The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 9/11/17 White House accuses Comey of “False testimony”.
Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER
Date: September 11, 2017
Guest: Hunter Walker, David Rothkopf, Michael McFaul, Danny Tarkanian
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST, “MTP DAILY”: That is all for tonight. What a good
note to end on. We`ll be back more tomorrow with more “MTP DAILY”.
THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now.
Ari, did you know that this is not the first time that Kerry Sanders has
saved dolphin? He`s done it in Hurricane Fact (ph).
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: It doesn`t surprise me at all. Katy,
this doesn`t apply to Kerry Sanders, but there are studies that show that
dolphin brains are larger than many news anchors.
TUR: I`m sure that hurts your feeling.
MELBER: It`s something - it just means I look up to the dolphin standard.
They are a beautiful and a smart animal. I got to ride with one.
TUR: Can you give me your best impression of a dolphin? No.
MELBER: I feel this becomes an arms race. And today, you won it.
TUR: You know what? I`m getting you back for that that drinking reference
MELBER: We`ll run the tape sometime. Katy, thank you as always. Busy -
TUR: Goodbye, Ari.
MELBER: Busy news week and a busy news day. We have some developing news,
though, on several fronts tonight in the Russia investigation, plus a
report on Hurricane Irma later in the hour.
But the big news is problems at the White House caused by Steve Bannon.
Breaking his silence in his first TV interview Sunday, claiming he only
wants to support the president, but clearly he`s doing that his own way.
Bannon confirming in an interview that Trump firing Jim Comey was a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS HOST, “60 MINUTES”: Someone said to me that you
described the firing of James Comey - you`re a student of history - as the
biggest mistake in political history.
STEPHEN BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: That would probably
be too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.
ROSE: The firing of James Comey was the biggest mistake in modern
BANNON: I think if you`re saying that that`s associated with me, then I`ll
leave it at that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And by leaving it at that, Bannon ensured the critique would hit
the White House today. So, at a time, when Trump officials would like to
push their agenda on taxes or focus the nation on hurricane relief, instead
they find themselves once again pressed to revisit the scene of the firing
of Jim Comey, not by Special Counsel Mueller, that wasn`t the pressure, not
by democratic critics.
Let`s be clear. Today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders forced to address the topic
because of the rhetorical echoes of Steve Bannon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “REUTERS”: Do you have a reaction
to Steve Bannon`s comments on “60 Minutes” saying that the firing of James
Comey was the biggest political mistake in modern history?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Since the director`s
firing, we`ve learned new information about his conduct that only provided
further justification for that firing, including giving false testimony,
leaking privileged information to journalists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is a very important moment right there today. First, Sanders
is alleging Comey gave false testimony, a potential crime. More on that in
But, second, she looks down at her notes during this critical moment,
suggesting this was a prepared attack.
Third, Sanders, asked a direct question about Trump`s judgment coming from
Trump ally Bannon and she throws a legal allegation at the former FBI
So, what is the legal basis for that? Sanders had an answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that he was responsible for giving false
testimony. Do you believe that Comey either perjured himself before
Congress or at the very least misled Congress in his testimony?
SANDERS: I think that`s something probably for DOJ to look at, not me.
I`m not an attorney.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Ms. Sanders is not an attorney, but she is using the White House
podium. This is a government taxpayer funded post, not a political one.
To launch this legal allegation and then just throw it over to the DOJ,
which is obviously fraught, since that`s the department overseeing this
Now, we tonight asked the DOJ. They had no comment as of air time. If
Sanders is stating Comey gave false testimony to Congress or investigators,
it`s a potential federal felony.
And Sanders` new line follows the strategy of Trump`s private legal team,
which leaked memos calling Comey prone to exaggeration, unreliable in
congressional testimony, and the source of leaks to the news media.
Today, the White House moved their line on Comey from unreliable to false.
That sounds like an escalation at a time when they would be better off
deescalating fights over Russia and it may not have been their planned
focus to start the week, but they were stuck playing the hand Steve Bannon
dealt them after his primetime Sunday night appearance.
If you have any trouble keeping score, though, just remember, Bannon said
he`s only here to help. I want to begin on the investigative issues with
Renato Mariotti, who spent nine years as a federal prosecutor, specializing
in white collar crime, financial fraud and cybercrime.
Renato, first off, legally, did the White House make a serious allegation
accusing Comey here of giving false testimony?
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, certainly. Committing
perjury is a crime. If he gave false testimony to Congress, that would be
a crime. And so, essentially, what you have is you have the White House
suggesting, I think, that DOJ investigate a witness against the president.
I think it`s a very serious for the White House to do.
MELBER: That`s interesting. You`re saying, when they refer it to the DOJ,
that could be interpreted as modest. From the podium, she says, well, I`m
not a lawyer. You`re saying it could actually also be something else,
something more severe.
