Trump under fire over family separations. TRANSCRIPTS: 08/03/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: David Fahrenthold

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 3, 2018 Guest: David Fahrenthold

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Have a great weekend.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. As he mentioned, Rachel has the night off.

But we have a lot of interesting stuff to get to tonight. There is so much happening in the news. A blistering critique came through today of the Trump administration`s attempts to reunite of the families separated along the border. Chris was just reporting on this. A court order does require it. And we will be joined tonight by reporter Jacob Soboroff to explain what set that federal judge off today.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is back at his own golf club in New Jersey. He`s going to stay there for two more weeks. We learned that from Rudy Giuliani, who now claims that Trump will, once and for all announce whether he`s doing that much-discussed interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, who himself was busy wrapping the first week of the trial with Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

That`s not only the only legal news. Remember all that drama over the first publication to ever release the first Trump/Russia dossier? It was the website "BuzzFeed". They made the choice. Lawsuits ensued.

Well, late today, I don`t know if you heard about this yet, but it`s potentially significant. News broke there is a judge who`s going to green- light fascinating fact finding in this case. "BuzzFeed" will be able to pursue legally James Comey and other key federal officials to depose them under oath, all of this to address some of the questions we`ve all been wondering, like, how did that dossier make its way not only into the federal government and the FBI, but when exactly did President Barack Obama learn about its explosive contents and the allegations about a man who would replace him, Donald Trump?

And so, we begin looking at this Steele dossier right now. All of this, of course, comes from when the FBI announced that it was releasing some records between the agency and Christopher Steele, the author. Seventy-one pages come out, and the former British intelligence officer is actually not referred to technically by his name, but by the letters CHS -- confidential human source.

Now, the trove of documents detail reports of payments to Steele, mostly redacted. You can see there, that`s a lot of white space. There are two exceptions. The final page is information from a document, from February 2016. Of course, that`s long before the Russia probe began. It says Steele was, quote, verbally admonished by the FBI and that Steele acknowledged the admonishment and even signed a document noting it.

Now, from this excerpt, which obviously is tantalizing, we don`t have the wider context of why. The other item comes from page two of these new documents. It concerns the FBI`s decision to terminate its relationship with Steele. Guess when? Just days before the 2016 election.

Now, this document says Steele had confirmed his relationship with the FBI to an outside party, and that he was a source for a, quote, online article. In addition to revealing his relationship with the FBI, Steele also revealed information that he had provided to the bureau. So take it together, because this is pivotal stuff.

On November 1st, one week before the election, Steele informed by his FBI handler the nature of the relationship between the FBI and Steele would change completely. And that it was unlikely the FBI would continue a relationship with him. That article was published online, on October 31st.

It was written by someone who has broken a lot of news in this story, who I`m sure you`ve seen, if you watch Rachel, you`ve seen him talk to Rachel. It`s David Corn, the "Mother Jones" Washington bureau chief. He also interviewed Steele for the story. The headline right there, a veteran spy has given the FBI information alleging a Russian operation to cultivate Donald Trump. That was before the election.

It was the first media account to reveal the existence of the memos that now, of course, have become a big deal. They are known as the Steele dossier. They allege, among other things, that the Trump campaign had organized collusion with the Kremlin.

Quote: This is something of huge significance, way above party politics, that intelligence officer told Corn, that would be Steele. Quote, I think Trump`s own party should be aware of this stuff, as well. The official confirmation of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign`s contacts with Russia was not confirmed for many more months. It`s even easy to forget that, because it`s the kind of big information that`s the center of American politics, so we all talk about it. People who don`t even follow the news know about it.

But let`s be clear. It was not until March 2017, many months later, that`s after the inauguration, after the election, when FBI Director James Comey went down to the Hill, where he was testifying and said, yes, there was an open probe. By that time, the FBI had also initiated a separate but related investigation and that has now been broken much into public view, much more, because the break came with this very curious indictment of a woman named Maria Butina.

Now, she was suspected as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. That she was trying to mount this covert influence operation through a conservative group, a gun rights group in the U.S. Tonight, the same reporter who had the breakthrough scoop about the Steele dossier has a new and obviously provocative question. Did alleged Russian spy, Maria Butina, cause a leadership shake up at the NRA?

Now, the back story here is an FBI dive, prior to the fact of Trump becoming president, into Russian attempts to influence the NRA, which itself is a weird story. Now, that counterintelligence investigation focused on a man who also has become more well-known, one of these oligarchs. His name, Aleksandr Torshin.

