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Manafort sentencing tomorrow. TRANSCRIPT: 3/6/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Emily Jane Fox, Dina Titus

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  I`d like to see those numbers from anyone who`s keeping that about what`s going on at the port of entry. 

Congresswoman Annette Paragon and Jacob Soboroff, thank you both.

And that is ALL IN this evening.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

John Gotti, John Gotti died in prison in the year 2002 after serving about ten years of a life sentence for, among other things, his convictions for five different murders.  John Gotti was the boss of the Gambino crime family in the mafia. 

But before he died, while he was still in federal prison, one of the things that John Gotti got to enjoy as a feature of life in federal prison was that he had fairly regular visits with members from his family and because those conversations were monitored by prison authorities, in his case they were not just audiotaped, they were videotaped.

We can now for the ages see in living color, or at least in blurry washed out used to be color, not just the movie idea or comic book idea of what gangsters are like.  With the Gotti prison tapes, you could see the real deal. 

And he`s exactly as charming as you might check.  Not just in dealing with his peers in crime but dealing with his immediate family members, too. 

For example, this is how he spoke to his 10-year-old grandson who had come to visit him.  During that visit, the grandson told him his career plans were become a professional athlete. 

This is how his grandfather responded. 


JOHN GOTTI, MOB BOSS:  There`s a good chance that you might go to school and become a lawyer, John, I hope. 

VICTORIA GOTTI:  No, daddy, he is going to become a lawyer. 

GRANDSON:  No, I`m not. 

V. GOTTI:  Really? 

GRANDSON:  No, I`m not.  I`m going to be a basketball player. 

J. GOTTI:  You`re not going to be a basketball player.


J. GOTTI:  You ain`t going to be a baseball player or a basketball player. 

GRANDSON:  Of course I am!

J. GOTTI:  Let me tell you something --

V. GOTTI:  He`s being smart today.  There`s something in him today. 

J. GOTTI:  Let me tell you something about that.

GRANDSON:  You`re telling me what I want to be?  I never said I wanted to be --

J. GOTTI:  Let me tell you something about basketball and baseball players.  To be a good basketball player or a baseball player, first of all, you`ve got to be a good liar, a good low-life and an imbecile.

V. GOTTI:  And take a lot of drugs. 

J. GOTTI:  You`ve got to take steroids.  You must take steroids.  And anybody who takes steroids is a garbage pail. 

GRANDSON:  All right, then I`ll be a cook. 

J. GOTTI:  I don`t care if you are nothing.  You ain`t -- you think you`re being selfish with me, and spiteful with me.  You`ll get an (EXPLETIVE DELETED) kicking from me.  I ain`t your father (INAUDIBLE) 

V. GRANDSON:  He`s being a smart alec right now. 

J. GOTTI:  You`ll get an (EXPLETIVE DELETED) kickin, you`ll get an (EXPLETIVE DELETED) kickin you`ll never want.  You`ll never forget the (EXPLETIVE DELETED kick you`d get from me.

You understand?  I got too many friends right now and I don`t need you for a friend.  I got a million friends right now.  I got a million people who if they can come here to see me now, they would cry just to be able to see me. 

So you ain`t doing no favor coming to see me or talking sass to me.  You save that for your father, you save that sass.  I`ll put my foot up your (EXPLETIVE DELETED), you hear me?  Don`t you look at me.  I`m more serious than cancer, boy. 

The truth of the matter is with you guys, you`re spoiled god (EXPLETIVE DELETED) rotten.  There`s people who don`t even have a god (EXPLETIVE DELETED) good meal wouldn`t gave the answers you just gave to me. 

You can look as sad as you want to look.  Now get that phone to your uncle and get the hell out of here. 


That (EXPLETIVE DELETED) comes from your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) mother, not from me. 


MADDOW:  That was John Gotti in prison in 1998, swearing at his grandson and sending his grandson away for having temerity to say he wanted to be an athlete.  A grandson who had dressed up in a suit and tie to come see him, along with his mother and his uncle. 

In those same visits which we have tapes of and transcripts of, we also know that John Gotti shared a vote of confidence in his daughter`s husband.  His own son-in-law a guy named Carmine Agnello.

Carmine Agnello himself was reportedly not able to visit John Gotti in person because of his own troubles with the criminal law, but that did not stop Gotti from telling his daughter what he thought about her husband, on the same prison tapes.  I will spare you more of the tapes, in part because the bleeping gets exhausting.  But on the same tapes, Gotti told his daughter about her husband, quote, he`s going to get indicted any day, this moron.  Look, you want a prediction, by June, your husband`s going to get indicted and every two, three cents he`s got is going to be all tied up. 