MARIOTTI: Right. So, there are typically walls that are built between the
White House and the Department of Justice. And there are very specific
channels of communication between the political side and the justice
department about continuing investigations.
And so, what this is, it seems to me like an end around where Sanders, who
is obviously representing the White House, makes a public statement in
which she suggests that a witness against the president be prosecuted for
She knows it`s going to get in the front page of the newspaper. People at
DOJ are going to hear it and it`s a suggestion that this is what the White
House wants to do.
Now, I`m not saying that folks at DOJ are going to follow that, but it`s
certainly inappropriate. And I think it`s part of a very calculated effort
by the White House to go on the offensive against Comey and attack the
MELBER: Right. And the other thing that comes out in her theory of the
case today, which I`m going to play for you, is the argument that somehow
we all have learned that he was bad at his job or somehow exposed after the
firing. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: I think that we`ve been pretty clear what our position is. And
certainly, I think that it`s been shown in the days that followed that the
president was right in firing Director Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I`ve got to tell you. I`m curious of your view. That strikes me
as the most fact-free position. The substantive and legally-justifiable
critiques of Jim Comey all center on his past record with regard to
basically one big investigation, the way he publicly talked about the
And I`ve heard from lawyers on both sides the aisle concerned about that
because he seemed to have the FBI taking power that rightfully is a
charging decision of prosecutors.
I`m not familiar with, other than Sanders saying today, I wonder what you
think, the idea that in the days after the firing, we learned something bad
MARIOTTI: I think that`s right. I don`t either. And frankly, it doesn`t
matter legally. In other words, what matters legally is what was in the
president`s mind when he fired Comey. And, obviously, whatever we`ve
learned since that time is legally irrelevant for determining what the
president`s intent is.
I think that what the Republicans and the president are focused on is this
revelation which the president tweeted about on September 1st that Comey
had prepared a draft of his speech regarding Clinton before the interview
of Clinton was completed, which really doesn`t tell me much of anything.
It just tells me that there is really no evidence that Clinton had
committed a crime - or not sufficient evidence, and so he had prepared a
draft before that interview was completed. But -
MARIOTTI: - to them, it suggests something more sinister and it`s sort of
an avenue of attack against Comey.
MELBER: Renato, stay with me. I want to bring into our conversation here,
having gotten the legal briefing from you, Howard Fineman, Global Editorial
Director for Huffington Post, and Shelby Holliday from “The Wall Street
Howard, you see this allegation. Legally, we`ve broken it down.
Politically, what do you think is the activity here. And take a listen to
Bannon casting his view of the entire Russia inquiry also in that primetime
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BANNON: There`s nothing to the Russia investigation. It`s a waste of
ROSE: What do you believe - you know what the national security
institutions believes. What do you believe?
BANNON: What do you mean what they believe? We don`t really - that there
may have been - look, I was there. It`s a total and complete farce.
Russian collusion is a farce.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD FINEMAN, GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, “HUFFINGTON POST”: Well, I
think what the White House has decided, and I still put Steve Bannon in a
way in that orbit, is they don`t think that investigator Mueller - that
Special Counsel Mueller is going to be able to prove actual collusion
between Russia and Donald Trump.
They`re focusing on the obstruction part of the task that Mueller has been
given. Was there obstruction of justice?
And, of course, as been said, in a way, the lead witness for the
obstruction case, if there is one, is probably going to be James Comey.
So, politically, as well as legally, they`re going to go after Comey in
every way they can.
But on another level, politically, this is a wasted effort by the White
House. Comey is out of the way. What they did was they basically got rid
of somebody that they would have been able to politicize and attack in the
way Donald Trump likes to attack people, which is personally - attack them
personally, attack their morality, attack their character et cetera.
But he got rid of Comey. And instead of having a potential pi¤ata, he now
has an up-armored battle tank coming after him in Mueller, who does not
like politics, who stays under the radar, who is absolutely immune from
political attack. So, they`re attacking the only person they can attack
politically. Politically, it doesn`t matter. Legally, it might.
MELBER: Well, Shelby, as is so often the case, Howard Fineman has given us
some poetry to work with here from pinata to bulletproof Hummer and the
notion that we`re now navigating between two former people in the Trump
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL” REPORTER: Right.
MELBER: Comey and Bannon, both gone ostensibly because of decisions the
HOLLIDAY: Right. And his point about Comey being a pinata is precisely
the point Steve Bannon was making, in that now you have Mueller. And
Mueller has these broad powers and he`s reaching into things Trump never
wanted him to reach into.
I thought it was very telling that Bannon said biggest mistake in modern
political history in the very same interview he accused the Bush
administration of going into Iraq, for example.
But he also sort of tried to cast doubt on the very fact that Russia
meddled in the election. It was a very strange interview.
Regardless, it cannot change the fact that the decision to fire Comey at
the time President Trump fired him and the way in which he fired him was a
massive mistake. And in a normal administration, you might have fired the
director, released a statement and moved on.
