Reports emerge that the Manhattan DA investigating Donald Trump`s company has convened a grand jury for the first time to weigh possible charges.
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: We`re a few minutes from the start of "THE BEAT," whose interview -- Ari Melber, the anchor, whose interview I have been quoting and playing for much of the last 40 minutes.
Ari Melber, here`s my question. What did you know, and when did you know it?
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Well, Nicolle, always good to be with you on a really big breaking news moment.
I think what`s striking is -- and I`m curious what you think as well -- I have been following your coverage -- that, basically, we have been living through this and hearing from different people who`ve been in there. Michael Cohen has been in there several times.
As you mentioned, we spoke to other people on THE BEAT last night who`ve been in with his very DA, and there`s two ways this goes. They find enough information to feel they don`t go further. That would be the de-escalation.
Or they do what you have just been reporting on to our viewers, that they convene a grand jury, because the DA thinks that, based on this evidence, these witnesses and this material, they have evidence of a crime.
Who by, we don`t know yet.
I`m curious where you think this goes if Donald Trump, who obviously has had a stranglehold of some degree on the Republican Party lately, now maybe gearing up for a time where his business, if not himself, is in the eyes of a grand jury, and Bill Barr is not here to help him.
WALLACE: So, I am always brought back to something that a close friend and political ally have has told me when Michael Cohen was first sort of ensnared by the criminal justice system, the very beginning of his journey.
I think that Michael Cohen that you interviewed last night, who I have had a chance to talk to, has come full circle with the Trump experience. He now can`t lie, right? Like, he`s served his time. And the smears on him from the Trump circles are just that. They`re smears. Michael Cohen can`t lie. He didn`t lie. He can`t lie, because he would face more potential exposure criminally.
The fact that Donald Trump`s foreign trip was blown up by the day Michael Cohen testified before Congress tells you how badly Donald Trump didn`t want the inside of his businesses turned out. And this ally of Donald Trump said, you know what, the Russia thing isn`t going to bring him down. Michael Cohen is, because Michael Cohen knows everything.
Now, who knows more than Michael Cohen? Allen Weisselberg. So, the fact that these two men are now sort of ensnared and in the spotlight tells me that Donald Trump is probably a lot more concerned than any of us know at this hour.
WALLACE: Ari, it`s yours now. I`m going to go upstairs and watch you.
MELBER: All right. OK. We will keep going.
Thanks to Nicolle Wallace for handing us off.
I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.
And we begin with bombshell breaking news in the Trump Org criminal probe.
"The Washington Post" is reporting the Manhattan DA investigating Donald Trump`s company has convened a grand jury for the first time to weigh possible charges. This grand jury would be expected to decide whether to indict any individuals at the Trump Organization that could include potentially considering whether to indict its founder and chief owner Donald Trump.
Other executives, as I was just discussing with our Nicolle Wallace, also face potential exposure.
Now, Cy Vance, the DA here, has an investigation that, according to "The Washington Post" and their multiple sources, as well as according to any basically standard legal interpretation, has reached an advanced stage.
Advanced is how "The Post" put it. We have experts standing by that will walk us through what it means when you get to this grand jury stage.
Now, let me tell you exactly what we know from "The Post" and what Nicolle was covering in our MSNBC special reporting tonight.
"The Post" reports this grand jury, according to "The Washington Post," will meet three days a week for six months to weigh the potential evidence. That alone is significant because it`s different and broader than some other New York grand juries would typically operate.
Obviously, the question here is, does this news change the criminal exposure facing former President Donald Trump? "The Post" reporting all of this suggests that DA Vance believes he`s found evidence of a crime, if not by Trump, then by someone potentially close to him or by his company.
I am joined now by Andrew Weissmann. He`s a former senior Justice Department official. He was a prosecutor on Bob Mueller`s team. And Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general, and Dan Alonso, former chief assistant district attorney in the Manhattan DA`s office, also a former federal prosecutor.
Thanks to all of you. This is news that`s breaking. We`re all absorbing it.
And, Daniel, I go to you first, as a veteran of the office. Walk us through what it means legally when the DA convenes a grand jury like this regarding a probe like this.
DANIEL R. ALONSO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So I think, Ari, as you alluded earlier, grand juries are sitting all the time. So there have been grand juries previously that have compelled evidence in their name. The DA has compelled evidence in their name.
What`s different from this, which is colloquially called a special grand jury -- we used to call it an additional or an extra grand jury in the DA`s office -- is that now this grand jury, assuming the reporting is right, will spend an extended period hearing one or more cases, specified cases, not just -- not just any old case.
The usual grand juries sit for four weeks, and they hear any case that comes through the door. But this is now a more targeted thing.
ALONSO: And it typically means that the DA has a complicated case he wants to present for a potential indictment at some point during the term of the additional grand jury.
MELBER: And, Dan, "Washington Post" reports, their view, their interpretation, based on their reporting and sourcing, is that this means Cy Vance thinks at least a crime occurred at Trump Org.
Do you agree?
ALONSO: I think it`s highly likely. Obviously, we don`t know, and I don`t have any inside information.
But, yes, I think it`s highly likely that the DA`s office thinks that there are crimes to be charged here. Against whom? Obviously, we will have discussion about that.
