Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 14, 2018 Guest: Adam Schiff
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
It is Friday. So, naturally, today has been an unbelievably busy day in the news, including of course what is now tropical storm Florence.
Don`t let the name fool you. It is still a 350-mile-wide nearly stationary fire hose of water and wind. It`s now parked over north and South Carolina.
Florence, of course, hit as a category 1 hurricane. It came ashore this morning on the North Carolina coast. Forecasters tell us typically that landfall is the beginning of the end for a storm like this. That`s in typical circumstances.
But this storm is atypical. Landfall didn`t stop it. It has pretty much been stacked up and stationary on the Carolina coast all day long today. It`s moving southwest along the shoreline, but it`s only moving at a sluggish 3 miles an hour pace. That`s literally a human walking pace. That`s how slowly this thing is going.
And today, that very slow-moving storm has been busy soaking an already water logged area with up to two feet of rain. The result is predictably disastrous thus far. When you`ve got rain measured in feet and not inches, that`s one thing. Couple that with the storm surge of up to 10 feet. That triggered major flooding, for example, in the city of New Bern, North Carolina, overnight and throughout the day, hundreds of people have been rescued from floodwaters in New Bern.
At least five deaths have been blamed on the storm thus far, including a mother and baby who died when a tree fell on their house in the city of Wilmington, North Carolina.
Tropical storm Florence is now moving west. And although its winds have slowed some, they`re still very, very strong, and the storm is expected to drop torrential rain for days to come. So, still a very, very dangerous situation. Again, five deaths attributed to the storm already. We`re going to have more on the storm coming up in a few minutes.
We`re also going to be talking in just a few minutes with a reporter who broke this news today at "Vanity Fair." On a day that was already a potential disaster for the sitting president of the United States in terms of his own exposure and liability in the Russia scandal and the investigation by the special counsel`s office led by Robert Mueller, on a day that was already a disaster for the president, Emily Jane Fox of "Vanity Fair" added significant fuel to the fire with her exclusive reporting tonight that long-time Trump Organization executive, long-time personal lawyer to the president, Michael Cohen, has not just plead guilty to eight felony counts, he has not just named the president in court under oath as the person who directed him to commit two of those felonies, campaign finance violations, Emily Jane Fox reports tonight that Michael Cohen in addition has begun meeting with the special counsel`s office himself.
When Michael Cohen plead guilty to those eight felonies last month, there was no formal cooperation agreement with prosecutors that was filed along with his plea, but this new reporting if correct, it indicates that Cohen is cooperating. He is talking with a special counsel. We`re going to be speaking with Emily Jane Fox about that news in just a moment.
But of course, that news comes at the worst possible time for President Trump. We have been reporting for the last couple of days that there were signs, right? And there were anonymously sourced reports that the president`s campaign chairman was himself starting to talk to prosecutors about pleading guilty in federal court rather than facing another extended federal trial. He was just convicted on eight felonies last month in Virginia. He was facing another trial on more felony counts starting next week in federal court in Washington, D.C.
And, you know, while the president choosing this now multiply convicted felon as his campaign chairman is itself a pretty big scandal as U.S. presidents go, and while there is certainly public interest in the legal fate of the president`s campaign chairman, how many felonies is he going to go down for? How long is he going to spend in prison? What are his prospects for appeal, for retrial, all the rest of it? Well, there is a lot of interest in all of that stuff.
Clearly even larger stake here in terms of the country and the presidency is not just Paul Manafort`s own fate and the fact that President Trump chose him as his campaign chair. The larger stake here is the prospect that the president`s own fate, the president`s own liability might be significantly jeopardized by what`s going on with Manafort, that Manafort, in an effort to try to lessen his own jeopardy, his own prison time might finally decide to cooperate with the special counsel`s office and their ongoing investigation of Russian interference in presidential election and any potential role by the president and his campaign, right?
That`s the big kahuna, right? It has always seemed very improbable. Campaign chairman for sitting president pleads guilty to multiple felonies? Huge deal. Campaign chairman for sitting president pleads guilty to multiple felonies and also agrees to cooperate with prosecutors investigating the president himself? That has seemed impossible. That has seemed at least very, very improbable.
Now that is what happened, and that is bigger than a huge deal. I mean, lots of reporting recently has wondered if a cooperation deal might happen. Most observers have thought there was no way, no how that Manafort would ever do this. If there was one thing Paul Manafort is not going to do, he is not going to cooperate. He would have done so by now if he was going to do so.
Well, he is cooperating fully, no holds barred. I almost personally can`t believe it now, even though I`ve got it in writing. We just got the transcript.
So I know that it happened, and now I can tell you exactly how it happened word for word. You ready?