Gotti told his daughter about her husband, quote, he`s an imbecile.  Then Gotti pretended to read a list of imaginary charges against his daughter`s husband.  Quote: You got to see the charges.  Malicious mopery.  Possession of brain with intent to use.  Stolen bumper.  Hubcap. 

That was a reference to the fact that his daughter`s husband was in the auto salvage and scrap metal business.  So, that was John Gotti saying in essence he`d get in trouble for a stolen bumper or a stolen hubcap. 

Gotti also referenced the fact his son-in-law was thought to have some sort of mood disorder that resulted in violent rages and for which he took medication.  Gotti said to his daughter in that prison visit in 1988 about her husband.  He said, quote, is he feeling good?  Is he not feeling good?  Is his medication increased, decreased, is it up, down, does he get into the back seat of the car and think someone has stolen the steering wheel? 

Nice.  Nice guy.  Must be nice for the whole family. 

That was 1998, John Gotti, before he died a few years later in prison, berating his daughter about her then husband, his own son-in-law. 

But, you know, in some ways John Gotti was a little bit right, at least on one of those points because those prison tapes were from 1998.  The following year in 1999, a new business opened up in queens, New York.  A new business called Stadium Scrap.  It was called Stadium Scrap because it was right up near Shea Stadium where the New York Mets used to play. 

Stadium Scrap opened its doors in 1999 and they started buying up dead cars and putting them in the crusher, smashing them into hunks of metal and then selling that metal to shredders and scrap dealers.  And when stadium scrap opened up in 1999, it seemed like every other business of that kind in that part of Queens, New York.  But if you looked super, super closely at Stadium Scrap, there was something about that business that was very different compared to other businesses of that type.  Stadium Scrap, it turns out, had cameras everywhere and microphones. 

Quote: A pan and tilt microwave camera was positioned on a pole approximately 100 yards from the entrance to the business.  It viewed -- it viewed the front of the yard and most of the street.  Additionally, a recording device was installed on the yard telephone and a listening device was installed in the trailer that was used as an office there.  They installed two video cameras inside the trailer and one outside the trailer overlooking the salvage yard. 

These were not just the kinds of cameras that regular businesses set up for security purposes.  These were cameras and microphones that were hidden and they were monitored for surveillance purposes because Stadium Scrap, that business that opened up in queens in 1999, Stadium Scrap was fake.  It was a big long-running undercover law enforcement operation. 

Multiple law enforcement authorities got together and they hatched this plan that they would open up a fake business in Queens, a fake scrap metal and auto salvage business in that part of Queens and they would do that basically as a sting operation because that business sector in that part of New York was generally believed by law enforcement to be all mobbed up.  So they thought they could use a fake business of that kind to try to crack open the organized crime infiltration of those businesses. 

So undercover law enforcement officers learned to, I mean, drive wreckers and car crushers and forklifts and flatbed trucks and all the other stuff.  They learned how to do this type of business.  They opened up this fake business in early `99, and they started doing the work.  They were buying and selling scrapped autos and scrapped metal.  They were doing auto salvage. 

But, bingo, as soon as they opened that thing up, instant results.  Within a month of them opening up this fake business, Stadium Scrap, within a month of them opening it, in walked, as predicted by John Gotti, in walked John Gotti`s son-in-law, Carmine Agnello, the guy that Gotti said was destined to be indicted any day now. 

According to state and federal prosecutors, this is what happened next.  This is from "The New York Daily News" coverage at the time.  Quote, Mr. Agnello and Joe Burger, a 390-pound childhood pal known as Jumbo visited Stadium Scrap and told the undercover cops working there that Agnello wanted them to bring the metal to his business instead. 

This is from that "New York Times" coverage at the same time.  Quote: Law enforcement authorities said Agnello gave the officers a simple message, sell him the crushed cars at artificially low prices or suffer the consequences.  Law enforcement officials said that when the undercover officers refused, Mr. Agnello had his associates fire bomb the business.  Stadium Scrap. 

And, of course, because Stadium Scrap was fake, because it was an undercover law enforcement operation set up specifically to catch criminals, there were cameras and microphones everywhere that caught all of that.  So, they were able to lay it all out in the indictment and in the press releases they were very proudly able to soon put out about the indictments that derived from that case. 

