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[00:00:00]

The Rachel Maddow Show weeknights at 9:00 Eastern on MSNBC. Thanks to your home for joining us this hour. There is a lot going on in the news tonight, and we do have a really big guest. Let me tell you first, the news breaking on the front page of The Washington Post tonight. Is this Justice Department zeroing in on longtime GOP fundraiser? Here's the lead in this Washington Post story. Quote, Federal prosecutors are preparing to charge longtime Republican Party fundraiser Elliot Brody in connection with efforts to influence the US government on behalf of foreign interests.

[00:00:33]

Brody helped raise millions for Donald Trump's election and the Republican Party. He has been in discussions with the Justice Department and could ultimately reach a plea deal. If Elliot Brady does reach a plea deal, if he agrees to testify about other people's crimes that he knows about in order to get leniency for himself. I have to tell you, this could get fairly nutty fairly quickly because of all the different things that Eliot Brady has been involved in in the Trump era.

[00:01:03]

And this news from The Washington Post tonight comes at a remarkable time, I mean, we are two months out from the election now. In less than five months, we're going to be inaugurating either a new president, Joe Biden, or inaugurating the current one again. But meanwhile, tonight, we're apparently awaiting an indictment of one of the members of this president's last inaugural committee who's been investigated by multiple prosecutors for allegedly using the first Trump inaugural as the basis for a massive alleged criminal foreign influence scheme.

[00:01:37]

And we we've been seeing this slowly on the for months now building scandal around the unexplained financials, really regarding the president's first inaugural, August 20, 18 Republican operative Sam Paten pled guilty to steering foreign money into Trump's inaugural February 20, 19, February last year. That was news that FDNY prosecutors were looking at allegations of more illegal foreign money sloshing into the Trump inaugural April 20, 19 April last year. News that Ed NY prosecutors, Eastern District of New York, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.

[00:02:16]

We're looking at whether there wasn't just foreign money sloshing into the Trump inaugural, but whether inaugural officials like Elliot Brody might have been using Trump's inaugural to illegally sell access to foreign governments. Yesterday in federal court in Hawaii, of all places, there was a guilty plea from somebody allegedly involved in this game with Eliot Brody. She pled guilty. She is apparently helping prosecutors. Her name first appeared on subpoenas that were sent to the Trump inaugural committee from those federal prosecutors in the eastern district of New York last summer.

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Now, as of yesterday, she has pled guilty. She's got a plea deal. The Washington Post tonight is reporting that Eliot Brody himself is next. Eliot Brody was a major fundraiser for the Trump inaugural. He was the vice chair of fundraising for the Trump inaugural. He was also deputy finance chairman of the National Republican Party, named to that position after Trump was elected president. The finance chairman of the RNC at the time was disgraced casino mogul Steve Wynn, who The Washington Post reports tonight may have been in on this alleged illegal influence peddling scheme with Eliot Brody.

[00:03:26]

Steve Wynn's lawyers telling The Washington Post tonight that Mr. Wynn is cooperating with investigators. You might remember that both Steve Wynn and Eliot Brody had to give up their senior roles in the Republican Party not long after they were named to those senior jobs. Mr. Wynn had to give it up because of the huge sexual harassment scandal that also removed him as president of his casino company. Eliot Brody had to be removed from his post at the RNC. He stepped down from that post after he admitted that just like President Trump, lawyer Michael Cohen had also set him up in an expensive hush money deal in which he apparently paid a whole bunch of money to a woman in order to keep her quiet about an affair with him.

[00:04:10]

They apparently used the same template and the same fake names as we're set up for the hush money deals that Cohen did for President Trump. All the best people, all of them since the Trump inaugural, I will say the reports, the public reporting about this guy, Elliot Brody, have actually been a little bit hard to keep up with.

[00:04:32]

There have been so many of them and they have been so disparate. I mean, just putting aside the hush money deal, which is astonishing for all the wrong reasons. We have seen reports over the past months of Eliot Brody being investigated for using his role in the Trump inaugural and his connections to the Trump administration to advance alleged illegal foreign influence schemes involving the government of Malaysia and the government of China and the United Arab Emirates and Romania and Angola. And and and if any of those are stuck out for you over the past few months and years, it might have been the United Arab Emirates reporting about Brody that has stuck out over time because his apparent intermediary in the Middle East, his apparent intermediary with the Emirates in particular, was this guy, George Nader, who you see here standing with the president, George Nader, a Trump campaign gadfly, a man who set up meetings for the upper echelons of the Trump campaign throughout the transition, including meetings in Trump Tower.

[00:05:38]

George Nader is now in federal prison on serious and almost indescribably disgusting child pornography charges. But he is one of the key people who Elliot Brody was allegedly working with on this alleged illegal scheme to sell foreign access to the Trump inaugural and his Trump administration contacts all the best people, all of them. Now, we, of course, don't know for sure if Elliot Brody is going to be charged after all of these months and indeed years of reports of him being under federal investigation.

