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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, December 24, 2020



Revisiting interviews with Lev Parnas, with Michael Cohen, and with Mary Trump.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": It's a really, really good idea, I think. I really enjoyed the piece. You can read it at, David Roberts wrote it.

David, thank you so much.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

Good night.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Happy holidays. Happy holidays. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. I'm really happy to have you here.

You know, we are almost at the end of a year like no other, almost at the end of a presidency like no other. This year has been so long, it basically felt like it ate its own tail and became a never-ending swirl. There would just -- there would never be any point of finish. But it will finish.

Do you believe this year started with the president's impeachment trial in the Senate? Can you believe that was this year? The night before that trial began, on impeachment trial eve, here on this show I sat down for an interview with a man named Lev Parnas. Mr. Parnas had worked hand in hand with Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, pushing the scheme for which President Trump was ultimately impeached, pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations into the Biden family to try to hurt them in the 2020 election.

Lev Parnas had met with President Trump on multiple occasions. He was carrying out this Ukraine scheme on his behalf. There were a gazillion photos of Lev and the president meeting together.

But when Mr. Parnas and his partner Igor Fruman were arrested and charged with multiple campaign finance felonies and their Ukraine scheme got laid out in their indictment, Mr. Parnas learned the hard lesson that so many Trump folks have learned over the years, particularly over the course of his presidency, which is that while Donald Trump demands absolute loyalty to him, for you, you get nothing. Loyalty only goes to him. It never comes from him.

President Trump claimed that he did not even know Lev Parnas, had nothing to do with him, never met the guy, or if he did, he definitely didn't remember it. That must all be photoshopped or something.

As we close in on the end of this thing, tonight, we're going to revisit three interviews, interviews that we did this year with three people who were all actually quite close to Donald Trump all in different ways. And all three of them ultimately decided to speak publicly against him either because he abandoned them or because they just felt they could no longer keep silent about what they knew.

We spoke with Michael Cohen, who went from being Trump's right-hand man to serving a prison sentence for a crime Trump directed him to commit. We spoke to Mary Trump, the president's niece, who broke her silence after enduring a lifetime of what she described as her uncle's vindictiveness. She helped reveal the truth about Donald Trump's finances in a very consequential way.

But we'll start tonight with Lev Parnas, who I spoke with in January. Mr. Parnas at that time had been indicted on several campaign finance charges. He has since been indicted on additional fraud charges. But we sat down together on the actual eve of President Trump's Senate impeachment trial.


MADDOW: Lev, why do you want to testify to the impeachment investigation?

LEV PARNAS, RUDY GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: I want to get the truth out because I feel it's important for our country. I think it's important for me. I think it's important for the world to know exactly what transpired and what happened, because I think a lot -- there's a lot of things that are being said that are not accurate.

And I just want to make sure that they're accurate because things happened that need to get out, and I think the world needs to know.

MADDOW: What do you think is the main inaccuracy or main lie that's being told that you feel like you can correct?

PARNAS: That the president didn't know what was going on. President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all my movements. He -- I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.

I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials. I mean, they have no reason to speak to me.

Why would President Zelensky's inner circle or Minister Avakov -- or all these people, or President Poroshenko meet with me? Who am I?

They were told to meet with me. And that's the secret that they were trying to keep. I was on the ground doing their work.

MADDOW: In terms of the president and what he has said about you, he said about you and Mr. Fruman, Igor Fruman: I don't know those gentlemen. I don't know about them. I don't know what they do.

You're saying that was not a true statement from the president?

PARNAS: He lied. I mean, we're not friends. I mean, when you say friends, I mean, me and him didn't watch football games together, we didn't eat hotdogs. But he know exactly who we were. He know exactly who I was especially because I interacted with him at a lot of events.

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

PARNAS: I had a lot of one-on-one conversations with him at gatherings or they have (ph) special like these roundtables, where there are only six people at the table. We have several of those.

And basically, I mean, I was with Rudy more than -- I mean, four or five days out of the week. I mean, I was in constant contact with him. So -- and I was with Rudy when he would speak to the president, plenty of times. I mean, so it's just ludicrous.

