CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Chris Lou (ph) and Marcy Hamilton (ph), thank you both so much. Have a great weekend.
That is ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. You know, we are going to have the reporter from the "Miami Herald" who broke up that Alex Acosta- Jeffrey Epstein story. She`s going to be joining us live this hour.
HAYES: Julie K. Brown who should win all the awards. It is a model of what great local newspaper reporting looks like.
MADDOW: Yes, and impact journalism. Talk about the impact of what she`s been able to do. Stunning. Thanks for your coverage, much appreciated.
HAYES: Yes, I`m going to watch it.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
It is Friday. You know what that means. Five news cycles of news already crammed into this one day. And we are still waiting for what we think will be a pretty big news, maybe some time tonight from the office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel.
There is a court-ordered deadline tonight for the special counsel`s office to submit to a federal judge in Washington, D.C. the prosecution`s sentencing submission related to President Trump`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Now, just to be clear about what this is, what we are waiting for tonight, you`ll remember that Paul Manafort was actually brought up on federal charges in two different neighboring jurisdictions. He was brought up on charges in Virginia and also in Washington, D.C. He could have combined those two. It seems like in retrospect, that might have been a good move. But he didn`t.
So, a week ago tonight we got prosecutors sentencing submission for Manafort in the Virginia case. That`s where they recommended that he serve 19 to 24 years in prison and that he pay fines and restitution ranging from several million dollars to several tens of millions of dollars. We`re still waiting on the defense -- excuse me, the defense submission in response to that from Paul Manafort`s defense team in Virginia. We actually think we`ll get that response from them a week from tonight on Friday March 1st.
Thereafter, that judge in that Virginia case will look at that submission from the prosecution. The judge will look at that submission from the defense. He`ll look at the sentencing guidelines and what Manafort was convicted of in that trial in his courtroom, and then two weeks from tonight on Friday, March 8th, Manafort is due to get his sentence handed down in that case in Virginia.
So, that`s everything that`s happened thus far and what we`re expecting in Virginia.
What we are waiting on tonight has nothing to do with the Virginia case. Tonight, we are waiting on prosecutors` recommendation for what sentence Paul Manafort should get in the other case. With the case that was brought against him in Washington, D.C. And that will, again, start this whole, you know, recourse of process where we will get the submission from prosecutors then Manafort`s defense team will submit their own recommendations for his sentence. That from Manafort`s defense team is expected to come in on Monday.
And then in this D.C. case, the D.C. judge will consider both of those submissions from the prosecution and the defense. The judge will look at the sentencing guidelines. She will look at the circumstances of Manafort`s case in her courtroom and then she will make her own decision on Manafort`s ultimate sentence for that jurisdiction on March 13th.
So both of these things are coming to an end, right? Manafort is coming to the end of the line, in both of these neighboring federal jurisdictions where he was charged with federal crimes. And the reason there is so much anticipation about this particular sentencing document we`re going to get on Manafort by tonight`s deadline is that for everything we have been through with Manafort thus far, right, with the charges in D.C. and the charges in Virginia and him initially mounting a joint defense with Rick Gates, and then Rick gates peeling off and pleading guilty and becoming a cooperator and Manafort standing firm and saying he wasn`t going to plead guilty and he wasn`t going to cooperate and then Manafort got convicted of a bunch of felonies and then he did decide to plead guilty and he did say he would cooperate and his prosecution deal fell apart.
I mean, there was the witness tampering allegations. There was the revocation of his bail and jailing him. There were the allegations of him lying to prosecutors even after his cooperation deal. There`s still this dangling thread of Manafort`s Russian co-defendant, his former employee who prosecutors and the FBI say is linked to Russian intelligence activity now.
I mean, for all of the drama around the prosecution of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, what we are expecting tonight in all likelihood will be the last word from Robert Mueller, the last word from the special counsel`s office about this case and about this defendant. And, you know, anything can happen, but the way it looks like things are going, this will sort of be it. I mean, and in this document -- in this kind of documents, prosecutors can say as much or as little as they want. They can be as technical as they want or as sweeping and narrative as they want.
But as far as we know, this sentencing recommendation from the special counsel`s office about Paul Manafort will be kind of the final scene between Mueller and Manafort. If Mueller is ever going to spell out for the public and the court the full gravity and full scope of what the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort did wrong, this sentencing document in D.C. is likely to be the document in which he does that. So because of that expectation, me and all the prosecutors -- all the prosecutors -- all the producers who work on this show and everybody else in the country who covers this story, we`ve all been kittens with their claws out hanging from a tree limb all day long waiting for this thing to come out.
