LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And I have something else you probably haven`t read yet which is the president of United States has tweeted. This actually looks like it was typed up by the staff. It`s basically a Fox News transcript. He quotes Greg Jarrett. Speaking of Fox News --
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Wait, is the president quoting the Fox News guy?
O`DONNELL: A kind of legal commentator on Fox News, and this is Greg Jarrett talking, he`s giving the real estate of a presidential tweet to Greg Jarrett saying, this demonstrates that Robert Mueller and his partisans have no evidence, not a whiff of collusion between Trump and Russia blah, blah, blah. Goes on like that.
And Donald Trump`s only original material in this tweet is actually not that original. At the very end he says, a total witch hunt with an exclamation point.
And so that, that is where White House comments stands at this hour --
O`DONNELL: -- of what is, I think, the worst Thursday in the history of the Trump presidency.
MADDOW: I mean, the -- what happened today is not just -- isn`t just backward looking in terms of all of things that the president lied about and tried to cover-up and now his lies have been exposed and the cover-up has been exposed and it turns out it`s a criminal cover-up. It`s not just backward looking in terms of like, whoa, this isn`t the way you said it was, and whoa, when you were praising Vladimir Putin throughout the campaign and everybody thought that was unusual, maybe you should have mentioned it`s because you were trying to do the biggest business deal in your life with him at that moment, right?
It`s not just backward looking. It`s forward looking in terms of what this means about Mueller`s evidence, Mueller`s cooperators, who Mueller is able to now put on the stand, what type of information he`s been able to get dead to rights that every investigative reporter in the world looking at this stuff hasn`t been able to get. I mean, this portends a whole new world of Mueller and collusion evidence -- Mueller`s collusion evidence being put on the table in a way we`ve never seen before.
O`DONNELL: And maybe the single biggest question at the end of the day is, is this the part of the Mueller case where he can show perjury by President Trump in his written answers? Whatever he -- did he put -- the president put in writing something that contradicts Michael Cohen about this Russian Trump Tower deal? And that`s what makes Emily Jane Fox so fascinating in your last hour, that discussion, the timing and her reporting for us that this happened relatively quickly.
MADDOW: Within the last two weeks, which matches exactly to when the president turned in those written answers. If the president turned in written answers that, that basically gave the same lies that Michael Cohen had previously been trying to get away with, Mueller`s office knew at that time they were lies, then they make their decision that they`re going to go ahead and put forward the evidence those are lies. The president`s already made a submission, I mean, they`ve got him.
O`DONNELL: Yes, so the clock may have started ticking tonight on -- on a chapter in history which will end with the United States Senate having to decide in an impeachment trial, is this perjury enough? Is this -- because if there is a perjury here, if Donald Trump has put perjury in writing according to the special prosecutor`s analysis of the evidence based on what Michael Cohen has told him, if that is what the special prosecutor is going to report, a Democratic House of Representatives is going to have to move on impeachment if that happens.
MADDOW: It`s also going to shine a very harsh light on the decision by the president`s legal team that they should have him -- they would negotiate to the ends of the earth to make sure that the president would only have to put his answers in writing rather than speaking them out loud in his usual word cloud sort of way.
MADDOW: I mean, the president speaks so elliptically, that might have actually been a pretty good way out of perjury trap, because he never quite says anything declaratively. Might have possibly -- I mean, that`s the way he`s gotten out of lots of des and lots of legal proceedings in the past. In this case by insisting that he would only give his answers in writing, if his answers are lies, they`ve got them in writing and there`s no wiggle room there.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and the president`s legal team thought they scored a huge victory by limiting the questioning to matters involving Russia.
O`DONNELL: That was their huge tactical win. They don`t get to ask about Comey or obstruction of justice, and, you know, look, Mueller accepted our deal of only questioning in writing about Russia, where for some reason the president`s lawyers thought they were on safer ground.
MADDOW: Yes. And, you know, the other part of this, too, that I think is now a question not just for the president but for everybody who had knowledge of this, everybody associated with this business deal, including the president`s children who are executives in his business, unfortunately, at this point, which is there was an overt effort to create a false public story about the Trump Tower Moscow in terms of how long it went, in terms of with whom it was being negotiated, the direct involvement of the Kremlin.
There was a truth about that, which apparently Mueller now has evidence of that. And there was a false public story created to block that truth from becoming known. And that has now led to criminal charges against Michael Cohen because part of that cover-up was him lying to Congress.
But those claims were made over and over again by the president and by other people associated with the president in public. And anybody who was part of that cover-up knowingly should have to answer for that now. And we have a pretty good idea about who inside the Trump Organization and who associated with the president did know what really happened with that deal, why were they all helping sell this lie about it?
O`DONNELL: And they sold the lie to American voters during the presidential campaign in order to win the presidency. Yes.
