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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 8, 2020

Guest: Michael Cohen


Former Trump attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen discusses his new book, "Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump."


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Joining us now for the interview, I'm very pleased to say, is Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's one-time personal attorney and the author of this new book, which is already at the top of the charts. It's called "Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump." I read it cover to cover. I did not intend to, but I started at the beginning, and didn't put it down until it was over. Mr. Cohen, thank you so much for agreeing to do this. I know you have a lot of choices about who to talk to about this. Thank you for being here. MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hey, thank you, Rachel. Thank you very much for having me. MADDOW: Let me just start by asking how you're doing. I know you're back at home. You're under home confinement. You had a strange circumstance where you were out on furlough, and then put back in Otisville, and then a judge intervened, so that you're back at home. It's got to have been a real whipsaw. COHEN: Yes, this has been some ordeal. I mean, some people have said I'm the first political prisoner in my own country based upon failing to sign over my constitutional rights. And I really do have to thank the lawyer, Danya Perry, who did a brilliant job in the order to show cause, and Judge Hellerstein, whose opinion could not have been more accurate, by calling the actions retaliatory. I mean, the Department of Justice remanded me back to prison while I was sitting in a waiting room, expecting to get an answer as to why the first paragraph that they gave to me was so violative of First -- anyone's First Amendment rights. Next thing I know, there's three Marshals standing behind me: "Mr. Cohen, stand up and face the wall." And not only did they handcuff me, which was completely unnecessary anyway. I'm not a risk. I scored the lowest on possible numbers when it comes to the BOP. But they shackled me as well. I mean, this was really -- this was a rough experience. MADDOW: Wow. 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 have given, investigations by the New York state attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney, potentially some federal investigations out of the U.S. attorney's offices in Eastern and Southern districts in New York. And 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? COHEN: So, you're right. It's very -- I'm not -- 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 the -- inflated or deflated the value of his assets, depending on who was asking. If Cy Vance or other investigators do get access to the kind of financial records that you testified about, what do you expect? Do you think that that is stuff that's all going to be beyond the statute of limitations? Do you think that will be stuff that poses a threat to the president now? COHEN: Yes, I think it poses a tremendous threat to the president, which, of course, is why he elected not to release his tax returns. Other than that, again, they are ongoing investigations. And it's probably best if I don't discuss any of the terms that they... MADDOW: I hear you. COHEN: ... or any of the questions that they have 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 have 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 have seen the checks that you provided to Congress, including 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 repayment. It's clear that AMI and David Pecker were involved in this -- in strands of the 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, Don Jr. -- you know, just to correct you for a second there, Rachel, it wasn't just Don Jr.'s signature that was on some of the checks. The president's signature was on two of the checks 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 this guy -- 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. To me -- I'm with you. I don't understand it. MADDOW: The president is at least, though, named as Individual 1 in the -- in -- by prosecutors. And you, in your allocution, made very clear what you just made here, in terms of 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 -- and it's 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 clearly 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: Well, my -- 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: Yes, though we have to remember that it doesn't apply to state charges, nor does it apply to the charges that would be brought by Cy Vance's office. MADDOW: Yes. Let me ask you, Michael, about something that you describe in detail, which is also something that I have sort of spent a long time chasing, which is this unusual story. This is my page -- page 249 of your book, chapter 12, which has got a lot of great stuff in it. And you talk about... COHEN: I'm glad -- I'm glad you enjoyed it. MADDOW: Yes. I was like, ooh, 12, this is -- this is my jam. (CROSSTALK) MADDOW: This is the part for me. