LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, I`m missing a blue blazer in my closet upstairs.
O`DONNELL: I -- yes. Yes.
Rachel, you will remember the night, I don`t know, it seems leek a couple years ago, I think it was less than two weeks ago, where in our rushed moment here, I suggested to you that there are ways for a bill to come to a vote in the Senate without Mitch McConnell calling up that bill for debate and a vote.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Yes. That was a very intriguing little droplet you dropped that night. I still had no idea what it meant.
O`DONNELL: And it`s wicked complicated and I have yet to explain it. One version of it actually occurred in the United States Senate today. It was captured on C-Span. And so --
O`DONNELL: Tonight is Senate procedure night here at THE LAST WORD. Because I finally have the teaching device I can use. And I run the risk of losing a large number of the audience when I get into this explanation.
MADDOW: Not me.
O`DONNELL: I`m going to do my best. It`s going to be right here in the next few minutes. So don`t leave the building, Rachel. This is the moment.
MADDOW: You are following the person who reads transcripts.
MADDOW: On TV at length through commercial breaks. And people stay with me, dude. We`re here. We`re all here.
O`DONNELL: I know two retired Senate parliamentarians who are just on the edge of their seats right now.
MADDOW: And your colleague. Your 9:00 colleague.
O`DONNELL: OK. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, the day after Rudy Giuliani popped his eyes on TV and said that maybe there was a little collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia but Donald Trump knew nothing about it and with the "New York Times" reporting that their inside the White House sources tell them that President Trump believes he is getting crushed in the coverage of the government shutdown that he caused, the president came up with a way that he believed he could win the shutdown coverage today -- take away the Air Force plane that is used for flying the speaker of the House.
And the president did that on the very same day that he authorized an Air Force plane, same kind of plane, to fly Melania Trump to their home in Florida for no government purpose whatsoever. A story confirmed tonight by NBC News, that Melania Trump flight.
That is not going to change the 57 percent of voters who say in a Marist poll, they will definitely vote against Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
The speaker of the house is the second in line of succession for the presidency, frequently referred to mistakenly as the third in line. But that counts the president. Second is what she actually is. If the president has to leave office and the vice president succeeds him and then if the vice president has to leave office, then the speaker of the house becomes president.
There is no public evidence that Donald Trump knows this, and it is very unlikely that Donald Trump knows why the speaker of the house is flown on government planes just like the president and the vice president. It`s because of 9/11.
9/11 was the first time in American history where for a couple of hours the national security apparatus of the United States and the full Congress and everyone in America had a right to worry about the line of succession of the presidency and exactly where everyone in that line was on that day. There were two hijacked commercial airliners headed to Washington, D.C. believed to be targeting either the White House or the Capitol. At the Capitol, the speaker of the house could have been killed along with hundreds of members of Congress. And in the White House that day the vice president could have been killed.
And the president`s national security team and Secret Service were so worried that President Bush could be killed that day that they kept Air Force One flying zigzag patterns in the sky on its way to an undisclosed location in Nebraska. It was the first time in history that the speaker of the house, the president, and the vice president of the United States were all hiding out from an enemy attack that could kill them all.
The president`s wife was hiding out in the basement of the Capitol, where Laura Bush had gone that day to lobby Congress on an issue that concerned her. And while all of that was happening Donald Trump was on local television in New York City, after the Twin Towers fell, proudly proclaiming that he now had the tallest building in the area where the World Trade Center once stood.
So, Donald Trump doesn`t know that it is only since that day, that nightmare come true, that the speaker of the House no longer flies commercial. Not since the day that national security experts and the White House and the Congress finally realized that it really is possible to lose the president and the vice president at the same time.
Because Donald Trump knows none of that, he sent Nancy Pelosi a letter today suggesting that she fly commercial. After ordering the grounding of the government plane that was going to take the speaker of the house to Brussels to meet with NATO commanders and then Afghanistan to meet with American military commanders and American troops, the president told the speaker in a letter: Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.
There is clearly no one working in the Trump White House who knows why the speaker does not fly commercial anymore. Or perhaps this letter was actually written by one of those people in the Trump administration who was described in an anonymous "New York Times" op-ed piece last year as secretly working against Donald Trump`s interests within his own administration. If that`s the case, the Trump opponent within the Trump administration who might have had a hand in this letter would want the letter to be as ridiculous as it could possibly be. Mission accomplished.
It`s certainly unusual for the speaker to leave the country during a government shutdown, but Nancy Pelosi has done everything she can to reopen the government. She has passed funding bills through the House of Representatives that all of the Republicans in the Senate voted for before Christmas, before Donald Trump changed his mind about those bills and refused to sign them, and with that deliberately personally shut down the government.
You don`t need Nancy Pelosi or any member of the House of Representatives to reopen the government now. You simply need a vote by the United States Senate to pass the bills that Nancy Pelosi has already passed through the House of Representatives. And today, a quiet version of chaos broke out in the United States Senate because of Mitch McConnell`s refusal to move those bills. But it was chaos only in the eyes of Senate parliamentarians and went virtually unnoticed by the news media.