He`s a Russian banker. He was a politician there, and he is a Putin ally. Her protege is Maria Butina and she founded a gun rights group in Russia called the Right to Bear Arms.

So, you have a Putin-connected oligarch attached to a gun rights platform. And that is very odd.

Steven Hall, the former chief of Russian operations for the CIA, explains it thusly: The idea of a private gun ownership is anathema to Putin. So the question is why? Why was a pro-gun campaign being hatched by a leader in Putin`s own party? The answer put forward here, that Putin was reaching out to attract the NRA, specifically over to Russia.

This is part of what the Justice Department alleges. And again, the case is only beginning, but what they allege was a covert influence operation. Torshin cultivating ties with the NRA, all the way back in 2010. He and Butina become NRA members, which is weird.

They begin attending the NRA yearly conferences in the U.S., which are about domestic politics. They meet with top NRA officials. They cultivate these friendships. The pictures tell the story.

In fact, two times, they got senior NRA officials to go to Russia, all expenses paid, of course. 2013, the president of the NRA, which if you follow politics, you know is a big job and something of a conservative star among people who care a lot about gun rights, which is a lot of people in America. His name there, you see him, is David Keene.

He goes to Moscow, the NRA president introduced by, guess who, Maria Butina. And then they declare no two people were more alike than Russians and Americans, so they had to work together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID KEENE, NRA PRESIDENT: Maria, thank you very much. It`s a great honor for me to be here today, partly because over the course of the last three years, I`ve hosted your Senator Aleksandr Torshin in a National Rifle Association annual meeting in Washington.

The NRA has 5 million members. We work with everyone in the United States and, of course, here in Russia. There are no more people that are more alike than Americans and Russians. We are hunters, we are shooters, we do all the things. We value the same kinds of things and we need to work together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There are no more peoples more alike than Americans and Russians. I mean, it`s fine if you want to bring people together with commonality, but that`s not usually what you hear from conservative political operatives in America, certainly not back then, 2013.

Fast forward to December 2015, the middle of what is, of course, the pre- presidential campaign season, Keene as well as other NRA leaders include future NRA president Pete Brownell, and they head back to Russia. This is their second visit. They go to Moscow.

Butina facilitating a meeting with a CEO of a private Russian gun manufacturer, which produces a sniper rifle identified by the Pentagon not for domestic use or hunting, but actually as a threat to American soldiers. The NRA leader is treated to a tour of that facility and a chance to shoot some guns on sight.

The NRA reportedly spent $30 million to support Trump in 2016. And on the one hand, they do typically support Republican nominees. But here`s what you need to know. That was triple the amount they spent on behalf of Mitt Romney just four years prior. And then in January, you get this report in "McClatchy", the FBI investigating whether the FBI used this relationship with the NRA to illegally funnel foreign cash into the gun rights organization as part of an effort to support Trump.

So, ever since Maria Butina was arrested and charged with her conspiracy on behalf of Russia, the NRA has consistently declined to comment to all kinds of sources and all kinds of publications on this association with what is now an indicted Russian spy facing those allegations.

Now, journalist David Corn is raising this question about whether the arrest of Butina caused a leadership shake up shortly after at the NRA. Corn writing that on May 7th, the NRA released a curious press release, declaring Oliver North, who has his own history as a key player in the Iran Contra scandal, but is also a standing NRA board member, was now, quote, poised to become the new president. This changing of the guard and how it happened was odd, he writes. Earlier that day, Peter Brownell then finishing his first term as NRA had announced he would not seek a second annual term.

For 15 years, the NRA leadership followed a pretty specific pattern. We`re getting deep into the bylines. But an officer elected by the board to serve two consecutive annual terms as executive vice president, and two as first vice president, and finally two as president.

But the Brownell to North transition broke this process and precedent, puzzling many NRA watchers. It even puzzled the incoming president of the NRA himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colonel North, what`s your reaction to being elected as president of the National Rifle Association?

LT. COL. OLIVER NORTH, NRA PRESIDENT ELECT: Well, it`s an unexpected privilege. I`m grateful for the unanimous support of the board. I did not expect that this was going to be happening at this annual meeting, but as soon as I get everything in order in my family, because this was very sudden, I`ll be back to take that gavel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Those kind of on-camera interviews are useful. May have sounded like a basic question, but we learned from Oliver North`s own mouth, this was unexpected. This was sudden, he was getting ready to adjust at the last minute.

