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"No evidence" McCaskill hack was successful. TRANSCRIPT: 07/26/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Kevin Poulsen, Lee Gelernt

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 26, 2018 Guest: Kevin Poulsen, Lee Gelernt

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening.

Chris, congratulations on your multiple Emmy nominations.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Congratulations with yours.

MADDOW: My single one, your double one. Come on, big guy. Well done.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: Come on.

HAYES: Stop it.

MADDOW: Congratulations.

HAYES: Thanks for the tacos.

MADDOW: Sure.

HAYES: All right.

MADDOW: We did send him tacos. Honestly, any excuse to send anybody tacos, when it comes down to it.

All right. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

You know, I thought today was going to be kind of a sleepy news day, right? At last. Started off as kind of a sleepy news day. But then all H-E double hockey sticks broke out this afternoon and into tonight and now it`s turned into another totally nuts news day.

All right. As of about 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, "BuzzFeed News" was first to report that the chief strategist for the Bernie Sanders for president campaign in 2016, Bernie Sanders` chief strategist Tad Devine is going to be a witness for the prosecution in the federal criminal case against Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Or if he`s not going to actually appear at trial as a witness, Tad Devine at least now says he is helping the prosecutors in Robert Mueller`s office in their case against Paul Manafort.

Tad Devine`s consulting firm putting out this statement tonight, quote, the special counsel has asked Tad Devine to assist in the prosecution of their case against Paul Manafort regarding his firm`s work on media consulting on past political campaigns in Ukraine. When the special counsel sought assistance from us in its ongoing investigation, we readily provided it. The firm also said that they have been, quote, assured by the special counsel`s office that we have no legal exposure and did not act unlawfully.

So, this is Tad Devine`s firm saying he`s not in the trouble but he`s helping Mueller out against Manafort.

You know, it is I think in some, in some American electoral politics ways, it is jarring to see the guy from the Bernie Sanders campaign caught up in the Manafort case brought by the special counsel, right? But it`s not actually a huge surprise if you have been following the evidence in that case and if you know something about Manafort`s history. Up through 2012, we have known that Tad Devine like Paul Manafort, he did do overseas political consulting work in Ukraine. He worked alongside Manafort.

And Tad Devine`s name is all over the evidence list that prosecutors submitted in the Manafort case just this past week. So that was when the prosecutors were basically notifying the court that things related to Tad Devine, e-mails and files and documents with his name on them would be cited as evidence in court in the Paul Manafort case. Well, similarly, Paul Manafort`s lawyers today filed hundreds of pages of documents in federal court exhibits beak in support of their defense of Paul Manafort. And in those exhibits, you find Tad Devine`s name and e-mail address all over those, as well.

So, it`s not that surprising that he`s going to turn up somehow in the Paul Manafort case. Now we know how exactly he`s going to turn up. I mean, so far, the Bernie Sanders campaign has factored into the Russia scandal in a very specific way, right? Russian messaging and Russian propaganda online, Russian interactions with WikiLeaks about the theft and staged dissemination of stolen documents from the Democratic Party.

We know that the Bernie Sanders campaign factored into all of that because a significant part of those efforts was aimed at boosting the -- boosting the Sanders campaign against Clinton, stoking resentment and grievances among Sanders supporters toward Hillary Clinton and her campaign and ultimately trying to prevent Bernie Sanders` supporters after the primary from turning out to vote in the general election against Trump and for Clinton. So, we`ve known that was part of the Russia scandal because it was part of Russia`s strategy in trying to elect Trump.

Well, now, we will see laid out in court the relationship between Bernie Sanders`s senior strategist and Donald Trump`s indicted campaign chairman. We will see whatever it is that Tad Devine is offering prosecutors about his work alongside Paul Manafort in the former Soviet Union which, of course led to this litany of felony charges against Manafort, the Manafort trial is due to start early next week.

So, wow, right? That just happened tonight. And that news came on top of this bombshell report "The Wall Street Journal" this afternoon that a man named Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York, the federal grand jury considering the criminal investigation into the president`s long-time personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Now, the Michael Cohen case big picture, it`s still basically one big open question, in terms of what kind of legal trouble might lie ahead for the president himself if his long-time attorney Michael Cohen who apparently taped his conversations with President Trump among other things, whether he`s ultimately criminally charged by federal prosecutors in New York. We still don`t know if that`s going to be an issue for the president himself. We still don`t know how that is all going to play out. Everybody`s watching that, of course, very closely.

But with this guy, if Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed, if this report in the "Wall Street Journal" this afternoon is right, that honestly has way bigger implications than just the case against Michael Cohen. Allen Weisselberg is not a household name but he is in the Trump household.

He`s in his 70s. He`s worked for the Trump family his entire adult life. He started off working for the president`s father I believe in the 1970s. He has been at the Trump Organization apparently since its inception. He`s known to be not only a very trusted very senior figure in the Trump Organization. He`s also been directly involved in a number of financial dealings related to the president and his business that have since come under legal scrutiny.

For example, Mr. Weisselberg is said to have been personally involved in the payments to women who alleged that they had affairs with President Trump. According to "The Wall Street Journal," Allen Weisselberg, was close enough to the president and his family that he was the one who handled their household expenditures, personal expenditures and purchases for Mr. Trump and his family, including Mr. Trump`s dealings with various banks.