MADDOW: Yes, and that`s -- that`s something that is on the president because its his deal, his culpability, but also on everybody else. That`s a criminal conspiracy that potentially would involve everybody else who had knowledge of the truth of that matter.
O`DONNELL: Yes. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, today, Donald Trump`s lifetime obsessions have all come together in the Mueller investigation. Donald Trump`s personal lawyer was in federal court in Manhattan again today pleading guilty to crimes again today, federal crimes that he said involved the president of the United States, crimes that were driven by Donald Trump`s lifetime obsessions and reckless pursuits of three things -- fame, money, and sex.
Donald Trump ran for president not to win the presidency. He ran for president to increase his fame. All inside accounts of his decision making about running for president indicate that he did not expect to win. He only wanted to increase his fame so that he could prolong his career in television so that he could continue to be famous, something that he has craved his entire life, just as he has craved money his entire life.
And he told us on the "Access Hollywood" video that the sex is easier for him to grab from women because he believes he`s famous. That`s another reason he wanted to be famous. Donald Trump`s three big lifetime obsessions all feed each other. Donald Trump was working on a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the presidential campaign because he did not expect to win the presidential campaign, he expected the presidential campaign to end with him as a private businessman trying to do deals around the world.
And so, he used the presidential campaign to pursue money in every way he possibly could including in Moscow. And after Michael Cohen told his story today in federal court about the pursuit of a deal in Moscow during the presidential campaign, it has become all the more obvious why Donald Trump was so publicly nice to Vladimir Putin during the presidential campaign and after the presidential campaign.
Donald Trump hoped to do business with Putin and probably has still hoped to do business with Putin since he became president. And we know all of this tonight because Donald Trump`s pursuit of extra marital sex throughout his marriages left him conspiring with Michael Cohen during the presidential campaign to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels and other women for their silence about having sex with the married Donald Trump shortly after the birth of his fifth child by his third wife.
We would not be where we are today if Donald Trump had not begged Stormy Daniels to come to his hotel room one night in 2006. Donald Trump`s three big life pursuits, fame, money and sex, have always been intertwined. And so he used his fame and his aura of wealth to lure Stormy Daniels to his hotel room. That was Donald Trump living the words of Oscar Wilde who said the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
Knowing that Donald Trump had yielded to every single temptation that had ever come his way is the reason that I for one believe that Donald Trump would never run for president. I thought he was smart enough to know that his history of yielding to temptation would become public, but I was wrong. He was not smart enough to know that.
And now his temptations are becoming public from the financial to the sexual. The summer in federal court in New York City, the president of the United States became an unindicted conspirator along with Michael Cohen the day Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes in arranging the secret payments to Stormy Daniels to buy her silence in the final days of the presidential campaign. Prosecutors described what Donald Trump and Michael Cohen did in that case as crimes against the United States of America, designed to influence the outcome of a presidential election.
And because Michael Cohen was forced to plead guilty in that case, since then he has been telling the prosecutors everything they want to know, and so he was back in court today telling them that Donald Trump lied to the American people about his involvement in trying to negotiate a business deal in Russia during the campaign and that Michael Cohen himself lied under oath about that to congressional committees. Michael Cohen would not have been standing in federal court again today pleading guilty to federal crimes again today if Donald Trump had been capable of resisting the temptation that took complete control of him the moment he met Stormy Daniels.
Michael Cohen would not have been standing in federal court today pleading guilty to federal crimes if Donald Trump had not pursued his lifetime obsession with fame while running for president. And Michael Cohen would not have been standing in federal court today pleading guilty to federal crimes if Donald Trump did not continue to pursue his lifetime obsession with money, this time rubles, to be earned in the Moscow version of a Trump Tower.
And so, it is essence of the man who is president of United States that has brought the investigation of the president of the United States to where it is tonight. The most vivid and indelible characteristics of Donald Trump himself have driven this drama to where it is now, his obsessions with fame, money and sex.
Character is destiny, a Greek philosopher was the first to say that about 2,500 years ago. Character is destiny.
We were destined to be here tonight with this story about the crimes committed by and on behalf of presidential candidate Donald Trump. Destined since that moment on election night 2016 when Donald Trump came in second in the vote. Millions of votes behind Hillary Clinton but squeaked out a win in the Electoral College. Since then, we were destined to be here at some point analyzing the crimes allegedly committed by and on behalf of Donald Trump to defraud American voters to win the presidency of the United States, because character is destiny.
Donald Trump`s character has brought us to this point.
For the details on today`s developments, we turn to our lead off panel of legal experts. Joining us now, Ken Dilanian, intelligence and national security reporter for NBC News. Also joining us, Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor, and Mimi Rocah, former federal prosecutor and former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, both are MSNBC legal contributors.
And, Jill, first to you. Your reaction of the developments of the day with Michael Cohen in federal court.
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I think this was an amazing big day with the noose really tightening now because we are now focused on the connection between the Trump campaign and Trump and Russia. There`s no question about it.