[00:06:12]

The Washington Post, again, is reporting on their front page tonight that he is about to be indicted. One other thing to watch here. I can tell you that Elliot Brody's previous lawyer had given reporters and on the record statement that Brody had never met with President Trump himself as part of any of these alleged illegal influence schemes for which he's now reportedly facing indictment. That's what had been the on the record statement from Brody's lawyer in the past. But that lawyer who gave that on the record statement saying the president wasn't involved in any of this, that lawyer no longer represents Elliott Brody.

[00:06:45]

His current representation is making no such claims. And the charging documents filed in conjunction with this guilty plea that just happened yesterday for his alleged accomplice in these crimes. Those documents say explicitly that President Trump was involved in this scheme, that Brody did meet with President Trump directly on this stuff.

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So that's part of The Washington Post, that is that is coming that is coming down the pike, eyes open right with with William Barr at the helm of the Justice Department right now and with us less than sixty five days out from the election, frankly, anything could happen. But that indictment, that federal indictment is reportedly imminent. At the same time, though, this has also just happened. This book, which is just out today, it's I'll tell you, it's the latest in a string of four or five books that are coming up this week and next week, which are, to say the least, highly anticipated.

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We talked with Michael Schmidt about his book, The United States versus Donald Trump out last night.

[00:07:46]

This book is quite a different angle, but also making a ton of news. It's out today. It's titled Melania and Me The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. It's written by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. For a first lady who's the subject of as much public interest and fascination as any other, this book is going to have a lot of stuff about First Lady Melania Trump, that people will be very interested in everything from why the first lady wore that jacket that said, I don't really care, do you?

[00:08:19]

When she went to the US Mexico border to go visit shelters holding little kids, if you want to know what was going on there and why she wore that jacket, it's in this book also that weird moment at the twenty sixteen excuse me, the twenty seventeen inaugural where the first lady dramatically wiped that smile off her face and scowled as soon as the president turned around. That is explains in this new book from Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Miss Wolkoff also tells the story of how she and the first lady launched what they called Operation Block Ivonka specifically to try to keep the president's eldest daughter, Ivanka, out of the iconic imagery of the president being sworn in on Inauguration Day.

[00:09:05]

They called it Operation Block Ivonka, and the whole plan was to make sure Ivanka wasn't in this picture. Mission accomplished. If you're interested in that kind of thing, this book will also shed some light, perhaps, on this sort of insane moment from the Republican National Convention this week, this moment between the first lady and the president and Ivanka, the president's eldest daughter, on stage at the White House at the RNC last week. This moment, which is transfixing, I will admit, has been viewed tens of millions of times on Twitter since it happened.

[00:09:38]

This book may give you some insight into what was behind that. Look, this is also the book for you. If you want to know why the first lady's signature anti-bullying campaign is called Be Best. Why be best, what does that mean? Why not be the best or be your best? What is best mean? Isn't it sort of nonsensical in English?

[00:09:59]

Page two hundred and sixty six and two hundred and sixty seven. Have your answer to that. You can also learn here, for example, how it is that the first lady's sister, Inez, got herself a US visa that's reserved for people with extraordinary abilities of benefit to the United States. How did she get that visa that's in here, too? If you are one of the many people who wondered if there was some kind of coded message from First Lady Melania Trump when she was a suffragette special white pantsuit to the State of the Union that one year.

[00:10:30]

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff book is here to report to you what exactly the first lady meant by wearing that and if it had a specific political message. So Wolkoff also reports that first lady Melania Trump insisted that a brand new toilet be installed in the White House for her use before she would even consider moving in. It had to be a new toilet, not one that had been used by anybody else, including any previous first lady. OK, if you want to know that's there, I will also tell you there's a long sort of disturbing quote in the book.

[00:11:05]

What is allegedly a direct quote of the first lady talking about kids being ripped away from their parents at the border. We're going to talk about that in a few minutes. If it is actually what the first lady said about those kids, if it's a verbatim quote that I think will end up being a pretty significant scandal in its own right. Again, we will get to that in just a moment when we are joined live here by this wolkoff. But you should know, big picture that the plot of this book overall is the story that's in the title, Melania and Me.

[00:11:37]

It is the story of what First Lady Melania Trump is like as a friend and why her best friend, Miss Walcoff, now says she regrets the entire friendship. She says it in terms that stark in black and white on page three 11, she says, quote, In fact, I wish I had never met her.

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And so that that human drama is there and that relationship drama is there and the first ladies, all of them are objects of public fascination, Mrs. Trump included, there will be lots here in this book for people who have that fascination or who want to know more about her, including the various controversies from her tenure as first lady.

