The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 9/22/17 Alabama Senate Race

Howard Fineman, David Litt, Renato Mariotti, Jonathan Capehart, Erin Gloria Ryan, Benjamin Wittes, Gay Talese, David Litt, Nancy Giles

Date: September 22, 2017
Guest: Howard Fineman, David Litt, Renato Mariotti, Jonathan Capehart,
Erin Gloria Ryan, Benjamin Wittes, Gay Talese, David Litt, Nancy Giles

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Happy New Year. Appreciate that, Chuck.

Tonight, President Trump is on the verge of another stinging rebuke from
his own party on Trumpcare. The key player is John McCain who came out
swinging today and may ultimately be the veto of the Republicans` last-
ditch effort to revive Trumpcare by next week`s deadline.

McCain saying tonight he cannot in good conscience vote for the new
Trumpcare effort. This is a big deal. It means, obviously, Democrats only
now need one more vote to save Obamacare and administer another bipartisan
thumping of this young president, saving healthcare for at least 21 million
people - that`s the policy side - and enshrining a victory with the word
Obama in it. That`s the political side.

Obamacare does still hang in the balance because of that one vote, but
tonight just one. Then it would be done. Sen. Susan Collins says she`s
leaning against the new GOP plan. She was part of the McCain coalition
that dramatically blocked the last effort at Trumpcare on the Senate floor.

Alaska maverick Lisa Murkowski also up in the air tonight. Pence also now
coming out with a late day plea.


conscience abandon this cause. The American people are hurting. As
President Trump has made clear, inaction is not enough. Now, let me be
clear, a vote against Graham-Cassidy is a vote to save Obamacare.


MELBER: This is the biggest domestic fight of the last decade and it hangs
in the balance right now.

So, look at what`s happening. The Trump White House is rolling out Mike
Pence, not the president, and that`s pretty telling. This is a president
who tends to lose more Senate votes than he gains.

And perhaps, the best thing he could do for Republicans right now on this
fight tonight is disappear because even in a Republican-controlled Senate,
when the choice is boiled down to Obamacare versus Trump, Obamacare has
been winning.

It`s another reminder of how unpredictable politics is, especially when you
have a deal maker in the White House who looks boxed in and stuck, leading
from behind.

I want to bring in right now Howard Fineman, Global Editorial Director for
the “Huffington Post.” This wasn`t how it was supposed to be, Howard. What
is happening?

think there are two things happening. One on a substantive level, there
are a lot of doubts about this bill. And not just from Democrats. A lot
of Republicans either don`t know the details or are concerned about what
impact it might have.

And then, politically, as you said, Donald Trump pounding the table
rhetorically is not necessarily a winner to keep the Republican coalition

In the case of John McCain, who I`ve covered literally for decades,
pounding the table by Donald Trump is certain to drive John McCain in the
other direction, which is exactly what happened tonight in a move that I
think is going to kill the bill.

MELBER: I want to play for you Jimmy Kimmel who, obviously, has been in
this, not really by choice as a political matter, I think it`s fascinating
to see someone who came out and spoke as I think everyone knows about his
child, about how healthcare works in this country.

Then gets into it with Sen. Cassidy who, of course, is now selling here
this thing hanging right now as of this hour tonight by one vote, by a
thread. Listen to Jimmy Kimmel talking about his qualifications in all
this last night.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL SHOW: A lot of people have been saying
that I`m not qualified to talk about this, and that is true. I`m not
qualified to talk about this. But I think those people forget, Bill
Cassidy named this test after me. Am I supposed to just be quiet about


MELBER: Has this backfired on Sen. Cassidy?

FINEMAN: Oh, yes, it has because Jimmy Kimmel has very artfully framed
this in terms of the question of preexisting conditions. In other words,
who gets coverage based on whether they`re sick when they come into the
program and lifetime spending on a particular illness, which is
particularly apt in Jimmy Kimmel`s case because of the well-known travails
of his little boy.

So, Jimmy Kimmel on those two topics has focused and been fierce and I
think been very effective. Last night on Jimmy Kimmel`s show, he had Sen.
Al Franken, a critic of the Cassidy Bill from Minnesota, who`s very
knowledgeable and stuck to those talking points.

Actually, the Democrats, oddly enough led by Jimmy Kimmel, focused on some
of the most personal, most telling and most emotional aspects of the
attack, which I think has helped.

And in John McCain`s case, this is John McCain returning to the John McCain
of 2000s.

MELBER: Right.

FINEMAN: Whom I my covered as the maverick.

MELBER: Let`s pause on that. And I want to get you on that and also I
have Joy Reid by my side about to join us.

So, you speak about that. This is not, of course, the first friction
between McCain and Trump. People remember in the campaign, plus in
February when Trump tweeted McCain has been losing so long, he doesn`t know
how to win anymore. Days later, it was at that security conference in
Germany, McCain firing back.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This panel is going to ask us to consider
whether the West will survive. In recent years, this question would invite
accusations of hyperbole and alarmism. Not this year. If ever there was a
time to treat this question with a deadly seriousness, it is now.


