Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 20, 2018
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": And THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I missed you while you were gone, Mr. Hayes.
HAYES: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Did you have a good time?
HAYES: I had an amazing time and it is great to be back.
MADDOW: You look attended, rested and ready, my friend.
HAYES: Ready to rock. Let`s do it.
MADDOW: Thanks, my friend.
All right. And thanks to you at home for joining this hour. Happy Monday. Happy to have you here.
It has been sort of a rollicking day and a rollicking few days of news, particularly when it comes to all the scandal stuff. They still unspooling scandal around this president, the one that appears to be getting him a little more wound up with each passing day if his public comments are anything to go by.
"The New York Times", of course, reported this weekend that the serving White House counsel Don McGahn has done more than 30 hours of voluntary interviews with the special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors. Shortly thereafter, we got new reporting also from "The Times" about the president`s personal lawyer being squozed for lack of a better term by federal prosecutors.
"The Wall Street Journal" is actually first on this story as they consistently have been on the criminal intrigue surrounding President Trump`s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen from the very beginning. But following the journals initial reporting a couple weeks ago but the potential charges that Michael Cohen might be facing, now it`s "The New York Times" as of yesterday and the associated press as of today who have both matched that story.
So, "The Wall Street Journal" and "The A.P." and the "New York Times" all now reporting that Michael Cohen`s legal vulnerability may be at least in part related to tens of millions of potentially fraudulent bank loans and also potentially campaign finance violations related to his payoffs to at least a couple of women during the campaign who both said that they had sexual relationships with the president.
Despite all of that good reporting on Michael Cohen, now, we`ve got three big news outlets all matching the same basic substance about what Michael Cohen might be charged with. Despite all that good reporting, I remain convinced that the only way we will ever be sure that Michael Cohen is actually being criminally charged is that identity eventually we`re going to see Michael Cohen being arrested and we`ll be able to read the indictment which lists criminal charges against him. I mean, until we can see those things with our own eyes, until we can read the document, until we get confirmation from prosecutors, I sort of feel like I`m not going to believe any of it.
I mean, there`s so much spin being spun by so many sources on the different legal elements of this entire scandal surrounding the president, but the Michael Cohen part of it is I think the worst in terms of the ratio between real information that we can publicly check and a obfuscatory noise and spin that might have nothing to do with real facts. There`s just a lot of blah blah blah about Michael Cohen and very little publicly checkable information that we can balance it against.
To that end, I think there`s actually one big red flag in the recent factual record about what`s going on with Michael Cohen that we should take note of, that we should all factor in to our understanding of his potential legal jeopardy and how that might relate to the legal jeopardy of the president. There`s been so much ink spilled, so much hot air blown over the last couple of days and frankly weeks when it comes to Cohen.
But on both the McGahn story and the Michael Cohen story, there`s so much noise about it, they`re both potentially interesting, right? Lawyers getting lawyers is one thing. Lawyers becoming cooperating witnesses is even bigger thing.
I do think that there are steps that we should all take to avoid being spun or misled on both of those stories and so, we`re going to get to some of that ahead tonight. It`s sort of like I just feel like when you when you see a story about McGahn or Cohen coming down the pike, unless it`s gotten publicly verifiable information in it, just think of it as something that has sort of cautionary traffic cones around it. Tread lightly, don`t go too fast around this corner. This may be someone trying to trip you up.
On top of the McGahn and Cohen news, though, there have been a bunch of new developments today and into this evening, including one that relates to this guy. Remember this guy? He is the one person who has actually gone to prison already. He actually served his custodial sentence already in the Russia scandal.
His name is Alex Vander Zwaan. He`s a lawyer who served 30 days in federal lockup as punishment for lying to investigators about his role in one of Paul Manafort`s foreign lobbying gigs. Now, it has always been possible when it comes to Alex Vander Zwaan that there was a big biographical coincidence about him. It`s totally possible it`s a coincidence.
But one of the more intriguing details about Alex Vander Zwaan who has served his time in prison, we think he`s left the country since serving his time in prison in this scandal, it has always been a fascinating thing to know about him that his father-in-law, the father of his wife, is a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin who turns up in the Christopher Steele dossier. Alex Vander Zwaan is married to the daughter of this man German Khan, who`s one of three very, very wealthy Russians who control a banking interest, a banking empire called Alfa Bank.
