CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: It`s a really, really good point. Tony Schwartz, thank you so much for coming through tonight.
TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, "ART OF THE DEAL": Thank you.
HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. We were made for this, my friend. This is what we train for.
HAYES: I know. That`s exactly right.
MADDOW: Thanks a lot, man. Much appreciated.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. As we speak, President Trump and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un have just had their second televised handshake of the Trump presidency. They have headed into what is expected to be a short and technically bilateral meeting between these two leaders. Of course, the historic first meeting between President Trump and the North Korean dictator was eight months ago in Singapore. So it`s happening right now is their second meeting.
So, what that means in terms of our experience and the news they`re making here is obviously we get to see another round of them shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. We`re seeing them now sitting down together to talk. We are not necessarily expecting any significant news from this bilateral meeting.
But as this gets under way right now in Hanoi, we`ll be watching the pool cameras to see if anything substantive happened. We have not been told to expect any major news, either in this meeting, the one-on-one meeting, nor are we expecting any major news necessarily to be announced in conjunction with this meeting. But in terms of what`s going to happen here, what we`ll be able to see, this one`s wrapping up. This is the president`s bilateral with Kim Jong-un. They seem to be finishing that up.
There will also later on maybe this hour be a slightly larger meeting between the two men plus some senior staff. Those meetings will be happening live in our hour. Again, we`re not told to expect significant announcement and news out of those meetings, other than their existence, to the extent anything notable happens in these meetings that we can see on camera, we will keep an eye on that. We will turn that right around for you.
And, of course, because this is a feast day for the news gods, what`s happening right now in Hanoi is happening for this president against just a catastrophic domestic news backdrop. Today in marathon testimony before the House Oversight Committee, the president`s long-time personal lawyer made multiple serious allegations of potentially criminal wrongdoing by President Trump, allegations that span the time period before the 2016 presidential campaign, during that campaign, and since Mr. Trump has been president.
So, sort of lay of the land here for how I think this hour is going to go - - breaking news notwithstanding -- what I think we`re going to get through tonight is we`re going to try to talk to -- talk in detail about the four major areas of criminal allegations that Michael Cohen spelled out today concerning the president. We`re going to have expert advice here in studio about the legal strength of Michael Cohen`s contentions and how much more worried president Trump ought to be about his own legal standing after Cohen`s testimony today. We`re also going to speak with one of the members of the committee today who questioned Mr. Cohen and who elicited herself some very important information.
Because these are criminal allegations against the president, though, I think it is worth stressing at the outset that when you are talking about allegations of criminal behavior by a sitting president, those allegations live sort of on like I guess it`s parallel paths. Not exactly parallel. I think they might intersect at some point down the road, but there`s at least two paths here when you`re talking about a president and potential criminal behavior.
And one clear path is determined by the fact that this was congressional testimony today, right? Congress itself has the responsibility of oversight and of investigating credible allegations like this about the executive branch, up to and including the president himself. So that`s one straight forward path here, right?
The straight forward way a congressional committee is supposed to handle allegations like this, information like this is that they`re supposed to investigate it themselves. And if the allegations are substantiated, and if members Congress believe it`s warranted, that information is supposed to become the basis for possible impeachment proceedings in the House, which could eventually lead to a trial in the Senate, which could eventually lead to a president being removed from office. That`s the clear straight forward constitutional path here.
But the other path, the other perhaps parallel, perhaps intersecting path is the path of the criminal law. And one of the things about living through this Trump era is that it has never fully clear to us the American people throughout the scandals of this presidency just how susceptible this sitting president might be to potential prosecution himself, not only in Congress and a potential impeachment proceeding, but potentially in a court of law as well.
There is, of course, somewhat contested Justice Department policy about whether or not a president can be indicted and prosecuted while he is serving in office. And that is not necessarily an open and shut case, in part because of the prospect that the president could be indicted. But the indictment could be sealed until the time that he leaves office.
That puts it in sort of a gray area in terms of how much influence prosecutors can potentially have on the future of a presidency. If a sealed indictment is used as the basis for some sort of negotiation with the president or his representatives, the idea that there is a black and white prohibition on whether or not a president faces prosecution and/or indictment gets a little woolly. And we don`t need to go through the long and short of that justice department policy and the controversy over that here.
