Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL Date: July 26, 2018 Guest: Ruben Gallego
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And we've been watching this unfold with the NBC News confirmation that Michael Cohen is apparently prepared to tell Robert Mueller that Donald Trump knew about the meeting in Trump Tower with the Russians during the campaign before the meeting, to say -- to even say that Donald Trump knew about the meeting would have been very big news. Donald Trump always denying that he knew about the meeting before or knew about the meeting after until it became a public controversy.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Yes. And according to the reporting tonight, Cohen is claiming that Trump was informed about the offer of the meeting, not only in front of him but in front of several other people, which would mean several potential other witnesses. According to this reporting tonight, it was Donald Trump Jr. who told the president about this offer from the Russians, again, in front of a number of other people.
Michael Cohen says that he and all the other people there then heard Donald Trump Sr. assent to the meeting and say it should go forward. He approved it happening. If that's the case, and if -- I mean, depending on what he was notified, in terms of what Russians were bringing to that meeting, this is very serious not just in terms of what this means about Michael Cohen's case and who is leaking what and where this evidence came from. This could potentially be a very serious criminal matter for the president.
O'DONNELL: Well, and immediate perjury case for the lying of Congress for Donald Trump Jr., because Donald Trump Jr. told one of the congressional committees that he absolutely never ever told his father about this meeting.
MADDOW: Right. And, so, perjury claims, the question of who spoken to the special counsel, who has been interviewed. That will all become important here, and as will the specific nature of what the then-candidate now president was advised as to what those Russians were bringing. If he was advised that this was hacked, they got her e-mails, this was hacked information.
If he was advised this was stuff the Russian government somehow obtained by criminal means, that makes it overtly a criminal conspiracy, one which we have already seen charged by the special counsel and by the national security division of the justice department. This could conceivably make the president a co-conspirator in a criminal conspiracy that has already resulted in a multipart federal indictment.
O'DONNELL: And, Rachel, with every one of these stories that comes out and breaks very dramatically as they have for us for several months, there is always that very strange part of it which is why is this happening.
O'DONNELL: Why is this becoming public? Who has an incentive anywhere in this story from Michael Cohen to the president's side to make this public, and I can never figure it out. I never get a satisfactory answer to why did this happen? Why did this get revealed?
MADDOW: I mean, in this case, the closest I feel like we got at least in the past hour to trying to zero in on that was a note from Chuck Rosenberg who said, listen, this isn't good for prosecutors. If prosecutors were going to use this -- if this information is true and it's provable and prosecutors were going to use this, no, it is not good this is in public.
That said, it doesn't render it meaningless. It doesn't render it useless. Nor does it render Michael Cohen useless as a potential witness if only to corroborate and as Chuck put it, sort of put meat on the bones of this allegation. I think whoever leaked this and it probably, you know, rhymes with ump and starts with tr, is doing this to try to deny prosecutors the power of this information by putting it out in the public domain ahead of time so that prosecutors can't use it for their own purposes and can't use it for further investigation.
Again, that doesn't stop the import of this story. I mean, this is a freaking bombshell but I think they're trying to save the president from whatever impact this could have on him if used as a surprise by prosecutors in court.
O'DONNELL: We're going to dig into it with Mimi Rocah, former federal prosecutor, and others who are eager to try to take this apart for us tonight.
MADDOW: This is nuts, man. Well done. Thanks.
O'DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
Well, as we just said, NBC News has confirmed tonight that Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen is now willing to cooperate with special prosecutor Robert Mueller and specifically can tell the special prosecutor that Donald Trump is lying when he says he did not have advanced knowledge of the meeting with Russians in Trump tower during the presidential campaign. Michael Cohen is willing to tell the special prosecutor that Donald Trump Jr. told candidate Donald Trump about the meeting with Russians before the meeting happened.
President Trump has repeatedly denied knowing about the meeting before it happened. Here is the president in an interview with "The New York Times" last year.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't look at it very closely, to be honest with you.
TRUMP: I just heard there was an e-mail requesting a meeting or something, yes, requesting meeting. That they have information on Hillary Clinton and I said, I mean, that's standard political stuff.
SCHMIDT: Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?
TRUMP: No, I didn't know anything about the meeting. It must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never heard about it.
HABERMAN: No one told you a word, nothing? I know we talked about this on the plane a little bit.
TRUMP: No, nobody told me. I didn't know. It's a very unimportant -- sounded like a very unimportant meeting.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he never discussed the meeting with his father before or after the meeting. He told the committee, quote, no, I wouldn't have wasted his time with it. I never discussed it with him at all.
Here's what Donald Trump Jr. had to say about that meeting on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Did you tell your father anything about this?
DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: No. It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell. I wouldn't have even remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Joining us now, Mimi Rocah, former federal prosecutor, Tim O'Brien, executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion" and the author of "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald". And Mieke Eoyang is with us, she's a former staff director of the House intelligence Committee.
And, Mimi, to you, you're a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, where the Michael Cohen case is currently proceeding, whatever that case is. Your reaction to what we have learned tonight and the way we have learned it?
MIMI ROCAH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So a couple of different things. There is still a lot we don't know as you and Rachel were discussing. We don't really know where this information is coming from. And why does that matter? If Michael Cohen is the source of this information coming out, then that's very bad for Michael Cohen's future as a cooperator. So, if he is the one putting it out there -- it's not just that it's out there.
But if he's the one putting it out there, that is going to hurt his ability to be a cooperator because the government isn't going to trust him as easily. There is so many reasons why.
However, if it is not coming from him and anyone associated with him, if he's not authorizing this information to come out, but it is coming from Trump, Giuliani and some weird plot to try and diminish Cohen as a cooperator, it doesn't. It will not. In other words, the fact that the information is out there in the world in ether does not take away as Chuck said on Rachel's show, does not take away the fact that the government needs to prove this.
You know, we all learn things and we think we know them. And we know them in a certain sense. The government has to know it in a factual sense, in a provable sense. And the way to do that is through evidence and witnesses are one form of evidence.
So they need a witness who can go into court or in an affidavit, whatever form this ends up taking and swear to this, essentially. And it wouldn't be the only piece of evidence. They would never rely on just one person's testimony. They would need to corroborate it from perhaps other witnesses, as Rachel mentioned, who were there. Or, you know, we don't know. There could be a whole host of water ways to corroborate this if it's true.
So all of that is to say that how this impacts the Michael Cohen going forward part depends how this did come out. And it really matters in terms of this is important news for sure but in terms of the criminal liability for the president it does matter as, you know, we have been saying now since that recording came out. It matters even more whether Michael Cohen cooperates because they do need -- I mean, this is yet another sign of what he could offer the government. But he needs to do that in meetings one-on- one with the government, you know, not in public.
O'DONNELL: One thing we know about the president, especially in the earlier stages of this investigation, is that he very much wanted to continue to talk to, communicate with, pretty much everyone involved. There are reports of him trying to continue to communicate with Flynn, for example. Even after Flynn had to be fired from the White House and before he was indicted. It is very common, certainly for people who are in the focus of an FBI investigation, of a federal investigation and who know they are as a group in that focus.
It is very common for them to want to try to communicate with each other. Their defense lawyers are always telling them don't. Don't say a word to any of the other witnesses. Donald Trump still has those impulses.
This could be, if you're looking at it from what's the Trump's side incentive for letting this become public, one is the knowledge that it is - - that it is going to become public. They are certain it is going to become public. And the other is this is a way for Donald Trump to communicate with other witnesses specifically the other witnesses who were in the room with Michael Cohen and Donald Trump Jr. And it's a way of getting the word out to them that we are denying whatever Michael Cohen says happened in that room.
ROCAH: Yes. I mean, I guess that could be a possible motive for them to put it out there. It's not very effective, though, right?
O'DONNELL: No. It's really messy.
ROCAH: Yes, yes. There is no good theory that I can think of for them to put it out there.
O'DONNELL: That's the best I could do.
ROCAH: No, no. It is a good theory. It is better than I could come up with.
Just like with the recording when people were saying that's coming from the Trump side, you know, I didn't see a world in which that was good for him unless it was to avoid the attorney -- the crime fraud finding by a judge. But, yes. And the reason that people tell witnesses not to talk is because you can be accused of some kind of witness tampering.
ROCAH: And from the government's side, the reason the government -- I agree with something Chuck said as well, that it is bad for the government that the information is out there. I just want to make the distinction between what isn't great, and the government is not happy about, versus will hurt Michael Cohen's chances of being a cooperator.
ROCAH: And the reason the government doesn't like the information out there is for that same reason, that if information is out there now, other potential witnesses know what one witness is going to say.
ROCAH: You want your witnesses to be sort of in with blinders on. They only know what they know from their experience, not what they have heard from other people. That's a very important part of their testimony being accepted by a jury or whoever the fact finder is.
So, you know, no one is going to be happy about this on the government's side. But, again, I do think there is a lot of misinformation out there apparently at least on the Trump side that this will diminish or hurt Michael Cohen's chances of being a cooperator. That's only true if he's the one putting out there.
O'DONNELL: Tim O'Brien, you are our Trump world expert. You know Donald Trump. You know Michael Cohen.
You've dealt with them up close, both of them. You have had contentious exchanging with them. You have been sued by Donald Trump. You have won against Donald Trump in court.
Why the explanations? That is always possibly in Trump world or in Cohen world that this is just the nutty outcome that you get in Trump world or Cohen world?