Now, Alfa Bank has popped up in the intrigue surrounding the Russia investigation in a couple of different ways. First, before the election, there were strange and frankly still unexplained reports about some kind of extensive computer communications between a computer server at Alfa Bank in Moscow and a computer server in Trump Tower that was associated with the Trump Organization. Why was the Alfa Bank server talking to the Trump Organization server? We still don`t know what that computer traffic was about.
That saga has stayed in the news though in part because Alfa Bank ended up hiring an American law firm to clean up its reputation around that story, around these unexplained communications between its own servers in Moscow and the Trump Organization servers in Trump Tower during the campaign. The lawyer who Alfa Bank ended up hiring to clean up that story, to clean up that PR mess, to basically declare the company innocent of any nefarious secret communications during the during the campaign, it was an American lawyer, a Republican lawyer named Brian Benczkowski.
The reason the Alfa Bank story is still sort of rattling around in the news and the Russia scandals because the Trump administration decided then that they would hire that same guy Brian Benczkowski to run the division at the U.S. Department of Justice.
So, Alfa Bank has its own special role on that side of the intrigue around that the Russia scandal. We still don`t know what all this computer communications were about. We still don`t know if it`s also just a coincidence that Brian Benczkowski, Alfa Bank`s lawyer, dealing with that scandal ends up at the Justice Department in one of the most senior positions in the entire agency.
Alfa Bank also appears in Christopher Steele`s stack of opposition research memos on the Trump campaign and Russia, which have collectively become known as the Steele dossier. In April of this year, German Khan, Alex Vander Zwaan`s father-in-law, one of the founder`s of Alfa Bank, brought a lawsuit on the basis of the Steele dossier, brought a defamation lawsuit against Christopher Steele and the intelligence firm that he was working for when he wrote the dossier.
It`s interesting. The dossier didn`t actually say anything all that damning about Alfa Bank. This was the piece of the dossier that mentioned Alfa Bank described German Khan and these other guys from Alfa Bank as being oligarchs who led that banking group described them as having a close relationship with Vladimir Putin. The dossier said, quote, significant favors continued to be done in both directions with Friedman and Even the other two guys from Alfa Bank other than Alex Vander Zwaan`s father-in-law, quote, still giving -- excuse me -- still giving informal advice to Putin especially on the U.S.
So, that`s what`s in the Steele dossier about Alfa Bank. They`re friendly with Putin. They do each other favors. There`s a further allegations that these guys from Alfa Bank had maybe funneled money to Putin back in his St. Petersburg days.
Given all the other stuff that`s in the dossier this is like not the world`s most salacious stuff. But the dossier is taken on this life of its own, during this scandal, right? Republicans in Congress, President Trump, the White House more broadly, they have spent months trying to turn the Steele dossier itself into a huge scandal.
The president now appears to be on an almost daily crusade against one serving Justice Department official, a man named Bruce Ohr because Bruce Ohr`s wife worked at the opposition research company in the U.S. that commissioned the dossier from Christopher Steele. She worked at Fusion GPS. Mr. Ohr appears to have had contact himself with Christopher Steele during the campaign.
So, House Republicans have gone along with the attacks on the dossier, the attacks on anybody associated with the dossier. They`re now going along with the attacks on this Justice Department official who the president has singled out as being connected to the dossier. House Republicans have now summoned that specific Justice Department official Bruce Ohr to come testify. They had threatened a subpoena but he`s going to appear voluntarily.
So, there`s been all of this drama in the U.S. about the Steele dossier which continues to rattle around Republican politics and the president`s defense on this scandal. But the other threatening action related to the Steele dossier has been lawsuits. These lawsuits like this one filed by German Khan and the other founders of Alfa Bank.
Well, today, in superior court in Washington, D.C., a judge dismissed German Khan and the other Alfa Bank guys defamation lawsuit against Christopher Steele and Orbis Business Intelligence, and the case was dismissed, quote, with prejudice, which means the plaintiffs cannot bring this thing up again.
So, Alfa Bank, we still do not know if there was anything you know operational or financial involving Alfa Bank when it came to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election or any potential Trump campaign involvement in that effort. We`ve seen no firm evidence but lots of suggestions about that possibility. We still don`t know if it`s just a coincidence that Alex Vander Zwaan, who went to prison in this scandal, is related by marriage to one of the founders of Alfa Bank.
We still don`t know if there`s anything shady about the fact that Brian Benczkowski hired by Alfa Bank to get them out of that Russia-related scandal ends up in a senior position at the U.S. Justice Department. But at least we do have this one conclusive statement today, Alfa Bank`s effort to sue, to make their connection to the Steele dossier go away. Today, that lawsuit failed in in a way that seems quite definitive.