And then you have a true state secret that was unknown, at least to the public at that time. Two weeks earlier in April, FBI agents clad in their tactical gear were raiding Butina`s apartment where they arrested her. Now, we know that from these reports. And Corn asks, did that FBI investigation of Butina lead to NRA President Peter Brownell`s decision to, in the words of Oliver North, suddenly step down?

He had, of course, after all, interacted with Butina in Moscow three years earlier, and the NRA could easily shed light on this. We would love to bring you their side of the story. Any comment, anything vague, anything. But they are declining to comment tonight.

Same for Brownell. Corn reports he`s not taking calls.

I`m joined now by the reporter at the center of the action, David Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones.

David, we always learn a lot from you. I appreciate you joining me this Friday night.

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Thanks for having me on the weekend.

MELBER: Heading into the weekend. You have a lot on this story. As you know, Rachel has been on many pieces of this story for quite some time.

CORN: Yes.

MELBER: What has advanced through what`s happened with the NRA? And let me start with the biggest question. I don`t need to save it. Reading between the lines of your reporting, are you saying you have reason to believe there is another indictment coming pursuant to the NRA case?

CORN: I`m not saying that. I don`t know that and I don`t make any predictions on what the Mueller investigation is going to be or the Butina investigation, which is separate. We keep being surprised.

And the big picture here, Ari, is that we keep learning new things, things that we didn`t know a week ago, six months ago. So on all of these investigations involving Michael Cohen, Trump/Russia, and, of course, the NRA investigation. But it was, as you noted, it was very puzzling when the NRA went through this leadership change.

I remember getting the press release and it was weirdly put. Oliver North is poised to become NRA president. Not that he`s been chosen NRA president, but he`s poised to become NRA president. And as he put it, it was news to me, and no one could really explain how this very hierarchical organization, that had very strict rules of succession in terms of its leadership would all of a sudden pluck a guy out who didn`t see it coming and make him president of the NRA when he wasn`t prepared to be.

And then only recently with the Butina case, did we learn about this FBI raid. And remember, her partner, romantically and politically, was a guy named Paul Erickson, who was an NRA activist. And he had been working with her to infiltrate, penetrate, make connections with people in the NRA and other conservative groups.

So, if she were raided, as she was, one would expect him to know about it and word to start filtering out. Which could have caused a tremendous panic within the NRA and might have -- and might have led to anyone being connected with Butina, to be scared, I`m not sure about an indictment, but to be scared of being caught up --

MELBER: Certainly exposure.

CORN: Yes.

And Peter Brownell was very much involved, having gone, you know, on trips that Butina organized and having been one of the NRA highest officials that she had cultivated.

MELBER: When you look at the NRA, which has a lot of seasoned political professionals, people may disagree with their views on gun rights and access to guns, but these are people who have been around Washington, made it to the top of one of the most powerful organizations around. How can one benignly or positively explain the complete idiocy or ignorance that would be required to think that an authoritarian country would have a vibrant, private gun rights movement?

CORN: You know, there`s so much puzzling about this. In the book I did with Michael Isikoff, "Russian Roulette," we wrote about the Butina case before it became a criminal case, and we noted that she had shown up at NRA events and other conservative events like CPAC, the annual get-together, and was really trying to make friends with some of the leading officials.

In fact, one fellow, you know, who said, by his own admission, he`s in his 60s, doesn`t have a lot of hair, has a little bit of a paunch, said, I`m not used to young, attractive women coming up to me and saying, will you be my Facebook friend? Can I Snapchat with you? And he thought there was something odd and weird that Butina and this Russian legislator named Aleksandr Torshin kept showing up, and that the NRA that he was apart of was embracing this pair of Boris and Natasha.

And so, there were some people who thought this was odd. But certainly if you watch that video of David Keene, if you watch the video that was made of Peter Brownell in 2015, these guys are really having a good time. They`re getting off making these Russian connections and seemed oblivious to --

MELBER: So you`re saying there was some suspicion about a Snapchat honey pot?

CORN: Yes. I think -- I mean, I think some people saw it that way. But it`s clear at the time and it was clear in the 2016 campaign that whoever was masterminding this, whether it was Torshin or somebody else, they had a pretty good insight into American politics. If you want to work your way into, you know, influencing Republicans and conservatives who are now, you know, controlling all arms of government, do it through the NRA. And they tried --

MELBER: Right. What decade Warren Zivon say? Bring lawyers, guns, and money.

CORN: Yes, the you-know-what has hit the fan.