MELBER: Andrew Weissmann is with us.
Andrew, let me read now from more of, again, these details in this brand- new "Post" story, which is really striking.
They say the investigators here at the New York DA`s office now convening this grand jury, special, "are scrutinizing Trump`s business practices before he was president, including whether the value of specific properties in the Trump Org real estate portfolio were manipulated in a way that defrauded banks and insurance companies and if any tax benefits were obtained illegally through unscrupulous asset valuation."
What do you see here, Andrew?
ANDREW WEISSMANN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it`s important to keep this in context, because that reporting is consistent with what was revealed by the New York attorney general`s office this past summer, when they were skirmishing with Eric Trump.
So, this issue of under an overvaluation and tax fraud and bank fraud and perhaps insurance fraud is one that`s been going on for some time. I think the big news is that they now have convened a grand jury, and that is certainly a prerequisite to bringing a charge.
Whether they get there or not is something that we don`t know. I think the fact that they`re sitting three days a week is unusual and suggests the seriousness of purpose, since that`s not typical. And I also think people should be thinking about not being...
MELBER: Andrew, say more about -- say more about that. Why would that be more intense?
WEISSMANN: Well, just think about an average citizen is not really thinking I can`t wait to spend three days a week for the next six months investigating one specific set of crimes. At the federal level, that would be highly unusual. You might have a long-term investigation, but you might set one day a week, or if it was particularly intense, two days a week.
Or, as Dan pointed out, you might have a four-week period where you sit intensely, but then you`re done. But, here, to have it for an extended period of time and three days a week means that you`re getting people who are going to be quite focused for a concentrated period of time.
And I would think that this is going to mean that, if you are Allen Weisselberg, you are feeling the pressure today that this is really ratcheting up what`s going on.
MELBER: Andrew, this would seem -- I`m curious your view, given the Mueller history -- and then I`m going to bring Neal in -- this would seem tonight to be the worst news the Trump Organization has gotten since Donald Trump left office, legally.
WEISSMANN: Yes, I think that is -- I think that`s fair, because, again, you`re not going to have an indictment until you have a grand jury.
Now, it doesn`t mean, just because you have a grand jury, there will be an indictment.
WEISSMANN: But this is certainly not good news.
And, remember, there`s also the sign that the New York attorney general is continuing her investigation, and the reports are both civilly and criminally. So, there are certainly two fronts that the Trump Organization now has to confront.
MELBER: Neal, same question.
Many people in the United States understandably feel there`s been a lot of stories and news about Donald Trump seeming to do something wrong or getting partially caught or getting away. And while humans are allowed to feel fatigue, the justice system is not supposed to be that emotional.
What would seem to be happening in the justice system is, unless there`s a massive conspiracy that would be hard to pull off, it would seem that the DA`s office has independently reached enough evidence to convene a grand jury to pursue a crime or crimes at Trump Org.
Whether they go all the way up to the founder, the former president, we don`t know, according to this reporting. But that would seem to be a significantly bad development for them. And whether people are tired or not, I put the same question to you. Is it the worst thing since he left office for him?
NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it is.
And so I think the public has had a lot of fatigue about this, and they see Trump get away with thing after thing. But those of us trained in the law have basically known, Ari, this day was going to come.
I mean, who didn`t know that who`s trained in the law? I mean, Trump was a lawless, mob-like figure. And you saw it in your extraordinary segment yesterday, where you interviewed kind of the three horse-people of the apocalypse for Donald Trump.
And those three people said two important things. One, each knows Donald Trump and the Trump children very well. And, number two, each of them is cooperating with prosecutors against Donald Trump. And the convening of a grand jury is very significant, because it`s a really unique investigative tool.
It`s not something you start unless you have serious evidence as a prosecutor. And Andrew is exactly right. This panel is going to work three days a week. And that`s got to make Donald Trump nervous. I mean, that`s the -- they`re working a lot more, longer hours than he ever did.
And all is focused on him. And the grand jury is a secret thing. So, when people go in, like the -- perhaps the people you have had on your show yesterday, they don`t go in with their lawyers. They go in by themselves. And that`s for an important reason, because maybe their lawyers are paid for by the figurehead of the criminal enterprise or something like that, and telling them what to say.
But when that witness goes in, she or he tells her truth or his truth only to those people in the grand jury and the prosecutor. It`s a powerful tool for getting out the truth. And that`s got to make Donald Trump very worried.
MELBER: Yes, Neal, that`s a great point, because it goes to the fact that Donald Trump is legally naked at this point. He doesn`t have the powers of the presidency, some of which do afford a different level of review.
He certainly used that to delay his tax returns ever getting to this probe. Now they have them. He doesn`t have Bill Barr, who may have, according to DOJ veterans who demanded his resignation at a higher number than any A.G. in history. He doesn`t have an attorney general using or abusing those expensive powers to buy him time, to get him tricks of the trade, to get the other story we were going to cover until this broke today, to get him to try to basically defang some of what Andrew Weissmann and Bob Mueller worked on, and their fact-finding.
That`s the other big story of how Barr was doing that through the Office of Legal Counsel. He also doesn`t have, as you say, the arguments that many fancy, rich people do have, which is all the fancy lawyers. You could watch a movie or "Billions" or anything and see how, oh, boy, if you have enough lawyers, sometimes, that can make a difference?