Mr. Weisselberg is the treasurer of the Donald J. Trump Foundation which has just come under very aggressive legal scrutiny in New York state. Allen Weisselberg is such an important and senior figure in the president`s business empire that when the president announced he was handing off day- to-day control of his business, now that he`s president, the common shorthand we use for that transaction is to say the president handed over control of his business to his two sons, Don Jr. and Eric. But actually, the group he handed over control of his business to is his two sons, Don Jr. and Eric, but also Allen Weisselberg.

Allen Weisselberg is the lynchpin of all Trump financial matters. Not incidentally, Mr. Weisselberg is also reported to have been personally responsible for preparing Donald Trump`s tax returns, for years. Oh.

If he has now been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in the southern district of New York, that is potentially a very big deal. We know that the president has been particularly sensitive even particularly emotional around investigators and even the press pushing too hard when it comes to his personal finances and finances around his business. Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed before a federal grand jury in New York. That is the kind of thing that is likely to push the president`s buttons.

But wait, there`s more. Breaking news even beyond that tonight from Andrew Desiderio and Kevin Poulsen at "The Daily Beast." This is an important story. Tomorrow, there`s going to be a little bit of a strange scene at the White House.

They are apparently planning tomorrow on bringing in the president himself to make a big show of him personally chairing a National Security Council meeting about election security, a meeting about keeping the midterm elections this year safe from any external meddling. That, of course, is rich, given the fact that the president denies the conclusion that is unanimous everywhere else outside the Kremlin, that Russia interfered and hacked into our last election.

He`s still casting doubt on that but they`re apparently going to trot out the president to run this meeting about keeping our next election safe to run it himself. So that should be fascinating. Midterm elections are only about 100 days away. Democrats have been stamping their feet about the security of that election. They have been stamping their feet with increasing fervor and even desperation over the past few days and weeks. You might have seen a few days ago --

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MADDOW: This was Democrats in the house shouting "USA, USA, USA" on the floor of Congress as they tried unsuccessfully to stop Republicans from zeroing out funding to the states for election security this year. Democrats lost that fight to get that funding for the states. But they made a huge show of it and they went down swinging.

Soon thereafter, 20 Democratic state attorneys general and one Republican from Michigan wrote this letter to Congress begging for more money for election security to help the states protect the elections and the midterms this year.

Even a former senior Trump administration official, Trump`s White House homeland security director, Tom Bossert, told Michael Isikoff at Yahoo News today that Trump`s decision to eliminate the job of the White House cyber security chief a couple months ago in April, he tells Isikoff that that was a dangerous decision. He says it leaves no one, quote, minding the store when it comes to stopping efforts by foreign adversaries to hack into the midterms like they did to the presidential election in 2016.

So, on this issue of the security of this election from which we`re like 100 days out, a lot of people have been throwing red flags about this recently. The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, less than two weeks ago gave this very ominous speech in which he said when it comes to cyber attacks in this upcoming midterm election, the warning lights are blinking red. He said in that speech two Fridays ago that he was deliberately choosing that language because it`s the same language used by then CIA director George Tenet to explain the missed warning signals about the impending al Qaeda attack just before 9/11, in the summer of 2001. Dan Coats saying he`s deliberately choosing that same language to talk about the threat we are now facing including from Russia toward our next election.

After Dan Coats made those sort of alarming remarks two Fridays ago, a vice president at Microsoft gave a public interview last week at the Aspen security forum where he announced that even just at his one company, just at Microsoft, they had already found at least three congressional campaigns for this year`s midterms that were already being attacked by Russian state sponsored hackers.

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TOM BURT, MICROSOFT CORPORATIO: We did discover a fake Microsoft domain had been established as the landing page for phishing attacks and we saw metadata that suggested those phishing attacks were being directed at three candidates who are all standing for election in the midterm elections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this year`s election, 2018, phishing attacks.

BURT: Yes, of three candidates for election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us who they were?

BURT: We can`t disclose that information because we maintain our customer`s privacy. So, we won`t go there, but I can tell you that they were all people who because of their positions might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint, as well as an election disruption standpoint.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So the staffed of three congressional candidates being attacked by Russian hackers using the same techniques we saw used to such great effect against the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party in 2016. That was a Microsoft vice president saying a few days ago that his company has caught efforts by Russia to attack at least three specific candidates in this year`s midterms. But he wouldn`t say who they were.

Now tonight, thanks to new investigative reporting from "The Daily Beast," we know who at least one of those candidates is. And surprise, it is the number one most wanted Democratic senator being targeted by Republicans in U.S. Senate elections this year.

Here`s the report from "Daily Beast" tonight. Quote: Senator Claire McCaskill is a top target for Republicans looking to grow their slim Senate majority in 2018. Turns out Russia`s Fancy Bear hackers are going after her staff, too.

Quote: That makes the Missouri Democrat the first identified target of the Kremlin`s 2018 election interference. The attempt against McCaskill`s office was a variant of the password stealing technique used by Russian hackers against Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in 2016. The hackers sent forged notification e-mails claiming the target`s Microsoft exchange password had expired and instructing the target to change it.

If the target clicks on the link, he or she would be taken to a convincing replica of the U.S. Senate`s log-in page, a single sign in point for e-mail and other services. As with the Podesta phishing, each Senate phishing e- mail had a different link coated with the recipient`s e-mail address. That`s important because that allowed the fake password change Website, the fake one, to display the user`s e-mail address when the target arrived at that address, making the site appear all the more convincing.

