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Manafort faces sentencing in D.C. on Wednesday. TRANSCRIPT: 3/11/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Nicholas Nehamas

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.  Thanks, my friend.

HAYES:  You bet. 

MADDOW:  Much appreciated. 

And thanks to you at home for joining us.  Happy Monday. 

And, no, this is not a rerun but you are going to have a little sense of deja vu because the president`s campaign chairman is due to be sentenced by a federal judge again this week, and I know that sounds like last week`s news but this week`s sentencing on Wednesday will be in addition to the sentencing Paul Manafort went through with the federal judge in Virginia last week.  So, those headlines from a distance, they`re going to look similar.  Before we get to the sentencing on Wednesday, it all sort of feels a little bit similar, but this is going to be a pretty different process this week because this judge in D.C. who is going to be considering Manafort`s fate this week and handing him down his new sentence on Wednesday, this is the judge who is going to be considering not the guilty pleas from a jury trial like that Virginia judge was considering last week.

Now, this judge in D.C. is considering something very different.  She`s going to be considering the failed plea deal that Paul Manafort got himself into when he tried and failed to become a cooperating witness in an effort to try to get himself a more lenient sentence. 

You remember how this went down, right?  Manafort went on trial in Virginia.  He was convicted on eight felonies.  The jury was hung on ten others.  Manafort had been due for a second federal trial in the neighboring jurisdiction of Washington D.C.  It was on the eve of the second federal trial when Manafort instead jumped, tried this new course.  He abandoned his not guilty plea and said he no longer wanted to go to trial.  He started talking to prosecutors.  Prosecutors agreed to drop all charges against him in D.C. except for two felony conspiracy counts. 

In exchange, they got not only his plead in guilty but got him to admit even to the -- admit that he was guilty even to the ten felony charges on which he had the hung jury in his first federal trial in Virginia and most importantly, he pledged to cooperate with prosecutors in the special counsel`s office.  That was the deal Manafort tried to make to save his own skin on the eve of what would have been his second federal trial.  And that is what blew up when prosecutors came back to the judge in D.C. to Judge Amy Berman Jackson and they told her, hey, judge, don`t think of this guy as a cooperator. 

Do not give him any credit for accepting responsibility for his crimes, for providing meaningful assistance to prosecutors.  He`s not doing that.  Prosecutors came back to the judge after she approved this plea deal and prosecutors told her it`s off.  Manafort has lied to us multiple times on multiple subjects. 

He can`t do that under the terms of this deal.  This week is when we`re going to see that all come due. 

This federal judge is going to sentence Manafort this Wednesday, she`s the judge who took Manafort`s guilty pleading.  She`s the one who signed off on the plea agreement he made with prosecutors.  She`s the one who then ruled from the bench that he broke the agreement because yes, she ruled in court he did intentionally lie to prosecutors on multiple occasions on material matters. 

Incidentally, I should tell you, this is the same judge who put Manafort in jail in the first place, last June.  This was the judge that ruled he had violated his bail conditions by tampering with witnesses while he was out on bail awaiting trial.  That order from Amy Berman Jackson in D.C. is what put Paul Manafort into a federal cell as of last June where he`s been ever since. 

Now we know thanks to last week`s sentence that he isn`t getting out of prison for at least a few more years, but this week we`re, about to find out just how many years he will have to serve in total depending on what Judge Jackson gives him on Wednesday and now, as we head towards that Wednesday ruling, that Wednesday sentencing with that judge, a funny thing is now developing here ahead of this sentencing this week.  And it is about Manafort lying to prosecutors and breaching his plea deal and not cooperating. 

Last year, a reporter at CNBC named Christina Willkie pulled off a rabbit out of a hat.  She pulled off a neat trick.  "The McClatchy News Service" had reported last spring that Mueller`s office, special counsel`s office, had started looking into the Trump Organization`s previous business dealings and attempted business deals and business trips to the former Soviet Union.  So not just Russia, but also places like Georgia and Kazakhstan dating back into the 90s and maybe beyond. 

In the wake of that reporting from McClatchy, CNBC got a tip about somebody who had played an important role in multiple Trump building efforts in that part of the world.  The tip was that in Georgia and in Kazakhstan and in Russia, the Trump Organization, basically the way they approached these things, is that they pitched this big Trump branded building projects with what amounted to a three-pronged approach.  One of those prongs was Trump himself.  They would bring Trump over there himself to get press attention and do events with celebrities and dignitaries and talk up whatever it was they were doing.  They bring the Trump star power.

And then they would also bring Michael Cohen, the president`s personal lawyer to make connections and talk terms, but then they would also bring an architect who would show off possible designs for these potential Trump developments.  That was basically their three-pronged approach to making business pitches overseas in the former Soviet Union.  So we know what happened to Donald Trump.  He became president.  We know what happened to Michael Cohen.  He`s going to prison. 