OK. Courtroom deputy: your honor, good morning. This morning we have case number 17-201-1, the United States of America versus Paul J. Manafort Jr. Mr. Manafort is present in the courtroom. Will counsel for the parties please approach the lectern, identify yourselves for word.
Mr. Weissmann: good morning, your honor. Andrew Weissmann for the government and with me at counsel table is Greg Andres, Lorna Musher, Kyle Freeney, Jeannie Rhee and FBI special agents Omer Meisel and Jeff Welland from the FBI.
The judge: all right, good morning.
And Mr. Westling: This is the defense side, good morning, your honor. Richard Westling, Thomas Zehnle and Kevin Downing on behalf of Mr. Manafort. Good morning.
The judge says, good morning.
And I note that Mr. Manafort is present.
The judge: So I understand the defendant wishes to enter a plea of guilty. Is that correct?
Mr. Westling: That`s correct, your honor.
The judge: All right, before we can proceed any further, he can join you at the lectern.
And the courtroom deputy says: Are you Paul J. Manafort Jr.? Paul Manafort, the defendant: I am.
Courtroom deputy: Are you the person named in the superseding information? Paul Manafort, the defendant: I am.
OK. So this is obviously the very start. This starts with the good mornings, right? At this very early point in the proceeding, everybody there in the courtroom knows at least one important part of what`s going to happen, right? The judge has said right off the bat he is here to plead guilty, right? Yes, yes, your honor.
And then the reason there is a superseding information, which is what the courtroom deputy just asked there to Paul Manafort, superseding information, I know it`s a weird phrase. But what that means is that the indictment, laying out the charges that Manafort was to be go on trial for next week, that indictment has now been replaced with a superseding document, a superseding information, a criminal information instead of an indictment now, and that`s what happens when prosecutors are bringing charges against you, but you`re not fighting those charges. You`re not going to trial over them. You`re going to plead guilty.
So, at this point, everybody in the courtroom knows he`s going to plead guilty. It`s still a cliff-hanger at this point, though.
All right. So, the judge says: So to get to the questions that I need to ask you in terms of your understandings this morning`s proceeding, can you tell me how old you are? The defendant, Paul Manafort: 69.
The judge: And what is the highest level of education that you obtained? Defendant Paul Manafort: Juris doctorate.
The judge: and so, obviously, you can read and write? Paul Manafort, the defendant: I`m sorry? The judge: can you read and write? Paul Manafort, the defendant: I can.
The judge: And where were you born, sir? Paul Manafort: New Britain, Connecticut. The judge: Have you taken any alcohol or drugs in the last 48 hours? Paul Manafort: No.
The judge: Or any medicine that could affect your ability to understand what you`re doing by pleading guilty this morning? Paul Manafort: No. The judge: Have you ever received any kind of treatment for any mental illness or emotional disturbance? Paul Manafort: No.
The judge: Have you received a copy of the information, the new charges this morning and the indictments that`s pending against you and have you fully discussed the charges in the case in general with your lawyers? Paul Manafort: I have.
The judge: Are you completely satisfied with the services of your lawyers in this case? Paul Manafort: I am. The judge: Have you had enough time to discuss with them and discuss the case -- excuse me, to talk with them and discuss the case and the plea offer and whether or not you should accept it? Paul Manafort: I have.
So they go through this preliminary stuff. You`re OK. You`re of sound mind, you are who you say you are. The judge then asks the prosecutor from Robert Mueller`s office, the lead prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, to summarize the list of things to which Paul Manafort is going to plead guilty today to describe his crimes.
The judge says: Mr. Weismann, I would like to explain orally what he`s pleading guilty to and what his case would show if it went to trial?
I`ll tell you, Andrew Weissmann then does. You see all these pages on screen here, he goes on for 18 straight pages of transcript without interruption. I`m not going the read you all 18 pages. We`ll save that for the special. But you should know he goes on and on and on and on, to the point where the judge is basically like, OK, wow, that`s a lot.
I mean, from page 16, Weissmann says, let me start with the first one which is the Foreign Agent Registration Act, conspiracy. From page 27, he says, let me speak briefly now about the conspiracy to obstruct justice, the false and misleading submissions to the Department of Justice.
Page 29, let me turn to the money-laundering conspiracy. Page 30, turning to the tax and foreign bank account conspiracy. Page 32, turning to the witness tampering conspiracy. It just goes on and on and on.
Finally, the prosecutor stops talking after going on for 18-straight pages, telling the judge, at the end of his remarks, basically he says, there`s more in the statement. I could go on. But it`s all there in writing.