"The Daily Beast" reporters then explained how they investigated which congressional candidates might have been targeted with this technique following that announcement from Microsoft that Microsoft had spotted three targeted campaigns. "Daily Beast" reporters explained, quote, a snapshot of a deep link on phishing site taken by a Website security scanner showed the fake password change page with the Senate e-mail address of a Claire McCaskill policy aide on display. And that`s how they figured out that the first known target of Russian midterm election interference this year is Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.

Joining us now is one of the reporters who broke the news that Senator McCaskill has been targeted in this way.

Kevin Poulsen is senior national security correspondent for "The Daily Beast."

Mr. Poulsen, it`s a pleasure to have you here. Thanks for being here.

KEVIN POULSEN, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: Thank you for having me.

MADDOW: So, this is impressive detective work as far as I can tell the way you laid it out in this piece. How did you really -- how did you figure this out? Did you guys start this reporting trail with that announcement from Microsoft? Did they give you enough to go on in order to piece this together?

POULSEN: They did. If you actually watched the full presentation, the Microsoft VP is talking about a legal case that Microsoft brought that gave them ultimately the right to grab these Website addresses once they`ve identified them as being the Russian hackers. And that`s what led to them discovering this. So, with that information, I had enough to go on.

MADDOW: I mean, actually, it`s a reporting point. It`s also I think -- it`s a big sort of a citizenship point. One of the things I think regular citizens have been wringing our hands about when it comes to the prospect of Russia interfering in another U.S. election is the question of defense. You know, what defenses we have against them doing this stuff particularly because we knew they did it before.

And in this case it, does seem like it was a federal court ruling that helped Microsoft catch this attack in action and that in turn helped you figure out who one of the targets was.

POULSEN: Yes, it was a really interesting case. I broke that story last year, that Microsoft going into court and actually suing these hackers as John Doe defendants because they didn`t know the names then. And, of course, the hackers didn`t show up. So, Microsoft won by default putting them in a position where they can actively interfere from time to time with what this group is doing.

MADDOW: And basically, I mean, without getting too much into the technicalities here, as far as I understand it and I understand it from your writing about that ruling, Microsoft basically noticed that these hackers which it seems like according to the recent indictments from the special counsel`s office looked like Russian military intelligence hackers, one of the things they did was they used pages that were designed to look like Microsoft properties to lure their targets into thinking they were in a safe space. They were actually engaging with Microsoft and their company and products because it was essentially a kind of infringement on Microsoft`s trademarks in that way, Microsoft was able to seize control of those fake Websites, those fake domains they were using and essentially watch these guys commit crimes using the fake Microsoft sites.

POULSEN: Exactly. And now as a result of this, the GRU is catching on and they`re using Microsoft themed web addresses less and less. It`s pretty rare now.

MADDOW: That`s fascinating.

POULSEN: But it definitely gave Microsoft an advantage for awhile.

MADDOW: I want to ask you about Senator McCaskill specifically. She put out a statement tonight in response to your reporting that said while this attack was not successful, it is outrageous they think they can get away with this. I will not be intimidated. I`ve said it before and I`ll say it again, Putin is a thug and bully.

She says this attack was not successful. Is it absolutely clear to you from your reporting that this attack definitely wasn`t successful? I mean, is there a way to know if this was just one attack on Claire McCaskill, she would seem to be a valuable target for them. Do we know and can we tell if other attacks or other variants of this might have gotten what they wanted?

POULSEN: That`s a great question. This attack I`ll take Microsoft at their word it was thwarted. But you`re right. There could be other vectors that the GRU used to try and get into these candidates` files. And we know nothing about parallel attacks they`ve done against other candidates. We know there are at least two more.

So, there`s a lot yet to be known about just how much activity there is out there.

MADDOW: Kevin Poulsen, senior national security correspondent for "The Daily Beast", one of the reporters who broke this important news tonight that Senator McCaskill has been targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the midterm elections, congratulations on this scoop and for your ongoing good work in this field, Kevin. You make this stuff make sense to those of us who don`t necessarily always get the technicalities on first skim. Thanks for helping us understand it.

POULSEN: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight including what I`m told is some more breaking news. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Not kidding. Legitimate breaking news. Just a few moments ago, since we`ve been on the air, CNN is reporting that Michael Cohen, the president`s long-time lawyer and, quote/unquote, fixer, is prepared to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that Donald Trump as a then presidential candidate, he knew in advance about the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June, 2016.

This, of course, was the meeting where Mr. Trump`s son Donald junior, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his now indicted campaign chair Paul Manafort, they all met with a whole slew of Russians at Trump Tower. It`s a meeting we know had been pitched to Trump Jr. for the purposes of delivering political dirt about the Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign from the Russian government as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump win the election.

Now, CNN is reporting tonight that Donald Trump Sr. according to Michael Cohen not only knew about this meeting in advance, but he approved of the meeting in advance and again, this was a meeting that was explicitly pitched as a delivery of dirt from the Russian government about his opponent in the election. Now this meeting was with a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya. She has always claimed to be a private lawyer who happens to be Russian with no ties to the Russian government.