What about the other guy?  The architect who helped make these pitches for the Trump Organization he himself has never been accused of wrongdoing that we know about.  Nobody has alleged that he has done anything to get himself in trouble with any of this stuff, but he was proximate to something that is reportedly of investigation and where the other people involved in it are very, very much at the center of on going investigations. 

So, if the Mueller investigation started to investigate this part of Trump`s business past, what about this other guy?  I mean, the architect who was involved in these pitches, is he now part of the investigation, too? 

So, Christina Wilkie, reporter at CNBC reached out to that architect.  She got a tip that he was the architect who was involved in those projects and those projects are subject of interest to Robert Mueller, and she reaches out to the architect, and that is when she pulled that rabbit out of the hate.  This reportorial magic trick.  I mean, she didn`t like saw the guy in half but it`s the journalistic equivalent of that. 

Quote: The architect did not respond to a call or e-mail but eight hours later, meaning eight hours after we called and he mailed, he announced on Twitter that he was closing his architecture firm after ten years in business.  A few days later, he closed down the Twitter account he used to announce he was closing down the architecture firm.  By the end of the week, all the content from his professional Website including his entire international architecture portfolio had been removed from the web entirely.  Also gone was any reference to the two overseas branches to his architect firm that he had opened in Georgia and in Ukraine. 

Wow.  One call from a CNBC reporter does that.  I mean, I`m used to getting in commented.  I have been no commented up the yin yang.  But -- I mean, this is no comment and also I no longer exist, right?  It`s like I live for that. 

Anyway, that really was something.  At the time, you might remember us talking about this on the show.  At time we had that reporter from CNBC, Christina Wilkie, here on the show to try to figure out what happened there and she was sort of bewildered as we were by it. 


MADDOW:  Joining us is Christina Wilkie, White House reporter for  She`s the one who spooked the architect. 

Christina, thank you for being here. 


MADDOW:  Do you have this effect on people more broadly? 

WILKIE:  I do not.  People love to call me back. 


MADDOW:  So, that was last year in June.  And it`s interesting about six weeks later-ish, the architect in question did resurface but without his firm.  He put up a statement on his website announcing, quote: this most recent transitional phase of my career but insisting I think with annoyance about the press conference, he said he neither vanished nor disappeared. 

Honestly, though, his firm did disappear.  It is did poof. 

And now that same reporter at CNBC, Christina Wilkie, she does appear to have done it again and this time it concerns one of the things that Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors about.  This judge in D.C. that`s going to sentence Paul Manafort this week, she ruled that Manafort deliberately lied to prosecutors on three different subjects.  And of them, the one that I at least found hardest to follow because of the redactions in the court documents, it seemed to be about something related to a payment Manafort received in June 2017. 

So, June 2017, this is after Trump`s been in office for half a year.  It`s before Manafort gets indicted but that was at a time when it was becoming very clear Manafort was clearly the subject of multiple serious criminal investigations.  His legal bills were starting to mount and in June 2017, Manafort apparently reached out to a pro-Trump super PAC, to try to get from them some money to pay his mounting legal bills specifically asked for 125 grand. 

Now, the PAC ultimately did not send that money for Paul Manafort`s legal defense, but Christina Wilkie at CNBC now appears to have figured out what happens next, as have the special counsel`s office who have been pursuing the case against Manafort in two federal courtrooms and specifically have litigated this point with the judge about why Paul Manafort lied about this payment.  So, the PAC that Manafort approached to pay the legal bills, that was the biggest pro-Trump super PAC in all 2016 campaign.  Remember when Trump said he was going to finance his whole campaign and wouldn`t need to take in donations from anybody?  Ha, this pro-Trump super PAC was the biggest one that took in over $24 million in donations, Again, not as part of the campaign but as a pro Trump super PAC, the biggest one. 

That PAC was run by a very close associate of Paul Manafort.  Manafort himself basically set up that PAC, as soon as he was Trump`s campaign chair.  He green lit the creation of the super PAC and he installed as the head of it a guy who he had done tons of work with before, a guy who is a long-standing work colleague of Manafort dating back decades.  He`s reportedly godfathered one of Paul Manafort`s daughters. 

What CNBC is now reporting and what Mueller`s appears to have figured out a while ago, is that when Manafort in June 2017 asked this pro-Trump super PAC, this is after the campaign, right?  Campaign has been over, Trump is already president for a half a year.  Manafort goes to this pro-Trump super PAC, asked for the money.  It`s run by his good friend, he wants money for pay some of his legal bills, he asked for 125 grand. 

