The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 9/18/17 Russia probe: NYT exclusive on WH Lawyers
Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER
Date: September 18, 2017
Guest: Austin Evers, Peter Choharis, Liz Plank, Aisha Moodie-Mills
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, “THE BEAT”: Good evening, Steve.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great to see you.
MELBER: You too. Appreciate it. Now, lawyers are paid to keep secrets,
but Donald trump’s legal team may do things really differently. There’s
nothing wrong with talking about business over lunch, but they managed to
land their strategy debate over the Russia case on the front page of “The
New York Times,” in an article detailing turmoil among the team.
Now, this is a story about beef and fights among Donald Trump’s top
advisers, but it’s also a story about steak because “New York Times”
reporter Ken Vogel spotted Trump’s criminal lawyers, Ty Cobb and John Dowd,
chewing the fat at a fancy Washington steakhouse where the Kansas City
steak there goes for 60 bucks. The wine list includes a 2011 Cabernet that
The problem was that terrible choice of a restaurant, as “The Washington
Post” put it, right next to “The New York Times”. So, that’s how this beef
Some Trump aides are worried that their colleagues are now wearing a wire
for Mueller. This is in “The Times” story.
Cobb, the current Trump lawyer, still fuming over leaks by an ex-member of
the team who had tried to oust Jared Kushner. Now, that might be a
reference to Marc Kasowitz, a brash Trump lawyer, no longer on the team.
And “The Wall Street Journal” recently reporting on a legal push against
Kushner that failed. The article also flags attention we may see in
upcoming weeks here between Don McGahn - he is, of course, the White House
counsel - and the former Trump campaign lawyer, his old role - now, you see
here on the screen. These are the two current criminal defense lawyers.
McGahn represents the White House as an institution. He was a witness to
the Comey firing and Trump’s effort to oust the attorney general over
What matters here is that Mueller is reviewing any obstruction inquiry and
McGahn may ultimately testify in that. “The New York Times” suggesting
that they are more than a criminal defense team that McGann has a couple of
documents locked in a safe and that there was a reference to another person
as a “McGann spy”, suggesting something less than a collegial relationship.
Now, we don’t know why Trump aides are worried their colleagues will be
wearing a wire, though if you’re not committing crimes at the office, being
recorded there isn’t that scary.
And McGahn may have legally defensible reasons to take a more combative
approach to Mueller. He may even want to test executive power and foreign
policy claims against having to hand over whatever is in that safe that’s
referenced in “The Times” article.
The strife is spilling into public view amidst new reports that Mueller is
also zeroing in on Facebook over Russia-backed accounts there, suggesting
that email hacks and obstruction are not the only crimes that Mueller is
Now, whatever beef was under discussion at that lunch, it is a good bet
that it’s not over. And as Sean Carter once said, all beef is returned;
well done, filet mignon.
With me now is former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti and “The Wall
Street Journal’s” Shelby Holliday, and Shane Harris who has been working
Renato, you have had some ideas about what might be in McGahn’s safe and
also the wider significance of what we’ve heard Mueller is up to. Explain.
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So, on Twitter, one thing that
I discuss is a possible thing that could be in that safe is the original
letter that was penned by Stephen Miller at the direction of President
Trump regarding the firing of James Comey.
And there is reporting in multiple publications, but particularly in “The
New York Times” about how there is a draft of that letter that had
deletions and edits by Mr. McGahn as White House counsel and he had
included comments with his advice.
And that would be extraordinarily important evidence for Robert Mueller as
part of the obstruction inquiry because, presumably, for example, the White
House counsel told him, hey, there is some legal problem, you would be in
legal jeopardy if you went forward with the firing Comey for these reasons
and he went ahead and did so, that I’ll be extremely powerful evidence.
MELBER: Shelby, what do you think of this lunchtime conversation that’s
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL” REPORTER: As a video reporter
and looking at that picture right there and I just can’t help but notice
how casual these lawyers look. They are looking like they’re just chatting
MELBER: Hanging out.
HOLLIDAY: - any topic. Yes, just hanging out. It’s so - I guess crazy is
a good word. It’s so crazy, you almost wonder if it was intentional; if it
was just slip of the tongue this came up at lunch, they couldn’t help but
talk about it.
Regardless, it’s not good for Donald Trump. But there are many reasons if
you talk to legal experts about why Don McGahn would not want to release as
much as he possibly could.
What this really shows is the division among Trump’s legal team about how
to approach the investigation. Some of his lawyers want to turn over all
documents, get this done as fast as possible.
Others say, hey, the executive branch does have certain privileges and we
shouldn’t just set precedent by releasing everything we have.
MELBER: Right. And that tension goes to something we talked about on the
show before, Shane, which is the likely asymmetry of information. Mueller
knows a lot. The other lawyers know something. Don McGahn knows a lot
about certain things, like these efforts to oust people over Russia.
