Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 27, 2018 Guest: Eric Swalwell, Josh Gerstein, Cecillia Wang
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off.
Today at the White House, President Trump presided over his first ever National Security Council meeting on election security. A major topic the president has not exactly prioritized and we can`t show you any pictures of the meeting. The White House did release the list of attendees afterward, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, along with other top national security officials, and released a statement noting Trump got updates on the whole of government approach his administration is implementing to safeguard our elections and also noted that, quote, the president made it clear that his administration will not tolerance foreign interference in our elections from any nation state or other malicious actors.
And that kind of paper statement is a contrast to Trump`s actual words in Helsinki where Trump sided with the Russian president over his own intelligence agencies on the question of whether Russia interfered in the U.S. election. And that was the press conference where Putin brought back an idea these two leaders had apparently talked about, a joint U.S./Russian cyber security group to investigate Russian election meddling, sort of like having El Chapo join up with the DEA to fight drug tracking.
Now, this quite absurd plan to team up with the only country whose own agents have been charged for 2016 interference first came up all the way last summer when Trump wrote that he and Putin discussed forming an impenetrable cyber security unit so that election hacking and many other negative things will be guarded. Trump backed down pretty quickly that time, within 12 hours actually. That was after both criticism and outright ridicule from across the spectrum. Comments like this from Trump ally Lindsey Graham, it`s not the dumbest idea I`ve ever heard but it`s pretty close.
Now, the idea may be did you have, even brainless and it also has some zombie like qualities because that idea keeps coming back from the dead, this time courtesy of Vladimir Putin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): President Trump mentioned the issue of the so-called interference of Russia. The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs including election process. Any specific material if such things arise, we are ready to analyze together. For instance, we can analyze them through the joint working group on cyber security, the establishment of which we discussed during our previous contacts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So maybe that will be all back on again. For now, today, we have the president chairing what looks to be his own very speedy meeting on election security with his whole of government approach to safeguard our nation`s elections. One reporting noting, a cabinet officials were seen leaving this meeting less than 30 minutes after it started, which may tell us a lot about how seriously this threat is being taken and how many people are speaking and discussing and actually going back and forth in this supposed meeting, which brings me to an NBC News report tonight. Nineteen months into his presidency, no coherent Trump administration strategy to combat foreign election interference, no single person or agency in charge. That according to officials that spoke with NBC.
But there is anxiety on the part of American intelligence officials over Russian interference in our elections this year. And there`s something else that`s very important that Rachel has discussed many times on this show. We are seeing the emerging evidence that an attack is not just out on some horizon. It is now under way.
The director of national intelligence said in a recent speech that the, quote, warning lights are blinking red and the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack. And here we see the incursions coming. Russian hackers have now already targeted at least three candidates in this year`s 2018 midterms. Reports that one of the targets is Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.
So, while Donald Trump doubts much of this is even occurring, his Pentagon chief does say there are secret actions now underway to combat it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: What is the government doing to halt Russian interference in the next elections?
JIM MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Yes, I`m not at liberty to explain what we`re doing in that regard. Just rest assured there are actions under way to protect our elections or to expose any external, by anybody, external efforts to influence the American public, to show false news that, sort of thing. We have ongoing efforts, but I`m not going to go into any details right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We`ve seen this pattern before with the administration. Where the president either papers over the issue or questions the threat or the source of foreign interference or waters it down the closer he is to Putin, while these top officials who are appointed by him say they`re very worried about it. They say it`s real. They even say they`re doing things, maybe secret things to stop it.
So, you have the president chairing this meeting today on election security. It`s worth remembering where we were in this story exactly two years ago when then candidate Trump called on Russia to get and release Clinton`s e-mails.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Maybe it was debatable what it meant and what it did at the time. Looking on this anniversary if you will now, we know a lot more from Bob Mueller`s recent indictment. It was the same night two years ago to the day, July 27th, 2016, the Russian military intelligence attempted after hours to spearfish for the first time e-mail accounts used by Hillary Clinton`s personal office.