At which point the judge exhales and says, all right. Thank you. Turning to the defense, the judge says, Mr. Westling and Mr. Manafort, quote, I believe it`s fair to say that that`s probably the longest and most detailed summary that has ever preceded this question. But is what the prosecutor just said a true and accurate description of what you did in this case? The defendant, Paul Manafort: I did. It is.
The judge: so, did you, in fact, participate and coordinate in lobbying efforts in the United States on behalf of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian government officials and/or political parties? Paul Manafort: I did. The judge: And as part of that, did you conspire and fact with other people to avoid U.S. tax laws, foreign bank account disclosure laws, laws requiring as a foreign agent, and to violate the money laundering statute and to make false statements to the Department of Justice in 2016 in conjunction with that lobbying work in the United States? Paul Manafort: I did.
The judge: and did you also, in fact, conspire with one other person to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses concerning the FARA allegations in 2018? Paul Manafort: I did. So, after 18 ages of laying it out by the prosecutor, the judge sums it up and Paul Manafort admits to the court, admits to the judge I did, I did these things.
And now, he has to admit what he is going to give up, because he is pleading guilty. The judge says, quote, you`re agreeing to plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy against the United States. Do you understand that if I accept your guilty plea in this case, you could receive a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison on each count? Paul Manafort: I do.
The judge: And do you also understand that for each count, you could be sentenced to pay a fine of $250,000 for each? Do you understand that? Paul Manafort, I do.
The judge: There are a significant number of forfeiture allegations in this case. And without going into detail, I want to make sure, Mr. Manafort that you understand as a result of this plea agreement, you are also agreeing to the forfeiture of a considerable amount of property. Do you understand that includes 377 Union Street? Paul Manafort: I do. It also includes the real property at 29 Howard Street, Apartment 4D. I do.
Do you understand that includes the Jobs Lane House in New York? I do. And funds held in an account at the Federal Savings Bank. I do. And funds seized from an account at Capital One? I do.
And funds seized from another account at the Federal Savings Bank? I do. An insurance policy with Northwestern Mutual? I do.
And real property at Baxter Street in New York? I do. And also, real property at Fifth Avenue in New York. I do.
He`s forfeiting all of those things, bank accounts, insurance policies, lots and lots of real estate to the government. The government alleges that he defrauded the government of $15 million, money that he didn`t pay taxes on. Part of making that up clearly is to handing over his ill-gotten gains and the things he committed crimes in order to attain as real estate.
But that last question there from the judge, real property at Baxter Street in New York and also real property at Fifth Avenue in New York, that`s the last one she asks, at that point, that`s actually the reference to President Trump, because the Fifth Avenue property that Paul Manafort agreed in court today to forfeit to the government, that is Paul Manafort`s apartment at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
You might remember that Paul Manafort used the fact that he had an apartment at Trump Tower as a selling point in which he pitched himself for the campaign chairman job. Well, now the Justice Department owns Paul Manafort`s old apartment in Trump Tower. Which has to be a little unsettling for the president, I would imagine.
But then this very next part of the hearing is the part that is probably what the president didn`t expect and definitely what the president didn`t want to hear. This is really the boom in today`s news.
The judge, quote, do you also understand that pursuant to this plea agreement, you`re agreeing to cooperate fully and truthfully with the investigation being conducted by the office of special counsel, including participating in interviews and debriefings, producing any documents in your control and testifying and agreeing to delays of your sentencing at the request of the government? Do you understand that? Paul Manafort, I do.
The judge: and these obligations under the agreement will continue, even after your sentencing here and in the Eastern District of Virginia. Do you understand that? Manafort: I do.
I believe in the agreement, you waive your right to have your counsel present for every interview and debriefing. Is that also correct? Paul Manafort, that`s correct.
So, that`s the boom here. That`s the unexpected news today. I mean, him pleading guilty, which he does a short while later in the transcript, the judge says, are you prepared to tell me now whether you wish to plead guilty or whether you wish to go to trial? Manafort says, I am. The judge says, what is your decision? Manafort says, I plead guilty.
He pleads guilty, we knew that from the moment proceedings opened this morning when the judge flat out said, you`re here to plead guilty, right? We knew he was going to plead guilty from the moment he walked in the door. We did not know he would agree to cooperate.
Now, based on the plea agreement, based on the back and forth with the judge today, from which we just got this transcript, it appears that Paul Manafort`s cooperation agreement is the full Monty. He agrees to be fully debriefed and attend all meetings at which his presence is requested. He agrees to give the government all documents and other material that maybe relevant to the investigation. He agrees to participate in undercover activities? Not sure how that`s going to work.
Hi, my name is Maul Panafort. Could you speak into my lapel, please? No, I don`t know why I seem familiar to you. You can trust me, friend. Paul Manafort is not going undercover any time soon with or without the hair dye.