Now, after Alex Vander Zwaan, the next person to go to prison in the Russia scandal, might be Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Late on Friday, we learned that the special counsel had recommended to the judge in his case that George Papadopoulos should serve up to six months in prison. The actual recommendation range was zero months to six months in prison.
The great Lynn Sweet at `The Chicago Sun-Times" reported today that George Papadopoulos` lawyers intend to ask the judge in his case for zero jail time. Their formal response to the sentencing recommendation from prosecutors is due at the end of next week. But when you look at the sentencing recommendation for George Papadopoulos from the special counsel`s office, from the prosecutors, it was really not good for him.
I mean, aside from the range of potential prison time that they are suggesting, the way they describe Papadopoulos to this behavior is not complimentary to him, is not designed to put him in good stead in the eyes of the judge. Prosecutors told the court, quote, the plea agreement entered into by the government and the defendant was not a standard cooperation agreement. Prosecutors merely quote agreed to bring to the court`s attention at sentencing the defendants efforts to cooperate with the government.
Well, what prosecutors ended up bringing to the court`s attention at sentencing was a 10-page long list of ways in which George Papadopoulos actually didn`t help them out at all. Quote: The defendant did not provide substantial assistance. Prosecutors further said that he lied over and over again in ways that materially hurt the government`s case.
Quote: The defendant`s crime was serious both in terms of the underlying conduct and its effect on the investigation. The defendant knew the questions he was asked by the FBI were important and he knew his answers were false at the time he gave them. His lies negatively affected the FBI`s Russia investigation and prevented the FBI from effectively identifying and confronting witnesses in a timely fashion. His lies were not momentary lapses. He lied repeatedly over the course of hours and his lies were designed to conceal fact he knew to be critical.
The sentence imposed here should reflect the fact that lying the federal investigators has real consequences, especially where the defendant lied to investigators about critical facts in an investigation of national importance after having been explicitly warned that lying to the FBI is a federal offense. The nature and circumstances of the offense warrant a sentence of incarceration.
So, there`s a couple of things to watch here. Number one, this is the government emphatically saying George Papadopoulos should do jail time. According to Lynn Sweet`s reporting today in Chicago, Papadopoulos as lawyers will insist that he shouldn`t do any jail time at all.
But that reference there that I read from the sentencing recommendation, this part here: the plea agreement entered into by the government and the defendant was not a standard cooperation agreement. That raises the possibility that George Papadopoulos might still have some ongoing criminal liability here, right? This is not a recommendation from prosecutors that says, oh, listen, you know judge our deal has been upheld on both sides, as far as we`re concerned this guy is now free and clear. He was really helpful to us. We made a deal with him that if he was helpful with us that that would result in him have -- it`s not that.
They`re saying this guy didn`t help us and he lied. And by the way, this wasn`t a formal agreement. We just said we`d tell the judge if he helped us when it came time for him to be sentenced. What they`re saying no, he didn`t help us.
The prospect of additional criminal liability for George Papadopoulos, some indictment new against -- new indictment against him in the future, now that we know the government says he wasn`t an earnest cooperator, that mail looms over this little part of that case and the sense that there is something important unresolved when it comes to George Papadopoulos was helped along by this public statement that he made today on Twitter.
This was 4:00 o`clock this afternoon. I`ll just quote it directly. Been a hell of a year, period. Decisions, period.
Yes, as a matter of law, I`m not sure how many real decisions George Papadopoulos really has to make at this point now that his sentencing process has started. We`ll get some expert advice on that in just a moment.
But the last set of developments in today`s news related to the scandal center around the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who incidentally has a notable new neighbor as of this weekend. In a move that was described as a surprise to all involved, on Friday night, look who moved in. Accused Russian foreign agent Maria Butina on Friday night was moved from the jail in D.C. where she had been held since she was arrested in mid-July, they took her out of that D.C. jail Friday night and brought her over to where Paul Manafort lives now, which is the federal lockup in Alexandria, Virginia.
Now, the reason we have this new unflattering picture of Maria Butina is I think because she has been moved to that new facility in Virginia. It`s Alexandra sheriff`s office there I think we get mug shots when people are in that facility. That`s why we`ve got Paul Manafort`s mug shot, too.
Maria Butina hasn`t been convicted of anything. She`s not serving any sentence. She`s only being held in jail before her trial because the judge in her case decided that she was a flight risk. Prosecutors had argued that she shouldn`t be a candidate for bail because of her alleged links to the Russian government and her alleged links to Russian intelligence services.