But, I mean, we have lived through some of this already. Already in the criminal case involving Michael Cohen in which he plead guilty to multiple felonies, and for which he will start serving a prison sentence in a matter of weeks, already in the Cohen case in the Southern District of New York, federal prosecutors from that Southern District of New York have already described president Trump as personally implicated in two of the felonies to which Cohen plead guilty. Well, on top of that, one of the surprise revelations from today`s hearing came in an interaction between Michael Cohen and Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi.
In that interaction, Cohen revealed that those same prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are, according to him, looking at other things that may also relate to the president himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: When was the last communication with President Trump or someone acting on his behalf?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I don`t have the specific date, but it was a while ago.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: OK. Do you have a general time frame?
COHEN: I would suspect it was within two months post the raid of my home.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: So early fall of last year? Generally?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: And what did he or his agent communicate to you?
COHEN: Unfortunately, this topic is actually something that`s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York, and I`ve been asked by them not to discuss it, not to talk about these issues.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Fair enough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Michael Cohen telling Congressman Krishnamoorthi today that something about his interactions with the president after the FBI raided Cohen`s home and office serving search warrants to seize materials from him, something about interactions he may have had with the president or the president`s agent according to Mr. Cohen are the subject of current investigation right now by the southern district of New York.
Now I don`t know what that is. I`ve never heard of anything like that before in all of the open source reporting that we have done on this scandal and related matters. But if this is reference to another open investigation by federal prosecutors involving the sitting president, then that`s big news and it`s news that we did not have before today. And then right away, right after that revelation in today`s hearing, there was more, and it came next in this same back and forth between raja Krishnamoorthi and Michael Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Fair enough. Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven`t yet discussed today?
COHEN: Yes, and again, those are part of the investigation that`s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wrongdoing or illegal acts you`re aware of regarding Donald Trump? Yes.
We do not know what Michael Cohen is referring to there. And honestly, we don`t know if he`s right, right? But if he`s right, what he`s describing is a previously unknown open ongoing federal criminal investigation involving something related to the president.
Now, Michael Cohen says that investigation is being pursued by the Southern District of New York. That is the U.S. attorney`s office that prosecuted him. That is the U.S. attorney`s office in which prosecutors have already told a federal judge in the Cohen case that it was the president who directed the commission of those two campaign finance felonies to which Cohen has pled guilty.
Now, one quiet subplot which has been unfolding over the last few days is the process that the Judiciary Committee in Congress has obtained evidence that the president has been leaning on that U.S. attorney`s office, that the president has been trying to get Justice Department officials to intervene in that office in the Southern District of New York to try to get his own preferred prosecutor to take over the investigations in that office that pertain to Michael Cohen and that potentially pertain to the president as well.
This has been sort of a quiet subplot. It has unfolded largely around the scandal involving Matthew Whitaker having served as acting attorney general for a short time. But if the federal prosecutors who have already accused the president of being implicated in two felonies are now today revealed to be pursuing additional criminal investigations that also relate to the president, then any the scandal involving Matthew Whitaker having served as acting attorney general for a short time.
But if the federal prosecutors who have already accused the president of being implicated in two felonies are now today revealed to be pursuing additional criminal investigations that also relate to the president, then any potential effort by the president to mess with that U.S. attorney`s office, that may quickly become one of the most important stories in the whole country. Particularly if the felonies already prosecuted by that office against Cohen are about to metastasize into serious trouble for the president, for his business and for his family.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I want to focus my questions on the smoking gun document you have provided this committee. This document is compelling evidence of federal and state crimes, including financial fraud. You provided this committee with a check from President Donald J. Trump`s revocable trust account which is marked as exhibit 5-B. It is a check for $35,000, and it is dated March 17th, 2017, after the president took office. It`s right now on the screen.
Do you see it, sir?
COHEN: Yes, sir.
KHANNA: Today, you testified that the check was signed by Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. Is that correct?
COHEN: That is correct.