He also agrees to testify at any proceeding, which means both trial or at grand juries. And this one`s interesting to me. He agrees to be interviewed by law enforcement agents and/or government attorneys, and he waives any right to have counsel during these interviews unless he submits the request in writing beforehand.
So the judge singled this part out to ask him about. You know you can`t have your lawyer there`s when you`re talking to the investigators here, right? Paul Manafort as part of this agreement will have to talk to investigators and prosecutors about anything he wants without his own lawyers present, unless he gets written permission in advance to have them there. I am intrigued by that.
I`m also intrigued by this confirmation from the judge today that after this guilty plea and this cooperation agreement, Paul Manafort was sent back to jail today, and he will stay in jail until he is sentenced. And presumably, he will not be sentenced until his cooperation is over to the satisfaction of the special counsel`s office.
So if you think about what`s going happen to Paul Manafort from here on out, he`s going to go from court today back to jail today, potentially to stay there for a very long time. I mean, could that be years while he continues to cooperate with the special counsel? And then after the end of his cooperation, then he will be sentenced for eight felonies in Virginia and these two more in D.C., up to a maximum of ten years in federal prison, and thereafter the judge spells out that his Cooperation responsibilities with the government will continue, even after he is sentenced.
Did I mention that this is the president`s campaign chairman we`re talking about here?
So, here`s a few things to know. Prosecutors say that Paul Manafort gave his first proffer, his first offer of information, so his first cooperation on Tuesday of this week. So he`s been cooperating already for four days. Prosecutors spelled out that one of the things he plead guilty to today was a foreign-funded illegal and somewhat bizarre effort a few years ago to smear an Obama cabinet official as an anti-Semite for not supporting Paul Manafort`s client in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.
That was spelled out in detail not only in the written statement of the offense, but also in the verbal presentation by prosecutors today. It seems clear from the context, even though they never said her name, that cabinet official Paul Manafort was organizing this effort to smear, to promote pro-Russian interests back in 2012 was then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
So if this Manafort plea and his cooperation ends up linking back to a later foreign funded illegal bizarre effort to smear Hillary Clinton for pro-Russian interests, not in 2012, but in 2015 and 2016 when she was running for president against Donald Trump, then this is probably the first sign of it in Manafort`s guilty plea today. He pleads guilty to operating as an illegal unregistered foreign agent running a scheme in this country to try to smear Hillary Clinton unfairly for not properly aligning herself with the pro-Russian interests he was working for. Can`t imagine there might be any parallels with that that we`re going to hear of down the line, right?
This is the eighth person convicted or pleading guilty in Robert Mueller`s investigation of Russian interference in the election. Robert Mueller is now batting a thousand in terms of convictions and guilty pleas from everybody who he has pursued in court. He`s also now batting a thousand in terms of securing cooperation from every single American who has been charged in this case, including the president`s national security adviser, the president`s deputy campaign chair, and now the president`s campaign chairman who himself has decades worth of links to the former Soviet Union and whose business partner is believed by the FBI to be himself linked to Russian intelligence agencies.
Half the world watching this is now expecting a pardon for Paul Manafort from the president, like maybe as soon as tonight, right? Half the world expects that pardon. Half the world thinks that would be nuts and there`s no way.
But honestly, what counts as too improbable anymore?
MADDOW: On August 21st, Michael Cohen, the president`s long-time personal attorney plead guilty to eight felony charges, including felony tax evasion and making false statements to a financial institution to get a loan. But the two blow-the-roof-off charges were charge number seven and eight in which Michael Cohen claimed under oath that the president directed him to make illegal payoffs to two different women during the campaign for the purposes of influencing the election.
In open court, he said he committed those felonies, quote, in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office. There is no mystery as to who that candidate for federal office was. Those are words that implicated the president personally, essentially as an unindicted co- conspirator in those felony counts.
Now, Michael Cohen is expected to serve time for his role in those payoffs. But how much time is an open question. He is not going to be sentenced until mid-December. Under sentencing guidelines, he could be looking at around five years now. If he is helpful to prosecutors, his sentence could be lighter.
He didn`t file any sort of formal cooperation agreement, but could he cooperate and lessen his sentence? I mean, in Cohen`s case, the charges were brought against him by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. That`s where he pled guilty.
But he could also conceivably cooperate to his own benefit with prosecutors from the special counsel`s office. The Cohen investigation started with the special counsel, Robert Mueller gave SDNY the Cohen case. Well, now we have news that the case of Michael Cohen appears to be wending its way back to the special counsel`s office.
Emily Jane Fox reports at "Vanity Fair" tonight that Michael Cohen is now talking to Robert Mueller and his prosecutors in the special counsel`s office. Quote: It is now common knowledge among Cohen`s inner circle that Cohen has been in contact with the special counsel`s office.