MADDOW: You've been with Mr. Giuliani when he was on the phone with the president?

PARNAS: Absolutely.

MADDOW: And how would you know that he was on the phone with the president? It would be on speakerphone? Or you would just hear him?

PARNAS: Well, several times, it would be on speakerphone, where he would like start the conversation on speakerphone and then take it off, and then go somewhere else to talk to him.

But a lot of times, it would be on the golf course when we were golfing together -- especially I remember during the Mueller times where Rudy I remember said something that he didn't appreciate -- was taking out of context and he was creaming at him so loud.

That's when I watched the impeachment and I saw the testimony about the Sondland (ph), that I reiterate (ph) -- I could understand that you could hear President Trump talking next to -- like I heard him several times when he was with Rudy.

MADDOW: Because he speaks loudly on the phone?

PARNAS: Very loudly, yes.

MADDOW: When you say that the president knew about your movements and knew what you were doing, are you saying specifically -- and I want to sort of drill down on that -- that the president was aware you and Mr. Giuliani were working on this effort in Ukraine to basically try to hurt Joe Biden's political career? He was -- he knew about that?

PARNAS: Basically. Yes, it was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and, also, Rudy had a personal thing with the Manafort stuff, the black ledger.

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

PARNAS: And that was another thing they were looking into, but it was never about corruption. It was never -- it was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.

MADDOW: Your attorney told the federal court in New York that you were both Rudy Giuliani's clients and you were working for Mr. Giuliani in his capacity as personal attorney to the president.

PARNAS: Correct.

MADDOW: Which, by the transitive property, makes it seem like you were working for the president of the United States as part of this legal defense.

PARNAS: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely.

MADDOW: And so, did anybody in the U.S. government or Mr. Giuliani actually conveyed to officials in Ukraine that you were there as a representative of President Trump?

PARNAS: Absolutely. To each one of those officials, that -- you know, the -- I put Rudy on the phone with Mr. Avakov, Minister Avakov several times, Ivan Bakanov, Yuri Lutsenko at the time was the attorney -- general.

The first thing I did is to introduce myself and tell them, I'm here on behalf of Rudy Giuliani and the president of the United States, and I'd like to put you on speakerphone for he'd know (ph) to confirm them, which we did. We put Rudy on the phone. Rudy relayed to him basically that we were there on behalf of the president of the United States.

MADDOW: That you were there to speak on President Trump's behalf.

PARNAS: Correct, exactly, those exact records.

MADDOW: In May of last year, May 2019, Mr. Giuliani started speaking with reporters about his plans to travel himself to Ukraine to try to enlist the Ukrainian government's assistance to help his client, President Trump, basically in his reelection effort. He said he was going to Ukraine to try to get them to announce investigations into Vice President Biden, because that would be very helpful to his client.

In the resulting firestorm of criticism, Mr. Giuliani's trip was called off in May. When he called off the trip, Mr. Giuliani made public statements criticizing the new government of Ukraine, saying that Ukraine's new president was surrounded by enemies of the United States.

And for Ukraine, that was a really big deal, right? Ukraine is at war with Russia, is a country very dependent on both of the reality and the perception of them having strong support from the United States government.

And so, when Mr. Giuliani, as the president's personal attorney, started making public claims that the new Ukrainian president was surrounded by enemies of the United States of America, that's why he wasn't going to Ukraine, at that point, the Ukrainian government kind of freaked out, right? That kind of criticism from the new U.S. administration for their new president in Ukraine, that's a potential death sentence for their country.

So, at the time that happened, Lev Parnas was in Ukraine, he was in Kiev at the time all that happened, and he told me today that he was tasked by Rudy Giuliani in that moment to crank up the pressure on the government of Ukraine, to make even more insistent and obvious, and even more onerous, this threat and this demand that Ukraine must announce investigations into Joe Biden or else.

Did you meet with the Ukrainian official Sergey Shaffer (ph)?

PARNAS: Yes, I did.