MELBER: Family show. Family show, David!

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: But I give them credit. I think --

MELBER: You`re saying --

CORN: It was done out in the open.

MELBER: You`re getting at the fact that they were quite adept at infiltrating specifically the conservative wing of American politics in the way they did it. And that gives, of course, insight into what they`re accused of with regard to the Trump campaign, with J.D. Gordon, a Trump adviser who sits at the nexus of guns and Trump. It`s so much fascinating stuff, that the final question I have for you we haven`t even gotten to, which is the way you continue to figure in this.

In your report and the people have known for a long time, your name and reporting came up in the very controversial debates over the wiretapping of Carter Page and whether your material was underlying material for that unlawful wiretap. Today, we see in the little parts, and I shared this with viewers at the top, the little parts that we do glean from what`s come out with Steele is the FBI assertion that they stopped working with him, because of what he told you and what you published.

Your response, sir?

CORN: Well, I think we knew that already. We certainly reported that in the book, Michael Isikoff and myself. So, it`s not a surprise. It confirms that.

And you know, the point I would make is that when I talked to Christopher Steele in the very end of October, 2016, he was talking to me very reluctantly. He was scared. The material that he had found, connections, allegations between the -- of interactions between Trump and the Russian government frightened him as a veteran counterintelligence officer. And he had taken his material to the FBI, had been working with them, but he felt this information needed to get out in some way before the election, that the American public had to be told this.

So, he --

MELBER: Had the FBI -- David, had the FBI publicly confirmed that on the record before?

CORN: No, not at all.

MELBER: So why now?

CORN: In fact, they were doing everything --

MELBER: Do you know why now?

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: Excuse me?

MELBER: Do you know why now?

CORN: Well, the reason is, the conventional reason, that it was a counterintelligence operation that was ongoing and Jim Comey and others have explained that they don`t make that information public, even when members of Congress ask.

Now, Steele`s position was that he thought there was enough connections, enough to worry about without knowing the full picture that the FBI should have worked harder, you know, at least the U.S. government, someone in the U.S. government, to make more of that available to the public before they cast votes on November 8th.

So that`s why he talked to me. When he did that, the FBI said, OK, you`re now too much of your own, you know, of a lone wolf doing this on your own. And we don`t want to work with you anymore.

So, but I think he knew that this would get him in trouble with the bureau. But he thought it was important that the public knew something about this.

MELBER: It`s fascinating and it`s a story that obviously has gotten deeper and you`ve been there from the start. I do appreciate your time tonight, sir.

CORN: Well, always good to be with you. You know that.

MELBER: Thank you, David.

CORN: We turn now to more news on this potential legal quandary for the president. I`m going to be joined in just a moment by the Pulitzer prize- winning reporter who`s actually tracked Donald Trump`s business dealings as closely as just about any reporter.

Now, looking at those legal questions, this reporter began this day with a scoop of his own about a notable spike in revenue at Donald Trump`s New York hotel. After two years of sagging revenue, that hotel suddenly gets 13 percent more in the first quarter. The hotel`s general manager says the spike was from, quote, a last-minute visit to New York by the crowned prince of Saudi Arabia. Those hotel stays by the prince`s entourage was enough to boost revenue for the entire quarter.

Now, it`s not clear from the Trump Organization or the Saudis whether they paid for those rooms. The question here is whether the president is violating what is known as the emoluments clause, a constitutional bar on taking payments from foreign governments and the issue of whether they`re meant to curry favor. Last week, of course, a case got a green light for a lawsuit against the president over this very allegation.

Now, after "The Washington Post" published this story about the spike in revenue, the attorney general of New York announced her state also probing the same question. Is the president violating this ban?

Joining me now is David Fahrenthold, political reporter for "The Washington Post."

What`s most important here?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: The big picture we`re seeing here is that we really don`t know, even 18 months into the Trump presidency, we don`t really know even the basics about what foreign governments are spending money at the president`s properties. What foreign governments are actually using Trump`s businesses to pay Donald Trump, who then is overseeing U.S. relationships with those countries. This letter from the GM at the Trump Hotel in New York indicating this big group of Saudis came in and it boosted their revenue for the whole quarter. You know, that`s just an indication of what`s possibly out there that we don`t know about.

MELBER: You obtained this letter, but it was sort of put out by the Trump business side themselves. They put themselves on blast. Was that out of - - you know why they did that?