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: 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 that 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 that 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." And 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, the Kim Jong-uns, the Maduros, it's the power that he is 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 could -- 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 -- 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 have said this many times, and I have 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 we 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 will 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... (CROSSTALK) COHEN: There's only one problem. MADDOW: Yes. COHEN: There's only one problem. He won. MADDOW: Yes. Oops. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: The way you describe the Trump Tower Moscow project is grander than I had previously understood, 120 floors, 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... (CROSSTALK) COHEN: If you want to raise the price -- if you want to raise the price per square foot, you give to the -- 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 will just tell all of the other oligarchs, buy it, or they will just want to buy it on their own. So, it's a brilliant -- it's a brilliant move. MADDOW: When... COHEN: It's just -- it's just not if you're running for president. MADDOW: When you communicated with the Kremlin -- I know you describe you had one long conversation, after trying to sort of move this along by getting in touch directly with the Russian government about the project. Did -- was that part of the idea for Trump Tower Moscow conveyed to the Russian government? Did you talk to the Kremlin about the prospect of giving President Putin a free penthouse apartment? COHEN: You know, I had a long conversation with the young lady who was an assistant. I don't remember all of the questions, and I don't remember how in-depth regarding the project. MADDOW: Hmm. COHEN: And it was not the first and only conversation that I had with the Kremlin. One of the questions that was asked of me was, how did you get the Kremlin's number? And I said, I Googled it. (LAUGHTER) COHEN: And while we were sitting in the SCIF, they actually Googled it. And, yes, the Kremlin's phone number comes up. And so I asked them if I can speak with the secretary or the executive assistant for President Putin. They asked me why. And the first time I asked, I wanted to invite him to Trump Tower to have a hamburger with Mr. Trump while they were here for UNGA, the United Nations General Assembly. And he wasn't going to meet with Putin, with -- I'm sorry -- with Obama. So, I figured, why not have the two of them meet? It was just -- again, it was a publicity stunt that Mr. Trump had asked me to do for him. MADDOW: Around the planning about that potential project, did you ever get to the point where financing for the project was discussed? Were Russian banks or... COHEN: No. MADDOW: ... Russian state-connected entities going to finance it? COHEN: No. That was always one of the problems. I had three very specific rules when I was looking at deals. The first is, I had to determine that they either owned or controlled a piece of property that the Trump Organization would be willing to build on. We never got past problem number one so there was never a discussion with anybody about the financing of this project. There was never a piece of property to put it on. So you didn't know how big the property could be, let alone, you know, how much it would cost. MADDOW: Were Trump properties, you know, condos and apartments and the like, were those to your knowledge, from your time at the Trump Organization, used for money laundering purposes by organized crime figures or by foreign nationals? Does -- did the Trump Organization do due diligence on that? There's been a lot of public -- public reporting that some Trump properties were quite effective as large scale money laundering mechanisms. COHEN: Yes, I'm not aware of any of that. I never -- I never saw that. I mean, there was one allegation, I was the treasurer of several of the Trump properties where I owned apartments in. I mean, that's really where I started. I bought them as investments prior to working for Trump and, like for example the building that I live which is a Trump building. I think we had one Russian family and over at Trump World Tower, the same -- the same thing, there is a small percentage of the building that's Russian. I think what they were probably referring to was Trump Toronto that had Russian money behind it as well as Trump SoHo that had Russian money behind it. But to -- to my knowledge, there was -- it was -- there was no money laundering scheme. MADDOW: Let me ask you about something else that came as a total surprise to me in the book. Something I didn't see coming and I'm not quite -- quite sure what to make of it. It's a little awkward because I am a cable news host and it's about cable news. But you write in some detail about a -- a primetime host at the FOX News Channel speaking by phone with the president. You say the call is on your cell phone and you've put it on speaker so the president can