Well, as you say, not in the grand jury room, because you`re in there alone, pressed on these questions in a very serious way.
As for what you mentioned, the reporting last night, which Nicolle also mentioned, we try to follow the witnesses around here, because if -- we said this, Andrew, back in your day with Mueller, we say it with Cy Vance. If the investigators want to talk to these people, well, journalistically, than we do too.
Here`s some of what they told us in that interview last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: what is the word or subject that investigators asked most about?
STEPHANIE WINSTON WOLKOFF, AUTHOR, "MELANIA AND ME": Follow the money.
JENNIFER WEISSELBERG, FORMER DAUGHTER-IN-LAW OF ALLEN WEISSELBERG: Taxes.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Allen Weisselberg.
COHEN: They`re going to flip on each other like it`s going out of style.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KATYAL: Yes, so I think that all of that, plus they also made the very simple point, which is, this is like a classic prisoner`s dilemma right now.
So, even if all of the different people want to be loyal to Trump, they all are being told by prosecutors, and they know that, unless they come in and cooperate, someone else may flip against them. And so -- and Donald Trump is not exactly the kind of guy who inspires loyalty. So you can`t sit there, if you`re one of those other people, and think, oh, Trump`s not going to turn on me. Of course he will.
And they know that ahead of time, and so they`re much more likely, even if they have loyalty in their bones, to turn on Donald Trump. And grand juries, of course, have the power to issue subpoenas on their own, which is another, I think, important point.
They can ask all of those three people and others for documents and other things. And prosecutors now don`t have to rely on Rudy Giuliani to tell them what they`re looking for on live TV. They have got the powers themselves through the grand jury to get this material.
MELBER: We have more from that I want to play for analysis.
Michael Cohen is someone who figured into both probes, although Mueller ultimately handed him off to the federal prosecutors in New York. For viewers keeping track, because Donald Trump has a lot of different legal problems, this is not SDNY, the feds. This is the local prosecutors, which have maximum autonomy. They have nothing to do with the federal government.
It`s the New York attorney general and the New York DA. It`s Harvey Dent, for those who are using the Batman lens, which sometimes can be helpful.
So, Andrew, given that you dealt with some of these individuals on your side, I have to ask you, before I get to Cohen, who I mentioned was in both probes, do you have any sense of deja vu? And do you have any sense of whether this time would somehow be different?
WEISSMANN: Well, I do think there is a reason to think that this time might be different.
And that is that, if you look at Neal talking about the classic prisoner`s dilemma, that`s not something that we really had, because, when Trump was president, he had the power to pardon. And so you could build a really strong case against an Allen Weisselberg, and still the person wouldn`t flip -- look at Paul Manafort, look at Roger Stone -- because they could hold out for a pardon.
That is no longer a power that Donald Trump has, and he does not have the power to fire the prosecutor. So, we were in a very unusual situation of investigating somebody who had the power to pull the plug on the entire investigation, as well as our boss was somebody appointed by the president of the United States.
All of that...
MELBER: Did that affect you guys?
WEISSMANN: And now you -- I`m sorry?
MELBER: Did that affect you guys?
WEISSMANN: Yes, well, certainly the power to pardon, and I think the power to fire us also affected us.
So, I think both of those are powers that I think are really big, important powers that are very unusual in any criminal case that Dan, Neal or I have ever been involved in.
And now Trump is just like any other person who is subject to a criminal investigation, with no ability to control the prosecutors or to control the witnesses.
MELBER: And, Daniel, who can fire Cy Vance?
ALONSO: Well, theoretically, the voters or, in some cases, rare cases, the governor, but that`s just not going to happen, right? He`s not running for reelection. His term ends December 31.
And so there`s going to be a new DA on January 1. That gives us every indication that he wants to make this decision in advance. And six months from now, when this grand jury expires, he will still be the DA. So, I do think that he is pushing for that decision.
I will say that New York grand juries are more cumbersome than federal grand juries. Neal and Andrew are right that they`re very powerful and they have all -- but they also generally can`t receive hearsay evidence. They have to hear things directly from the mouths of witnesses, which, in federal courts, it was a huge advantage when I was a federal prosecutor to be able to put an agent on the stand and present a case that`s pretty complex in maybe two or three hours, just based on the investigation they did.
In state court, we have to present the actual witness. So it was kind of a big deal. And they all get automatic immunity, which also creates some complications. So, there are reasons why I think the state grand jury is going to sit three days a week. It`s actually not that unusual.
They`re probably sitting a morning or an afternoon only, would be my guess. But, again, we`re still speculating here.
MELBER: Well, and you`re all making important points, which speak to why it may be a very bad night at Mar-a-Lago.
Daniel, you`re picking up on something that Andrew was walking us through earlier, which is that the doubling down, the tripling down on the normal event jury schedule is something that shows an intensity and acceleration of the case. Bad news for anyone at Trump Org. Donald Trump runs Trump Org.
Then, number two, you`re reminding everyone, because I don`t think everyone around the country is keeping track of every local officials tenure plans, that this New York DA is out, you`re reminding everyone, at the end of the year. And the six-month schedule -- again, walk me through this if I`m -- if there`s more precision needed -- but the roughly six-month expected schedule of this grand jury would bring you out to roughly November, right?