President Trump talked to Lester Holt. He released tweets about Comey`s
tapes. He hosted the Russians in the Oval Office and called Comey a nut-
job. He has created the obstruction of justice problem for himself because
of his firing of Comey. So, it`s snowballed in ways no one ever thought it
MELBER: And, Howard, to that point, it also goes to the inherent
contradictions. I think Steve Bannon makes for an interesting
Another high point from the interview was he said Republicans need a civil
war and Democrats need a civil war. So, his advice to every political
party is have a civil war. It is war. That`s the kind of guy he is.
But I want to play for you also what he says here about the establishment
because another contradiction. He says he`s still influential throughout
the whole time, but the Comey firing, he says, was this historic Trump
mistake. He obviously meaning that Bannon was against it. And the
establishment continues to be in charge, which he is against.
So, how influential was he when he has all this beef? Take a listen to
Steve Bannon on the establishment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BANNON: Forty-hours after we won, there is a fundamental decision that was
made. You might call it the original sin of the administration. We
embraced the establishment. We totally embraced the establishment, I think
in President Trump`s mind, a president like Trump`s mind and in Jared`s
mind and the families` mind. I actually agreed with the decision because
you had to staff a government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Bannon there saying, Howard, that the original sin is sort of the
Gucci loafers, the Gucci golf as it`s called where the lobbyists hang out
in the Congress. That was the sin.
FINEMAN: Well, but then he said that - I expected him to finish that by
saying they should have appointed me chief of staff. That would have been
a real signal. But Donald Trump didn`t do it.
And don`t forget that Steve Bannon had a lot to do with the last few weeks
of that campaign, helping to decide where to go, driving the message.
Functionally, he was kind of in charge in the stretched run of the
But he said, hey, I guess I can`t do it. That`s how Reince Priebus came
in. But I think Bannon probably consoled himself in concluding rightly
that Reince Priebus was a weak character who couldn`t carry the role of the
I think Bannon decided, hey, I can take this guy. In the end, that turned
out not to be true.
By the way, the miscalculation on the firing of Comey was that Trump did
not understand that Sessions would have to recuse himself and then Rod
Rosenstein, the number two, who had gone along with the firing of Comey -
don`t forget - who basically helped write that letter, then had to turn
around, and in good conscience, name a special prosecutor.
Trump missed that - Trump and the people in the White House missed that
entirely. They both have Rosenstein at the beginning, but lost him at the
end, and that`s why Mueller is where he is right now.
MELBER: And that goes, Shelby, to the question of what is sometimes called
the learning curve. Howard just describes how someone who doesn`t
understand history, has no interest in it, is obviously going to repeat it,
as Donald Trump did.
And Bannon here, his friend, is saying you really messed yourself up
because you`ve got a more supersized Russia probe.
Then you look at today, right, Shelby, and you have the White House still
choosing to take shots at Jim Comey, when if you learn from history, their
better response would be we`re not going to comment on an ongoing
HOLLIDAY: Yes, they haven`t learned. And they took the bait.
By the way, Bannon said he is Trump`s biggest wingman outside the White
House. I`m not so sure that this interview helps President Trump.
Now, the spotlight is back on Russia. The White House took the bait. They
ran with it. And now people think Comey may have to go back to the Hill to
testify, and that`s not a good thing because he`ll be defending himself.
MELBER: When you say, you`re not sure if the Bannon interview helped
Trump, are you just being as understated as possible?
HOLLIDAY: Perhaps a bit sarcastic. In no way that it helps Trump at all.
MELBER: Just wanted to be clear on that.
HOLLIDAY: And the White House didn`t seem to get that.
MELBER: Shelby and Howard, thank you. Renato, stay with me. I want to
talk about another legal angle.
Coming up, the FBI investigating a Russian TV network accused of being a
front for the Kremlin right here in the United States. I`m going to speak
directly to the reporter who has broken this story and former ambassador
Later, an update on Hurricane Irma. Millions without power. American
citizens in the Caribbean crying for help in the midst of a humanitarian
And straight ahead, Bannon ramping up that war against Republicans that he
says is on behalf of Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BANNON: The Republican establishment is trying to nullify the 2016
election. That`s a brutal fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
I`m Ari Melber and you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Donald Trump`s White House lawyer just got his own lawyer. It is
another sign of the potential breadth of Special Counsel Bob Mueller`s
approach to the Russia probe, now reaching, of course, directly into the
Trump`s White House lawyer is Don McGahn. He previously advised the Trump
campaign and he and Reince Priebus tapped the same high-powered DC lawyer.
Trump communications aide Hope Hicks has also hired her own separate
attorney. As I`ve said before, there is nothing automatically negative to
be drawn from people hiring a lawyer. At a minimum, it simply means
they`re exercising a right to counsel for potential cooperation or
interviews in an inquiry.