FAHRENTHOLD: No. I mean, this letter was meant for investors in the Trump Hotel in New York. So the Trump hotel is owned -- the individual hotel rooms are owned by outside investors. And so, this letter was meant for them, to sort of reassure them.

As we said in the story, it had been a couple of bad years at that hotel. 2016 and 2017, the numbers had gone down. This was the general manager saying, hey, things are looking up again. This quarter has been good. And I`ll explain why.

Basically saying, you know, I`m working for you. I`m trying to make the situation better. Here`s how we did it this time.

MELBER: Do you think we should infer something negative about the Trump Organization`s refusal to provide actual accounting of what they`re donating back?

FAHRENTHOLD: I mean, I don`t really know what we can infer from it. The thing you can tell from the way they`ve reacted to these questions is that the Trump Organization is a private business. And it has always been a very private business. It had always kept as many details about its operation as it could secret.

And so, even now that Donald Trump is in the White House, the Trump Organization, which is still owned by him, still seems to see itself in the same light, we`re a private business, we do what we want, you know, to the degree that there are legal requirements for us to disclose things about our business, we`ll do it. But we won`t go beyond that.

You know, the idea that there might be some sort of need for transparency above and beyond what the law requires, to be sure that the president wasn`t sort of conflicted between his business interests and the public interests, they don`t see that. They haven`t responded to that at all. And so, we only know about his business dealings with foreign governments kind of through media reports, through dribs and drabs here and there.

MELBER: Right, and through as often what you have been able to obtain by old-fashioned shoe leather reporting.

David Fahrenthold with "The Washington Post," thank you so much.

FAHRENTHOLD: Thank you.

MELBER: We have a lot more in this show. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Paul Manafort faced more tough witnesses today. Trials always come down to evidence, to physical and testimonial evidence. Now, if you`ve seen Rachel`s coverage of the Paul Manafort situation, you know there`s very strong physical evidence against Manafort -- the receipts, the wire transfers, the ledgers.

Today, the case focused more on the unpredictable piece, this testimonial evidence, people who implicate Manafort, but have also been given immunity for their testimony. Now, Judge Ellis, who`s been tough on lawyers in his court, ruled for Mueller that five witnesses do get immunity, but their names would be released before they even took the stand. That`s even if they never take the stand.

And today for the first time, one of them, Cindy Laporta, testified. She is one of Paul Manafort`s accountants. And in light of what she has confessed to on the stand, well, it`s quite clear why she wanted that immunity deal that the judge approved. Remember, yesterday`s revelation from what Manafort`s longtime bookkeeper testifying that he went into something of a financial turmoil in 2015.

That was before he offered his volunteer services to Trump. And today, it was Manafort`s longtime accountant backing up that same story, testifying Manafort`s income dropped conspicuously after 2014, and that despite repeatedly asking Manafort if he or his family had any foreign accounts, Manafort would say "no." Now, this is around the time of the day when Paul Manafort`s wife, Kathleen, left the courtroom. Reports are that she was dabbing her eyes and she was visibly upset.

And it`s what happened next, when Cindy Laporta, the first within to testify with immunity took the stand. And this could be, if you look back at this trial, everything that happens before the trial is speculation. When we look at what`s actually going on this week, this could be the turning point.

Laporta alleging that in September of 2015, this was when Manafort was in financial trouble, she gave him an estimate of the taxes he owed, and she was told Manafort couldn`t pay it. Quote, Rick -- that`s Rick Gates, who`s also expected to testify -- said it was too high. Manafort didn`t have the money.

Manafort`s solution, Laporta testified, was to inflate the amount of a loan which would then reduce on paper his reported income, and thus his income tax, and in turn, what he owed the government. In other words, tax fraud, tax evasion. Which, as a professional involved in this business, Cindy Laporta did understand.

So then you have Mueller`s prosecutor ask, what was your understanding at the time of whether that was appropriate? Laporta replies, it`s not appropriate. And she confessed she went along with it and helped Manafort falsify those critical documents.

I could have refused to file the tax return. That would have exposed the firm, Laporta is imploring to the risk of litigation. I could have called Manafort and Gates liars. But Manafort was a longtime client of the firm. I didn`t want to do that either. She added, quote, I very much regret it.

And that is immunity witness number one. There are four more people who have immunity who are ready to testify, plus the star witness, Rick Gates.

We turn now to our in-house experts. Josh Gerstein is senior White House reporter for "Politico" and an analyst with us, and Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor, as well as an MSNBC analyst. They both kept a close eye on the case.