TIM O'BRIEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMPNATION": Well, nutty is a generous term, Lawrence. You know, these are not sophisticated people. A number of them are, you know, described as stupid. You see this random behavior around that.
I think for viewers to watch this, to unbundle some of this, Donald Trump Jr. takes a meeting in Trump Tower with Russians who are offering to give him dirt on Hillary Clinton that could help Donald Trump Jr.'s father in his campaign. No one knows about that meeting until the spring of 2017 when "The New York Times" begins reporting on it.
And when they do, the Trump family puts out a cover story. They say the meeting was about adoption policy in Russia. That slowly unravels. And then ultimately, they have to admit because there's email showing it that the meeting was about gathering kompromat and dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The person dictating and no one has ever denied this, the cover story was Donald Trump on a campaign jet or Air Force One with other people around him, including Hope Hicks and Ivanka Trump. And Michael Cohen clearly had knowledge of this. He's now put out there that he believed the president knew about the meeting and dissembled about it.
He won't be the only person someone like Bob Mueller relies upon to present evidence to a jury. Ivanka Trump is likely to get pulled into this. Hope Hicks is likely to get pulled into this, and the issue here is what did the president know and when did he know it and was he part of obstruction of justice.
O'DONNELL: And, Mieke Eoyang, what -- given all of these possibilities, what do you see might be any criminal liabilities or legal liabilities that the president himself has to worry about? We have already identified a real problem for Donald Trump Jr. here if his testimony to Congress can be shown to be untrue.
MIEKE EOYANG, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Right. So if this is true, the president's foreknowledge that the Russians were actually offering to help him changes the character of a number of statements that he made throughout the campaign and really heightens the case for obstruction of justice, because his tweets about Hillary Clinton's e-mails follow the same day of this meeting. His statements in July where he looked directly at the camera and asked the Russians to hack her e- mails, if he knew that they were in fact making that offer, then he could have been trying to communicate with them out in the clear to direct them as to what he wanted and what he was looking for in terms of Russian help.
Now, that would make the case of cooperation with the Russians, of coordination and when he keeps yelling no collusion, it's hard for him to continue to make that claim if he knew the Russians were willing partners before he started asking for their help.
O'DONNELL: Let's listen to what Rudy Giuliani said earlier tonight when this story broke about Michael Cohen. Let's listen -- and why Michael Cohen should not be believed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I expected something like this from Cohen. He's been lying all week. I mean, he's been lying for years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: He's been lying for years, which makes this an irresistible piece of tape to run about Donald Trump telling us that he has the best people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We've got the best people.
I know the best people.
We're going to use our best people.
The best people.
The best people.
I know guys that are so good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: And so now, Mimi, the Donald Trump defense is my best people have been lying for years. The lying for years is what Rudy Giuliani now says about Michael Cohen.
ROCAH: Right. That's going to be a class -- that is a classic sort of defense strategy. And whenever you have a cooperator, which he's not yet, but that's sort of the posture we're in who has damaging information about someone, the lawyers go after his credibility. And there is a couple of things.
First of all, as you're sort of pointing out, Donald Trump is the one who picked Michael Cohen, right? He picked him as his lawyer and he picked him as his lawyer because he does underhanded things with and for Donald Trump is really sort of where this is going. And for him to now turn that around and say, well, he's lying about me, look, the government is going to be skeptical of Michael Cohen.
If he cooperates with them, the government is not going to take it face value when Michael Cohen walked in the door and they write it down and say, oh, OK, now, we're going to grand jury. That's not how it works. It is a process.
And it is someone, especially like Michael Cohen who they know has been an underhanded lawyer who records clients and does things like that, that's exactly why he has valuable information. But they're never going to rely on him alone. If there is things that they can corroborate, cases are built by the government all the time on what would otherwise be untrustworthy people, frankly. That's the world criminals deal in.
O'DONNELL: Rudy Giuliani has done it himself, and Tim O'Brien, tonight, Rudy Giuliani, , his entire defense was you can't believe someone who is a liar and whenever they go to court, no one believes them.
Rudy Giuliani's own office made deals with mafia murderers to testify against other mafia murderers and the jury decided to believe Rudy Giuliani's murderers against the ones who were the defendants who were charged. Rudy Giuliani is pretending that courtrooms haven't lived with this challenge forever.
O'BRIEN: Well, and Rudy Giuliani knows better, Lawrence. He ran the U.S. attorneys office for the Southern District of New York. He began his career as a mob prosecutor. He knows what the burdens of proof are. He knows what federal prosecutors need to do when they want to bring a solid case in front of a jury.