Now, maybe the news gods have also some kind of calendar because it was last night the eve of this anniversary where this bombshell report came through the president`s former attorney and all around fixer Michael Cohen has some information. A source close to him saying he`s willing to tell Mueller the president knew in advance about this Trump tower meeting with Russians promising that dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Now, whether it`s really true that Michael Cohen is ready to assert that and whether he can help problem it, that`s an open question. But we also know on the day that Donald Trump Jr. formally accepted that meeting, candidate Trump touted a big upcoming speech about Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we`re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you`re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Candidate Trump did not make that Monday speech. And as Trump now repeated his denials about any advanced knowledge of the meeting, it`s critical to note this is a meeting that team Trump already lied about. His own lawyers up and admitting to Mueller Trump dictated that misleading statement about the meeting originally. So, first, they lied about what happened in the meeting, then they lied about Trump`s defense of the meeting which he was choosing to offer even though he also claimed he didn`t know anything about the meeting.
Now, the question is whether Trump lied about the worst possible thing, not the PR afterward, but whether Donald Trump took actions or had intent about the meeting that could contribute to elements of a crime. And that`s not a question posed by say a Trump critic tonight or an investigator aggressively looking at these issues or posed by journalists digging into the story. This is now the key question facing the White House courtesy of one of Trump`s longest serving once most loyal aides, a man who was with him before most of his current political staff who documented and recorded their interactions.
And that may be why these new reports say this once loyal team, these two team mates are now, quote, dead to each other, preparing to bury Cohen is what the White House is leaking. Michael Cohen used to be a loyal Trump friend who gave privileged advice. But Cohen is learning Trump`s return on that loyalty all depends on the situation. And Trump certainly isn`t taking Cohen`s counsel anymore.
It`s a stand off captured by some words of wisdom from a famous song, "Jukebox Joints", that says it all depends, with friends like you, who needs friends. Sometimes the best advice is no advice especially when it`s your advice.
I turn now to former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance who has much experience here.
I don`t think there`s any doubt that Donald Trump is not taking Michael Cohen`s advice and counsel anymore. How do you view the significance of this rupture and the types of leaking and back biting that we`re seeing tonight?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: This is potentially very significant, Ari. You know, prosecutors are hardwired to be cautious. So, it`s important to say that we haven`t heard this story in Cohen`s own words yet. That will matter. It will also matter if he has any evidence, text messages or e-mails that were sent contemporarily that back him up. So far, the reporting we`ve heard is there is no evidence of that nature.
But this really is a bombshell. This idea that the president knew about this meeting before it happened and signed off on it, places him squarely inside of collusion with Russia.
MELBER: When this kind of information goes public, obviously, prosecutors would rather they held it and no one else knew. So, how do you interpret that?
VANCE: It`s interesting. We don`t know the source of these leaks. And frankly, they don`t make sense for Mueller. Certainly, the leaks don`t come from there.
They don`t make an awful lot of sense for Cohen to be the leaker because as you`ve pointed out, although it doesn`t make it impossible for him to cooperate with the southern district of New York, prosecutors don`t like to have their cases being carried out in the media. But it also doesn`t make a lot of sense for the president to put this forward unless he knew that this was coming inevitably and they believed it was so damaging that they had to somehow try to get ahead of the story.
MELBER: Based on the idea that there`s other people in the room which was in the original CNN report, what do you make of the possibility that some or even all of those people have already told this information to special counsel, or is there potentially an effort to get people`s stories straight by talking about it in public?
VANCE: I think that`s exactly it the right question. We know, for instance, that is Mueller has already talked to hope hicks who would have likely been in the room, would be a strong candidate to be there. Trump Jr. has already testified up on the Hill.
So there has been a lot of opportunity for folks under oath to either tell the truth and perhaps already be unbeknownst to us cooperating with Mueller or to have lied and subjected themselves to criminal charges which could possibly be used against them now to get them to finally reveal the truth.
MELBER: A lot of this looks very bad circumstantially for Donald Trump. The videos that we`ve played that might have had other interpretations when people knew less now look more and more incriminating. But I wonder what you make of what Trump allies point to that there was no speech given, that Donald Trump may have even shown some what us lawyers would call requisite intent, but if he didn`t get the goods to give the speech, then was there not the finishing of the act, the overt acts that would also be needed? What do you think of that defense?
