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Cohen lied to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow. TRANSCRIPT: 12/12/18, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Lanny Davis

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  And thanks to you at home for being with us today.

You know, this time last year, the finance chairman of the national Republican Party was this man, a man named Steve Wynn.  He was named finance chair at the request of President Trump.  Since then, of course, Steve Wynn has had to resign that job as finance chair of the National Republican Party, and he`s also had to resign as the head of his multibillion dollar casino empire because of serious allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct at his business that were made public against him. 

At the same time, the National Republican Party got that guy, same time they got Steve Wynn as their national finance chairman, the National Republican Party also got this guy named to be one of the deputy finance chairman for the Republican Party, another Republican Party appointment to reflect the new Trump era in the history of the Republican Party.  Since then, he too has had to resign from the Republican Party after admitting to paying more than $1 million in hush money to a woman with whom he supposedly had an affair who told him he got her pregnant. 

Bizarrely or not, for that hush money effort, Elliott Broidy, the former deputy finance chair of the Republican Party, he appears to have used for that hush money arrangement the exact same lawyers, including Michael Cohen, who were involved in hush money deals designed to silence at least one woman during the campaign who said she had had an affair with Donald Trump.  Elliott Broidy has since been reported to be entangled in multiple investigations for illegal lobbying and influence peddling and money laundering.  Nice. 

But wait, there`s more.  Because at the same time the National Republican Party last year got Steve Wynn as their finance chairman and Elliott Broidy as their deputy finance chairman, at the same time they got those guys installed at the top of the RNC, welcome to the Trump era, there was one another deputy finance chairman that was appointed at the same time.  And that was this guy, Michael Cohen, who also ended up having to resign his new deputy finance chairman post at the Republican Party.  Michael Cohen today was sentenced to three years in federal prison for his role in multiple federal crimes, including two campaign finance felonies, in which prosecutors and the judge today, said he was in cahoots with the president of the United States in committing those crimes. 

And I know everybody today was sort of -- you might have seen either in the news, in the newspaper or online today, a lot of people making charts about all the people in the president`s orbit who have confessed to felonies and are maybe awaiting sentencing or heading off to prison, but honestly, as we`re thinking about the president`s whole political orbit, either planning to go to prison or going to prison, honestly, just spare a thought for the Republican Party, too.  I mean, it`s not like the infection that seems to be spreading out from the president is confined just to Trump world.  He`s brought all the best people into the upper echelons of the formal Republican Party, too.  And then they all have to quit when they get caught and when they go to prison. 

Today was a big day, obviously.  And what we`re going to go through, we`re going to go through some of what happened today in a couple of parts.  Where we`re going to land, I`ll tell you right now, is what appears to be potential legal jeopardy for the president`s company and specifically for the president`s oldest children on the felony counts in which Michael Cohen himself, federal prosecutors in New York and now a federal judge in New York, have all said the president was involved in. 

And there`s a lot of questions that are raised by Michael Cohen`s sentencing today and the way it went down we`ll get to some of those over the course of this hour.  To me, there are still some things that don`t make sense necessarily about Michael Cohen`s defense and his approach to this case.  We will talk about that tonight with two people who have been in communication with him extensively, and have some insight into his defense.  But let`s talk first specifically about what went down in court today, and why it looks like the president`s business and his eldest children might be in the legal crosshairs heading out of today. 

All right.  Let`s start in court.  At the very start of the proceedings, the deputy clerk calls the case, announces this is the case, case number, the attorneys on all three sides, they all introduce themselves to the judge.  That`s the lawyers for the federal prosecutor`s office in the southern district of New York.  Also, the prosecutors from the special counsel`s office led by Robert Mueller, and also the defense lawyers representing Michael Cohen.  So, two different sets of prosecutors and the defense for Cohen. 

The judge, quote: Good morning to all of you.  And I note the presence of the defendant, Mr. Cohen, at the counsel table.  This matter is on for sentencing.  Are the parties ready to proceed? 

Nick Roos for Southern District of New York says: Yes, sir, your honor.  Guy Petrillo for Michael Cohen`s defense says, yes, your honor.  Jeannie Rhee from the special counsel says, yes, your honor.

And then the judge says: Mr. Petrillo, do you wish to be heard on behalf of Mr. Cohen?  Guy Petrillo says: I do, your honor, thank you.  May it please the court, your honor.  My partner, Amy Lester, and I have had the privilege of representing Michael Cohen and the honor of having met some of the members of his family who are present here today in court. 

