The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 10/3/17 Trump meets San Juan mayor
Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER
Date: October 3, 2017
Guest: Nick Akerman, Michael McFaul, Bill Kristol, Paul Smith, Jaime
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, “MTP DAILY”: - with a lot more “MTP Daily”. THE
BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: When is a good time? That`s the theme I
took from your reporting there.
TODD: I don`t know. But, again, if we applied it to every other issue
Congress tackled - if you think Congress is unproductive now, they`d have
never passed anything over the last generation.
MELBER: Right. Chuck Todd, thank you as always.
TODD: You got it.
MELBER: President Trump dealing with two major crises facing the country
right now. The mass murders in Las Vegas that Chuck and I were just
touching on and, of course, the unfolding hurricane disaster and impact in
Now, we begin on that island. Trump spending hours on the ground there
today amid the criticism over his administration`s response. Trump spoke
to emergency responders. He met with residents.
Here he is passing out emergency supplies to a crowd. Yes, that`s the
president of the United States. Some of those are paper towels that he`s
sort of vaunting over them. Quite a scene.
Trump also had his first in-person confrontation with the mayor of San
Juan, who made public pleas for Trump and the rest of America to help
Puerto Rico in this crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How are you?
CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN: Sir, I don`t want to upset you
(INAUDIBLE), but it`s not about politics.
TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you, everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was brief. Now, the president has clearly taken a U-turn
from his weekend tweets. Initially, this week, offering a more sober style
since the terrible Las Vegas shooting.
Now, he seemed to lapse back into what some critics have called his
hurricane double standard today. Empathy for Texas and accountability for
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Now, I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you`ve thrown out budget a
little out of whack because we`ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and
that`s fine. We`ve saved a lot of lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The mayor there had objected to that statement by Trump. The
president also - and this was sort of weird. He brought up Hurricane
Katrina himself. Now, his critics have been bringing that up this week
comparing Maria to it.
Now, he stressed that Katrina was far more deadly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If you looked at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at
the tremendous - hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died and
you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally
overpowering, nobody`s ever seen anything like this - now, what is your
death count as of this moment? Seventeen?
CRUZ: Sixteen, certified.
TRUMP: Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: One thousand eight hundred and thirty-six people died in relation
to Hurricane Katrina. That figure according to the National Hurricane
Now, few have suggested Maria is at the same scale of death. The Katrina
comparison has primarily been more about the federal response than the
underlying hurricane. And the question of whether the Trump
administration`s response to American disasters thus far appears to turn on
which part of America they are in.
For more, I`m sure George Will, a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist for “The
Washington Post”, as well as Professor Leah Wright Rigueur, a historian at
the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Professor, I will begin with you, although I have two guests rich with
knowledge of American history. But, professor, your view of the comparison
that President Trump makes there?
LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD KENNEDY
SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: So, I think part of what was happening during this
visit was that Donald Trump was trying - it was all about the optics,
So, this is about making good PR and trying to recover from the weekend.
And instead of kind of pulling himself away and not drawing a comparison to
Katrina, which is what he`s trying to avoid, he actually kind of stumbles
And he does that by centering himself and actually drawing more attention
to the fact that the administration didn`t pay enough attention to Puerto
Rico and to the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
And still - again, by centering himself, saying that he still doesn`t
necessarily care, see the devastation and really trivializing this moment
for millions of US citizens.
So, he actually draws a comparison himself. It`s not a good comparison to
draw. It`s not one he wants to drive, and yet here we are again.
MELBER: Here we are. And, George Will, here we are looking at this video
of president of the United States, according to a historian saying, there`s
an element of performance here. Here he is chipping out, like at a
basketball game some of these supplies.
GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: This is a teachable moment
for Americans about a strange relation our country has with Puerto Rico.
We acquired in a fit of absentmindedness of the testosterone spell called
the Spanish-American War in 1898. Since then, we`ve had various
responsibilities for every president since Harry Truman.
And, of course, Puerto Ricans nationals tried to assassinate him when he
was living Blair House across the street from the White House.
Every president since Harry Truman has said Puerto Rico has a right to opt
for statehood or independence by referendum.
When Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy in 1979, he said in his
announcement speech, I favor statehood for Puerto Rico.
They are Americans in a way. I was just thinking today - I mean, they are
American citizens. That`s not even ambiguous. Sixty years ago last week,
“Westside Story” opened on Broadway about the sharks, the Puerto Rican gang
and the Jets, the Anglo gang.