VANCE: You know, at this point, we can speculate a lot of different directions about what happened. But the reality is, we don`t know what happened in this meeting. We do know what it wasn`t about. It wasn`t a meeting that was exclusively about adoption.
Was it a successful meeting where the Russians came in and offered Trump something? We don`t know that. Was it a meeting where the Russians came in and didn`t make a full offer and it sort of ended on unfortunate terms and they all left, we don`t know that either.
But one of the strong possibilities here is that there was a conversation about some form of future collaboration and then we hear this incredibly awkward moment with Trump on July 27th, two years ago, where he says, Russia, if you`re listening, here`s the favor that you can do for me. Come on and deliver Hillary`s e-mails.
And at the time, it felt strange and awkward. Now with everything that we`ve learned in the past few days, perhaps that`s the truth of what went on in that meeting in Trump Tower, that there was a conversation about some form of future cooperation with the campaign and that it came to pass that evening.
MELBER: Just to be clear, you`re saying that there`s multiple cover stories that cover story number one would be adoptions, number two would be oh, this dossier type material on Clinton that wasn`t any good or usable for the speech but number three, the real action would be, hey, we can do things cyber if you flip the switch and he went on potentially under this theory of the case to flip the switch in public?
VANCE: And the problem here is because there have been serial mistruths told about what happened in this meeting, we know that it has to have been something significant, something that people want to cover up but we don`t know exactly what it is. We do know what it isn`t.
MELBER: It`s fascinating when you put it like that.
Joyce Vance, we also learn a lot from you. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
MELBER: NBC News national security reporter Ken Dilanian has been reporting on today`s rather short White House meeting on election security. His story right now is on NBCNews.com. It`s headline: The Trump administration has no central strategy for election security and no one`s in charge.
Ken, thanks for joining me tonight.
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Great to see you, Ari. Thanks for having me.
MELBER: Your story digs in deeper than just what is blatantly odd about this meeting and its brevity. Walk us through what former and current officials are telling you.
DILANIAN: Yes, and this is not some great feat of investigative reporting, Ari. This is simply talking to folks and listening to cabinet officials talk in public about their efforts to combat foreign election interference. And what they say, like, for example, the Department of Homeland Security secretary in an interview with our own Peter Alexander in Aspen talked about the things that the DHS is doing working with the states on election security, but then she said, but, you know what? That`s not enough. We really need a whole of government strategy.
What she didn`t say was there isn`t one. But that`s what everybody you talk to about this has said. I was flabbergasted when the White House released a statement tonight that said that there has been such a strategy since Donald Trump took office.
I haven`t found anyone who`s seen that strategy, but I talked to a lot of people who say that no such strategy exists. And what do I mean by that? Look, the FBI is doing things. They have created a foreign influence tack force. They are trying to focus on this problem of the Russians and others interfering in our politics. The Russians are on social media as we speak manipulating American public opinion.
The NSA has said they are stepping up efforts in cyber space. Most of that is secret. But we don`t have is anything that knits this together. We have no leadership from the Oval Office and this is the kind of issue that really requires it because there are some really hard problems like, you know, the Russians playing on Twitter and Facebook. Those are private companies. There are First Amendment issues at play. There may be required changes in law or some public policy issues.
And when you don`t have the executive branch leadership on this, you really lose the power of the full federal government. You don`t have a strategy. You have different agencies trying to do what they can.
And don`t forget, some of these officials testified to Congress including Chris Wray, the FBI director, that they had never been asked by the president to tackle Russian election interference. So, it`s hard to know what the White House is talking about when they say thy had a strategy from day one.
MELBER: Right. And you mentioned the companies. There`s also all different states involved and we have a system that decentralizes our elections. Something that didn`t get a ton of attention was a proposal in the House to put $380 million into the state efforts to combat this, led by Democrats. That was defeated by Republicans there.
How much does this effort also require upgrading what states can handle when the Mueller investigation is revealed how these country-backed efforts are going avid states that may not have the cyber know how right now?