So here`s your Senate procedure lesson for the night. It is up to the Senate majority leader to bring bills to a vote in the Senate, right? Well, as with everything in the Senate, the answer is yes but. The answer is yes, but that is not a Senate rule. It`s just a Senate tradition.
The truth is anyone, any member of the Senate can ask to bring a bill up for debate and a vote and they can do it saying exactly the same thing that the majority leader says when he does it. The tradition of reserving that privilege to the majority leader is just to prevent an endless traffic jam of legislation on the Senate floor. But every once in a while, and this is very, very rare, frustration boils over with the majority leader and some other senator just decides to grab the microphone and stand up and ask to take up a bill for debate and a vote.
I saw that happen exactly once in all of my years working on the Senate and on the Senate floor, and it was the senator I was working for who did it, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And the majority leader had to literally come running onto the Senate floor to object and stop him.
And for Senate geeks it was a wild, out-of-control moment. For most people watching C-Span it was as if nothing happened. And today, it was Virginia`s junior Senator Tim Kaine who got mad as hell and just couldn`t take it anymore, and he seized that tradition away from the majority leader. And here is what that stunning rebellion looked like on the Senate floor today.
Here is Democratic Senator Tim Kaine`s own personal Kaine mutiny on the floor of the United States Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of calendar number 5- HR21, making appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2019. I further ask that the bill be considered, read a third time and passed in a motion to reconsider be considered and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there an objection?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Objection.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection is heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That objection was from Mitch McConnell. Huh? Pretty exciting stuff. Could you just feel the tension in the room? Could you feel everybody`s anxiety, what`s going to happen?
I`m telling you, every retired Senate parliamentarian sitting at home watching that on C-Span today was on the edge of his seat.
The Republican minority leader of the house, Kevin McCarthy, who was hoping to be riding in the speaker of the house`s plane this year, today said he was shocked, just shocked that the speaker would even consider leaving the country during a government shutdown, but he apparently forgot to be shocked when the president of the United States left the country after he started the shutdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I`m just shocked she`d even think that she would leave the country. Why would you leave the country with government shut down and you`re speaker of the house? Why would you even think --
REPORTER: President Trump went to Iraq while the government was shutdown.
MCCARTHY: Because Nancy Pelosi was where at the time when he went to Iraq to visit the troops? I think she was in Hawaii.
REPORTER: The president travel is based on Speaker Pelosi`s travel schedule?
MCCARTHY: I don`t -- well, you`re missing the whole point, I guess.
REPORTER: Why are those two things equal? The president traveled because he wanted to travel.
MCCARTHY: Being speaker of the House and leaving the country when it`s shut down I don`t think that`s appropriate, especially -- especially the speaker thinks we shouldn`t even have the State of the Union.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And here`s the majority leader of the House of Representatives Steny Hoyer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I think the actions of the president were petty, mean-spirited, and beneath any president of the United States to take. After all, Nancy Pelosi is the third in line to be president of the United States. Doing this small, petty act is unfortunately all too regular for this president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion now, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He`s also the co-host and executive producer of Showtime`s "The Circus." And Sam Stein is the politics editor of "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC political analyst.
And, John Heilemann, NBC News reporting tonight that the plane that the first lady used to fly alone, alone to Florida, is a version of the 757, exactly the same plane that Nancy Pelosi was scheduled to use on her trip.
JOHN HEILEMANN, NBC NEWS AND MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I want to note first before we delve into this matter that seeing you letting your full Senate dork flag fly is a glorious thing.
O`DONNELL: Hard to contain myself.
HEILEMANN: Back in the day, Lawrence, back in the day, you used to let that thing fly on a daily basis. It`s a rare sight today. Almost as rare as what Tim Kaine did. Our viewers should feel satisfied and happy to have seen it. I was on television with Sam earlier today and we were talking about the Trump gambit.
And at the time we did not know that Melania Trump had taken a government plane to go to Florida. At that time I thought that the maneuver by the president qualified as tactically inept and strategically dim-witted. I now would like to revise and extend my remarks in the tradition of Congress and say that tactically speaking it is now doubly inept, beyond inept, glaringly obviously just -- just such a blunder at a tactical level, the optical level.
All of the arguments Nancy Pelosi would have made about being denied her chance to go on this important trip, seeing the troops, on learning things, doing all that stuff that Trump was keeping her from doing that was important to the United States` interests around the world are now added or now compounded to those arguments by the juxtaposition with what they`ve done with the first lady. And then, of course, the strategic fallacy here which is there is literally nothing in what Donald Trump did today other than make himself feel good, it did nothing to actually advance his cause.
It has changed nothing about the politics of the shutdown. It has got him not an inch closer to getting the government back open or to getting his wall built. And so, he`s managed to make a fool of himself tactically while accomplishing absolutely nothing strategically. Good day, Mr. President.