We now can tell basically that the answer from the PAC to Manafort was yes but.  Yes, Paul, you can have the money but you`re not going to get it from me exactly.  Instead, you should get it to the other place, this other entity, this easy to forget generic-named fuzzy little corporate entity which according to CNBC was secretly owned and controlled by a famous Republican pollster named Tony Fabrizio.  And in fact, that little corporate fuzzy entity MMSC run by Tony Fabrizio, that should gave Manafort the money. 

Now, do you care about Paul Manafort getting some of his legal fees paid for by this Republican pollster guy?  Do you care?  No, you don`t care.  I mean, not in the abstract, none of us care about this.

But there is three sort of like hair raising consequences of this little revelation.  Number one, why would Paul Manafort lie about that over and over and over again to prosecutors when he was legally bound not to lie to them about anything and when the question of the freedom of the rest of his life is potentially on the line if he does lie?  I mean, he`s doing a plea deal which means he has to cooperate and he can`t lie.  With the plea deal he can get out of going to prison for the rest of his life.  With no plea deal, it`s going to be some years at least. 

Prosecutors say that Paul Manafort not only lied about that $125,000 payment, he told three different false stories about that payment in three different meetings with the prosecutors and the special counsel`s office.  I mean, think about -- put yourself in his shoes here for a second. 

OK, first instance, he comes up with one false story about that payment.  OK.  Maybe, you know, you misrembered, you got to trembled up.  But the prosecutors come back and ask you about it again. 

That might be a signal that maybe you screwed up the first time and ought to make sure you get it right now since you`re legally bound not to lie to them.  But then you lie to them again?  Different lie, you tell them another false story that`s different in the first one, but that is also a lie. 

Then think they come back a third time.  Hey, we want to talk to you about payment again.  Are you sure? 

And the third time you try to snow them with another false story about it.  Three different meetings with the prosecutor specifically on that payment, three different lies.  He tells a new lie every time.  Who cares? 

It`s OK for you to take the money from Tony.  Really, like that wasn`t a bad thing.  You`re going to go to prison for maybe like a decade for lying about that?  That`s an okay thing for you to have done.  What is the problem? 

So, that is -- that`s consequence one of this weird lie.  Tony Fabrizio sending Manafort $125,000 to help with his legal fees is not a crime as far as I can tell.  Why Manafort would go to such lengths to lie about it when that had such dire consequences for him is absolutely inexplicable.  That`s consequence one. 

Consequence two, despite Manafort inexplicably lying about it over and over again, the prosecutors, the special counsel`s office, they know the truth.  They know what actually happened, from court filings, and from open source reporting, it appears that part of the reason Mueller`s office knows what really happened here is because they have spoken repeatedly with Tony, with the pollster guy who actually did pay Paul Manafort this money while Paul Manafort lied to them about it over and over and over again.  It appears that in the course of figuring out the truth of that payment, Mueller`s office also uncovered a little bit of a kickback scheme.  A not particularly sophisticated system by which these guys were basically skimming off a bunch of money that people had donated to the pro Trump super PAC and instead keeping it for themselves. 

So, they discovered the truth of the payment.  They also discover when getting to the truth of the payment that there was a little scheme of a scheme here, there was a kickback scheme going on.  There was cash moving necessarily where it shouldn`t have gone, but it`s hard to tell this stuff directly from court filings in the Manafort case because of all the redactions and the written documents and in the transcripts. 

But through basically doing the math and playing game where you tried to pair like objects with another, and through reading closely all these documents and reporting it all and calling people and tracking them down, Christina Wilkie at CNBC appears to have basically figured out a way to get behind those black boxes in the redacted transcripts so we can actually understand what`s going on here.  And so, it appears what Mueller`s office has found and demonstrated to the court and CNBC can now describe publicly for the first time, it appears that yes, Manafort got this payment from Tony Fabrizio, the pollster. 

It also appears that the long-time Manafort friend who Paul Manafort installed as the head of the super PAC, that guy and Tony Fabrizio, the other long-time Paul Manafort friend who Manafort hired to be the Trump campaign pollster, it also appears that those two guys set up some sort of a scheme where the two of them took a 6 percent cash cut of every dollar that Trump super PAC spent on political ads in the 2016 campaign. 

Again, the pollster, this famous Republican pollster who appears to be caught up in this stuff, Tony Fabrizio, he has reportedly been talking to Mueller`s investigators for a long time now, more than a year ago.  February 2018, CNN reported that Fabrizio was seen leaving the special counsel`s office.  CNN later confirmed that Fabrizio had met with Mueller`s prosecutors. 