But he's not acting like a lawyer right now. He's out there to run interference for the president because there is a mounting fact pattern that doesn't look good for them on a number of fronts. They are now having issues around financial problems, the way they structured payments to paramours of the president. They have issues around obstruction of justice. They have issues around collusion.
And I think Rudy Giuliani was brought in to try to discredit the media and discredit law enforcement that is trying to assess what has occurred with this president because it is getting very ugly.
O'DONNELL: Joining our discussion now, Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He serves in the committees with jurisdiction over this investigation, the House Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committee.
And, Congressman Swalwell, also I would like you to consider everything we're analyzing here tonight as a former prosecutor yourself. And I'd just like to give you an open space here to react to this new report that Michael Cohen is willing to tell the special prosecutor that Donald Trump knew about the meeting with Russians in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign before the meeting occurred.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Lawrence.
Most significant in this revelation is that candidate Trump knew that the Russians were offering dirt on his opponent and still allowed the meeting to take place. We have a lot of evidence that always proved that he did know, from his relationship with the Agalarov family that he would of course know if they had asked to set up a meeting, how close he was with his son, Donald Trump Jr. also wanted to please his father. We heard that evidence throughout our testimony. That there was a blocked call that was made.
Donald Trump Jr. talked to the Russians, made a call to a blocked number and then called the Russians back before he set up the meeting. Candidate Trump at the time used a blocked number. And then, of course, Donald Trump was one floor above where the meeting took place. So, all the arrows always pointed toward Donald Trump knowing, and then, of course, the cover up.
Once it was exposed in July of 2017, Donald Trump sought to clean up the mess that his son had created. As far as Michael Cohen goes, Lawrence, Michael Cohen is accused of being a proven liar by Rudy Giuliani, but all of the lies he has told are on behalf of the Donald Trump. And every day in America's courtrooms, witnesses come forward who want to tell the truth and if you corroborate that in other ways, they are believed and defendants are convicted.
And, so, I think this is a real problem. It shows it was so premature for our House Intelligence Committee to end its investigation, to not subpoena these phone records when he had an opportunity and we need to let Bob Mueller have every possible chance and ability to take an MRI to this campaign, its personnel and candidate Trump.
O'DONNELL: Congressman, let me give you a hypothetical which could be what Robert Mueller ends up with. Let's assume for a moment that in front of your committee Donald Trump Jr. testified the way he did testify to Congress and say I never told my father anything about this meeting before or after. Just never discussed with him. That you had that testimony.
But you also had Michael Cohen testifying and saying, I was in a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and others before the Russia meeting in which Donald Trump Jr. told his father, the candidate, that the Russians were coming and that they were coming with dirt on Hillary Clinton. But no one else in that meeting agrees with Michael Cohen in testimony. Let's say that you end up with everyone else saying either I don't recall or they side with Donald Trump Jr.
What would the committee do? As a finder of fact if you had just one person in that room saying that this happened and no one else in that room says that this happened, what would the committee do in terms of finding of fact?
SWALWELL: Yes, the committee would I believe rely upon that jury instruction that a single witness can prove any fact if the witness is believed. And, you know, body language, being examined and how their story stands up against other witnesses, that is all critical. I also want to point out, Lawrence, the Trump campaign and Rudy Giuliani, they're not denying that Donald Trump knew. They're just saying that Michael Cohen is a liar.
I think what we see in the coming days from Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort's team and Jared Kushner's team, whether they deny it or try and discredit Cohen, that will be very telling as to whether this really, truly occurred. But the circumstantial evidence here is so important. Remember, Lawrence, just days before the Trump Tower meeting occurred and after it was set up, Donald Trump had said that new information was coming out on Hillary Clinton.
O'DONNELL: Yes. There is so many elements here that have to be pulled together.
And, Mieke Eoyang, I'd also like to talk to you about the way committees arrive at findings of fact like this as well as courtrooms. When you add all of these things, all of these elements in together, it turns out that it is rarely simply a matter of one person's word against another. It's also the record of the blocked phone call. It is a bunch of other important circumstantial evidentiary pieces that might be able to point one way or the other.
EOYANG: That's right. And what we have seen in this allegation is that there were a number of people that would have been witness to this conversation, according to what people are saying Michael Cohen knew. So, it is entirely possible that someone else in that conversation is already talking and trying to throw the scent off of them.
This is one of the things that's frustrating I'm sure for the congressman and others as to why the House investigation was shut down before they were able to call the entire range of witnesses that they wanted to see. So you could get those multiple perspectives. If you were running a thorough investigation, you could call these witnesses and then you would call them back again.
And after you had heard their testimony the first time to see if it matches and then you can make some determinations of fact. But the challenge here is that we have a group of people who are clearly willing to not tell the truth and a chairman who is uninterested in getting to the bottom of anything.