MADDOW: Sergey Shaffer is a very senior aide to President Zelensky.

PARNAS: Correct.

MADDOW: It has been reported as far as we understand, from public reporting, that you conveyed to Mr. Shaffer the exact quid pro quo, that you wanted Zelensky to announce investigations into Joe Biden or military aid would not be released to Ukraine. Is that accurate?

PARNAS: It was a little bit more than that. Basically, the message that I was supposed -- that I gave Sergey Shaffer was a very harsh message. I was told to give it to him in a very harsh way, not in a pleasant way.

MADDOW: Who told you to give it to him a harsh way?

PARNAS: Mayor Giuliani, Rudy, told me after, you know, meeting with the president at the White House. He called me.

The message was, it wasn't just military aid, it was all aid. Basically their relationships would be sour, that he would -- that we would stop giving them any kind of aid that --

MADDOW: Unless?

PARNAS: -- unless that there was announcement made -- it was several things. There were several demands at that point. A, the most important was the announcement of the Biden investigation.

MADDOW: Did you also convey to him that the U.S. government would stop showing support for Mr. Zelensky, that they wouldn't attend the inauguration? Or that --

PARNAS: That was -- that was the biggest thing, actually. That was -- that was the main -- it wasn't -- because at that time, you have to understand the way Ukraine is.

For President Zelensky, winning on that platform, being a young president, and not really having any experience, the number one thing -- and being at war with Russia at the time, the number one thing was not even aid, and I know it sounds crazy, but it was more support from the president.


PARNAS: By having a White House visit, by having a big inauguration, by having all the dignitaries there. That was the key.

At that time, they were already aware because of their conversations with the -- I guess with the embassy that -- I mean, Vice President Pence was supposed to come to the inauguration. It was already discussed. And they were planning it out. They were just working on days that would be good for him.

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

PARNAS: At our meeting, I was very, very stern. It was a heated conversation from our part to him, basically telling him what needs to be done. I mean, basically me.

And at the -- at -- in the conversation, I told him that if he doesn't -- the announcement was the key at that time because of the inauguration, that Pence would not show up. Nobody would show up to his inauguration.

MADDOW: Unless he announced an investigation into Joe Biden, no U.S. officials, particularly Vice President Pence would not come --


PARNAS: Particularly Vice President Mike Pence.

MADDOW: So, the day after that meeting that you had with Mr. Shaffer --

PARNAS: This was Sunday, Sunday the 12th.

MADDOW: I believe it was the following day that, in fact, Vice President Pence's visit to the inauguration was canceled.

PARNAS: It was after my phone call. The conversation I laid out to Mr. Shaffer was basically what I was told to do by Giuliani and the president. And then, afterwards, I relayed back to them saying that he's going to get back to me later that tonight and we're supposed to meet.

Then around 8:00, or 9:00 at night, I texted them back again saying, any word? What's the situation? And at that point, because on WhatsApp when a person like disconnects you, and he disconnected me, our conversation, he basically was --


MADDOW: He blocked you?

PARNAS: He blocked me. I understood that was a no. So, I called back and said no-go, and he -- I remember Rudy going, OK, they'll see.

Basically, the next day, Pence, to my awareness, Trump called up and said, to make sure Pence doesn't go there.

So --

MADDOW: So, you believe that Mr. Pence's trip to the inauguration was canceled because they didn't agree --

PARNAS: Oh, I know, 100 percent.

MADDOW: -- to announce an investigation into the Bidens?

PARNAS: Oh, because there's other -- the chain of events, that was key to where we are today, because after that, what left -- take a look at what transpires.

Next, within the next couple of days, all of a sudden, they realize that now they get word, because obviously, when Pence cancels, they get word that Pence is not coming. So, now, they realize that what I -- what I was telling them is true.

MADDOW: So Vice President Mike Pence has his planned trip to the inauguration canceled after you were unable to get the Ukrainian government to commit to announcing investigations into Vice President Biden.

Do you know if Vice President Pence was aware that was the quid pro quo, that that was the trade, and that that in fact is why his inaugural visit was called off?