So, when the criminal counsel says, hey, let’s get it all out, let’s get it
quick, Cobb and others in “The Times” article suggesting that maybe this
can all be done really quickly, they don’t know everything that Don McGahn
SHANE HARRIS, SENIOR WRITER, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: That’s right, yes.
And it’s extraordinary to see from these leaks and these sort in-the-street
restaurant conversations that are coming out that you’re seeing a legal
team that is both divided in its strategy and, in some cases, is at odds
with each other.
They are, obviously, all in service of their ultimate client, but they
clearly don’t agree or it appears much like each other in many instances.
And so, now when we see Bob Mueller, I mean, going in for the Facebook
warrant, that is just another signal that this investigation is really is
focusing. We don’t know exactly what evidence that he has to go in for
that warrant, but to get a warrant you have to persuade a judge that
there’s probable cause to believe that a crime was committed.
So, this is clearly an extraordinarily significant development. The
investigation appears to be heating up, but the lawyers are clearly at odds
with each other about what to do now.
MELBER: Right. Well, Shane, you make such an important point. Let’s
pause on it. Any communications medium can be used in a crime, right?
Someone can pick up the phone and go do offline activity and the phone is
just a glancing part of it.
But the real issue here - and I wonder what your reporting is suggesting -
is whether Mueller is seeing Facebook not as a one-off communications
device, but more menacingly, and concerningly for the Trump White House
potentially, as something where crimes or a conspiracy occurred over a long
period of time. What light can you shed on that, Shane?
HARRIS: I think the bottom line is that we don’t know, but there are a
couple of significant points. One is that congressional staff and
lawmakers, particularly Sen. Warner on the Senate Intelligence Committee,
have been hammering again and again their suspicion that Facebook played
some kind of role in the targeting of fake news or inciting information at
key groups of people based on what we call targeting.
And we also know that, in the warrant, what Mueller was able to get was
information about how these particular ads - in this case, bought by this
Russian organization - the targeting information that may have been used in
So, it strikes me that Mueller is not so much on a fishing expedition, but
might have - and again, we don’t know - but some more idea of the kind of
thing, of the kind of crime that may have been committed here to which this
content about targeting of the ads, who bought the ads, play some kind of
central role in that, in answering that question.
MELBER: Right. And that’s the campaign side of it. Renato, on the
lawyer’s side, first of all, wondering what you think of people worrying
about wearing a wire, whether that smacks of a kind of a movie-inspired
paranoia or not.
And secondly, Don McGahn, in this particular role that he has, because the
lunch thing is, obviously, just interesting because you see it all spill
out into view here from the fancy steakhouse. And I don’t think these guys
- the lunch they’re having and the things they are talking about are
something most of us - most Americans are coming into contact with every
But then, you have this peculiar role of Don McGahn, who is described -
this is the substance part, the meat, if you will, of the steakhouse
discussion is, they describe McGahn in these very negative terms that he’s
got spies, that he’s holding stuff in the safe, that we’re seeing that
Take a listen here to Don McGahn, who prior to this was seen as kind of an
election bureaucrat, not the most interesting guy in Washington. Take a
(BEIGN VIDEO CLIP)
DON MCGAHN, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: The chilling effect that the government
regulators had I think has been diminished significantly, which is why I
think more and more people are willing to speak out now in politics that
had been willing before.
(END VIDEO VLIP)
MELBER: A backroom guy there talking about getting regulations off of
elections, kind of interesting, whether that was a good idea given
everything we’re talking about. But more to the point, Renato, Don McGahn
being put in this somewhat negative role by Trump’s counsel.
MARIOTTI: Well, what I find very interesting is that you have one member
of the Trump legal team keeping information from other members of the same
legal team. And I think it goes to the point that was just being made a
moment ago, which is the deep divisions in the legal team.
I will tell you. Since I’ve left the government, I have worked on many
defenses of government investigations. And when the government is coming
after your client, the legal team needs to be united and you need to
present a united front against the government.
So, the idea that McGahn is withholding something from other members of the
team is, I would think, a bad sign for that team. And the fact that that
is spilling over into those conversations just kind of underscores the deep
divides they have.
As for wearing wires, I think your instinct is right, Ari, that it is
mostly just paranoia. That goes to show the divisions that they have. And
that is exactly what a prosecutor like Mueller wants to happen. That’s
what a prosecutor wants to encourage and exploit, are divisions amongst
folks that they’re looking at because that is what generates cooperation,
that’s what generates conflicts in people pointing fingers at each other.
That’s exactly what Mueller wants.