Wilkie at CNBC now reports that Fabrizio appears to have done at least one more interview with Mueller many months later in November 2018.  So, whatever was going on with Tony Fabrizio`s side of it, presumably, that is all known to the special counsel`s office.  He`s had multiple meetings with them.  Fabrizio, for what it`s worth, has also been the subject of a detailed document request from the House Judiciary Committee which I think he has to respond to by next week. 

But there is one more consequence of this new reporting, which is that Christina Wilkie appears to have pulled off the same magic trick yet again, the one she did with the architect before.  It seems like she`s done it again this time.  In addition to reporting out the role of Tony Fabrizio here, the other player in this new drama is the guy who Manafort installed to run the super PAC, right?  This guy who was apparently part of this cash kick back scheme, who is apparently part of this whole mysterious $125,000 payment that Manafort is going to die on a hill lying about.  I mean, the three players in this drama are Paul Manafort, Tony Fabrizio, the Trump campaign pollster, and this other guy who Manafort put in charge of the PAC.  The guy who`s a godfather of one of Manafort`s daughters, his longtime friend.  He`s apparently somebody who worked together with Manafort all the way back in the `80s.  He worked at that lobbying firm that Paul Manafort had with Roger Stone. 

In addition to Manafort installing him as the head of this pro-Trump super PAC, where there was this kickback scheme running and who knows what else this guy also ended up playing a key role in the Trump inaugural, randomly he was the guy who got put in charge of ticketing all the Trump inaugural events even though he appears who had no experience with that sort of thing, whatsoever.  OK?  

So, he`s of interest.  What about him?  What about his role in all of this? 

This guy is a guy named Laurance Gay.  He appears to be at this point basically the beleaguered spotlight -- excuse me, stop light at the center of a five-way intersection of Trump-related scandals and criminal investigations.  How does Laurance Gay fit in this investigation now?  Is he, too, talking to prosecutors?  I mean, if Fabrizio is talking to investigators, for example, about this role of the skimming kick back and how it connected to getting cash to Manafort, OK. 

We know about Manafort`s conversation with prosecutors and the problems there.  We know this reporting about Fabrizo`s conversation with prosecutors.  Has Laurance Gay told his side of the story, too?  How does he fit into all of this?  How does he fit into the special counsel`s investigation?  How does he fit into the inaugural investigation?  How does he fit into the congressional investigation?

Queue Christina Wilkie at CNBC and her amazing journalistic powers.  Quote: CNBC attempted to reach Laurance Gay several times but the phone at his Canaan, Connecticut consulting firm, Business Strategies & Insight, has been disconnected. 

Hello?  Hello? 

I mean, this is not a fly by night guy who nobody heard of before, right?  This guy had been in the Paul Manafort universe for 40 years.  One call from CNBC about this and poof, he`s gone.  Disconnected? 

Joining us now is Christina Wilkie, White House reporter for

  Christina, I know I`ve been embarrassing you.  Thank you very much for being here. 

WILKIE:  It`s my -- such a great pleasure, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  You seem to have this ability to make people disappear, disconnect their phone and shut down their businesses and eliminate themselves from social media when you ask questions.  I know that there is a lot of different components here.  But I have to ask you about that aspect of the story that must have been a surprise not just to get no commented by Laurance Gay, but to have him sort of disappear. 

WILKIE:  I mean, there is no way to tell when his phone was disconnected but it is -- you know, in this day and age, yes, it`s unusual to get an intense beep, beep, beep of a disconnected phone.  This number is no longer in service. 

MADDOW:  In terms of Laurance Gay and the super PAC, it seems like, I can imagine the things you wanted to ask about, given what you`re able to report about his role, but it seems like what you`re describing is not just you figured something out but you believe that Mueller has figured out something about both the routing of that payment to Paul Manafort but also what appears to have been a cash kickback scheme that was running in the biggest pro-Trump super PAC, right? 

WILKIE:  Yes, that is what appears to have happened and yes, I mean, we have figured out that Laurance Gay, that Paul Manafort kind of installed this guy who he really trusted and to oversee $24 million that Manafort suggested to Gay that he hire Tony Fabrizio ad buying firm, there`s no name multimedia services, and then the two -- it appears the two of them, Fabrizio and Gay, set up their, you know, one man`s kickback scheme is another man`s commission split.  You know, they set up a secret commission split and essentially overcharged all these donors.

And, you know, we heard from Laurance Gay`s lawyer and he says his client has done nothing wrong.  He`s a criminal defense attorney and so, we will see.  Gay`s voice is very absent from these court documents.  You know, whereas they are often obvious references to Manafort, interviews and obvious references to Tony Fabrizio`s role and what he told prosecutors. 

You know, Fabrizio is really the kind of truth teller in this as Manafort tells different stories.  Fabrizio lays it out, but the third man is really absent.  It`s -- you know, and obviously, that`s not an accident. 