O'DONNELL: And, Congressman Swalwell, I just want to make a point that this news comes in the same week where we have heard Donald Trump on audiotape made by Michael Cohen discussing setting up a company to make payments to a woman who claims she had a yearlong sexual relationship with Donald Trump, this structure to buy her silence.
And Donald Trump has lied about that particular story for now the better part of a year saying that he absolutely didn't know anything about any of this kind of thing. And so, we've already had one Michael Cohen audio recording prove Donald Trump to be a liar and so, in this contest of who is telling the truth, that's all part of the tapestry of credibility that we're dealing with.
SWALWELL: That's right, Lawrence. It is also very telling from the discussion about Karen McDougal that Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, one, would have a conversation about something like this. Two, they were willing to operate in such a shadowy way, which I think suggests that Michael Cohen very well may be telling the truth about talking to Donald Trump and being present when Donald Trump Jr. talked to his father about this meeting.
It looked like Donald Trump was involved in a lot of decisions that were made during the campaign. That's why it is so hard to believe that when a friend of his, who he would send gifts to and receive gifts from and send birthday cards to asked his son to meet somebody about having dirt on Hillary Clinton, that he would be completely shut out and would not be read in after the meeting took place. I think logic and the way Donald Trump operates and the evidence we have seen suggests he did know. That's a big problem because he didn't stop the meeting from occurring.
O'DONNELL: We're going to have more on exactly that after a break.
Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
O'DONNELL: Really appreciate it.
We're going to have more of a break. David Corn is going to be here. He's going to talk -- we're going to talk about the meeting, exactly what the congressman was just talking about.
Who was in that meeting? And how important were those people to Donald Trump and how important were the people who set up the meeting to Donald Trump? And what would that tell us about whether Donald Trump would logically know about this meeting before it happened?
We'll be right back.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news we are covering at this hour is that NBC News has learned that Michael Cohen is willing to tell special prosecutor Robert Mueller about a meeting that he was in with Donald Trump during the Presidential campaign in which Donald Trump Jr. told candidate Donald Trump about a meeting that was planned with Russians who were going to come to Trump tower and bring dirt on Hillary Clinton. Michael Cohen willing to tell Robert Mueller that Donald Trump knew about that meeting with Russians before it happened.
Let's listen now to the only recording we have of Michael Cohen in a meeting with Donald Trump.
MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP'S FORMER PERSONAL LAWYER: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know. So that -- I'm going to do that right away. I have actually come up and I have spoken --.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Give it to me --
COHEN: And I have spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --
TRUMP: So what do we have to pay for this?
COHEN: Funding -- yes. And it is all the stuff.
TRUMP: Yes, I was thinking about that.
COHEN: All the stuff. Because here you never know where that company --
TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.
COHEN: Correct. So I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for the financing which will be --
TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?
COHEN: Well, I'll have to pay him something.
TRUMP: Pay with cash.
COHEN: No, no, no, no. I have got.
TRUMP: Check. How are you?
O'DONNELL: And joining our panel now, "Mother Jones" David Corn, author of "Russian Roulette," also "Washington Post" opinion writer Jennifer Rubin.
And David Corn, let's go back to the Russian meeting. The meeting we just heard of course was Michael Cohen and Donald Trump in what seemed like a routine discussion for them about how do we set up the next company to pay off the next woman whose silence needs to be purchased during the Presidential campaign so that she won't be out there saying she had a yearlong sexual relationship with candidate Donald Trump.
The Russia meeting, we know, had several people in it. Tell us about those people, their links to President Trump prior to that meeting.
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Well, if I may, can I just put out two major points here about what Cohen's account sort of blows out of the water. The first is he says that Trump, Donald Trump, approved of this meeting.
CORN: The people were told this meeting was part in an e-mail to Donald Trump Jr. was part of a secret Kremlin plot to help Trump. So Trump approved of this meeting. If this is true, this is collusion. They are colluding with a secret Kremlin plot. I mean, this is it. This is the ball game, right here.
O'DONNELL: Let me just underline this for you. What you are saying is the email traffic we saw on this within the Trump organization indicated that this was Kremlin sponsored, Kremlin delivered information on Hillary Clinton that they would be getting.
CORN: They even said it was part of a secret Kremlin effort to help Trump. So it wasn't like here is your secret information. It is part of our secret operation. So that's collusion. And then if Trump was told this, which seems to be the case, if this is true, think of all the times in the months afterwards. Now the years afterwards. That any time it came up that Russia hacked the DNC or Hillary Clinton or John Podesta, he kept denying the Russians were behind this.
No one knows if the Russians are doing it. It is 400-pound guy. He was told Russian wanted to help him secretly. So this makes all those denials even bigger lies than we suspect that they were to begin with.