Now, the deadline technically is today. That definitely doesn`t mean close of business. I guess it just means as long as you can stay up. There is, of course, the possibility that the prosecutors will meet the court`s deadline but they will submit something that needs to go through some sort of redaction/unredaction process. Maybe we won`t get it tonight.
But based on the court`s deadline, we were expecting to see it today. We shall see. A few hours left. So, we`ll have more on that in a second.
We`ll also be covering tonight a big curveball that was actually thrown into the Manafort case in the last minute today in a big story that was broken by reporter Greg Farrell at Bloomberg News. That`s all still ahead.
But you should also know that we also got an unexpected news break today from reporters Juliet Eilperin and Lisa Rein at "The Washington Post" about a possibility of a criminal indictment of a recently departed Trump cabinet official. No, not that one. Not Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. We`ll be talking about his potential criminal liability a little bit later on this hour, too, but that`s not who I mean.
See, Alex Acosta is still U.S. labor secretary, which makes it all the more amazing that we`re going to be talking about his potential criminal liability tonight. But, no, this unexpected news that we got this afternoon from "The Washington Post" was about a former Trump cabinet official. It was about Ryan Zinke. He is the Trump cabinet official who you may remember assigned an interior department staffer to run up to the roof of the department headquarters and put his personal "Ryan Zinke is here" flag up the flagpole every time Secretary Zinke entered the building. He had a special flag that meant Ryan Zinke is in the house, and it was a person`s job to run and put that flag up whenever Ryan Zinke walked through the door. Yes.
By the time Ryan Zinke announced his resignation as interior secretary on December 15th, he was not only famous for that, he was famous for having found his way into no less than 15 ethics investigations covering the tenure of his less than two years in office. Although Ryan Zinke has characterize his December resignation as voluntary, he had reportedly been told by the White House that if he did not resign as interior secretary, he would be fired.
Ryan Zinke upon being told that then told White House staffers that, OK, he would resign, but he wasn`t going to resign until after he was able to throw himself a Christmas party at the Department of the Interior, which he did. Part of the reason we know he did is because at that Christmas party he posed for photos in front of a large stuffed bear wearing a Santa cap. He had to stay until he could do that.
Literally, the following day, the day after he had his Interior Department Christmas party with the stuffed bear, the party that he invited all the lobbyists to so they could take pictures of him with the dead bear with the Santa hat on, the day after that, that is when he finally consented to resign, once he got that important task done with.
One of the things that Ryan Zinke got in trouble for as Interior Secretary was trying to get rid of the Interior Department`s independent inspector general who had brought several of these inquiries into Ryan Zinke on ethics issues. He was not able to get rid of the Interior Department inspector general despite his best efforts.
And it turns out in the end one of the inquiries that she launched into him, an inquiry that concerned Ryan Zinke`s decision about casino gambling and Indian tribes in the state of Connecticut, the inspector general`s inquiry into that matter went especially pear shaped for Ryan Zinke when officials in the inspector general`s office came to believe that he had lied to them over the course of their inquiries into that particular scandal. So in late October, "The Washington Post" reported that the that had resulted in Ryan Zinke being referred to the Justice Department for criminal investigation for potentially lying to investigators.
Well, now tonight, "The Washington Post" reports that the Justice Department didn`t just sit on that criminal referral. Federal prosecutors have now begun presenting evidence to a grand jury in Washington, D.C. with an eye toward potentially indicting Zinke for lying to investigators.
As of today, "The Post" reports that Zinke himself has not been called to appear before this grand jury, but Eilperin and the Rein at "The Post" have two sources confirming that in fact this grand jury has been convened. And, you know, although a lot of Trump cabinet officials or Trump cabinet nominees or other senior Trump officials have been driven out of Washington trailed by very serious scandals, depending on how this goes with the grand jury, Ryan Zinke may be the first Trump cabinet official to face a federal criminal indictment, which is a very serious thing. If that is where this is going, somebody please save a seat in the courtroom for the stuffed bear.
We will be watching that closely. I should tell you, as of yet, there has been no comment from the White House on this reporting at all, but tonight I can tell you one of our producers from this show was able to reach Mr. Zinke by phone to ask him personally for comment.
He did give us a comment on this story tonight. His comment was, quote: Have a great day. Bye-bye.
Better than no comment.