MADDOW:  Christina, let me ask you also about the dynamic where Fabrizio as far as we know has spoken with Mueller`s office at least a couple times.  He`s described in court filings I think we can now sort of see it the way we`ve given you this window behind the reductions.  We can see him being described as the person who gave prosecutors what they believe to be true and corroborated information about that payment to Paul Manafort while Manafort himself was lying about it over and over again. 

Do you have any sense now about why Manafort might have been lying about that over and over again?  His lawyers really described it as, you know, he got mixed-up.  He got confused.  He didn`t remember the precise nature of it, but the prosecutors documented he told three different false stories on three different occasions as they are questioning on it escalated. 

WILKIE:  And if he was, in fact, trying to conceal any legal kick back scheme, then it would make sense that`s why he told these different stories.  First, he said it was debt owed to him by gay and then said it was payment for services rendered for business he sent Fabrizio over the years, and then his third story was that it was a loan for Fabrizio, and he produced an unsigned loan document and each time, prosecutors came back to him and said to him, well, this doesn`t quite add up.  You know, it doesn`t look like Laurance Gay pay this because our record show that this no name advertising firm in Alexandria paid it. 

And so, Manafort came up with another story.  You know, there certainly appear to be real questions about the legality of some of what appears to have happened, you know, and Manafort maybe protecting his friends. 

MADDOW:  Wow.  And it may be at great, great cost.  We will find out that in detail on Wednesday at his sentencing. 

Christina Wilkie, White House reporter for, careful with who you call, you have a habit of disappearing people, but we`ll follow your reporting wherever it leads.  Thanks for being with us.

WILKIE:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more ahead tonight.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  This is a big week for Donald Trump`s campaign chair and for his deputy campaign chair and for his national security advisor and for his long-time political advisor.  They`ve all got a big week in court so get your calendars out or ready to write on your hand with a sharpie, however you do it.  But here`s what`s coming up this week. 

You`ll recall last week, we saw Paul Manafort, the president`s campaign chair sentenced in the Eastern District of Virginia.  He got 47 months for bank fraud and tax fraud.  This week Wednesday, he is set to be sentence in D.C. for two felonies, both conspiracy counts.  The reason he`s only facing two charges in D.C. is because he pled guilty to those two felony charges in September, in exchange for having all these other charges dropped, that kept him from having to go on trial second time, but those guilty pleas were also part of a cooperation agreement with prosecutors which Manafort then promptly broke when he lied to them. 

So, on Wednesday, the D.C. judge in that case, Amy Berman Jackson will sentence Paul Manafort.  She can give him a maximum of ten years in prison.  She`ll also have the choice as to whether Manafort will have to serve whatever new sentence he gets.

After his 47 months are up from the Virginia case, or could possibly the two sentences run concurrently.  I mean, depending on how much time Judge Amy Berman Jackson gives Paul Manafort this week that the consecutive versus concurrent thing, it could make a huge difference as to how much of the rest of Paul Manafort`s life is going to be spent not in prison.  So, that is going to happen on Wednesday.

That same day, Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn will have a status update in his case.  And in the Flynn case, this might be a big deal.  You`ll remember Mike Flynn was supposed to be sentenced back in December but his sentencing hearing went totally off the rails.  The sentencing hearing was basically aborted half way through when the judge started the sentencing process and then basically signaled that it was going to go so, so badly for Mike Flynn that the judge would allow him to try to improve his circumstances by cooperating even more with the special counsel. 

And in court that day, Mike Flynn initially seemed to not understand that.  The judge kept offering that over and over again.  You sure you want me to sentence you today, sir?  You sure you don`t want a little more time? 

Finally, after the judge basically described his disgust and disdain for Flynn`s offense, after the judge said in open court that Flynn undermined and sold out his country, finally, Flynn and his lawyers appeared to cotton on to what the judge was suggesting.  And so, Mike Flynn finally took the judge up on his offer not to be sentenced that day, to go spend a little more time with prosecutors and see if you can help them more. 

So, after that bizarre day in court in December, Flynn went back to cooperating some more, which means Wednesday is going to be the first time he`s back in court since the disaster of a sentencing hearing in December.  Flynn is obviously hoping to end this thing and get to sentencing again right away.  But we`ll see what prosecutors have to say.  We`ll see what the judge has to say, you know, since this judge literally raised the prospect of Flynn being prosecuted for treason the last time he saw him back in December. 

I think when it comes to Wednesday, most of the attention is going to be on Manafort and the expectations for his second sentencing.  But the Flynn news that day could be really big, as well. 

Then the next day, long-time Trump political advisor Roger Stone will be back in court, likely to be there in person.  That could also be a dramatic day in part because of the legal wrangling that`s been happening between the two signs in Stone`s case, over whether Roger Stone has again violated the gag order that that judge has put on him in this case.  Roger Stone`s status report outlining his compliance with the gag order was due today. 