MELBER: The respectful implication being that the president not being
serious. And then, after Trump`s comments on Charlottesville, McCain wrote
the president is often poorly informed and can be impulsive, but we are not
his subordinates, we don`t answer to him.

And then, of course, back to healthcare, McCain famously killing the last
Republican attempt to get Trumpcare in over Obamacare in dramatic fashion.

There it was. And there it is. I want to bring in MSNBC`s Joy Reid, the
host of “AM Joy,” as well as David Litt, a former Obama administration
official and author of a new book, “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey Change White
House Years.”

Joy, last time, he did it straight up on the floor like that.


MELBER: This time he`s coming out earlier. Is that worse for Trump?

REID: I think any time that he is at war with John McCain, it`s worse for
Trump. And the reason for that, John McCain is not defending Obamacare
here. You`ve never heard him actually defend the lies.

He is defending the Senate. And I think one of the things that has become
the most broken with Donald Trump in the White House is the idea of the co-
equal branch of government behaving as something other than supine lackeys
of the White House.

The Republican Party, including its leadership in both the House and
Senate, have behaved as if they`re Donald Trump`s employees. And John
McCain is the guy standing up saying, actually, we`re not his employees.
And so, he is defending the process.

The only way that Donald Trump wins in Capitol Hill where he has no friends
actually, nobody except Chuck Schumer, the president actually knew before
he came to Washington, the only way that he wins is that the chaos forces
the Republican Party to fear the base so much they just do whatever he

So, he can`t afford to keep alienating John McCain and yet he doesn`t
learn. Donald Trump doesn`t learn. He is not a friend of John McCain.
John McCain owes him nothing.

MELBER: Well, you make such an insightful point as you so often do, Joy,
that it`s not necessarily Obamacare being defended, right, but it is about,
as you say, the actual constitutional dimension of who is in charge.
There`s a Jamaican saying - I don`t know if you know it.

REID: I know every Jamaican saying.

MELBER: Do you?

REID: Well, maybe.

MELBER: We run things, things not run we.

REID: That`s correct.

MELBER: And this is John McCain saying we run this senate and it`s not
going to be run roughshod over by someone who doesn`t show a lot of respect
for how government works.

REID: Exactly. And the thing - Donald Trump has exploded a lot of norms.
And one of the most alarming things about him being president is that it
does call into question whether institutions created a couple of hundred
years ago are strong enough to withstand someone like him, somebody who
doesn`t seem to really understand the office or respect the limits and the
constraints on it.

Well, at some point, the American people need the co-equal branch of
government down the street to actually stand up and be a co-equal branch of
government to rein him in.

The strongest argument that Democrats have in 2018 is that Republicans are
incapable of doing it and unwilling to do it. They are unwilling to be the
Senate and be the House, they have decided to be lackeys, they have decided
to be employees.

John McCain is the one guy saying, no, actually, we don`t want to be
lackeys and employees. That`s not a lot for Democrats to hang their hats
on by the way because John McCain is not on Democrat side on any of these
policy questions at all. He`s probably on Lindsey Graham`s side.

But all he`s saying is unless we go back to the process, the regular order
and let the institution work, I`m not playing along.

MELBER: Right. And so interesting, as you point out. I mean, this goes
to whether Republican fan fiction can be governable or not. And this is an
example of it not.

Howard, I want to put up on the screen Jimmy Kimmel`s response. This came
just into our newsroom. Obviously, he`s been all over this debate. But he
praises John McCain here coming out against Trumpcare today and writes -
Jimmy Kimmel says, “Thank you, Senator John McCain for being a hero again
and again and now again.”

Howard, as mentioned, you`ve covered him for a long time. Walk us through
the kind of leadership we`re seeing here from John McCain today.

FINEMAN: Well, I covered his 2000 campaign, which was the best McCain.
That was John McCain saying that he was for bipartisanship, that he was
searching for consensus even while he was running as a maverick and a sort
of outsider who also wanted regular order in a way.

And to follow on what Joy was saying, the interesting thing here is, he is
Mr. Maverick in the current context of Trump`s Washington, but what he`s
arguing for is tradition.

Don`t forget, John McCain is third or fourth generation Navy. His father
is an admiral. His grandfather is an admiral. He has a sense of
continuity of the constitution and service in America. And it`s that I
think above all that motivates his distaste and disdain for Donald Trump.

And the feeling between the two of them is mutual. They are barely in the
same world. And the John McCain you saw today is the John McCain of 2000.
And as he faces the illnesses and the battles that he faces now, I think he
is consciously seeking to recapture the energy and the emotion and the best
of himself politically that you saw in that earlier campaign.

MELBER: And that`s all the politics and the relationships. We have David
Litt here and I want to play something for you from one of your colleagues
in the Obama administration, Josh Earnest, who as you know is a much better
communicator than you. You know that.