So, you`re saying that -- the implication of what you`re saying legally -- anything can change. Lord, we know that from following cases. But you`re saying the legal schedule would be that this matter, you would expect there to be action, or, if they close it out with no action, you would expect to know that either way by roughly November with regard to whether crimes are charged at Trump Org, Daniel?
ALONSO: November or before.
I think that it all depends. As we were saying earlier, we don`t know exactly who`s going to be charged. Right now, clearly, Allen Weisselberg is in the crosshairs. And there are lots of different levers and points of pressure with him, including his family, his kids.
So we will see what they`re going to do. But within the Trump Organization, there are other executives. There`s family members of Donald Trump. There`s the companies themselves, and there`s Donald Trump.
So, this grand jury is going to be doing a lot of work. No doubt, they`re going to be using it in an investigative way, as Neal mentioned, issuing subpoenas, compelling people who don`t want to testify to testify. So, this is really using the grand jury, I think, to the fullest extent of what it`s meant to be.
MELBER: Yes, and it raises a lot of questions about Weisselberg, which we`re going to have more special coverage on tonight. And that`s why we convened that special exclusive panel last night, because we`re looking at this from the outside.
We don`t have all the access that the three of you have had at various points in these kinds of cases. But, from -- as outsiders, we`re kind of tracking, boy, a lot going on around Weisselberg. And he could be the key.
Before I lose this panel of experts -- and I have a lot more people waiting in the wings on a news night like this -- I want to go to each of you lightning round in a word or a sentence, answers to the big questions here.
Number one, in summation, what changes today for Trump Org and who has the most to worry about? What changes and who has the most to worry about, in a word or a sentence, starting with Andrew?
WEISSMANN: Weisselberg has the most to worry about. And what changes is, he`s facing a lot more exposure.
KATYAL: Trump has the most to fear, because he knows Weisselberg has the most to fear, and Weisselberg will flip.
And that`s very, very bad news for Donald Trump. Weisselberg knows where the bodies are buried.
ALONSO: What changed is that it`s public that the DA is going for indictments, for sure. Like, we now know that.
And I think Donald Trump, at the end of the day, has the most to worry about, even if he`s not indicted. This is all bad news for Donald Trump. But he`s probably known about this for a while, would be my guess.
MELBER: Very interesting coming from those who`ve been on the other side of these tough prosecutorial and Justice Department-type decisions.
A big news night. We`re happy to begin with such big experts, big figures.
Neal Katyal, Andrew Weissmann, Dan Alonso, thanks to each of you.
We have our shortest break, just 30 seconds. When we come back: What exactly does the grand jury see? How did this Trump criminal org investigation escalates so quickly? And why is Trump worried?
When we`re back in 30 seconds.
MELBER: Breaking news: The Manhattan DA has now formally convened a grand jury to hear criminal evidence in this escalating Trump Organization probe.
This is a major advancement in what has been a two year investigation. It suggests DA Cy Vance found evidence of a crime, potentially by someone who either works at the Trump Organization or someone who runs it.
Our special coverage, breaking tonight, continues.
We`re joined by NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray and former SDNY prosecutor Nick Akerman.
Good evening to both of you.
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Good evening.
MELISSA MURRAY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, Ari.
MELBER: Nick, I want to begin with something that a former veteran of that same New York DA`s office, Daniel Alonso, said, and just as we were ending that first segment tonight. He put it more bluntly than many lawyers are willing to. And, sometimes, it`s the thing that lawyers say before they go on air and after.
So, I want to make sure everyone heard it, because it`s echoing in my ears. Mr. Alonso, who I have had on this program many times, he`s pretty careful. He said, this means indictments are coming. That`s what he said.
He said his view is, on a case like this with this high profile, this many years in the making, after they got the tax returns, he`s saying the Manhattan DA doesn`t go to this level of this supersized grand jury unless indictments are coming.
Do you agree?
AKERMAN: Not completely. I mean, I think there is a good chance that indictments are coming, but there`s lots of reasons to do a grand jury at this point, one of which is to lock people into whatever their testimony is, to put together the evidence, so you have it in one place, and you have it in the transcript, to be able to bring people in who do not want to testify or cooperate and force them to cooperate, because, as your other guests said, anybody who testifies in a New York grand jury automatically gets immunity.
So, there are lots of reasons to do this. I mean, this is exactly what I did in the Nixon tax case. I mean, we brought people into the grand jury. The -- we had no idea that we were going to indict. In fact, we couldn`t at the end because Nixon was pardoned.
But we certainly did it in a way that was methodical, tried to get the right people in, talked to people who we thought knew something and forced them to testify. And I think that`s what`s going on here. So I don`t think you can really jump to conclusions here.
But it is a significant step. There`s no question about that.
MELBER: Professor Murray, I don`t know if the old legal saying or you teach it to your law students, but what Daniel Alonso giveth, Nick Akerman may taketh away.
I don`t know if that you know that one.
MURRAY: Yes, I love it, as a law professor.
MELBER: But we had one...
MELBER: Go ahead.
MURRAY: I was going to say, I love it as a law professor arguing both sides. A-plus for both of them.