MELBER: Right. And then there’s the growth, Shelby. If you ever have
kids and you put the little mark on the wall, good to see how they -
MELBER: Yes, because without the mark, you don’t release it. It’s
MELBER: Donald Trump has grown in one way, which is, today, as of this
time, 6:10 PM on THE BEAT, we haven’t seen a Twitter freak out about
He still tweets terrible things. We saw some violent imagery he tweeted
yesterday. So, I don’t think he gets a cookie for improving the Twitter
habit per se.
But what does it tell you that, as compared to months ago, when there were
Russia headlines, particularly once like this in “The New York Times” and
he would try to seize on them, respond to them or call them fake news.
Someone somehow got him to stop tweeting about Russia.
HOLLIDAY: And I think there was a noticeable shift after Gen. Kelly took
the job as chief of staff. He’s still allowed to tweet. Trump is still
being Trump, but he is not attacking the Justice Department.
This is a huge development. I think we need to really respect the fact
that he’s not going after judges. The bar was low. But he’s not trying to
attack the media, he is not attacking Mueller.
MELBER: But to respect it is to suggest that he is doing it for a good or
altruistic reason. What if the lawyers just got to him and said you hurt
yourself too much.
HOLLIDAY: Absolutely. But I think, right now, if I were President Trump,
I wouldn’t be worried so much that my legal team was divided. I’d be
worried that they’re sloppy. They’re out there talking in public about
matters that are, obviously, very sensitive.
And if they can’t agree on anything and this becomes a public dispute, you
go back to square one with all of the negative headlines, all of the
problems. Wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a tweet about that.
MELBER: Right. Well, this Russia story, this steakhouse was something a
little different than usual. Shelby Holliday, Renato Mariotti and Shane
Harris, thank you all and appreciate it.
Still ahead, would investigators want to know about Trump’s business
dealings? His son and lawyer about to go before the Senate. We’re going
to talk about it with Senator Amy Klobuchar.
And what happened to that leftover money from the inauguration? Trump had
promised to give it to charity. We’re holding them accountable and we’ll
tell you what is happening.
Also, once upon a time, Trump was craving approval from the Emmys. Last
night, he looked more like the punch line and Sean Spicer claiming he
regrets some of his sparring with the press.
I’m Ari Melber and you are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Senate investigators are now bearing down on the business side of
the Trump empire. Trump lawyer and business aide, Michael Cohen, facing
senators tomorrow. They want to ask about his appeal to the Kremlin for
help with that Trump Tower project in Moscow, an effort that contradicted
Donald Trump’s claims he wasn’t seeking deals with Russia.
And if anyone crossed Mr. Trump or stood in his way, “The New York Times”
has reported, it was Cohen, sometimes known to carry a licensed pistol in
his ankle holster, who would cajole, bully or threaten a lawsuit. And he
brought that style to the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER AIDE TO DONALD TRUMP: Ted Cruz should be reprimanded
by the RNC. He’s a whining baby who basically, again, lied to the American
public. He’s lied to the RNC.
I know Mr. Trump. I’ve stood by him shoulder to shoulder for the past
decade. I’ve seen him in action.
I truly believe he’s not just my boss, he’s a mentor. He’s an inspiration
and I consider him to be like family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A family that has had some separation lately. In a recent
interview, Cohen said that his lawyer told him not to speak to Trump during
this phase of the Russia investigation. “I’m the guy who would take a
bullet for the president,” he added.
“Vanity Fair” also noted that Cohen has been described as the sixth Trump
Now, we could be hearing soon as well from an actual Trump child. The top
Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee says Donald Trump, Jr., the
president’s oldest son, will publicly testify before the committee sometime
this fall. The committee already interviewed Trump, Jr. for five hours in
a closed session.
Now, only six senators went to Trump, Jr.’s closed door appearance. One of
them joins me now, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar from the Judiciary
Thanks for being here.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Thanks, Ari. Great to be on. We’re
in the middle of voting, but I found a moment to come talk to you. And
congratulations on your show.
MELBER: Oh, thank you so much. And thanks for making time during all the
When you look at all of this, what are the lines of inquiry that are
important, in your view, for Donald Trump, Jr., particularly for a public
KLOBUCHAR: Well, as you know, we didn’t talk about that private interview.
It went on most of the day afterward.
But for a public hearing, I think the public will want to know exactly what
happened at that meeting, why he wrote the email back, as you remember.
When he got the email, hey, we’ve got some stuff on Hillary Clinton, and he
wrote back, “Love it!”
How can we forget that?
And so, I think that there will be a lot of questions about that. And as
well as some of the points you get to about the business dealings because
you know that one of the things that people are going to want to hear about
is what were the business dealings of the Trump empire with the Russian
empire, with the country of Russia?
And how did that factor into these decisions with the campaign?