And to further talk about one of the things that you and Rachel discussed, it is an impeachable offense to lie to the public. And as Rachel described it, he has created a false narrative to defraud the American voters and has succeeded in it because he did get elected.
And that`s really a wrong thing. That is impeachable. It`s one of the charges of impeachment against Richard Nixon. So he may have also committed a perjury in his written answers to Mueller because either he`s taking the same position he took during the campaign, which is I have nothing to do Russia, I never met with them. The whole project in Russia, Moscow Trump Tower was over.
If he said that, that`s a lie. If he said the opposite, he`s admitted he lied to the public. So one way or another, he`s committed an impeachable offense and/or also committed perjury.
O`DONNELL: Ken Dilanian, these developments were not something that we saw coming. You have been working the inside of this story. Your interpretation of where this takes the story now?
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: I think this is perhaps the most consequential day so far in the Mueller investigation. There will be more days of greater consequence to come, but this has really got Donald Trump rattled.
And, Lawrence, there`s a new tweet in the last few minutes from Donald Trump, and he`s quoting Alan Dershowitz, perhaps on Fox News again saying, these are not crimes, I don`t see any evidence of crimes.
And then Donald Trump says, this is an illegal hoax that should be ended immediately. Mueller refuses to look at the real crimes on the other side. Where`s the I.G. report? And that`s, of course, referring to Donald Trump`s long-running contention that the Justice Department should be investigating Hillary Clinton, even though the FBI already did and decided that there was no case.
But, look, I think you`re right to frame this as a fraud on the American people. This Trump Tower Moscow Project was not known to American voters when they went to the polls in that Republican primary. And you can make an argument if it was known, Donald Trump wouldn`t have been the Republican nominee because here was Michael Cohen and a man named Felix Sater, a convicted felon with ties to it Trump Organization, reaching out to Vladimir Putin`s government. And then later Michael Cohen lied about it and said it ended in January 2016 when in fact this activity went up to June 2016, right on the cusp of the Republican national convention.
And Michael Cohen had acknowledged reaching out to the Russian government, but he said he never got a response, well, that was a lie because he did get a response from a man named Dmitry Peskov, a very important figure in Vladimir Putin`s orbit who was entertaining the idea of this Trump Tower Moscow. And Felix Sater told me tonight he was contemplating creating a $50 million penthouse and offering it to Vladimir Putin, as a way to induce Russian oligarchs to buy apartments in this Trump Tower. That was marketing, but that`s how far this idea got.
All of this was hidden from the voters who heard Donald Trump say he had no business ties to Russia, no investments in Russia. And whether or not, there is a sort of path, collusion, conspiracy at the end of the day here, there may not be. But what there clearly has been is a cover-up, and I think this is the first evidence that the cover-up is going towards the president.
O`DONNELL: Mimi Rocah, Alan Dershowitz -- this is Donald Trump quoting Alan Dershowitz, so, we`re not sure exactly what Alan Dershowitz said, we`re not sure if there`s a wider context here that would make what Alan Dershowitz said sound half sane, but Alan Dershowitz saying these are not crimes, Mueller has no authority. Presumably Alan Dershowitz, if that is true, was looking at what Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to today in federal court and believing that a federal judge presided over a guilty plea that did not involve crimes.
MIMI ROCAH, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Right, which would be crazy. And although I think Alan Dershowitz says many crazy things, my guess is he`s saying the underlying conduct about this whole Trump Tower deal, there`s no crime there, right? And that`s what Donald Trump was saying all day, OK, I did a business deal with Putin and his people or I was trying to, that`s not a crime.
But let`s step back for a second. First of all, obviously, what Michael Cohen pled guilty today is a crime. Lying to Congress is crime. It`s in the federal statute.
But what`s important here is not whether by him pleading guilty, he has per se implicated Trump in a crime yet. What Mueller has done is he`s now signed essentially, that`s the terminology, a cooperator who I think will add to the evidence that Trump has committed crimes. Now, we don`t know yet whether there are financial crimes, whether they are crimes about colluding as to conspiracy as to attacking our election or maybe no crimes. All of that is possible.
But Michael Cohen was signed up and pled guilty to this set of facts for a reason. You know, he already had pled guilty to serious felonies. So I think when we look at the significance of this plea agreement, we have to think about why this set of facts, the -- he lied about things material to an investigation, right? That`s the legal standard for this crime.
What makes them material? Well, they`re important, right? They impact the investigation. What investigation? The Russia investigation.
And we know that because Mueller held onto these. The special counsel office, held onto this charge. He has been very careful about sending it out to other U.S. attorney`s offices charges that have nothing to do with the Russian attack on our election.