PARNAS: I'm going to use a famous quote by Mr. Sondland, everybody was in the loop.

MADDOW: You believe that Vice President Pence knew what he was -- knew that his trip to the inauguration was contingent on those investigations being announced?

PARNAS: Again, I mean, I know he went to Poland also to discuss this on Trump's behalf. So, he couldn't have not known.


MADDOW: Part of my conversation with Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. That was -- that conversation was on the eve of President Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate back in January. The day we aired that interview, we heard from Mr. Giuliani, who denied to us that he had ever told Ukrainian officials that Lev Parnas spoke as a representative of the president. And then of course in the Trump impeachment trial, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to call Lev Parnas or to call any actual witnesses to testify on anything. They just voted to acquit the president without hearing from anyone.

Stay with us. More to come tonight.


MADDOW: In September, I spoke with Michael Cohen, President Trump's former attorney and -- what do we call it -- enforcer, pit bull.

Over this summer, Michael Cohen was released from prison. He was put in home confinement instead to serve out the rest of his sentence for multiple felonies, including campaign finance charges. Those were for help covering up hush money payments that were made to silence two women who said they had affairs with President Trump before he ran for president. Prosecutors in the Cohen case in SDNY, Southern District of New York, said that President Trump is the person who directed the commission of those felonies, but Michael Cohen is the one who went to prison for them.

While in prison, Mr. Cohen wrote a memoir about his time at Trump's side.


MADDOW: In terms of your life now and what your life is like under home confinement and releasing this book, I know there are multiple ongoing investigations that seem to have been triggered by or that intersect with the testimony that you've given, you know, investigations by the New York state attorney general, and the Manhattan district attorney, potentially some federal investigations out of U.S. attorney's office in Eastern I know you can't talk about ongoing, live investigations.

But are you in an ongoing way working with any investigators or providing testimony or is that still part of your life, or is that something that's in the past?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: So you're right. I'm not permitted to discuss them other than to say that there are ongoing investigations into all of the actions that everybody has heard about for so long, including the Supreme Court case that now exists in order to obtain Mr. Trump and the Trump organization's tax returns.

MADDOW: You write in the book that you didn't have access in detail to Trump taxes, but we know that you had access to financial documents from the Trump organization because you testified about it in great detail, in poetic detail in front of Congress in terms of basically what you described as sort of tax fraud or insurance fraud, potentially bank fraud or efforts at that by the Trump organization as the president routinely inflated or deflated the value of his assets depending on who was asking.

If C Vance or other investigators do get access to the financial records that you testified about, what do you expect? Do you think that's stuff that's going to be beyond the statute of limitations? Do you think that will be stuff that poses a threat to the president now?

COHEN: Yeah, I think it poses a tremendous threat to the president, which of course is why he elected not to real his tax returns. Other than that, again, there are ongoing investigations, and it's probably best if I don't discuss any of the terms.

MADDOW: I hear you.

COHEN: Or any impressions they've put before me.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about the campaign finance charges which you pled guilty to. The thing that I have never understood -- and I have pursued this story as hard as I've pursued anything in the Trump era, and nobody's been able to explain this to me. Why were you the only one charged?

You write in great detail about sort of coming up with this plan to cover up the payment, which was an illegal payment, with Allen Weisselberg. We've seen the checks you provided to Congress, at least one signed by one of the president's sons. It's clear that the Trump Organization was used to sort of launder that payment. It's clear that AMI and David Pecker were involved in strands of this scheme.

Why is Michael Cohen the only person who was charged?

COHEN: Because they elected to make me into the scapegoat. I did what I did. I took responsibility for it. But Mr. Trump, Allen Weisselberg -- you know, just to correct you for a second there, Rachel. It wasn't just Don Junior's signature that was on some of the checks. The president's signature was on two of the checks.

MADDOW: Mm-hmm.

COHEN: At the very beginning, which I provided to Congress as part of the open house testimony.