MELBER: Right. And with regard to the public side, I mean Trump, Jr. did
offer a public version of part of his opening statement to whatever else he
told your staff privately, saying that, “To the extent that the Russians
had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a
presidential candidate, I believe that I should at least hear them out. I
also note at this time there was not the focus on Russian activities there
What did you think of that claim, that he sort of sees himself as kind of a
PolitiFact in the campaign?
KLOBUCHAR: Right. Again, as many Democrats and Republicans have said,
when you get a call where you’re going to hear about things from another
government, that is inching toward violations of election law because you
can’t have a foreign government interfering in an election. And you can’t
use that information in some way.
And so, that’s why I think you’ve seen this kind of a backlash about the
documents that came forward and why we think it’s really important that he
come before the public.
Equally important, of course, is that Bob Mueller is allowed to finish his
investigation and interview everyone that he needs to interview. That is
the main focus right now of the investigation of what happened in the past.
And the other thing, for me, is how we’re going to handle this going
forward. Whatever happens, where the chips fall, is just as important as
the fact that we need to pass my amendment, which has broad bipartisan
support, to get some funding to our state election equipment, so that we
don’t have this happen again.
Twenty-one states, our intelligence agencies have found, were the subject
of hacks by Russians. And everyone who looks at intelligence believes
they’re going to try again.
So, why we wouldn’t put some funding into backup paper ballots when the
2018 election is just over 400 days away is beyond me.
So, yes, you want to find out all of this information about the past, but
you also want to look to the future. And that has to be a bipartisan
MELBER: Right. And your proposal to do that sounds like a pretty sort of
normal way to do it. It’s weird, to some degree, how these have also
become polarized, or as if there was a partisan angle in having reliable
elections, which wouldn’t seem to be a partisan issue.
On that question, Hillary Clinton, who’s on her book tour, was asked a
pretty interesting query about all this.
I want you to take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TERRY GROSS, HOST: Would you completely rule out questioning the
legitimacy of this election if we learned that the Russian interference in
the election is even deeper than we know now?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I
would not. I would say…
GROSS: You’re not going to rule it out?
CLINTON: No, I wouldn’t rule it out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Would you rule it out? And do you think this is an area where the
results of the Mueller investigation could, ultimately, beyond the criminal
dimension, also raise questions about the outcome of the election and the
current government? Or for you, you would rule that out?
KLOBUCHAR: I’m a former prosecutor and I don’t do hypotheticals till I
know the facts. I did that for eight years as the prosecutor in
Minnesota’s largest county. So, I would want to get the facts.
And, again, after Bob Mueller completes his investigation and we find out
the conclusions of that or more is uncovered in public committees in
Congress, that’s the time to ask that question.
But I simply think I need to know the facts before I comment on that.
Right now, our job in the Senate is to allow this investigation to be
completed and then to do our best to keep running the government while this
is going on. And I think you have to do both things at once.
MELBER: Well, senator, it’s very old-fashioned of you to want the facts
KLOBUCHAR: Oh, come on. Some people do. I actually believe that facts
exist and that there are no such thing as alternative facts. So, there you
MELBER: It makes some sense and we know you’ve got to vote.
Senator, thanks for giving us some time here on THE BEAT.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. Thank you.
MELBER: I want to turn now on Russia to former prosecutor and US attorney
Barbara McQuade. Thank you for joining. Any response you have to what
Sen. Klobuchar was saying and also those lines of inquiry for the public
side of this hearing from these Trump associates about these meetings they
A lot of lawyers have said, you shouldn’t even be in a meeting with foreign
government officials and people claim to represent them offering dirt on an
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER US ATTORNEY: Well, certainly. And I think,
although Donald Trump, Jr. did answer questions in a closed session to
interviews, I think the public deserves an opportunity to see him and to
listen to him in a public setting.
I think there still remain many questions about what happened at that
meeting and also the role of President Trump in crafting the statement
about the meeting. If he didn’t know about the meeting, how could he have
written the statement.
So, I think there are many unanswered questions that are really important
there and I look forward to that hearing to find out more about it.
MELBER: And then, on the Michael Cohen part, again, we’re kind of walking
through some of the different figures that we’re going to hear from. This
is from “Vanity Fair,” the same article I mentioned, where he talked about
taking a bullet for Trump.
Cohen said that, “On the advice of his lawyer, he and the Trumps are now on
a forced break from speaking to each another. All parties thought it would
be best if we ceased communication unless it was an emergency. So that
when the questioning occurs, nobody can say to me, well, did you speak to
the president within the last week or three weeks, what did you talk
That is on the heels, though of “New York Times” reporting that Michael
Cohen had hoped to work in the administration. And something unstated in
the article, and I want to be fair, we don’t know what kind of thing it
was, but something kept him out of the administration.
So, there seems to be an interesting wedge here of someone who was very
close to the president, was an attorney and a business person, is caught up
to some degree, but also has sort of been pulled away for multiple reasons.