And why would he be told about this meeting? It goes to the question you asked me. His partners in the MS. Universe contest, Aris Agular (ph), a big Russian oligarch and his son Eman (ph) who was a pop star who performed at Ms. Universe, they were the ones who brought this offer, who sent the email to Trump Jr. saying there is a secret Kremlin plot. We have set this up. Will you meet with us emissary.
So it was people that he trusted, people who Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump Sr. had done business with. And so it makes a lot of sense that Donald Trump Sr. would be told about this. You know, I don't know what they are going to say about this at this point on, but it is collusion and it shows Donald Trump was covering up from the get go if this is true.
O'DONNELL: Jennifer Rubin, I just want to get your reaction from any angle of this story that you want, now that you have a little bit of time to stare at it.
JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, this is the piece of evidence that you never get. It's so good. It is so on point that you dream as a prosecutor that you will get this.
The second thought in my mind is was this another conversation that Michael Cohen recorded? We know there are lots of recordings. And boy, if he recorded a conversation about a payment to a Playboy, ex-Playboy model, wouldn't he record something like this? It was his practice apparently. So if so, that's the bombshell.
But I do agree with David on several points. First of all, this is collusion. This is an attempt. This is a fraud on the American people. This is a fraud on the election. It makes his entire presidency in my mind illegitimate. This is the thing that he's been worried about all along. He's been afraid that Democrats are trying to discredit his administration, his presidency. And guess what? They are right. Because if he did this, he got elected with the help of a hostile foreign power.
Second point, this puts in perspective, I think, the freak out that was going on when Michael Cohen's offices were raided. They know what he knows. They know what meetings he was in, and they know now that he has no ability to contain himself. So I think the panic that we saw emanating from the Trump camp a few months back is now very explainable.
And the third is it's so interesting that he just spent two hours alone with Vladimir Putin. What do we think he had to say in those two hour meetings and why were they left alone and why does Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, have no idea what occurred in those meetings. I find it incredible this topic did not come out. And in fact, it was used as the excuse for not having him in the United States. The witch hunt.
Well, the witches are in packs and droves now. They are popping up out of every corner. And if this is correct, and we have to have that caveat again and again and again, we do not know if Michael Cohen really is going to say this and they're really corroborating witnesses. But if there were, this is it. This is the presidency.
O'DONNELL: Mimi Rocah, Rudy Giuliani tonight was very confident that Michael Cohen does not have an audio recording of this. Rudy Giuliani seems to know and he is in a position to know, the inventory of recordings that have been presented as evidence from the FBI raids of Michael Cohen's home and his hotel room and his office. So Rudy Giuliani probably does know whether or not there is a recording with this information on it.
There could be other recordings in which Michael Cohen is talking to someone else at a later date who was in that room or Michael Cohen's in effect trying to reconstruct that moment, remember when Donald Jr. told Donald about the Russian meeting. There could be maybe something like that, which could be presumably of less evidentiary value than the recording of what actually happened in that room before the meeting.
MIMI ROCAH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, sure. It wouldn't be as good as having Donald Trump on tape saying go have that meeting. But it would be strong corroborating evidence. And I know we keep using that word and the congressman Swalwell used it. There is nothing more important to a prosecutor than having a great piece of evidence, as Jennifer said, but also having corroborating evidence.
And you know, look, congressman Swalwell just sort of, I assume, somewhat off the top of his head did a great argument right there that would be almost a closing argument. And I'm sure there is a lot more evidence. This is just what we know right now that's reported in the press. So I think when you look at, you know, does it make sense. I mean, even just hearing it, does it make sense to people what Michael Cohen I guess is now saying that Trump, you know, said go ahead with the meeting, that he knew about the meeting? It does make sense.
Why does it make sense? It makes sense because of everything else we know about his relationship with Putin, about the fact that the Russians talked about his relationship with the Agulars. All of that stuff together. And that's why this is ringing so true and so jaw-dropping, because we kind of knew it. We suspected it. But now when you hear someone saying it and you put it together with everything else you know, it sounds very true. And it is a big deal because it really has the potential to put him smack dab in the middle of the conspiracy with the Russians.
CORN: But Lawrence --.
O'DONNELL: Go ahead, quickly.
CORN: If I could jump in for a second. There is phone records. There are materials that the House Democrats in the intelligence committee did, you know, cite, and wanted to get for the part of their investigation and the Republicans said no. So Mueller will have the ability to subpoena records and do that sort of circling corroboratory evidence if he goes down this path to try to confirm what Cohen says.
So it is not just, you know, other people. There will be pieces of evidence to show whether Cohen was even in a position to hear this conversation.
O'DONNELL: All right. We are going to squeeze in a break here.
And when we come back, we have new reporting tonight about Donald Trump's reaction to that Michael Cohen audio recording that we just played for you and how shocked the President was when he discovered that that was becoming public. That's coming up right after this break.