KHANNA: As federal prosecutors laid out in their criminal charges, payments like this check resulted in numerous false statements in the books and records of the Trump Organization. It`s important for the American public to understand this, nothing to do with collusion. This is financial fraud, garden variety financial fraud. It was disguised as a payment for legal services to you, but this was not a payment for legal service, was it, Mr. Cohen?
COHEN: No, sir.
KHANNA: It could give rise to serious state and federal criminal liability if a corporation is cooking its books. Based on your testimony today, Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg directed this payment to you and approved this payment. Is that right?
COHEN: Mr. Trump initially acknowledged the obligation, the debt. Myself and Allen Weisselberg went back to his office, and I was instructed by Allen at the time that they were going to do this over 12 installments.
And what he decided to do then was to have me send an invoice in which case they could have a check cut, and then, yes, the answer would be yes to your follow-up question.
KHANNA: And Donald Trump Jr. obviously signed off on this?
COHEN: Yes. It would either be Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and/or Allen Weisselberg, but always Allen Weisselberg on the check.
KHANNA: I just want the American public to understand the explosive nature of your testimony on this document. Are you telling us, Mr. Cohen, that the president directed transactions in conspiracy with Allen Weisselberg and his son, Donald Trump Jr., as part of a civil criminal -- as part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud? Is that your testimony today?
KHANNA: And do you know if this criminal financial scheme that the president, Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. being involved in is being investigated by the Southern District of New York?
COHEN: I`d rather not discuss that question because it could be part of an investigation that`s currently ongoing.
KHANNA: But I just want the American public to understand that solely apart from Bob Mueller`s investigation. There is garden variety financial fraud, and your allegation and the explosive smoking gun documents suggest that the president, his son and his CFO may be involved in a criminal conspiracy.
And isn`t it true, Mr. Cohen, that this criminal conspiracy, that involved four people, that there is only one person so far who suffered the repercussion, and that`s why you`re in jail?
COHEN: Will be going to jail, yes.
KHANNA: The three other people, though, who were equally involved in this conspiracy, is that true?
COHEN: Yes, it is true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Congressman Ro Khanna today putting a fine point on one of the four serious allegations of criminal behavior made against the president and those closest to him today. The garden variety financial fraud as he put it at issue here is about the payment of $130,000 to stop a woman from saying before the election that she had been sexually involved with President Trump. That payment has been prosecuted in federal court already as an illegal campaign prosecution.
Today, the man who made the payment produced a check signed by President Trump and he produced a check apparently signed by President Trump`s eldest son Donald Jr. and cosigned by the CFO of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg. Cohen says there are nine other checks in total, all that add up to his reimbursement for making those illegal campaign contributions.
He says he will provide those other nine checks to the committee as well. Cohen also said today that this is potentially a matter of ongoing investigation in, naturally, the Southern District of New York.
So what does this mean? Obviously Michael Cohen is already going to prison for this. But what does this mean now that he`s produced these documents and made these allegations? What does this mean for the other entities who he says were wittingly involved in this crime, the president`s business, its executives, including his eldest son Donald Jr. who signed that check, who Mr. Cohen today said was executive to in his own criminal charges documents. That`s Don Jr.
What does it -- what does it mean also for individual 1 as President Trump is described in Mr. Cohen`s charging documents? I mean, if the president is already identified as a conspirator in those felonies, if his name is in fact on those checks, and those prosecutors are still actively pursuing it, how much worse are things for the president himself?
Let`s bring in some expert help on that. Joining us now is Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney in the northern district of Alabama.
Joyce, thank you for being here tonight. I know it has been a dense day of following all this information.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It`s a smorgasbord kind of day, right?
MADDOW: Cohen provides these two checks from March and August of 2017, one signed by the president, one signed by the CFO and his eldest son. Ro Khanna there called that evidence of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud.
Does that make sense as a legal matter?
VANCE: It does and it doesn`t. It does in the sense that it looks like there is this ongoing effort to take payments that are related to the campaign and turn them into something that`s tax deductible on the company`s books. Where I`m less clear, though, is when we talk about whose involved in a conspiracy. And I hate this idea of questioning witnesses in five-minute blips, because just when they get to the good points, they cut off.
And we really needed to hear more about Donald Trump Jr.`s involvement, about Eric Trump`s involvement. Did they know what was involved when they were signing those checks? Or did someone just put them in front of them? There is certainly a lot that needs to be investigated here.