have this conversation but you're there and it's on your phone. COHEN: No. No, Rachael. I just connected the two calls together. MADDOW: Oh, I thought this one was on speaker on your phone. Well, let me say it the way you quoted it. COHEN: Yes. MADDOW: You -- you quote the host saying: Mr. Trump, I can't come out publicly to endorse you at this time. It would destroy my credibility as it relates to you but I want you to know that I am today and have always been behind you. I speak to Michael on a daily basis. Anything he has asked me to do that benefits you, I have done. That's, I mean, I know that every cable news network is different and journalism is viewed differently by different people. But that seems like a crazy thing for somebody in the news business to pledge to a political candidate. What -- what was going on there? COHEN: They -- they were behind him. They were -- look, Mr. Trump's ratings were through the roof during the -- the campaign and everybody wanted a piece of him and so, you know, what do they do? They promised him the world. They did -- they pulled the trump on Trump. Whatever it is that he was looking for, whatever it is that he wanted they were prepared to give it to him so long as they can get an exclusive, if they can get a weekly interview that their -- that he would make phone calls in to them in order to discuss what he's doing and give them access behind the, you know, the blue ropes. MADDOW: The -- the other twist in this part of the book is that this FOX host who called the president and sort of pledged this secret loyalty to him, this secret, I'm behind you all the way although I can't say so publicly, this is also somebody with whom you had an ongoing relationship. He had -- he had confided into you about some legal matters and some business interests and also things that were going wrong in his -- his marriage and worries about a divorce. I mean, did -- was that a factor here? Was he -- saying this to the president in front of you, this is also giving you sort of assurances, all these things that you know about me, don't worry I'm going to be good. COHEN: Right. So let's -- let me tell you the story on this one. MADDOW: All right. COHEN: Without mentioning the name. I'm sure your viewers are smart and I think they already figured out who it is. He was, as Corey Lewandowski would put it, he was in a time out because there was allegations that he was really for Ted Cruz. And when Mr. Trump got word of this, he went apoplectic and he basically refused to speak to him. He had -- wanted nothing to do with him. He was incredibly, incredibly cruel to him the one time that he spoke. And, you know, it was my job to fix it. And I did that at which point in time he explained that despite the fact that he happens to know Ted Cruz and he likes Ted Cruz, his loyalty was to Donald Trump. He is the one who he would want to see win in 2016 and anything that he can do behind the scenes to help, he would do it. And that was enough to convince Mr. Trump in order to take him out of the penalty box and to put him back in his good grace. MADDOW: And this -- and you don't think any of that dynamic had anything to do with your independent relationship with that host and you doing some, basically, consulting and -- and confidant sort of work with him. COHEN: No, the confidant stuff had very -- had nothing to do with it. It was really his own need and desire as a -- as a host in order to ensure that Mr. Trump would come on his shows as well as having the access to the candidate who was rising in the polls, who was really the -- he was the media's, sort of, interest at the time, no matter -- the guy would go for a -- a rally, they would cover it beginning to end. And he wanted to be a part of it. It was for his personal needs as a talk show host. MADDOW: Speaking of personal needs as a talk show host, this is now obviously becoming a slightly awkward conversation. But there's more of it ahead with Michael Cohen right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: One of the other, sort of, unbelievable stories that -- not on you literally unbelievable. I believe you but, you write that the president personally approved that insane story in the National Enquirer that was basically that Ted Cruz's dad killed JFK or was involved with Lee Harvey Oswald. You say that he personally approved it and in fact, President Trump personally demanded that that photo of Ted Cruz's -- supposedly Ted Cruz's dad appear on the front page of the Enquirer. To your -- to your -- do you know if Senator Cruz knows that Donald -- Donald Trump approved that personally and made that happen personally? COHEN: He does now. MADDOW: You also said that the Enquirer, one after another, did hit pieces on all of President Trump's primary rivals. Was the president -- COHEN: Sure. MADDOW: -- involved with OK-ing all those stories too? COHEN: Every single -- let me say this and I want to be clear to you and to the viewers and everybody. Nothing happens without Mr. Trump's approval at the Trump Organization. To the same extent, nothing happens without President Trump's approval. He micromanages everything, especially and including things that he doesn't know anything about. MADDOW: But he was getting