O'DONNELL: Tonight's breaking news is that Michael Cohen is reportedly and confirmed by NBC News is willing to tell special prosecutor Robert Mueller that Donald Trump knew about the meeting with Russians in Trump tower during the Presidential campaign before the meeting occurred.
Donald Trump has always said he did not know about it before it occurred and he did not know about it after it occurred.
Let's listen to what Donald Trump said two days before this meeting occurred in Trump tower during the Presidential campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we are going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Joining us now by phone, Betsy Woodruff, the reporter for "the Daily Beast."
And Betsy, you have been reporting about President Trump's reaction to the release of the audio recording Michael Cohen made of their conversation about setting up a company to pay off Karen McDougal to buy her silence so that she would not publicly discuss her one year affair that she claims she had with Donald Trump. What do we know about the President's reaction this week?
BETSY WOODRUFF, REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST (on the phone): That's right.
My colleague (INAUDIBLE) and I have a new story of this night detailing the extent to which President Trump was outraged, irate and just absolutely furious when he saw these stories breaking about Michael Cohen's team making public this audio that showed that the President was very much aware of the fact that his attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, was trying to negotiate a way for them to take over the rights to control that hush money payment related to his alleged affair with Karen McDougal, the former playboy playmate.
One thing that a source told my colleague is that the President actually hurled expletives as he was watching this story unfold in real-time.
Additionally, what I can tell you is that Donald Trump, the President, and Michael Cohen, his former attorney, who used to be, you know, extremely close, deeply connected for years and years, are really loyal care.
What I can tell you tonight is that these two men are dead to each other. Michael Cohen has resolved himself to the fact that he is never going to have any sort of friendly or amicable or warm relationship with Donald Trump ever again. And at the same time Trump's outside ally, helmed by his outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, are preparing to do everything in their power to turn up the heat on Michael Cohen and go after him hard.
One thing that is very clear that we have seen as this story has unfolded is that right now the top priority for people in Trump's orbit, and this is going to be helmed by his outside advisers, the top priority is going to be doing everything in their power to destroy the credibility of Michael Cohen. So you can expect to see that unfold in the coming days and weeks.
O'DONNELL: And Tim O'Brien, the credibility of Michael Cohen in terms of setting up that company is also something that can be checked with, for example, some of the people he mentioned in that tape. He mentioned Allen Weisselberg who you told us when the story broke that night was the long- time accountant of Donald Trump's father and now accountant and top money guy in the Trump organization. We now have reporting today indicating that Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed by the southern district of New York in the Michael Cohen case to discuss apparently what was discussed on that tape.
What do you expect investigators to find out from Allen Weisselberg under oath?
TIM O'BRIEN, AUTHOR, TRUMPNATION: Well, there is a lot they can find out from Allen Weisselberg under oath, Lawrence. Allen Weisselberg joined the Trump organization as accountant for Fred Trump in the 1970s. He has been with the family for a very long time. And he graduated from that job into the CFO role in the Trump organization. He has handled everything from crafting Donald Trump's own personal income tax filings to making large purchases for Trump, signing off on the bone fides, of financial aspects of various deals of the Trump organization as entered into.
And clearly as we know from this tape, he was a participant in figuring out how to structure payments that could be hidden in the event that either prosecutors or others might come looking. We know that he did this from the tape in the payment that at least they were considering speaking to him about how to structure the payments to Karen McDougal. But Trump organization is essentially a constellation of very, you know, many dozens and dozens of limited liability corporations that Trump parts get in, that Trump receives overseas payments through. And there could be a field day here for Robert Mueller or the southern district should they want to take a look at what's in all of those. And Allen Weisselberg is going to know quite a bit about what is behind all of them.
O'DONNELL: Mimi, let's talk about the forgotten man in this landscape, in this drama. And that is Michael Cohen's actual criminal defense attorney, not his TV attorney who has been out there as Rudy Giuliani is the TV attorney for the President, talking about this. But Guy Petrillo, you can forget his name in my position because he is silent. We never see him. What is he thinking tonight? This is the guy that actually has to handle anything that happens to Michael Cohen in the courtroom unlike Lanny Davis who will not be in the courtroom in a real functioning way.
ROCAH: Look. It is a very interesting question. And I have been thinking about it. I don't have great answers as to what he is thinking because this is a very strange dynamic. I'm sure for him to have to be the lawyer to represent Cohen in court when that happens.
Now, he is not yet, as far as I know actually representing him in court in any way. He hasn't sort of shown up in the search warrant part of case which is, you know, understandable. But once there are charges, he would be the lawyer. But then to have this sort of second lawyer who is handling presumably the PR aspect of it, you know, look, I don't know Guy Petrillo's entire career history, but I'm guessing he hasn't had something like this before.