MADDOW: He certainly was -- he gave detailed and repeated testimony about Allen Weisselberg, having essentially hatched the plot at Trump`s direction in conjunction with Cohen.
VANCE: That part seemed clear. And we know Weisselberg has immunity for some testimony that he gave the Southern District of New York. We don`t know the contours of that. It could be about this or something else.
MADDOW: Let me -- I want to play one other piece of tape on this subject, because it goes to the idea that there was not just a crime committed here in terms of illegal campaign contribution, but there may have been a crime or criminal conspiracy, or I`ll let you explain it, in terms of covering it up, in terms of trying to make this look like something that it wasn`t.
So, I want to play a little exchange for you that happened between Cohen and Congresswoman Katie Hill. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: I had gone into Mr. Trump`s office, as I did after each and every conversation, and he had told me that he had spoken to a couple of friends, and it`s $130,000. It`s not a lot of money. And we should just do it. So go ahead and do it. And I was at the time with Allen Weisselberg where he directed us to go become to Mr. Weisselberg`s office and figure this all out.
REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Did the president call you to coordinate on public messaging about the payments to Ms. Clifford in or around February 2018?
HILL: What did the president ask or suggest that you say about the payments or reimbursements?
COHEN: He was not knowledgeable of these reimbursements, and he wasn`t knowledgeable of my actions.
HILL: He asked you to say that?
COHEN: Yes, ma`am.
In addition to the personal check for $35,000 in July 2017, is there additional corroborating evidence that Mr. Trump while a sitting president of the United States directly reimbursed you hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws?
COHEN: There are 11 checks that I received for the year. The reason why 11, because, as I stated before, one had two checks.
HILL: And you have copies of all of those?
COHEN: I can get copies. I`d have to go to the bank.
HILL: So we will be able to get copies of all 11 checks that Mr. Trump provided to you as part of this criminal scheme?
COHEN: It`s either from his personal account as what was demonstrated in the exhibit it would come from the Donald J. Trump account, the trust account.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So two issues are highlighted there, Joyce. One is the source of the funds. The funds seem to have come from a couple of different places, the president`s personal account and through a trust that oversees his businesses, but then also Cohen just bluntly asserting that the president told him to lie and to say that the president didn`t know about these reimbursements, and he didn`t know what Cohen was doing when the -- according to him -- the president plainly knew both of those things.
Are either of those things legally significant? The source of the funds or lying about it?
VANCE: They`re incredibly significant, because here`s what we see happening. This is a conspiracy, a conspiracy is just an agreement to achieve an illegal end. And what they`re doing here is covering up their misconduct. They`re agreeing both to engage in the misconduct and to cover it up.
And when you enter into a criminal conspiracy, you don`t usually sign on the dotted line like you do on a contract. You have these kind of conversations where you have the president saying now here`s what you should say if this comes up. And what he`s directing Cohen to say is not the truth, and it`s designed to conceal the criminal act.
MADDOW: Does it matter whether the president did this during the campaign or when he was president?
VANCE: What matters is that he does it in an effort to influence the outcome of the campaign, and that the conspiracy, the cover-up, the payments continued after the election. Apparently, if we believe Cohen, and maybe the worst part of this, and it makes me think of your podcast "Bag Man", which I loved, is we have this vignette of Cohen going to visit Trump in the Oval Office for the first time, and there is conversation about the checks in the Oval Office.
So, we have this notion that the president in the Oval Office is covering up the campaign finance violations.
MADDOW: The president from the Oval Office is talking about completing the act of covering up those illegal donations.
MADDOW: All right, Joyce. If you`ll stay with us, I`m going to chain you to the chair because we have a lot to get to tonight.
I`m also going to be talking live with a member of Congress who was questioning Michael Cohen today.
We have lots to get to. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In November, the president`s long time personal attorney Michael Cohen plead guilty to lying to Congress about a real estate project in Moscow, the would-be Trump Tower Moscow. He specifically lied to Congress about the timing of when the planning for that Trump Tower Moscow project ended. He told Congress that it had ended at the very beginning of the presidential campaign. He says in truth, the planning for that project continued months into the presidential campaign, months later than they had previously been willing to admit.