Basically, they argued to the judge that the Russians would spirit her out of the country before she could ever face charges if the judge let her back out on the street. That`s why she has not been let back out on the street. But now, for whatever reason, they have moved her from one federal lockup in D.C. to another. Moving her from D.C. to Alexandria means that she`s only about two blocks away from where Paul Manafort`s trial has been underway in Virginia. But that`s not the courthouse where she`s going to be tried. She`s going to be tried in D.C.
And we know from past experience that it`s not unheard of for people who are facing trial in D.C. to end up in this Virginia jail instead. But it was a surprise apparently and it is a little strange that nobody knows why she was moved. And according to her lawyer, neither she nor her lawyer had any notice before the move happens late on Friday night.
Her attorney Robert Driscoll tells "The Daily Beast", quote, I got a collect call from Maria from the jail in Virginia at midnight but was disconnected before we could speak. Driscoll said, quote, I visited her this morning, she was not informed of the reason for the move. I was not notified of the move and I am still unaware of the reason.
He gave that quote to "The Daily Beast" this weekend. We contacted Mr. Driscoll today to see if he had learned today why his client was moved from D.C. to Virginia. He told us, quote: No news. I have no answers yet. You can ask the Marshal Service. It`s their call.
We did ask the marshal service and they didn`t call us back. Surprise.
If we do get a call back from them, I will let you know. There`s no reason of course to think that Paul Manafort and Maria Butina will have any contact with each other while they are in the same jail, but it`s a weird thing that they are now both in the same jail.]
In terms of Paul Manafort`s case, we are expecting tomorrow to get the government`s list of evidence prosecutors list of evidence that they plan to use against Manafort in his next federal criminal trial which is due to start next month in federal court in D.C. The evidence list has already been described as containing over 1,000 items. The deadline for the list of all that evidence is to be made public -- is that it should be made public tomorrow. So, that should be a big long list. It should also be a very interesting window into what Paul Manafort`s next prosecution might look like.
And meanwhile, of course, we`re still waiting on the jury in his first federal felony trial. The jury considering Manafort`s fate, excuse me, in Virginia. They deliberated all day Thursday. They deliberated all day Friday. The judge sent them home for the weekend, they then deliberated all day today.
At 4:49 p.m., the judge announced that the jury would actually stay late. Last week, they`d been breaking it at 5:00 o`clock or just before 5:00 o`clock. Today, he said they asked to please deliberate later. They wanted to stay deliberating until at least 6:15 p.m.
Them asking to stay late that, that raised expectations that maybe the jurors were giving it a final push, maybe they might be planning to release a verdict on Manafort tonight. That turned out not to be the case. The court reconvened after 6:00 p.m., and the judge announced that no verdict. Once again, the jurors will be sent home. They will come back to court tomorrow to start deliberating again at 9:30 in the morning.
So, two questions here. First of all, with the jury deliberating almost nine hours today and over the course of these three days, they`ve deliberated almost 24 solid hours in total, is that starting to feel like a long time? Is that a long deliberation? And if so, does that mean anything in terms of what we should expect for the timing of a verdict or which way the verdicts likely to go?
If you`re a prosecutor or a defense lawyer watching the juries they go on for these long stretches, not asking questions any more like they did on their first day, do you find that to be hardening or disheartening? Or do we just not know?
Second question, last question: is it a little weird that the jury is like on the loose out in the wild, they`re not sequestered? I mean, they`re just sent home every night. They were sent home for this whole weekend. The judge himself has suggested that the jurors might reasonably be afraid for their own safety in this case. He stated in court that he`s received threats in conjunction with this case. He cited those threats as a reason not to release the jurors` names. But he`s allowed courtroom artists to show us what the jury looks like and the jurors are freely mingling at the courthouse with members of the public who were there to see the case and reporters who were there to cover the case and anybody else who has business at the Alexandria federal courthouse.
Meanwhile, with these -- with these jurors sort of on the loose despite the fact that the judge is talking about potential danger they might be in, I mean, the judge has been admonishing them every day that they shouldn`t consume any media about the case. They shouldn`t have any communications with anybody about the case.
But this is not a normal case. There`s an unusual amount of ambient noise and pressure on this case, on which these jurors are deliberating. I mean, from the start of the trial, the president of the United States has repeatedly made public statements praising the defendant, saying the defendants being mistreated, calling his prosecution sad.