And then Guy Petrillo goes on to talk about the family members of Michael Cohen who are there, and talks about the letters of support that he and his co-counsel have submitted to the court from people who like Michael Cohen or say he`s helped them in some way in the past.  But pretty fast, Michael Cohen`s defense lawyer goes right to the big picture, right to making the case to the judge for why Michael Cohen should be treated with mercy, with thanks, even, from a grateful nation. 

Guy Petrillo, quote: Unless your honor would like me to proceed otherwise, I would like to first address the remarkable nature and significance of the life decision made by Mr. Cohen to cooperate with the special counsel and the relevance and, respectfully, the importance of that cooperation, not only to this specific man and your honor`s evaluation of this specific man, but also to the court`s consideration of how Mr. Cohen`s cooperation promotes respect for law and the courage of individual to stand up to power and influence. 

When Mr. Cohen authorized us to contact the special counsel`s office in July, he did so to offer his relevant knowledge to the investigation, knowing that he would face, as a result, when his offer became public, a barrage of attack by the president.  He knew the president might shut down the investigation and he knew there might come a time when he would appear in court and there would be no special counsel to stand up for him as there is today.  He moved forward nonetheless.  He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country. 

He did so not know what the result would be, not knowing how the politics would play out and not knowing whether the special counsel would even survive, nor could he anticipate the full measure of attack that has been made against him.  Not only by the president, who continues to say that people like Mr. Cohen who cooperate with the special counsel are weaklings and that those who hold fast and clam up are heroes, but also attacks by partisans and by citizens who happen to be aligned with the president.  And those attacks have included threats against him and his family. 

So, respectfully, your honor, this is not a standard case of cooperation.  The cooperation here should be viewed in a nonstandard or in a nonstandard framework.  Special counsel`s investigation is of the utmost national significance.  No less than what was seen 40-plus years ago in the days of Watergate.  In the light of that reality, respectfully, your honor, it is important that others in Mr. Cohen`s position who provide assistance to this historic inquiry, take renewed courage from this proceeding and that law enforcement and the promotion of respect for law also receive a boost from what happened here today. 

So, that is how Michael Cohen`s defense opens up.  He stood up to power.  He stood up to the most powerful person in the country.  In helping Robert Mueller, which Mueller absolutely says Cohen has done, Michael Cohen took a gamble.  He believed the president could have killed off the Mueller investigation at any time, which would have left Michael Cohen with no one to vouch for the fact that he had tried to help. 

Michael Cohen should be treated leniently.  If he is treated leniently, not only will that be the right thing to do by Michael Cohen, given his bravery, but it will give others the courage to also come forward to help.  Very heady stuff. 

And then this, the very next thing he does.  This is when Cohen`s defense lawyer throws a big spitball at the president`s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who it should be noted is also a felon. 

Quote: Your honor, in this exceptionally important matter, Mr. Cohen`s cooperation is overwhelmingly the factor.  We submit that should substantially mitigate his sentence.  And his action stands in profound contrast to the decision of some others not to cooperate and allegedly to double deal while pretending to cooperate.  You know who you are, small Manafort, pretending to cooperate. 

On the issue of just how helpful Michael Cohen was to prosecutors other than Robert Mueller, just how helpful he was or wasn`t to the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, that ends up being a really major factor today in Cohen getting three years in federal prison.  We`re going to have some fresh reporting on that in just a few minutes.  I think that`s actually still a pretty opaque issue and it`s one that`s ended up being really important for Michael Cohen`s ultimate fate. 

But you should know, you should also know, because this really is a historic thing today, you should also know what happened when Michael Cohen himself stood up today, literally stood up, to make his case to the judge.  Because the way it went down is, after all the lawyers had said their piece, it was Michael Cohen face to face with the judge, Michael Cohen making his own case for himself.  And then the judge, right then and there, immediately in response, telling him his fate. 

Quote, the judge: Mr. Petrillo, does your client wish to address the court before sentence is imposed?  Mr. Petrillo: He does, your honor.  Mr. Cohen would like to be heard.  The judge: Fine.  I`ll hear from Mr. Cohen now. 

The defendant, Michael Cohen: Your honor, stand here or to the podium?  The judge: I think it would be best to take the podium.  Michael Cohen: The defendant, thank you, your honor. 