Well, today in his marathon testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen claimed that President Trump himself was much more involved in that Trump Tower Moscow project than he previously admitted, and Mr. Cohen addressed how exactly he, Mr. Cohen, came to lie about it to Congress. He says he had help with that part.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: There were at least a half a dozen times between the Iowa caucus in January of 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me how`s it going in Russia? Referring to the Moscow Tower project.
You need to know that Mr. Trump`s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it. So, to be clear, Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: On page 5 of your statement, you say, and I quote, you need to know that Mr. Trump`s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations. Who were those attorneys?
COHEN: Jay Sekulow -- from the White House?
COHEN: Jay Sekulow. I believe Abbe Lowell as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California. She is a member of the Oversight Committee, as well as the intelligence committee in the House, where Mr. Cohen will be testifying tomorrow in a closed door hearing.
Congresswoman Speier, I imagine your time is very, very pressured right now. Thank you for taking time to be with us.
SPEIER: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, I wanted to ask you about that exchange you had with Michael Cohen. He talked to another couple of your colleagues today about the president`s lawyers being involved in reviewing and editing his congressional testimony about the Trump Tower Moscow project. We know he has pled guilty to lying to Congress about that, about the duration of that project, among other things.
Do you feel like you have any further clarity about what happened there and whether anybody else may be implicated in that crime of lying to Congress?
SPEIER: Well, it would appear if Jay Sekulow and Abbe Lowell doctored up his testimony, I think a case can be made that they conspired with Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, and I really feel that it`s going to be very important for us to get a copy of Michael Cohen`s original statement, which he has agreed to offer to the committee to be able to compare it to what was the statement he made to the intelligence committee after the fact. Clearly, there was an interest in wanting to prevent any word about this Moscow deal with the public during the campaign.
MADDOW: Forgive me for accidentally interrupting you. If you were going to pursue that original statement from Mr. Cohen, he certainly seemed amenable today to try to find that and to hand it over to you. He also told you that he would be happy to provide the committee with what he described as roughly 100 different voice recordings of different communications that he had taped over the years in terms of his involvement at the Trump Organization and with President Trump.
He also suggested a number of people who could potentially corroborate some of the information that he provided today, specifically, he mentioned frequently other people at the Trump Organization who would be able to corroborate what he was alleging today.
Do you expect what the House Oversight Committee just sort of opened a giant can of worms in terms of all of these different investigative avenues that your committee is now going to be able to follow?
SPEIER: Well, I do believe that we are going to have to bring in the CFO and probably Donald Trump Jr., because they are linked to the checks. I also think that what we`re going to probably find out, if going to have to bring in the CFO and probably Donald Trump Jr., because they are linked to the checks. I also think that what we`re going to probably find out, if we are able to get to the Trump Organization`s tax return is that there was tax evasion, and probably misappropriation, because they probably took a tax deduction on the payments to Michael Cohen as a result of the hush money deal.
So, there is a lot more to look at for sure. Tax evasion, finance bank fraud, all of those I think are worthy of our review.
MADDOW: One of the things that it`s been sort of hard to track just as an observer of these things, particularly as one who`s not a lawyer, just trying to form the news on this story is where a congressional investigation, including an aggressive one like the one you`re describing may intersect with or need to yield to or potentially impinge on ongoing criminal investigations that are being pursued by the Justice Department. Obviously, one of those is the Mueller investigation. But there is a number of references by Mr. Cohen today to what sounds like he was saying would be ongoing investigations by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that touch on the president.
Do you feel confident both in your work on the intelligence committee and on oversight that there is a way to -- to deconflict, essentially, to do your work in Congress in a way that doesn`t potentially screw up criminal prosecutions that may be in the works at DOJ?
SPEIER: Well, that`s always a very important issue that we have to address. I mean, we cannot be in a situation where we`re compromising a federal criminal investigation. And certainly on the intelligence committee, we were in contact with the special counsel`s office to make sure that people we were calling in were not objected to by the special counsel.
And I`m certain that we will do the same with the Southern District in New York and the actions that they`re pursuing right now.