[00:12:14]

I get that. And we will talk with Miss Wolkoff about that in just a moment. But if you have watched this show over the past couple of years and if you know how my brain works and how my news science works, you might at this point be surprised that I want to feature this book. But it's because of something else entirely that is in this book that is nowhere else.

[00:12:36]

What I'm really interested in here is that this book is the first explanation at any length that we have ever had of what went so haywire in the Trump inauguration, which is newly relevant, given that one of the major figures in the Trump inauguration is reportedly about to be indicted.

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It's newly relevant because within five months we're going to have another inauguration. And if it's another Trump won like the last one, we should probably have some legal aid lawyers on standby. It's also alive and relevant right now because multiple prosecutors offices apparently have open cases right now related to alleged criminal financial wrongdoing having to do with the Trump inauguration in twenty seventeen. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was intimately involved in planning that inauguration. And in this book, she explains that she is cooperating with three different prosecutors offices on three different open cases related to the Trump inaugural right now.

[00:13:31]

And you remember the basic issue here, right? We covered this extensively, perhaps more than any other national news outlet. The Obama inauguration after he was elected in 2008, that was for for lots of reasons, the largest ever presidential inauguration in US history, they raised the most money for that as well, more than 50 million dollars. That was a huge sum. No inaugural had ever been that big or that expensive, but it was the biggest ever.

[00:13:56]

The Trump inauguration after he was elected in twenty sixteen was was not on the same scale, not by a long shot. It was just smaller. It was it was inevitably going to be smaller and there were fewer events. Even the performances were just on a smaller scale. And for smaller numbers of people, I mean, instead of like, you know, Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce in two thousand nine, they had like the piano guys and J. Ravi drums and some other kind of I mean, no offense, but, you know, like not.

[00:14:25]

Not the same type of thing, and it's fine, it's fine, I don't say that to cast aspersions, but the much smaller Trump inauguration with fewer events, with much smaller crowds and with the events that were all it's sort of a lower register. There's just no way that it cost more than double what the Obama inaugural cost of two thousand nine. There's no way it was more than twice as expensive as the most expensive inauguration in history.

[00:14:56]

But that's what they have said about it. When Obama raised and spent fifty something million dollars and two thousand nine, Trump's inaugural raised over one hundred and seven million dollars. And nobody knows what they spent it on. Nobody has ever been able to say where exactly all that money went because it does not seem to have gone into just paying for that event. And when you look at who was in charge of the financials, maybe in retrospect, it shouldn't be all that surprising that there seems to be a little bit of a financial black box there mean the treasurer of the Trump inaugural is someone who was named as an unindicted co-conspirators in a major tax fraud case on Wall Street.

[00:15:40]

The vice chair of fundraising for the inauguration was the aforementioned Eliot Brady, who The Washington Post reports tonight is about to be indicted on federal influence peddling charges. The deputy chairman of the inaugural committee was Rick Gates, who pled guilty to multiple felonies and became a cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation. You might remember him admitting in open court under oath that it's possible he did steal some of the Trump inaugural money when he was the deputy chairman of it. Tom Barrack was the inaugural chairman.

[00:16:08]

Mr. Barak has also reportedly been looked at by federal investigators on potential influence peddling charges, though I should say that he has not been charged.

[00:16:18]

But with that, what looks now in retrospect like this rogues gallery running the inaugural, running a particularly the financial side of the inaugural when it came to people trying to track down what appears to be tens of millions of dollars missing from the inaugural's balance sheet. Somehow all the public blame was directed at none of those guys. All the public blame was instead directed at Melania Trump's friend, Stephanie, not on any of those guys with their deeply checkered backgrounds who had actually handled all the money.

[00:16:55]

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was friends with Melania Trump for years, she had organized the Met Gala in New York and Fashion Week events in New York. She was an experienced event planner at the highest levels. She did form a company that did work on the inaugural after being asked to do so by Mrs. Trump. Her company that she formed for the inaugural was paid twenty six million dollars ish. But she says that twenty five million dollars of that ish was money that she passed on to other companies that handled the broadcast production for some of the inaugurations major events.

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Nevertheless, she got headlines like that one and she got all the public blame. And the question remains, where is all the money anyway? Let me read you something from her book, the inaugural committee's budget director, Heather Martin, reported that the inaugural committee had filed several filing extensions which had delayed releasing the committee's public facing tax form its Form 990 for nearly a year. Heather stated her mission in bringing us all together. We want to be prepared to mitigate any negative press that Form 990 release might generate for the first lady, she said.

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Miss Winston Wolkoff says, quote, I was on the edge of my chair with anticipation. I had known this day would come. But why was this about Melania? Heather walked us through the inaugural committee's year long process of preparing the Form 990. She told us she'd been working with Tom Barek, with Treasurer Douglas Immerman, the unindicted co-conspirators guy, and also Rick Gates on the preparation of this tax form. Despite Rick Gates's indictment, he was still involved in the filing of the 990 form.