That said, according to e-mails and documents uncovered by our own Richard Engel a few months ago and according to more evidence published tonight by the "Associated Press," Natalia Veselnitskaya is in fact deeply tied to the Russian government. Since the 2016 Trump Tower meeting came to light last summer in the pages of "The New York Times," President Trump and his eldest son have repeatedly denied that Donald Trump Sr. knew anything about that meeting before it happened or even after it happened. After it happened has turned into and after it was revealed in the "New York Times" has turned into a bit of its own scandal.

You might remember that when the news first broke in "The Times", Donald Trump Jr. released a very misleading statement about the purpose of that meeting and what happened at that meeting. It has been reported that president Trump himself was directly personally involved in drafting that false statement. That false statement has reportedly been a focus for special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation, but now again tonight, CNN reporting is that Michael Cohen claims and I should tell you this started off as CNN`s reporting, NBC News has now confirmed Michael Cohen claims that Donald Trump the president, knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting with those Russians offering Clinton dirt.

Now, what we`re told is that Cohen is willing to make that assertion to the special counsel Robert Mueller. Michael Cohen apparently alleges that he was present along with several other people when Donald Trump Sr. was informed about this offer of this meeting by the Russians. He was informed by Donald Trump Jr. about the offer. And according to Mr. Cohen`s account, Trump approved going ahead with that meeting with the Russians.

I have to tell you, in terms of the origins of the story tonight, NBC is confirming the same lines of reporting that CNN first broke this evening. There is question as to where this is coming from, right? Michael Cohen is reportedly the subject of -- or actually Michael Cohen I can say is the subject of an open criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York.

We know of multiple subpoenas that have been issued to people to testify before the grand jury in that investigation. As far as we know, no charges have been brought against Mr. Cohen nor do we have any indication he`s entered into a sort of formal discussion with prosecutors whether he might cooperate with them in any further investigations of anybody else up to and potentially including the president.

That said, while a special master has been going through the evidence that was seized from Michael Cohen, from his home, from his office, from a hotel room in which he was living, from a safety deposit box he was renting, while special master has been going through all that evidence deciding if any of it is covered by attorney/client privilege or if it can be handed over to prosecutors for this case, we know that lawyers for the president and lawyers for Michael Cohen have been getting access to those documents. They`ve been able to see what the FBI in fact seized from Cohen. Since that process started happening, there have been at least a couple leaks now of potentially hugely inflammatory information in the possession of Michael Cohen that has nevertheless not been proffered to prosecutors as far as we know.

It has instead been floated to reporters. The question overriding all of this strategically, legally and in terms of the president`s legal jeopardy and Michael Cohen`s legal future is whether or not the president`s lawyers have been selectively leaking the worst stuff they know has been seized from Michael Cohen in order to try to get ahead of that story in order to try to put that same spin on it and in order potentially to zap the value of those items of evidence in case Michael Cohen ever wanted to trade his own fate with prosecutors in exchange for him providing that evidence and testifying about that evidence against the president.

NBC News White House correspondent Hallie Jackson has just confirmed to this news, we`ve reached her on very short news.

Hallie, thank you very much for joining us. Much appreciated my friend.

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): One of those nights. Glad to be with you.

So, this is what we can share based on our reporting here on this. And that is from myself, from Kristen Welker, my colleague Peter Alexander who all cover the White House, a knowledgeable source saying Michael Cohen asserts that he says Donald Trump knew, was told specifically by his son that of this Trump Tower meeting, this infamous Trump Tower meeting before it happened, which is obviously significant that he would be willing to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that.

This comes I can tell you in the last few minutes, Lanny Davis, the attorney for Michael Cohen is declining to comment. We`ve reached out, of course, to Rudy Giuliani, to the White House, for more on this. But it comes after Davis told us earlier today, told Kristen Welker that he`s signaling they`re ready to be more and more aggressive on this.

This is ramping up in a serious way, Rachel. We knew Michael Cohen, long- time fixer for Donald Trump, his right-hand man, would take a bullet for him, you know this, now though it appears and David didn`t say this ultimately, but he all but said that Cohen is in fact ready to flip.

Davis specifically declined to endorse the word flip. That he`s only committed to telling the truth but Davis said Cohen has truth on his side. That`s all he`s going to do is tell the truth. So, it is signal upon signal coming from Team Cohen they`re ready to be very aggressive on this.

I will also tell you that as of about an hour and a half ago, standing on the South Lawn of the White House trying to get questions to the president about this. So far, he has declined to answer those questions in settings ranging from the Oval Office yesterday, ever since this Michael Cohen recording came out, all the way up until his arrival back from the Midwest, his road trip today at the White House, right around 8:15, 8:30 Eastern Time, he has tweeted about this, but other than that single tweet, no response from the president himself in person on all of these developments related to somebody who was by his side for years and years, Rachel.

So, it is certainly very fast moving developments. And we`re going to try to stay on top of all of it.

MADDOW: Let me ask you what I think is the obvious strategic question here, Hallie, which is you`re quoting Lanny Davis. Michael Cohen`s lawyer talking about the fact they`re ready to be more and more aggressive. He`s declining to endorse the word flip in terms of how Cohen is approaching this. We don`t have any indication that he`s in negotiation with prosecutors.

JACKSON: Right.

MADDOW: But they are certainly sending these signals that Michael Cohen is potentially interested in doing that.