Why I'm the only one, it doesn't make sense. As I stated, I was acting at the direction of and for the benefit of Mr. Trump. And how I became -- I'm not the one who had the affair. He did. I'm not the -- I am the dummy who paid $130,000 to keep it quiet, but this was my conversation with Mr. Trump, with Allen Weisselberg, and others, and I did it in order to protect him.

And I guess the thank you that I got from my loyal boss was, Michael Cohen should, as I once said, take a bullet for him and lose everything, lose my freedom, my company, my law license, my family's happiness, everything. I'm with you. I don't understand it.

MADDOW: The president is at least, though, named as "Individual 1" by prosecutors and you, in your allocution, made very clear what you just made clear here, the fact that this was directed by him, for his benefit, and you were acting out his wishes. And so, he's therefore the most culpable person. You make a point as almost the very last thing you say in the book, which I wanted to ask you about, because I think it may relate to this.

The president is named as individual 1. You went to prison for those felonies. He's clear the person who directed the commission of those felonies. But you say at the very end of the book that the president and Attorney General William Barr ousted the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York and tried to install effectively the president's golfing buddy as the new U.S. attorney there because the president, in your view, wanted to arrange for himself to be indicted while he's still in office because that would give him the opportunity to pardon himself after he lost the election.

I just wanted to make sure that I understand the point that you're making there, just ask you to elaborate on that a little bit because I'm not sure I understand.

COHEN: My theory is that if he loses, there's still the time between the election and the time that the next president would take office. And in during that time, my suspicion is that he will resign as president. He will allow Mike Pence to take over, and he will then go ahead and have Mike Pence pardon him, and it's a very -- let's just say it's a very Nixon type of event, and it was probably discussed between roger stone and President Trump at some point that this is certainly one way to avoid any potential prison time.

MADDOW: I suppose if he was going to do something like that, he could arrange for the type of pardon that Nixon in fact got, where Nixon hadn't been charged with anything. It was a prospective pardon that he basically arranged from Ford so as to make sure that he'd never be indicted after he left office. I suppose that same sort of arrangement could apply there even if he wasn't in fact charged.

COHEN: Though we have to remember that it doesn't apply to state charges nor does it apply to the charges that will be brought by Cy Vance's office.

MADDOW: Yeah. Let me ask you, Michael, about something that you describe in detail, which is also something that I spent a long time chasing, which is this unusual story -- this is page 249 of your book, chapter 12, which has got a lot of great stuff in it.

COHEN: I'm glad you enjoyed it.

MADDOW: I was like, ooh, 12, this is my jam. This is the part for me.

So you write that the president effectively sort of flipped a house in Palm Beach. You describe it as an architectural nightmare, which I found effective. But he made a profit on that in excess of $50 million. And what you write about in chapter 12 is the president told you that although the person who bought that house from him for this $50 million-plus profit was a Russian fertilizer billionaire, the president told you he believed the actual money was Putin's.

Quote, the oligarchs are just fronts for Putin, Trump told me. He puts them into wealth to invest his money. That's all they're doing, investing Putin's money. Then you say in your words, Trump was convinced the real buyer of that house was Vladimir Putin.

Was he speaking seriously and literally there? Did he actually think that Putin had arranged this $50 million windfall for him?

COHEN: Well, I don't -- I don't know what he was thinking. I can only tell you, which I did in the book -- I can recount the conversation. He believes that all of the Russian oligarchs are basically pawns of Vladimir Putin. He controls all of them, I guess very much to the same extent that Mohammed bin Salman had the ability within which to lock up all of his relatives and other members of the royal family for money, right?

Trump is keen on this power and whether it's Putin, Mohammed bin Salman, Kim Jong-un, Maduro, it's the power he's so involved with and so in search of that this is exactly what he believes. He believes that Putin controls all of Russia and all of its wealth. And anything like the purchase of this -- of this home had to have been through or with the permission of Vladimir Putin.