You`re just a writer. He`s a talker.


MELBER: I`m just messing with you. But in one blizzard last night on “The
Last Word”, where I was watching him and Joy Reid last night, I was glued
to my TV screen with all the different facts you guys were unfurling, and
he basically went through policy of this.

Put the personalities aside, he talks about where people and companies
involved in healthcare are on this new Trumpcare bill. Take a listen.


single group that`s in any way involved in providing healthcare to
Americans opposes this bill. Hospital executives oppose this bill because
it`s bad for hospitals. Doctors oppose this bill because it`s bad for
doctors. Nurses oppose this bill because it`s bad for nurses. Patient
advocates oppose this bill because it`s bad for patients.


MELBER: I mean, David not everyone in healthcare loves Obamacare, but Josh
Earnest is arguing everyone in healthcare hates Trumpcare.

DAVID LITT, FORMER OBAMA SPEECHWRITER: That`s exactly right. You have the
Republican Party and Donald Trump saying we want to rip healthcare away
from 20 million people because we don`t like Barack Obama very much.

That`s what the argument boils down to. It`s not the care part. It`s the
Obama part. And it doesn`t make sense. There`s a reason that Obamacare is
now at 54 percent popularity. We would have loved that back when we were
in the White House.

And Graham Cassidy, I think, I saw today, is at 24 percent. This makes no
political sense. It makes no policy sense. And I think that`s what Josh
is getting at.

MELBER: Howard Fineman, thank you for being here and reflecting on some of
your reporting history. David, stay with me. Joy, stay with me.

I want to ask you, Joy, if you could interview anyone on your show this
weekend, who would it be? I`ll ask you that. OK? That`s a warning. And
then you get to answer.

Ahead, we have some other really important breaking news. This just came
into the newsroom. The federal government now identifying specifically for
the first time the 21 states targeted by Russian hackers. Yes, they really
are only getting around to doing tonight.

Trump also breaking a Twitter silence on Russia. We`ll tell you what it

Later, Steve Bannon going to war with his old boss. Bannon and Trump
squaring off in good old Alabama, a battle for the base.

And Jim Comey made his first public appearance today ever since that Senate
testimony. We`re going to show it to you and what it means and speak to a
good friend of his.

I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER: Breaking news on this Friday night. The feds say they are now
telling individual states if they were targeted by Russian hackers in the
2016 election. This may be a Friday night news dump, but it sure is

We now know that 21 states` election systems were hacked in some way. That
has been on the books. But what is brand new tonight, believe it or not,
is the Department of Homeland (INAUDIBLE 1:58) in those individual states
for the first time.

For example, in Wisconsin tonight, state officials say this is the “first
time the Trump administration informed them they were targeted by Russia.”
We are, of course, ten months after the election.

These notifications may obviously be tense for some Trump officials. They
work for a man who still contradicts the evidence that Russia hacked United
States last year.

Now, that`s what the authorities are doing to help address potential
Russian hacking in the future. Meanwhile, the Russia probe continues.
Some Trump aides “reaching out to headhunters to find jobs outside the

The surveillance of Paul Manafort back in the news with reports he was
monitored after he left the Trump campaign and Facebook handing their
Russian ads over to investigators.

Is Trump noticing this heat? Well, we ran the numbers here and signs point
to yes. Take a look at this. Trump had been tweeting about a dozen times
a month about Russia in early summer, which fell to five in August, the
last one on August 15.

Then nothing. Trump went over a month - 38 days - without tweeting about
Russia. And given his usual rate of tweeting, that suggests either his
advisors or his lawyers convinced him he really was hurting himself with
his tweets.

But you know what? A tweet diet is really like any diet. The test is
time. Anyone can diet for an hour. I`ll go sometimes two hours without a
cinnamon roll. A month, though, is harder for Trump. We see 38 days was
his breaking point as he picked up this Facebook news to slam the Russia
hoax today.

But Trump may reveal more than he intends. Is there something about
Facebook and that issue that strikes too close to home? His return to
tweeting about Russia violates the cardinal advice that Richard Nixon gave
to President Reagan about how to avoid making a scandal worse.

He wrote the president, don`t ever comment on the Iran-Contra matter again.
Have instructions issued to all White House staffers and spokesmen, they
must never answer any question on or off the record about that issue in the
future.” That may be good Nixonian advice, if you can follow it.

Back with me is Joy Reid. And joining us, former federal prosecutor Renato
Mariotti. Renato, you look at the authorities giving this information
finally to the states. Is there any good reason it should take ten months?

certainly, there can be reasons that you`d want to protect sources and
methods, but a warning should have been given to these state that they
needed to take action to protect themselves and the citizens of their state
in the future.

Now, they`re up in a race against time. We have elections here in
Illinois. We have an election coming up in March, a primary election. And
voters in this state want to know, is their vote going to count? Is their
vote going to be tampered with in some way and I`m sure it`s the same in
all the rest of the states across this country?