And, sometimes, because -- not to generalize about prosecutors, but, sometimes, they look at the case the way they have been trained.
Mr. Alonso went farther than I have ever heard him on air, again, not that he is -- we`re not reporting that. It`s not two sources confirming that. It`s legal analysis, though, that he views this at this stage to be a higher bar, that this is not a run-of-the-mill use of the grand jury.
Everything Mr. Akerman just said to us, I think, is obviously legally true. But I want to tease out and get your view on. And I want to tease out what Mr. Alonso seemed to be suggesting, which is, yes, of course, there`s many reasons for a grand jury.
You wouldn`t normally in a random case say that that step means the next. There are two separate steps. He`s saying, after going to the Supreme Court and winning the tax return case, and getting that, and teaming up with Letitia James, and having Michael Cohen in for 10 interviews, and putting the squeeze on Weisselberg, and getting this other material, that to now today do a thrice-a-week grand jury means Vance has got something.
Where do you come down between two of your respective counselors here?
MURRAY: Again, I`m going to come in right between them.
I think all of that context is really important. There was a Supreme Court case to get that subpoenaed material before the grand jury. The fact that this special grand jury has been convened after the state attorney general announced that it was shifting from a civil investigation to something with a criminal target I think suggests that something is coming down the pike.
But for those in the resistance who are inclined to spike the football right now, it might be a little early, as Nick says. There are lots of reasons to convene a grand jury. As you noted earlier, Cy Vance is approaching the end of his term as DA. That might be part of the reason for getting a lot of this done.
It may also be the case, as they approached the tolling of those statutes of limitations on whatever criminal charges might be in play, they`re trying to get all of this evidence in before the grand jury before that happens, so lots of different reasons. But, again, this is a very significant development.
MELBER: Let me play a little bit more of Michael Cohen brand-new from the reporting we were just doing, because we have been circling the developments in this case, where we had for the first time ever on television three of these key witnesses together.
We heard from Michael Cohen specifically about why Weisselberg is so clutch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: Allen was the gatekeeper for every penny that came in and went out of the Trump Organization. But it wasn`t just the Trump Organization. It was also Donald`s personal accounts. It was the kids` business accounts. It was the Presidential Inaugural Committee. It was the campaign.
Any penny that had anything to do with Donald Trump went through Allen Weisselberg`s desk.
His exposure is not one that you can just hide, because the beautiful thing about numbers is, numbers don`t lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Nick, we haven`t been able to ascertain whether Michael was surreptitiously trying to do a low-key reference to men lie, women lie, numbers don`t lie, a line used by Jay-Z and Lil Wayne among others. We just don`t know if that`s how he was using it.
But the numbers that don`t lie are now, according to all evidence, in the hands of the DA. What does he do with what Weisselberg knows about Donald Trump`s personal and professional financial ways?
AKERMAN: Well, I think what he`s going to do is basically set up a situation where he can charge Weisselberg.
I mean, it is a crime to assist somebody in the creation of a false tax return. I mean, this is precisely how this worked when we did this in Watergate with Nixon and his taxes. We had three or four people. We had the two tax preparers who were both lawyers. We had the fellow who was the person who appraised Nixon`s papers that he falsely claimed were a gift to the United States government.
And so you had a very small group. And the idea was to charge all of them, and to flip them and to get them to testify. And we certainly got one of them, who was one of the lawyers that was in the White House, who was a key witness in these cases.
And if we had gone to trial with Nixon, if he hadn`t been pardoned, this individual would have been a star witness, along with a number of other supporting witnesses that we were able to gather through the grand jury.
But, again, I think the point that was made last night, which I think was very important, by all three of those people that you had on was that they expect to see all of the players in this thing, be charged with crimes. And I think that is very likely what`s going to happen, because they all played a role.
This is not the type of crime that one person does on his own. You need a tax preparer. You need somebody to bring the numbers in. You need an appraiser who`s going to give you a false number for property. So, you have got a lot of different people who are all going to be looking at their -- for their own interests.
MELBER: So, Nick, let me draw you out. Let me draw you out on that, because you`re getting right into the heart of one of the theories from last night.
Also, I know you, Nick. I have come to know you professionally from our years covering these cases. I know you`re this close to talking about Judge Sirica; am I right?
AKERMAN: Pretty close, but not completely yet.
I mean, Judge Sirica was not involved in the tax case.
MELBER: Because Nick always goes to -- but you always say that Judge Sirica was the one who early on -- and this could come up with Weisselberg -- was the one who put the pressure on.
Had he not had these people facing actual years in prison, they might have never turned. And that seems to be part of what you`re saying about Weisselberg, which brings me to part two of my question.
I`m a lawyer, Nick, so I`m allowed to do two-partners. What do you think of the theory that was put forward last night by more than one witness -- I say witness because that`s more important than them being guests -- that they believe, in the end, Donald Trump will try to do and might effectively due to Weisselberg what he did to Cohen?
Yes, it looks bad. Yes, there might be an indictment. Yes, it might even be a conviction. But he will say, it was someone else`s name, it was someone else who pulled the proverbial financial trigger, and he will skate away again. Two of the witnesses talked about that. Your response to all the above?
And then same question to the professor.