Here`s the thing. If Michael Cohen has information that prosecutors might use in a politically potent way in some sort of case involving the president, indication, for example, that the president was tape recorded talking about a payment to a woman who alleged she had an affair with the president when the president had public said that he had no knowledge of that or for example, if the president was said to have advanced knowledge of this Trump Tower meeting that was an offer of dirt from the Russian government to help him in his election. That would seem like it would can incredibly valuable potential evidence for prosecutors to have if they were interested in some sort of case involving the president.

If Michael Cohen wanted to deal with prosecutors, he would be giving this information to prosecutors. He would not be giving this information to reporters. In fact, giving it to reporters might lessen its value to prosecutors.

So, if that`s the way this is going, that would seem to indicate that this is not from Michael Cohen, that this is from somebody else who has access to this information.

JACKSON: So, I don`t know that I can figure the sourcing where the information is coming from, only that that information is now out there in the sense of it being public knowledge now first broken by CNN what the president knew and when. That has for a year and change almost been a central question to all of this. Did the president know that his son was meeting with these reps offering dirt on his political opponent, and specifically people who were linked to Russia?

And so, this is giving a significant new twist on that story. And one would imagine it would certainly be of interest to the guy who is investigating Russia`s interference in the 2016 election.

Let me just note one other point. The timing of this is interesting because you know what happens tomorrow at the White House, National Security Council meeting with all principals according to two officials about Russian interference in the election just as we are learning from Senator Claire McCaskill`s office that, in fact, Russians tried apparently to hack her system, tried to hack her office, unsuccessfully ultimately, but she is now talking about this publicly after "The Daily Beast" broke it earlier today.

So, this is coming to a head.

MADDOW: Yes, that meeting supposedly, we`re being told, will be helmed by the president himself who has been the denialist in chief in terms of Russain interference in the election.

Hallie, NBC News chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson, thank you very much. I know you`re continuing to report this out tonight. I`ll bet let you get back to your sources.

JACKSON: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: I actually can advance the story a little bit right now. And we should -- we should put this I think in the lower third if we can. I was just talking about the question of where this information has come from.

There is a -- even if you`re not a lawyer, you can understand the bake strategic question here which is if Michael Cohen is considering negotiating with prosecutors to cooperate with them in their inquiries about the president and anybody else, one might expect that potent potential evidence like this is the sort of thing he would give to prosecutors. He wouldn`t give it to the press.

Well, now, we have an on the record comment from Lanny Davis which has just been handed to me from Michael Cohen`s lawyer Lanny Davis on the story. And Lanny Davis says in general and as an overarching comment: I cannot comment. He also then says: but I have to wonder why the Trump people would put that out. It was not from us.

So, according to Michael Cohen`s lawyer, Michael Cohen is not the one who leaked the story. Again, first to CNN, NBC News confirming the claim from Michael Cohen that Donald Trump knew in advance of the Trump Tower meeting in and in fact, that he approved going ahead with that meeting, knowing that it was an offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government to help him in his campaign.

Michael Cohen claims that, according to this reporting tonight and is willing to discuss that with the special counsel. But that claim is not being leaked by Michael Cohen. It`s being leaked about Michael Cohen.

Joining us now is Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter for "Vanity Fair", who follows the Michael Cohen story more closely than closely.

Emily Jane, thank you very much for being with us on -- again, on short notice. I really appreciate you getting on the phone with us.

EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR (via telephone): Of course.

MADDOW: So let me ask you if I`ve been reporting in as breaking news as I`m getting pieces of paper across my desk about this. As I`ve been trying to sum this up, if I said anything that strikes you as wrong or that does not comport with your understanding of the story thus far.

FOX: No, and I will tell you that since the weekend, since the tape was released originally on Friday, people in Cohen`s camp have believed as you were saying now that part of the leaks were coming from somewhere in Trump`s orbit whether it was from his personal attorneys or the Trump organization attorneys or some other camp related to the president in order to hinder his ability to cooperate. It`s a threat to Donald Trump if the Michael Cohen cooperates for exactly the reason we learn this week, that he knows a lot and he has potentially and increasingly likely to share what he knows.

And it would make no difference that someone close to the president would leak. I don`t know if that`s true, and I don`t know that we`ll ever know that that`s true. And just because Cohen`s attorney says that they didn`t leak it doesn`t mean they didn`t leak it. Just because Rudy Giuliani says he didn`t leak it doesn`t mean that Giuliani didn`t leak it.

MADDOW: Right.

FOX: So, it`s hard to get to the truth. But if you just look at this from a logical standpoint, who this stands to benefit most this being out there, it doesn`t seem like this benefits Michael Cohen for this to be out there. And I reported on Monday that Michael Cohen is privy to things that would be interesting to special counsel Robert Mueller and three people on Monday, over the weekend told me that part of that is related to what he knew about the Trump Tower meeting.

So, we`re getting more details about it tonight. This has been something that people who know what Michael Cohen knows have been telling me for days now.

MADDOW: And, Emily, let me ask you about what you`re describing here as the sort of clear logic of this. And that is, obviously, this claim that the president knew in advance about that Trump Tower meeting obviously on its face is bad for the president because he has told an opposite story of that in public. He said he didn`t know anything about it before the meeting happened. He didn`t know anything about it until it ended up being disclosed in the press nearly a year later.