We actually got the filing from his lawyers moments ago.  Filing exhibit A, composite exhibit B, yes, it goes more.  We just got this stuff in.  Basically, the upshot is that Stone`s lawyers are claiming he didn`t mean to violate the gag order again when he forgot to tell the court about a new introduction to one of his recent books that`s coming out, an introduction in which he talks a lot about the Mueller case.

Depending how the judge feels about the submissions from both sides, she could choose to revoke his bail if she wants to.  She could choose to send him to jail to await trail the way she did to Paul Manafort last year.  She`s also likely on Thursday to pick Roger Stone`s trial date.  So, Thursday, Roger Stone is going to know a lot more about his fate.

Then the next day on Friday, we`re going to get the answer to one of the biggest mysteries of all these cooperating witnesses.  Rick Gates, Rick Gates was one of the first people charged by the special counsel back in 2017.  He was charged alongside Paul Manafort in the very first Mueller indictment.  Gates, though, fairly quickly peeled off and pled guilty and started cooperating. 

Unlike Paul Manafort, though, Gates` cooperation seems to have gone well.  It did not break down and go very badly for Mr. Games the way it did for Paul Manafort.  For Gates, it was a somewhat productive process, at least to the extent the special counsel felt comfortable calling him as a witness to use against Paul Manafort in the big federal trial in Virginia. 

I mean, beyond that turn on the witness stand, we had very little insight into what Rick Gates might have been helping with.  But remember, he wasn`t just Manafort`s deputy.  Rick Gates was also the number two guy in charge of the Trump inaugural.  Since Gates started cooperating among the developments we`ve been a little surprised by is the sweeping subpoena issued to the Trump inaugural committee from prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. 

So, who knows?  That may have been what seems to have extended this cooperation period for Gates.  Again, we don`t know what he`s been cooperating about, but his cooperation has been extended and extended and extended again. 

On Friday, in the status hearing in his case, we may have got our first insight into how helpful he`s actually been as a cooperating witness.  We may finally see after more than a year of being a cooperating witness, what he`s actually been doing and how much he`s actually been helping the prosecution.

That`s all happening this week.  What are you doing this week? 

We`ll be right back.


MADDOW:  Admit it, sometimes you think about what the Jeb Bush presidency might have been like, right?  When I think about it, all I can remember is his goggling noises that he made in the campaign.  There were unexpected things about the Jeb Bush for president campaign.

Now, we got a new one.  You don`t hear news like this all that often.  You hardly ever hear about it on this scale, but a super PAC from the 2016 campaign, a super PAC that supported Jeb Bush for president has just been hit by federal officials with a huge fine for accepting donations from foreigners.  If you go to that super PAC website right now, it still has the Jeb Bush Right to Rise logo at the top of it but look, that website is clearly defunct how to install gutter guards or like cool lights for your jeep. 

But back in 2015, this right to rise super PAC was a real thing, and it was run by Jeb Bush`s brother, no, the other one, Neil Bush.  Again, supporting Jeb`s run for the presidency, and as part of his turn at the helm of that super PAC, brother Neal accepted -- solicited and accepted a seven-figure donation from a company he had worked with which was owned by Chinese nationals, a seven-figure donation from a Chinese couple who did business with Jeb`s brother Neil.

Now, foreign nationals cannot donate money to presidential campaigns or PAC supporting candidates for office here, full stop.  A watch dog group called the Campaign Legal Center challenge that donation and, you know, campaign finance stuff is basically unregulated and unpoliced at this point in their country`s history, but today, "Mother Jones" was first to report that that watchdog group actually won.  The FEC says it did not know that the violations were knowing and willful.

But now, these super PAC and company between them have agreed to pay $940,000 in fines.  That`s one of the biggest fines we`ve seen.  Campaign Legal Center says it`s the third largest fine in the history of the FEC. 

And, of course, it comes at a time when foreign interference in the election is still right in the doggone center of the news and we`ve got more on that next.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Naval Station Mayport is a U.S. naval base in Jacksonville, Florida.  The best covers more than 3,000 acres.  It`s the third largest naval facility in the entire Continental United States.  And on a sunny November day in 2015, it was really something different to see at naval station Mayport that day, because at around 8:00 a.m., three Chinese naval ships pulled up to that American naval base in Jacksonville.  Members of the Chinese Navy stood on the deck of their warships and waved.  They`re welcomed by dignitaries. 

They visited these three big Chinese warships, was part of a Chinese goodwill tour around the world.  It`s kind of a big deal.  I mean, the United States has the biggest navy in the world, but China has the second biggest and coming, and they have been trying to prove to the United States and the rest of the world that they see themselves as the supreme naval power on earth. 