Quote: On the night of June 10th at the direction of Agnello, the lock on Stadium Scrap`s gate was cut.  On June 15th, Agnello directed the fire bombing of Stadium Scrap`s office trailer and flatbed truck.  At 2:00 a.m. on June 17th, at Agnello`s express direction, Stadium Scrap`s gate lock was cut, its yard was entered, glass bottles filled with gasoline were thrown and a flat bed truck and the gasoline was ignited with road flares. 

On June 29th, at 1:00 a.m., at Agnello`s express diction, Stadium`s gate lock was again cut.  Gasoline was thrown on the steps of the trailer office and on the trailer itself and the gasoline was ignited. 

On June 30th, Agnello had Burger, remember, Jumbo`s last name was Burger, so technically he`s Jumbo Burger.  Agnello had Jumbo, Mr. Burger, inspect the damage caused by the fire the night before, which Mr. Burger shortly thereafter was observed doing. 

So this bust, this longtime undercover sting operation involving the cops running a fake scrap metal and auto salvage business in Queens, they got a bunch of press, I think in part because of the cinematic nature of this law enforcement operation honestly, but also because it did not take them long to catch a big fish.  I mean, they got Gotti`s son-in-law, who it turns out was not a guy just looked upon with disfavor by his famous father-in-law in prison. 

According to "The Daily News" at the time, Agnello was viewed as a, quote, real life Tony Soprano, a ruthless 250-pound mobster who also controlled highly profitable legitimate businesses.  Over the years, Agnello has scuffled with cops writing him traffic tickets.  He`s accused of beating an ex-employee with a telephone.  Prosecutors say he threatened to break the fingers of a debt collector and put him into the trunk of a car. 

The indictment says Agnello threatened to hit a stockbroker with a hammer.  But when they snapped the trap shut on this sting operation, this Agnello guy, for all his charms, he was not the only guy they caught.  In the initial indictment, Agnello and three other guys were charged under the state`s Organized Crime Control Act. 

But by the time they wrapped up the operation the following year, it wasn`t just him and a handful of guys who were in his crew.  By the time they wrapped this up the following year, there were 49 people who got arrested in this sting.  So, yes, this got a bunch of press coverage.  There were definitely bragging rights involved for the prosecutors here when these indictments came down. 

But looking back on it now, what seems particularly interesting for us now is that it wasn`t only the prosecutors who had bragging rights about that sting.  Now, as I mentioned, this was a joint law enforcement operation, and it involved a whole bunch of different law enforcement entities, including NYPD and prosecutors in Queens. 

It also involved another agency whose annual report that year actually contained some of the juiciest details we got about this whole operation, and that entity, which was a key part of this sting operation, was the fraud squad at the New York State Insurance Department.  And the New York State Insurance Department doesn`t have that name anymore.  That Insurance Department has now been incorporated into an agency called the New York Department of Financial Services.  But it still does the same work and they`ve still got the same law enforcement responsibilities. 

And I`m sure because they do criminal insurance enforcement, I`m sure a bunch of that is as boring as it sounds, but sometimes in the relatively recent history of that agency, it has been the opposite of boring.  It`s been front page news for many days running.  It`s been dudes learning to run auto crushes, opening up fake scrap metal businesses in Queens next to Shea Stadium and then getting fire bombed by dudes named Jumbo who threaten to snap off people`s fingers and shove them into trunks. 

I mean, it has involved operations that wrap up 50 suspected gangsters at a time including proving John Gotti right about the propensity of his son-in- law and crime family associate for getting indicted in part because of his volcanic and uncontrollably violent temper. 

And that is the same agency, the exact same agency that has now subpoenaed the insurance broker that has done business for years with the president of the United States and his business.  That is the agency that has sent that company, what is reported to be an expansive nine-page subpoena, demanding that that insurance broker hand over more than 10 years of internal company documents that mention Donald Trump or the Trump Organization, plus all policies that were issued to the president or to his business, plus any applications or supporting materials that were submitted by the president or his business in order to obtain those insurance policies. 

And, no, that is not opening up a mob honey pot scrap yard up by the Mets` old stadium.  But the ball on this one is now rolling with that same agency. 


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK:  To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company? 


REP. LACY CLAY (D), MISSOURI:  Can you explain why you had these financial statements and what you used them for. 

COHEN:  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? 

COHEN:  Yes. 

CLAY:  And did this information provided to us inflate the president`s assets? 

COHEN:  I believe these numbers are inflated. 

CLAY:  And to your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to a bank in order to help him obtain a loan? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The gentleman`s time has expired, but you may answer that question. 

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. 