DILANIAN: Yes, I mean, every state official you talk to says they need more money, they need upgraded technology. They need more resources. But I actually think that while the sort of vulnerabilities of state election systems are troubling, when you think of the three ways the Russians attacks the election, they did hack into -- they attempted to breach 21 states and got into seven. That may have been the least effective method they used though, Ari.
The most effective was they hacked the Democratic National Committee. They hacked John Podesta. They stole their e-mails and they release them. And then the second most effective arguably was their manipulation of public opinion on social media. It`s really even hard to measure how much influence that had on election.
And that`s still going on. They may not touch a state election database this time around for their own reasons. But they are every day playing on social media. There`s a Website called Hamilton 68 that measures some of it on Twitter. They`re trying to divide Americans on race, on guns, all sorts of issues.
And Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, gave a speech the other day and said this is happening. They`re interfering in our politics. What he didn`t say there`s nothing we`re doing about it. We haven`t deterred, we -- the U.S. government has not deterred this behavior at all and the attempted hack of Claire McCaskill suggests that the Russians are not deterred from trying to hack into political campaigns either, Ari.
MELBER: Right, it`s a huge story and when we look at some of the footage that looks different overtime, you think what we`re learning about McCaskill, it`s just scratching the surface. And we`re just only about 100 days out from these midterms. So, a lot going on.
Ken Dilanian, NBC News national reporter, thanks for being here on a Friday night. I appreciate it.
DILANIAN: Thanks a lot.
MELBER: It has been a big news day. We have a lot to get to, including what happens when you are less than truthful when you talk to the U.S. Congress? Someone quite close to this president may be about to find out. More on that in a minute.
Stay with us.
MELBER: Do you ever wonder what Bob Mueller looks like when he`s out and about? Is he imposing? Super low profile?
We actually got a rare peek today because "Politico" published this photo taken this morning at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. at Gate 35X. You can see the "welcome to DCA" sign there. On your left is special counsel Bob Mueller. He appears to be minding his own business and reading the paper.
But that`s not all. Over there on the right is Donald Trump Jr., plus the Secret Service agent who looks kind of annoyed, I think, that someone was attempting to capture this particular moment. You are looking at a prosecutor and a witness passing each other at random.
Now, today, Mueller`s office which is notoriously tight lipped, they rarely respond to any question on the record. They put out this statement confirming that yes, that is him, Mueller, waiting to board a flight. If it is accurate that the other person in the photo was Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Mueller was not aware of him and had no interaction with him.
Which is a bit like when a reporter asked Mariah Carey asked her about J.Lo and she said, I don`t know her, it is perfectly logical that Mueller may not have been aware that Mueller may not have been aware that Trump Jr. was standing right behind him. But he is very aware right now of Trump Jr.`s role in this Trump Tower meeting we`ve been covering, which Michael Cohen is now ready to say is a thing that Trump Jr. lied about how his dad approved it.
Now that story first broke on CNN. And NBC News later confirming it with a source and Cohen now claims Trump basically knew about the meeting in which these officials sought dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russians. Cohen saying Trump knew and that his son told him and Cohen says he will tell Mueller if he can, which raises a concrete question everyone`s been talking about it. I touched on it briefly with Joyce Vance. Why not privately tell Mueller about it if he have this information? Why leak it right now across the airwaves? No one knows the answer to that at this moment.
As for the legal implication, cone is effectively accusing Trump junior of a new crime because in September, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not alert his father to this meeting ahead of time. Ditto for his reported comments to the House Intelligence Committee that was in December.
So, if this news about what Michael Cohen is willing to tell Mueller is true, then it does obviously call Donald Trump Jr.`s testimony into serious doubt. Now, the leading Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein and Leahy, are already saying they want Donald Trump Jr. back in for questioning. Senator Leahy wants to question him in public. That would be different as well as under oath.
The top Democrat on house intel, Adam Schiff, says he also wants Trump Jr. back. He says he wants to extend an invite to Michael Cohen, as well, while they`re at it. And Democrats do not control either of those committees. So, you could look at those as kind of wishes at least under the current organization until anything might change in a future election.
Over on the House Intel Committee, Republicans have closed out what they view as their Russia probe months ago. Done.