Josh, you were in the courtroom today. How damaging was Cindy Laporta`s testimony and could you glean at all from the mood of the jury or the faces that she was hurt at all by the fact that she was in on the bad things she was talking about?

JOSH GERSTEIN, SENOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: I didn`t get a sense that she was hurt. I mean, they knew that she had immunity. But she did seem like she was someone who was along for the ride here.

Unlike even Gates, she didn`t have any direct financial interests in these offenses that were being alleged. She was just accused of, essentially, having accepted what her clients wanted her to do, rather than resisting them.

But I thought, Ari, this was by far the most damaging day yet for Manafort in the trial. I felt like some of the other evidence earlier in the case about the tax issues that he was spending way too much and transferring money in from overseas, it`s still a little murky, you know if his tax returns were off, how much were they off? By $100,000. Is that a lot on $1 million? Does that amount to fraud? I don`t know.

But the stuff we heard about today seemed like very specific transactions, not only tax fraud, but a lot of very damaging evidence on bank fraud also came in through Cindy Laporta today, where she was specifically involved in apparently forged documents being turned over the banks. And it just sounded like the kind of conduct that is very intentional and very hard to explain away.

MELBER: It`s fascinating, coming from you, having been there every day in court.

Because, Joyce, I think Josh is referring to something that prosecutors know well, which is that lawyers and accountants and definitely judges love paper evidence. But normal people respond to stories. And Cindy Laporta told a story today. That she was under pressure, that this was wrong, but she went along with Paul Manafort`s alleged crimes.

Do you think that kind of story is critical to Mueller winning this case?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It`s the perfect sort of compliment to the documentary evidence, to all of the paper that the jury is seeing. And it`s not a problem if the evidence feels a little bit murky at this stage, because the prosecution`s job right now is to put facts and testimony in front of jury. And then in their closing argument, they`ll get to assemble all of those facts and do a cohesive story that will be used to convince the jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The story, the sort of almost human interest that they hear today from Laporta, I think is helpful in getting the jury through to that point.

MELBER: Josh, on the idea of hiding the foreign accounts, how damning was that? Because, taken together, it seems to go to Manafort`s deliberate criminal intent. That`s the way Mueller is playing it forward.

But again, trials have two sides and I think we can definitely expect Manafort`s defense counsel, when it`s their turn to say, after this entire probe, all of this attention is on whether he said or correctly remembered all of this foreign stuff, even if he got it wrong, how big a deal is that?

GERSTEIN: Well, you know, they did say that in addition to sending the typical questionnaire that goes out to clients about whether they have foreign bank accounts that the accountant said, well, we e-mailed them specifically and said, we want to ask you again, do you have foreign accounts? Do you have signature authority over them? And Manafort or Gates in various instances wrote back "no".

I think that that`s problematic, but I do think it could be explained away potentially as an oversight or some confusion about what counts as signature authority. That`s what the defense seems to be arguing. I do think, again, that the bank fraud testimony that came in cases where at one point, there was a $1.5 million loan outstanding, and it was a problem when getting another loan.

And suddenly, there was an eight-month backdated document available saying that loan had been forgiven and it was on stationary that seemed to be kind of shady and a signature that seemed shady, that kind of testimony, I just think is very, very damaging. And as you know, Ari, bank fraud, those counts carry a 30-year maximum penalty on each one. The law takes that very, very seriously. And I think there`s real trouble on the bank fraud charges for Manafort.

MELBER: Right. You see real risk there, as you say, this was the best day of the case.

Final word to you, Joyce. When you look at what they`re going to do when the -- when Manafort`s team gets in the ring, so much of this coverage is what looks bad for him. Could you give us any wisdom on what they`ll try to do to rebut what Josh says has been a tough day?

VANCE: They don`t have much of a rebuttal opportunity here. Their best argument, the argument that they suggested that they would use in their opening statement is that it wasn`t Manafort, it was Gates. But there was testimony from witness after witness yesterday and today, indicating that Manafort was the person who provided them with final details.

Manafort saw and reviewed every document before it was signed and filed. It will be virtually impossible for them to make that argument. And they`ll be stuck, as so many defendants are, simply with arguing that the government didn`t present enough evidence to meet its burden of proof and that it`s not enough for the jury to think that the defendant might be guilty, that the jury should, in essence, hold the government responsible for proving guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It doesn`t look like the government is going to have a lot of trouble here, though.