SAM STEIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, there`s not much to add to that. Trump operates off this idea that if he just what they say own the libs, if he shoves it in your face it will be beneficial. And clearly, there`s no strategic imperative here which is advanced.
We were talking about this earlier. Something he could have done was take a second trip himself abroad to say thank you for your service, I`m so sorry the government`s shut down but you keep doing what you`ve got to do. He didn`t do that. He stayed at home.
One thing he could be doing is talking to red state Democratic senators or members of Congress who hail from districts he won in 2016. We talked to every single Democratic office from a state or a district he won in 2016. Only two have heard from him.
So, he`s not doing the sort of practical things that one would do to try to break this impasse. What he`s doing is sort of stagecraft. And he`s not doing it particularly well as the polls show.
O`DONNELL: But as the top government worker on the organizational chart, he does feel free to speak for all government workers. We`re going to have a furloughed federal worker on later in the hour because I don`t really know how they`re feeling. I`m going to ask them.
Donald Trump never has. But he`s telling us that all these 800,000, they`re fine with the shutdown according to Donald Trump.
HEILEMANN: Well, I think obviously Donald Trump doesn`t know anything about most working people and certainly most government workers, and there`s been some reporting which strikes me as wholly credible, the notion that what Trump thought at the outset, he liked the notion of the shutdown because he thinks all the government workers and many of them he encounters in Washington, D.C. are in fact Democrats.
But, of course, he forgets there are tens of thousands of federal employees spread out across the country doing vital things. Those people are many of them Trump voters. And in certain places where I think where some of the political pressure that might bring the shutdown to an end because of the political pressure on Republicans and on Mitch McConnell, when the transportation issues start to really bite, when the storm hits, when it turns out that one of the major hub airports gets locked up because there`s an issue with the air traffic controllers or with TSA.
Donald Trump is going to realize something he doesn`t even know now, which is I`m sure -- again, I bet every dollar in my pocket that Donald Trump has no idea that the air traffic controllers are federal employees. He doesn`t know the main thing about that. Not only can he not speak for them, he doesn`t really know who they are.
O`DONNELL: Sam, the reason I ran the Tim Kaine video is not just my geekery. That for me is the pebble running down the mountain that could be the avalanche. It means that procedurally there can come a day when a Democrat stands up and does that --
O`DONNELL: -- and Mitch McConnell isn`t even physically there on the floor, deliberately, to run out there and object and the word goes out to the Republicans, don`t object. Let it come to a vote. Or even if there`s an objection, let it move over into the space where we have the 60-vote threshold vote to overrule the objection.
In other words, let this thing procedurally happen the way Tim Kaine tried to do today. We could be two weeks away from that happening or three weeks away from that happening. But that is the way that it could unfold in the end, that Nancy Pelosi`s bills are taken from the House of Representatives and passed with 60 votes or more in the United States Senate and Mitch McConnell doesn`t touch it.
STEIN: You would know more about the procedural stuff than I do here. But at that juncture Trump will be faced with a choice, right? I can veto this and send it back or I can just swallow my pride and sign the thing.
My suspicion is he`ll probably end up vetoing the measure and putting Mitch McConnell back on the stand basically again to say, well, will I allow the veto to go through?
But in the end, I think we both all agree, which is that this gets done from a parliamentary standpoint if you chip away at the Republican opposition. And so far, you`ve seen a handful of Senate Republicans say let`s open the government, let`s debate border wall funding while the government`s open, but Mitch McConnell remains firm in saying, no, we`re not going to have a vote yet.
O`DONNELL: And, John, in Georgia, we have Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, who is among other things the senator representing delta airlines since their headquarters is down there. Giant Hartsfield Airport there.
Here is his advice, his public advice for ending the shutdown. He has advised the TSA agents to all go on strike, which is illegal for federal government workers. In other words, the Republican senator from Georgia is advocating the end to the shutdown is you government workers commit a crime and then we in Washington will be then forced into some kind of solution here in the Senate and Donald Trump will be forced into a solution.
But unless the government workers commit a crime, Johnny Isakson is not going to do anything legal in his job in the United States Senate to solve this problem.
HEILEMANN: It`s doubly crazy because he`s not only advocating they commit a crime, he`s a Republican in 2018 urging government employees to go on strike. When is the last time you`ve heard an elected Republican advocating a labor -- organized labor action, collective action on the part of a union? Look -- unionized employees.
Look, it`s obviously nuts. And again, I think your point is really well taken because one guess is -- Tim Kaine is not quite the Senate dork you are. But he`s a Senate dork. And my guess is part of what he`s doing, he did not expect -- he knew that that objection was going to come from Mitch McConnell or one of the other Republicans.
But he`s putting -- it`s not just a pebble in the pond. He`s putting his toe in the water to kind of say this is the first -- this is possible. This is how you do it.
He`s suggesting the possibility. He`s getting that -- the scent in the air of the kind of rebellion of what passed for rebellion in the United States senate.