So, can Democrats get any fresh answers from Trump Jr. now? Do they get another crack that the or is this all kind of a fan fiction showing how they would use their subpoena power, how they would run this investigation if something changes in the November midterms?
For more, I turn to Congressman Eric Swalwell. He is, of course, a member of this House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Swalwell and other members of the committee met with Donald Trump Jr. for several hours. First of all, thank you for making time for us tonight. I appreciate it.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good evening, Ari.
MELBER: Good evening.
When you look at this, if it`s true that Trump Jr. told his father about that, do you view that based on what you heard as a clear crime that he would have committed before the House or is it more complicated?
SWALWELL: More complicated but it`s clearly a crime and also a crime if Michael Cohen himself was not truthful with the House. Look what, I`ve learned with Donald Trump, his family, his son-in-law, his lawyers, none of them have been straight with us about anything we`ve asked them and they were inoculated by a House Republican investigation that never pressed them to testify under subpoena that never subpoenaed any of the records to check to see if any of their stories actually you know came out the way they were telling us.
MELBER: How long is that -- I mean, you`re an investigator here. You just said none of them. Is them the key figures, does that include Hope Hicks? Does that include other staff?
SWALWELL: Well, so, Hope Hicks, for example, you know, when she was pressed she would refuse to answer questions and Republicans wouldn`t subpoena them. Donald Trump Jr., when he was asked about conversations with his father about the June 9th Trump Tower meeting, he refused to answer. And the Republicans did not want to subpoena him to compel him.
So, they didn`t want to know. It was a take them at their word investigation which I think we are now seeing was so irresponsible because we`re learning more every day.
Ari, I`m an optimist, though. I still believe in the goodness of people and it`s never too late to do the right thing. And if people at home tell their representatives that this is wrong, we should know what happened and that there`s still an opportunity to come back to Congress and to reopen this investigation. We can still do that, and I think people should tell their representatives on the Intel Committee they expect that.
MELBER: Why do you think the Trump Tower meeting has proved so problematic for the Trump team to get their stories straight?
SWALWELL: Well, it`s not about what Donald Trump did with that meeting. I think what is significant is what he did not do. If he knew that the meeting was to take place, he did not tell his son to cancel the meeting. He did not tell the FBI about the meeting. And if anything, he further encouraged and emboldened the Russians to hack because he went out just about a month and a half after the meeting and said, Russia, if you`re listening, which was two years ago from today, as you pointed, you would be rewarded for hacking Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.
So, it was -- the green lights he sent by doing nothing or allowing his son to take the meeting. We also found in our investigation, Ari, that Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. talked every day by phone in person about the most minute details of the campaign. So, it`s just hard to believe that Donald Trump Jr. would not have told his father about this meeting. It`s actually stranger if that is what occurred.
MELBER: And so finally, is this the blueprint for what you would do with subpoena power after the midterms? You would bear down on Donald Trump Jr. and these other staff and what do you say to people who feel like that would can then two more years of fixating on 2016 election events?
SWALWELL: Our investigations should always be about the future. We look back to inform us how we can best protect our democracy from something like this happening again. So, I know Mr. Schiff has said and I agree with him that if Bob Mueller`s investigation and the Senate investigation are not able to produce I think reforms that are needed to protect the ballot box going forward, of course, we`re going to do our duty and go back and look at what is unanswered.
But if they do their job and bob Mueller is able to tell the country what happened, you know, I don`t think we want to reopen that just for politics sake, Ari. But it`s also not too late for Republicans to sign onto the bipartisan legislation I`ve written with Elijah Cummings that would have an independent commission.
I think it`s too charged to handle this in Congress. We should put experts and elders and states persons on this task, look at everything that happened, how we were so vulnerable, who worked with the Russians and what reforms we can make so it never happens again. We did that after September 11th. That`s a great model. We should take the opportunity to do that now.
MELBER: Congressman Eric Swalwell from the White House Intelligence Committee, thank you again for your time tonight.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
MELBER: Still ahead, 35 potential witnesses, 18 criminal charges, one Trump campaign chairman. More on that in a moment.
Stay with us.
MELBER: We hear the word unprecedented an awful lot these days in politics and certainly in the media, but it is going to be historic when you step back and realize that we are about to begin a trial of a campaign chairman numero uno for the sitting president of the United States over multiple felonies.