MELBER: Right. And that the best they can do is say, if you have any doubt, whether maybe Rick Gates was actually secretly pulling the strings or any doubt whether Paul Manafort was actually confused, then maybe through it all away. And I think that speaks to why it`s been such a methodical case for Mueller`s team.

My special thanks to Joyce and Josh. We greatly appreciate it.

I will tell you, still ahead, goats can eat your trash. They can trim your grass. They can even help you exercise and nail your perfect yoga position, the downward dog.

We are going to explain how goats fit into some very important developments. Look at the one on the back. That is -- that`s some serious yoga posing there. That`s when we`re right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: As promised, let`s talk goat, a word that could mean many things. On the Internet, to say someone is the GOAT is to say they`re the greatest, specifically the G-O-A-T, an acronym for "the greatest of all time". If someone texts you a goat emoji like this, that may be what they`re saying to you.

Then there are actual goats, the kind that roam around many communities across America. They eat leaves, grass, and plants. And that`s the story out of Boise, Idaho, today, where over a hundred goats broke free from their day job, yes, goats can have jobs, and they are deployed to do munching on a -- well, a planned basis.

There`s a company that rents them out to eat up weeds. That company had to send out a truck to go get all of these goats. Then they sent two trucks. Ultimately, there was some flag work to try to corral those goats, you see, and get them all back into their goat transportation systems.

Which does suggest why that organic solution to overgrown weeds can seem like more work than it might be worth. Why not just have electric weedwhackers around? It takes perseverance to chase down your moving goat system. It takes patience. It clearly takes diligence and energy.

And some ask, is it worth it? Is this the best we can do? It`s hard to track down all these goats. I know what you may be thinking as you watch the news, what are we even talking about? But perhaps these goats are an allegory for vigilance about facts in our Trump era and how some people are using energy and diligence to fight assault on the facts and their slow progress could even put them in the running for, yes, GOAT of fact checking.

The greatest of all time, my apologies, but we wanted to at least show you the goat videos. And that story is worthwhile and it`s coming up.

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MELBER: For weeks, ACLU lawyers have been pushing the Trump administration to hand over basic contact information for the families of the migrant kids who have been separated throughout this process, specifically trying to help parents find their kids.

Last night, they told the government, instead of addresses from moms and dads, what they have received from the Trump administration is just vagaries about the parents` whereabouts, which could be anywhere from a detention facility to being abroad. Of the 572 children in custody, 410 have parents who are not in the U.S., likely because they were deported by Trump.

The Trump administration is now saying this. The ACLU should use their resources and network of law firms and volunteers to make contact with those parents abroad. The Trump administration, of course, are the ones who deported or separated all of these people.

Now they want someone else, I guess, the ACLU, to clean it up. How`s that playing in court? Not well. This is the new story. The judge tonight overseeing those court-ordered reunifications says this new Trump effort is unacceptable.

Quote: Many of these parents were removed from the country without their child. All of this is a result of the government`s, the Trump administration, failure to reunite. The reality is for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the Trump administration.

I`m joined by MSNBC correspondent, Jacob Soboroff, who has reported extensively on this story for years now, before the separation policy kicked in, and before this period of litigation ensued.

Number one, your view of what was a smackdown of this idea that the ACLU should clean up Trump`s mess.

JACOB SOBOROFF, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: That`s exactly what it was. I mean, it was a smackdown, a clap back from the judge. And I was in court a week ago tonight, down in San Diego, when the judge said he was going to order both of these parties to come up with a plan to reunite the remaining kids; 2,551 was the overall number. 572 is the number of kids that still, months later, haven`t been reunited with their parents, Ari.

And the judge was flabbergasted. He just said, there is no plan. Nobody came up with a plan. I ordered you last week to come up with a plan. The administration submitted, in this paperwork, this court filing last night, Thursday night, a plan that basically said, you know what, if the ACLU really wants to do it that badly, you guys should take the lead and we`ll be the supporting role here.

MELBER: Right, it`s remarkably cynical. You would expect it from other parts of the administration in rhetoric, to go to a judge and say it is pretty wild. It`s as if somebody complained that, say, inmates are not being fed meals in prison and the response of the government is, fine, you feed them.

You come to the jails and feed them. It doesn`t even make sense.

SOBOROFF: Just logically, you`re the Trump administration. You are the ones that put into place this systemic policy to separate all these kids, that had never been done before, to take them away from their parents, to do this as a deterrence policy that nobody else would come into this country illegally. A strategy we know doesn`t make sense.