MCQUADE: I don’t know what that reason is. I think the advice not to talk
to President Trump during this period of time is probably very sound
because, especially for someone who has said, I would take a bullet for
him, you could see how that could be interpreted to mean that they’ve been
talking lately and they’ve been trying to get their stories straight, so
that Michael Cohen can help protect the president and figuratively at least
take a bullet for him.
MELBER: And on the business side, I mean, it’s not that people might have
made a lot of money in various ways that Mueller is interested in, right?
I mean, what is the - walk us through what is the potential federal legal
hook that he would need to actually get in and use the business dealings in
any future proceeding?
MCQUADE: Well, we have this very interesting set of facts that Michael
Cohen was involved in negotiating with the Russians to build a Trump Tower
And remember, there was that email message from the Trump associate Felix
Sater that said that we’re going to get to Putin and talk about this.
Well, now it goes from being a routine business deal to a political matter,
reaching to the very top of the government of Russia. What are your
interactions with them?
And as you heard Sen. Klobuchar talk about, it’s illegal for a foreign
national or a foreign government to make any kind of contribution,
including a thing of value, in our elections.
And so, this is during a time when Donald Trump is running for president.
So, I think what Robert Mueller is looking for is, was there, in these
business relationships, any discussion of assistance in the campaign, a
quid pro quo, a debt, a leverage, a favor. And so, any connection there
could be incredibly important in proving collusion with the Russians.
MELBER: Right. And that’s something that they, at the time, were
vociferously denying some of the evidence we already have undermines those
Now, Barbara McQuade, before I let you go, I have to say, I see Michigan,
the big house, I think my alma mater in the background behind you, always
makes us happy. Beautiful shot there. So, go blue.
MCQUADE: Thanks very much and go blue.
MELBER: Go blue. Thank you, Barbara. Appreciate it. Sean Spicer behind
the podium again, this time in a controversial appearance at the Emmys.
We’re going to tell you what Spicer is now saying in “The New York Times”
MELBER: New reports that Donald Trump and Mike Pence may be misusing funds
marked for charity. Their inaugural committee raised $107 million. That’s
double Obama’s first inauguration, but they pledged to donate any leftover
funds to charity.
But a new “AP” report find “nothing” has yet gone to charity. And some of
the money is already being missed for what looked like clearly non-
charitable purposes, like a redecoration of this residence, the naval
observatory where Mike Pence lives, a three-story brick house with a
swimming pool, a hot tub and a putting green.
It’s one thing to run late on promised charity donations, as Trump has done
repeatedly, and quite another for Trump and Pence to raid the money they
earmarked for charity and spend it on their own stuff. Pence singing a
different tune during the transition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: I told him it was important to
continue a tradition I’ve had throughout my life of stopping by (AUDIO GAP)
giving encouragement to ministries like (AUDIO GAP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: (AUDIO GAP) Executive Director of (AUDIO GAP) which had sued the
Trump administration for its failure to release documents and Peter
Choharis, a Lawyer and prominent Political Strategist who helped write John
Kerry’s Presidential platform. Good day to both. Austin, your view of
this charity story?
AUSTIN EVERS, AMERICAN OVERSIGHT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well, I think he
started from the position that this President does not deserve benefit of
the doubt when it comes to charitable (AUDIO GAP). Mentioned at the top,
(AUDIO GAP) long documented history of making big promises and then not
following (AUDIO GAP) until there’s (AUDIO GAP) amount of public (AUDIO
GAP). You can go back to the campaign when he did a fund fundraiser for
veterans, (AUDIO GAP) wasn’t until six months later after public (AUDIO
GAP) cut check from his personal (AUDIO GAP) unfortunately (AUDIO GAP)
largely (AUDIO GAP) these days.
PETER CHOHARIS, CHOHARIS GLOBAL SOLUTIONS FOUNDER: Well, look, are there
allegations of illegality or criminal conduct? No. Do I think they should
have followed through on their promise? Yes. Charitable contributions,
not the same as renovating the Vice President’s house or the White House.
But frankly, I think there other more burning issues that especially with
respect to Congressional inquiries that probably (AUDIO GAP a lot more
MELBER: And we’ve covered those – I mean, we’ve covered some of the
Russia stuff in first two blocks. I think what is also important though,
Peter, is there’s always something else. I mean, most stories won’t be top
story. It’s a tautology. And yet, when you look at what seems to be a
systematic style – systematic of breaking pledges and making misstatements
and making falsehoods, it almost seems like larger action going on here to
sort of exhaust or normalize this thing. I mean, they didn’t even need to
make the promise. For some reason made this promise it would all go to
charity and now they’re not going through on it and the AP comes up with
story and I don’t think the response has to be well, let it go.
CHOHARIS: Now, I’m not saying that the response has to be let it go. The
question is, do we have Congressional inquiry on this or do we focus on
other things in Congress? And I think there are lot more important things
to focus on frankly. With this administration, yes, is trust an issue?