I stand before your honor humbly and painfully aware that we are here today for one reason, because of my actions that I plead guilty to on august 21st and as well on November 29th.  I take full responsibility for each act that I plead guilty to, the personal ones to me and to those involving the president of the United States of America. 

Viktor Frankl in his book, "Man Search for Meaning", he wrote, there are forces beyond your control that can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.  Your honor, this may seem hard to believe, but today is one of -- but today is one of the most meaningful days of my life.  The irony is today is the day I`m getting my freedom back. 

As you sit at the bench and you contemplate my fate, I`ve been living in a personal and mental incarceration since the fateful day that I accepted the offer to work for a famous real estate mogul whose business acumen I truly admired.  In fact, I now know there is little to be admired.  I want to be clear, I blame myself for the conduct which has brought me here today and it was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light. 

It is for these reasons I chose to participate in the illicit act of the president rather than to listen to my own inner voice, which should have warned me that the campaign finance violations that I later plead guilty to were insidious.  Recently, the president tweeted a statement calling me weak, and he was correct, but for a much different reason than he was implying.  It was because time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds, rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass. 

My weakness could be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump, and I was weak for not having the strength to question and to refuse his demands.  I have already spent years living a personal and mental incarceration, which no matter what is decided today, owning this mistake will free me to be once more the person I really am. 

Now, at this point, his statement goes on and he makes what seems to be a heartfelt statement of love for his family and his shame for having brought them so much pain by his actions and his crimes.  This is, in fact, where Cohen says he didn`t enter into a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors in New York in order to spare his family, and again, that`s kind of an opaque thing.  We`ll have more on that later. 

But then this is how he closes his statement, with him begging the judge for his consideration, with an apology or two or three, and him also bringing it all back to the president. 

Michael Cohen, quote: For months now, the president of the United States, one of the most powerful member in the world, publicly mocks me, calling me a rat and a liar and insists the court sentence me to the absolute maximum time in prison.  Not only is this improper, it creates a false sense that the president can weigh in on the outcome of judicial proceedings that implicate him.  Despite being vilified by the press and inundated with character assassinations over the past almost two years, I still stand today and I`m committed to proving my integrity and ensuring that history will not remember me as the villain of this story.  I now know that every action I take in the future has to be well thought out and with honorable intention, because I wish to leave no room for future mistakes in my life. 

And so, I beseech your honor to consider this path that I am currently taking when sentencing me today and I want to apologize to my entire family for what my actions have put them through.  My family has suffered immeasurably in the home and the world outside.  I know I have let them all down.  It will be my life`s work to make it right and to become the best version of myself.  Most of all, I want to apologize to the people of the United States. 

And at this point, Mr. Cohen tears up in his statement in court.  He says: You deserve to know the truth and lying to you was unjust.  I want to thank you, your honor, for all the time you`ve committed to this matter and to the consideration you have given my future.  Again, I want to thank my family, my friends, many who are here today, who are with me, especially all the people that wrote letters on my behalf. 

In addition, I would like to thank the tens of thousands of strangers, despite not knowing me at all, not knowing me personally, have shown kindness and empathy in writing letters to me and offering support and prayer.  And I thank you, your honor, I`m truly sorry and I promise I will be better.

The judge: You may be seated, Mr. Cohen.  Mr. Cohen, the defendant, thank you. 

And then, if you`ve never seen one of these things, the real life drama you don`t realize until you`re in the middle of it, is that right after the defendant, Michael Cohen in this case, makes this tearful, standing, man- to-man, you know, beseeching and personal plea to the judge, right then, the judge lays it down.  There`s no interregnum.  There`s no buffer there.  It just -- it`s dramatic. 

Here`s how that part of the transcript goes.  The judge says: You may be seated Mr. Cohen.  Mr. Cohen says: Thank you. 

And then the judge says: The defendant, Michael Cohen, comes before this court having plead guilty to five counts of income tax evasion, one count of making false statements to a banking institution, one count of causing an unlawful corporate contribution and one count of an excessive campaign contribution and one count of making false statements to the U.S. Congress.  Each of these crimes is a serious offense against the United States. 

And this is immediately after Cohen is standing there crying and beseeching the judge for his forgiveness. 

The judge then explains the sentencing guidelines range for Cohen`s crimes and explains his reasoning at some length as to why some things about the Cohen case make things worse for him when it comes to his sentence, some make it better.  The judge says one thing about the president specifically that`s very important and a very specific thing.  We`re going to get to that in a second. 