So, if it turns out he was lying in those public assertions, that`s bad for the president. It`s also bad for the president politically and potentially legally if he as a candidate for federal office knowingly accepted this offer of help from a foreign government to try to hurt his -- to try to hurt his opponent.

So, the facts of this look bad for the president. But you`re saying logically, it might make sense that the president`s side has actually leaked this specifically so they can do that on their own time for their own purposes and potentially to hurt Michael Cohen`s ability to testify to any of these matters.

How would it work that this would hurt his ability to testify to any of these matters?

FOX: Well, I don`t know where this came from and I don`t think that really anyone except fore -- knows where this came from and the reporters reporting it. I will tell you that what this does is it takes a card out of Michael Cohen`s deck, that he is going to cooperate with investigators, if things are incredibly valuable as there information is you just described are already out there and they`re in the public domain now, then it takes something away from his ability to bring something to the table when he sits down with investigators if he does choose to sit down with the government.

MADDOW: Right. Yes, you imagine the converse story, right? You imagine that Michael Cohen does have the story to tell. Maybe he`s got evidence to back it up.

He enters into plea negotiations with the government, the first thing they`re going to say is, what do you have to offer us? We`ve got, you know, X, Y and Z against you. What do you want to offer if you want to try to escape liability for these sort of charges we might bring against you. He might offer them this piece of information.

The idea they clear him to go talk to the press about it is insane. That would be closely held so the prosecutors could use it as part of any sort of case they were going to build. They wouldn`t want it leaked to the press. Now that it`s leaked to the press, that`s got to zap its value. At least that`s how it appears to us strategically looking from the outside.

FOX: And that is how it was suggested to me by a number of people who are familiar with Cohen`s thinking and who are involved in Cohen land pretty heavily that just in terms of the recordings last week, having that out there, people were already feeling that way. This was a big fat hand in Michael Cohen`s deck and that it`s out there is something that I can`t imagine Michael Cohen is particularly happy about right now. But again, I don`t know that that`s true. Just standing to logic right now.

MADDOW: Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter at "Vanity Fair" -- Emily, thank you for your work on the story and for joining us on zero notice. I really appreciate it.

FOX: Absolutely.

MADDOW: I`m going to take a quick break but I`m going to tell you that there are three legal questions that off the top of my head arise from this stunning revelation. The first one is if this is true, if Michael Cohen can convincingly testify to this fact or if he can provide supporting evidence, if he could prove this, what kind of liability does this represent for the president of the United States?

If in fact, as Michael Cohen reportedly claims, he has evidence that the president then as a candidate knew in advance that the Russian government was sending people to Trump Tower to meet with his campaign to offer the campaign negative information on his opponent as part of the Russian government`s effort to help him win the election. If the president was notified of that, if he was asked if he was OK about it, if there were witnesses to him saying yes, I`m OK about it, do it, go ahead with it, what kind of liability is that for the president.

Obviously, we know the patriotic thing to do in that moment is to say who offered you what? Get meet number for the FBI, right? That`s the thing you`re supposed to do. If you don`t do that and decide to go along with it, is there a legal liability for the president.

My other questions are, if this is, in fact, being leaked from the president`s side to try to sap the import or sap the impact of the public revelation of this fact, if this is the product of the special master`s process of going through all the evidence that were seized from Michael Cohen, if this is designed to prevent Michael Cohen from being able to trade anything of value to prosecutors, can Michael Cohen do anything legally to stop that? Is there something about the process here that devolved after all from a search warrant lawfully served on Michael Cohen`s home and office to stop the public leaking of evidence that were seized by the FBI in those raids, if that is, in fact, what`s going on here?

And is Emily Jane Fox right and is my supposition here right that this is designed to and it may in fact sort of take a card out of Michael Cohen`s deck here? Does the public disclosure of this kind of information, if Cohen was holding this and potentially planning on giving it to prosecutors, does publicly disclosing this sap the ability of him to trade this information for something of value when it comes to talk to prosecutors? Does this hurt the ability of prosecutors to use this information?

Three legal questions I think that derive from there truly stunning breaking news tonight. The only person I know of who could potentially answer all three of those questions has just agreed to join us. But we have to take a quick break first. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Continuing to cover the stunning breaking news this evening, first broken by CNN now confirmed by NBC News that Michael Cohen, the long-time attorney for President Donald Trump claims that President Trump then as a candidate knew in advance of the Trump Tower meeting that was held in the summer of 2016, June, 2016, in which emissaries from the Russian government offered to meet with senior members of the Trump campaign in order to deliver to them what they described as Russian government dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was described overtly in e-mail setting up that meeting as an effort by the Russian government to help Donald Trump in his election effort against Hillary Clinton. Michael Cohen is reportedly prepared to tell Robert Mueller the special counsel that Trump knew of and approved of the Trump tower meeting before it happened.

Cohen is apparently willing to tell the special counsel that he`s alleging, according to the reporting tonight that Mr. Cohen alleges that he was present along with several other people when Donald Trump senior was informed about this offer of the meeting. He was informed of that by Donald Trump Jr. And by Mr. Cohen`s account, Donald Trump Sr. heard the pitch basically and overtly approved going ahead with that meeting with the Russians.

I have questions about the implications of this revelation tonight.