Would you think want to focus on things that enhance trust and
accountability and fiduciary responsibility? Yes, you think they would.
But again, I’m worried about you know, that President speaking to U.N.
General Assembly tomorrow, I’m worried about North Korea and I know you’ve
covered that but I think it can’t be covered too much because we had three
principals of the national security team, the Secretary of State, the
National Security Adviser and the U.N. Ambassador. For the first time this
weekend, all talking about I’m not sure sanctions are going to work North
Korea, war may be a possibility. I think that in the grand scheme of
things can’t be talked about enough because millions of lives could be at
stake. That’s my point.
MELBER: Yes, and Austin – yes, I hear that. Austin, when you look at how
these things work, I mean, at the end of last week, the Ethics Office which
had been vacated by Walter Shaub, who some viewers may know because he’s
popped up criticizing the Trump administration with trying to make a
reversal in Obama era rule that would allow secret donations to legal
defense fund. And they have unilateral authority over that. They have –
to Peter’s earlier point – it is legal for them to make that call. And
then, when it was exposed and when there was pressure, they pulled back
from it. You’re leading a group that’s trying to sort of pick your battles
with the Trump administration, ethical, legal and otherwise. What is the
role here in your view of what is the right thing to focus on and does that
accountability make a difference? Are you seeing areas where certain
things are working even when they have the call when they have the power?
EVERS: I think that’s exactly right. By forcing people’s focus on these
ethical issues, even what seem like minor transgressions, you talk about
the larger issue. And when you look at the inaugural funds, let’s not
forget the broader issue which is what was the original purpose of the
funds that were donated to that event? It buys access and influence with
this administration and we’ve seen it pay off. You have the Venezuelan Oil
Company gave half a million dollars and (INAUDIBLE) omitted from the recent
You have Dow Chemical gave half a million dollars to the Trump inaugural
and one of the first things that Scott Pruitt did when he got to the EPA,
was overturn a long pending rule on pesticides. These issues matter and
you know, I wasn’t that long ago that Candidate Trump was running on
cleaning up Washington. I think it really matters to hold him to his
promises. And certainly in this case, when he reaped the benefit of making
big promises about giving to charity, well, if he’s not going to follow
through, he should reap the repercussions of that too.
MELBER: Austin Evers and Peter Choharis thank you both. I’ll have you
back as soon as possible. Ahead, I asked the question which side is
Facebook actually on? A special look at how the tech giant is facing
questions in the Russia query. And the Emmys turn political. Sean Spicer
talks about his big regret.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The nominees for outstanding
supporting actress in a comedy series are –
OK, and the Emmy goes to, Cynthia Nixon.
CYNTHIA NIXON, AMERICAN ACTRESS: Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Donald Trump had presenter duties at 2004 Emmys. The award itself
did elude him. He never won despite eight nominations for The Apprentice.
But Trump clearly coveted the glitz and Hollywood approval associated with
the Emmys, seeking the embrace of A-list stars, so perhaps it’s a painful
irony that having ascended to the highest position in the land, he is now
their detested enemy and punch line which was on display last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEC BALDWIN, AMERICAN ACTOR: At long last Mr. President, here is your
DONALD GLOVER, AMERICAN ACTOR: I want to thank Trump for making black
people number one on the most oppressed list. He’s the reason I’m probably
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, AMERICAN ACTRESS: We did have a whole storyline about
an impeachment but abandoned that because we were worried that someone else
might get to it first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Was not all digs either. Some actors used their moment to stand
up for causes they feel Trump has attacked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RIZ AHMED, BRITISH ACTOR: If this show has shown a light on some of the
prejudice in our society, Islamophobia, some of the injustice in our
justice system then maybe that’s something.
NICOLE KIDMAN, AMERICAN ACTRESS: we shone a line on domestic abuse. It is
– it is a complicated, insidious disease, it exists far more than we allow
ourselves to know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Which would be good if they stopped there but Hollywood being
Hollywood, it seems there’s no position, critique, or consistency that
won’t yield in pathetic deference to another perceived big name. And
that’s why this is the moment of normalization I’m about to show you that
many critics say undercut any pretense of political message last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, AMERICAN COMEDIAN: Is there anybody who could say how big
the audience is? Sean, do you know?
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This will be the largest
audience to witness an Emmys, period. Both in person and around the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Sean Spicer taking the stage to tell jokes about when he used his
government-funded salary to mislead the nation. It’s apparently part of a
larger tour by Spicer to put Trumpism behind him and reintegrate into elite
media society. Today, he tells the New York Times he absolutely regrets
that crowd size appearance at the lectern. But there’s something important
going on here. If Spicer is now in on the joke, if he concedes that he
peddled falsehoods, working for a President who peddled falsehoods, it may
offer a kernel of transition, crumb of growth.