STEIN: But to your point, what`s remarkable about the Isakson solution is just the pure abdication of responsibility and power. These people have agency. They have votes. They can pass legislation.
They can actually buck the president. But his solution is --
HEILEMANN: At least go talk to Mitch McConnell.
STEIN: His solution is not to even cast a vote, is to pass it on to the poor government workers working without salary to have a collective action moment and therefore force the president to buckle. It`s remarkable. It`s sad.
O`DONNELL: I promise you, if there`s anything left of the reasonable Republican Mitch McConnell who I knew when I was working in the Senate, when Tim Kaine was up there saying that, there was a part of Mitch McConnell`s brain saying, well, I just stay sitting down, why don`t I just not say a word, let this thing go.
HEILEMANN: You go. You go, Tim.
Sam Stein, John Heilemann, thank you both for starting us up tonight.
And when we come back, Donald Trump`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani admitted on national television that members of the Trump campaign maybe, maybe colluded with Russia. What`s the big deal? No collusion doesn`t mean no collusion.
And increasingly, the question of impeachment is becoming a question of timing. An important new article in "The Atlantic" says that Congress should not wait for Robert Mueller to finish his investigation.
O`DONNELL: Remember no collusion, no collusion? Well, Rudy Giuliani went on TV last night and popped those eyes wide open to say that, well, OK, not exactly absolutely no collusion. Maybe some collusion?
Here are Rudy Giuliani`s exact words when he changed his story last night about collusion. He said, I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign. I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.
And I slowed down that reading because I just want to leave that picture up as long as possible.
Chris Cuomo, of course, told him in the middle of that, interrupted and said no, no, no, you did say there was no collusion at all.
A new "Wall Street Journal" report also is revealing that Michael Cohen hired a technology company called Red Finch Solutions to solve a problem and that is rig online polls in Donald Trump`s favor during the presidential campaign. Michael Cohen promised to pay the firm $50,000, but the owner said he was only given a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash and randomly a boxing glove that Mr. Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed martial arts fighter. In Trump world, it turns out that actually is what they mean by $50,000.
Cohen, however, still asked for and received a $50,000 reimbursement from Mr. Trump and his company for the work by Red Finch. Today, Cohen confirmed the report on Twitter and implicated Donald Trump in this scheme to manipulate online poll results just as he had manipulated individual 1, Donald Trump, in his illegal hush money payments to women claiming they had affairs with Donald Trump during the presidential campaign.
Michael Cohen said: What I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of Donald Trump. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn`t deserve it.
Joining our discussion now, Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst. And, John Heilemann is still with us.
And, Jill, kind of depending on where this is in the calendar, there`s an issue of campaign finance violation here, too. And this one is cash. It isn`t the movement of $130,000 checks to Stormy Daniels. But this is everything about the Trump world wrapped into this new Michael Cohen story.
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: It absolutely is. And it may be one of those things that as Joyce Vance says is awful but lawful. But this one also could be a campaign violation. It certainly was misleading the public.
And we know from Watergate that misleading the public can be grounds for impeachment. It was one of the things that we included in the road map that we gave to the House for impeachment, was all of the false statements that Nixon made, which pale in comparison to the number of lies that Donald Trump has told.
O`DONNELL: And, John, depending on how the cash was obtained, there could be some currency violations there. There could have been a banking transaction to obtain over $10,000 that wasn`t reported. But again, this is the Michael Cohen -- you I suspect were not surprised when the Michael Cohen definition of paying you $50,000 turns out to be a bag with about $13,000 in it and a boxing glove.
HEILEMANN: Jill owed me at some point 50 bucks recently and she gave me a bag. It was actually more of a sock. It had $11 and a boxing glove in it also.
WINE-BANKS: And a Wu-Tang Clan pin.
HEILEMANN: So I consider that recompense.
I was not surprised at all. I harken back to Jill`s Watergate days. A name familiar to anyone who`s seen all the president`s men or is familiar with history is a man named Don Segretti. And Don Segretti was the classic dirty trickster who was engaged in the 1972 campaign in all kinds of small, petty, sometimes mildly impactful, sometimes a little more impactful but he was not John Ehrlichman, he was not H.R. Haldeman, but he was one of the many people who was caught in the web of the giant conspiracy.
And when you are a dirty politician, when you`re someone who`s corrupt and campaigns in a corrupt way, your corruption can be vast and consequential as it is when you`re cooperating with a foreign adversary and it inevitably is going to run the gamut and is going to touch small things like this kind of stuff where your bag man, literally a bag man with a bag, stuffed with cash and a boxing glove is going to be running around doing things in 2016 that don`t look like the Canuck letter and Muskie in 1972, they look like this, manipulating an online poll that the drudge report is associated with that you`re going to somehow try to make your boss -- because you know the one thing your boss loved to do more than anything in the campaign, brag about his poll numbers.