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My Spidey senses were going full tilt. I was practically a tarantula by now, Heather explained. It's taking longer than they expected. I asked why. Apparently Tom Barrack and Douglas Zimmerman were having a rough time preparing the form because the actual numbers didn't add up. That set off a sudden headache for me. The numbers were the numbers. Why didn't they add up? Ultimately, about a year after the inaugural, after some public scrutiny about how they could have possibly spent all of that money that they said they raised, the inaugural did file this public facing document, the Form 990, the tax form, and in fact, its numbers don't add up in terms of what they released publicly.

[00:19:13]

There's like 40 million dollars that they just don't account for that just don't appear on the balance sheet. And sure enough, as I mentioned, it's the first lady's friend, Miss Winston Wolkoff, who gets blamed in the press. And subsequently she gets basically disinvited from her ongoing White House job, advising the first lady a job that she'd been doing anyway for free. Having been scapegoated for this and having all the major questions about what happened with those tens of millions of dollars still unanswered six months after she was thrown out on her ear, Miss Walcoff says she got a visit from Michael Cohen, from the president's lawyer, who days later would go on to plead guilty to multiple felonies.

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He and Miss Wolkoff knew each other. They had seen each other months, months earlier. He had dropped by her apartment to check in on her when the whole inaugural scandal thing was melting down and early. Twenty, eighteen. But then he checked back in with her six months later in August. And this is just this is remarkable. Check this out. On August 18th, twenty eighteen, Michael Cohen called me hello stuff. He said the FBI, the FBI and the NY have the recording I made of our conversation.

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What are you talking about? I asked a recording of what Michael said. I recorded our conversation to use for contemporaneous notes. I was stunned. He continued. You need to have your lawyer get in touch with my lawyer to talk about whether the conversation is privileged or not privileged. I asked, what do you mean which conversation? He replied, The one where you were crying. Wait a second, I needed to digest what Michael had just told me, he had a recording of our conversation, the tape that was seized in the FBI raid.

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When did he tape me? He came to my house that one time he was wearing a trenchcoat. Oh, my God. If that tape went public, Michael, why the F did you tape our conversation? I asked beside myself. I had asked Michael for his legal opinion not to record our conversation without telling me. He explained, I couldn't sit down with a notepad. I wanted to make a memo in order to strategize to exonerate you in clear name.

[00:21:19]

They destroyed you for no reason at all other than someone else, took a lot of money and buried it in their pockets. And you had to be the fall guy. Say my I'm the fall guy for Donald getting his. Bleep licked by a porn star. Sorry, he continued, I wanted to help Donald so Melania wouldn't kill him. For what? I'm being turned upside down. I didn't tape you for a gotcha. It was so we could sit down and create a memo to get your name cleared and let those who did wrong suffer.

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It shouldn't be you. The fact that you were crying really bothered me. The Trumps are not crying and you are. I said they'll get away with it. He said what they did on the inauguration was criminal when I saw your binders, meaning the binders of receipts and communications and paperwork and documents, Stephanie Stav from her time working on the inaugural. When I saw your binders, Cohen says, I said to myself, this is not someone who is doing something wrong.

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The level of precision, it's beyond anal. I'm super anal. You're beyond. I laughed. Michael Cohen warned me that because of what I'd said on our recording, I might be called to testify in the investigation. Which investigation? I asked. Take your pick, he said they might subpoena your binders. There has to be an end to all of the B.S. Everyone can't be a fall guy for their malfeasance and corruption. Donald is the worst version of himself I've ever seen coming from Michael, who had worked for Trump for over a decade.

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That was saying a lot. I broke into a cold sweat at the thought of being involved in an investigation.

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He said. You should take solace in knowing that if the FBI or the Southern District really thought you stole money from the inauguration, you would have gotten a phone call, Michael said.

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I asked people for money every day for the inauguration, friends of mine and for what? So they could walk away with 80 million dollars.

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It's disgusting. Walcoff says, quote, I actually had to leave the house to go to my lawyer's office to listen to the Cohen recording. We sat in his office with a couple of other associates to listen to it. She then says how embarrassed she is that there's a lot of swear words in the tape.

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She says, quote, The lawyers heard Melania's in my nicknames for some of the biggest players like Dopy and tuberculosis. She doesn't explain who Dopy and tuberculosis are.

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I'm going to ask her.

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She says, quote, I wanted nothing more in the whole wide world than the human right of being allowed to defend myself against the false accusations that had tarred my name and reputation. But I was muzzled by an iron clad discriminate nondisclosure agreement. The contents of the tape were not made public. I was not allowed to comment on it in the press or discuss it. As Michael had predicted, the recording did catch the attention of some interested parties in the media and law enforcement.