So, the fact that Mueller kept this and to me says to me it does in some way, we don`t know how yet, but it does in some way connect to the Russian attack on our election. And we know that these statements about the Trump Tower are material to that. So, again, we don`t have all of the answers, but I think it`s a very significant but not -- I think Trump and maybe Dershowitz don`t see yet that it`s steps building towards significance as to Trump`s -- possible criminal liability.
O`DONNELL: And, Ken Dilanian, I want to go to what we know about any reporting about something that`s internal to this Trump tweet where he quotes Alan Dershowitz. After he quotes Alan Dershowitz, he says, this is an illegal hoax that should be ended immediately, meaning the Mueller investigation.
Do we have any reporting that indicates the president has said that to his acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, that this is an illegal hoax that should be ended immediately and that Whitaker is resisting that? Or is there some reason why the president just tweets that but doesn`t say it to his acting attorney general?
DILANIAN: Well, Donald Trump said a few days ago that he had never had that conversation with the attorney general, but the attorney general is on record suggesting that this investigation is a hoax. But our own Nicolle Wallace reported today that Matthew Whitaker is not in charge of this investigation right now.
I`ve been asking this question of the Justice Department for days and they`ve been unwilling to say, is he in charge? Has he gotten the ethics advice as to whether he should recuse himself? And they`ve been no commenting.
But Nicolle`s sources are saying that, in fact, Rod Rosenstein is still in charge and that Matthew Whitaker was informed of this move by Mueller but was not given the opportunity to stop it. It remains to be seen whether Acting Attorney General Whitaker will take charge of this investigation and if he does, will he seek to impede it?
O`DONNELL: So, Ken, just on that point, just so we get underlined and understood, at this point your reporting indicates that we don`t actually know where Matthew Whitaker is in terms of the ethics clearance procedure that would be normal in a situation like this for an acting attorney general to make a decision about whether to recuse himself or not or involve himself or not in the supervision of this investigation. We don`t really know what his status is in relationship to this investigation.
DILANIAN: It`s incredible that we don`t, Lawrence, because they`re just not being transparent about this. And normally, these kinds of things are out in the open. I mean, Jeff Sessions was very clear about his reason to recuse. He was instructed by Justice Department lawyers, and there`s a clear appearance of impartiality here. And whenever that happens, the Justice Department officials are supposed to go to the ethics official and get an opinion.
In this case, he may not have a legal obligation to recuse, but we at least -- we, the citizenry, we want to know what the Justice Department ethics lawyers have said, and they`re not telling us. But as I`ve said, Nicolle Wallace`s sources are telling her that Matthew Whitaker has not yet assumed control of this Robert Mueller investigation.
O`DONNELL: Jill Wine-Banks, in what has become the strange last chapter of Alan Dershowitz`s career, he is one of the lone defenders of both the president and concepts of what is and what isn`t crime, he never, as you will recall, spoke a word about -- of anything like this when you were investigating and ultimately working towards prosecution of President Richard Nixon. There was no -- you didn`t have people out there the way Alan Dershowitz says every other night apparently on Fox News, claiming that what we`re seeing is not what we`re seeing.
WINE-BANKS: It was a very different Alan Dershowitz back then, I would say. This is not the same person at all. It`s -- it`s -- of course, I don`t agree with anything he is saying. I do agree with everything that Ken Dilanian just said. That was all correct.
And I think what`s interesting about Whitaker is how long is he going to last? He didn`t stop this indictment and this plea, and that`s what he was clearly hired to do, was to get in the way of any further activity especially anything that would point a finger at the president. And so, failing to do that is exactly what got Sessions in trouble, and I am sure that he is not going to last long as the acting attorney general.
O`DONNELL: We`re expanding our live cover edge here with more guests on this important subject.
Tim O`Brien, executive editor of "Bloomberg Opinion". He`s the author of "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald", David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and both MSNBC contributors.
And, David Corn, I want to go to you on apparently what Alan Dershowitz is talking about tonight is the attempt by Donald Trump as a presidential candidate to do business with Russia and continue to try to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow is not a crime. However, within this story, there is the possibility that Vladimir Putin was offered a $50 million apartment as part of an inducement, which will be called a bribe by anyone looking at that -- a bribe in order to get this deal done in Moscow. And there are American laws governing American corporations doing illegal business in foreign countries and bribing officials in foreign countries that would be -- that would come into play in a situation like this.
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: I`ve talked to a few lawyers today about that particular subject, and there`s some very sort of strict fact based standards that have to be met to bring a case under the Foreign Corrupt and Practices Act, and we don`t know enough about this deal to say whether they meet that standard.
But I just want to go back to this one big over arching point, and that is put Alan Dershowitz aside. He`s been arguing that Mueller is not -- shouldn`t be there to begin with on anything. So, I think what he says tonight is completely irrelevant.