But here`s how the plot ended today in court for Michael Cohen.  The judge, quote: While Mr. Cohen has taken steps to mitigate his criminal conduct by pleading guilty and volunteering useful information to prosecutors, that does not wipe the slate clean.  Mr. Cohen selected the information he disclosed to the government.  This court cannot agree with the defendant`s assertion that no jail time is warranted.  In fact, this court firm little believes that a significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this highly publicized case, to send a message to those who contemplate avoiding their taxes, evading campaign finance laws or lying to financial institutions or Congress. 

Our democratic institutions depend on the honesty of our citizenry in dealing with the government.  And so, it is against that backdrop that I am prepared to sentence the defendant.  Mr. Cohen, I`d ask, sir, that you stand at this time.  Mr. Cohen, it is my judgment, sir, that you be sentenced to a term of 36 months of imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release. 

And then the judge spells out the fines and the restitution and the forfeiture of funds that Cohen is sentenced to, adds up to a couple of million dollars.  Also, Cohen technically gets two months in prison, specifically for lying to Congress, but that won`t be extra time, the judge says that two-month sentence can be served concurrently with the three years he`ll otherwise be doing. 

But that`s how it ended today for Cohen.  Cohen will report for prison in the first week of March.  Today, he left the courtroom and then he left the courthouse in Lower Manhattan without saying another word. 

But there are pieces of this that follow him out.  And part of it is the question of his ongoing cooperation, and again, we`ll have more on that coming up on the show tonight, including from people who have spoken with him as he approached his sentencing today.  There`s also the very brief Russia specific comments made by the special counsel`s office in court today, too.  Very brief comments for the prosecutor from the special counsel`s office, saying that he has helped substantively on the core questions that relate to Russia that are at the heart of the special counsel`s inquiry. 

We got no further elaboration on that.  There remain interesting questions as to what Michael Cohen exactly can help with when it comes to the Russia part of this. 

But here`s the thing that I think is most immediate, and the most important big new thing that happened here today.  Right after Michael Cohen was sentenced today, the federal prosecutor`s office in the Southern District of New York, so, the same prosecutors who just prosecuted him for these crimes today and put him away for three years, just minutes after Cohen`s sentence was handed down today in this dramatic hearing with the judge, that same prosecutor`s office unsealed this.  It is a statement of admitted facts and a non-prosecution agreement that were unsealed today as soon as Cohen was sentenced. 

And what these documents are, they`re basically the first public revelations of an agreement that was secretly entered into between these same prosecutors and one of the other parties who was involved in the campaign finance felonies that we learned today are going to put Cohen in prison and these are the same federal felonies that Cohen himself, the prosecutors in the case and the federal judge in this case all say that President Trump was involved in, too. 

Now, I mentioned just a moment ago that there was one thing that the judge said at the end of the sentencing today that was specific and important and it was about the president.  This is it.  These were those comments from the judge that I think are really important as to what might happen next here.  The judge says, quote, Mr. Cohen committed two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 presidential election with the intent to influence the outcome of that election. 

He made or facilitated payments to silence two women who threatened to go public with details of purported extramarital affairs, and Mr. Cohen admitted that he did so in coordination with and at the directional of individual one.  That is the judge speaking today from the bench, individual one in this context is, of course, the president of the United States, and those felonies, according to prosecutors and now according to the judge, involve Michael Cohen and the president, making or facilitating payments during the campaign that were illegal payments designed to influence the election. 

So, moments after we get that important statement from the judge, underscoring that part of the prosecution`s case, hey, this is about Cohen, but he did this with the president, moments later, we get formal notice from the prosecutors in this case that, yeah, one of the other parties who participated with Cohen and Trump in the commission of that felony, the media company AMI, American Media Inc, which made one of these illegal payments that was facilitated by Cohen and Trump, turns out AMI have been cooperating with prosecutors with this matter for months, and now we know that in September, that company secured a formal agreement that protects them from being prosecuted for this crime, because they`re helping prosecutors nail it down. 

Well, prosecutors are nailing this down, who all is implicated in this illegal payment scheme?  Well, Michael Cohen.  They`ve got Michael Cohen now.  He`s going to prison for it.

They`ve effectively named the president as his conspirator, right?  But his co-conspirator in this felony, but maybe the president himself can`t be indicted while he`s president.  Well, now we know as of today, they`ve told the media company that committed this crime with them that the media company is off the hook in exchange for their cooperation. 