the National Enquirer to run all of those stories one after another on all the other Republican primary candidates? He was involved in all of this? COHEN: Sure. So as each -- as each candidate was moving up, let's say Marco Rubio, David Pecker would reach out to me and he would give me a list of things that he was intending to do in order to squash Ted Cruz's or Marco Rubio's rise, whoever was rising in the poll. That's who became the person that we needed to knock out of the campaign -- out of the -- the race. With Marco Rubio, you may remember, there was photos of him in a swimming pool, that he had a drug problem and all sorts of -- all sorts of other, we'll call them salacious rumors. And every time that they would be made -- they would be provided to me by David Pecker, I would immediately take them into Mr. Trump's office. We would sit down. We would talk about it. He would approve it and then I would contact David. Next thing you know, two days later on the front cover, Marco Rubio has a drug problem. MADDOW: That is a remarkable campaign contribution to the Donald Trump for President campaign. At least legally, you'd think that that might have been seen that way. COHEN: It could certainly be seen -- and I hate to say it but there's other stations right now that are doing the same thing. They are becoming state run television as well as newspapers that, you know, if Donald Trump sneezed, it's the greatest sneeze in the history of the world. And front -- front, you know, front page news story, breaking news. MADDOW: Let me ask you about another, sort of, surprise appearance in your book. It's the appearance of Don McGahn, of all people, who of course has had a very unusual time in the spotlight as President Trump's White House counsel and as somebody who is a fulsome cooperator with the Mueller Investigation even while he was serving in the White House. You write about arranging for a -- a portrait of President Trump to be purchased at auction basically by a fake buyer. It was actually paid for out of funds from the Trump Foundation. That's part of what led the Trump Foundation getting shut down by the New York Attorney General. But you report, and I didn't know this before, that one of President Trump's primary rivals also filed a complaint about this, reported this to the FEC as a potential campaign finance violation, and that Don McGahn at the -- in his current role then, at the FEC is the one who quashed it? COHEN: That's -- that's my understanding. Yes, it was Don McGahn who had the final vote and that's where it got quashed. It was -- it's a very -- it was a very funny story. I hope you liked it. He was afraid. He was afraid either that no one would buy it or it would go for just a few dollars and I get called into the office as I did 50 times a day. You know, Michael, you know, there's an auction going on in the Hampton's. So I'm like, oh, that's fabulous. You want me to go there and buy you something? Yes. It's a six-foot picture of me. I'm like, OK. You know, what are we going to do with it? So he goes we have to get the highest price of anybody by a multiple. And so, I know enough people who are significantly wealthy and friends of also Mr. Trump's and I reached out to one in particular, who was a great guy. And it's like, I'm not hanging this in my apartment. So I said, look, I don't think Mr. Trump wants you to but what we'll do is, you know, he'll pay you back. Now, why he took it from the foundation? That's simply because he's cheap. Didn't want it to come from his own money, even though he believes the foundation money is his money as well. It was a ridiculous scenario in terms of even getting the money back. But we did, and he took it from the foundation, and that ended up resulting in the closure of the foundation based upon their failure to follow the guidelines. MADDOW: With that not becoming something that advanced at the -- at the FEC as a potential enforcement matter, do you think that Don McGahn's role at the FEC in quashing that is part of the reason why he was given the White House counsel's job? Was that a "thank you" or a payback? COHEN: Is it any more of a payback or "thank you" by Mark Meadows becoming chief of staff, or, you know, or any of the other individuals who are now, you know, out there cheering the Trump cheer? And at the end of the day, you know, he believes that this shows a sense of loyalty and then therefore he can bring them in. And it was very much the same -- it's the same thing. Donald Trump is an enigma, all right? And it takes a while, which I tried to express in the book. By reading the stories and by reading the statements that I make and putting it all together, you get a real, true understanding of what's going on inside of his head a little better than just listening to the things that he says on television. MADDOW: Of course, another way to put that is watch what he does, not just what he says. Michael Cohen is my guest tonight. We will be right back with more after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: You write a little bit about the president and his courting evangelical leaders to put together the kind of coalition he would need to win the nomination. And you state pretty emphatically that you