MADDOW: And he -- you elaborate on that idea some when you talk about what you think was Trump's sort of orientation toward Putin and Russia during the campaign. You say, when Trump lost the election, he expected to lose the election. He wanted to do all he could to enable him to be able to borrow money from people in Putin's circle, and that meant sucking up to the Russians. A large part of the posturing and praising of Putin was a way to keep the Trump Organization's options open with the Russian leader.

So was he -- he was explicit with you about this, or you were discerning this in terms of what you thought was behind his behavior?

COHEN: No, this is what's behind his behavior. Donald Trump, again, they're looking for -- to do a project in Russia for many, many years, even prior to my joining the Trump organization in 2007. He's fixated on the wealth of Vladimir Putin and all of the opportunities that come with it.

You have to remember -- and I've said that many times, and I've said it under oath to the House and the Senate as well as my open testimony. Donald Trump never thought he was going to win this election. He actually didn't want to win this election. This was supposed to be -- and it's how he started it -- the greatest political infomercial in the history of politics.

So if you take that line and you -- and you add to it the Trump Tower Moscow project, you'll understand that this was a branding deal. That's all that the presidential campaign started out as. This was a branding opportunity in order to expand worldwide.

MADDOW: The Trump --

COHEN: There's only one problem. There's only one problem. He won.

MADDOW: Oops. The way you describe the Trump Tower Moscow project is grander than I had previously understood, 120 floors. You know, the free penthouse for Putin. Luxury condos, a hotel. A gigantic spa.

COHEN: Is that not a brilliant idea by the way?

MADDOW: The largest tower in Eurasia --


COHEN: If you want to raise the price per square foot, you give to probably the richest man in the world and certainly the most powerful in Russia the penthouse apartment. So what does that do to the square footage of everything underneath it, right? It makes it enormously expensive because he'll just tell all of the other oligarchs, buy it or they'll just want to buy it on their own.

So it's a brilliant move. It's just -- it's just not if you're running for president.


MADDOW: That was part of my conversation with former Trump attorney, now convicted felon Michael Cohen.

More ahead. Stay with us.



MADDOW: There is something that you describe in terms of the president's mind-set that stuck with me in a way that I feel like it resonates as very true, and I don't -- I can't quite put my finger on how it works. And it's about the birtherism thing, about his -- what you describe as his obsession with President Obama and his sort of almost desperate need to undercut president Obama in some way.

And you said in the book that the president didn't necessarily actually believe that President Obama was born in a foreign country, but he liked the effect that it had for him to advance this theory. On page 114 of the book, you said, he liked doing things like that. Quote, the more divisive the better, because it would arouse strong feelings for those who took his side.

I think a lot of us observing the Trump presidency have seen how incredibly divisive he is, how he tries to pit people against each other whenever he can. Why does that redound to his advantage? How does that work in his favor?

COHEN: Donald Trump is like a cult leader. He's very Stalinistic in the fact that he repeats things over and over and over again with the theory that if you continuously say the same thing over and over, people will start to believe it, you know.

I talk about a lot of his sort of proclivities and the things that he thinks and how he thinks. If you look at just the books that have come out recently, Mary Trump's book, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff's book, my book, it's kind of like the trifecta of truth. We all seem to be pointing to the same thing.

He is devoid of empathy. He doesn't care what he says. He doesn't care who gets hurt so long as he wins.

And when he saw that his poll numbers and his popularity and the number of times that he's gracing the front cover of the newspaper is increasing, he just added on to it. All of a sudden he was sending people to Hawaii to go check. That's a lie. He never sent anybody anywhere, right?

He just said it, and everybody sort of bought into it. Of course Donald Trump sent somebody. He's rich, right? Who wouldn't send somebody if you wanted to prove your point?

Well, Donald Trump didn't do it because he didn't want to spend the money, and he didn't believe it.

You know, his hatred for Barack Obama is plain and simple. He's black. He went to Harvard law. He graduated the top of his class. He's, you know, incredibly articulate, and he's all the things that Donald Trump wants to be, right? And he just can't handle it.

So what do you do if you can't handle it and you're Donald Trump? You attack it, the same way he attacks my credibility all the time. All of a sudden, I've become a convicted liar. Why am I the liar?