[00:24:01]

And one excerpt with me complaining about the Trumps charging way too much for a Trump Hotel venue did surface. Melania and I were in loose touch in September. The summer went too fast. Melania texted me on September 5th wishing you a successful year. On September 12th, she wrote, I hope you're well. I guess you were a fashion week. Did she seriously think I was going to Fashion Week? I was barely functioning. I wrote back no fashion week for me.

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I'm dealing with back to school and doctors and paperwork. The paperwork in question was me collating and compiling a complete record of every email, text and phone log from the day I joined the inaugural committee. Until now, I was compiling it for the US District Court, for the Southern District of New York. I told the I quote, I'm always thinking of you, my dear, sweet friend.

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I miss you. On October 2nd, twenty eighteen, I received a grand jury subpoena from the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. I also received a sealed order issued by the US District Court for the Southern District that prohibited me from disclosing, among other things, the fact of my subpoena for one hundred and eighty days. I couldn't breathe a word to anyone for months because this had to be kept confidential from the inaugural committee and from the White House.

[00:25:13]

The investigations were underway and they couldn't know I wasn't allowed to tell anyone, and that included Melania. On December 13th, twenty eighteen, the news came out that Manhattan federal prosecutors had opened a criminal probe into the inauguration spending and into whether some of the committee's top donors had traded cash for access to the Trump administration. The accounting didn't delineate where and how the donations had come in. Investigators were looking into whether extravagant donation packages offered face time with officials and if selling access, explained the Trump inauguration's record shattering one hundred and seven million dollar cost fifty million dollars more than any other inaugural ever.

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She says, quote, My second subpoena came from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the third subpoena came from the District of Columbia. I cooperated fully with both. These investigations are still underway on January 22nd. Twenty twenty, the D.C. attorney general's office filed suit against the inaugural committee and the Trump International Hotel. The charge was misuse of nonprofit funds, which they use to pay outrageous fees to the family's own business. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine stated district law requires nonprofits to use their funds for the stated public purpose not to benefit private individuals or companies.

[00:26:30]

The suit cited emails between me and Gates. The details are stomach churning. The hotel wanted to charge the inaugural committee three point six million dollars for event space food and drinks over eight days. The inaugural events only spend four days. The amount of four hundred and fifty thousand dollars per day was, quote, significantly more than the Trump Hotel's internal pricing guidelines for use of this event space per the lawsuit, the Trump organization called the lawsuit a PR stunt and vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

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There was no comment publicly from Team Tom Burek, but Stephanie Wolkoff, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff writes in her new book, quote, I can say now that my official comment is you go D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine.

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She says, quote, I wish I could say cooperating with three different investigations is empowering. It isn't. It keeps me involved in something. I want to have nothing to do with my family. Would love for me to wake up one morning and say I'm over it. Time to move on. So would I, which is why I had to write this book. I know there's a lot of personal stuff in here about the first lady in that important relationship with her best friend, but this stuff about the inaugural is red hot and live.

[00:27:46]

Stephanie Winston Walcoff joins us live next. These past few months, I've become a pro at coloring my hair at home, and that's all thanks to the actual pros at Madison Reed, Madison Reed is game changing color. You can do yourself in under an hour. It's simple to get started. Just go online, take their color quiz to find your perfect shade and they'll deliver it right to your door. With Madison Reed, you'll get all the good stuff.

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[00:28:50]

Hey, it's Chris Hayes this week on my podcast. Why is this happening? I'll be talking with Leah Stokes, a political scientist who covers utility companies about how they are the key to our climate future.

[00:28:59]

You don't get to choose who you buy your electricity from. Electricity is an essential service. So if I don't like that my utility is anti climate action or is using money from my rates to fund dark money campaigns, I don't have any exit option. I can't go choose to buy from somebody else. So I think that there are real legal questions as to whether or not Monopoly utilities with a guaranteed profit and unlimited funds to spend on politics from a captured customer base for an essential service should be allowed to spend money in politics at all.

[00:29:37]

This week on Why Is This Happening? Search for why is this happening wherever you're listening right now and subscribe. This is from page 111 of Stephanie Winston Walcoff new book, Melanie and Me. Thirty five days before the inaugural, she says, back in New York, I attended a meeting with President elect Trump in his office. The space was packed with boxes, trinkets and piles of paper. And I thought I was a hoarder. His office looked like a garage sale.

[00:30:06]

Stephanie Donald said, Tell me what's going on with the inauguration planning. Ivanka joined Donald and me for the meeting I presented to the two of them. I grabbed my binder, went over to Donald side of the desk and sat with my knees on the floor. He sat in his red leather chair, leaning back, clasping his hands, ready for me to proceed. Ivanka hovered over me and went through hundreds of pages covering all 18 events. Ivanka made comments and asked questions.