On a day when the president`s campaign chair plead guilty to multiple felonies and agreed to start cooperating with the special counsel, we learned that another member of the president`s inner circle, one who says he has been involved in felony misconduct with the president already, he too appears to be heading down that path. What a day for the president.
Joining us now is Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter at "Vanity Fair," who broke this story.
Emily, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being here.
EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, you report that Mr. Cohen is in contact with the special counsel`s office, that he is talking to the Mueller team. Do you have any sense of the substantive nature of those communications? Is he -- are they getting acquainted? Is he providing them information? Do you have a sense of that?
FOX: It`s unclear how far down the line these talks are. I don`t know if they`re preliminary. I don`t know if they are in front of a grand jury. I don`t know if they`re working towards a cooperation agreement. All of those things are certainly possible and different people within the Cohen orbit have suggested different things. It is unclear how far down the line they are.
But it is a step in a direction Michael Cohen had not gone down before. This is not where he was even about a month or so ago when he pleaded guilty. He was at that time kind of befuddled that investigators were not reaching out to him, were not seeking his cooperation agreement, that they were going to indict him in the southern district of New York without really sitting down with him to reach a cooperating agreement.
And he ended up pleading guilty because there was no such cooperation agreement offered to him at that time. It`s not entirely shocking to anyone who has been following this case, certainly not to people who are in contact with him and who know him well. Michael Cohen`s light has been on for both the southern district investigators and to Robert Mueller`s team as well. He has been signaling since July that he was ready for business, open to tell them anything that he knew. And at this point, it seems like he is somewhere in the process of relaying that information to them.
MADDOW: Emily, earlier this week, you reported that one of the reasons Cohen decided to plead guilty in the first place was to, in your words, shield his wife from legal jeopardy, which is intriguing in terms of Mr. Cohen and what brought him to this point in the first place.
Can you share with us any context there for that reporting?
FOX: Sure. There are a number of reasons at the time last August when the SDNY first came to him, that he decided to plead guilty. One of them was that his wife and family members and people close to him could have been implicated. These are people who signed documents together.
He was charged with tax evasion and lying to a bank. I don`t believe that he was the only signature on some of those things. So there was a potential for that.
There was a potential that the SNDY was going to come down with more charges that would have potentially led to more jail time as well. And so, there`s also the financial burden that has been weighing on him for a very long time, but has increasingly squeezing him. And so, the confluence of all of those factors made it a no-brainer for him to plead guilty, and I think it will only continue to weigh on him as he goes further down the line, both with SDNY and potentially with the Mueller team as well.
MADDOW: You just think about this from the president`s perspective, if he`s looking at this in terms of his liabilities, if he`s got anything to worry about in terms of legal exposure.
Allen Weisselberg who was the financial officer at the Trump Organization for decades is talking to prosecutors under some sort of immunity agreement. Paul Manafort today after holding out all of this time who is his campaign chair, who has all these links to Russia, today not only pleading guilty, but a fulsome cooperation agreement with the president. Michael Cohen pleading guilty, naming the president in court, now according to your reporting, speaking with the special counsel`s office.
I mean, everybody`s making their own decisions here on their own legal liabilities and what they need to do. Everybody is doing what they need to do.
From the president`s perspective, though, do you see this as potentially something that`s an important brick in the wall in terms of whether the president is going to find himself answering for things that haven`t yet surfaced, that haven`t yet become publicly at least part of the special counsel`s investigation? Is Michael Cohen a guy who could drag the president in for things that haven`t yet been part of this scandal?
FOX: It is certainly possible. Michael Cohen was not only intimately involved with the president and the Trump Organization`s dealings for a decade, but I keep thinking about -- I interviewed Michael Cohen when I was writing a book about the first children, the first family. And he knew so much about the daily goings on of Don Jr. and Ivanka and Eric. And so, not only do I think he has potentially witnessed things in his decade of working in the Trump Organization related to President Trump, but what did he witness about the children as well? This is a man who was very involved with the entirety of the Trump family.
And so, as the president has felt squeezed in recent weeks by people who are incredibly close to him talking with the Mueller team and insular and isolating himself and thinking that his family are the only people that he can trust, if he feels like his family might be in jeopardy, I wonder what that must feel like for him tonight.
MADDOW: Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter for "Vanity Fair", that is an acute observation there. Kind of makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Thank you, Emily. Much appreciated.
FOX: Thank you.
MADDOW: We`ve got some expert legal advice on what this all means, plus the latest on what`s going on with now tropical storm Florence. Stay with us. Busy night.