And really now, it`s going to be up to state and local governments to step
up and make sure that this matter is investigated and that their systems
are protected, so they can assure their citizens that this won`t happen

MELBER: Joy, it`s one of these things we`re sitting here - this is real.
This is ten months later. This is not, wait, I think I heard about that,
didn`t I see the headline. This is now Friday night, ten months later and
the feds say to the states individually, “hey, I know you might have heard,
21 of you, but instead of just guessing and wondering or checking it, we`re
actually going to help out now.

I`m just going to read from this so people understand what`s out there.
Department of Homeland Security saying that earlier this year it had
evidence of Russian activity in 21 states, but they failed to inform
individual states whether they were among those targeted. State election
officials finally contacted by federal authorities on Friday today.

REID: Yes. One might deem it suspicious that the administration that
benefited from Russian intervention in the election, they wasted no time
deciding that they needed to launch a 50-state scheme to collect the
private data of voters, so that they could stop fictional voter fraud
because they wanted to prove that somehow Donald Trump really did win the
popular vote and there were millions of fraudulent voters.

They wasted no time empaneling a commission led by the vice president with
no vote suppression experts like Kris Kobach on it. That didn`t take any
time at all.

But DHS, which used to be headed by the now Chief of Staff General Kelly,
they couldn`t get around to letting the states know until this late in the
game when there`s another election coming up, which control of the House
and Senate, meaning control of the committees that can issue subpoenas,
that could pose a threat to this administration on the Russia
investigation, took them this long to get around to it, so states could
prepare. One might deem that odd and suspicious if you had a
conspiratorial mindset.

MELBER: Or, if, as you say, I`ll let you connect the dots, you`re telling
me, oh, yes, John Kelly, that guy who was supposed to be everyone`s savior
(INAUDIBLE 1:50) the order - and I`ve reported on John Kelly. I respect
his career.

But if we`re looking at this policy, I haven`t heard a good defense from
Kelly or anyone around him why this would take ten months or why it`s a
Friday night news dump. We know how that works.

REID: Yes. The urgency around things like banning Muslim travelers -
immediately. That has to get done right away. They`ve got all these
deadlines. It`s super urgent that they stop people of the Muslim faith
coming into the country.

They`ve got interesting priorities. And again, they are the people who
benefitted from Russian intervention the last time. So, they might have,
even just for the optic of it, wanted to be a little more proactive.

MELBER: Right. Well, there is an old question, Kui Bono, who Benefits?
We don`t just do Jamaican things. We do Italian sayings.

REID: I was just going to say, are you going to come with another JA
saying. I was getting ready for it.

MELBER: Renato - we can laugh on Friday even though we have serious news.
At least when Joy is here. And I`m going to ask you the question actually
in a second about who you want to interview.

But before I get to that, I want to play for you something very interesting
from a former national security official, Renato, about the other big news,
which is this focus on Paul Manafort.

And this may be bad for him without being as bad for Trump, depending on
your theory of the case. Take a listen here to Jeremy Bash.


JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF: It`s possible that Russia actually sent and
dispatched Paul Manafort to the Trump campaign. Or at least that once Paul
Manafort attached himself to the Trump campaign, the Russians said, OK, our
agent is now on the inside.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST, “Deadline: White House”: Are you saying it`s
possible that they`re going to want to find out if Manafort was a Russian
plant? Is that one of the questions the investigation is going to try to

BASH: Absolutely.


MELBER: Renato?

MARIOTTI: Wow! Wow! That is really something. What I would say is that
that would definitely be a primary purpose of the counterintelligence
aspect of the investigation.

On the criminal side of it, which I know a lot of people are focused on,
and certainly as a former federal prosecutor, I am, what I would say is
that would be explosive evidence that probably would actually not be
admitted into a trial unless it was very, very highly relevant because you
could imagine it`s so (INAUDIBLE 3:55) that they would not be focused on
the issues that matter for the particular crimes that are charged.

To me, one thing that we found out this week from “The New York Times” is
that Manafort is somebody that Mueller intends to charge and he has told
Manafort that.

MELBER: He is a target, according to that reporting, yes.

MARIOTTI: Exactly right. And one thing we also saw this week, Ari, is
that both Ty Cobb, who is the president`s lawyer, and Vice President Pence
distanced themselves from Paul Manafort. And I thought that was very
interesting because what we saw was for the first time that the allegations
had gotten so explosive - and I think this is right after the reporting
about him offering special access to a Russian billionaire - that now he`s
not somebody that you want to keep in the fold.

So, if I represented Manafort, I would be telling my client, I don`t know
if you`re going to get a pardon, you may be a fall guy here and you need to
be thinking about how you could help Mueller.

MELBER: Right. And that isolation strategy is clear. And by the way,
only Renato Mariotti, when asked a question about potential secret spy goes
right into the evidentiary ruling in a potential trial. It`s getting deep
into the boring part of law school, but that`s why we love your expertise.