CLAY:  Thank you for your answer. 


MADDOW:  Today, for the fourth time in nine days, the president`s longtime attorney Michael Cohen gave testimony to Congress.  For the second time, today, he testified behind closed doors to the Intelligence Committee in the House.  That committee had initially only intended to speak with him once, Thursday of last week, but Cohen`s lawyers and members of that committee say a decision was made to bring him back for a second round of testimony today, only because Cohen brought that committee substantial new information last week. 

Committee members decided they wanted to ask him more about that new information and crucially they wanted to ask him to provide any supporting documentation that he could show them that might be able to back up these claims.  And, again, we don`t know what has happened behind closed doors.  But even just the stuff, the physical stuff that Cohen provided during his public testimony looks like it may be real trouble.  I mean, those financial statements you just heard Cohen being questioned about, those financial statements were three years of statements of financial condition that Cohen says were submitted by the president and his business to at least one bank to try to obtain a bank loan and two insurance companies. 

And what Cohen described about what the content of those financial statements and what they were used for looks very much like a reasonably substantiated allegation of felony bank fraud and felony insurance fraud.  I mean, Cohen stated that the assets on those financial statements appeared to him to be inflated.  That is not a wild claim. 

One Trump property that`s listed on those statements, the property in Westchester County, was bought by Trump for under $8 million, since 2012, it has twice been assessed of being worth less than $20 million.  "Forbes" just yesterday reported the net worth of that property right now is about $24 million.  The president himself and his federal ethics declaration said he believed that property to between $25 million and $50 million. 

Nevertheless, despite those assessed values and the president`s own declaration of the worth of that property this past year, on those financial statements, he listed the worth of that property as $291 million.  And, again, he reportedly used these statements with banks and insurance companies.  And $291 million is not a rounding error for a property like this. 

In addition to that, "The Washington Post" further reports that upon reviewing these financial statements, it appears that Trump not only inflated the value of some of his assets, he also, quote, exaggerated his wealth by leaving things out.  In 2011 and 2012, for instance, the statements of financial condition omitted his hotel in Chicago, which at the time was carrying a high debt load.  The likely result of Trump`s overall debt seemed smaller. 

And, you know, this isn`t a moral story, right?  I mean, it says something about your character, but that`s beside the point, right?  I mean, it`s one thing to, you know, tell somebody you met at a bar that you`re worth a lot more than you are.  It`s like lying about your height or lying about being first in your class at Wharton and lying about how much money you inherited from your dad and whether or not you`re self-made. 

Lying about whether or not you won the popular vote.  Lying about your inaugural crowd.  Lying about whether or not you ever actually built one inch of the wall.  Lying is lying is lying. 

Lying can be a whole way of life, it turns out, but it`s different when you lie in your written financial statements that you have submitted to firearm institutions in an effort to try to get bank loans or defraud insurance companies.  When you lie in financial statements like that, those industries are tightly regulated, at least against that kind of fraud.  And when you lie to those kinds of financial institutions for those kinds of purposes and there is documentation of it, you`re telling the kinds of lies that get chased down and prosecuted by among others the types of people who are willing to open up a fake scrap yard in Queens and film themselves getting fire bombed multiple times to lock up 50 mobsters at a go. 

And to the extent that Michael Cohen`s testimony and supporting documentation bolsters claims of felony bank fraud, it`s important to know that the entity Cohen described as the target of that attempted bank fraud, Deutsche Bank, they are now reportedly cooperating with congressional investigators.  When it comes to the insurance side of that alleged fraud by Cohen, it`s important to note that upon receiving that expansive subpoena from the agency that invented Stadium Scrap and faced off with Jumbo, that large insurance agency is also reportedly fully cooperating with law enforcement and investigating authorities.  So, those balls are rolling. 

And speaking of rolling, today Michael Cohen was back before the Intelligence Committee again, and this time in what must have been an ominous sign for the White House, Michael Cohen and his legal team walked into that testimony rolling a bunch of suitcases -- one suitcase, two suitcases, three suitcases.  Plus, all the file folders and the briefcases all full of documents. 

Among materials that Michael Cohen is said to have handed over to the Intelligence Committee today were additional documents about the preparation of his previous testimony to Congress, for which he has now pled guilty to lying about certain aspects of Trump Organization`s secret efforts during the campaign to build a big, rich Moscow real estate project with help from the Russian government and at least one sanctioned Russian bank. 