MADDOW: Overall, Congresswoman, heading into this Intelligence Committee hearing tomorrow, which, again, you`re on the Intelligence Committee, and that will be a closed door hearing, heading into that tomorrow, hearing what you heard today, what for you is the most important revelation of what Mr. Cohen has been able to bring to Congress. Obviously, your Republican colleagues have said that nothing that he said should have any weight that he`s a confessed liar, that he never should have been brought before Congress because he has no credibility. The Democratic chairman of this committee and oversight and the Democratic chairman in intelligence obviously believe that Cohen had something to offer that could be of worth to Congress.
From your perspective, what do you think is most important that he`s been able to bring forward thus far?
SPEIER: Well, he has ten years of experience working as the fixer for Donald Trump, in many real estate deals. And part of our focus on the Intelligence Committee is to drill down ever so carefully into many of these real estate deals that appear to have Russian involvement.
And to the Republicans in the committee who kept saying he`s a liar, it`s important to remind everybody that he was lying on behalf of President Trump. And he is going to jail. President Trump is not.
MADDOW: Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, Oversight Committee, Intelligence Committee. Michael Cohen will be testifying there tomorrow. Really appreciate you being here tonight.
Congresswoman, good luck tomorrow.
SPEIER: Thank you.
MADDOW: In this long hearing today, there was one -- there was one instance, one exchange with a very sharp member of Congress that I keep replaying in my head since the hearing ended. It was a moment that was unexpected. It was territory I didn`t know we were going to hit today at all.
And in that exchange with that very sharp member of Congress today, we learned something that was totally opposite of what we thought and what we have been told publicly for years now. It was 180 degrees upside down backwards. It was a short, sharp revelation from today`s hearing, and we`ve got that next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Your heard Congresswoman Jackie Speier just say live here on the show that one of the potential criminal threads the Oversight Committee may now feel compelled to follow after today`s testimony from the president`s long time personal lawyer Michael Cohen is the possibility of tax evasion.
Well, if they were going to look at potential tax evasion, what would they need to look at in order to look for potential tax evasion? Hmm.
That brings me to this sort of incredible moment from today`s hearing, where California Democratic Congressman Jimmy Gomez elicited this brand- new, brand-new, brand-new explanation is for why President Trump has refused to this day to release his tax returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIMMY GOMEZ (D-CA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Mr. Cohen, I`m going tackle the president`s tax returns. During the 2016 campaign, you said you personally wouldn`t, quote, allow him to release those returns until the audits are over, unquote.
For the record, nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax returns, even while under audit by the IRS.
Mr. Cohen, do you know whether President Trump`s tax returns were really under audit by the IRS in 2016?
COHEN: I don`t know the answer. I asked for a copy of the audit so that I could use it in terms of my statements to the press, and I was never able to obtain one.
GOMEZ: Can you give us any insight into what the real reason is the president has refused to release his tax returns?
COHEN: Statements that he said to me was that what he didn`t want was to have an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces and then he`ll end up in an audit, and he`ll ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties, and so on.
GOMEZ: So that`s an interesting point. That basically said he didn`t want to release his tax returns because he might end up in an audit. So could you presume from that statement that he wasn`t under audit?
COHEN: I presume that he is not under audit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh. I thought the reason the president can`t release his tax returns is because he`s under audit.
Back with us now, Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney from Alabama.
Joyce, is that kind of a red flag to prosecutors? I mean, to a layperson, that seems like a red flag, someone saying I can`t show you my tax returns because I`m under audit. And now here is his former personal lawyer saying no, I don`t think he is under audit. In fact, I think he was afraid of getting audited if anybody did see his tax returns.
To me, that seems like a red flag.
VANCE: It`s a pretty big red flag, right? Why would you lie about it unless you had something to conceal?
MADDOW: In terms of the susceptibility of the president`s tax returns to review, which I think is the right way to say that, we are hearing from members of Congress that there are things in his tax returns that they are going to want the look at in order to corroborate some of these serious allegations from Mr. Cohen today. Would something -- if the president has told lies about whether or not he is being audited or why else he might not be able to make those available, would that add to the case essentially for them being made public or being made available to Congress?