Here is something else we are watching tonight. As we have been waiting all day on the prosecutor`s sentencing memo related to Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, "The New York Times" has also broken news on President Trump`s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen. As you know, Michael Cohen had been ordered to present himself less than two weeks from now. He had been ordered to present himself on March 6th to start his federal prison sentence.
Earlier this week, the judge in his case granted him a delay for his prison sentence start date. Instead of March 6th, Mr. Cohen is now expected to start his prison sentence on May 6th. That`s an extra 60 days before he has to show up and start serving his term.
Now, Michael Cohen and his lawyers had asked for the delay, the delayed start to his prison sentence for two reasons. First, they said he has recently had shoulder surgery and he needs time to continue to recover from that surgery. But secondly, they said he is wanted in Congress and that`s been very time consuming in terms of him getting ready to go to prison.
Over three consecutive days next week, Michael Cohen is in fact scheduled to give testimony to three different congressional committees. He`ll be talking behind closed doors on Tuesday and on Thursday to the intelligence committees. In between those two intelligence committee hearings on Tuesday and Thursday, on Wednesday, starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, there will be what everybody`s expecting to be a blockbuster day of testimony from Cohen in open session before the House Oversight Committee under the leadership of Democratic Chairman Elijah Cummings.
And the reason everybody`s expected this to be a bit of a blockbuster is not just because it`s going to be an open hearing, it`s also the list of topics that Chairman Cummings has publicly released ahead of that testimony to give us a sense of what Cohen is going to be testifying about. Chairman Cummings said he does not want to step on the toes of the intelligence committees and so, Cohen will not be asked questions about things that can only be discussed in the secure classified environment that the intelligence committees will offer him for his closed-door testimony.
But that doesn`t mean that in the open hearing, they`re only going to be asking Michael Cohen about the weather and what he`s packing for his trip to prison. This is the list of topics that Elijah Cummings has announced. Quote, after consulting with the Department of Justice and with Chairman Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee, Chairman Cummings has set the scope to address the following issues.
Number one, you can just stop me here. Number one, the president`s debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election.
Now, the only debts we know about for the president involve supposedly business-related bank loans with institutions like Deutsche Bank. We do not know why the Oversight Committee believes that the president`s debts of any kind may be related to efforts to influence the 2016 election. Let alone why that same committee believes that the president`s payments of some kind may be associated with efforts to influence the 2016 election, but apparently they think that`s app issue that needs to be discussed and they think that Michael Cohen is going to be able to testify about that issue on Wednesday.
Oh. Only if that was the only issue they said they were going to be discussing with Michael Cohen, that would probably make for a lot of people watching that hearing with great interest. We don`t know what they mean by that. That will be fascinating to see.
But that is only one of ten topics they are planning to cover with Michael Cohen. According to Elijah Cummings, these are the others. Quote: The president`s compliance with financial disclosure requirements. The president`s compliance with campaign finance laws, the president`s potential and actual conflicts of interest. The president`s business practices. We`ll come back to that one in a moment.
The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. for which the president has been sued for allegedly violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Also, quote, the accuracy of the president`s public statements. Oh, God.
Also, quote, potentially fraudulent or inappropriate practices by the Trump Foundation. The Trump Foundation, of course, was the president`s sort of charity that has already been the subject of considerable legal wrangling with authorities in the state of New York. And then finally, the tenth topic they say they want to go through with Michael Cohen in this open hearing on Wednesday is, quote, public efforts by the president and his attorney to intimidate Michael Cohen or others not to testify.
So, again, that is the agenda for Michael Cohen`s testimony, Wednesday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Michael Cohen`s expected attendance at that hearing and the other closed-door hearings he`s going to do next week, plus the time and effort needed to prepare him for those hearings, those are things that were cited by Cohen`s defense counsel in asking the judge in his case for a delay in his report date to start his federal prison sentence. As I mentioned this week, the judge agreed and gave him an extra 60 days.
In terms of this new stuff from "The New York Times" tonight about Cohen, I think you have to keep in mind both that expected public testimony from Cohen next week, but also the back story of how he got into this pickle in the first place. It was August of last year when Cohen pled guilty to multiple felonies, including two felony campaign finance charges in which he and federal prosecutors both told the court that president Trump personally directed Cohen to commit those crimes. Those felony charges were brought against Cohen by federal prosecutors who were operating out of the U.S. attorney`s office in the Southern District of New York. So that was August.