Well, is there anybody else potentially in trouble for this felony, given what prosecutors have made public about the nature of this crime and what they know about it?  Yes.  Yes.  As it turns out, yes, there is someone else potentially in trouble here. 

And they don`t have a non-prosecution agreement.  And they don`t have immunity.  Because that`s the president`s company, and specifically, the decision-makers inside his company who would have had the authority in that company to help pull something like this off at the time that it happened during the campaign. 

And there appear to be five people who fit that bill.  One of whom is the Trump organization`s financial -- chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.  He has also reportedly been granted immunity by prosecutors in exchange for his assistance in this matter. 

And then the other four people who were inside the Trump Organization at the time this felony was committed who apparently would have had the authority within the company to make something like this happen, they happen to be four people who were employed as top executives at the Trump organization who all have the same last name. 

We have known already for months that there is an open federal grand jury investigation into the Trump Organization in New York, the president`s business.  Prosecutors have now made clear to the court in public facing filings and statements that the Trump Organization was used to aid in the commission of a campaign finance felony.  A campaign finance felony, which at least one person is already going to prison for. 

As of today, everybody else involved in that felony is either going to prison or they have been granted immunity.  They were either granted immunity directly by prosecutors or they were granted immunity indirectly by virtue of the fact that being president may grant immunity of its own. 

But you know what?  Being the president`s business does not grant you immunity from prosecution, nor does being the president`s adult child.  How exactly they`re implicated in this and what they might be looking down the barrel of from federal prosecutors in New York is something that we can detail quite granularly.  And we`ve got more on that next.

  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You know it`s a big day when the president`s long-time personal lawyer getting sentenced to three years in federal prison isn`t the news that`s most legally worrying for the president that day.  Moments after Michael Cohen was sentenced today, the New York federal prosecutors who brought the case against him unsealed this non-prosecution agreement that they had made with a company involved in one of the felonies that Michael Cohen was sentenced for today.  This essentially is a partial immunity deal for American Media, Inc, the company that runs "The National Enquirer". 

The company and its chairman, a long time friend of the president named David Pecker, I know, ha-ha, you can get the jokes out of your mind right now.  We`ll leave those where they are.  The company and its chairman secretly entered into this deal with prosecutors in September.  And in this deal, prosecutors said the company wouldn`t be prosecuted for making an illegal campaign contribution to the Trump campaign when they paid $150,000 to a woman specifically to keep her from talking about her alleged affair with Donald Trump before Election Day. 

Now, in exchange for that non-prosecution, the company had to agree to help prosecutors, and they had to admit their conduct.  This is from prosecutors today, quote, as part of the agreement, AMI admitted it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate`s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election.  AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman`s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election. 

So, AMI had previously maintained this fiction that they were really interested in paying this woman $150,000 for her tips on, like, toning your abs and stuff.  Had nothing to do -- yes.  They`re admitting that was a $150,000 payment designed to influence the election. 

So, this is federal prosecutors getting an admission from this company that the 150 grand was intended to influence the election.  And importantly, it was spent in concert with the president`s campaign.  That`s the language that they`re using. 

Now, we know that the president`s campaign in this instance means Michael Cohen.  We also know that it means the president himself, landmark reporting on this story in "The Wall Street Journal" just last month, showed that when they were setting up this scheme to have AMI pay off women to benefit Trump during the campaign, Trump himself directly worked with Cohen on the overall plot and on the specific payments.  So, we know the -- doing this in concert with the campaign means Cohen, through good open source reporting, we believe it also directly means the president himself.  So that`s one thing to know here.  The campaign here means the president, at least the president, if not others. 

But then the second thing here is the money.  So, the Justice Department went out of its way to say this when they announced Cohen`s sentence today.  Quote: In 2016, Michael Cohen made or caused two separate payments to women to ensure that they did not publicly disclose their alleged affairs with the presidential candidate in advance of the election.  In one instance, Cohen caused American Media Inc, AMI, to make a $150,000 payment to one woman.  In the other, Cohen made $130,000 payment to another woman through an LLC he incorporated for the purpose of making that payment. 

Cohen was reimbursed for the latter payment in monthly installments disguised as payments for legal services performed pursuant to a retainer when, in fact, no such retainer existed.  Cohen made or caused both these payments in order to influence the 2016 election, and did so in coordination with one or more members of the campaign.  So, part of the scheme here, as outlined by federal prosecutors, as they secure prison time for Michael Cohen in conjunction with these felonies, part of the scheme here, according to prosecutors, is the fact that Cohen was paid back the money that he used to commit this felony. 