Joining us now is Chuck Rosenberg. He`s a former U.S. attorney, former senior official at the FBI and the Justice Department.

Mr. Rosenberg, thank you for joining us on zero notice. I really appreciate it.

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY (via telephone): Oh, it`s my pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW: You`ve heard my efforts to sum this up. Let me ask your first reaction to the importance of this report tonight.

ROSENBERG: Extraordinarily important, but at the same time, not terribly surprising.

MADDOW: In terms of the legal liability for the president here, putting aside the question of how this came to light, just taking it at blunt force face value, if the president knew overtly if he was advised in front of other people that this was the Russian government offering negative information on his opponent in order to help him in the election, he weighed that, approved taking the meeting and accepting the information directly on that matter, are there legal implications for that?

ROSENBERG: Absolutely. And so, a really important question here is you know, did he know the Russians were coming? Did he know they were coming with dirt? And if he knew they were coming with dirt, did he know where they got it from, right?

So, the answer to each of those questions would probably open up a different theory of liability. If he knew that they were Russians coming with dirt, that they had stolen from hacked computers, that means he might have joined their conspiracy, if he simply covered up the fact afterwards. Maybe he`s an accessory after the fact. So, all of these things are highly fact dependent on and I hate to be so cliched what he knew and when he knew it.

MADDOW: In terms of, and you put emphasis there on whether the president was advised or learned that the supposed dirt on Hillary Clinton was obtained by illegal means whether it was stolen or hacked information. What if that wasn`t part of the equation that the president was advised that the Russian government had the dirt on Hillary Clinton full stop, he didn`t know where it came from. Would that change the circumstance under which there might be liability here?

ROSENBERG: It might. But I can think of another theory, prosecutors tend to be pretty creative. I recall that the president`s son, Donald Trump Jr., testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and said his father had absolutely no knowledge of the meeting before it happened.

Well, let`s say that turns out not to be true. Did his father counsel his son to lie? Did they conspire for the son to commit perjury or obstruct justice? So prosecutors are quite creative. And they`re going to have a lot of facts to work with here.

MADDOW: Chuck, I also want to ask you how we came to know this information. We got a statement tonight from Lanny Davis, who is lawyer for Michael Cohen who told us I have to wonder why the Trump people would put that out. It was not from us.

That`s Mr. Davis` statement. You take it for what it`s worth. If he`s right and this was the Trump people, the Trump side, Mr. Trump`s lawyers putting this out, presumably because they want to get ahead of the story. Obviously, the story doesn`t look good for the president. They would want to get ahead of this.

There`s been a lot of discussion tonight as to whether or not the president`s lawyers might have done that to undermine the ability of Mr. Cohen to provide this information to prosecutors in a way that might be of benefit to Mr. Cohen in negotiation with them in terms of his own legal liability but also oh they could use it for their ongoing investigations and related investigations. What do you make of those factors?

ROSENBERG: So a couple thoughts. Let`s assume for the purposes of my answer, Rachel, that Mr. Cohen is cooperating. They`ve made the decision he is going to tell prosecutors what he knows and he`s going to do that honestly.

We used to call that, you know, joining Team America. He signed up. He`s on the team. If that`s true, there is no way in the world that Mr. Cohen would leak this information. It just doesn`t make any sense.

On the other hand, I don`t really think the leak if it came from the Trump team, undermines Cohen`s value as a witness. Here`s why: the government still needs to prove it. They still need to have somebody who can get on the stand and testify to it. They need to corroborate it.

And so, the fact it`s already out there is not good for the government because they don`t want details of their investigation made public before they choose to make it public, but they still need Mr. Cohen as a witness. Somebody has to put meat on that bone. And an anonymous leak from an unknown source, that`s not going to cut it from a prosecutorial standpoint.

That`s information but it`s not evidence, at least not in a technical sense. And so, if they`re trying to undermine his value as a witness, I think that fails.

MADDOW: You say A, that`s a crucial point. Thank you for being so clear about it. You mentioned there as part of making that point that, of course, this isn`t good for prosecutors, this isn`t good for the government because it means a potentially important part of their investigation is now out in public.

If -- if this was made public after being obtained by the president`s lawyers during that process of that special master sorting out all the evidence seized from Michael Cohen under a legally executed search warrant in April, it`s my guess that that might be where the president`s lawyers got this information if that is in fact where this information has come from tonight. It would seem to me that`s also where the president`s lawyers may have obtained the tape or the transcript of the tape that was released earlier this week to such fanfare in terms of the president talking about that payment to Karen McDougal.

If they`re taking evidence from that process as the special master is going through stuff, all the stuff seized by the FBI, if they`re taking that evidence and putting it out in the public domain, does Michael Cohen or does anybody have a way to stop that? Is that illegal or improper for the president`s lawyers to be doing that with evidence seized in that way?

ROSENBERG: Again, possibly. I hate to give you so many possibilities, Rachel. But if this information was under a protective order or a gag order issued by the court, then anybody who leaks it could be violating that order. That could be a contempt of court.

You know, can Michael Cohen enforce that? Probably not. In fact, I -- off the top of my head, I can`t think of a way that he could enforce it. But the government can enforce it and they can do it by charging people with a whole variety of crimes from the ones we`ve discussed to possibly obstruction of justice if they can show that the reason for these leaks were to hinder the investigation, undermine the prosecution or try. And again, I think it would only be a try, not a success, try to undermine the value of Michael Cohen as a witness.