The big thing here is that we have evidence today that Trump secretly interacted with Putin`s own office to advance a secret business deal that would have put millions of dollars in his own pocket while running for president as the American first candidate. I have yet to hear one Republican come out and say, you know, maybe this was wrong. Maybe illegality and criminal behavior, but it was profoundly wrong. This is the biggest conflict of interest of any presidential campaign in modern times.
So, I mean, right then and there this is all we should have been talking about for the last year once this first came out. But now, we have evidence that there was direct communication between the Trump organization and Putin`s office on this. I mean, this is collusion. They`re colluding to put forward a secret business deal.
So right then and there Trump has to no longer say no collusion, which he did not say in the tweet tonight I noticed.
O`DONNELL: And, Tim O`Brien, Donald Trump is trying to negotiate this deal with Russia at the very same time that Russia is attacking our electoral process, invading through cyber crimes, stealing e-mails from the Democratic Party. And so, Vladimir Putin is getting very clear communication from Donald Trump that Donald Trump wants to be in business with Vladimir Putin while Vladimir Putin is waging this war on the American electoral process.
TIM O`BRIEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMPNATION": I think, you know, you`ve hit on a very central issue here which is the chronology around all of this, which is it`s useful to take a calendar out and do a tick-tock because Trump previously has said and he hasn`t disputed Cohen`s account that they stopped negotiating to do this deal in January of 2016. Michael Cohen as now said that it continued into June of 2016.
That infamous Trump Tower meeting in which Don Jr. met with Russians that had compromising information on Hillary Clinton took place on June 9, 2016. This deal with Trump Tower Moscow fell apart, it is suggested in the information released today around -- on or around June 14th. So within days, the Russians have sent envoys into Trump Tower to try to give the Trump camp information they can use to undermine Hillary Clinton`s candidacy. And they decide then to stop pursuing this deal.
Why is that? I think it suggests that they decided to tradeoff the idea of doing business with President Trump or at that time candidate Trump in order to do politics with him. And Trump today tried to say that Michael Cohen is a liar, but the entire fact pattern, it`s documentable around this is that the Trump Organization has been looking at Russia for years, and specifically this deal starting in 2015.
So, he`s wound himself into a corner today by first calling Michael Cohen a liar and then forcing everyone to focus on this time frame, because it shows that I think the Russians were being very calculated about calculating about when they were going to approach the Trump Organization, members of the Trump team and what they wanted out of that.
O`DONNELL: You have studied Trump for years, written a book about it, interviewed Donald Trump, written a book that he hated, and the Michael Cohen relationship, you know Michael Cohen, you know all these players. Is Michael Cohen the most dangerous player out there now on the other side of the battle lines with Donald Trump?
O`BRIEN: I have never thought that. I think that Michael Cohen and this specific transaction to the extent this Moscow real estate deal ends up imperiling the president, of course he`s dangerous to the president. He worked at the Trump Organization starting in 2006. He was not brought into intimate details about the finances of the company and Trump disparaged him, he kept him at a distance, he treated him like a lackey.
But he does have knowledge of some of these things Mueller is looking that. I think we`re still in the early stages of this investigation. I think Allen Weisselberg -- we`ve talked about that before, Lawrence, I think he knows --
O`DONNELL: The accountant at the Trump Organization.
O`BRIEN: The family accountant for decades.
O`DONNELL: Knows where every penny --
O`BRIEN: He knows where the financial bodies are buried in a way that Michael Cohen doesn`t. That`s not --
O`DONNELL: And he has been testifying and cooperating with the federal prosecution.
O`BRIEN: He has been. And that`s not to diminish the significance of what happened with Michael Cohen. It`s just to say that I think Robert Mueller knows way more than any the rest of us do and we`re only seeing a small piece I think of what he`s prosecuting here.
O`DONNELL: David Corn, take us back into the Russian side of this. You`ve written a book about that, about Donald Trump`s dealings with Russia over the years. What did you learn today that you had not found in your own research about this?
DAVID CORN, POLITICAL ANALYST, MSNBC: The way I think about this, Lawrence, is imagine it from Putin`s side, from the Kremlin`s side. We now learned today that in January 2016 while Trump is running for president, he is telling Putin, "I want your help. I want your help to make money in your country." Now, Putin at that point in time has already considered attacking the American election. Russian hackers are already into the DNC. Nothing`s been released yet, but this plan is underway.
And then you have what Tim just mentioned in June 9, 2016, you have the top three guys on the campaign, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner agreeing to meet a Russian emissary after being told this meeting was part of a Russian plan to secretly help the Trump campaign. So what Trump is doing again and again in his public remarks is sending a message to Putin and to the Russians, "I`ll take whatever help you can give me. You want to do something underhanded, I`m fine with that too."
So he is basically telling them to go ahead, attack American democracy, subvert our election, I am fine with that. And then later on, of course, he amplifies the Russian, this information that they weren`t doing this.
So this is the message. He keeps signaling to Putin I want to work with you. I don`t care what it`s about, business, politics and I`ll go dirty if you want to go dirty. I mean this is a betrayal of the United States.