AKERMAN: Oh, I think he`s definitely going to try and do that. I mean, that is the typical tack that -- in every tax case I have ever been involved in, the person who`s the taxpayer points the finger at the accountant, or they point the finger at the lawyer and say, they did it, trying to put off the culpability on somebody else, which, again, is why Weisselberg is so important, because he does know where all the bodies are buried.
He does know how these numbers made it to the tax return. He knows what conversations he had with Donald Trump and others in the Trump Organization that were involved in creating those returns.
So, in a way, it`s like your witnesses said last night, it`s a package deal. These people are all in it together. It`s a conspiracy to defraud the government. And they`re all going to be in a circular firing squad aiming at each other. And it`s going to be interesting to see how these indictments, if they come, fall out.
MURRAY: So, I was going to say that Weisselberg really is the Thomas Cromwell to Trump`s Henry VIII.
And, as Nick says, he does know where all of the bodies are buried. But we all know what happened to Sir Thomas Cromwell. He wound up with his head whacked from his shoulders.
Donald Trump has proven to be incredibly adept at getting away from whatever liabilities surrounds him. And I think that has to be a particular worry. But perhaps that`s also the real score with Weisselberg. As Nick says, he knows where all the bodies are buried. He know who else -- he knows who else is involved in this, including perhaps other members of the Trump family.
So if there`s any leverage should be brought to bear on the former president, perhaps it is with the prospect of ensnaring one of his family members, a child or one of his siblings in this net as well.
And that really is the key for Weisselberg in how he`s going to work with the prosecutors going forward.
MELBER: All fascinating points, extending beyond some of the breaking news we had at the top.
Professor Murray, counselor Akerman, appreciate both of you.
Coming up: What happens if someone is actually charged in this criminal probe? We have an insider, a former Trump Org executive, joining us exclusively on this breaking news night.
MELBER: Breaking news in the widening Trump Org criminal investigation.
The Manhattan DA has now convened a grand jury to hear evidence to weigh charges against the former president or employees of the Trump Organization.
At the heart of the matter is the rising heat on the moneyman, CFO Allen Weisselberg. He`s worked with Donald Trump there for decades, prosecutors putting on serious pressure.
Given the import of Mr. Weisselberg and the way the Trump Organization works on the inside, we`re now joined tonight for a very special interview with Barbara Res, a former Trump Organization executive vice president. She worked with Donald Trump for over a decade and knows intimately how the organization runs on the inside. For legal perspective, we`re also joined by former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade.
Welcome to both of you.
With two Barbaras, I will use last names religiously.
Barbara Res, does it surprise you that the grand jury has been convened, marking this escalation? And does Weisselberg, in your view, have anything to worry about?
BARBARA RES, FORMER TRUMP ORGANIZATION EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it surprised me, because -- I think I have said this was before -- Trump has always been total Teflon.
So, that they got -- getting this close and closing in on him is wonderful and surprising for him.
Weisselberg, he must be shaking in his boots. He`s the key man here. And he`s got things to say, besides just -- and he`s got his kids and the prospect of going to jail. And it`s a big deal for Weisselberg.
And Weisselberg is just a -- he`s an ordinary guy. I mean, he`s not like a Cohen or anyone that -- the big names -- Stone or any of those people. He`s just an ordinary guy. I mean, he rose up and he changed his standing and everything.
But I can imagine he`s just beside himself.
And we have got some images of him on the screen, who -- the man you call an ordinary guy.
I want to play some of the other witnesses in this case, including Michael Cohen, who literally kick-started these cases with his very public fallout with the president, former president, in his testimony, as well as other witnesses last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WEISSELBERG: Allen himself admitted to me that his tax -- taxes and pay stubs, he said: "I will never show those."
Oh, no. He was supposed to be the guarantor on my apartment, my lease after I was getting divorced. And he`s -- when I was getting divorced -- excuse me -- and he said: "Oh, no, I can`t show my taxes. I can`t show my pay stubs."
And I thought, why not? Basically, he was saying, they`re illegal, and I`m not releasing them.
It was during the Cohen SDNY investigation. Pretty telling.
WINSTON WOLKOFF: This family is going to pretend that it all had to do with Allen, and that Allen was in charge of everything, Allen was responsible, and they`re all going to flip against Allen.
COHEN: They`re going to flip on each other like it`s going out of style.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Barbara Res, do you think Weisselberg understands that could happen? Would he be ready for that?
RES: Of course.
If he doesn`t understand by this point, he`s got a problem. I mean, yes, he`s seen Trump throw everyone that he could find under the bus. And he will do it big time with Allen.
Does he have a problem with it? Well, it probably would hurt him, but he would be foolish not to think that that was going to happen. And it is a big problem for him. And everyone else is going to do that, all the kids and everything else.
But Weisselberg, for one thing, he`s not the kind of guy that would be the only one that would know. I mean, I don`t know that there`s anyone like that, but it is certainly not Weisselberg. Weisselberg is one of those total sycophants that doesn`t breathe or inhale or exhale without Trump`s permission or knowledge.
So, I think that that will be interesting in trying to lay it on Weisselberg and how he responds.
And I think it will be effective. I think...
MELBER: Go ahead.
RES: No, just I think that Weisselberg will be able to convince them that Trump was part of it and Trump had complete guilty knowledge, as it were.