Look, if he really knows this stuff, Rachel, he`s a valuable witness. Leaking the information is not ideal from a prosecutor`s standpoint because they don`t want it made public. But they`re still going to need Mr. Cohen.

MADDOW: Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI and Justice Department official ringing clear as a bell tonight. Thank you very, very much. Super helpful. Really glad to have you here.

ROSENBERG: My pleasure. Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. It`s about five minutes before the top of the hour. We`re going to have more on this breaking news in just a minute.

I need to tell you there is another major story of national significance that is unfolding over the course of this evening. At midnight tonight, the Trump administration is going to hit a court ordered deadline for giving 2,500 kids back to their parents after the Trump administration took them away from their parents at the border. That deadline is about two hours away. It hits tonight at midnight. There`s a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not those kids are in fact going to be returned and in what numbers.

Joining us now is Lee Gelernt. He`s the deputy director of the ACLU`s Immigrant Rights Project.

Mr. Gelernt, thank you for joining us. I know this is a crucial time for you and your team tonight.

LEE GELERNT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, ACLU IMMIGRANTS RIGHTS PROJECT: Thanks, Rachel, for having me.

MADDOW: So, tonight is the deadline for kids ages 5 and older. And there`s been a lot of discussion about the actual numbers and what the government is claiming in terms of their success rate at reuniting these kids with their parents. When we hit midnight tonight, and we hit the deadline, how many kids do you think that were taken away by this government at the border will not be reunited with their parents?

GELERNT: I think we`re looking at between 700 and 900 kids who will not be reunified. The government`s going to claim they made the deadline. That`s only because they took out those 700 to 900 kids and said, we can`t reunify them by the deadline. So, we`re going to just define who is eligible to be reunified by the deadline and then we`re going to declare that we met the deadline.

But people should understand that there are hundreds and hundreds of kids who will still be sitting alone tomorrow without their parents.

MADDOW: And, Lee, part of the reason I`m sort of desperate to talk to you about this tonight is because I think a lot of people on a lot of different fronts are putting a lot of faith in the Article 3 courts in this country, into the judicial branch being governed by the rule of law and being orderly and making stuff right when nothing else can. In this case, your lawsuit at the brought by the ACLU brought about these deadlines that this judge is enforcing with the government. And it has resulted in hundreds of kids being returned.

What do you expect the judge to do when this deadline passes, the government is still saying yeah, we`re done, but just never mind these 700 to 900 other kids?

GELERNT: Well, I think you`re absolutely right. Without the courts, I think we would be in real trouble. Given that Congress has not stepped in on a lot of issues and the president is trying to make, take each step of immigration policy more draconian.

I think -- this -- let me be clear, we are thrilled this judge has gotten 1,600 kids reunified and that these children will be with their parents. But I think what the judge is going to say to the government tomorrow, you`re absolutely not done. I want these reunifications to continue promptly.

I think he`s going to set additional deadlines for the remainder of the kids. And I think eventually we`re going to get these kids reunified. It`s going to come way too late. These kids have been traumatized probably permanently.

And the last time we were in court, the government seemed to be wanting applause for having reunified even these many kids. You know, this is -- the government hasn`t rushed in to deal with the natural disaster. They created this disaster. They shouldn`t be looking for applause for having reunified some of the kids. Not all the kids, just some of the kids. It seems like the government wants applause for doing even this much.

MADDOW: The way that this is getting fixed piece by piece too slow piece by too slow piece is because of the legal work being done to force the government`s hand here. And a good deal being done by Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU`s Immigrants Rights Project.

I know this deadline is crucial. Please keep us apprised. We`re desperate to know the next steps after this deadline passes tonight. Thank you.

GELERNT: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. Again, I want to bring us back to the breaking news we started covering a few minutes into our show tonight.

Again, CNN was first to break this. NBC News has now confirmed that Michael Cohen, the president`s lawyer is apparently prepared to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that Donald Trump then presidential candidate Donald Trump was aware in advance of the Trump Tower meeting that took place in June, 2016, in which emissaries essentially from the Russian government came to Trump Tower with the overt intention, the overt advance spelled out intention of delivering to the Trump campaign adverse information about Hillary Clinton they thought could help Trump win the presidential election. Now, this is important because the president has said publicly that he had no idea that that meeting was happening. If Michael Cohen`s claims are true, that would mean the president has been caught in a lie.

As we spoke about with Chuck Rosenberg, former senior FBI and Justice Department official moments ago, if the president has been caught in a lie and did have advanced knowledge and he knew that the Russian government was bringing information to him about Hillary Clinton that was potentially stolen information, information that had been obtained by means of a crime, that could potentially put the president in the heart of their criminal conspiracy as a co-conspirator. If he didn`t even know that in advance but knew about it after the fact and helped cover it up, that might put him in the position of having aided and abetted that conspiracy.

So there`s criminal liability here for the president on the horizon with these claims. I should tell you that, Rudy Giuliani, the president`s lawyer, has responded to this report tonight by saying Michael Cohen is not credible. He cannot be believed until it`s corroborated five times. I don`t know what book of the Bible the five times comes here from, but this is -- this is important breaking news tonight.

And our coverage continues now where it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Mr. O`Donnell.

END

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