Their navy isn`t to be messed with.  Their navy is the future.  They think their navy is the second best to no one. 

So, they have China in this military environment bring their worships to U.S. base in Florida.  It`s no small thing, right?  I mean, it was a friendly gesture on the part of both sides, but it`s also a big deal and everybody involved knew it.  They even brought the Chinese ambassador to the United States down to Florida and on to one of the ships to oversee the festivities personally.  Also, the Chinese counsel general. 

China extended invitations to what they called overseas Chinese leaders, Chinese immigrants now living in the United States.  Among the leaders, they were invited specifically to come see these Chinese warships in Florida was a woman named Li Yang, she goes by Cindy Yang. 

She was extensively invited for her work on something called the Women`s Charity Foundation.  Women`s Charity Foundation.  That must be something to get you this kind of invitation? 

Think about the Women`s Charity Foundation is that it doesn`t show up as currently registered when you look for it in Florida records.  We can`t really tell much about it at all.  It doesn`t appear to have done anything that pops in public records in any way. 

So, why did the founder of this then brand-new and even then super low profile and now apparently nonexistent none specific charity get invited to a high level military event for the Chinese government?  According to the Chinese press, only ten people got those invitations.  Why was she one of them? 

According to "Mother Jones" magazine, around the time she was starting this charity that got her this invitation to go see the Chinese warships, she was also given leadership roles at two organizations in Florida with ties to the Chinese government.  And around the time all this plum attention from the Chinese government was being bestowed upon Cindy Yang, it also seemed like there was a real turning point going on in her life because up until that point, the biggest thing Cindy Yang had ever done in this country was found a Florida-based chain of day spas and massage parlors that had kind of a reputation for offering a very special kind of massage, if you know what I mean, one where you turn over. 

For the record, Cindy Yang told "The Miami Herald" she has never broken the law, but it was one of the massage parlors that Cindy Yang founded where Robert Kraft, you know, the Patriots football team, he was just arrested for allegedly soliciting prostitution.  Cindy Yang sold that particular spot a couple years ago before it got busted for alleged human trafficking and for prostitution thing.  "The Herald" though points out that not much has changed at that massage parlor since Cindy Yang sold it.  They have the same couch, the same wall hanging and same fake potted plant. 

Since selling that spa, Cindy Yang does seem to have gone through some kind of transformation.  I mean, the day spas thing was one thing.  Starting in 2015 and into 2016, she was really doing something else. 

In 2015, after not voting in this country for ten years, Cindy Yang suddenly became very active in American politics, almost astonishingly slow.  She and her family donated -- started off actually donating to Jeb Bush campaigns.  They`ve since donated close to $60,000 to Donald Trump`s campaign and to one of his super PACs. 

She`s turned into a regular at the president`s golf club in Florida and also at fancy Republican dinners and galas and fundraisers.  She has taken pictures with everybody from members of the president`s cabinet and his top advisors, to members of the president`s family, to multiple selfies with the president of the United States himself.

And now, it`s being reported that Cindy Yang has also started a company which was advertising to potential clients in China that for a price, she could sell you meetings with and pictures with the president and his family.  You pay her, she`ll get you introduced to Donald Trump.  She`ll get you pictures with Trump and his family. 

I mean, this is from her website spelling out the different services you can buy from her.  She`s literally offering the opportunity to buy dinner at the White House.  You pay her, she`ll get you into a dinner at the White House, and that sounds crazy, except for the fact here`s a picture of Cindy Yang at the White House, posing at an event celebrating the lunar New Year. 

Since "The Miami Herald" and "Mother Jones" started poking around and asking questions about Cindy Yang and her ties to the Trump administration, she quickly shutdown both her Facebook page and her company website. 

But given that transformation she went through, given all she`s been accomplished and access with just the rudimentary website and a selfie stick, it`s no wonder the Chinese government appears to have taken a real shine to this Florida massage parlor owner and her work, whatever that work might be. 

Joining us now is Nicholas Nehamas.  He`s an investigative reporter from "The Miami Herald".  He helped break that story over the weekend. 

Mr. Nehamas, thanks very much for being here.  I appreciate your time.


MADDOW:  First, let me ask you if I`m saying your last name right.  I`ve been practicing all day. 

NEHAMAS:  Yes, you`re pretty.  Nehamas, a Greek name.

MADDOW:  Nehamas, fair?

NEHAMAS:  Yes, absolutely.

MADDOW:  What strikes me about your reporting and some of the reporting that since happened at "Mother Jones" is it does seem like there was this interesting transformation, political transformation in Ms. Yang`s life to go from massage parlor entrepreneur who seems to have had a reputation, her business had a reputation for unlicensed sex work, to get from there invitations from the Chinese government and high level access to U.S. public officials, including the president.  It just seems like a very quick transformation. 