So you want to make sure every poll has good numbers that he can brag about, this is the way you do it.
O`DONNELL: And Jill Wine-Banks, one of those great Giuliani lawyerly moments last night where no collusion becomes, well, OK, no collusion by Donald Trump but I have no idea how much collusion there might have been by everyone else in the Trump campaign.
WINE-BANKS: It`s what we used to call throwing people under the bus. And that`s exactly what they`re doing.
But this is so typical of their whole strategy of first you deny that they did it. Then you say, well, I might have done it but it`s not illegal. Oh, but if I did it, actually, it wasn`t me, it was someone else.
So, it`s the diversion tactic. It`s the blame someone else tactic. They keep on doing it.
And unfortunately, some people are falling for it. But I think at some point the facts are going to just be so blatantly obvious. He can`t keep saying don`t believe what you hear, believe only what I say.
We can play all the tapes of Rudy Giuliani saying there was no collusion by anyone in the campaign. We can play at least three or four or five of them, maybe more. And now, he`s saying I never said that and I didn`t mean that.
And Donald Trump does that all the time. He says oh, no, I didn`t say the Mexicans were going to pay for the wall. We`re going to make enough money from a new trade deal that that`ll pay for the wall. That`s just a lie. He said it was going to be paid for by the Mexicans.
O`DONNELL: John, quickly, is this something to take as an indicator that maybe Rudy Giuliani knows that there`s something coming in the Mueller investigation?
HEILEMANN: Yes. There`s one parallel here. Rudy spouts a lot of incoherence and randomness. He`s not -- we all observed his behavior over the last year and had a lot of critical comments. The important parallel is the Stormy Daniels parallel where President Trump comes out and says "I know nothing about it, I didn`t pay her any money." Then Rudy says the same thing.
Up until one day with Sean Hannity when he says "Oh, of course, we paid her the money." This is I think about what`s to happen -- what`s about to happen now. Then Trump later says, "Well, yes, of course, I paid her but it wasn`t a bad thing." We`re about to see that same -- that to me is the precedent for what`s happening here. Denial, denial, denial.
Rudy then crosses the Rubicon. And pretty soon, we`re going to have Donald Trump saying "Well, of course, my whole campaign including probably my children and my family colluded with the Russians but there`s not a problem with that and it wasn`t me." That`s where we`re headed.
O`DONNELL: So Rudy Giuliani is the leading indicator of a story shift. John Heilemann, Jill Wine-Banks, thank you both for joining us on this discussion.
And when we come back, the question of impeachment seems to now be a question of timing. We will take up that question next.
O`DONNELL: We have just been handed some important breaking news from a report in "BuzzFeed". This is about the Russia investigation. The headline of this report which I have to hold here and read for you is "President Trump directed his attorney to lie to Congress about the Moscow tower project."
We will be joined in just a moment by one of the reporters who has filed this report. The lead of this article says, "President Donald Trump directed his long-time attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter. Trump also supported a plan set up by Cohen to visit Russia during the presidential campaign in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jumpstart the tower negotiations."
"Make it happen", the sources said Trump told Cohen. And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.
We are joined by phone now by Anthony Cormier. He is an investigative reporter for "BuzzFeed News". He`s one of the reporters on this story. Anthony, the headline contains the most devastating part of your article and that is President Trump directed his Attorney to lie to Congress. What more do we know about this?
ANTHONY CORMIER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS (via telephone): Hi, Lawrence. Thanks for having me.
We know that this is based on a series of documents and interviews with witnesses before the special counsel even got to Michael Cohen. So the special counsel`s investigators had an inkling or an awareness of this directive from the president to Mr. Cohen, even before Michael went in and testified recently.
And when he did, he did go in, he did tell them that yes, indeed, I was directed to do this. It put them over the top. It gave them all of the evidence that they needed to at least establish this.
O`DONNELL: And do we know in that session, did Michael Cohen have to raise his right hand and take an oath to testify?
CORMIER: I don`t know. That`s a question I think -- I can try to ask him.
O`DONNELL: OK. Because sometimes in these situations they do, sometimes they don`t. But in any event, lying to Congress is in many instances a crime, a federal crime. And so there`s the president of the United States directing his personal attorney to lie to Congress.
Do we expect this to be part of Michael Cohen`s testimony when he testifies just I think 22 days from now in a hearing in the House of Representatives?
CORMIER: That`s a really good question. My understanding is that comment team, the folks on that panel that are setting this up have made an agreement not to ask questions that may overlap with the office of special counsel`s investigation. That`s a little bit fluid, I`m told at the moment. So we`ll sort of have to wait and see.
O`DONNELL: I mean I would think some of what`s fluid about it is the investigators want to protect information that other people who might be questioned in that investigation don`t know about. But if, for example, now that you have made this public, now with your public reporting on this, it is entirely possible that this opens up an avenue of inquiry in that hearing that might otherwise not have been opened up.