But then, surprise, in November, Michael Cohen turned up back in federal court again to plead guilty to one more felony. And this time that felony charge was not brought by SDNY, it was brought by prosecutors from Robert Mueller`s office, prosecutors working for the special counsel. And that one additional felony that Michael Cohen pled guilty to in November was a charge specifically of lying to Congress, lying to the Intelligence Committees about something related to the president`s business -- specifically efforts by the president`s business to develop a Trump Tower Moscow, while Trump was running for president.
In pleading guilty to that charge, Cohen admitted in court that the negotiations to try to build a Trump Tower in Moscow had extended much later into the course of the presidential campaign than he had previously admitted. He also admitted to lying to the extent to pursue that Moscow project involved direct contact and negotiations between the Trump Organization and the Russian government.
So he pleads to most of that stuff in August. He pops up again in November to plead to that one additional felony. And then in December, soon after he pooped up in court to plead guilty to that one additional felony, Michael Cohen was back in that same courtroom before the judge to be sentenced on all of those felonies put together. On the one from the special counsel`s office about lying about Trump Tower Moscow, plus all the earlier felonies including the campaign finance felonies that he pled to after being charged by SDNY.
So, he had this combined sentencing hearing in December. And you might remember that the special counsel`s office basically asked for lenience from the judge for Cohen, right? They described him as a very valuable cooperating witness.
But the other prosecutors, the prosecutors from SDNY, right, the prosecutors who had brought most of the charges to which Cohen pled guilty, they did not ask the judge for considerable lenience for Michael Cohen. Those prosecutors asked the judge to give Michael Cohen significant prison time. I mean, despite the fact that he, you know, pled guilty and all the rest of it, despite the fact that he had offered this very effective Cooperation to Robert Mueller and the special counsel. That`s all well and good, but according to the prosecutors from SDNY, Michael Cohen shouldn`t be considered a full cooperating witness with them.
Frankly, they told the judge, they thought there was a lot more that Cohen should have and could have coughed up if he really did want a break. They told the judge, quote: With respect to Cohen`s provision of information to this office, in its two meetings with him, this office assessed Cohen to be forthright and credible and the information he provided was largely consistent with other evidence gathered. Had Cohen actually cooperated, it could have been fruitful. He did provide what could have been useful information about matters relating to ongoing investigations being carried out by this office, but as Cohen partially acknowledges, it was his decision not to pursue full cooperation.
Cohen repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge. Quote, indeed Cohen only met with the office, meaning the SDNY prosecutors, about the participation of others in the campaign finance crimes to which Cohen had already pled guilty. Cohen specifically declined to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past. Cohen further declined to meet with this office about other areas of investigative interest.
As the court is undoubtedly aware, in order to successfully cooperate with this office, witnesses much under go full debriefings that encompass their entire criminal history as well as any and all information that they possess about crimes committed by both themselves and others. This process permits the office to fully assess the candor, culpability and complications to any potential cooperators and results in cooperating witnesses who having accepted full responsibility for any and all misconduct are credible to law enforcement and hopefully to judges and juries.
Cohen affirmatively chose not to pursue this process. Cohen`s efforts thus fell well short of cooperation, as that term is properly used in this district. Because Michael Cohen elected not to pursue more fulsome cooperation with this office, including on other subjects and his own history, this office cannot assess the overall level of Cohen`s cooperation to be significant.
And so, judge, throw him in jail.
And that is in part how Michael Cohen ended up with a three-year prison sentence that he was due to start in a couple of weeks. He will now start it in May. And by all anecdotal accounts, Michael Cohen was shocked to get a three-year prison sentence. It was clear to observers in the courtroom that his family was definitely shocked by the length of that sentence.
But now, here`s the thing. We are going to have some expert help here in a second to explain this better. I am not a lawyer. Nobody should ever cite anything I say in their own defense in court.
But as I understand it, under federal law you do sort of have one more card to play potentially after you`ve been given your sentence by a federal judge. If prosecutors are interested in what you may have to say, and if you can offer prosecutors substantial assistance towards the investigation or prosecution of another person, even after you have been sentenced, prosecutors can go back to the judge who sentenced you and ask that judge after the fact to please revise your sentence to make it more lenient, to reflect the fact that you have offered now such helpful cooperation, even if you did it after you got sentenced.
And that provision in federal law, I`m not sure if that`s what`s motivating Michael Cohen to do what he`s doing now, but "The New York Times" reports today that he is now since his sentence ahead of him reporting to federal prison, he is meeting with federal prosecutors now and he is reportedly giving them at least interesting if not valuable information. "The New York Times" reports tonight that Mr. Cohen has apparently opened up some new spigots of information that potentially relate to the president in his conversations with prosecutors and SDNY. Prosecutors in that same office that brought all those felony charges against him, who thereafter told the judge hearing his case that he was not being all that cooperative.