O`DONNELL: Ken Dilanian, it`s not just me. The entire audience caught you checking your phone while David Corn was talking which means you`re learning things as we speak. We`re going to find out what you found out after this break.
Everyone, please stay with us. When we come back, what does Michael Cohen`s confession mean to the Trump family? What does it mean to Donald Trump Jr.? Will he now face charges of lying to Congress and what about Ivanka Trump?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: We believe other witnesses were untruthful before our Committee. We want to share those transcripts with Mr. Mueller. In this case, the special counsel only had the advantage of written testimony that the witness made public. We think that the special counsel ought to have the benefit of the transcripts, not only of Mr. Cohen`s testimony but other witnesses like Roger Stone who may similarly may have attempted to mislead the Committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Ken Dilanian, who is worried tonight after hearing Adam Schiff say that, that there could be other witnesses who perjured themselves in testifying to Congressional Committees? That is what Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to today in federal court, perjury to Congressional Committees. There`s Adam Schiff saying he suspects that Michael Cohen`s not the only one.
KEN DILANIAN, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, NBC NEWS: I can think of a number of people. Erik Prince, for example, of Blackwater fame. But the name a lot of people focus on is Donald Trump, Jr. He`s been accused by Democratic Senators of offering misleading if not contradictory testimony, and that`s based on the record we know about.
He did talk about this Trump Tower Moscow deal in his Senate testimony and he appears to have been truthful if a little off on the dates. But now we`re learning from the Cohen documents that Cohen briefed family members, unnamed family members but presumably Donald Trump, Jr. So it remains to be seen whether there`s anything inconsistent with his testimony.
But we reported today that the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee are now pouring over all these transcripts and cross- checking to see whether they can detect any potential lies. The Senate Intelligence Committee has made a number of criminal referrals to Mueller that they will not talk about that we can presume some of which may be about perjury, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Mimi Rocah, is there something out there that people get the feeling that in Congressional testimony I can take a bigger lead off the base than I can when I`m being cross-examined by Mimi Rocah in federal court?
MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, it`s different, right. I mean, first of all, there`s not a judge. And, you know, Tim and I, we`re actually just talking about this. The political arena in which a lot of these people who were testifying and Donald Trump operate is very different from the law enforcement arena where facts, evidence, judges, things like that matter.
But, you know, I think whether you`re talking about testimony before Congress or statements to the public or whatever, the big question here, right is why are all these people lying? And Michael Cohen told us today that he lied to protect the president. So what was he protecting him from? And I think that`s the part of the story we`re still trying to, you know, figure out and I think we`ll hear.
O`DONNELL: Well, Tim O`Brien, Michael Cohen said that he was lying because he was taking the talking points, in effect, from Donald Trump publicly and from the campaign about Russia. I mean, that is the most simpleminded approach I can think of in dealing with a Congressional inquiry. So the question becomes how much is Donald Trump, Jr., like Donald Trump, and how much is he like Michael Cohen? Is he the kind of guy who in dealings with Congress would treat the testimony the same way that Michael Cohen did?
O`BRIEN: Well, we`re about to find out. But I suspect that the answer to that is absolutely yes. It`s worth reminding ourselves at this point that Donald Trump has never surrounded himself with completely sharp tacks. There is a lot of third-rate people who can be charitably described as dumb in his orbit. That`s a group of people that have never been used to moving in an environment where they have a federal prosecutor like Bob Mueller staring down the fact pattern, their actions, access to e-mail, phone records and the like.
They`ve been able to move in media or in politics with a freedom to spin or lie without any consequences. Those days are over and I don`t think they fully understand it. And I think when they went to Congress, they thought we can go in here and say whatever we want to do, we can get away with it. It also -- I think the fact that so many of them are lying raises the question of coordinated stories. And whether or not -- it`s not just talking points that they were getting from Donald Trump but they were marching orders. And I think that`s also something that can be dangerous for the president.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen today to Donald Trump`s own description of what used to be his good friend Michael Cohen. Let`s listen to Donald Trump`s character description of Michael Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What he`s trying to do -- because he`s a weak person and not a very smart person, what he`s trying to do is end, and it`s very simple, he`s got himself a big prison sentence and he`s trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story. Now, here`s the thing, even if he was right, it doesn`t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign. I was running my business, a lot of different things during the campaign. So very simply, Michael Cohen is lying and he`s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me.
O`DONNELL: Jill Wine-Banks, your analysis of Donald Trump`s apparent defense of himself through his description of Michael Cohen.
JILL WINE-BANK, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, first of all, he was asked today and said, "Well, he did me a favor a long time ago." Is the excuse he has for hiring a not smart and weak person after promising that he would only surround himself with the best. But his defense is a typical defense of I didn`t do it but if I did, it was legal. And that`s what he`s saying, "Oh, I didn`t do it and if I did it, it was because it was perfectly fine. It isn`t perfectly fine. It`s fine to do business in Russia. It`s not fine to lie to the public about it.