CORMIER: It certainly does. I don`t imagine the Congress being terribly happy that -- number one, they`re not happy that they were lied to by Mr. Cohen. And they`re certainly not going to be happy to learn that he was told to lie by the president.
O`DONNELL: And the other way to do this, if the Congress really wants to take testimony on this from Cohen, would be to work out some kind of arrangement with the special prosecutor where this part of their testimony if the special prosecutor insists takes place in private and is not public testimony.
But it`s hard to believe that they will have Michael Cohen in the House of Representatives testifying under oath and no one there will be able to ask him about your reporting that the president of the United States directed him to lie to them.
CORMIER: Right. Certainly. You would expect that the very people that were lied to would want an explanation of what happened.
O`DONNELL: And does -- do you have any -- I don`t want to get into your sources here, but what do we know about what Michael Cohen has done with this information? Who has Michael Cohen told the president directed me to lie to Congress?
CORMIER: He told the special counsel`s team. I don`t think he`s told a whole bunch of people. He didn`t tell me. It appears to us that from our sourcing that they have the broad contours of this, of this directive before he ever showed up.
And when he did, this is one of the lines of inquiry that they pressed on him. And if you look at his sentencing memo, the special counsel indicates there that Mr. Cohen gave credible and helpful information about how he put together the letters and his testimony to Congress.
So it appears that in the sentencing memo, I think it was last month, the special counsel was leaving at least a breadcrumb or clue. He was suggesting publicly that there was something in here about Michael Cohen preparing his testimony to Congress that was of interest and of use to the special counsel. So it was sort of sitting out there and perhaps hidden in plain sight.
O`DONNELL: And reading from your reporting, Anthony, saying that the special counsel`s office learned about Trump`s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company e-mails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.
Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interview with that office. And this brings us back to the extensive criminal investigative discovery that the prosecutors have been doing inside the Trump Organization, inside the Trump Company.
I know they have to some degree the cooperation from the chief financial officer in there. Donald Trump`s in effect long-time accountant within the company. And so that`s -- for Michael Cohen to be walking into an interview where they`ve already obtained references to these kinds of things through Trump Organization e-mails and texts, as you say, Michael Cohen had to know right away. They know this story.
CORMIER: Yes. The jig was up. When he walked in, it became very clear to him. I`m told, after the first interview, he comes back for another and it`s very clear to him that they`ve got the goods, right? They have receipts on this stuff. And he just -- he tells them that I was directed to do this.
O`DONNELL: Anthony Cormier, thank you very much for your invaluable reporting tonight. And thank you for being able to join us so quickly. Really, really appreciate it.
CORMIER: You got, it man. Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: We will be joined by Congressman Eric Swalwell. But first back with us, Jill Wine-Banks and John Heilemann, who were not allowed to leave the chair during the commercial break when I was handed this breaking news report.
And so Jill, to the sentencing of Michael Cohen, we all noticed that the special prosecutor was much more satisfied with Michael Cohen`s cooperation with his office than the local U.S. attorney in Manhattan was satisfied with his cooperation with his office.
This could be why. This is Michael Cohen giving the special prosecutor his own account of something they apparently already had through electronic communication of the president of the United States directing Michael Cohen while he`s president, right from the oval office, to lie to Congress. This truly is a Nixonian moment.
WINE-BANKS: This is absolutely one of those moments where you go when is enough sufficient? This is when it is because this is exactly the Watergate model of Nixon saying you can always say I don`t remember, I don`t recall, even though you do. That`s subornation of perjury, plain and simple.
It is a direct act of the president while he`s president interfering not only with an investigation but of directly conspiring to obstruct justice. And this should be enough for even the -- and remember, he lied -- that is Cohen, he told Cohen to lie to the Senate. Even the Republican Senate is going to have to say we`ve been had, we can`t have him lying to us.
And in the end of Watergate, it was the Republicans who went to Nixon and said, "You have to resign or we will convict you in the Senate." And that`s going to happen here. We`re getting closer and closer.
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, as usual, it`s very hard for me to think of what Rudy Giuliani will say about this. But this time, he`s going to have to tell you that is not smoke coming out of that gun.
HEILEMANN: Yes, I can`t imagine what Rudy will say. Just looking through this article, just to put a very fine point on it, the thing that caught my eye right after the thing you read, Lawrence.
It says this revelation is not the first evidence to suggest the president may have attempted to obstruct the FBI`s special counsel`s investigation into Russia`s interference in the 2016 election but Cohen`s testimony marks a significant new frontier. It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.
I am certain it will not be the last. And the reality is that there is right now going on behind the scenes in Washington a lot of conversation with many of the former Trump administration officials who have testified behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee about things that they said that have now been shown to be false.
There are a number of them who are currently in the process of lawyering up in a serious way because they committed perjury in those instances. I happen to know that from my reporting. It is inconceivable to me in the context of this reporting that Michael Cohen will be the only one who lied at the instruction of the president.