VANCE: So, I think there is a case as is for them to be made available to Congress. Congress established today in this hearing with Representative Gomez, with AOC later on in the hearing that they needed to look at the taxes in order to engage in their oversight function. And frankly, I think we all have a common sense understanding of that at this point, that the president lied about being under audit as an excuse for not releasing his taxes, though, as you say is a huge red flag that there is something deeply wrong in there.
MADDOW: You mentioned the questioning by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez. She elicited something about alleged criminal behavior by the president`s business that was blunt and stark today. I want to get your take on that, when we come back.
Joyce Vance stays with us. We`ll be right back after this. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In addition to the campaign finance felonies that prosecutors say he committed with the president, Michael Cohen is also going to prison in a few weeks for other white collar crimes, including tax and bank fraud charges. Ahem. During questioning today, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen was asked if the president had ever inflated his assets for potentially fraudulent purposes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. WILLIAM LACY CLAY (D-MO), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Provided this committee with copies of the president`s financial statements or parts of them from 2011, 2012 and `13. Can you explain why you had these financial statements and what you used them for?
COHEN: So these financial statement s were used by me for two purposes. One was discussing with media, whether it was "Forbes" or other magazines, to demonstrate Mr. Trump`s significant net worth. That was one function.
Another was when we were dealing later on with insurance companies, we would provide them with these copies so that they would understand that the premium which is based sometimes upon the individual`s capabilities to pay would be reduced.
CLAY: And all of this was done at the president`s direction and with his knowledge?
CLAY: Did this information provided to us inflate the president`s assets?
COHEN: I believe these numbers are inflated.
CLAY: To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to a bank in order to help him obtain a loan?
COHEN: These documents and others were provided to Deutsche Bank on one occasion where I was with them in our attempt to obtain money so that we can put a bid on the Buffalo Bills.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the initial questioning from Congressman Clay, but then Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez followed up on that line of questioning in a way that was a short, sharp shock.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I want to ask a little bit about your conversation with my colleague from Missouri about asset inflation. To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Who else knows that the president did this?
COHEN: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman, and Matthew Calamari.
OCASIO-CORTEZ: And where would the committee find information on this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?
COHEN: Yes. And you`d find it at the Trump Org.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We`re back with Joyce Vance. Joyce, it seems to me that this opens up some significant lines of investigation for House Democrats.
I mean, asset inflation is a little bit of a woolly thing because sometimes you`re putting a valuation on something for the purposes of a financial transaction, and who can say what the objective truth of that value is. But in this case, here is the president`s lawyer saying, yes, we inflated the assets in order to get banks to do stuff for us, for example.
VANCE: And that`s a crime, right? If you can prove that there was intent and it was done deliberately in an effort, say, to defraud a financial institution, then you`re in core financial fraud territory.
It`s important to note that normally, the statute of limitation, the number of years you can go back and indict a federal crime is five years. It has to have occurred within the last five years. But with crimes that affect financial institutions, you can go back ten years.
MADDOW: Oh, really?
VANCE: That`s a much longer window.
MADDOW: So if these -- I mean, in these financial statements that he was discussing explicitly with Congressman Clay there, those were 2011, 2012, 2013. If there were financial fraud crimes committed using statements, those statements or statements like them at the time, that might be within the statute of limitations?
VANCE: If it`s a bank fraud or a wire fraud that affects a financial institution, you`ve got time.
MADDOW: Joyce, have I one more question for you about another matter that came up today, another seemingly criminal allegation for Mr. Cohen today. I want to find out how strong you felt that was as a legal matter. Stay with us.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER WELCH (D), VERMONT: In January of this year, 2019, "The New York Times" asked President Trump if he ever spoke to Roger Stone about these stolen e-mails and President Trump answered, and I quote, "No, I didn`t. I never did." Was that statement by President Trump true?
COHEN: No, it`s not accurate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont drawing a potentially important allegation out of Michael Cohen today. He gets Michael Cohen on the record saying that the president lied when he previously said he never talked to Roger Stone about WikiLeaks and the stolen e-mails that WikiLeaks was about to publish from the Clinton campaign.