That`s what Paul Manafort faces when he begins his first trial in Virginia next week. Jury selection already under way today. Today, we got something that is always key in these kind of cases because it is like a treasure map.
The witness list -- 35 people the prosecutors reserved the right to call to testify against Manafort as the case unfolds. Now, some of the names very much expected Rick Gates, of course, everyone who has followed this case knew that because he pled out and thus promised to testify against his former boss. He has pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller.
Also on the list, the five people who got spec immunity from Mueller in exchanging for testimony. Their names we already got because the court released them as part of the wrangling earlier this week. They all look like people who worked in financial services of some kind linked to Manafort.
And then confirming news first broken by "BuzzFeed" last night that Rachel was reporting on, the prosecution witness list includes Bernie Sanders chief strategist in 2016, Tad Devine. That`s because up through 2012, Devine, like Manafort, was doing international political consulting work in Ukraine. He worked directly with Manafort on the presidential effort for Viktor Yanukovych who turned out to be very much a pro-Putin autocrat and was run out of the country through a revolt and more or less, the last argument that is still going to be dealt, adjudicated before Manafort`s trial is about that very work. How much evidence should the prosecution be allowed to present from Manafort`s time in Ukraine.
Now, Manafort`s lawyers are beak saying, look, this is a trial about tax evasion and bank fraud and a bunch of material about the former leader of Ukraine feels irrelevant and will also potentially prejudice this jury against their client. That`s their argument. And the prosecution counters no, what Manafort did in Ukraine is directly relevant to this whole case and bringing it home.
Now, everyone may recall it was in the Manafort indictment that you saw those millions of dollars in transactions that Manafort is accused to have made for cars, fancy rugs, very fancy suits, and hiring contractors to do landscaping on multiple homes. Those transactions made by wire transfer many of them from bank accounts over in Cyprus. Now, prosecutors say they`re going to prove that Manafort made those millions through his work in Ukraine, wealthy oligarchs supporting his client, that`s the pro-Putin guy transferring those millions to shell companies which went to Cyprus bank accounts that were effectively controlled by Manafort which then funneled out to all of those very noticeable luxury goods.
Now, who else is on this witness list released today? It appears to be the guy who sold Paul Manafort the expensive suits and the guy who sod him his Mercedes-Benz and a landscaper who worked on one of those very large, very expensive Paul Manafort second homes. There`s been a lot of talk about Bob Mueller following the money a phrase everyone remembers from Watergate.
What we`re seeing through the witness list, which is a preview of the treasures that this prosecutor team wants to prove at trial is they want to trace for the jury account entire story of Manafort`s money, from whatever he did to get it in Ukraine, to the individual vendors that he spent the money on, to all of the ways he didn`t, they say, legally fulfill his obligations to report foreign accounts and obviously pay taxes on the money, as well as misleading banks that were loaning him more money. This trial, that trail, it begins next week.
We turn now to Josh Gerstein. He`s a White House political reporter for "Politico" and also a legal reporter there. And he`s been on the Manafort case from the start.
Thank you for joining us tonight.
JOSH GERSTEIN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Hey, Ari. Great to be here.
MELBER: What do you see in the witness list?
GERSTEIN: Well, I mean, well, you hinted at some of this. This is going to be if people can remember back this far lifestyles of the rich and famous. I mean, we`re going to hear about the suits and the cars.
You know, hear from this fellow`s landscaper and the sums of money the amounts I think for an average juror are just going to be staggering, $800,000 with one particular clothing boutique in New York, half a million dollars spent on landscaping of a home. That`s not to buy a home. That`s to landscape a home.
And the prosecutors have photographs of the suits, photographs of the landscaping, and so forth, and they`re going to take this jury in this kind of a tour through Manafort`s luxury lifestyle and then show his tax returns and pose a question of how he can possibly afford that if what he was really making was however much he was reporting to the IRS.
MELBER: Why do they want to get into the complex stuff and shell companies? There are as you know and I think as our viewers know plenty of big cases that involve complex finances where prosecutors make a strategic choice to simplify for jury the list, the clues we`re getting is they`re going big and they`re going in detail. They`re not dumbing it down so to speak.