Quoting from "The Times": Michael D. Cohen, President Trump`s former lawyer and fixer, met last month with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, offering information about possible irregularities within the president`s family business. Also about a donor to the inaugural committee.
Quote: Mr. Cohen, who worked at the Trump Organization for a decade, spoke with the prosecutors about insurance claims the Trump Organization had filed over the years. "The Times" is citing, quote, people familiar with the matter. "The Times" says that these people familiar with the matter, quote, did not elaborate on the nature of the possible irregularities at the Trump Organization that Mr. Cohen has been talking to prosecutors about.
But remember, these are the same prosecutors who already got Michael Cohen to plead guilty to those campaign finance felonies in which they said the president himself was implicated and in which at least in one instance the money for those campaign finance felonies appears to have been basically laundered through the president`s business, through the Trump Organization. Were they appear to have falsely booked those illegal campaign donations as expenses for a legal retainer that wasn`t a real thing.
Well, now what "The Times" is reporting is that Michael Cohen has expanded his cooperation with those same prosecutors to include something else about the president`s business. Something else related to insurance claims that the company has filed over time.
We do not know anything at all about what those insurance claims might be or how serious this might be, but I imagine Mr. Cohen will be asked about that in open session in Congress on Wednesday morning. And if this does turn out to be valuable information as it pertains to the investigation and/or prosecution of another person, we may find out yet more about it in the form of some request for a sentence reduction from SDNY prosecutors. Back at that judge who already gave Cohen three years.
Told you it`s been a big day. But, again, tonight we are waiting on the special counsel`s office as it pertains to the president`s campaign chairman, and we`ve got details on that, include that new curveball in the Manafort case coming up next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Like everybody else, we are waiting tonight on the special counsel`s office, Robert Mueller`s office, which is up against a court- ordered deadline tonight to file its submission as to how that office believes Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort should be sentenced in federal court in Washington, D.C. We do not yet know what Manafort will be facing in D.C. We know he`s already facing potentially up to 24 years in prison based on his case in Virginia.
One consequence of the fact that Paul Manafort is potentially looking at a hugely long sentence or sentences is that that has led to ongoing and now increasing discussions about whether or not the president might see the Paul Manafort as a candidate for a pardon. Both because of the long sentence in itself, but also, honestly, because a good part of the reason why Paul Manafort is looking at such a long sentence right now is because he blew up his cooperation deal with prosecutors. And part of the way he blew up his cooperation deal with prosecutors was by trying to conceal from them the extent of his communications with a guy linked to Russian military intelligence, which means he was trying to conceal from prosecutors the extent of communications between the Trump campaign at the highest levels and a person linked to Russian military intelligence during the time when Russian military intelligence was intervening in the U.S. presidential election to benefit Donald Trump.
That was nice of him to do that, especially if it`s going to cost him the rest of his life in prison.
Both Manafort`s long expected sentence and the reason he got it have led to fears/expectations that the president might want to pardon Manafort. And those fears/expectations led perhaps inexorably to this scoop from Greg Farrell at "Bloomberg News". Greg Farrell at "Bloomberg News" is first to report today that even if Paul Manafort is pardoned by President Trump, Manafort might still be looking at significant legal jeopardy and potentially significant prison time because a presidential pardon only gets you off the hook for federal crimes and Manafort is reportedly staring down the barrel of serious New York state charges as well. And a federal pardon can`t help you there.
Quote: New York state prosecutors have put together a criminal case against Paul Manafort that they could file quickly if the former chairman of Donald Trump`s 2016 campaign receives a presidential pardon. The, quote, array of tax and other charges against Manafort are being seen as an insurance policy should the president exercise his power to free Manafort with a pardon or a commutation.
So, again, this was first reported today by "Bloomberg News", which reported that the charges would be brought in New York state if Manafort were pardoned by President Trump. The story was then followed by "The New York Times," which reported that Manafort will be looking at the state charges soon, whether or not he`s going to get a pardon from President Trump.
Now, theoretically this is a way to short circuit any effort by the president to shield his campaign chairman from jail time, but this also isn`t a simple thing. I mean, if Paul Manafort has already been charged with these crimes, with these, you know, tax fraud charges and bank fraud charges and other related charges, if he`s already been charged with these things at the federal level, he just can`t be charged with them again at the state level, right? Isn`t that something called double jeopardy? Aren`t you supposedly protected from that by the Constitution?