And I`ll say it again, he either lied to the public about the business he did in Russia or he lied in his written answers. One or the other is false. He cannot have it both ways. He can`t say I never did business with them and then say, "Well, I did business with them until June." So he`s caught right now.
I think that this is a really significant day. It is a turning point in the investigation. And we`ll have to see what`s going to happen next, but I`m sure that Robert Mueller is not done yet.
DILANIAN: Lawrence, can I point out one bizarre thing about Donald Trump`s tribe today? He talked about Michael Cohen lying. Well, the statements in his plea agreement are backed up by e-mails and documents. And I spoke to Felix Sater who was a partner in the Trump Tower deal and he says that what Michael Cohen is now saying is accurate.
So it was very strange that Donald Trump is talking about Michael Cohen lying, perhaps he was talking about something else that he was aware of that Cohen was telling prosecutors that isn`t reflected in his plea agreement.
O`DONNELL: David Corn, let me get a quick comment from you on something that was in the middle of what Donald Trump just said there when he said even if he was right, it doesn`t matter. And then here are the keywords, because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign, that apparently is the belief that has Donald Trump in all the legal jeopardy he is in now, including unindicted co-conspirator in the original Michael Cohen case for the illegal pay-off system to Stormy Daniels. Donald Trump believed, even though he was a candidate for federal office whose behavior is controlled by all sorts of laws, he believed that I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.
CORN: Spoken like a true narcissist, right? I mean that whatever he wants is what he can do. And he`s used that defense through his own life. He has said publicly, he has nothing to ever apologize, he`s never made a mistake, he has no regrets. I mean this is a guy who can`t, I think, imagine himself doing anything wrong or saying anything false because he has no concept of good, evil, or the truth. It`s all about Trump. He`s the center of everything.
O`DONNELL: As we go to a break here, I want to thank Mimi Rocah, Tim O`Brien, Ken Dilanian, Jill Wine-Banks, and David Corn.
And when we come back, President Trump has just landed in Argentina tonight for the G20 Summit. And on the way, he was forced to cancel the big meeting he was looking forward to, a one-on-one with Vladimir Putin.
O`DONNELL: This morning as he was leaving the White House for his trip to Argentina for the G20 Summit, President Trump was talkative and responds to a reporter`s question about Michael Cohen`s guilty plea today but every minute the president spent in the air today, the story on the ground was getting worse and worse. And so when he got off the plane tonight in Argentina, here is everything that the president had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, can you talk to us about the Russia --?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Less than an hour after Air Force One took off today, the president announced on Twitter that he was canceling his planned one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit. That meeting surely would have provoked questions to both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin about their involvement in discussions of a Trump Tower deal in Moscow that reportedly would have included a bribe of a $50 million apartment for Vladimir Putin.
Joining us now is MSNBC Political Analyst Ben Rhodes. He served as deputy national security advisor to President Obama. And David Corn is still with us.
Ben, your reaction to the developments today and what it has meant for what was going to be the one-on-one with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin?
BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, first of all, I think it`s very important to note that what we learned today definitively is that Russia knew that Trump had engaged in these actions of trying to get business through Trump Tower in Moscow. So Russia had the goods on Trump. Russia knew something that was blackmailable of Trump. They had leverage on Trump.
And so when we look back at how Trump has behaved, genuflecting before Putin in Helsinki, trashing our allies, trashing NATO, we may have a clear explanation of why which is that Putin knew something about Trump that Trump probably didn`t want in the public space. People have to be wondering what else does Putin know about Trump that he doesn`t want in the public space. And I can guarantee you that all these world leaders at the G20 are wanting the same thing. And so this is really an embarrassment to the United States.
O`DONNELL: Let`s take a look back at the last one-on-one summit between these two. And the question that Vladimir Putin answered honestly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you want President Trump to win the election? And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Yes, I did. Yes, I did because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Ben Rhodes, it was hard then to imagine it getting worse than that, but questions to Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump about a bribe of a $50 million apartment in Moscow would have been even more interesting to watch.
RHODES: Well, yes. And, Lawrence, I think the important point here is, first of all, why was Michael Cohen involved in these dealings with the Russian government? If you want to build a building in Russia, you don`t necessarily have to go to the Kremlin for that.
But, you know, I think even more importantly here is that if you`re Vladimir Putin, what would you rather have, a $50 million apartment in a gaudy Trump Tower or a president of the United States who you have compromising information on and a president of the United States who`s going to upend the international order and diminish the standing of the United States in the world? Vladimir Putin got what he wanted here and that wasn`t an apartment in Trump Tower. It was Donald Trump in the White House.