Think about those lies, why did Cohen lie that way to Congress the first time he testified before them?  There`s no reason those lies about the Trump Tower Moscow project would have benefitted Michael Cohen in any way himself.  The lies that he told in that testimony, which, again, he`s pled guilty for, those lies appear to have been designed not to help himself at all, but instead to offer political cover to President Trump. 

According to reports from Emily Jane Fox at "Vanity Fair" and CNN and others, today`s new documents from Cohen about that testimony were intended to bolster the claims from Cohen that lawyers acting on behalf of President Trump helped concoct his false testimony about Trump tower Moscow.  Again, false testimony that did not benefit Cohen.  It specifically benefitted President Trump.

And soliciting false testimony before Congress is usually described as obstruction of justice.  It was described that way in the articles of impeachment, both against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.  Just as a matter of criminal law, it`s also just potentially surface suborning perjury, which is a felony in its own right, although, of course, that would depend on the exact facts of the case.

But today was the day that Michael Cohen was initially supposed to be reporting to federal prison to start serving his federal prison sentence for lying to Congress and campaign finance felonies and other crimes.  After being given a few weeks` extension by the federal judge overseeing his case, it is just remarkable to see him spending his last weeks of liberty rolling in suitcases full of documents that may ultimately stand to bury the president. 

Emily Jane Fox joins us next.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Mark your calendars.  Two months from today, on May 6th, the president`s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen is due to report to federal prison to begin serving a three-year sentence for multiple federal felony charges.  Last week on this program, Michael Cohen`s attorney Lanny Davis told us that during Cohen`s closed-door testimony before the Intelligence Committee in the House, Cohen, quote, developed new information.  That basically necessitated ripping up the original plan and calling Michael Cohen back for a return appearance before the same committee this week. 

Davis told us the new information developed by Cohen in that closed-door session was, quote, quite explosive.  Well, Michael Cohen`s encore performance before the House Intelligence Committee was today.  This time to I think everyone`s surprise, it involved enough checked bags for a family of five flying on an international flight to Bangkok. 

We don`t know for sure, but we believe that inside all of that luggage that was trucked into the committee hearing room today, we believe that in that luggage was a lot of documents, documents that Cohen had promised to bring with him today to support the allegations that he has made against the president and the president`s business.  What was in those suitcases? 

Joining us now is the only person I can think to ask who might actually tell me anything about it.  Emily Jane Fox, national correspondent at "Vanity Fair."

Emily, thank you for being here. 


MADDOW:  So do you know what was in the suitcases? 

FOX:  So I don`t.  Maybe it was a change of clothes.  He was there a long time.

MADDOW:  Lots of suitcases.

FOX:  Lots of suitcases. 

But I did recognize something from that footage, and I recognize that brown file folder. 

MADDOW:  Mmm-hmm. 

FOX:  That was a file folder that came with him or a very similar one that came with him last week to Washington.  The way that Michael Cohen came into his public hearing last week was he had spent the week before going through these nine boxes in his storage unit in the Trump building where he lives. 

MADDOW:  Boxes that had been returned to him --

FOX:  From the Southern District --


FOX:  -- of New York. 

Seized from him from his part when they went to his apartment, hotel rooms and office with search warrants last April.  And he had done so to provide evidence to Congress members who were going to ding his credibility, rightfully, and question whether or not what he was saying was true. 

So he wanted to come with documents.  And what he found was a way to jog his memory about the bank checks that we now know that the president signed and the president`s son-in-law -- son signed and his CFO of the Trump Organization. 

Now, that file folder also contained a number of personal notes from the president on articles saying, Michael C. contact this reporter, threaten to sue him, this is wrong and other articles that he was not happy with.  So, it was full of all of these things that he had taken from his storage unit. 

Now, I know from my reporting that after last Thursday`s closed-door hearing with the House Intel Committee where he went back today, there were specific things he asked for in that hearing room that they wanted to have him look again to see if he had documentary evidence.  And he did that over the weekend.  And I think -- I would imagine that some of what we found is what he brought in those suitcases. 

MADDOW:  And in addition to the things that House Intel asked him for after that closed-door testimony last week which, again, we have limited information about because it wasn`t in public, we did see in his public testimony requests things he said he would go look for.  He said he would hand over 100 audio recordings, voice notes, first draft -- the first draft of his congressional testimony, which he pled guilty for it being false.  Red line edits made by the president`s attorneys to those remarks.  Additional bank checks for those reimbursement payments. 

Do you know from your own reporting whether or not any of that stuff he said he would hand over to Congress was something that he overpromised and now can`t deliver?  Do we believe he`s been able to provide all this stuff? 