Joining us now is Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in Michigan.
Barb, I have been being amateur lawyer here tonight. I`m so glad you`re here to rescue me.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY IN MICHIGAN: Thanks, Rachel. You know, coincidentally, we just talked about this in my law school class today. So I`m all over it.
MADDOW: The double jeopardy issue?
MADDOW: OK. Well, tell me as a lay observer why wouldn`t -- as I understand it, double jeopardy means you can`t be charged for the same thing twice. How can to be that state prosecutors might charge Paul Manafort for essentially the same set of facts we`ve seen laid out in his court cases in federal court after he`s already been charged with these things at the federal level?
MCQUADE: Well, in most states there is this concept known as the dual sovereignty doctrine that says you can be charged in the federal system after you`ve already been charged in the state. That is actually an issue currently before the Supreme Court during this term. But New York actually has more stringent double jeopardy laws than the federal system. So, in New York, once you`ve been charged federally, you can`t be charged with the same crime in the state system.
But there are lots of other potential crimes to choose from. So, for example, Paul Manafort has been charged with federal tax violations. There is nothing to prevent New York from bringing state tax violations. There may be other crimes.
I have read in that same report that there are record keeping violations that are potentially available to charge in New York. So as long as they`re different crimes, there would not be a double jeopardy problem.
MADDOW: So even if it is the same general set of conduct, as long as you`re not being charged with the exact same crime, you can sort of weave your way through the double jeopardy restrictions?
MCQUADE: Yes. In New York, where it is a lot more stringent, they still have lots of opportunities to look at other things. If the elements of the defenses are different, then typically you`re going to be able to avoid double jeopardy.
MADDOW: OK. And in terms of the details, one of the things that`s being reported is that isn`t this a plan in -- among New York state prosecutors. There are reports that a New York state grand jury is already considering evidence against Manafort on state crimes and that this grand jury, for example, has issued subpoenas to a couple of banks who are implicated in Manafort`s conduct.
Does the fact that a grand jury is already receiving evidence indicate to you that prosecutors believe they`ve already sort of solved those issues about whether or not he is liable to state prosecution here?
MCQUADE: I think they would not convene a grand jury if they didn`t think they had the potential for bringing a case. So they have already looked through the legal problem and now they`re just trying to build a factual basis for bringing the charges before a grand jury. They wouldn`t bother to present evidence before a grand jury if they thought it was legally barred in the end.
MADDOW: OK. Let me also ask you, Barb, about this new reporting we`ve had from "The New York Times" about Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen is looking to start his prison sentence soon. He`s looking at three years in prison.
"The New York Times" reports that he has been back again, sitting down with prosecutors since his sentencing, offering them new information that he hadn`t previously talked to them about potential irregularities or questionable conduct by the president`s business. And we have very little information about what those irregularities or that conduct might be and how serious it might be. It`s said to be related in part to insurance claims made by the Trump Organization.
My, again, lay observer`s take on this is that this might be an effort by Michael Cohen to try to have his sentence reduced, even though he`s already been sentenced. To try to get the judge in this case to go back and lighten his load, basically, because of cooperation that he`s doing with prosecutors right now, even while he`s on his way to prison.
MCQUADE: Yes, and you stated the rule correctly earlier. There is a rule of criminal procedure, Rule 35, that says up to one year after your sentencing, a defendant still can have his sentence reduced for substantial assistance on motion of the government. So, only if the government believes that the cooperation has reached -- it`s a term of art, substantial stance, the government may move and ask the court to reduce the sentence that was already imposed. So, he could continue to earn a reduction by providing information even after his sentencing.
MADDOW: And would the government only do that, would they only move to reduce his sentence or to ask the judge to reduce the sentence if that information in fact contributed to -- contributed meaningfully to a new investigation or a new prosecution? Would it actually have to go somewhere or would it just have to be a good try?
MCQUADE: Yes, it has to actually go somewhere. Substantial stance is a term of art. It has a definition. It means providing information in the investigation or prosecution of others.
Many times people would come in and try to provide substantial assistance. They would share information with you. It just didn`t pan out. It wasn`t very good information or you could not corroborate it.
So, it has to rise to that level in order for Michael Cohen to receive that credit. So he has an incentive to provide good information.
MADDOW: Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan -- Barb, thank you. Perfect. Really appreciate you being here.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: He`s a well-connected multimillionaire. He surrounded himself with powerful high-profile people. He`s been friends with people like former President Bill Clinton and current President Donald Trump and member of the British royal family.