But it’s not accountability, it’s not a serious reckoning for work in
government where he stood from that podium and pushed falsehoods about
millions of Americans voting illegally without evidence, a defense of his
boss that included a baseless attack when you think about it, using the
power of the United States on millions of imagined voter felons, and there
many other examples I don’t have time for right now, which is not to say
that Sean Spicer can’t laugh at himself or ask others to join in. But
without accountability is it funny yet? To join me for the conversation,
Liz Plank from Vox.com and Aisha Moodie-Mills, President of the Victory
LIZ PLANK, SENIOR PRODUCER & POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, VOX: I think that
the only thing that Emmys did was raise Sean Spicer’s speaking fee. Like
actually that is going to happen after this appearance because it
normalized him, right? It made him funny, it made him cool, it basically
excused the awful things that he did when he was you know, working for the
administration, which you’ve laid out in your intro. And I was just – I
mean, even before he came out, I was just disappointed. I thought like
progressive Hollywood, you know, there was a huge opportunity to use this
moment to talk about important issues but he talked about the people who
MELBER: But he’s a “star.” So to Hollywood, it’s like, that’s fine.
PLANK: Right. And comedy is you know, it sort of low-hanging fruit. I
thought Colbert’s monologue could have you know, had so many opportunities
but unfortunately didn’t really used any of that to call out Donald Trump
and call out the people that are hurt by his administration.
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, VICTORY FUND PRESIDENT: Yes, the fact that we are in a
place where culture, right, which sure can make fun of ourselves with
culture is actually normalizing behavior that is otherwise just disgusting
in terms of lying to the American public is the problem is. So now we’re
in place where – we’re desensitized to the highest office in the land
literally telling falsehoods and lying and being proud of it. And this
idea that we can laugh at it, is you know, to me is a little bit
deplorable. I think that the message of the night was really great but the
fact they’re saying you know what, doesn’t really matter if you don’t tell
the truth is what’s problematic.
MELBER: Right. Well, and you’re putting finger on something that’s a
deeper problem in the – in the politics now that obviously is infecting
the culture which is, can we all get along with different ideologies? Yes,
hopefully, that’s pluralistic society. Can we all get along with different
understandings of the facts and people lying knowingly about the facts?
No, we can’t get along about that because that is contra everything in an
empirical democracy, right? And so, I want to read from something that was
written about this in the Atlantic, the same problem, “turning the PR guy
for the Trump administration and into just another character in the
entertainment landscape, a loveable provider of quips and shticks flattens
the moral dimensions of the national debate. It says, Deep down politics
is just sport, just drama, which undercuts the anti-Trump stands made on
the Emmy stage.”
MILLS: Yes and it’s forgetting that politics ultimately affects people’s
day-to-day lives. And policy is about people and the impact on our day-to-
day lives. So when Nicole Kidman gets off and she talks about domestic
violence and she talks about how this is something that is pervasive in our
society, we don’t quite talk about it, et cetera, you’re really feeling
like, oh my god, we’re drawing light to something that’s impacting real
Americans. So then turn politics into something that is just sultry and
that is just sport, I think really denigrates democracy. And that’s one of
the things that makes me sad about where we are right now in our discourse.
MELBER: So, it is it, Liz, because Hollywood is more comfortable with
fiction, to begin with?
PLANK: I mean, I think your point about the role of the arts and to
bringing people together is so interesting because there is an opportunity
for that. And you know, I was watching and I was thinking, is anyone who
voted for Donald Trump going to be convinced otherwise after watching this?
To me just sort of proved every sort of stereotype that conservatives often
tend to believe about Hollywood, which is it’s you know, a bunch of
progressive sort of patting themselves on the back were out of touch.
And in a way also, I mean, yes, diversity was better but there is –
there’s still a sea and crowd of white people. And you know, even Colbert
– I’m talking back to Colbert, I’m sorry, I’m a big fan of the show but
you know, calling out African-Americans, like look at all the great black
people, I thought one of the best moments was unscripted. And it was you
know, Dave Chappelle saying, he was surprised as he counted 11 black people
in the crowd. I thought that was true, you know, a reflection on yes,
Hollywood, we’re great and we talked about domestic violence and diversity
but we still have a lot of problems too.
MILLS: Well, I do want to shout out the fact that there was a historic
first which were awesome. Lena Waithe who is an amazing writer, director,
producer. She won, she became the first black woman to actually win comedy
writing for this beautiful coming out portrayal of black lesbian in Master
Of None. So that was really fantastic.
MELBER: I appreciate that. And if course, shouting on Chappelle, I want
to shout out when keeping it real goes wrong, just a great Chappelle
segment, for just doing shout outs –
PLANK: It wouldn’t be your show if you – if you couldn’t do it.