And on the other side, every day, and sometimes two three four or five six times a day, the president makes public statements in writing and out loud denouncing the prosecution in this case. He`s been praising the defendant Paul Manafort and he`s been denouncing the prosecution, the special counsel`s office. The president daily denounces the special counsel`s office now in terms that are so stark, it might reasonably be very difficult for jurors to avoid seeing any mention of the fact that the president has been calling the prosecutors in this case, quote, a national disgrace, calling them angry Democrat thugs that are ruining people`s lives, saying this is a rigged investigation.
The president deriding Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office is him deriding the prosecution in this case, right? Presidents in the past have taken care to avoid weighing in on any pending criminal cases so as to avoid the even the appearance of influence on jury deliberations, or any other aspect of a pending case.
In this case, with this president, it`s totally the opposite. He is absolutely trying to influence the case, and I know it is rare to sequester a jury, to put a jury in a hotel and not give them any contact with their homes of the outside world until they`ve got a verdict. I know it`s rare to do that, but given the very unusual fire hose of public invective from the sitting president of the United States that he is directing at this case on a daily basis, clearly trying to influence the verdict of the jury, is this one of those rare cases where the jury actually should have been sequestered?
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan.
Barb, thank you so much. Nice to see you.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Oh my pleasure to be here, Rachel. Nice to see you.
MADDOW: I believe and again I don`t know these things, but it is my impression that it is a rare thing for a jury to be sequestered. But judges do sometimes order it in particularly high-profile cases or when there`s a particularly high risk that jurors under normal circumstances in their normal milieu won`t be able to avoid media exposure or other pressure on their potential verdict.
Is that -- is that basically true?
MCQUADE: Yes, it`s very rare that a jury would be sequestered. I`ve never seen it in federal court. I know it has happened in some high-profile state court cases.
I think the Bill Cosby case was one where the jury was sequestered. The O.J. Simpson case was one. Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman.
So, there have been a few with their very high-profile cases, but I know one difference between state court proceedings and federal court proceedings is that they`re not televised, so you`re not likely to see television footage at least of the trial. I suppose that`s one reason.
It`s also very expensive and I think the other reason is that you don`t want to put pressure on jurors to end quickly because they feel some urge to be done so they can get home and get on with their lives and sequestration could cause them to be hasty in their decisions. So, aside from that, also the expense. So I`ve never seen it done in federal court.
MADDOW: And in terms of the president`s remarks on this case. I see his remarks here being so starkly positive toward the defendant lamenting what he describes as mistreatment of the defendant unfair persecution of the defendant. And, of course, his withering attacks even in very personal terms against the prosecutors, those look to me like the kinds of statements from a president that might be designed to influence a jury`s verdict.
Would that -- what can the judge do other than instructing the jury to not pay attention to it, to protect them from those kinds of pressures?
MCQUADE: Yes, the judge does give that instruction, a standard instruction, and when I was in the court, he gave that instruction every day not to read anything in the media discuss the case, and there`s case law that says that a jurors are presumed to have followed their instructions, unless you can show otherwise. And so, people expect that juries will follow that advice and that direction.
Now, if they do inadvertently get exposed to something, they`re expected to self-report. There are four alternates in this case, so if someone were to come in and say, you know, I was at home and I overheard this on the television or someone blurted this out or someone told me Trump has said these things, they could in an egregious situation be replaced with an alternate.
But I think a judge would likely ask them, what did you hear? Has that influenced you? Do you think you can set that aside and decide this case based on the facts and the law that you hear in this court? I think most people can say yes, that I can set those things aside.
So, you know, certainly they`re highly inflammatory, highly irregular that we would see something like this. Prosecutors are ethically bound not to say these kinds of things about guilt of the defendant because of the suggestion that an authority figure could have influence on a jury`s outcome. So, it really is very shocking that a president would say these things about a criminal defendant.
MADDOW: One last question for you, Barb. What do you make of the length of time the jury is deliberating here? Is there any reason to read anything into that at this point?
MCQUADE: You know, I don`t think it`s cause for concern yet. There -- it is the case that the longer a jury deliberates, the more likely it is that there`s a hung juror, or a not guilty verdict or holdout. But I don`t think we`ve gone on that long yet.
They say that it`s usually about a day of deliberation for every week of testimony and in this case, I would think that with the complexity of the case and the fact the judge did not allow the prosecutors to always publish, that as display the documents at the time they were discussed and he would say they can look at that later is causing lengthier deliberations.