In 2005, Florida police and then the FBI started investigating him, and what they turned up was a horror movie. Investigators found that this man named Jeffrey Epstein was essentially running a sprawling criminal operation to sexual assault and rape lots of underage girls. Jeffrey Epstein was in his 50s. Many of his victims were kids, girls as young as 13.
The FBI was able to identify dozens of girls who had been Epstein`s victims. They prepared a 53-page document laying out federal charges which could have easily sent Epstein to prison for the rest of his life. But that, of course, is not what happened to Jeffrey Epstein, because the U.S. attorney in that case, the man who is currently President Trump`s secretary of labor, he made a deal that saved Jeffrey Epstein from being charged with any federal crimes and that also prevented federal charges against any potential accomplices of Jeffrey Epstein as well.
Back when that FBI investigation was going on, Alex Acosta was the U.S. attorney in that part of Florida. Instead of charges Jeffrey Epstein with child sex crimes, Acosta cut a deal with him. He allowed Epstein to enter into a non-prosecution agreement which gave Epstein immunity from all federal charges. Instead, Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to two state charges for prostitution because definitely when you`re doing this kind of stuff to kids, it matters whether or not you`re paying them. That`s what the law cares about. Clearly, they`re prostitutes.
He served 13 months in a county jail, a county jail sentence where he was mostly allowed to spend time in his office six days a week doing whatever he wanted to do because there was a generous work release program set up just for him. He was also in a private wing of that lockup.
Alex Acosta, then the top prosecutor in Florida, he was the one who approved that deal with Jeffrey Epstein. And it`s turned out to be very important to that story that Mr. Acosta agreed to do that deal in secret. There is a federal law, a law called the Crime Victims Rights Act, which gives crime victims the right to be told when there are plea negotiations going on in their case. They have the right to be present for any kind of hearing or sentencing, but Alex Acosta didn`t notify Epstein`s victims before he granted him that plea deal, the non-prosecution agreement, right?
He waited until the whole thing was signed, done and dusted before any of the victims found out about it, until it was too late for any of them to do or say anything about it. Dozens of victims. They had no chance to object that that deal. No chance to appear at Epstein`s sentencing hearing. No chance to tell their stories about what had happened to them or how his behavior affected their lives.
I mean, those are all rights that were afforded to them under the law, not just common senses of decency, but under the law, and they didn`t get that. So, two of them sued the government. They didn`t sue Epstein. They sued the government, alleging that Alex Acosta and his team of prosecutors broke federal law when they kept secret from Epstein`s victims the fact that they gave Epstein this non-prosecution deal for all federal crimes.
So that lawsuit was filed 11 years ago. Yesterday, a federal judge agreed with those victims. A federal judge in Southern Florida ruled that the current secretary of labor Alex Acosta in fact broke the law when he negotiated that sweet deal for this serial sex offender and then agreed to keep it secret from Epstein`s victims.
And that is an astonishing turn, right? After 11 years -- 11 years this has been pending. Astonishing turn in this astonishing and repulsive and incredible case.
But now here`s the thing, and this is something where I actually have no idea how this is going to turn out. I mean, despite this clarion ruling from this judge against Acosta and the other prosecutors yesterday, the judge yesterday did not issue a remedy. He said he has found that the prosecutors broke the law, but he says that now both sides can take 15 days to decide how they wish to proceed in terms of figuring out what the remedy ought to be in this case.
Meanwhile, of course, as we wait out those 15 days, now 14 days to see what could potentially be the remedy here, so far, Alex Acosta is still serving as the U.S. secretary of labor. The White House asked repeatedly about this matter said finally today they are, quote, looking into it, but that as far as anybody knows, the president has not lost confidence in his labor secretary.
When Alex Acosta was picked to be in the president`s cabinet, he was asked about his handling of the Jeffrey Epstein case at his confirmation hearings. At the time, Mr. Acosta defended the deal he gave to Jeffrey Epstein, the non-prosecution deal. He said the outcome of the Epstein case was, quote, a point of pride.
But all this time it took more than a decade for their case to get through the federal courts, but all this time that the victims have been seeking this justice, Alex Acosta has never really explained why he gave Jeffrey Epstein that deal and he`s definitely never explained why he kept the whole thing a secret.