At the end of the day, who did I lie for when I lied to Congress? I lied for the benefit of and at the direction of Donald J. Trump.

So again, very much like your very first question when we started, why am I the one who's taking all of the, you know, responsibility? I took my own responsibility. But now it's time for him and his sons and Allen Weisselberg and all of the other people that were involved, it is time for them to now face, you know, the consequences. It shouldn't just be me.

MADDOW: When you say that you were directed to lie to Congress by him, were there people who conveyed that message to you directly? Are there people who were involved in basically getting you to lie to Congress or telling you to lie to Congress who should also be held accountable for that?

COHEN: Well, all those names have already come out. So the answer to that is emphatically yes. They changed the document. It was all part of a joint defense agreement. You know, many of these recordings that you're going to hear on other stations have been given to that station and to the moderator by the Trump Organization and Don Jr. and others.

It's -- I mean look at the way that they behave. He behaves exactly the way that I described him. He's like a mob boss. If you cross him, you're going to get it, and he's going to inflict as much pain and as much damage as he possibly can.

The problem is you can't -- you can't damage me anymore as I write in my prologue. You know, I'm broken broken. I mean to be away from my family for -- for what? To lose my law license, my business, finances, my family's happiness.

You know, what do you think that you're going to do with your ridiculous tweets? And by the way, you know, in his tweet of today, as I pointed out, he doesn't even spell properly. You know, l-i-a-r. If you're going to call me something, at least have the decency to spell it right.

MADDOW: Over time, do you feel like his sentience has declined, what you described in terms of him spelling or the way that he speaks or sometimes has trouble with words? Is he as -- has that changed over time? Is he the same person when he speaks now that you recognize from your time working with him all those years?

COHEN: He's not -- he's not the same person that I knew going back years ago. He was always gruff. He was always a certain way.

But the power that he now has, has gone to his head. He wants to be an autocrat. He wants to be the president of this country for life. He wants to be just like Putin, just like Kim Jong-un, just like Maduro. He wants to be just like Mohammed bin Salman.

He craves this. He doesn't want to run for president. That's why he says what about 12 more years, 12 more years. He's not joking.

Understand Donald Trump doesn't have a sense of humor. He doesn't laugh. He doesn't tell jokes. He doesn't have a sense of humor.

He means it when he says it, and my book is intended to really open the eyes of the 38 percent, that base of his, that no matter what Donald Trump does, it's acceptable to them. And he doesn't care, and they don't care. And he wasn't joking when h said again that he could kill someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. He means it.


MADDOW: That was more of my interview with President Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who is serving out the remainder of his three-year prison sentence in home confinement.

When we come back, what ended up being the national debut of Mary Trump, the president's niece, and the incredible story that she had to tell. That's straight ahead.


MADDOW: When I first interviewed Mary Trump, President Trump's niece, which was in July, she provided some unique insights into her uncle's catastrophic handling the coronavirus pandemic. She also had a prediction about his post-election behavior that has turned out to be shockingly accurate. Watch this.


MADDOW: In terms of the work that he is capable of, you spend some time in the book discussing the president's terrible, consequential mismanagement of the coronavirus epidemic. And you spend a few pages kind of marveling at the fact that it would not have been hard for any president to be kind of a hero here, right? To use the Defense Production Act, to produce more supplies and tests and PPE.

I mean, what you -- you just have to listen to the scientific experts and, you know, amplify their message and do what they say, you can activate the gears of government. They're supposed to turn during this kind of crisis.

But instead, he didn't. And you, kind of, as I said, marvel about that in the book. But I think the country, along with you, is kind of stuck on this open question that you are asking here about why and how he has bungled this crisis so badly, just now openly musing that it will go away on its own, as if it's the only thing he's capable of doing.

I wonder if you can just talk a little bit about why you wrote this part of the book, and what you think the answer might be to that question about why the president has made all the wrong decisions around this crisis and done so little work to fix anything.