It was the Trump Organization that paid Michael Cohen back.  But according to prosecutors, not just according to open source reporting but according to prosecutors, the Trump Organization covered up what the money was for.  They called it a legal retainer for Michael Cohen when in fact it was no such thing.  Again, that`s according to prosecutors today. 

We also know that the Trump Organization paid Cohen a ton more money than he supposedly need as this reimbursement here.  Cohen paid out $130,000 in that illegal campaign contribution, but the Trump organization quote reimbursed him way more than that.  He paid out 130, they pay him back 420, $420,000.  What was all the extra money for? 

I mean, if the cover-up of the illegal payment is part of the crime that prosecutors are pursuing here, all of this financial dancing around and all of this financial lying, in order to cover up what was really going on here, if the financial cover-up is part of what prosecutors are pursuing here, and as of today, it seems like they are, then are they about to charge the Trump organization for falsifying their own records to cover up what Michael Cohen did? 

I mean, prosecutors are saying those were false records.  That covered up what Michael Cohen did when he was committing this felony, in concert with the campaign by which we mean Donald Trump.  The Trump organization covered it up by lying in their financial records about what the trail was of the money. 

Well, who actually cut those checks to Michael Cohen, when they`re giving him hundreds of thousands of extra dollars on top of what they were calling his legal retainer, even though it wasn`t a legal retainer and it was understood to be reimbursement for the illegal payments he had made to benefit the campaign?  If that`s part of what prosecutors are pursuing here, we should know who cut those checks, right? 

In a deposition about the Trump University fraud in 2015, Allen Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization, said under oath in a deposition that the same small group of people have check writing authority across all of the different Trump-related entities.  This is from that deposition. 

Question, as you sit here today, do you believe anybody beyond you, Mr. Trump and Mr. Trump`s children, do you believe anybody else other than that core group was authorized to sign checks on behalf of Trump University?  Answer from Weisselberg: I would say that seems to be the group that we`ve used over the last number of years to sign checks over all our entities.  All our entities. 

So the answer is, Trump, Trump`s adult children, and Allen Weisselberg.  Those are the people that could cut checks at all Trump related entities.  Well, you can hive off Weisselberg from that because he has reportedly been granted immunity now in this case as well, in exchange for him helping prosecutors.  AMI got immunity.  Allen Weisselberg got immunity. 

Well, that leaves the president and his adult kids.  And the overt contention by federal prosecutors now is that whoever had check writing authority at the Trump Organization, they used the president`s business to cover up the financial trail of this felony, which is apparently a trail these prosecutors are pursuing, in part by giving immunity in exchange for cooperation to everybody else involved in this felony who isn`t named Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The president`s long-time personal lawyer was sentenced to three years in federal prison today. 

Joining us now here live in the studio is Lanny Davis.  He`s an advisor to Michael Cohen who, until today, was also part of Michael Cohen`s legal team. 

Mr. Davis, it`s good to have you here.  Thanks for coming in. 

LANNY DAVIS, ADVISOR TO MICHAEL COHEN:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Why until today?  You have left -- you are no longer a lawyer associated with Michael Cohen? 

DAVIS:  Well, lawyers have constraints, and the cases over the sentencing process is completed.  Now my media ability to talk and explain and certainly understand Michael Cohen, I can speak much more freely, and I`m now exercising my First Amendment rights. 

MADDOW:  OK.  You have said in the wake of today`s proceedings, and actually heading into today`s proceedings, that Mr. Cohen wants to not only to continue to cooperate with the Mueller investigation and continue to speak with prosecutors, but he wants to speak publicly about what he knows about President Trump. 

What do you mean by that? 

DAVIS:  I am thinking of John Dean in 1974, whose crimes included very serious obstruction of justice, tampering with witnesses, doing a lot of the evil work in the Nixon White House that he ultimately owned up to.  But there was a moment, and he and I have talked about that moment where he needed to tell the truth about what he had seen and heard, even though he was involving himself in all of those crimes.  And that moment will come for Michael Cohen, not before Mr. Mueller does his work, and makes his report. 

But I am certainly hopeful that Michael Cohen will have that moment to tell the American people as he so eloquently and humbly did today in his statement to the court, not only his regret in taking ownership of all of the things that he did for Donald Trump that he`s not proud of, but the truth about what he knows about Donald Trump that led him to what I believe is a genuine change in himself, to change and tell the truth because he found the president, Donald Trump, as dangerous to his family and to the country. 