And that brings us exactly to Barbara McQuade. If Weisselberg has evidence of that, he certainly would have a somewhat receptive audience in the grand jury room or from these prosecutors, as long as it`s factual, as long as he can support it, that he wasn`t out going completely rogue to make someone else money, but that, like Mr. Cohen, the things he did, he may have done for the client, for the boss.
How would that work, Barbara McQuade?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, someone like Allen Weisselberg could be a very valuable witness to prosecutors because of his position as chief financial officer.
In a paper case -- you quoted those music lines earlier -- the beauty of documents is, they don`t lie. And so the documents themselves can be the best evidence. You don`t really need somebody to be the eyewitness who tells you what happened. You can document that.
But it can be very useful in a case like this to have someone like an Allen Weisselberg to serve as the narrator, to explain why they were writing one number for insurance companies, for example, and a different number for the IRS.
And so there can be a lot of value for a witness like that. I imagine that he is loyal to Donald Trump, and that would it take a lot for him to flip. But, sometimes, when someone is staring at criminal charges against themselves and the likelihood of going to prison, then the idea of cooperating becomes a lot more attractive.
We saw it with Michael Cohen. Especially if Allen Weisselberg sees that some of his family members may also be exposed to criminal charges, that could be the lever that convinces him to cooperate.
MELBER: Barbara, your views of what it means to have this grand jury of New Yorkers, of Donald Trump`s peers. He famously relocated to Florida, but he`s been in New York a very long time. And he`s been the president. He`s very well-known. He`s very polarizing.
But what does it mean, under the requirements of justice, to get that grand jury to look only at the evidence, although it`s a very different structure than a traditional jury, but to get it to look at the evidence, and not be swayed one way or the other by any potential political views?
MCQUADE: I think it`s a very significant step in the investigation.
We have known for a long time that Cy Vance has been gathering documents to try to see whether he believed there were any criminal offenses that were committed. But to take this step of convening a grand jury means that he believes that there is at least some factual predication to believe that there is a crime.
If the documents led to the conclusion that there was nothing to see there, there would be no need to take this step. But this is the next step now of bringing in witnesses to testify. As you heard Dan talk about earlier in New York, under -- unlike in federal court, hearsay is not permitted before the grand jury.
So you must actually call the firsthand witnesses who observed these things to come in and testify about what they saw, to show them the documents. But there is also the purpose of locking certain people into their stories.
So if you want someone like an Allen Weisselberg to cooperate, it`s very important that you put him before the grand jury and get him to testify under oath, so that he doesn`t wiggle out of it later and change his tune.
MCQUADE: So, I think it`s -- it doesn`t necessarily mean that charges are coming. The grand jury would have to agree to that. But it means that there -- this is a significant step in advancing that process.
But I`m wondering specifically your view -- and I guess I will spell it out slightly more precisely, if -- what if you have a couple grand jurors who say, well, I love my former president, and I don`t believe his company could do any wrong?
MCQUADE: Well, you only need a majority of the grand jurors to get an indictment, a finding of probable cause. So it`s a little different from the standard in a court, where you need a unanimous jury.
So, if there are a couple of people who are outliers who have strong views about this politically, they can`t sway the entire grand jury. And so, if the evidence is there, they`re instructed to look at the evidence, to not consider anything like political factors, to look at it.
Of course, we all have all the implicit biases that we bring with us to every decision. But, unlike a trial jury, you can`t have one or two outliers that can hang the whole thing.
MELBER: Yes, and that`s a great point to remind everyone, because it`s similar wording and everything else, that whatever issues might eventually come with that, the idea that one out of 12 in a very polarized environment might become relevant, but it wouldn`t be hanging on one person, the way we think of in a traditional jury.
Ms. McQuade and Ms. Res, thanks to both of you.
We will be back with something that some experts say could be the worst news for Donald Trump yet -- right after this.
MELBER: We are back with the breaking news.
The Trump Org probe has hit a new phase, a more serious one, a grand jury. A power that basically only a grand jury, in concert with a DA, can exercise is the power to indict.
The Manhattan DA is reportedly looking at whether people manipulated properties or valuations for Trump Org, for the real estate.
And with that in mind, before I turn to our next expert, I want to show you what Eric Trump was saying back in 2014, talking about one of the properties that now we know is under investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC TRUMP, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: This is a place that`s really special to myself. It`s really special to my brother, my father, really the whole family.
And this is really our compound. And I have spent so much of my life here. It`s a special place for me and one that I will always remember and one that I will always be very close to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: How they always remember it and whether they`re telling the truth is now under the bright lights of a grand jury.
I`m joined by Elie Mystal, a justice correspondent and legal writer for "The Nation" magazine.
Thanks for coming back, sir.
ELIE MYSTAL, "THE NATION": Hi, Ari. How are you?
MELBER: I`m well.
This is a big story. We have had a lot of experts on it. And for those who`ve been watching, and want to make sure we`re keeping track or who have been joining us late in the hour, this is reporting from "The Washington Post" deemed credible by a lot of folks.
And I just want to read a little more from it to you and our viewers, Elie, because we have gone through it piecemeal.
MYSTAL: Please do. Please do.
MELBER: But one of the key points here that I wanted to highlight, the recent step of seeding a long-term -- I didn`t know you had -- I didn`t know you brought props.