But there are other insights to be drawn. Like whose interests may be
aligned and where this Russia investigations questioning is headed.
For that, we turn back to former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti and a
man who has advised several Democratic administrations, Peter Emerson. He
also advised a member of the House Impeachment Committee investigating the
Renato, let`s start with that. Your view of the two senior aides here
sharing a lawyer. If at any point in the future, their roles in this
investigation or the treatment thereof they have from Mueller created a
conflict, right, the lawyer might not be able to continue representing both
MARIOTTI: That`s right. So, it`s actually not uncommon for a lawyer to
represent more than one person in an investigation.
But as you pointed out, if there is a conflict of interest, then the lawyer
couldn`t continue. And so, there are typically waivers of those conflicts
in advance, but some of those conflicts can be waived.
So, what this tells me is that the lawyer knows that these two individuals,
McGahn and Reince Priebus, are not going to be pointing the finger at one
It also tells me that he does not believe that either of them are going to
be a defendant with the other person being a witness against them.
MELBER: And that, Renato - that goes to the politics here because people
remember McGahn was a close paid campaign adviser to Trump in the beginning
when people did not think he was going anywhere.
And Reince was the opposite. He was the guy who came to Trump Tower and
said, I want you to sign a commitment to support these other candidates
because one of them is going to be the nominee. And Donald Trump said
sure. And, in fact, he became the nominee.
MARIOTTI: Right, right. And I`ll also - just to be clear, I think that
both McGahn and Priebus will have very interesting testimony on the
obstruction side. McGahn in particular because the original letter drafted
by Trump with the help of Steve Miller was a letter that allegedly was
edited by McGahn, in which he rejected certain portions of it as legally
So, I expect that to be very important. And we know that Priebus was also
involved in this discussion. So, it suggests to me that those two are
essentially on the same - they`re both witnesses in the minds of this
lawyer and they`re not adverse to each other. They`re not going to be
going at one another.
MELBER: Not adverse. And, Peter, Don McGahn is someone who - in a town
that talks about how Donald Trump doesn`t listen anyone, apparently did
prevail upon him. Something in that original letter, Don McGahn stopped.
PETER EMERSON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Agreed. And frankly, this
situation has happened in every administration since Barack Obama`s
administration - from Nixon, through Reagan, through Clinton.
The White House has often found themselves with multiple lawyers, multiple
layers of lawyers. And the problem is it creates a contaminated
environment in which everyone has to be out for themselves.
And now, they have to be talking to their lawyers minute by minute to make
sure, as Renato pointed out, they don`t get into conflict of interests.
But, quite frankly, I think the major point, and the interesting news
development will be when people start at the White House hiring New York
attorneys to protect them with investigations here in New York, which can`t
MELBER: Exactly. And you talk about - that`s something we`ve hit on a
couple times, the fact that there are other ways this investigation could
continue outside of DC.
Finally, while I have you, Peter, as an adviser to what we`re calling
administrations in crisis. An “Axios” headline, Jeff Sessions reportedly,
according to Axios, has an idea. He wants to put the entire National
Security Council staff through a lie detector test to root out leakers.
Unclear whether this will ever happen. Sessions floated the idea to more
than one person.
EMERSON: Yes. Well, exactly. And I think we ought to really just go
right for the thumbscrews. My favorite is the rankle (ph). Why not
Quite frankly, I`ve been through a lie detector test as part of an
experiment. They`re not 100 percent reliable, as you know. Again, you
create an incredibly contaminated environment where you`re guilty, guilty,
guilty. There is no way around it.
MELBER: Right. It`s like investigationitis. Renato, in 20 seconds, good
idea, bad idea?
MARIOTTI: I think it`s a bad idea. If you can`t trust the people you`re
working with and you create a culture of distrust, you`re not going to be
an effective administration.
MELBER: Renato and Peter, thank you both for joining THE BEAT today.
Up next, the FBI, as I mentioned, investigating whether a TV network and
website alleged to be a propaganda outlet for the Kremlin did anything
illegal in the US. A new report.
And Bannon ramping up that war on the GOP establishment. We have a lot
more on that ahead.
MELBER: Here is something important and new. Reports the FBI is now
investigating whether Russian propaganda efforts in the US broke federal
Former DC writer for “Sputnik”, a Russian-linked English-language website
and supposedly news organization that targets American readers now says he
was interviewed by the FBI and that they wanted to know where did my orders
come from and if I ever got any direction from Moscow.
That`s in a new report from Yahoo!`s Hunter Walker. Now, that writer,
Andrew Feinberg, says his supervisors would regularly say Moscow wants this
or Moscow wants that.
The FBI has also now obtained thousands of internal emails from this group,
“Sputnik”. So, investigators will see how the outlook ran from the inside.
And another former “Sputnik” staffer tells Yahoo! the outlet pushed him to
try to obtain private emails of former CIA Director John Brennan. He says
he refused because he viewed that as a request to commit criminal
For its part, “Sputnik” responded today by quoting a Russian official who
says this inquiry undermines press freedom.