FOX:  I don`t know if he`s provided all of it.  I do know from my reporting that he brought some of it with him today.  I particularly know that there was material related to the edits made in his initial congressional testimony brought today.  And along with I believe drafts that he found.  There is also communication with the lawyers involved that he found that he brought to the committee today. 

MADDOW:  Mmm-hmm. 

FOX:  I have no idea what kinds of edits were made on these drafts.  You know, sometimes you could have a draft that doesn`t necessarily have red line edits.  It just had changes where no one explains the changes.  Here is a draft on one day and here is another draft with changes but you don`t know what happened in between. 

There is communication amongst the lawyers about what was changed.  And I think that that communication is almost more valuable than a red line edit because --

MADDOW:  Well, is there a clear contention from Mr. Cohen that his testimony was false in part because he was advised how to falsely testimony -- how to falsely testify in a way that would benefit the president?  I mean, is he -- is that the nut of the contention about the president`s lawyers? 

FOX:  Well, he said publicly last week, I was advised by the president`s attorneys to make certain changes in order to stay on message with the president`s message.  And he said the president didn`t directly told me to change it, but he had this code and I understood the code. 

I don`t think that lawyers speak in code, and certainly lawyers who Cohen doesn`t know -- a lawyer who Cohen doesn`t know, he wouldn`t know how to speak that code, so I would imagine it would have to be more explicit than some sort of Trumpian code that Cohen had spent a decade trying to figure out.  I will say I talked to people who are in the room today, and the feedback I got from the people in the room today was Cohen was able to provide things that were damaging to the Trump presidency, matched only by the things that he was able to provide that were damaging on the Trump Organization.  That was the only rundown I got from the hearing room today. 

MADDOW:  As damaging as his statements and allegations have been thus far to the Trump Organization, he has today been able to make statements or allegations or provided evidence that`s as damaging to the presidency? 

"Washington Post" has just come out with a new piece of information with some somewhat -- an explosive report about something Mr. Cohen said behind closed doors.  I`d like to ask you about that when we come back if you can stay with us.

FOX:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  Emily Jane Fox from "Vanity Fair" is our guest.  We`ll be right back. 


MADDOW:  Back with us again is national correspondent for "Vanity Fair", Emily Jane Fox.

Emily, there is a piece of reporting tonight that I need to ask you about that has just come out from "The Washington Post."  The headline is: Michael Cohen discussed pardons with a second Trump lawyer.  He tells Congress.

So, this is about his closed door testimony before House Intel today.  The lead is: Michael Cohen has claimed to the House Intelligence Committee that he discussed the subject of a pardon with President Trump`s attorney Jay Sekulow.  Under penalty of perjury, Cohen alleged to lawmakers that he discussed pardons with Sekulow, in addition to Rudy Giuliani, another of Trump`s lawyers, and "The Post" is citing four people with Cohen`s testimony. 

Now, I know you know, right, the importance of this.  The president can pardon anybody he wants.  He can talk to anybody about a pardon in any context except in the context of the president`s own criminal defense. 

FOX:  Particularly because we know how damaging what Cohen was going to tell investigators has been to obviously Cohen, but to the Trump presidency, to the Trump Organization, to his family.

And so, if there were conversations with multiple lawyers who are representing the president about the possibility of a pardon, "A," and, "B," a pardon used to prevent Cohen from cooperating with investigators, that is explosive and it seems like "The Post" reporting is rock solid.  Now, there has been so much pardon news in the last couple of days.  And I -- it kicked off with a report in "The Wall Street Journal" that said that an attorney representing Cohen at the time after the feds had searched and seized items from his apartment, that the attorney approached Rudy Giuliani and that the attorney said, would you be interested in talking about pardons?  Something that to that effect. 

When I read that, I didn`t doubt the reporting, but immediately thought back to the summer when Rudy Giuliani had been talking about a story about the recordings that were seized from Cohen`s apartments.  And in the story, it initially characterized the recordings as Cohen saying you have to pay off a woman alleging an affair in cash not a check and that the president said, no, no, no, you have to pay her by a check. 

Then we heard the recording two days later and it was actually the opposite, where Cohen suggested to the president you cannot pay her with cash. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

FOX:  And so when I read that story, I thought to myself, is this the president`s legal team getting out ahead of what they know could be an incredibly -- another incredibly damaging story? 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

FOX:  And it seems like since that initial report broke there have been, in fact, incredibly damaging reports related to pardons that paint the situation in a very different light. 