NEHAMAS:  Yes, it really is a remarkable turn of events for a person who as far as we can tell from voter files had not voted in ten years.  Now, we did not to a source close to Ms. Yang recently who said that she was very taken with then candidate Trump and liked the idea of his candidacy and all the attention he was getting and wanted to be part of it herself.  And so, that`s the explanation coming from people close to her.  But it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered about -- I mean, really, how do you pull off this quick, quick transformation from owning nail spas or nail salons and massage parlors to, you know, as you said taking selfies with the president of the United States. 

MADDOW:  And what about these allegations and this -- what appears to be the evidence of this business that she was running in which she was offering people who would presumably pay her for the privilege, that she could get you introduced to the president.  She could get you pick with the president, with member of the president`s family.  She could get you into a dinner at the White House? 

I mean, first of all, do we have any reason to believe that she could pull those things off, and second of all, is that legal? 

NEHAMAS:  Well, she certainly had evidence that she had such access as you`ll see from the pictures of her with President Trump, with Governor DeSantis, with Senator Rick Scott, I mean, really, a laundry list of Florida Republicans and conservative commentators.  And she also posted people or pictures of people that she suggests on her now defunct website where her clients are meeting these people. 

And she told a person at a Republican fund-raiser in December 2nd, 2017, that she had arranged for a long group of mainland Chinese businessmen to attend this fund-raiser which was hosted by the RNC for President Trump.  So, she`s making a lot of claims and she does have some ability to back it up.  As for the questions of legality, it is only legal for citizens and permanent residents to donate to a campaign.  It is illegal for foreign nationals to do so.  But foreigners can attend fund raisers and political events as long as they`re not paying their own way. 

It would be illegal now for them to reimburse someone for paying their way into a fund-raiser. 

MADDOW:  Nicholas Nehamas, investigative reporter for "The Miami Herald", I really appreciate your time tonight.  I understand there were some logistical drama getting you on the air tonight.  So, thanks for going the extra mile for us. 

NEHAMAS:  Glad to do it.  Miami, you never know what to expect. 

MADDOW:  That`s why we read "The Miami Herald" everybody.  Thanks.  Much appreciated. 

Be right back. 



OPRAH WINFREY, TV HOST:  Thank you for the chance to sit down and see that if you are the real deal.  Are you the real deal? 

BETO O`ROURKE (D-TX), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  I feel some pressure now when you put it that way. 


MADDOW:  Ordinarily, after that kind of love fest with Oprah, you can kind of hang it up, right, die happy?  But today, former Texas Congressman Beto O`Rourke topped that. 


AD ANNOUNCER:  Beto O`Rourke`s image drafters say he`s Barack Obama but white. 


MADDOW:  That is the new political attack ad against Beto O`Rourke from the conservative group the Club for Growth.  Now, if you`re going to have a political attack ad made in your honor, this is definitely the way to go.  This is like VIP. 

This anti-Beto O`Rourke, he`s just like Obama ad is super long.  It`s two minutes long, and they`re running it on TV, which it`s both expensive and if you`re Beto O`Rourke, it`s kind of high praise, right?  It`s one thing to get your own super sized right wing attack ads a year before you`re in the race. 

But a year before the primaries, a year before you`ve announced you`re running, there are reports that Beto O`Rourke could announce he`s running as early as this week, just before we got on the air, he announced he`s making his first Iowa trip this weekend to support a Democratic named Eric Giddens, who`s running for state senate. 

Before Beto O`Rourke himself gets to Iowa, this super size two-minute long TV attack ad is going to beat him to it.  That ad starts airing in Iowa this week, the Club for Growth calls this their first installment in a, quote, yearlong effort to undermine Beto O`Rourke with Democratic primary voters.  Which means somebody`s either very worried about Beto O`Rourke as a potential Democratic nominee or alternatively, maybe they`re really hoping for Beto O`Rourke to do well in Iowa because they want him as the Democratic nominee for some reason. 

So they`re doing all they can to boost his name recognition and make Iowa think of him as white Obama in two-minute long campaign ads he doesn`t have to pay for.  Choose your poison. 

One more thing to keep an eye on, Stacey Abrams.  The first black woman to be a major party`s nominee for governor, the first black woman to deliver a State of the Union response today dropped a holy cow hint in which she said that she might run, too, quote 2020 is definitely on the table, dot, dot, dot. 

That`s not somebody quoting here.  That`s her quoting her.  How long before Stacey Abrams gets her own super sized attack ads from right wing groups in Iowa? 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow. 


Good evening, Lawrence.



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