Joy, they`re telling me I`m way over time. That happens with great guests.
If you could interview anyone right now on your show, who would you

REID: Right now, I think I`d go for Hillary Clinton.

MELBER: Would you go for Hillary Clinton?

REID: I would, I would.

MELBER: I hunched that was the answer. And Joy Reid`s show, tomorrow,
Hillary Clinton, 10 AM. I will be watching. I will be tweeting. I think
a lot of people will. Joy Reid -

REID: Thank you.

MELBER: - we will tune in. Thank you for joining us. And, Renato,
appreciate it as well.

REID: I am taking my swag with me.

MELBER: Is that cleared? Because we always get to ask. You got it
cleared. Oh, nice. Both of us. Thank you both. I appreciate it.

All right. Nothing uglier, up next, than a break up. And there`s a new
fight between Trump and his old allies Bannon and Sarah Palin playing out


SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: But, alas, ten months later, guys,
the swamp, it`s trying to hijack this presidency.




SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I`m here to support the next
president of the United States Donald Trump.

from day one, I said, “If I ever do this, I have to get her support.” She
feels it, she understands it better than anybody.


MELBER: Trump had Palin`s support then. But loyalty can be a one-way
street. She`s now lining up against Trump`s pick in Alabama, Luther
Strange. Trump rallying there tonight and trying to beat back a primary
challenge from Judge Roy Moore who has the backing now Palin and Bannon.


PALIN: I followed the judge`s career for many years and you know he was
deplorable before deplorable was cool.


MELBER: That Republican judge`s career includes using his post to pick
fights on marriage quality and a 10 Commandments monument. In fact, an
Alabama court ultimately kicked him out of office over his refusal to
remove that religious monument from a courthouse.

Joining me now is Jonathan Capehart from “The Washington Post” and Erin
Gloria Ryan from “The Daily Beast.” Jonathan, what does this civil war tell

Ari, it tells me is that the Republican Party, which has been at war with
itself since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, when it lurched really hard
to the right.

Well, now, it is lurching even more to the right where you got two people
who you don`t know who to root for between Luther Strange and Roy Moore.
And so it`s just a matter of the fringes of what used to be the fringes of
the Republican Party having a battle with each other over who`s going to
take this seat. Because no matter what, whether you know, Roy Moore has
got Palin and Bannon and Luther Strange has the President of the United
States, no matter who wins that race, that`s a vote for President Trump.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Yes, I mean, Erin Gloria Ryan, there`s a little
bit of the seat in the dark knight where you have the mobsters are like
really scary and then like, who`s going to scare us. But then when he`s
let his joker comes in, you`re like, oh, maybe there is someone even
scarier. And there`s that element here because this is a really
conservative Republican Senator backed by this insurgent pseudo-Republican
President Donald Trump. But Roy Moore, for anyone who` been following, has
been ripping it up Republican politics for years.

that there`s a couple of things that kind of remind me. First of all, I
think that like the New York D.C. Media and I realize that I`m a part of it
so it`s probably rich for me to indict this at all. But at least the New
York D.C. Media is always hungry for a narrative and really seductive
narrative. In this case is this narrative of like Trump versus Palin and
Bannon. In reality, I think that the voters of Alabama are just going to
decide for themselves. If celebrities determine who won election, Hillary
would have won 2016 in a landslide. Like –

MELBER: Wasn`t she running against the bigger celebrity?

RYAN: No, I don`t think that – I mean, if you look at all the – like
people lined up like at the DNC who are speaking for like Boys II Men did
like an opening number for her.

MELBER: (INAUDIBLE) I was there. Yes.

RYAN: So was I. But I think that like, you know, the narrative that this
is like celebrities versus celebrities is entertaining like professional
wrestling is entertaining. But I think ultimately, what is going to matter
is what the voters of Alabama think of these two candidates. I do think
Roy Moore is the more colorful, the louder, the crazier one. I think he
can out-crazy even Donald Trump and I think that`s maybe more of the story.
It`s like he is a bigger draw than Luther Strange because he is more

MELBER: And I think I buy that and yet Jonathan, what makes him more
interesting is where the Republican Party is going which is, he literally
preferred to have a talk radio parade around his ten commandments monument
fight than actually holding the series power he had as a judge at that

CAPEHART: Yes, I mean, I was you know, the ten commandments. He was also,
when he was sitting on the high – like he was the chief judge of the
state. And when marriage equality was made law of the land, he sent a
directive to his judges telling them to ignore the law, to ignore the
supreme court. That`s – Alabama – the choice that Alabama has to make.
Whether they`re going to vote for Luther Strange or whether they`re going
to vote for Roy Moore, a person who as was previously said, is somebody
who`s I think colorful is a nice way of saying somebody, say – a nice way
of describing someone who seems to behave in a way where he feels that he
is a law unto himself. And really, sometimes I think just from things that
I`ve read about him, it feels like God is on his side and that`s a very
dangerous position to be in.