MADDOW: Now that Paul Manafort has pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel`s fully, what would happen if President Trump pardoned Paul Manafort tonight? What would happen not just to Paul Manafort`s guilty pleas and his potential sentences, what would happen to the cooperation agreement that Manafort has now agreed to with prosecutors? And what would happen with whatever Paul Manafort has already told the special counsel`s office over the last four days? Since one of the things we learned today in court is that Mr. Manafort made his first proffer, his offer of information to the special counsel`s office on Tuesday of this week?
If the president pardoned Paul Manafort tonight, in addition, could that potentially be seen as an act of obstruction by the president? To try to stop Manafort from testifying about what he knows about the president? Could the president pardon Manafort tonight, what would it do to Manafort and what might it do to the president himself?
Joining us now is Dan Goldman. He`s a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Mr. Goldman, thank you for being here. I appreciate your time tonight.
DAN GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SDNY: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, I am not a lawyer but I find myself reading lots of court documents these days. Was there anything that struck you in particular about this cooperation agreement that Mr. Manafort agreed to today? Is this -- was this a boilerplate cooperation agreement? Was there anything that stood out to you as unique or worth paying attention to?
GOLDMAN: It`s pretty standard. What`s interesting about it is the way that it deals with the Virginia case. Obviously, Manafort has already been convicted by a jury. He actually had to admit as part of the pleat today to the open counts in that Virginia case as well as the D.C. case, so that added a little bit of a wrinkle.
But this is a fairly run in the mind cooperation agreement. This is what all defendants need to do when they cooperate. They have to plead guilty to all their criminal conduct and they have to give information, any information and all information about anyone and everyone that they know that cannot pick and choose who they are going to give information about and ultimately they need to testify if they`re asked to do that. And that`s the real critical component to cooperation is the potential to testify.
MADDOW: The potential of Paul Manafort testifying either to a grand jury or to a trial about the president or in a way that would be damaging to the president or damaging to people close to the president, that looms over what everybody`s talking about in terms of the president`s next move here, the prospect of the president might issue a pardon for Mr. Manafort. I know that there`s a lot of constitutional law simplicity around pardoning. The president has the right to pardon whoever he wants.
If a president is seen as pardoning someone, either offering to pardon them, in exchange for them not flipping, not agreeing to cooperate, or pardoning to stop them from testifying, stop them form providing evidence to prosecutors, is that something for which the president himself might find himself under legal scrutiny?
GOLDMAN: Well, this is uncharted legal territory for everyone in this country. No president has ever used the pardon power to protect himself from legal jeopardy. So, we are entering, as you point out, into an area that we haven`t dealt with before.
But there are many things in criminal law that can be obstructive. There are many legitimate legal things that people can do in their ordinary jobs or lives that can, if used with a corrupt intent can be obstruction of justice. So the fact that the president has this power, this unfettered power does not necessarily mean that he can use it for a corrupt intent.
And so, certainly, there`s a strong argument that can be made that if the president goes about pardoning Paul Manafort now that he`s cooperated in particular, and that`s why it`s such an interesting move by Manafort to cooperate rather that play this out for a pardon. But now that he`s cooperated, there is absolutely a strong case that you could make under sort of basic tenets of our criminal law. Not under case law because there is no case on this topic, but under sort of the basic idea of our criminal justice system that you cannot use what would otherwise be lawful power or lawful authority with a corrupt intent. And that`s what he would be doing.
But I do think it`s much less likely tonight, Rachel, than it was yesterday or even it would have been if Paul Manafort had just entered into a plea agreement without cooperation.
I think Manafort had a path to a pardon that it seemed to me that he was going down where he was getting signals from the president that he is a stand-up guy. He was treated unfairly. All the language that President Trump has used before pardoning other people and but for the fact that he was not cooperating, that allowed the president to have some remove between actually pardoning him with the idea of protecting himself and just being able to say, you know, the crimes that he was charged with have nothing to do with my campaign. He was treated unfairly. I`m going to pardon him.
That was his path to a pardon, and he chose the safer route, the one that he actually controlled by cooperating. Those are the only two ways that he could get out from under his sentence.
MADDOW: And, Dan, looking through these court documents today, again, I`m looking through these just with a layman`s eyes. But it looks to me like Manafort now with this agreement and with these guilty pleas, he is going to be staying in jail. He is going to be staying where he is. He`ll be in jail for the duration of his cooperation.
At some point, he will be sentenced. He`s potentially still looking at up to ten years in prison, depending on how the two judges decide to sentence him, and depending on the extent of his cooperation. And then even after that sentencing, he is still bound to continue cooperating with prosecutors. They could presumably bring back some of these other charges to which he has now admitted guilt. If at that point even after sentencing on the other felonies, he violates the Cooperation agreement.