So I don't know. It could be there is some tension going on within that team. I would be surprised if he was OK with this. He is more of the camp, I would think like Mueller, you stay quiet until there is, you know, something to say in the form of court papers or testimony or something like that. So this kind of goes against that grain.
O'DONNELL: And Mieke Eoyang, he is a professional who used to work in the office that is now investigating Michael Cohen. So he knows how to have professional private offers to them, make offers to them about what Michael Cohen is capable of testifying to. It has to be, well, it's part of makes this so inexplicable that we are learning tonight that Michael Cohen is apparently willing to tell the special prosecutor that Donald Trump actually knew about this meeting in Trump tower with the Russians before it happened. This is a very odd way to learn about it when Michael Cohen is represented by competent counsel.
MIEKE EOYANG, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: That's right. And so, it makes it seem like it's very clear to me that it's probably not coming from Michael Cohen and from his counsel. It doesn't make any sense to me that it will be coming from the Trump world. And so, the question that is who is doing the leaking. And given that Michael Cohen and the President's relationship is very clearly and very publicly over, then the makes a very convenient scapegoat for anyone else who is trying to dump information out there into the public domain while still maintaining a loyalty relationship to Trump himself. So they can Michael Cohen and say, I wasn't the one who said this. Someone else said this.
So I think that it's certainly something that Cohen's lawyer wouldn't recommend that he would do but it maybe that there's someone else out there who is putting this information out.
O'DONNELL: We are going to take a break here. When we come back, congressman Ruben Gallego of the House arms services committee with join us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: The question isn't what happened in the room. The question is what does the President know as you said and Bernstein said, when did he know it and what does he know it. So there has to be people in the room with the President.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
GIULIANI: That can corroborate Cohen, which there won't be because it didn't happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Joining our discussion now, congressman Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona.
And congressman, I want to get your reaction to this breaking news tonight that Michael Cohen is willing to tell the special prosecutor that Donald Trump knew about the meeting with Russians during the Presidential campaign in Trump tower before the meeting happened.
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: Look, it all makes sense, you know. How this President has been acting towards Russia, the cover up that he has been gauging in, the way that the Republican Congress and Senate has avoided, coincidentally, not subpoena, not giving subpoenas to Donald Trump's junior cell phone to figure out whether he did call his father before or after the meeting. You know, it all adds up what we know and what we are being told at least by Michael Cohen I think Mueller is going to find out is that this President did know ahead of time, did give a green light whether it was official or unofficial green light for Russian to get involve in this election and then proceeded to cover up the fact that he gave the green light to Russia to get involved in this election.
There's one thing I know about politics. There are no coincidences in politics, but there certainly is collusion. And now we are seeing it on the mass level with Paul Ryan leading the effort to stop investigation. McConnell to basically stop an investigation and stack the courts with someone who is going to be preferential treatment towards this President should it come down to needing to indict this President. And the President himself trying to basically, you know, effect this investigation.
O'DONNELL: Congressman, we are just about an hour away from very important deadline that this this administration has been facing and that is the reunification of the children who are separated from their parents at the border. What do we know now about the government's ability to actually meet that deadline?
GALLEGO: Well, what we know now is what I knew yesterday when I meet with secretary Nielsen and I asked here if they were going to be able to tell the mandate from the judge to actually reunify these families. And she said that they were on their way and on track to do it. And myself and many of the members of Congress, you know, just called her out and said that's impossible. It's not true and you are not being truthful.
And now we know that this administration is an incompetent as it seems. They are more incompetent considering that this is their plan. And they really have no way to get out this plan. Right now, all they really care about is getting out of political problem. And the political problem is that Americans don't trust this immigration when it comes to immigration issues. Because their one effort, their one major effort, they have not, you know, really truly screwed up but they have created orphans. We have now created orphans in this country because of this administration's incompetence and lack of leadership at, you know, homeland security and in the White House.
O'DONNELL: And as of this morning, the government was reporting to the court that there were 711 children who they considered ineligible for reunification without necessarily defining how they defined ineligible.
GALLEGO: Yes. This is like, you know, how (INAUDIBLE) used to say that the trains are running on time in Italy. And the way they did that is they just stop running trains. And I think that is the same thing that this administration is going to do. They are going to say that, yes, they reunified as many as many as we could. And you know, the feel they cannot reunify are just saying they were not eligible to do that.
The reason that they are not eligible to that because this administration has really lost its way. And they just do not know how to actually get out of this problem and that's because the President himself is quite incompetent.
O'DONNELL: Congressman Ruben Gallego gets tonight's last word. Thank you very for joining us tonight, congressman. Really appreciate it.
I want to thank all our guests who participated in our live breaking news coverage tonight.
The 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS starts now.
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