O`DONNELL: And, David Corn, clearly Donald Trump would not have been able to figure out any way of dealing with Vladimir Putin publicly this week of all weeks.
CORN: Well, yes. I mean, you can just imagine the questions at the press conference. But, you know, since 2013, Trump has been saying positive things about Putin. When he announced -- when he first announced that he was bringing the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in the summer of 2013, he started tweeting, "Will Vladimir Putin be my best friend? Will he come?" And he then started saying all these flattering things about Putin for all the years leading up until the 2016 campaign.
So I think he`s always had this idea of doing business with Putin. He`s also had a psychological affinity for Putin as some sort of strong man who he wanted to emulate. But I think Ben is exactly right. By dealing with Putin secretly in that point in time, he gave Putin the signal that he was ready to do underhanded business with Putin and was also information that Putin could drop publicly if he wanted to. But I don`t think he ever needed to blackmail Donald Trump. I think Donald Trump was always in his pocket.
O`DONNELL: And, Ben, this is a moment where the president of the United States would in some form be confronting Vladimir Putin about the aggressive actions he has taken in Ukraine, and we have a president of the United States who can`t even speak about it.
RHODES: Yes. And first of all, nobody believes he canceled this meeting because of the situation with Ukraine. That took place days ago and Trump was still planning to meet with him. This meeting was only canceled after the Michael Cohen news came out.
And think about the message that sends to the world, Lawrence. It suggests that all President Trump cares about is saving his own hide. And he`s even willing to use very serious international crises like the situation between Russia and Ukraine as some type of Twitter cover story for canceling a meeting that is now politically difficult for him to undertake.
We`ve got real problems in the world. We`ve got a trade war with China. We`ve got these tensions between Russia and Ukraine. We`ve got a Saudi crown prince who`s at the summit who recently had a journalist murdered in a third country and got a green light from Trump for those actions.
The U.S. president is missing in action in dealing with all these crises because he`s dealing with a crisis of his own in making the United States. That is very dangerous and destabilizing I think both for the United States and for all those world leaders who are gathered at the G20.
O`DONNELL: And Ben, Michelle Kosinski is tweeting about the trip saying that a source is telling her that Trump headed into the G20 in a terrible mood, spooked, and completely distracted. And, Ben, they are saying he`s canceling other possible one-on-one meetings.
RHODES: Yes. And if you think about that, he canceled a meeting with the president of South Korea. Thus far, North Korea has not taken any steps to give up the nuclear weapons despite all the praise that Donald Trump has heaped on Kim Jong Un, one of his other favorite dictators.
We, again, really have a crisis here when the president of the United States cannot even conduct the most routine official business of meeting with fellow world leaders in an international summit because he`s too busy tweeting defenses for his own legal problems in the United States and calling the Mueller investigation a witch hunt. This is doing real damage to the office of the presidency. It`s doing real damage to American interests around the world. And we`re only at the beginning of the story, Lawrence.
What happens as this news continues to tighten and as more indictments come and as this gets closer and closer to Trump? I think we have to be worried about whether he`s going to lash out somehow internationally, what he`s going to do to try to distract us from the very real problems he faces. And I think that that`s clearly on the mind of those world leaders.
I went to every G20 Summit with President Obama. Every time we landed in the country where the G20 was, we were focused on the business we had to get done there. We weren`t focused on legal trouble that we were perhaps facing back in the United States because it didn`t happen under Obama. So I think we`re in an uncharted territory here and it`s only going to get rougher in terms of those waters in the days and weeks to come.
CORN: You know, Lawrence --
O`DONNELL: Go ahead, David. Go ahead.
CORN: The key thing here to pick up on what Ben just said is that we have a president of the United States who is compromised. Whether he`s (INAUDIBLE) or not, he is compromised. He is not able to do this job in the public interest because he is compromised and there is too much going on. He has too much baggage now, secret, or otherwise with Vladimir Putin. He cannot do the job that needs to be done.
O`DONNELL: That really is, David, the most important single LAST WORD of this discussion tonight, that the president is compromised and he`s showing that he is compromised by all the changes he`s had to make in what was the plan for a presidential -- the delivery of goods at a G20 Summit. He is so compromised that he can`t even do the job that he`s flown down there to do.
Ben Rhodes, David Corn, thank you both very much for joining us. Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.
O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s LAST WORD. The Republican Senate is now blocking President Trump`s nomination of Thomas Farr to be a federal judge, meaning exactly two Republican Senators are blocking it.
South Carolina Republican, Senator Tim Scott announced he is joining Senator Jeff Flake in opposition to Farr`s nomination. That means that at this point, there are 51 votes against the nomination if the nomination comes to a vote.
Senator Scott said he could not vote for Thomas Farr after reports described Farr`s involvement in tactics intended to prevent African- Americans from voting while Farr worked for then-Republican Senator Jesse Helms. That is tonight`s LAST WORD.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END