You know, he speeded up the trial but I think the cost for that is perhaps lengthier deliberations, while they now go back and review all of those documents. So, I`m not concerned yet.
MADDOW: And we all end up on the edge of our seats for another day.
Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in Michigan, thanks. Good to see you, Barb. Thanks for being here.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel. You too.
MADDOW: All right. We got a lot of news to get to. A busy Monday night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: "The New York Times" is reporting that the ongoing federal criminal investigation targeting the president`s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is zeroing in on potential bank fraud involving Michael Cohen`s investment in the taxi business, also potentially campaign finance violations that relate to the payoffs that Michael Cohen helped arrange during the campaign, to at least two women who said they had sexual relationships with the president.
Now, this reporting from "The Times" follows the same contours of what was reported a couple weeks ago by "The Wall Street Journal". But now, "The New York Times" has the story, too, as does "The Associated Press". All of these stories now have the same basic contours.
And none of that is the same as us actually seeing a real live indictment, but it does at least mean that there`s a big pile of credible, corroborating reporting that all lays out the same potential basic charges against Cohen. If that reporting from all those different news outlets is true about what Michael Cohen is going to be charged with, then first question is, oh, yes, show me. When`s this all going to happen?
Second question is, is Michael Cohen talking with prosecutors about a potential cooperation deal to lessen his own legal jeopardy in exchange for him helping prosecutors with information that they could use in other cases. That`s what everybody is wondering. That`s the story that everybody has been chasing all over New York every day now. I`m not going to kid you we`re chasing that story just as hard as anyone is. Everybody in the news business is chasing that same story.
I mean, the potential drama of the president`s White House counsel Don McGahn and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen not just getting lawyers themselves but potentially becoming enthusiastic witnesses in cases involving the president, yes, yes. There`s a reason everybody`s chasing that story so hard.
But here`s something very specific to consider: late last week, this document was filed in federal court in Manhattan. It`s just two pages. It`s from the special master who was hired by the court to review evidence that was seized from Michael Cohen`s home. His home and his office in his hotel room back in April. This special master was appointed by the court to check all those documents that were seized to make sure they weren`t covered by attorney-client privilege, and if they weren`t covered by attorney-client privilege, then the special master would hand them over to prosecutors for them to review for their potential case, and charges against Michael Cohen.
Well, in this last little filing from the special master late last week, special master, this retired judge, gives a final accounting of just how many documents and files she found to be covered by attorney-client privilege. Bottom line is not many, a few thousand out of the millions of files and documents that were taken. But look at this, special master also says, you know, there was one thing that I couldn`t ever review, I couldn`t ever look to see whether or not it was covered by attorney-client privilege, just one thing.
Michael Cohen`s encrypted Blackberry, she says she never got that and its contents to review because apparently, they don`t have the password to the BlackBerry. So, the special master said in this filing last week basically if down the road the government does manage to crack open Michael Cohen`s BlackBerry, then they`re going to have to use a filter team at the U.S. attorney`s office to go through it and check it to see if any of the stuff on there is privileged.
And she hopes that`s OK because she`s done now, she`s wrapped up her work so that`s the one outstanding matter that still hasn`t been taken care of. You`re going to have to deal with that some other way.
Here`s my question: nearly five months into the Michael Cohen saga, prosecutors still don`t have the password to his BlackBerry? Why have I read 5,000 articles in which Michael Cohen has given every conceivable signal that he wants to cooperate, right? Is that all this drama and gossip and spin that Michael Cohen is desperate to help prosecutors any way he can?
If so, shouldn`t Michael Cohen be like skywriting is BlackBerry password over SDNY headquarters, right? I mean, if they need that password, that`s the one bit of his files and documents that they haven`t reviewed, it`s the stuff that`s on that BlackBerry. If they need that password and they still don`t have it, isn`t that a pretty clear sign that the two sides are not talking or at least if they are talking, he`s not helping.
So much spin around the Michael Cohen side of this story. Do not fall for it. Watch this space.
MADDOW: This era in D.C. has been marked by mystery, by many mysteries. Not chief among those mysteries but may be deputy chief among those mysteries is how come White House counsel Don McGahn is so good at playing the hero in the press? How come he`s so good at getting a heroic portrait of his actions and his secret beliefs and his stoic forbearance into the papers? How is White House counsel Don McGahn managed to get so many stories into the newspapers in which he alone, he bravely is secretly the real American hero? Don McGahn is reported to have been the one who calmed the president down after Robert Mueller was appointed, so the president didn`t do something truly crazy. Don McGahn is reported to have threatened to resign rather than fire special counsel Robert Mueller which the president had ordered him to do. Don McGahn saved Bob Mueller.