GERSTEIN: Well, they are under some pressure from the judge who has urged them to try consolidate and shorten their case when they said this might take three weeks instead of two weeks. The judge expressed his dissatisfaction with that and trying to really urge them to narrow this down.
They seem to be trying to show, you know, one of the charges or some of the charges in this case are that Manafort had these foreign bank accounts that not just to use them and bring money into the U.S. without paying taxes on it, but that he never reported them at all and that people are required to report those kinds of accounts when they have them overseas. So, I think the foreign issue here and the foreign bank accounts does add an element of subterfuge and an element of intentionality here that makes this seem kind of exotic and somewhat beyond the pale. Maybe there are other people who shave paying their taxes here or there, but they may not have dozens and dozens of overseas bank accounts that are essentially funding their lavish lifestyle.
MELBER: Right. And it allows prosecutors under your analysis to say, look, this was a really deliberate deceptive thing, not just proverbial corner cutting. You mentioned the judge wanted to speed it up. Rachel reported what that means in the so-called rocket docket, although this one could take awhile. We`ll be watching it with you and probably call on you again.
"Politico`s" Josh Gerstein, thank you so much for being here.
GERSTEIN: My pleasure, Ari. Anytime.
GERSTEIN: Now, it has been a busy week. A lot`s happened. But something that should have been resolved last night actually is a very live issue right now. That`s next.
Stay with us.
MELBER: At least since the beginning of June, people have been trying to do something about the children ripped away from their families by the Trump administration`s executive order on the border. Thousands of people felt compelled to turn out, some showing up at a lawmakers` office demanding answers, protesting until police came to take some of them away.
Many people have felt a moral imperative to act. These images and these sounds of separated kids coming in from all over the country like these kids who are led into a New York facility 12:45 in the morning or this toddler who was separated on a play mat in a Texas facility. For many people, it`s been hard to just watch this as another story and we`ve seen some really remarkable things like moms who MacGyvered a way to post bail for a migrant mother detained in Arizona and then relay team drove her to New York where her three kids were then being held.
It has been something of a communal effort from people around the nation to do whatever could be done by citizens to help bring some families back together. Then there are, of course, the larger legal fights. Last month, a federal judge in San Diego ordering the government to return thousands of these children to their families, giving the Trump administration a firm deadline. That`s 3:00 a.m. Eastern this morning.
Now, if it seems chaotic and improvised when the government tore those families apart, putting them back together has seemed off and also very chaotic. Wednesday night, there was a local reporter from Telemundo walked into part of it happening in New York City.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: All of the sudden, there`s about 11 to 12 vans outside of the facility. I asked them why are they here. They all came out holding some manual manila envelopes. I asked them if they were going to move the children and nobody`s responding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Then hours later the governor of New York told reporters those vans ended up shuttling more than a dozen kids around all night because there was confusion which of the children were eligible to return to their parents. The governor said clearly, this is gross incompetence and purposeful chaos. Now, the federal judge in San Diego, California, held a hearing. Now, this is just a few hours ago now that the deadline for the administration to reunite 2,500 families has passed. The Trump administration dividing these kids in the custody and the rules here within two categories, eligible for reunification and, quote, not eligible.
Now, the children they call eligible the administration says it has gotten all 1820 of them either back to families or what they the government is calling appropriately discharged by this deadline.
Now, MSNBC had a reporter in this courtroom today telling us the Trump administration now says 650 children are, quote, not eligible to go back to their parents, which is, of course, what this whole thing is about. Now, those families remain apart right now and they`ll continue that situation until, well, the government`s not saying.
For many of those families the parents have been deported. So the allegation now is some of those parents agreed to deportation without knowing they were leaving their kids behind. In today`s hearing, an ACLU attorney said this was torturous to have a parent thinking I gave away my child because I was confused and made a mistake. ACLU is the group that brought this case. It`s not finished working on this issue of reuniting families whether they`re called ineligible or not.
I`m joined now by Cecillia Wang, a deputy legal director of the ACLU which brought this case to court.
Thank you for joining us.
What is the most important part of the work that remains?