But let`s look at this fairly. If the government is investigating a real
news outlet for its journalism, that could be bad for press freedom. But
that`s actually the whole question the feds are investigating.
Are outlets like “Sputnik” independent news or Kremlin propaganda? The
difference matters because there is certainly broad freedom in America to
write what you want, including writing nice things about adversaries of the
But federal law draws a line on foreign government propaganda. It`s
illegal for our adversaries to fraudulently pose as American media if
they`re actually something else.
And that line was drawn at the dawn of World War II to combat Nazi
propaganda because the Nazis had established an extensive underground
propaganda apparatus using American firms and citizens according to a
Justice Department report.
Translation, in America, you do have the freedom to write about the Nazis,
but you don`t have the freedom to write for the Nazis and pretend it`s
Now, that law is a little obscure, but it`s gotten more attention recently
because of reports that Gen. Mike Flynn didn`t report payments from
foreign governments. The law is the Foreign Agents Registration Act and it
keeps cropping up in these Russia-related investigations.
Hunter Walker from Yahoo! broke that story and joins me, as well David
Rothkopf, columnist for “The Washington Post” and a foreign policy analyst.
Hunter, this is what you found. Where does this inquiry go?
HUNTER WALKER, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, “YAHOO! NEWS”: Well, we`re already
seeing that it may be widening because the story that I did with my
colleague, Mike Isikoff, focused on “Sputnik”, which is this English-
language website newswire that is funded by the Russian government.
But just this afternoon, we`ve seen RT, which is an English-language TV
station run by Russia, and they`re reporting now that one of their
suppliers has been contacted by the DOJ and told that they must register
under this act, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.
So, it does seem that this is widening. We`ve really never seen this with
FARA being used to go after foreign media, so it`s kind of hard to tell
where this would go. FARA does allow for criminal penalties of up to five
years in jail but you know, as you were alluding to, it wouldn`t
necessarily ban a foreign media outlet. It would just require them to give
better information about their finances and material they`re putting out.
They would be required to file regular reports. So potentially this could
just mean that Sputnik has to do more paperwork, but it could also could
mean that some people who were found of – found to have to deliberately
obscure their role as direct foreign agents could be in trouble.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Well right. And it`s more than paperwork in the
sense that David, the paperwork could get people in trouble. But question
is what are you? Are you a propaganda, are you foreign government or are
you media and who`s living the world where those lines are blurrier than
ever? This was how strongly the French President put it, stranding next to
Vladimir Putin, calling out Sputnik from the story and to Hunter`s Point,
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: (SPEAKING FRENCH)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: False propaganda, no more, no less.
DAVID ROTHKOPF, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Yes, and part of a pattern.
And I think one of the most important parts this is not you know, how does
it tie to the Trump-Russia campaign, it`s us looking at how Russia is
trying to systemically influence American democracy just as it tried to
systematically influence the French democracy. And you have to look at RT
and Sputnik and Bots and you know, outreach from government representatives
to political campaigns as part of a really comprehensive effort that`s
still going on now. And one of the things we have to do is address the
2016 election, but just as important that we address the 2018 and 2020
elections and ensure this kind of meddling doesn`t go on.
MELBER: And in your view, does Vladimir Putin see the presentation of this
as key part of its efficacy, meaning a Kremlin news organization, it says,
here`s what Putin says you know, is different than trying to get into
bloodstream online as you say in ways that people don`t realize the source.
ROTHKOPF: I think Vladimir Putin is saying, let me use all the tools at my
disposal. I also know that if my media discredits other media and we get
into debate about what`s true and what`s not true, that everybody is
compromised. And that`s what he`s been using RT, and that`s what he`s been
using Sputnik to do, to undermine the position of legitimate media.
MELBER: So the confusion and chaos is a goal in and of itself.
ROTHKOPF: In this particular case, fake news is a Putin strategy.
MELBER: Hunter, just briefly, your view of these former employees that you
WALKER: Well, you know, the company says that they`ve all had performance
issues but Justice Department is clearly taking it seriously. And as David
was alluding to, you know, RT and Sputnik have both been described by the
U.S. Intelligence Community as the key part of the “influence campaign” by
Russia to influence the election.
MELBER: Hunter Walker and David Rothkopf, thank you both. We`re going to
have more chasing the Sputnik report in just a few minutes with insight
from the former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, also Steve Bannon is
going to the war against the GOP and fallout, up ahead.
MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT. I`m about to interview former
Ambassador Michael McFaul about some of these developments in the Russian
inquiry, that`s in one moment, but first, we want to return to this
important story we`ve been covering of course throughout the day, an update
on Irma. The storm in Georgia now heading to Alabama. There`s hurricane
force winds, one storm related death in Florida, another in Georgia and 36
across the Caribbean. Jacksonville has record flooding. Over 6 million
people without power in Florida, the Keys there hit hard. This video here
from a National Geographic Photographer shows some of damage which people
are assessing today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind started blowing, heart started pounding. Not
just for my family but everybody. Nobody wants to go through it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We heard damage all through the night. Strong winds.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All night.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All night, it`s up hitting house, the top of the
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a safe zone in the hallway, we pulled
mattress out there in case we need it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s the fear, anticipation of what you`re going to
coming home to. You don`t know what`s it`s going to be like after the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know we got work to do but I`m happy to be alive and
happy that so far I haven`t heard too many but I`m glad that we`re still
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We turn to Jacksonville, Florida dealing with that record
flooding. Morgan Radford, what can you tell us?
MORGAN RADFORD, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Ari, I wish I could tell you I
were at beach but in fact, I`m not. It just looks like the beach. I want
to show you to my left. This is a St. John`s river. Now, this was once a
pier. There were benches right where you`re looking now. Ben, let`s bring
them on back this way. And so, this is now part of an actual residential
facility. Now, if you look here to the right, you can see where this water
has completely taken over this entire neighborhood. And just behind me
here, we`ve got – you can see where the waves have actually crashed into.
Look at this, this is a gentleman coming out, he`s wading through with
walking stick. This is how people out here have been forced to leave homes
all day today as the water has risen. It`s actually crashed into the
windows there of the first floor of that apartment building. And so, we`ve
been speaking to people in this residential area, hearing what they had to
say, hearing how they prepared, hearing how they got out and what they
expected. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RADFORD: Have you ever seen anything like this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not this bad. I mean, I`ve been through you know,
some hurricanes. I mean, I`m born and raised in Florida but this is
something that I`ve never seen the river like this. It was – it was
cresting through here like we were in the ocean.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn`t expect to see this at all. OK flooding, OK,
no big deal but these were waves. I was like, is this the ocean or a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADFORD: Is it an ocean or a river? Well, these are huge waves that are
crashing in here now. And if you come just through here, you can see where
it`s been flooded. This area along the river, they had mandatory
evacuation Ari, and these are tens of thousands of people without power.
None of these homes have power. You can see, there`s a car in front of me
that`s already been flooded and been seeing this all day. We followed
storm from Puerto Rico where I was earlier in the week and last week and
then we moved up to Georgia. We went to Gainesville this morning, now
we`re here in Jacksonville, Florida. And storm, well the storm weakened to
become a tropical storm outside this area. It`s really the aftermath
that`s been affecting people here. The loss of power, the loss of – not
having running water. People weren`t sure how to shower. There were 21
shelters set up in that county of where Gainesville is, and Ari, of course,
that`s home of University of Florida so they`re about 160,000 residents
there when school is in session. So a lot of people are spending the day
today trying to figure out how they`re going to recover in the days ahead.
MELBER: Morgan Radford, thank you for your reporting on the ground and
Now as promised, we`re going to turn back to this Yahoo! News report, the
FBI digging into a Kremlin linked agency with ties to the U.S. Michael
McFaul is, of course, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Thanks for being
here Ambassador. I know, in your professional capacity, you`ve dealt with
Sputnik and as I mentioned earlier in our reporting, it`s hard to know what
to call it because that itself is I think part of what`s under disputed
investigation. Walk us through your experience with employees of Sputnik
and what you thought of their work.
MICHALE MCFAUL, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, I know the people that
created Sputnik, one of them is an old friend of mine. Sputnik, there`s –
I don`t think it`s that confusing. Sputnik like RT are government-funded
organizations, Russian government organizations, that serve the purposes of
the Russian State. And by the way, they`ll tell you that candidly, they
don`t – they don`t deny that. And therefore how they do it is complicated
and sophisticated I would say, but at the end of the day, RT and Sputnik
are trying to serve the interests of the Russian government. They are not
independent media. Period.
MELBER: They`re not – so let`s start there. They`re not independent
media, but there is confusion because some of – some of their
representatives claim, well, we have links but we have first amendment
rights to provide media content or they use the word journalism. I think
journalism means many things to many people but it certainly doesn`t mean
whatever Vladimir Putin tells you to write.
MCFAUL: Correct. In my view and I think anybody who follows either of
those two entities closely knows that there is a certain perspective, it`s
an opinion, most certainly during the elections that was clear as day.
When Sputnik puts out #crookedHillary, I think it`s pretty clear what side
they`re on. And I think there`s a – there`s a normative and ethical and
maybe legal issue that we have to come to grips with as a country. We
don`t allow the Russian government to provide direct money a candidate
right? That`s illegal. Should we allow the Russian government to tweet
MELBER: Well, and your putting – they`re putting –
MCFAUL: And at minimum, should we tell people that see that tweet that
that it`s the Russian government?