MELBER: Right. We`ve sort of laps into catalog speech, you know, he`s
such a colorful pop of color. Like – also he`s lawless. He`s totally
lawless. Jonathan Capehart, thank you for spending part of your Friday
night with us. Erin Gloria Ryan, you`re coming back for “FALLBACK FRIDAY.”

RYAN: I am?


Coming up, Jim Comey out today with his first public comments since his
bombshell Senate testimony.


MELBER: Jim Comey has not spoken in public for 106 days until today in a
speech at Howard University.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Our country is going through one of
those periods where we`re trying to figure out, who are we really and what
do we stand for? And I look forward to adult conversations about what is
right and what is true. Thank you.


MELBER: You can hear some protesters in the background. But if Comey is
seeking adult conversations, he may not get them from protesters or the
Trump Administration which would turn to slamming Comey as not only a bad
FBI Director but potentially a criminal one.


right in firing Director Comey. We`ve learned new information about his
conduct that only provided further justification for that firing. There`s
no secret, Comey by his own self-admission, leaked privilege government
information weeks before President Trump fired him. His actions were
improper and likely could have been illegal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would the President encourage the DOJ to prosecute

SANDERS: That`s not the President`s role, that`s the job of the Department
of Justice and something they should certainly look at.


MELBER: Trump White House did not provide any evidence that Comey did
anything illegal. The White House attack also basically bizarre because
Trump already admitted he fired Comey over Russia, not some unstated
illegal conduct. Now, Comey has testified under oath and it all boiled
down to loyalty and a pledge Comey declined to make. That bombshell
testimony sure to interest Bob Mueller. He followed a report that long
before he was fired, Comey confided an associate about that loyalty
request. There are many anonymous sources in Washington but a key source
that article came forward.

It was legal expert Ben Wittes, who explained, the principal source for the
rest of this story is, well, me. He is Editor in Chief Lawfare blog that
has become the place for serious legal analysis of the Russia inquiry. He
works for the centers Brookings Institute in the conservative Hoover
Institution. He has gained some notoriety for his Twitter countdowns of
tick, tick, tick, boom before bombshell stories. Now he spends most of his
time doing research and writing, not television, but he has agreed to join
me on THE BEAT today. Thank you for being here, Ben.


MELBER: When you look at these attacks on Jim Comey and him stepping out
today, where are we in the White House battle against him and have we seen
last of the effort to impugn his character or accuracy?

WITTES: Well, I`m sure we have not seen the last of it. Jim`s appearance
at Howard today was a long-scheduled set of appearances that he`s going to
be making there throughout the academic years. So that has nothing to do
with the timing of any of the attacks. The attacks are, you know,
disgraceful and disgusting and they have been sort of the normal course of
business for the White House more or less since the time that he was
dismissed. And you know, I don`t really know what there is to say about
them except that you know, this really isn`t the way you would want a White
House talking about a long-serving public servant who particularly in the
absence of any evidence to support any of the allegations that they`re

MELBER: Right. No evidence. One of the key questions is what was Jim
Comey`s state of mind as FBI Director? In your conversations with him
before the firing, what was his level of concern about pressure or what he
did is potentially inappropriate conduct by President Trump?

WITTES: Well, he was very concerned about the behavior of the President
and his interactions with law enforcement. And he, I think the last time I
talked to him while he was in office, he thought he had the situation under
control and he really thought it had – would have required a lot of what
he called training of the White House about what the proper way to engage
with law enforcement was. But he — but at the same time, he did think it
was going to require kind of constant vigilance on his part in the future.
And he, you know, he made clear that he thought it was going to be very
long few years.

MELBER: When you look at what we`re learning about Mueller`s categories,
13 areas of request, as you know, from your legal writing and reporting,
pretty standard way to organize an investigation. And it doesn`t mean
every category will then have, a crime at the end of that path. But when
you see that one of the categories is specifically a Donald Trump`s
dealings with the Russian Ambassador, and reported reference to the firing
of Jim Comey, someone as we mentioned that you know, what do you as a legal
analyst think that tells us about what Mueller`s counsel – Special Counsel
probe is looking at with regard to that contact.

WITTES: Look, I think the investigation is clearly interested in the
President`s pattern of interaction with law enforcement, including Comey,
including the firing of Jim Comey, and including the way the President
talked about that firing after the fact. And I think as well, the
interactions between that pattern of activity and some of the underlying
matters that are the subject of separate investigation. And so, you know,
and so I think it is not surprising if you behave this way toward your law
enforcement leadership. That is, you ask them to drop investigations, you
put pressure on them for substantive outcomes and then you fire them when
you don`t deliver – when they don`t deliver. And then you go to a foreign
adversary power in the Oval Office and boast that you`ve relieved a lot of
pressure of yourself. You`re going to attract the interests of law
enforcement when you do that. And I don`t think anybody should be
surprised that Bob Mueller takes that pattern of behavior very seriously.