MADDOW:  Right.  And the one thing that can`t happen is that the president`s defense lawyers, personal defense lawyers can`t be discussing pardons with people who could potentially offer witness testimony against the president. 

FOX:  Certainly not dangling them.  In my reporting about this, a lot is vague and a lot is unclear.  And a lot of the language is opaque and there are so many things on different sides that are not necessarily lining up. 

But what I do know is that Cohen has been privately saying that a pardon was dangled to him in some sort of oblique fashion.  Language was vague.  And this is something that he has been discussing with the Southern District of New York. 

MADDOW:  Wow.  Again, if the person he was discussing that with was representing the president in a defense capacity, that`s lights out, I mean --

FOX:  That is explosive. 

MADDOW:  Emily Jane Fox, national correspondent with "Vanity Fair" -- thank you, my friend. 

FOX:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  The FBI headquarters building is just a few blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue and it is a mess.  For years now, they`ve had nets up on the outside of the building to catch bits of that building as they fall off. 

When President Trump took office, the plan for the crumbling FBI building was to do a kind of swap with a private developer.  The government, the General Services Administration, would hire a private developer to build a brand-new campus for the FBI somewhere in the suburbs and then essentially as part of the payment for doing that work, the private developer would get that terrible falling down FBI building, which the developer would be allowed to tear down and replace with a big new development of his or her choice, right there on prime real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a few blocks from the White House. 

And everybody involved in this plan knew to expect that the result of it would be that any new high-dollar development at that Pennsylvania Avenue site, it would almost inevitability include a fancy new high-dollar luxury hotel.  And the problem with that is that that site is only about a block away from what is already the newest big luxury hotel in that part of D.C., which is the new Trump Hotel.  So that plan would give the president`s brand-new hotel in D.C. top tier luxury competition right across the street.  Huh. 

So, a few months into the Trump administration, the administration announced, hey, a new plan, an unexpected change in plan.  That old plan will be scrapped.  Now there will not be a new hotel, a big new development on the site of the FBI building.  In fact, they`ve decided to change directions 180 degrees.  They`re going to keep the FBI headquarters right where it is and build them a new building right there on the same site. 

The White House said this would save the taxpayers money, but, in fact, it will cost more.  Also, the new headquarters will hold fewer agents than the original plan had called for.  The White House said the president had nothing to do with this dramatic change in plans that would so impact his own personal bottom line.  They said it was totally the FBI`s call. 

The head of the GSA, General Services Administration, the part of the administration that is overseeing the project, she was called before Congress.  She also repeatedly said this man is what the FBI wanted.  Nobody else was involved. 

But then several Democratic lawmakers wrote to the head of the GSA and essentially said, hold on here.  First of all, here is a photo of you meeting with the president about this project.  That`s the GSA director sitting there in the middle there, the one woman in the photo. 

And second of all, those Democratic lawmakers got ahold of the actual e- mails that were sent by the GSA -- by the head of the agency and her staff recounting what happened at that meeting and putting the decisions made at that meeting into action, and those e-mails include an official from the GSA sending an e-mail a few days after that meeting referring to what POTUS directed everyone to do, and, quote, POTUS` orders.  Another official from the agency writes about delivering, quote, the project the president wants on the timetable he wants it done. 

What that meeting was about, what those presidential orders were about, what the president wanted done was a U-turn on that big multibillion dollar federal project so the FBI building would not be redeveloped into a new luxury hotel that would compete with his hotel across the street, and he was directly involved in the decision to make that change. 

When those Democrats released that basically smoking gun evidence of the president`s intervention in that project, that he stood to benefit from financially, when they demanded that the GSA hand over all documents showing how and why the original plan got turned upside down, that was not that long ago, it was October of last year. 

Elijah Cummings was then the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee.  We had him here on the show that night and we asked him, hey, this seems pretty open and shut, what`s going to happen here in terms of accountability?  This is what he said. 


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND:  I don`t think much will happen with regard -- if things continue the way they`ve been with regard to our committee.  As you probably know, Chairman Gowdy has refused to issue any subpoenas and basically the Republicans have acted more or less as defense counsel for this administration.  So, it may be, Rachel, that before we can truly get into this and hold hearings, it may be when the Democrats take over, hopefully in January, that we`ll have hearings and then we`ll get to the bottom line. 


MADDOW:  That was Congressman Cummings speaking before the midterm elections.  That was October.  As you might recall, Democrats actually did quite well in the elections the following month and they did indeed take over the House as of January. 