MELBER: Right. And you`re putting your finger on the other issue which is
we`ve got reports that they were there trying to push government officials
to respond to them as if they were basically legitimate press, to give
comfort to you know, Syrian government position on chemical weapons. And
so there`s – it becomes a government question. Is that a legitimate press
inquiry that U.S. government should respond or is it Kremlin-Putin-based
diplomacy or pressure by other means?
MCFAUL: In my mind, there`s no question that it`s an instrument of Russian
power by other means. How – you know, do they do sometimes reporting, do
they have opinion shows, do they disagree? That is all true. That`s part
of the strategy after all. If it was just raw propaganda, it would be
easier. But is it an instrument of Russian power, the answer, that is
MELBER: Right. And we`re – this is an area – you put it well. You
said, the ethical, the diplomatic and the legal question. This is new
stuff because you think about the legal rules as far less important levels,
we`ve got forced legal disclosure on, advertising or whether doctors are
behind something, right?
MELBER: – or you know, truth in advertising labels or surgeon general
warnings. And here you got this stuff flying at the American public
affecting potentially public debate and elections and FBI now were
learning, trying to figure out whether these should be stamped propaganda
and treated legally differently. An unfolding story, I hope to get you
back on, Ambassador McFaul, thank you.
MELBER: And more on this tomorrow on THE BEAT. We`re going to speak
directly to former Sputnik Employee Andrew Feinberg. And inside view of
how Sputnik worked and what`s ahead. Now up next, tonight, we go to a
state Hillary Clinton won where ObamaCare is popular and the GOP civil war
might boil over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: The Republican
establishment is trying to nullify the 2016 election. That`s a brutal fact
we have to face.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The republican establishment?
BANNON: The Republican establishment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wants to nullify the 2016 election.
BANNON: They`re trying to nullify the 2016 election. Absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So now, to fight there between Democrats and Republicans, what
Bannon is talking up a fight between Republicans over Trump and an enemies
list. This was Bannon`s first T.V. interview since leaving the White
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BANNON: I`m going to be his wing man outside for entire time to protect.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you`ll not be attacking Donald Trump in your role at
BANNON: Our purpose is support, Donald Trump. By the way –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And destroying his enemies?
BANNON: To make sure his enemies know that there`s no free shot on goal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Well, his enemies also getting named including Nevada Senator Dean
Heller who crossed Trump on health care and he`s getting primary by a Trump
loyalist Danny Tarkanian who just met with Bannon who says he`s fully
backing him. And Danny Tarkanian joins me now. Thanks for being here.
DANNY TARKANIAN, NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: My pleasure, thank you for
having me on.
MELBER: Absolutely. Let`s start there with health care. The ObamaCare
plan as it exists is more popular in your state than it has its critics.
What would you want to do about that and would you be willing to go against
your constituents on it?
TARKANIAN: Well, that`s what you`re saying. I mean, I`m not sure what
polls you`re looking at. You`ve had millions of dollars thrown into the
state trying to advocate ObamaCare and demonize any repeal of it. Just six
months ago, it was a huge upside down of people wanting to repeal it.
Look, ObamaCare is drowning. It`s going to go under because it`s
increasing the cost of not only the debt and the taxes that are being
imposed but middle-class Americans like my family who are paying 300
percent more for our health insurance premiums, 500% more for deductibles.
To go see – the copay, to go see a specialist which my son has to see
eight times a year is $150 when it used to be $25. I go all around the
state and I listen to stories like this from other hardworking middle-class
Americans. The people that don`t have a voice back in Washington, D.C.
maybe the ones you`re not polling when you start talking about the likes or
dislike of ObamaCare.
MELBER: Hold on. It`s an American Medical Association Poll, that one that
is 45-37. So it`s not –
TARKANIAN: And they`ve come up very strongly in favor of ObamaCare
(INAUDIBLE) they`re taking care of by the health care provisions.
MELBER: Let me ask you this because you have been you know, basically
depicted as a real Trump loyal Senator if you were to become Senator that
would – that would replace Senator Heller. Are there issues like Russia
sanctions where you might stand up to President Trump? Would you have
voted for that Russia Sanctions Bill?
TARKANIAN: Now, there`s all kinds of things that I may not agree with
President Trump when I get into office. But I`m a firm supporter of his
America first policies. And I agree with those policies. And those are
the things that President Trump – that Donald Trump ran on and won his
election in 2016. And those are the policies that the GOP elected
officials should be supporting him on.
MELBER: Russia sanction, then, yes or no?
TARKANIAN: Well I would probably have voted for the sanctions, but I have
to know all the details on it. Look, I agree with President Trump that we
need to try to work with everyone in this world. In fact, we were working
with the Russians in world War II when we were fighting the Germans. And
they were much worse than they are now. It doesn`t mean that you`re going
to give the Russians a free rein to do what they want, meddling our our
elections and so forth. And if the sanctions are needed to be done, yes,
let`s do it, but at the same time let`s try to work with everybody around
the world and make this a safer, more prosperous place.