MELBER: Right. Lawfare`s Ben Wittis, thank you for your expertise

WITTES: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Coming up, how are we actually listening to people on the other
side of the political divide? Renowned journalist Gay Talese joins me live
up next.



SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The President was very receptive to
listening. That is a key to understanding.


MELBER: Senator Tim Scott saying President Trump listened to him during
their discussion of Trump`s response to Charlottesville. But within a day,
Trump reiterated his both sides comment about white supremacists suggesting
Trump may not have been listening all that well at all. There are reports
he is one of the least attentive people to ever occupy the White House.
But is Trump setting a wider tone that he devalues listening in our
culture? We know humans aren`t great at listening, to begin with. We
forget half of what we hear within a day and only remember 25 percent in
the long run. Today`s politics can make it worst.

A new study released just this month shows people on the left and right are
motivated to avoid even hearing from the other side. Both sides hearing
different views will cause frustration or alter the reality they want to
hold in their minds. Joining me now is a legendary author known for his
listening, Journalist Gay Talese famously refuse to ever use tape recorders
in his interviews. He says he better when you take notes. He covered the
Selma Marches for the New York Times, he`s the author of 12 books and the
winner of the Norman Mailer Prize. Gabe, always an honor to have you here.

GAY TALESE, JOURNALIST: If I may speak as not a political person, I know,
that the people you have on are tune into the moment and so say to course
because they`re on your show. Let me say that Donald Trump is probably in
our lifetime, the worst listener. But –

MELBER: The worst listener.

TALESE: He would not be Donald Trump. I think, when you think of Trump,
his towering achievement is that he listens to nobody ever.

MELBER: Never.

TALESE: Never.


TALESE: In the history of non-listener – but also he`s the man of his
time and that we`re part of a narcissistic age. This is the narcissistic
age of America and we have the narcissistic President running our time
whether you like it or not. I think in the history of non-listeners
however, if you go back. I`ll bet Napoleon was not a listener. I mean,
Castro – how would Castro ever – if he listened to anybody, conquered
Cuba with 12 guys.

MELBER: Fidel Castro.

TALESE: Fidel Castro. I mean, Trump is a combination of like Evel Knievel
or Sylvester Stallone in Rocky movies or a bit of he`s like a wire – walks
across wire like Philippe. There`s something very not admirable but
something impressive about Trump`s ability to listen to nobody and get
where he otherwise would not got –

MELBER: Well, you`re saying he might connect within reflect, a very
superficial culture. You as someone who does listen, how do we get out
from this? I mean, you don`t want young people, whether they want to be
journalists or firefighters, whatever they want to be, to take the
advantage – to take the example of this President if that`s not listening.

TALESE: The problem is that in order to stop people who are so single-
minded as Trump. You have to have people who have equal – a sense of
conviction that matches his own bouldering, blustering way. And you don`t
have that maybe because people who are non-listeners do not know how to
deal with a non-listener. There have to have – he is such a forceful
negative personality. But I tell you something. If he listened to
anybody, which he hasn`t, he wouldn`t be in the White House.

MELBER: Right. And that`s – and that`s the thing about him, right? And
that`s the thing that – it`s so interesting arguing with you of your
history but I think historians will look back and say he did get this far,
at least through the electoral college and that is a ratification of
something. But that`s like you know, fraudulent advertising can work. It
doesn`t mean it`s where you want everything to go. Let me play for you
Trump explaining to Chris Wallace why he doesn`t need to listen even to the
best experts we have.


know, I`m like a smart person. I don`t have to be told the same thing and
the same words every single day for the next eight years. It could be
eight years, but eight years. I don`t need that.


MELBER: He`s saying he doesn`t need daily intelligence briefings.

TALESE: Contrary to our expectations or aspirations, the guy is right. I
hate to say he`s right and I hate to say that I`m saying things that are
probably going to offend your audience. But the point is –

MELBER: Well our audience listens closely. They`re open-minded.

TALESE: This society we`re in now doesn`t listen either. Sometimes you go
to the opera or you go to a baseball game, people are not even watching a
ballet. They`re watching their voice, their cell phone. Who`s calling,
who`s calling me?

MELBER: How do we change it?

TALESE: Well, you can`t change what seems to work for people. And what it
works for people is a sense of self. We`re in a nation that`s very
absorbed with – everybody, there`s the world of selfie or a world of self-
centeredness. It dominates our society. I`m not saying everybody is
condemned by it or everybody is – should be concluded into this. But we
are in a period now that has to be addressed with some distance, not
political day by day but some distance historically. Why did Trump get to
be where Trump is? Sadly he got to where he is because he believed only he
knew the answer.

MELBER: Well, as the saying goes –

TALESE: It`s not what we want to hear but here we are.

MELBER: The hour calls for optimism. We`ll save pessimism for better

TALESE: Thank you. Nice to see you.