[00:30:31]

Will there be a red carpet? Where do we walk during the parade? What about seating at the swearing in after party after the parade on Pennsylvania Avenue? Donald said, quote, I don't want floats. I said, OK. The president continued, quote, I want tanks and choppers make it look like North Korea. There was no way he really wanted goosestepping troops and armored tanks that would break tradition and terrify half the country. When Ivonka heard North Korea, she didn't bat an eye.

[00:31:00]

I walked out of the meeting, ruffled and worried. I texted a close friend and colleague, quote, North Korea style military parade. Bad idea. That's just one of the anecdotes written in the new book by Stephanie Winston Walcoff, former friend and adviser to First Lady Melania Trump. Walcoff, of course, also played a key role in organizing the Trump inauguration in twenty seventeen that has led to so much consternation in so much legal trouble ever since. She has written the most detailed account of all of this in her new book, new book, which is called Melania and Me The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady.

[00:31:37]

Joining us now for the interview is Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Miss Walcoff, I really appreciate the trust it takes to be here. I know you could be anywhere talking about this. Thank you for being here. And thank you for having me so much, Rachel, really so I wouldn't be anywhere else. That's nice of you to say that.

[00:31:57]

Obviously, there's there's a lot here. There's a lot that's very raw here, particularly about the distress, about the dissolution of your friendship with the first lady, the circumstances under which you left the White House. I want to talk first of all, though, about some of what you describe about the inaugural, which is really never been publicly described by anybody involved in it before. You're pretty frank about the idea that there's a lot of missing money, unaccounted for money in terms of what was raised for the inaugural versus what was spent.

[00:32:26]

Do you feel like you have a general grasp of how much money that might be? And do you have a theory or any knowledge of where it might have gone? Well, I do know that at the time that I questioned where the money was going or how much everything cost, I was asked to not attend any more budget meetings. So it took me a few years to figure everything out. But it's just, you know, people need to just follow the money.

[00:32:54]

In terms of who is following the money, it's remarkable that you describe the difficulty and the decision that you made to cooperate with these multiple ongoing investigations, including the D.C. attorney general and having received a subpoena from Southern District of New York. I know that those are ongoing proceedings and you're limited of what you can say. But do you feel like the people who are investigating this at various levels know what happened to the money? Do you feel like the investigations are on the right track in terms of them figuring out what happened to these tens of millions of unaccounted for dollars?

[00:33:26]

Unfortunately, with our Justice Department right now, I don't really know entirely what's going on with some of these investigations. And that's a really sad and challenging place to be, especially since this election is right around the corner. I do know that Attorney General Christine is still investigating and it's still open. But as far as the Southern District, I don't know where that stands as well as the Intelligence Committee. Have you been.

[00:33:56]

Has the White House contacted you since your book was on track to publish and since people started to realize what was going and going to be in this? Because either the Justice Department or the White House or anybody else in the Trump administration contacted you. I've actually been contacted by both the White House and the the Justice Department. Can you tell us anything about either of those communications for starting with the White House in terms of what they what they wanted to communicate to you or what they asked of you a couple of months ago?

[00:34:31]

I had a cease and desist as well. As you know, again, the last thing that any of these people want is for the truth to be told.

[00:34:40]

I have lived with this on my shoulders for the last several years, trying to make sense of it all, trying to understand what happened while I was working at the inauguration, but also what happened while the pressure is building and mounting around the, you know, nine ninety and the releasing of where one hundred and seventeen dollars were spent.

[00:35:04]

This is it's like Donald Trump. It's his best game. Three card monte. Right. It's like everything's a shell and everything's going in different directions. Chaos is just part of the game. And as you said earlier, and I love it only the best and. It's quite a bit of quite a bit of the best. You describe in the book how. Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. Please carry on. No, no, I apologize.

[00:35:41]

This delay is very awkward, the satellite delay has made all the worse by all the covid driven gremlins in terms of remote studio. So that was my fault. I'm sorry. Let me just ask you, first of all, to go back and say whatever you wanted to finish in terms of your thought there.

[00:35:52]

And I'll just ask another question, which is if the White House was telling the truth when they put out public statements denying that First Lady Melania Trump and the president had no role in planning the inaugural and that the when the White House when the White House said they didn't know about any concerns about budgeting or how much things would cost or how things would be carried out during the inaugural, your book would seem to give lie to those statements and make clear that when the White House said those things, that those weren't accurate.

[00:36:27]

The machine of the false narrative that gets created by the White House is so overwhelming and so powerful and the fact that people really believe when you look around other people that were actually involved in planning the inauguration, that they're going to pin it on me because I was Molineux friend.