MELBER: That`s policy. Also, there is a question about standing up to
some of Donald Trump`s false statements. I`m sure you`re familiar with
some of them. And we see candidates sometimes struggle to figure what they
want to do. For example, you`re from a State in Nevada that went for
Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won the Electoral
College. Would you be able to stand up to him and say he is wrong when he
claims he won the popular vote?
TARKANIAN: Look, Donald Trump has a different style, the way he acts and
interacts with different people. It`s worked for him. It isn`t the same
style that would work for me. But when you talk about him winning the
state in Nevada, he lost by 2% when Romney lost it by 7. He lost the state
with our GOP Governor, our GOP Senator, Dean Heller my opponent, the Senate
Candidate Joe Heck, and another Congressional Candidate Cresent Hardy, all
repudiated him and say they wouldn`t vote for him. Why would anybody think
he could win a state when you have your own base of elected officials not
supporting him like that?
MELBER: No, I hear you. And politically he outperformed prior Republicans
there and some other places.
MELBER: But would you be able to admit he made a false statement about the
popular vote, and that`s not good for the credibility of our elections?
TARKANIAN: Look, he has made statements that are certainly questionable
but Obama has made much worse statements dealing with extremely important
policy issues. Like, how about ObamaCare? It`s going to reduce policies
for individuals by 2,500 percent, or that with respect to Iran, we`re going
to have the most stringent inspections that we possibly can be, and then we
find out the Iranians themselves are inspecting them. Or how about
Benghazi where he said that this was a film that caused all this notoriety
when they know for sure it was not? These are important misstatements that
President Obama made but you are holding President Trump though a different
standard on statements that aren`t nearly as important.
MELBER: I understand that`s your view there. Last question on immigrants
in your state of Nevada. About 13,000 people affected under DACA. What do
you want the say to them, and do you think they should face deportation if
Congress doesn`t pass a change within six months?
TARKANIAN: Look, President Trump got rid of or at least for six months the
most unconstitutional usurping of power by a President through an executive
order. Even President Trump – President Obama admitted that when he
implemented the order. I mean, we are a country with a rule of law and we
have a great constitution. The constitution should be followed and
President Trump just wants the constitution to be followed.
MELBER: Wait, you think – if you think it`s unconstitutional – if the
order is unconstitutional, why should Trump be enforcing it today at all
TARKANIAN: Well, he`s given a six-month order so that we don`t have – six
month delay so that we don`t have chaos with what`s already been
implemented by President Obama.
MELBER: But if you say it`s unconstitutional, how can you –
TARKANIAN: And he`s giving it to Congress and forcing Congress to step up
and do what`s right to make a decision–
MELBER: But if your premise –
TARKANIAN: I`m sorry – to handle this.
MELBER: Mr. Tarkaninan is that if–
TARKANIAN: I`m sorry, I can`t hear you.
MELBER: I`m sorry. If it`s your premise is that it`s unconstitutional,
that`s your view, how can you support continuing something for six months
if it is as you say unconstitutional?
TARKANIAN: You know it`s unconstitutional. President Obama said it`s
unconstitutional. If President Trump would have eliminated it completely
and it took effect today, you would be crucifying him today. He`s trying
to find a more stable rollback of an unconstitutional act by President
Obama. You should be praising that. The DACA people should be praising
that. Now it`s back in Congress. They have to make the decision. That`s
what the constitution requires and everybody should be happy that it`s
getting back to what they`re constitution requires.
MELBER: Mr. Tarkanian, I appreciate getting your perspective. And a lot
of people are going to be watching your race. So thanks for coming on THE
TARKANIAN: Thank you. I appreciate you having me on.
Coming up, thousands of Americans still, of course, caught in the Caribbean
in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
MELBER: And now a report from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Ernice Gilbert is
a reporter there. What are you seeing?
ERNICE GILBERT, VI CONSORTIUM FOUNDER AND EDITOR IN CHIEF: Good evening,
everyone. You know, we`re seeing a lot of relief coming through from the
federal government, local emergency entities. We`ve been doing well. You
know, we were devastated by Hurricane Irma, St. Thomas and St. John`s
specifically. People are displaced, people are crying out for help, but
what you`ve been seeing is that the federal government, FEMA along with
(INAUDIBLE) our local agencies here, local law enforcement, everyone has
been pulling together and really coming through for us.
MELBER: And the infrastructure, how does it look?
GILBERT: It`s pretty bad. It`s pretty bad in St. Thomas. You know,
buildings, shattered roofs gone. The hospital destroyed, Firehouse
destroyed. Even you know, the VIPD, the corrections facility destroyed.
It`s pretty bad in St. Thomas and St. John.
MELBER: Ernice Gilbert, thank you for that report on another part of the
storm we wanted to make sure to cover. Praying for you. That does it for
our show. “HARDBALL” starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Bannon rips the scab off. Let`s play
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