MARY L. TRUMP, AUTHOR, "TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH: HOW MY FAMILY CREATED THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS MAN": I thought it was very important to address this because, of course, it's ongoing. Even at the time I was writing, we were -- I think, in New York, we were past the worst of it, but it was clear that the rest of the country was not doing what it needed to do.

I want people to understand what a failure of leadership this is, and the reason he is failing at it is because he is incapable of succeeding at it. It would have required taking responsibility, which would in his mind, have meant admitting a mistake, which in his mind would be admitting weakness, which in my family was essentially punished with the death penalty, symbolically or otherwise.

What I think we need to grapple with now is why so many people are continuing to allow this. The fact that he is dividing us at the expense of people's lives, I mean, what, we're -- 140,000 Americans and counting are dead, and the vast majority of those people did not need to lose their lives, if Donald had said, listen to the scientists, wear a mask, stay home.

The fact that this is continuing, people are dying every day, there are states in this country that are absolutely out of control, and to curry favor with Donald, certain governors are continuing to ignore the science and more people are getting sick and more people are going to die. It is utterly insane at this point. We need to wake up.

And instead of taking it seriously, instead of standing aside and letting the experts take over, Donald is hawking black beans. It's -- you know, the -- it would be absurd if it weren't so devastating.

MADDOW: Your uncle, of course, has a very reasonable chance at winning a second term. Any incumbent president does, even one with sort of upside down numbers like he has right now.

M. TRUMP: Uh-huh.

MADDOW: What do you think the consequences of another four years of a Donald Trump presidency would be?

You write about that in the book as if you are genuinely fearful that a second term could be qualitatively more dangerous for the country than his first term was.

M. TRUMP: Yeah. And I want -- I want to make something really clear. This is beyond partisanship. This is so beyond party.

We need to be thinking about this as Americans. We need to be thinking about what -- who we want to be as a people going forward. I hear people say all the time, this is not who we are. This is exactly who we are right now.

So, continuing along this path, which is exactly what would happen if Donald were to be elected in 2020, would -- I absolutely believe -- be the end of the American experiment. I do not believe there's any coming back from this.

There are too many enablers who are, for whatever reason, continuing to enable him. Bill Barr has gutted the Justice Department. Mike Pompeo has gutted the State Department.

We are in serious, serious danger here. And, unfortunately, that is no longer hyperbolic. That's just the way it is.

MADDOW: Do you share the concerns that some people have voiced that if your uncle loses the election, that he might try to not leave the White House, that he might try to hold on to power through some extra-democratic means, by force? Do you think that sort of worry is hyperbolic at this point or is that the sort of thing you're concerned he might resort to?

M. TRUMP: No, I think it's perfectly reasonable to worry about that. But how he responds depends a lot on how, if he loses, how badly he loses.

I think the more resounding Joe Biden victory, the less likely it is for Donald to stick around. He, as a -- you know, somebody who needs to be right all the time, he needs to be winning all the time, will need desperately to spin away from a crushing defeat. And I don't know what form that would take, but that, as far as I'm concerned, is the only way to not guarantee, but at least give us a better possibility that there will be a peaceful transition after the election on November 3rd.


MADDOW: Shockingly, accurate, actually. Almost, to the point of being uncanny.

We've got more just ahead. Stay with us.


MADDOW: All right. One, last thing here, tonight, as 2020 is coming to a close. We do this once a year, and it's my dad's favorite thing we do on the show, all year, every year. 2020 is finally ending. I swear.

Thank you, so much, for sticking with me on this show, throughout this often-unspeakably-awful, sometimes-historic, always-very-newsy year. But I also want to take a moment to thank the team of people without whom I could not have gotten through this year.

They are very, very smart. They are funny. They are weirdoes and I mean that in the best possible way. They work incredibly hard.

And this year, 2020 has demanded that they get more creative and more flexible and more resilient than they ever thought they would need to for a job like this. So, I just want to say thank you to these terrific folks, who make it possible for THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW to exist. This whole thing could happen without me, but there is no way I could do this without them. And you should know who they are.

Here they are. My heroes.


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