MELBER: Aisha Moodie-Mills and Liz Plank, always a pleasure. Coming up,
why Mueller is zeroing in on Facebook.
MELBER: In the Russia investigation, Bob Mueller is now zeroing in on some
key tools like Facebook and it looks like he’s using a subpoena or warrant
to make Facebook cough up more than it gave Congress. Now, a search
warrant suggests Facebook was used for some kind of crime but Facebook’s
corporate message is always to claim that it’s neutral, that it’s just a
platform where people communicate and share, which may sound neutral but
it’s not. Because there’s nothing neutral about helping spread lies. That
makes you part of the problem. And remember, neutrality was also
Facebook’s first offense for how it pummeled users with pro-Trump fake news
during the general election.
Here are some of the stories with the highest engagement on Facebook in
late 2016. A false claim that an FBI agent tied to Clinton was found dead.
That never happened. Another, about Clinton selling weapons to ISIS, it
didn’t happen. And the most popular was the false claim the pope endorsed
Trump. Those are false stories that spread like wildfire on Facebook
before people voted. Now, they didn’t spread as literally fan fiction or
onion style jokes. They spread through a very specific fraud. That fraud
that they were real. Which Facebook packages its articles and presents
like any other real article, those, kind of, fake news stories. In fact,
they got more attention as you can see in this chart than actual news on
Facebook as the election approached. Now, afterward, the President, after
this election, the President called out fake news. Not that president,
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: In an age
where there’s so much active misinformation and it’s packaged very well and
it looks like the same when you see it on a Facebook page. We can lose so
much of what we’ve gained in terms of the kind of democratic freedoms and
market-based economies and prosperity we’ve come to take for granted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: President Obama was worried that lies were more believable on
Facebook which impacted democratic freedom. But Mark Zuckerberg’s response
to the election was to say it was, “crazy.” He told a November conference
it was crazy to blame Facebook for fake news and people upset about it
showed a lack of empathy and failed to internalize the message of Trump
voters. Adding that, Facebook gave people information through the social
system that’s inherently more diverse than to old news systems.
Now, note his tricky use of the word diversity. Yes, diversity of opinions
and ideas is good. Diversity, though, as we discussed on this show today
is not a concept that applies to facts. You can’t have a diverse set of
facts about whether the Pope endorsed Trump. He didn’t. And fake article
that claim the Pope did endorse Trump are not diverse. They’re false. In
business, they’re called a fraud, Mr. Zuckerberg. But on Facebook they’re
clicks. And so, Zuckerberg has an incentive to keep that fake news
flowing. And that was in November.
But after pressure, Facebook recently changed its tune announcing it will
add fact checks to debunk hoax spreading on the site and won’t let those
types of hoax paddler by ads. So maybe Facebook will change under pressure
for the current controversy. How it let Russian operatives buy ads while
posing as Americans. Congress is interested in that and so far, Facebook
won’t even us, its own users, whether they were targeted by Russians or
whether it will release its internal review on Russian meddling via
So the social network facilitating these foreign frauds and profiting off
them doesn’t think it owes Americans any information about that. Mark
Zuckerberg risks sounding like a combination of Equifax and Alex Jones
here, a corporation that doesn’t care about its costumers or the truth. We
know the Russian effort online was basically a type of political catfishing
creating a fake online profile to trick another person. MTV’s Catfish
documents how people do that to basically trick folks into a hoax
relationship which is painful.
Now, political catfishing may not be as tailored but it also exploits this
vague personal foreign matters to social media, this thin line between
verified and fake. And the Russia are still doing it. I’ll show you the
top hashtags that Russia linked accounts and blogs are pushing right now.
This is today, from Syria to MAGA, to the Emmys according to Russian
tracker from the alliance for securing democracy. We need to know a lot
more about this. Facebook and other social media companies have multiple
obligations not only to the Special Counsel and Congress who may legally
compel them but to the public at large who put so much of our lives and
privacy and time into these sites. You know, during the cold war, Reagan
ran that famous ad, positing Russian is a dangerous bear on the horizon
which some people refuse to see.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Others don’t see it at all, isn’t it smart to be as
strong as the bear, if there is a bear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: If there is a bear. Every day we learning more about Russian
meddling and we know there is a bear even if some refuse to see it. It’s
past time for Facebook to decide which side it’s on.
MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT. We were just talking about some key
questions for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg but we’re not above telling you
to check out our Facebook page which is still in good working order there.
THEBEATWITHARi or you can check us out on Twitter or as many of you have
been doing, because I read them, you can always e-mail me ARI@MSNBC.COM.
That is a working old fashion e-mail. That does it for our show tonight on
THE BEAT, thanks for watching. And up next is “HARDBALL” with Chris
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Caught on camera. Let’s play HARDBALL.
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