[00:36:46]

It worked, right? It's a shiny object right in the corner, honest friend, the only person willing to help her. And, you know, that spotlight shone right on me without even calling me and asking me if it was the truth. So my integrity, my reputation, everything was destroyed in a matter of seconds. And it was as if no big deal. Just flick it off and move on. And I wasn't prepared to do that, have it, but I didn't feel sorry for having the opportunity to tell your side of the story and to explain what happened during the inaugural, to explain even what you could tell was happening with the financials of the inaugural in being able to put it in this book.

[00:37:28]

Does it make you feel not I guess not protected in any way, but at least does it make you feel like you're in a stronger position? Because at least now you can articulate what you saw, where you came from and what your side of it. It feels like a lot of the frustration that led to this book is feeling that you weren't allowed to defend yourself.

[00:37:49]

And I'm still relying on first First Amendment counsel. I'm still not allowed to say everything. So I am saying as much as I can within the law. I think that being muzzled with an NDA for all of these years it has been. Claustrophobic, to say the least, I mean, I stop living a regular life, I have three incredible children, a husband, I really sort of locked myself in. And it's amazing to me that I'm part of three different investigations, yet I'm a witness to all of them.

[00:38:20]

And it really is a charade of shenanigans. And I feel that the Trump presidency is just fleecing our country. And I had no choice to not tell this story. I had to be here. And do I feel protected? I actually do feel more protected because now everyone knows the truth. And I've been able to share my life story with what happened because it took over my life. And am I know it's complicated. It is complicated, if you don't mind staying with us while we take one quick break.

[00:38:58]

There's one other element of your book that struck me, a long quote that you attribute to the first lady that I think is potentially really important news story. I just like to ask you about that specific part of your book, if you can hold on to this for one more minute.

[00:39:10]

Absolutely. Thank you. All right.

[00:39:13]

Well, we'll be right back with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Her book is out today. It's called Melania and Me The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. We'll be right back. Hi, everyone, it's Joy Reid I'm so excited to tell you about my new MSNBC show, the Read Out every weeknight, I'm talking with the biggest newsmakers about the most pressing issues of our time, like Joe Biden, the words of president matter and so is President United States.

[00:39:39]

The first thing I'm going to do is stand up and talk sense and be honest with the American people. Level with them.

[00:39:44]

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. We need as many voices as we can have as possible sounding the alarm, encouraging people to wear masks and to take all precautions and to follow the science and the data. Senator Kamala Harris, we send folks into a war wearing camouflage. So what is going on here when you send camouflage uniformed officers into a city and many more?

[00:40:12]

You can listen to the readout as a podcast by searching for the readout. That's r e d o u t one word wherever you're listening right now and subscribing for free. Thanks for listening. One of the indelible images we have of Melania Trump's time as first lady was the day when she boarded a plane to go visit. Immigrant kids have been separated from their parents at the Texas border. And she wore this green jacket that said on the back, I really don't care, do you?

[00:40:44]

After that visit, Stephanie Winston Walcoff in her new book recalls what she says was a 70 minute phone call. She says she had with the first lady about that trip to the border. And it's fun to read you from that part of the book, Miss Winston Walcoff says, quoting the first lady here. They all went crazy about the zero tolerance policy at the border, but they don't know what's going on. The kids I met were brought in by coyotes, the bad people who are trafficking, and that's why the kids were put in shelters.

[00:41:13]

They're not with their parents and it's sad. But the patrols told me the kids say, wow, I get a bed, I will have a cabinet for my clothes. It's more than they have in their own country where they sleep on the floor. They are taking care nicely. They're. And the mothers, they teach their kids to say, I'm going to be killed by gangs, so they are allowed to stay there using that line and it's not true.

[00:41:37]

Reading that quote from the first lady aloud, it's a gut punch all of its own. But Stephanie Winston Wolkoff quotes this directly and says these are the words of the first lady. Back with us once more for the interview is Stephanie Walcoff. She's a former senior adviser to First Lady Malali. Her new book is called Melania and Me. It's about her friendship with the first lady and her involvement in the Trump inauguration. Miss Winston Wolkoff, thanks again for being here.

[00:42:02]

I just have to ask you if, um, should we understand this to be a verbatim, verbatim quote from the first ladies? These are seemingly pretty insensitive comments she made about the kids she met at the border. Rachel, there's no way to fabricate any of my story and the only way to tell the story is to say it exactly as it was, the fact that the White House is trying to disparage me and claim my character is anything but what I know is a respectable person.

[00:42:38]

It's only going to have me discuss more and more the truth, the facts. And they're all either in some type of, you know, assemblance that has one hundred percent backing. I would never do that otherwise. There's been some reporting, public source reporting around your book that says that part of the way that you can back up some of these verbatim quotes and some of these extensive detailed anecdotes is that you do have some recordings of some of these conversations.