MELBER: You know, I`m a big admirer, so I always love when you come by.

TALESE: You`re such a successful guy, I dare not differ with you.

MELBER: Stop. Gay Talese, thank you and “FALLBACK FRIDAY” is next.


MELBER: It`s Friday and you know what that means. It`s time to fallback.
To fallback, it is a chance tell someone to chill out, relax or maybe even
reassess poor choices you`ve made at least this week. We have a
gangbusters panel, Nancy Giles, soulful Commentator and Host for the Giles
Files Podcast on iTunes.


MELBER: Giles, you know, I know you.

GILES: I know, but you said, Giles.

MELBER: I`m telling you to fall back. OK.

GILES: OK, fallback, step off.

MELBER: David Litt who we saw earlier in the show, an Obama Speechwriter
and a Comedian of sorts and Erin Gloria Ryan who we saw early in the show.
Nancy who needs to fall back?

GILES: Well, I was a little confused about fallback and step off. I kept
calling it step off Friday Friday for some reason. But I think everybody
who`s criticizing Jimmy Kimmel and saying he`s an elitist and what is he as
a Hollywood person know about, anything should really fallback because when
you look at starting with Trump and Trump`s cabinet filled with elite,
billionaires who have abused airplanes left and right, have Secret Service
coverage that they don`t need. Trump has bankrupted the Secret Service.
It`s sort of strange to look at people that are privileged and elite like
that talking to a guy like Jimmy Kimmel who is speaking straight from the
heart about something that is simple and basic as health care.

MELBER: Yes, and speaking as a – as a father.

GILES: That`s right.

MELBER: I hope they fall back and let`s let parents and children let`s let
everyone into this health care debate.

GILES: Absolutely.

MELBER: Who needs to fallback, Erin?

RYAN: Once again Gwyneth Paltrow needs to fall back.


RYAN: Gwyneth Paltrow`s Web site Goop, I was perusing it as I do normally
have my weekend (INAUDIBLE). And I saw yesterday that they were selling a
psychic vampire repellant sprayable elixir which is 3.4 ounces too big to
carry – I don`t (INAUDIBLE) unfortunately – of protective mist that`s
used as a combination of gem infused healing and deeply aromatic,
therapeutic oils reported to banish bad vibes and shield you from the
people who may be causing them. It also can safeguard your aura. Those
are apparently things that people believe exists and it costs $30 but
unfortunately, if you want to buy it, it`s sold out.

MELBER: Have you ever found anything good on Goop, on her Web site?


MELBER: It feels – it feels very proud of living well which I don`t think
is a good look. David, who needs to fallback?

with Sean Spicer. This has been a week where he`s been around way too
much. There`s a – there`s a template that you follow when you`ve done
something disgraceful as a political figure. You take time off, you grow a
beard and he should be doing that. And he said this week that people are
questioning his integrity and that`s over the top. And I mean, that`s like
questioning whether or not I can dunk a basketball. Like there`s no
question. He has no integrity. It`s done and he needs to think about his
life choices before he reenters public life.

MELBER: Yes, so Sean Spicer needs to fall back like all the way back, like
back out of the news cycle.

GILES: (INAUDIBLE) he`s going to fall back into a like reality series and
a probably book deal and a fragrance line. That`s what they all do.


MELBER: You know, Nancy, do you – do you want to know who I think needs
to fall back?

GILES: Tell me, who needs to fall back, step off?

MELBER: Don`t rename the segment.

GILES: I`m sorry, Ari.

MELBER: It`s not that kind of party.

GILES: Who needs to fall back?

MELBER: The State of California needs to fall back because of this video
game. This is a real video game of Usain Bolt that Gatorade put out.
There he is, he`s drinking his Gatorade, and when he drinks it, he runs
faster. Nothing wrong with that, look at the fuel meter. Like this a
harmless fun promotion. But California sued Gatorade saying this was anti-
hydration, anti-water and Gatorade settled rather than deal with this
bizarre lawsuit. They paid them with 300K. I will say to be clear for any
kids watching, there is a – they have a point. We can put up the sugar in
Gatorade is off the chart. I mean, you literally get more sugar out of
that Gatorade the Snickers but Nancy –

GILES: But it`s shivery –

MELBER: Is this really what California should be doing?

GILES: No. They should be saving their money for – actually, they could
spend that money on actual water to water you know, people`s lawns and what

MELBER: Yes, it`s a weird one. And let people make video games even if
they promote sugary drinks.

RYAN: It`s over the counter Adderall.

MELBER: That`s – look, that`s the – you know, we believe in taking
standard right here. So that`s the standard I`m taking here on “FALLBACK
FRIDAY.” I want to thank David, Nancy, and Erin for joining us. I hope
you had a great week. That does it for THE BEAT. I will see you back here
Monday night 6:00 Eastern. But don`t go anywhere right now. “HARDBALL”
with Chris Matthews is up next.



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