any crime committed on that tape.
Did we learn anything from hearing it? I don`t know. I presume some day, we will find out from the prosecutors if this tape is actually legally relevant.
Here`s the thing though: I want to posit, if you like me, are a little skeptical as to why this tape and this whole issue between Trump and Cohen merits so much attention, I think there is one known reason why this thing is interesting. And I say this as a skeptic on this story in general. There`s one thing here that grabs me.
We have known that the publisher, who paid this woman, Karen McDougal $150,000 for the story and killed the story, didn`t run it. We know that the company is American Media Incorporated. They publish the supermarket tabloid, "The National Enquirer". They also publish magazines like "Men`s Journals" and a bunch of other publications you have heard of.
We have known previously that that company, American Media, got a subpoena, a federal subpoena at some point this spring in New York. But today, "Wall Street Journal" today was the first to report that American Media`s subpoena arrived on the exact same day Michael Cohen got his office and his home and his hotel room and his safety deposit box all raided by the FBI.
Michael Cohen got raided April 9th. American Media got a subpoena from the feds that same day, April 9th. So, Cohen gets raided April 9th and American Media reportedly gets a subpoena that same day.
So, that means legal pressure of various kinds that we now know was brought to bear on people close to the president, on his lawyer, this publishing firm basically his best friend. Does that kind of pressure on people closely related to the president, does that ultimately redound to the president`s own legal woes? We don`t know but we`ve been watching the dynamics with interest, right?
Here`s something else we know: nine days after the raid and nine days after American Media reportedly got that federal subpoena, they announced a new settlement with Karen McDougal with very specific plans for her to start appearing more often in their publications including on the cover of "Men`s Journal" magazine in September.
"Men`s Journal", Karen McDougal, "Men`s Journal", Karen Mc -- mostly on "Men`s Journal", it`s Ben Affleck. But it`s going to be Karen McDougal apparently.
Just couple weeks ago the "Wall Street Journal" checked in on that plan, the paper, in fact, reported back, quote, current and former employees of publisher American Media Inc. say they believe Karen McDougal`s planned appearance on the cover of September`s issue is intended to protect the company from a federal investigation in New York.
Now, American Media said they always planned to put her on the cover. They said it was strictly a business decision. But those unnamed staffers were not buying it. They said they believe putting Karen McDougal on the cover was, quote, meant to bolster the company`s argument that it entered into the contract with Ms. McDougal for editorial reasons rather than to benefit Mr. Trump`s campaign.
OK, now I`m interested. Because that raises the question of whether or not this was an actual publishing contract, right? Rather than a political expenditure to help Donald Trump win an election.
After seeing the new reporting in the "Wall Street Journal" about the timing of the subpoena, we went back and asked American Media about all this today and they directed us to the original statement from April about the settlement and cover date from "Men`s Journal", otherwise we got nothing new from them at all.
But I have one big sort of question and a half here. Is American Media potentially in legal trouble here? If they are trying to make it look like they were doing something as a publishing company under their own First Amendment rights, it was just a business decision for them as a publisher, even their own employees don`t believe that, even their own employees believe that they are backtracking and trying to cover up what was actually a political act and an expensive one by that company, are they in legal trouble for that?
And the reason I care about that is that there is the possibility that legal trouble for people and entities close to the president that could ultimately become legal trouble for the president if in fact that legal trouble is so worrying that those entities and those people consider flipping and cooperating with prosecutors for any other larger cases they might be bringing. That part I care about.
Joining us now is Rebecca O`Brien. She`s a law enforcement reporter at "The Wall Street Journal" who has been reporting on this story.
It`s really nice to have you here. Thank you for being here.
REBECCA O`BRIEN, LAW ENFORCEMENT REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thank you for having me here.
MADDOW: First, let me just -- my preface there is totally honest. I don`t care about the personal dynamics between Michael Cohen and President Trump and I don`t feel edified by the tape. But this issue about potential legal jeopardy for people associated with the president in this case, do I get that right? Is there anything wrong there in terms of the way that those things might sort of shake out?
O`BRIEN: Well, I think what our reporting revealed today and what federal prosecutors are paying attention to is this question about whether -- whether the dynamic between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump and AMI, this publishing company, at times shifted away from being just a strictly media -- whether AMI wasn`t a straightforward media organization all the time and whether at times it acted as an appendage of sorts of Donald Trump and his campaign.
MADDOW: And there would be legal consequences of that. I mean, obviously, if you`re acting as a publisher, you can hire and fire, you know, editors and contributors and make decisions about who`s on covers and who gets columns and all of that stuff. All of those decisions are absolutely protected by the First Amendment and the government has no say there. There would be no criminal implications of any decision like that.
But if those decisions were a ruse in order to disguise what was in effect a political action, an action designed to cause a political effect especially if it was done in conjunction with the campaign, then AMI itself might have some legal concerns?
O`BRIEN: Right. Sure. First of all, it is a big deal to subpoena media organization especially without any prior warning. And, you know, if prosecutors choose to bring a campaign finance case, these guys could find themselves in -- considered a party to a conspiracy to commit campaign -- if they decide -- this amounts -- these rather overt acts, you know, they publicly favor Donald Trump in print, they savaged his opponents, if that - - if they decided that amounts to campaign finance violations they could be considered part of a criminal conspiracy.