think the president is -- is pro-choice, that he's pro-abortion rights and that his anti-abortion -- COHEN: No, no, no, I know that for a fact. MADDOW: How do you know that for a fact? COHEN: Because we've talked about it for years. He is -- he is -- he is not pro-life. He is pro-choice. MADDOW: Do you know if he has ever either paid for abortions or demanded somebody get one? COHEN: I never did that and was never involved in any scenario like that with him. MADDOW: OK. I'm going to ask you about one other subject that is sensitive, but it's -- it's in the news and it's one of the few things that's happened recently enough that your book isn't up to the minute up to date on it, and otherwise the book is written right up -- I mean, you can tell you were editing right up until the very, very end. But there's this account of you and Jerry and Becki Falwell where you described your legitimate friendship with them and your warm friendship with them and how close you feel to them. But there also is the description that you helped them get a favor for their young daughter, who wanted to get VIP tickets to a Justin Bieber concert, and that was a great favor you were able to provide them and you knew that that would come back to the benefit of Mr. Trump at some point in the future. And then you describe a problem that they had they came to you with, nude photos effectively of Mrs. Falwell and they were afraid they were going to become public and you intervened to essentially make sure that those didn't become public. The way you describe it, though, they were -- you describe them as having been -- Jerry Falwell told you that they -- he and his wife were friendly with this young man who worked as a pool attendant in Miami. Since then, in the last couple of weeks, the Falwells have come out and said, actually, it was a sexual affair with this young man. And that puts a different cast whether or not he was blackmailing them, whether or not he was threatening them, that he would go public and he wanted something for that. Can -- can you give us any insight into what happened there given now that the Falwells have gone public with what happened on their side of it? COHEN: Sure. So, my story that I tell actually doesn't even involve this gentleman, Granda, the one who's known as the "pool boy". It actually dealt with a different gentleman by the name of Fernandez (ph) who was, to my knowledge, best friends or very close friends with Granda, and that's how Fernandez got ahold of the photos. I never spoke to Fernandez. I only dealt with his lawyer, which is something that is a theme throughout the entire book. They make it seem as though I threatened him or I threatened Stormy Daniels or I threatened this one. I never threatened Stormy Daniels. I never spoke to Stormy Daniels. I've only spoken to her lawyer, Keith Davidson. And the same with Fernandez. I never spoke to him. I spoke to his lawyer. And I said, what you're doing is tantamount to extortion, and if it doesn't stop, you're going to force the Falwells to go to the FBI, they're going to have to report this and then you're going to end up with a knock on the door and in serious trouble. So I want -- I want a commitment from you that if you have the photos that they're going to be destroyed. And he agreed. And they allegedly were destroyed. And that's why they've never surfaced. MADDOW: And when you describe that as a favor that you would eventually call in, not for your own benefit, but to the benefit of Mr. Trump and to his campaign, the implication there is that the way you called in that favor, having helped out the Falwells in that way, is that they paid it back by endorsing Mr. Trump at a really important time in the primaries. (CROSSTALK) COHEN: I didn't have to -- Rachel, Rachel, I didn't have to use that as a chit, so to speak, with the Falwells. The Falwells, I mean, I spoke to them no less than two hours ago today. I speak to them on a regular basis. They communicated with me while I was in prison and they were the last people I saw before I self-surrendered to Otisville satellite camp. So I didn't need to use that as a chit. All I needed to do was to ask them and they would have done -- they would have done it anyway because I asked. MADDOW: There was no implication that they'd be at risk in some way with your knowledge and -- knowledge of those photos that the endorsement may have been something that they felt that they had to do in order to protect themselves? COHEN: No. No. MADDOW: Now, on this point, I should mention that today, "Reuters" put this same question to Jerry Falwell Jr. He too denied that there was any quid pro quo, that there was any threat, implicit or otherwise from Michael Cohen that led to his endorsement of Trump during the 2016 primary. We've got more with Michael Cohen ahead, including what he says are the roots of President Trump's deep disdain and disrespect for former President Barack Obama. That's ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There is something that you describe in terms of the president's mindset 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 the -- 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 that, 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.