[00:43:10]

Can you comment on that at all? So, Rachel, I haven't commented on the past and one of the reasons why I'm going to share this with you this evening is because I've been accused of taping my friend, as the White House said, and how horrible of a human being I am for doing that. And they're right.

[00:43:28]

If I if she was my friend, it would be horrible. But Melania and the White House had accused me of criminal activity and publicly shamed and fired me and made me their scapegoat. At that moment in time, that's when I pressed record. She was no longer my friend and she was willing to let them. Take me down, and she told me herself that is that this is the way it has to be. She was advised by the attorneys at the White House that there was no other choice because there was a possible investigation into the presidential inauguration committee.

[00:44:09]

And that's not how you treat a friend. So I was going to do anything in my power to make sure that I was protected. And at first I really did think maybe she would come to my aid. Maybe she would tell the truth. She turned her back. She did. She looked like a deck of cards and I was shocked when she did it. Are you saying this, Wolkoff, that at that point you decided in order to protect yourself, that you that you that you would make recordings of some of your conversations with the first lady or that you did?

[00:44:42]

I did. I did. And it's again, I have to admit that it is disgraceful in any other context. But who would believe any of this otherwise? You couldn't make this up. But again. I need the evidence, I needed the evidence to. If the White House continues to call you a liar and say that you've made up these conversations and that these things that you're attributing to the first lady or the president are things that didn't happen, do you have plans to release those tapes to the public or to show them to play them for reporters so that other people can validate what you're saying?

[00:45:24]

There is a report coming out and full disclosure, I'm not going to lie about it and I just can't, Rachel, so I'm going to tell you, I have admitted there is a report coming out that I did play it privately because to justify that, I actually did have it. And what it did say in her own voice, again, the more they continued to come after me and again, the more they continue to lie about what they've said, done and do, the more I will continue to.

[00:45:58]

You know, prove them, prove their claims false. The last thing they should be doing is coming after me. I wanted to just write this book and move on. I didn't actually even expect. Then to say, I mean, of course, they're going to I expect them to just say, oh, she's this and she's that, but they've gone on way too long and I'm not going to let them take my integrity away anymore. Stephanie Winston Walcoff, former senior adviser to First Lady Melania Trump, key key figure in the Trump inaugural, the new book is called Melania and Me The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady.

[00:46:33]

Miss Walcoff. This I know this is hard stuff to talk about. And I know this book was hard to hard to hard to write. I know because I read every word of it is very moved by your take on it. Thanks for the trust for being here tonight and good luck to you. Come back any time. We'd be happy to have you here any time you want to talk.

[00:46:49]

Thank you. Thank you, Rachel. All right, we've got more ahead here tonight. Stay with us. The Winston Wolf book out today about which there's also apparently some tapes that we're going to get Michael Schmitt's book, which is out today as well, there's a couple more books that are coming out in the next week that are going to blow your mind in terms of news value as well. Tis the season. But last night here in the show, when we had Michael Schmidt here, we told you about a sort of startling piece of news in his new book about an unscheduled and still unexplained trip that the president made to Walter Reed Medical Center late last year in November.

[00:47:28]

Schmidt says in his book, quote, In the hours leading up to Trump's trip to the hospital, Ward went out in the West Wing for Vice President Mike Pence to be on standby to take over the powers of the presidency temporarily if Trump had to undergo a procedure that would have required him to be anesthetized. The White House has tried to pass this off as part of his normal physical, to put it mildly. You do not have to be anesthetized for any part of your normal physical.

[00:47:53]

So we have that from Mike Schmidt's book as of last night until just after 11 o'clock Eastern Time this morning when the president said this on Twitter out of the blue, he just wanted everybody to know that he had never suffered a series of mini strokes, never happened. Now, nobody said stroke. Why are you worried that people think you had a stroke? The president then got the his doctor at the White House to release a statement repeating the same thing, that he had never had a mini stroke or a stroke.

[00:48:23]

And nobody reported that. Michael Schmidt did not report that in his book. No media outlet reported that the White House didn't give any further details. But this Walter Reed trip now is even more intriguing than it was before. We know it was not planned because it was not on the president's official schedule. We know that doctors at Walter Reed were not notified in advance of the president's visit, as is customary for any routine trip. We know that Trump stayed at Walter Reed for a couple of hours that day and then didn't hold another public event until three days later.

[00:48:52]

But honestly, other than that, we know very little of it. And now the president is insistently and repeatedly tweeting that it definitely wasn't about him having a stroke. In his words today on Twitter, quote, Not even a minor one. OK, you're the one who brought that up. Keep an eye on this. Still many open questions here. That is going to do it for us tonight, I'm sorry to be a few seconds into my neighbor's real estate here, but I'll see you again tomorrow night, The Rachel Maddow Show weeknights at 9:00 Eastern on MSNBC.