And now, today, the Democrats have started making good on their promise to get to the bottom of what looks like a clear-cut second grade textbook case of American government corruption coming directly from the president of the United States.  That`s next. 


MADDOW:  After the Trump administration, surprise, cancelled a long-planned project to build a new FBI headquarters, House Democrats got their hands on evidence that the president was personally involved in that decision.  That got them worried that maybe President Trump kyboshed the plan because it might have involved putting up a new luxury hotel basically right next to his own existing luxury hotel in downtown D.C. 

The president, among all things, doesn`t like competition.  Democrats at the time were in the minority in the Congress.  They did send a request to the Trump administration for documents and explanations.  The administration blew its proverbial nose on that request, but that was last year and now the Democrats are in charge, and now as of today it is five Democratic-controlled committees who are writing back to the administration telling them that time`s up, basically.  And this time if there isn`t a response, expect subpoenas to follow. 

Joining us now is Congresswoman Dina Titus.  She is one of the authors of today`s letters.  She`s the chair of a key subcommittee that oversees the General Services Administration, the part of the Trump administration that seems implicated here. 

Congresswoman Titus, thank you so much for being here. 


MADDOW:  So, when we first talked about this scandal, I said I would have you back as this progressed, particularly if you were able to take over in an oversight role and really start pushing here. 

What do you think you`re going to be able to get now with control in Congress that you weren`t able to get in the minority? 

TITUS:  Well, they virtually blew us off, as you said, when we asked for the requests last fall, but now we`ve put the letter in again.  We have written to the justice department, the FBI and the GSA asking for documentation.  We`ve given them until the end of March. 

We`ll see if they take us more seriously.  And if they don`t, well, we have other tools we can use to force them to give us that information. 

MADDOW:  And by other tools, you presumably mean subpoena power? 

TITUS:  Exactly. 

MADDOW:  If the president did intervene in this project, obviously that would contradict earlier denials that he had nothing to do with this project. 

TITUS:  That`s right. 

MADDOW:  But if the president did make that kind of intervention, is there any way for you and your other committee and subcommittee chairs to pursue the prospect that the president made that intervention specifically to line his own pockets, specifically to benefit himself financially? 

TITUS:  Well, we believe so, and we believe it`s pretty clear from the evidence that we`ve seen.  You remember Al Capone, who committed so many spectacular crimes, but what they got him on was income tax evasion.  You hear a lot about other investigations into collusion or paying off women.  We`re being very deliberative.  We`re going after something very specific, getting all the facts.  And I believe in the end, it will be very clear that he used public money to get private profit. 

MADDOW:  If he did use public money to get private profit, if he is using his office to financially benefit himself and his company, is that a -- is that a crime?  And if so, who prosecutes it? 

TITUS:  Well, we`re going to talk to the Justice Department.  That`s why we want to be deliberative.  That`s what we want to have hearings.  But you need the information in advance of that. 

Also, as you pointed out, they`ve lied about it.  Ms. Murphy from the GSA said, no, no, there weren`t really any meetings.  It was the FBI that wanted to do it, but I think the evidence will show that he was very much a part of this, and it will depend on how you want to define corruption.  I think the public can look at that and see that that`s just not the way government`s supposed to run. 

MADDOW:  Congresswoman Dina Titus, chair of the economic development public buildings and emergency management subcommittee, which in this case is a key oversight role because you oversee the GSA.  Congresswoman, I will say it again like I said it last time, as this progresses, please keep us apprised.  I`m super interested in this story and I think you`ve got the tiger by the tail here. 

TITUS:  Thank you.  We`ll stay in touch. 

MADDOW:  Thanks.  Thank you for your time tonight. 

All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  He is old, he has gout, he has been very unhappy in jail, not to mention lonely.  Lawyers for the president`s campaign chair Paul Manafort has cited his health, his age, his conditions of confinement, his previous status as an altar boy -- you name it, all as part of their case that Mr. Manafort should not be given too long a prison sentence for his multiple felony convictions. 

Tomorrow afternoon, 3:30 Eastern Time, we`ll find out for his lawyers have persuaded the judge in his case in Virginia, 3:30 in the afternoon, Eastern Time.  That`s when Manafort is set to be sentenced in federal court in Virginia.  The sentencing guidelines in his case range from 19 to 24 years. 

Again, that hearing is 3:30 p.m.  No cameras in court.  So don`t expect actual live footage of it.  But we hope we will have the transcript of that sentencing hearing for you here tomorrow night. 

See you then. 


Good evening, Lawrence.

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