MADDOW: 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. And he's -- 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, and, 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 want 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 at 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, right? All of a sudden, I've become a convicted liar. Well, why am I the liar, right?

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 is 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's time for them to now face the -- 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 -- 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, you know, as I pointed out, he doesn't even spell properly. You know, liar is 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 describing there in terms of him spelling, or the way that he speaks, the way that he sometimes has trouble with -- 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 for 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 -- he craves this. He doesn't want to run for president. And that's why he says, "Well, 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 it's -- my book is intended to really open the eyes of the 38 percent 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, again, when he said that he can kill someone on 5th Avenue and get away with it. He means it.

MADDOW: OK. And just ahead, I have one last question for Michael Cohen, which is about his corroboration of reporting about President Trump that has reportedly put the White House in a bit of a panic for a solid week now. Michael Cohen is in a unique position to potentially be able to corroborate that reporting. I'm going to ask him about that, when we come back. Don't go away.


MADDOW: I feel like the one thing that has broken through a little bit, at least this year, about that empathy deficit that you're talking about, is the reporting that started in The Atlantic this week, that's been backed up by a bunch of news organizations, that he said terrible things about veterans and particularly about people who've been wounded or killed in action for this country, that they're stupid and they're suckers and they're losers.

Can you corroborate any of that? Has he talked about his -- his -- his avoiding service in Vietnam or anything else about veterans or his potential for serving in ways that make sense to you?

COHEN: Rachel, corroborate it? I said it 18 months ago before the House Oversight Committee. Everything that you're seeing now is, sort of, a preview to this, really, horror film that we have going on now called the Trump presidency.

And to those that don't believe this, the sequel to it, 2020 horror, is going to be even worse than the 2016 one. I said it. He literally had his father go to a podiatrist to claim that he had bone spurs in his feet. He doesn't even remember which bone spur -- which foot he had the bone spur in. That's impossible.

I mean, I've had surgery. I had bone spur in my left shoulder. What do you -- if I was 110 years old, I'd still remember where the scar is. I'd still remember that I had it in my left shoulder. How do you forget something like that? I mean, it's nonsensical.

Plus, I was tasked by him -- and I talk about it -- in order to tamp down all of the media, all of the friends that I have in media, to tamp down the one wide deferment, because he did not want it to detract from his claims that he is pro-veteran and he is the veterans' hope for America and for them and that's why they should all vote for him.

MADDOW: Mary Trump said that it was, sort of, family lore that Don Jr. would be disowned if he signed up for the military, that there was worry that he was going to sign up for the military, and maybe he'd voiced that he was going to, and President Trump told him that he'd be cut out of his inheritance if he did so.

Did you ever hear anything about that?

COHEN: No, I haven't heard on that one, but I can tell you, and I talk about it quite frequently throughout the book, the relationship between father and son is a very, very cutting relationship. It's -- it was -- at times it was very hard to even be in the room. Trump used to say that he has the worst judgment of anyone that he's ever met, and I actually interceded on many occasions on behalf of Don, both in his personal life as well as his business life, to protect him from his father's wrath.

MADDOW: You also say that you sometimes felt like you were being treated like one of the Trump children in the way that he was belittling you and the way that he would try to cut your legs out from under you essentially for his own amusement?

COHEN: For his amusement. And that's why I was able to accept it. I figured, you know, if he's capable of doing it to his children -- and that's not just Don Jr.; that was Ivanka and Eric and Tiffany. You know, he did the same to them. So I figured, well, at least I'm in good company.

MADDOW: Michael Cohen, it's a remarkable book. It's called "Disloyal: A Memoir, the True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump."

Again, Michael, I know that you have every choice in the world in terms of where to go talk about this. Thank you so much for coming here.

COHEN: No, Rachel -- Rachel, like I said, all the guys in Otisville, you know, the Tony Meatballs of the world...


We all -- we all loved sitting there and watching you. We used to argue and fight over the television, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, has to be on.


MADDOW: Well, I'm going to send all the meatballs "Rachel Maddow Show" mugs, so -- just because you said that.


COHEN: Yeah, Tony Meatballs are great, and then we had Big Dave the Enforcer. Nobody touched that television set.


MADDOW: Thank you, Michael. Good luck to you. Thanks.

COHEN: Thank you, Rachel. A pleasure.

MADDOW: Michael Cohen's new book, which is called "Disloyal," is out as of today. I should tell you that we did reach out to the White House for comment on his allegations. They told us that Michael Cohen's book is "fiction" and that he "lied to Congress and has lost all credibility."

I would point out in response that that's exactly what Michael Cohen's book is all about, and the person he blames for his own demise and all of ours is his longtime boss, President Trump.


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