If Michael Cohen`s version of the story is true, if Donald Trump did take a heads up phone call from Roger Stone about WikiLeaks and the stolen e-mail dump, it could mean that the president lied on that matter when he said he`d never had such a conversation. But specifically what I`m interested in is the prospect that the president lied about that in a written statement to special counsel Robert Mueller. That`s worse than just lying to you and me.
CNN reported back in November that the president told the special counsel Robert Mueller in writing that Roger Stone did not tell him anything about WikiLeaks. Now, Mr. Stone and Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump all have their issues with the truth, but, Joyce Vance, I want to ask you about this.
If in fact Cohen is telling the truth now on this, on both sides of this, that he heard the president and stone talking about WikiLeaks ahead of the big WikiLeaks dump and CNN is right that the president told Mr. Mueller he did no such thing, he never had that conversation, how serious is that?
VANCE: I think that that would be extremely serious.
MADDOW: How would Mueller go about proving that if he wanted to prove that the president had lied to the special counsel about that matter?
VANCE: So the proof issue is significant. No one`s relying on Michael Cohen`s word unless it`s corroborated. The first thing you probably do is try to get Roger Stone`s phone records and see if there is a phone call he makes to whatever number is being used in Trump Tower.
And then you`ve got Cohen`s reporting about Trump`s secretary whose office is just adjacent. She lets him know that the call is there. Does the door stay open? Does she overhear the phone call? Does anybody else walk into the office while it`s ongoing? Does Cohen or does Trump have a conversation with somebody later that day or close in time where they talk about it?
You just -- you move through all of the possible details to see if anyone can corroborate that that phone call took place. Did Stone talk to people? Did Stone send e-mails? Lots of possible avenues.
MADDOW: So many allegations today made against the president by Mr. Cohen, and it fits into the overall mosaic that we`ve had in this scandal. When you look at these various allegations today and these various pieces of evidence that we`ve got about potential criminal behavior by the president, if you were Robert Mueller, can you imagine trying to bring an indictment against the president, trying to bring charges against the president on any one of those on more than any of the rest of them?
VANCE: You know, the obstruction portions of this case has always been very deeply troubling. It`s really interesting to me to hear people try to dismiss obstruction as a process crime, because what it`s really about in this case is a president who is trying to impede the truth-finding process that supports the rule of law. I see that as being both particularly damaging and at least from what we know publicly, there appears to be some very significant evidence in these regards. So, leaving aside whether or not Mueller would pursue an indictment, those seem to be some pretty profitable areas.
MADDOW: Especially, of course, the -- with Attorney General William Barr having publicly made the case that obstruction crimes as far as he`s concerned are things that the president by definition he cannot commit. It`s hard to imagine Mueller pushing the envelope on those things.
VANCE: You know, so Barr says that before he comes into justice before he sees the evidence, before he hears the legal rationale, assuming that special counsel is interested in this that`s coming from special counsel or from Southern District of New York. Barr seems like a reasonable sort of lawyer who would sit down and carefully consider all of the arguments afresh and one would suspect that that`s the process that`s ongoing.
MADDOW: Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance -- Joyce, thank you for being my buddy on set here tonight going through this stuff. We thought about booking a million different people. I was like, I just want Joyce to sit in studio with me and walk me through these things because I have questions.
VANCE: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you. It`s great to have you here.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: There is still a lot to absorb about what we the country just learned today from the president`s longtime personal lawyer, somebody who worked for a decade at his business, who was his -- not only his legal counsel but was his fixer. It`s a lot to learn and a lot to absorb still about what Michael Cohen laid out in terms of evidence and what he alleged today about the president, the president`s character and the president`s potential involvement in multiple crimes, including since he has been president.
There`s just one last piece of it that I want to play for you today. It happened at the very end when Michael Cohen gave a short closing statement. He got to the part about why he testified the way he did today, and then he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything -- my family`s happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation and soon my freedom. And I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country. Indeed, given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I know -- I know this is a convicted felon talking to Congress about his former boss, the president, but that`s how Michael Cohen wrapped up today, saying that he fears based on his knowledge of this president that this president will not allow a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the 2020 election and that that`s the reason he`s needed to step up and say the things that he said today. And I know that doesn`t count as a concrete provable revelation, but so noted.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END