It sort of seems like this binds him for life and he is still not going to be seeing any daylight any time soon.
GOLDMAN: Well, that`s true. But I`m sure that`s an issue of intense negotiation between Manafort`s lawyers and the government. It is -- while it is true that he is right now there until sentencing, that can change any minute. And the government and his lawyers, Manafort`s lawyers can agree to release him from jail.
What I would expect to happen is that he will remain there for some time. But the prosecutors do not -- would never want to keep a cooperator in jail for longer than a sentence he may receive.
In other words, if he was going to get a significant sentence reduction to six months, let`s say, the prosecutors would not want to keep him in jail for longer than six months.
They don`t know what his sentence will be, but he can always go back to jail after the fact. You just never want to keep someone in jail for longer than they might otherwise be there. So, I don`t think he`s going to be in there for years. But I think at some point the bail will become an issue before he is sentenced. He will likely get released, I think, before he is ultimately sentenced.
MADDOW: Daniel Goldman, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, lots going on today. Thanks for being here to help us sort it out. Much appreciated.
GOLDMAN: My pleasure.
MADDOW: All right. Much more to come. Very, very busy Friday night. Aren`t they all?
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today, President Trump`s campaign chair Paul Manafort agreed to cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly with the government and other law enforcement authorities identified by the government in any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant. In case, there is any doubt about how much he needs to cooperate here.
In the run-up to this big news today, there was a lot of fuzzy reporting about how maybe Manafort was going to try to get a carve-out that would let him talk about everything under the sun except President Trump. But nope, there it is in black and white, in any and all matters. If special counsel Robert Mueller wants Manafort to talk about Trump, Manafort is now definitely on the hook to do that. That was not lost on the top Democrat on the intelligence committee.
This is from Congressman Adam Schiff today in response to this news. Quote, Manafort`s cooperation agreement is broad and requires him to provide complete and truthful information in any and all matters which the government deems relevant. He would be wise to do so as Mueller`s team has already shown that it will not tolerate obstruction of justice.
Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff.
Congressman, thank you so much for your time tonight. Really appreciate you being here.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, you raised the prospect of obstruction of justice right away today in response to this guilty plea in this cooperation agreement. In what way is that a concern to you right now?
SCHIFF: Well, I raised that for a couple of reasons. First, Manafort tried to essentially suborn perjury of other witnesses. He tried to witness-tamper, and he today pled guilty to conspiring to do that, to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses.
And what he learned from that is Bob Mueller`s team is pretty damn good, and he got caught. And he paid a big penalty for that in his guilty plea today. So, he knows I think if he is less than truthful and less complete and Bob Mueller finds out about it, he is going to pay a big price.
As Dan Goldman was saying, he had to admit not only to the universal charges in that courthouse, but also to the ten charges that the jury hung on which means if his cooperation turns out to be less than completely truthful, that not only can be tried on those 10 counts, but his admissions can be introduced, basically, its nail in the coffin. There won`t be another hung jury on those ten counts.
So, I think he ought to have gotten the message loud and clear. But also, if he has information pertinent to whether the president is obstructing justice, Mueller is going to want to hear that, and also I think we have to be concerned with the prospect you mentioned which is the president might choose to obstruct justice and try to take away any incentive that Manafort has to cooperate by pardoning him.
And if he were to do that, then in terms of this cooperation agreement and all the rest of that, that really goes away. The case goes away. There is no repercussion for lack of cooperation if Manafort gets pardoned. So, I don`t think we`re beyond that possibility.
MADDOW: If the president did issue that kind of a pardon for Mr. Manafort, I think about the politics of this, and I think about accountability for the president. I think about his susceptibility to impeachment. Paul Manafort is not somebody who has been a rallying cry among the president`s supporters, even his most rabid supporters in conservative media and on Capitol Hill. Nobody is saying that Paul Manafort was the real hero here, and he`s been railroaded and everything that he did was fine, and this was a witch hunt where this innocent guy got caught up in it.
There hasn`t been that charge on it right at least yet. If the president did pardon him and it looked transparently like the president was pardoning him to stop Manafort from giving the special counsel evidence and testimony that might implicate the president in crimes, do you think it`s possible that Congress might look upon that as something that should be investigated as a potential high crime and misdemeanor, that they would want to hold him accountable for that? That there would be hearings?
SCHIFF: Well, I certainly think that Bob Mueller would consider it another big piece of evidence that the president is obstructing justice. And it becomes probably part of the report that Mueller likely presents to the Department of Justice and Rod Rosenstein, that gets presented to Congress. So, it would be yet another strong fact in favor of the president being held accountable for obstruction of justice.