MADDOW: When we talk about criminal campaign finance violations, campaign financial violations, everybody laughs because they think we don`t actually police those or enforce those anymore in this country. But there is sort - - those come as two different kinds of apples, right? You can have a campaign finance violation everybody says is terrible and gets laughed off, or you can have a knowing, willful, deliberate campaign violation, particularly that`s one carried out as part of a conspiracy. And those do get not just handled by the FEC, right, those get handled as prosecutable cases.
O`BRIEN: Sure, absolutely.
MADDOW: Theoretically at least.
O`BRIEN: Theoretically at least.
MADDOW: In terms of AMI`s own legal jeopardy, is there any sign in terms of your reporting that they are -- that they are behaving significantly differently since they received the subpoena or that they are concerned?
O`BRIEN: Well, I think actually the timing of the subpoena, as you pointed out, is really important, the fact that it was -- that it was served the same day, same morning as the raid on Michael Cohen suggests something about that relationship between the president`s lawyer and this organization.
You know, I think that, as you pointed out, our reporters have previously dug into some of the "Men`s Journal" cover for September and whether what Karen McDougal is doing on that cover.
O`BRIEN: You know, they sort of seem to have, you know, I guess what will end up being of interest is what they produced for prosecutors. I can`t say much more than that.
MADDOW: Yes. With the subpoena you don`t have a choice.
MADDOW: It may just turn out this is all about her amazing abs.
O`BRIEN: Secrets. If only I knew.
MADDOW: Rebecca O`Brien, a law enforcement reporter at "The Wall Street Journal", it`s really good to have you here. Thanks for coming in.
O`BRIEN: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Following up on our report last night on the White House transcript and video from last week`s Helsinki press conference, that transcript and video not including the statement from Vladimir Putin that he wanted Trump to win the election, following up on that report from us last night, I can tell you now that unnamed White House officials are now admitting that yes, the White House transcript of that press conference is wrong. But they are still not correcting it. Hmm.
After our report and after questions from White House reporters today and after a piece in "The Washington Post" today speculated that perhaps the White House transcript and video were wrong because they were transcribed from a wonky audio feed or something, the White House did finally say today that yes, their transcript of the Trump-Putin press conference is wrong. But they say it wasn`t a malicious error.
And then the White House told the "Associated Press" that, quote, the transcript has been updated for presidential records. They also told NBC`s Peter Alexander tonight that, quote, an updated version was sent to the archivist.
Now, nobody seems to know what that means. But I`m here to tell you in no uncertain terms the White House still has an official transcript of Trump and Putin`s press conference posted online right now at the White House Website and it still omits Vladimir Putin saying that he wanted Trump to win and I can also tell you that the White House still has a video posted tonight that omits the same thing.
So I guess the update is the White House wants to get away with this in the sense they`re sticking with their false record of what happened with Vladimir Putin, but they don`t want to be blamed for it while they do it. They don`t want anybody to see it as a bad thing even as they keep doing it. So judge for yourself.
I`m going to go to break right here. We`ve got one more segment coming up. I`m going to go to break right here. But as we go to break, I want you to watch this one more time and check out the White House transcript alongside it. You judge for yourself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S./Russia relationship back to normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Heads up about a deadline coming up tomorrow. By the government`s own count, we now know the Trump administration has taken away from their parents 2,551 kids between the ages of 5 and 17. They took them away at the border.
Now, a federal judge, as you know, has ordered the administration to give those kids back. The deadline for the kids ages 5 to 17 is tomorrow. At a hearing in that case yesterday, the Justice Department said that it has so far on the eve of the deadline only given 1,012 of those kids back to their parents. Again, 1,012 kids out of more than 2,500 taken away.
So, they`ve -- as of last night, the night before the deadline, they have only given back less than half. Worse than that, the government said last night that they were not even going to try to give back more than 900 of these kids. The Trump administration now says they have decided that 914 of these kids who they took from their parents are not eligible to be given back to their parents, judicial deadline or not.
So what`s going to happen to those more than 900 kids who the government took but now the Trump administration says they`re not making any plan to give them back? Honestly, we do not know.
The ACLU is the group that has been leading this particular case against the government that led to this deadline. They tell us now that their lawyers are still working on trying to ensure reunification even for those 914 families that the government says they`re not bothering with. The ACLU says they`re trying to get more information from the government to make these reunifications happen, but for now, the Trump administration says for 914 of these kids, they`re not going to do it. Court ordered deadline is tomorrow.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: No sooner do I admit on national television that the Michael Cohen taped Donald Trump story is not really about the tapes and the tapes themselves aren`t -- "The Washington Post" has just reported that the government has seized more than 100 tapes that Michael Cohen made of his conversations with people discussing matters that could relate to the Donald Trump and his businesses, including with Trump himself talking to Michael Cohen on the tapes.
I want to go to sleep and wake up when the tape story is over. Is there a snooze alarm for that?
That does it for us tonight. I`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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