MADDOW:  That pivot point for Mr. Cohen, did that relate specifically to the core issues at the heart of the special counsel`s investigation?  Special counsel prosecutor Jeannie Rhee today said in court that Mr. Cohen has provided evidence that`s directly related to this core issues, Russia related issues. 

Is that part of what made Michael Cohen decide to essentially flip against the president, his concerns on the Russia matter? 

DAVIS:  First of all, thank you for reminding everyone that Mr. Mueller used those words -- core issues. 

MADDOW:  Uh-huh.

DAVIS:  Very important words.  And Michael Cohen spoke to them and they have not been set forth yet. 

Secondly, there were multiple, emotional, personal changes that occurred in Michael Cohen after Donald Trump became president, leading him to call me in long, heartfelt conversations about the changes he was undergoing, the regrets that he had. 

It all comes down to a sentence that he said to me, and I remember the moment, and I called my law partner to say, I think this is for real.  And that was, he recognizes Donald Trump as president, was a danger to his family and to the country.  And he emphasized as president what he had done before Trump became president, because he never imagined he`d ever be elected president -- he felt shame about and he articulated that. 

But the notion that this man, that he did so much bad things for and defended so many bad things, was now president of the United States showing the mental instability that scared him regarding the safety and welfare, not just of his family, but the country, to me was the pivotal moment on the telephone that I thought this is for real. 

MADDOW:  The count that Mr. Cohen pled guilty to last, lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project, he received a $50,000 fine for that today and two months concurrent running with his otherwise three-year long sentence.  There have been suggestions in the court filings around that charge, that Mr. Cohen was in communication with the White House about that testimony before he gave it.  The question is -- I feel like we`re very close to having an answer to the question of whether or not the White House or President Trump specifically advised Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about Trump Tower, Moscow. 

Did Cohen come up with those lies on his own or did he get advice from the White House telling him that he should lie about that matter? 

DAVIS:  So, I`m dedicated tonight, not to answer questions that only Mr. Mueller knows the answers to and let him give the answers, and then Mr. Cohen, I hope, will be elaborating. 

But I can answer that Mr. Mueller was very harsh about Mr. Cohen, premeditatively publicizing those lies, and consulting with the White House, and nobody at the White House told him not to lie. 

MADDOW:  So Cohen was open with the White House about the fact that his testimony -- about the fact of what his testimony is going to be, that it was going to be testimony is a lie and the White House didn`t say, don`t do it?

DAVIS:  Correct. 

MADDOW:  OK.

DAVIS:  And Mr. Mueller is the one who said those words, when he said premeditated, and he publicized the remarks to Congress that were lies about the Moscow -- the timing of the communication with high officials --

MADDOW:  The president had to know those were false, he knew that Cohen was going to say it and he didn`t --

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS:  He released his testimony according to Mr. Mueller before he gave it, at the same time he was talking to the White House.  And nobody in the White House said that`s not true, don`t lie. 

MADDOW:  Cover-up often worse than the crime. 

DAVIS:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Lanny Davis who, until today, was a lawyer associated with Michael Cohen, has left the legal team but continues to speak with Mr. Cohen.  I imagine will be involved as a spokesman role going forward, perhaps? 

DAVIS:  You can see by my gray hair, I`m an adviser -- 

MADDOW:  Adviser.

DAVIS:  -- and a friend. 

MADDOW:  Lanny Davis, thank you for coming in.  Much appreciated.

DAVIS:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  Much to come.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Joining us now is someone who was not just in the courtroom today as Michael Cohen was being sentenced, but who has been covering him closely all along.  Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter at "Vanity Fair", our Michael Cohen whisperer. 

Thank you very much for being here.  Much appreciated.

EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR:  Thank you for having me. 

MADDOW:  I understand that you have spoken with Mr. Cohen since the sentencing? 

FOX:  I was in court today.  I saw him and his family actually enter the court as they happen to be entering at the same time.  It was a -- it was interesting, because half the room was reporters, right?  So half the people have notebooks in their lap and were writing everything down, and half the room it felt like were people who were Cohen`s family and very close friends.  And so, you had a group of, let`s call them looky-loos trying to absorb all the information we were getting and it was a lot of information. 