And then when the thing doesn`t work out, just lake there was no plan in the beginning to put it into place and that`s why it was such a disaster, they just decided, you know what, we`re not really going to come up with a plan anyways to undo this and we`ll ask somebody else to do it.

MELBER: Right. So there`s a lot of mess there. I do want to hit one positive part that I`m curious about your view, because you`ve been covering this so closely. You mentioned the filings, I mean, we have this, right? This is a government filing.

The 572 number is what the Trump administration coughed up under pressure. And so while much of this was a complete unforced humanitarian crisis because of Trump`s orders, what do you think of the fact that over these weeks, we see the court system working, we see the accountability and the pressure on, we see the majority of the families reunited under the combination of public advocacy, public scrutiny, and judges and courts forcing their hand.

SOBOROFF: It`s an extraordinary thing, and an inspiring thing, quite frankly, for me, making the journey down there, being inside these detention centers and seeing the children in cages, knowing that talking about this stuff, the public pressure not only to get the president of the United States to sign that executive order and stop the policy, but to go into the court, without this judge.

Lee Gelernt said to Chris Hayes in the last hour, there are probably 5,000 children that were separated instead of 2,551. The judge not only stopped the separations. But in the first day, he`s over 1,800 kids are placed with the family or a sponsor and the remaining 572, he is forcing the government to go out there, put a point person in place and reunite the rest of these folks.

MELBER: Right. And you`ve been so close to it, I think that`s important. It`s not to say this is making things better. It`s making them less terrible for people but for the people affected, less terrible is something the court system is achieving and that`s important.

Jacob Soboroff, again, thank you for all your contributions to the story.

Still ahead tonight, a lot of paper but not a lot of time. We`ll explain ahead.

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MELBER: Here is a pivotal period on the calendar. Some time in September, that is when Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley wants to hold a confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, a pivotal Trump pick. He`s asked the National Archives for everything it has from Kavanaugh in all three- years he served in the White House counsel`s office for Bush and wants it by August 15th and he got his answer and it is no.

The answer officially, quote: We currently expect to be able to complete this review by the end of October 2018, which is, golly, pretty close to the midterms. The National Archives says it potentially over 900,000 pages of documents to produce just from the Republicans` request.

This is a key space to watch.

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MELBER: Now, we turn to something that is important around here, fact checking. Donald Trump made a giant claim in his first speech to Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicts of terrorism and terrorism related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Sounds important, if true. Well, the editor of "Lawfare", Ben Wittes, who`s also an MSNBC contributor, noticed it didn`t sound like something the DOJ would have produced. So, his team debunked the core of that claim. It appeared they distorted separate data from the national security division of the Justice Department.

But they couldn`t rule out that maybe some other part of the DOJ had a role in it. So, Wittes kept pressing for the data he claimed was his source. Finally, this week, he got an answer.

Quote: There are no such records in Justice Department files. In fact, he notes not a single e-mail, not a report, nothing. No responsive records located, the DOJ said.

And Wittes says that means the president stood up and made a representation to Congress about immigrants that wasn`t true and attributed it to the Justice Department data which doesn`t exist. This is a governing problem. Democrats in Congress now pressing the administration on the issue of how this happened and who was involved so they can prevent it.

The wider context is that this forced fact-checking comes as the president calls the press the enemy of the people and is in a fight with "The New York Times" editor-in-chief this week and the United Nations over his attacks in the free press.

The DOJ data reveals a separate prong of Donald Trump`s strategy that should be exposed. Undercut the factual press and advance lies that purport to be their own government-backed facts. If this all sounds exhausting, it may be supposed to be exhausting.

Ben Wittes wouldn`t be exhausted. He used federal transparency laws to expose the lie and make Trump`s own Justice Department confirm it. Just like "The Washington Post" continues to check the president in year two, counting up the lies just like it did in year one.

There are other options here. A final thought tonight is that maybe some politicians want you to pick the other option. They want you to be exhausted. They want you to feel like nothing matters, so you drop out of the debate. But this is no time to tune in and drop out. This is a time for game on.

And that does it for us tonight. If you want the find me on Monday, you can always find "THE BEAT" at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. I will joined by the creator of the famous Internet video, "honey badger don`t care". "Honey badger don`t care". Have you ever seen this one?

There was a giant legal right copyright fight over it. And we have the news and the exclusive, maybe because no one else wants it, but we do have it on Monday.

I have run a little bit over on time, but I want to hand the baton over to Katy Tur who is filling in, I`m told, on "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END

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