CECILLIA WANG, ACLU DEPOUTY LEGAL DIRECTOR: Well, Ari, thank you for having me on. The important thing that remains in the case which is called Miss L is there are many hundreds of parents who still have had their kids ripped away from them and not yet returned by the U.S. government. The government walked into court today and claimed that it`s been working as hard as it can to reunite these families but the truth is, that there are two major groups of parents we`re very concerned about.
The first as you mentioned is that there are about as far as we know, 400 parents who have been deported from the United States without a chance to reunite with their kids. And those parents we need to know and get in touch with them and have them identified by the government, so that we can find out did they make a knowing waiver of their right to be reunited with their kids before they were sent back to their hope countries possibly back into harm`s way. The second group of families we`re very concerned about - -
MELBER: Well, let me ask you on that and we`ll go to the second. For anyone listening straight up, why would any normal parent agree to that if they understood it?
WANG: Well, there are many of these parents, Ari, who may have been deported without having been given notice that there`s a court order that permits them to be reunited with their kids. A lot of these parents who end up with deportation orders are going to be put to a very difficult choice, a choice that could have long lasting lifelong impacts on their family. And they need to have a chance to sit down with their children as a family with legal counsel to make a decision.
If I`m going to be deported, should I take my kids with me or do I have a family member here in the United States who I can leave my child with if the child`s going to be returned into harm`s way? And these families we believe did not have a chance to get legal counsel, to sit down as a family and to make these kinds of potentially life or death decisions. And that`s what we`re seeking from the court, the ability for families to be reunited whether or not the parents have been deported and to have seven days, seven days as a family to consult with attorneys to consult with each other.
And in cases where a parent has made that off choice to be returned but leave their child here with a family member, to explain to their kids why they`re doing that for the kids` own good.
MELBER: Well, it`s important work and clearly, it`s something that has forced a little bit more transparency on what has been according to many experts a total mess.
Cecillia Wong, deputy director for the legal program an the ACLU, thank you for being here tonight.
WANG: Thank you.
MELBER: Now, we have more to get to tonight including a real-life piece of news for this Friday night that sounds like it cape right from "The Onion". That`s next.
Stay with us.
MELBER: Turning to some news that actually happened today. Russian President Putin publicly invited Donald Trump to come for a visit to Russia and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump looks forward to having Putin to Washington after the first year and he`s open to visiting Moscow upon receiving a formal invitation.
Who knew they`re so into ceremony? And what could go wrong really? I mean, we don`t know everything that went on in the one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin in Helsinki. Even his own aides say they weren`t told. We know they`re still cleaning up from it.
So, hold that thought for one more thing.
MELBER: Now, here`s that other thing, we may have saved the best for last. This is a story Rachel was hoping to actually bring everyone last night but couldn`t because of other breaking news. The White House has finally corrected the transcript from the Trump/Putin summit back in July 16th. The official transcript at that summit had a big old weird hole in one section. The transcript was missing a key thing that happened, the part where journalists asked Putin point blank if he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PUTIN: 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)
MELBER: That`s what happened in the room. But after the summit, the official White House transcript didn`t have the part of the journalist`s question, which meant that in the official government record, there was no mention that Putin expressly said in front of everybody he wanted Trump to win. And that omission was first flagged the day after the summit by Uri Friedman in "The Atlantic". Rachel followed on this week, noting White House transcript and video of the event both had that part missing.
And you can see her point. In general, you want to have a real record of what happens between two world leaders especially the U.S. president started saying the Russians want Democrats to win the next election not him at all. So, all the more important that the actual truth get nailed down for a real record and a real transcript and a real history reflecting that Putin did say for whatever his reasons are in front of everyone he wanted Trump to win.
And then yesterday, ten days after all this, the White House finally did correct their transcript, so it does include the question to Putin and his answer saying he wanted Trump to win. For the record, they still have not corrected the video. The video still leaves out the Putin wanted Trump part and we thought that was worth noting.
That does it for us tonight. I will see you back on Monday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern for my show, "THE BEAT".
But now it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL" where I`m told Katy Tur is in for Lawrence.
I say good evening to you, and if you have time, I have a quick question for you.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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