And you had a group of people who were incredibly emotional about the decision.  This was something not just a piece in the puzzle of Mueller`s investigation or a plot line in this insane telenovela that we`re all living through every day, this is a very personal, human thing to half of that room.  And so, to have that split was fascinating to watch, and I don`t think that anyone, whatever side you were on, walked out of that courtroom not feeling something. 

The judge made very clear today that these are very serious crimes and that is why he was sentencing them in a tough way, that he was getting 36 months in prison and hefty fines and financial penalties and there was a strong case and reason for that.  That is not to say that you didn`t feel for the human being in that room who was standing up there, saying, I made mistakes because I was weak and I made mistakes because I didn`t listen to my inner voice and I vow to do better and I`m sorry for my family and that`s the worst sentence of all. 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about part of it that didn`t make sense to me, though.  Like I understood the case that he`s making.  In a very heartfelt case talking about how much he loves his family and speaking in very blunt terms about the president and what went wrong between him and the president, and when you talked about having admired the president`s business acumen. 

FOX:  Yes.

MADDOW:  That all rings very true and I get hit and I`m following him.  And then, I don`t get it when he talks about why he didn`t enter into a cooperation agreement with New York federal prosecutors, which ultimately is the thing that probably resulted in him getting the sentence that he got today.  Federal prosecutors in New York argued, yes, we understand he was helpful to the special counsel, he wasn`t helpful to us in a way we value in this district, because he wasn`t willing to enter into a cooperation agreement with us, we`re not going to tell the judge to go easy on him. 

So, Guy Petrillo, his lawyer, stands up and says, it is not the case that Mr. Cohen has declined to answer questions from the Southern District, or from our duly authorized U.S. attorneys offices, state law enforcements and Congress, he`s ready to do that.  He`s wary of a long-term cooperation agreement for personal reasons and because he wants both to remove himself and to remove his family from the glare of the cameras and try to work his way and their way back from an abnormal life. 

The period of such an agreement would be indeterminate.  The press is overwhelming on this case, but none of this to say he won`t make himself available for questioning on investigative matters.  And then Michael in his own comments to the judge reiterated that with a sort of twist and said, I want -- I didn`t cooperate because I want to be sentenced quickly so my sentence will end more quickly, so I can get home. 

I mean, had he cooperated, it`s possible to have no sentence at all. 

FOX:  Sure.

MADDOW:  How do you make sense of this?  What they`re explaining isn`t logical. 

FOX:  So, what their explanation is, if you are a cooperating witness, it could go on for months, you could be in this sort of legal purgatory for months, it could go on for years, and their assessment was, let`s get the sentence and get this over with. 

Now, it`s hard for me to imagine that it would go on for more than three years which is what he`s going to serve in prison. 

MADDOW:  Uh-huh. 

FOX:  The way I understood it before I heard that explanation over the last couple of days, as it was explained to me, was to be a formal cooperating witness is in the Southern District of New York, which is distinct, you have to tell them everything you have done wrong from the day you were born until today, and not everything you did, but everything everyone around you has done wrong. 

MADDOW:  And (INAUDIBLE) you`ve ever witnessed.

FOX:  You`ve ever witnessed from anybody.  And I think for some people, that is a deterrent. 

MADDOW:  Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter at "Vanity Fair" -- thank you very much.  I have a feeling this is not the end of the Cohen saga. 

FOX:  Stay tuned. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, my dear.  Appreciate it. 

FOX:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  All right. Much more.  We`ll be back.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It`s Advent calendar season, which means every day, you open a new tiny door to discover a new bit of wonder.  Behind tomorrow`s door will be a very important legal proceeding involving Maria Butina, accused of acting as a covert Russian agent to influence the Republican Party in the 2016 campaign. 

The last few days, we`ve learned that Butina has reached a deal, unbelievably, to plead guilty and start cooperating with the FBI and prosecutors in her case.  Today was the day she was supposed to enter that plea and we expect to learn more about that deal, but it was pushed to tomorrow, that will happen tomorrow, 10:30 a.m. Eastern. 

One of the big question marks in her case concerns her long-time boyfriend, Republican operative named Paul Erickson, and his role in this scheme.  He is known as U.S. person one.  So, there`s considerable suspense around his potential case and whatever else we`re going to find out in federal court.  But again, 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, new Advent calendar door pops open.  `Tis the season. 

Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow when it`ll be more stuff like this because we`re going to have another wild legal day tomorrow in the Russia scandal. 

But now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

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