So this will not, I think, be the only instance in which we have reporting like this. This is suggestive to me not just of an incredible frontier being crossed but of a frontier that we`re going to see -- this now is the Rubicon has been crossed. We`re going to stay on that side of the Rubicon where I see other examples of this come up.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to go now to one of the members of Congress who was lied to apparently by Michael Cohen at the direction of the president of the United States. We are joined by phone by Congressman Eric Swalwell. He`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.
Congressman Swalwell, your reaction to this breaking news report tonight from "BuzzFeed" with the headline "President Trump Directed His Attorney to Lie to Congress."
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE AND HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEES (via telephone): Good evening, Lawrence. I view this as powerful evidence of collusion. And I say that because it is a consciousness of guilt. He is asking Michael Cohen to lie because the truth would expose what was going on with the Russians early on in the candidacy.
And you`re right, I was on the interview team that interviewed Michael Cohen. And I hope those transcripts are released soon. But you will see an intense interest in understanding what was Donald Trump`s knowledge at the time that Michael Cohen was working up a Trump Tower proposal in Moscow.
Also, it`s corroborated by the way that Donald Trump has acted with other witnesses in the Russia investigation. It sounds a lot like what he said to James Comey when he said, "I hope you can make the case go away with Michael Flynn." He is someone who always is seeking to take up a shovel and bury the evidence and directing his subordinates to do that.
So I hope now, you know, Congress will have, especially the Intelligence Committee, an opportunity to hear from Michael Cohen. And you know, Lawrence, if the president did not do this, he would be racing over to Bob Mueller`s office to sit in a chair and give the other side. And he`s just not eager to do that at all.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Swalwell, you were in the room when Michael Cohen lied to you, lied to Congress according to Michael Cohen`s own admission apparently. Did you swear him in? Did he have to raise his right hand and take an oath?
SWALWELL: He did. He was under oath, you know, for the testimony. And you know, he had serious questions for nearly eight hours posed to him. And you know, we were, you know, on the topic of Russia. That was the focus of our investigation. And you know, we left that interview not believing that we got the full truth, and that was confirmed by his own guilty plea.
O`DONNELL: So Congressman, just to review the possible legal jeopardy here. The lying to Congress is in and of itself, can be a crime in some instances. Not necessarily in every instance.
But once you`ve raised your hand and you`ve taken the oath, you`ve stepped into possible perjury territory. What do you see in this as the possible criminal liability for Michael Cohen and, more importantly, for the person who according to Michael Cohen told him to lie, the president of the United States?
SWALWELL: I think the biggest criminal exposure is for the president, for obstruction of justice, for suborning, you know, perjury of another witness. I believe that Michael Cohen just based on the hours he spent with Mueller, he has probably come clean about this.
If he didn`t, you can expect that he will probably have. If this is true, you know, more charges added. But I suspect that he has probably come clean and that Mueller knows this. And that`s probably why Donald Trump is doing all he can to avoid the Mueller team and not come in for an interview.
O`DONNELL: There`s a sequence of questioning now that we will all be replaying as soon as we can cue it up of William Barr`s confirmation hearing in which Senator Amy Klobuchar went through a list of things that she put in front of him and asked is that a crime? If the president of the United States does this, is that a crime?
One of them was suborning perjury. One of them was apparently exactly what Michael Cohen is now testifying to. And William Barr said yes, that is a crime. Your reaction to that, Congressman?
SWALWELL: So Lawrence, my suspicion, as your other guest mentioned, is that the president probably instructed other witnesses who came before us, particularly his family members, to also lie about their contacts with the Russians. Again, it`s just all of the arrows point in that direction. There`s been no arrow that points in the other direction where the president said go forward, be truthful.
And if you remember, Hope Hicks. I questioned Hope Hicks and I had the exchange with her where she told me that she had told lies for the president before when he was a candidate and as the president. So we know this is just his modus operandi.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much for joining us for this breaking news.
SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Really important to have you. Really appreciate it.
And Jill Wine-Banks, he took an oath. They swore him. Eric Swalwell was there. He was asking the questions. They swore him in.
What do you see -- what`s the legal checklist here for Michael Cohen and for the president? Is Michael Cohen -- if this is proven true guilty of lying to Congress as a crime, is he guilty of perjury as a crime? Is the president of the United States guilty of suborning perjury if this report is true?
WINE-BANKS: Yes, yes, and yes. Absolutely. And it means that I want to have a big box of popcorn on February 7 when he testifies again. This has gotten even more exciting for his testimony before the House now. I can`t wait for that.
O`DONNELL: The control room is telling me that we do have Amy Klobuchar in the confirmation hearing asking William Barr about exactly this. Let`s look at this.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: The president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: That -- yes.
BARR: Any -- well, you know, any person who persuades another --
KLOBUCHAR: Any? OK.
KLOBUCHAR: You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?
KLOBUCHAR: OK. And on page 2, you said that a president deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an instruction. Is that correct?
KLOBUCHAR: OK. And so what if a president told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?