And I think if he goes down this road, it won`t be as you say because this is this rallying cry among his base to help poor Paul Manafort but rather because the president is motivated as he always is by naked self-interest. Manafort was part of a joint defense agreement and they`d still be part of a joint defense agreement with the Trump team. That means for the last months or year, he`s been sharing information. The defense team presumably knows much of what he has to say.
Now, they have to worry about what he has not told them, but they might have tried to align their stories in terms of the meeting in Trump Tower. So, they may be aware of things that Paul Manafort has to say that could really incriminate the president. That would be one reason the president might pardon him.
The last thing I mention, Rachel, which I think is very significant and if Manafort does cooperate could be enormously helpful to Mueller and that is at the same time the Russians are reaching out to the campaign in that Trump Tower meeting and offering the Trump campaign help, dirt on Hillary Clinton, Manafort is reaching out in the other direction to the Kremlin through people like Oleg Deripaska, offering the Kremlin help, information about the Trump campaign in exchange for money, money he thinks he`s owed from Ukraine.
So, I would like to know, I think Bob Mueller would like to know, I think the country would like to know what happened at that cross-section where the campaign is reaching out to the Russians, the Russians reaching out to the campaign, the campaign chairman is in a pivotal place to tell us what happened to all those communications before, during and after the Trump Tower meeting, before, during, and after those e-mails running back and forth where he`s trying to be made whole for his work for Deripaska.
MADDOW: Congressman Schiff, the top Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, thank you, sir, appreciate you being here tonight.
Congressman Schiff is talking about there in terms of the joint defense agreement. You know, it`s interesting it was only two times this week when Bob Woodward`s book came out that there was a joint defense agreement that involved the president, and according to book, 35 different witnesses who have been called by Mueller and the Russia investigation. Since then, we have been hard at work trying to figure out who those 37 people might be.
We have lots of denials from lots of people who we know, are potential witnesses in the Mueller investigation, that no, no, I`m not part of that agreement. The president`s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, says that Paul Manafort actually was part of that joint defense agreement. That means that Manafort`s lawyers and the president`s lawyers have been speaking together for in recent months. How that might affect negotiations over pardoning, the dangling of a pardon and how that might affect strategy going forward of Manafort`s now required testimony could go any number of directions.
All right, we`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today in Portland, Maine, a group of about three dozen students from Bowdoin College converged on the office of Republican Senator Susan Collins holding a sign that said, Collins, stands for our futures, vote no on Kavanaugh.
Portland Press Herald" shot this video of their demonstration. Senator Collins is one of a handful of Republicans who progressives and Democrats are hoping to sway against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in part over his views on reproductive rights. Senator Collins hasn`t yet said how she`ll vote, but she said she did talk to Brett Kavanaugh on the phone today. Her office says the two spoke for about an hour. The office not saying exactly what they talked about, but, oh, boy, what a day to schedule this particular phone call with this particular nominee.
Today was the day we got this report from Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow at "The New Yorker" detailing the nature of the complaint contained in the letter that was forwarded to the FBI about Brett Kavanaugh from Senator Dianne Feinstein this week. The allegations in that letter concern an incident when Brett Kavanaugh was in high school. Brett Kavanaugh has denied the allegations telling "New Yorker", quote, I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.
A classmate of Kavanaugh`s was also mentioned in the letter. He is today been tracked down by news outlets. That classmate denies the allegations.
The letter containing the allegations was sent to Senator Feinstein. The FBI says it since has received it from Feinstein and added the letter containing these allegations to Kavanaugh`s background file at the White House. That means both the White House and 100 U.S. senators now have access to the letter, in person if they want to see it, although the accuser`s name, the woman`s name in the letter is itself redacted.
NBC News reports that the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, says he has not read the letter, even though he`s one of the senators who has access to it.
This thing really is sort of down to the wire now. The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh`s confirmation in less than a week. If they vote him out on party lines, that would mean he gets voted out of committee and that would send it to the full chamber. If all Democrats vote no, they would still need two Republicans to vote no in order to keep him off the court.
One of the two Democrats -- one of the two Republicans Democrats have been trying to persuade is Senator Collins of Maine. After that hour-long conversation she had today with Brett Kavanaugh on the phone, her office wouldn`t say what the senator and Brett Kavanaugh discussed. NBC News approached Senator Collins personally to ask if she had any comment on the letter containing these allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Collins would not respond to questions about that.
But the clock here is ticking. Republicans are moving this nomination forward even as new questions about the nominee continue to emerge. I fully expect this story, this particular story about Kavanaugh to continue to develop through the weekend.
Republicans definitely want to steam ahead with voting on him as soon as next Wednesday or Thursday. It`s hard to see how that happens while this story is still developing. But watch this space.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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