MYSTAL: No, I want you to read. Read. Please. Tell me more. Tell me more.
MELBER: Well, now you may be the least serious legal analyst we have had tonight.
But "The Washington Post" says: "The Vance investigation has progressed to the point that prosecutors visit the grand jury. They will bring them evidence. And they would be unlikely to take that step without evidence to show there was probable cause to believe someone committed a crime."
"The Post" note something that we have discussed, but it`s worth really understanding when you look at how many witnesses are key here. They note that two state-level investigations have put Trump Org under this legal microscope, and they -- quote -- "both began with the same man, Michael Cohen, who turned on Trump after pleading guilty to making hush money payoffs on Trump`s behalf and lying to Congress" -- end quote.
I want to also mention here they note that Cohen has been interviewed extensively by Vance`s team, including a decorated federal prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz, to help with the Trump side of the case.
I say all that because, Elie, in my role as a journalist here, I can`t say whether this focuses on only Weisselberg or other people or Donald Trump. I don`t know. Donald Trump could be the beneficiary of a crime and never be charged with one, as you know. That`s literally what the SDNY case was about last time.
But what comes through in "The Washington Post" reporting and I`d like you to respond to is the idea that, more so than any other prior case, this one does, in its witnesses and evidence, try to go closer to Donald Trump.
MYSTAL: Ari, Michael Cohen has laid out the entire scheme for us for years now.
And the alleged scheme here is that he pumps up the valuation of his assets when it`s time for him to get a loan from the only banks that will still loan him money, and he downplays his valuations on his assets when it`s time for him to pay taxes.
That clip you showed of Eric Trump is literally talking about that game. By calling it a home, they`re able to get a tax break on something that is not a home. That is a golf course compound in Bedminster, right?
Michael Cohen laid this out for us in front of Congress. He`s given testimony towards this end. This is not a complicated charge. This is a simple tax evasion charge. The difference here -- and I have heard a lot of your experts kind of talk as if Trump is some kind of Teflon Don who always gets away and stays one step ahead of the law.
No, we have never tried. The law has never tried to go get this man. You played a clip from Eric Trump in, when, 2014. If Cy Vance, the current Manhattan DA had been on the job and done his job in 2014 and 2013 and 2012, if people like Eliot Spitzer, the former, former attorney general of New York state, had done their job in 2012 and 2008 and -- sorry -- 2008 -- and all of those years, we might never have even had President Donald Trump.
So the reason why Trump has gotten away with it so far is that the long arm of the law has never put its foot up into his organization and seen what`s really been going on. And now they finally are. That`s the popcorn. That`s what`s happening today. That`s what`s happening in front of the grand jury.
We`re finally going to get a real attempt by law enforcement to bring this man to justice.
MELBER: Take a brief listen to what you just alluded to, the evidence put forward in public by Michael Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: In the office with me was Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. Allen Weisselberg made the decision. Always Allen Weisselberg on the check.
Mr. Weisselberg, for sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The grand jury runs into November. What do you think will happen to Weisselberg between now and then?
MYSTAL: One of the only reasons that Trump kind of is not in jail already is that he has been blessed in his life to find a cadre of weak-minded sycophants who are willing to take responsibility for his actions, right?
We saw that in the Manafort probe. We saw that with Roger Stone. We saw that with Michael Flynn. Trump always seems to find people around him who are willing to take responsibility.
Michael Cohen is the only person who, let`s not forget, Michael Cohen initially lied. Michael Cohen is initially a lying little liar, right? He only later came to see the light, right?
So, Trump has been lucky in this aspect that people have either lied for him, have always lied for him and certainly lied for him in the first instance.
Will Weisselberg be enough?
MYSTAL: That`s what we don`t know yet.
MELBER: Elie, I`m only jumping in because I have a break before Joy.
You laid it out for people to get your perspective as well, including an indictment of some of the former officials in New York state, largely a blue state, and your view of who may or may not have been vigorous on the job. All very interesting.
Elie Mystal, my special thanks.
We have a quick break. When we return, marking one year since George Floyd`s murder -- when we come back.
MELBER: We have been covering breaking news on the Trump Org grand jury.
But another major and important thing has been happening across the nation today, millions of Americans marking one year since the murder of George Floyd.
I want you to know that, tomorrow on THE BEAT, we have a special report we have been working on documenting precisely what has changed and what has not on civil rights and policing in this past year. So, if you`re available, I hope you will join us tomorrow for that.
Now, tonight, on the formal anniversary evening, we did want to leave you on THE BEAT before we go with this, some personal memories of the human being George Floyd from some of the people who knew him best.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHILONISE FLOYD, BROTHER OF GEORGE FLOYD: And he would always say: "Hold on. Let me kiss mama before I come over there."
He loved her so dearly.
COURTENEY ROSS, GIRLFRIEND OF GEORGE FLOYD: And this kind person just to come up to me and say, "Can I pray with you?" when I felt alone in this lobby.
FLOYD: He just was like a person that everybody loved around the community. He just knew how to make people feel better.
Look up at what you did, big brother. You changed the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Tonight, we take a moment to hear those voices who have the last word.
And, as mentioned, we have a fuller civil rights report digging into this on the anniversary tomorrow.