BARR: You know I -- I`d have to know the specific. I`d have to know the specific facts.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. And you wrote on page 1 that if a president knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. So what if a president drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting? Would that be obstruction?
BARR: Again, you know, I`d have to know the specifics.
O`DONNELL: Joining our conversation now, Elizabeth Drew. She`s a political journalist and author. She covered the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for "The New Yorker."
Liz drew, we had invited you to come on tonight to talk about this important new article about impeachment, but let`s talk about what`s breaking right in front of us right now. And this really seems like a new level of jeopardy for the president. Here you have Michael Cohen describing exactly what Donald Trump`s nominee for attorney general described in his confirmation hearing as a crime.
And it is a crime, if committed even by the president, that there is no way that the president could argue any form of innocence or any form of presidential authority that gets him out of this. This really seems to be a new level of jeopardy for the president tonight. Is that the way you see it?
ELIZABETH DREW, POLITICAL JOURNALIST: Well, in my ever-lengthening list of impeachable offenses --
DREW: -- against the president. And there`s another aspect of this, Lawrence. We haven`t gotten into this ever before in our history, but this shows how much the president lied to the American people during the campaign. He didn`t have any business with Russia. Did he say I never made a phone call to Russia?
Well, he did have business with Russia and there`s a whole series of things that happened. The payoff to the ladies, women he slept with it. It wasn`t an affair. It was a one-night stand with Stormy so let`s not overdo this.
It`s a -- if he went to such nefarious, dishonest lengths to win the nomination, to -- and the New York U.S. attorneys have already said that this was a felony, the paying off, then there`s a real question if somebody does these things in order to gain the presidency, can they be impeached for that? I think so.
O`DONNELL: And Jill Wine-Banks, this does feel, in many ways -- we always reach for Watergate parallels because it`s the only case we have in our history that is so clearly like this. But there was that moment when because of your investigation, but also because of the simultaneous investigation by the House of Representatives, which did not wait for you to complete your work before starting their impeachment process.
They started the impeachment process not knowing what the evidence was. And through the process and through their subpoena power, they discovered what became known as the smoking gun in a Nixon tape. And what we heard on that tape was President Nixon basically directing the criminal activity.
What we have here from Michael Cohen is, and I`m not even -- I`m not sure this is without tape, but we have a similar situation and so far without tape. But we know Michael Cohen tape-recorded phone calls. Michael Cohen might have this as a tape-recorded phone call. The president saying this to him.
But even if he doesn`t, it is essentially the same thing. It essentially, here is the president of the United States in the oval office, presumably, on the phone, telling Michael Cohen to commit federal crimes and do it right there in the House of Representatives.
WINE-BANKS: And, you know, as a trial lawyer, what`s important is that there be some corroboration because otherwise, it`s Michael Cohen who`s an admitted liar against the president who is a knowing liar, but not admitted yet.
And so the fact that this article says that there are documents, there are e-mails, there are text messages -- it doesn`t mention tapes, but I think you`re right, there are enough tapes that maybe if we`re lucky, this is on tape, but there are other forms of corroboration like these text messages that could do it. And I think that we really are in new territory tonight. I think Elizabeth is exactly correct on everything she has said.
O`DONNELL: And John Heilemann, this was Trump Company business we`re talking about. That`s why presumably, according to this report, e-mails and texts exist within the Trump Company that could involve people not named Trump or it could involve people named Donald Trump Jr. where they are saying, they`re communicating about the Trump Tower deal in Moscow, and they are also getting their story straight for possible talking to the House of Representatives about this. And in there, there might be, you know, dad says he told Michael Cohen to not tell the truth, basically.
HEILEMANN: I think you read a story like this and there are a couple -- just two quick things to think about. One is, every time a story like this breaks and particularly in this one, you think about the sourcing here and the sequence that`s described of the accumulation of the evidence and then the turning to Cohen and Cohen confirming is it just reinforces the notion that I think we`re going to learn to the extent we haven`t already learned it which is that Mueller knows everything, right. Mueller knows everything. And that`s the first thing.
The second thing is as we get closer to Michael Cohen going to jail and closer to Michael Cohen`s public testimony on February 7, this story is related in a weird way to the thing we were talking about before about the crazy story about him manipulating the polls. The Michael Cohen stories, anything he touched, they`re starting to tumble out. And you said earlier that you thought that this was one piece, perhaps, of why Mueller was so much happier with the level of cooperation he had with Cohen. This was an example.
I don`t think -- just like the earlier thing, I don`t think this is the only one of those. I think we`re going to start to see more and more of these. This may be -- this is a bombshell. I think we`re going to hear a lot, much louder explosions as we get closer and closer to February 7 just over the next couple weeks.
WINE-BANKS: This is obstruction and collusion.
O`DONNELL: Obstruction and collusion. I have to fit in a break here. Elizabeth Drew, Jill Wine-Banks, John Heilemann, thank you all for joining our discussion. We`re going to be right back.