The reporter who broke this story wide open and who changed the course of this case for us for the country will join us next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Reporter Julie K. Brown from the "Miami Herald" just won the Polk Award for her landmark reporting on the Jeffrey Epstein case, and specifically, the efforts by his multiple child sex abuse victims to try to get justice in his case, and to find out how and why federal prosecutors gave Jeffrey Epstein a secret non-prosecution agreement without ever notifying his victims. Now, a judge has sided with those victims for the first time that they have -- for the first time in more than the decade that they have been pursuing this matter.
Julie Brown, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Congratulations on your coverage of this story thus far.
JULIE K. BROWN, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, MIAMI HERALD: Thank you.
MADDOW: I wanted to ask you what you think will be the impact of this judge`s ruling yesterday. I was struck by the fact that he`s told the two sides in this case to go talk amongst themselves to try to work it out over the course of two weeks to suggest a potential remedy here. What do you think is the range of possibilities?
BROWN: Well, I know that the victims, the young women who were girls at the time this happened, I know that what they ultimately would like, and that would be for them to invalidate this agreement and eventually bring him -- get him to federal prison. They feel that he should have been held accountable for this crime, which was -- which involved really, even though prosecutors only listed about three dozen girls over the course of the past 11 years as these cases have been litigated, we know that there are probably over 100 girls.
So, this -- the vastness of this crime they believe dictates that he should serve some time in federal prison.
MADDOW: The judge made a point in his ruling yesterday of mentioning that Epstein`s crimes took place not just in Florida but interstate and internationally. Do you think that opens the door for other prosecutors in other jurisdictions to bring charges against Epstein, prosecutors who might not have considered this relevant to them, to their own cases before?
BROWN: Well, certainly, the victims` lawyers believe that to be the case. There have been two women that came forward that said that they were trafficked by Epstein in New York and in the U.S. Virgin Islands at his home on his private island, as well as in Europe. There`s other people who have also given the government evidence over the past, I would say, five years that indicates that this crime went far beyond Florida and even really overseas.
MADDOW: Julie, if you don`t mind sticking with us for a little bit. I have one more question I want to ask you about the man who is now labor secretary, Alex Acosta, and the brewing storm. Can you stay with us one more segment?
Julie K. Brown, reporter for the "Miami Herald," will be right back with her just after this.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Julie K. Brown is an award-winning reporter from the "Miami Herald." she really has broken open the Jeffrey Epstein child sex abuse case.
Julie, thanks for staying with us.
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta was the U.S. attorney and federal prosecutor leading the Epstein case. A federal judge has now ruled that Acosta and his office broke the law when they gave Epstein this non-prosecution agreement without ever telling Epstein`s victims. One of the things I had a hard time following in this story is the question of why (VIDOE GAP) Jeffrey Epstein in the first place.
He`s defended it vaguely. He`s called it a point of pride. He`s never answered questions as far as I can tell about why he kept this deal he did with Epstein secret from Epstein`s victims.
Do you have any insight into that? Do you think this is a knowable thing?
BROWN: Well, he`s given a lot of different reasons over the years. None of them which address the key points, the key things that have disturbed the victims, one of which was the confidential agreement that was designed -- you can see it in the e-mails that they -- that he and out prosecutors passed between Epstein`s lawyers.
It`s clear from those e-mails that this whole thing was designed to avoid the victims finding out about it and also to avoid public scrutiny because there was quite a bit of discussion about how do we avoid the media, you know? We don`t want them to find out about this.
Well, the reason why they don`t want the media to find out about it is they didn`t want the victims to find out about it and they didn`t want people to know how extensive this crime was. The reasons why he did it are still somewhat of a mystery.
I think that they didn`t think that these girls -- that these were throwaway girls, basically. They came from very poor families. They were young. I think they underestimated, quite frankly, the way the girls were going to handle this over the -- you know, by suing them.
MADDOW: Julie K. Brown, reporter for the "Miami Herald" -- congratulations again for your work on this story.
BROWN: Thank you.
MADDOW: Julie, thanks for being here.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: One last piece of news for you tonight. It is about that botched congressional election in North Carolina where this week there were three days of testimony about a Republican political operative`s elaborate widespread ballot fraud scheme to help the Republican congressional candidate win. The state elections board has ruled that that election was so tainted they will have a do-over, but now, finally, we are hearing about potential criminal charges in that case as well.
The district attorney in Wake County, North Carolina, today said she is planning to bring the case to a grand jury. She says she is receiving information that was obtained over the course of the elections board investigation into this matter. She says that she expects to be convening a grand jury to bring potential charges on this matter within the next month. No rush.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again on Monday.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Joy Reid filling in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Joy.
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