You think the White House weirdly mismanaged the firing of national security advisor Mike Flynn after they were warned Flynn was compromised by a foreign government? No, no, at least Don McGahn didn`t mismanage anything. Don McGahn, reportedly, warned the White House about the lying of national security adviser Mike Flynn right away. He was right on top of it.
Don McGahn shows up in the process as hanging in there through the chaos, selflessly pulling back from quitting, doing all the right things and hanging in there to take care of the country`s needs despite really being pushed around by the president in an unfair way. I don`t know who one day will play the part of someone familiar with Don McGahn`s thinking when a movie is made of all this, but the role is getting larger every day.
This weekend, "The Times" reported that Don McGahn has cooperated extensively in the Robert Mueller, inquiry that he sat with investigators for 30 hours over the past nine months. "The Times" laid out how the president tried to ensure control of the investigation though never going beyond his legal authorities.
And yes, the White House may be a little freaked out to realize they had no idea Don McGahn had talked so much and had been so forthcoming, they have no idea what he said in those 30 hours of testimony that he Don McGahn had no choice but to selflessly give.
Tonight, NBC News is reporting, according to a source familiar with the matter, that Don McGahn`s legal team told the president`s lawyers he would have resigned if he thought he had witnessed the president committing a crime. The source tells NBC there`s no way of knowing how Don McGahn`s testimony may fit with any other evidence that the Mueller investigation has collected. The mystery of Don McGahn, the secret heroism of Don McGahn, keeps growing by the hour.
There are a few lumps in the ointment though. Hold that thought.
MADDOW: I was two and a half weeks old at the time, so it`s not like I remember this from experience. But I almost feel like I do, because this part of the story is now so much a part of how we think about how things blow up in American politics when they blow up really badly. I was two- and-a-half weeks old. This was April 19th, 1973.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGLAS KIKER, NBC NEWS REPORTER: The statement issued today by John Dean, the White House counsel, caught everybody by surprise, especially the White House. It really was not a statement, it was a warning to the people Dean works for. Anybody who knows me, anybody who knows the true facts about Watergate knows better than to try and make a scapegoat out of me. That was Dean`s statement and the implication was that he`s got a lot of unspilled beans to spill if he`s forced to spill them.
The White House reply was, nobody`s trying to make anybody a scapegoat. We`re just trying to get at the truth.
Dean issued a statement without notifying anybody at the White House in advance and the White House obviously was shocked by his action. Press Secretary Ron Ziegler, asked if Dean is still a member in good standing of the White House team, would say only that Dean is in his office, he has not resigned, he has not been fired.
This could be the case for some time to come, but it`s clear that from now on, John Dean is White House counsel in name only.
Douglas Kiker, NBC News, at the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Eleven days after that warning shot from then White House counsel John Dean, President Richard Nixon fired him, and Nixon supporters immediately have began pointing to John Dean as the person who everybody should blame for the whole Watergate scandal and the whole cover-up. It should all be on Dean`s head, not the president`s.
That didn`t work out well. But now, we`ve got the current president of the United States talking about John Dean in public, calling him a rat for having testified against Nixon 45 years ago. And we`ve got the current White House counsel also citing the example of John Dean basically to say he`s trying to avoid John Dean`s ultimate fate in Watergate, which is, yes, maybe now he`s remembered as sort of a hero or a rat, depending on how you look at it.
But at the time, John Dean went to prison. Both sides are sort of misremembering how things worked out for John Dean.
Michael Beschloss is here with us next to sort it out. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV ANCHOR: Good evening.
John Wesley Dean III, fired last April by President Nixon as White House legal counsel, told the Senate Watergate Committee today that the president was involved in Watergate wrongdoing. And having accused the president, Dean said he hopes Mr. Nixon will be forgiven. That`s how Dean began his testimony today.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It is my honest belief that while the president was involved, that he did not realize or appreciate at any time the implications of his involvement. And I think that when the facts come out, I hope the president is forgiven.
TV ANCHOR: John Dean followed that assertion with a page statement that took all day to read, crammed with quotes, dates, memoranda and detailed recollections of talks with the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A 245-page statement that he read out loud. Nixon`s White House counsel John Dean had decided early on in the Watergate scandal that Nixon was going to try to make him the scapegoat for the Watergate scandal and for the cover-up. Once Dean figured that out, in early April 1973, he made a 180-degree turn. He went straight to federal prosecutors. He told them he would cooperate with them fully.
By the time, Nixon fired John Dean from the White House counsel`s job, Dean had already for weeks been helping prosecutors on Watergate.
So, with this new reporting over the past couple of days that the current White House counsel Don McGahn has spoken for 30 hours with special counsel Robert Mueller, the president now is literally launching a new attack on John Dean, saying that Dean was a rat for testifying against Nixon back in the day.
But the current White House counsel Don McGahn is also apparently in fear of John Dean`s legacy. According to "The New York Times" this weekend, McGahn has been telling people he`s determined to avoid John Dean`s fate. Despite how helpful Dean was to Watergate investigators, John Dean went to prison for obstruction of justice. He was disbarred, he went from being the top lawyer in the White House to being prohibited from ever again practicing law in Washington, D.C. That part of John Dean`s fate is what reportedly compelled Don McGahn to cooperate with Robert Mueller.
McGahn`s own worries about his own legal jeopardy, that`s apparently become the blueprint for this dynamic we`ve been watching unfold at the White House for months now.
Is the White House council right to worry about John Dean`s fate? Will testifying now help him avoid that fate? And is the president right to be concerned about rats?
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Michael, it is great to have you with us tonight. Thank you for being here.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, Rachel. Good to see you.
MADDOW: So, the president today called John Dean a rat. When Dean came forward in 1973, what did the Nixon White House, what did Nixon supporters do in response? How was he treated at the time?
BESCHLOSS: Well, when he testified before the Senate as you were just showing and said that Nixon was central to the cover-up, a lot of Nixon people were very angry. But you know what amazes me, Rachel, is that if we were to talk to any president from Gerald Ford, all the way through Barack Obama, and say, what do you think of John Dean, they would have all said, a flawed person but ultimately a hero of Watergate because he helped to expose Richard Nixon.
This is another sign of this weird time that we`re living through that the current president, Donald Trump, would use a word like rat.
MADDOW: One of the things that we`re watching unspool now in this story first reported in "The New York Times" this weekend about Don McGahn and President Trump is that nobody`s quite sure whether or not Don McGahn may have acted heroically and selflessly here.
BESCHLOSS: Right, right.
MADDOW: Or whether he had to go talk to the special counsel. I mean, did John Dean as White House counsel I have a choice in terms of whether or not he was going to cooperate with the prosecutors. Clearly, history tells us that he worried he was going to get blamed and this was his effort to get out ahead of it. But how much of a choice did he have?
BESCHLOSS: In the end, probably not much, and you were so right tonight to say be very cautious about everything we`re hearing from the outside about what Don McGahn did or did not do it may take years for us to know exactly what was said. But in Dean`s case, he knew that he was central to the cover-up. He knew that Nixon was trying to make him to the scapegoat and blame Watergate on him, so that when Dean started talking to federal authorities and investigators people in the legal process, he did two things that ultimately were crucial.
Number one, he gave them information that showed that not only should they be investigating the Watergate break-in, which is what they had been focused on, but they should also look at Nixon in terms of obstruction of justice. That really shifted the investigation. Ultimately, as you know obstruction of justice was article number one of the bills of impeachment that would have been voted against Nixon.
The other thing that Dean did was he said, you know, when I was talking to Nixon, Nixon would say things like, well, I didn`t do such-and-such, did I, John? And it sounded to me as if maybe I was being taped and that caused them to be aware of the possibility that there would be tapes that would show the real story.
MADDOW: Dean`s recollections about the way Nixon talked to him was a signal essentially to investigators that maybe there were tapes that they should look for?
BESCHLOSS: They began looking very hard and then finally, Alexander Butterfield who was on Nixon`s staff knew about that was approached by investigators for the Senate Watergate Committee. He was the one who revealed those tapes to the public. Ultimately, they brought Nixon down.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, thank you, my friend. Great to have you here.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you. Be well.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Two things to watch for on the legal front tomorrow related to the president`s campaign chair, Paul Manafort. At 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time, of course, the jury resumes its deliberations for a fourth day.
But you should also know by the end of the day tomorrow, we are expected to get the full stack of evidence. That part the prosecution intends to use in the next federal felony prosecution of Paul Manafort, the case that is going to start in D.C. next month. We`re told to expect there will be over 1,000 items of evidence in that list. But we`ll see our first glimpse of what the evidence is going to be sometime over the course of the day tomorrow.
And that does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again then.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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