Stephen Sondheim`s lyrics said, immigrants come to America, many hellos in
America, nobody knows in America Puerto Rico is in America. So, this is a
clear responsibility of the country.
MELBER: Well, first of all, I appreciate you bringing some Sondheim to THE
BEAT here. Professor, speak to Mr. Will`s erudite, but very apt point that
he we are, I`m told - I`m learning this from you, Mr. Will - 60 years later
and those lines still reverberate because they don`t have statehood, an
issue that is domestic and - a domestic issue in Puerto Rico and an issue
that many presidents have weighed in on.
But they are fully Americans and the president here seems to speak to them,
as many have pointed out differently than the way he spoke to the Americans
affected by the other hurricanes.
RIGUEUR: Right. And the big question should be for everyone, why are we
treating Puerto Ricans like second-class citizens.
I mean, there`s a clear - and I think this really came out in Donald
Trump`s tiff or really attack on the mayor of San Juan, which is that
Donald Trump really doesn`t know what to do with Puerto Rico. He doesn`t
know what to do with people who challenge kind of his authority or his
legitimacy, in particular, women and minorities.
And so, what we see is that playing out in the worst kind of way. And
really, this visit to Puerto Rico was an attempt to clean that up with
optics and with public relations. And it doesn`t really work.
MELBER: Stay with me. I want to turn to Congressman Darren Soto, a
Democrat from Florida. Congressman, the president says this isn`t like
Katrina because so many fewer people have died in Hurricane Maria. That is
true. Is your view that that is right or that, even when President Trump
is right, in a way, he`s wrong?
REP. DARREN SOTO (D), FLORIDA: Well, this was still a real disaster for
everyone who is affected by it. And I suspect, much like with Katrina, we
will see the death toll rise over the next couple of weeks and months.
We have an island without power, without cell phone service. They can`t
fully determine the extent of the damage. So, it was really a misplaced
comment today and one that - while we applaud the president for going to
Puerto Rico - was really unfortunate for the folks there.
MELBER: What more do you want this administration to do?
SOTO: We want to helicopter out air supplies to rural areas. I was in for
Rico yesterday, and there are places like Luquillo that are in the rural
areas that haven`t seen anybody from FEMA. They saw one or two military
personnel at their hospital, but they have no electricity, no food, very
little water, and they are waiting for the federal government`s help.
MELBER: Do you think President Trump gets it, now that he`s been on the
SOTO: Well, I hope so for the sake of my brothers and sisters in Puerto
Rico. But we put the pressure on FEMA this morning about making sure to
have enough air assets and to make sure to get this relief out there.
And then, of course, Congress is going to need a supplemental package to
pass next week, which we`re hearing could potentially be a $10 billion
MELBER: Congressman Soto, thank you for joining me on what I know is still
a busy day there on the Hill.
Turning to George Will, the other part of this, of course, is the needless
feud. As a country, we are familiar with aggressive politicians. They are
like boxers. We do expect them to punch and punch back.
But no one can argue, no supporter of President Trump can argue against the
idea that he is constantly fighting, seeking fights where they are
unnecessary and gratuitous and counterproductive. That is how it appears
his fight was with the mayor.
I would notice that, while he was very tough and loud on Twitter, when he
confronted her today, when they were face-to-face, he looked like he wanted
to get away from there.
WILL: Well, he`s a forgiving man. You may recall that the president of
China was a currency manipulating, aggressive trade demon. Then he went to
Mar-a-Lago, they had cake and he`s a good friend after that.
So, the president is malleable.
MELBER: I think it`s a great point that George makes, Leah. I wonder what
you think. Forgiving is one way to put it. He is forgiving or he is
faking. If it`s just a fight, that`s a fake fight.
RIGUEUR: I think he`s forgiving in the face of people not questioning him.
And so, the interesting thing is that, during today`s kind of
conversations, a lot of his kind of effusive praise went to officials, in
his words, who didn`t question him, right, and who kind of were with him
and were all about whatever his agenda was in this particular moment.
But I think, at the end of the day, one, the mayor, since Donald Trump`s
visit, has had a couple of comments, not so great comments about the visit.
So, one, we have to see how does he respond to that. And then, two, the
thing that we should really be focusing that I think Puerto Ricans are
really concerned about is what the policy response going to be from this
Is the administration going to invest the same amount of effort and time
and concern and compassion that they did with Texas and with Florida?
MELBER: Professor Rigueur and George Will, thank you both for joining me.
Now, still ahead, we have new photos to show you from inside the gunman`s
Las Vegas hotel room. Trump saying, he will talk about gun laws “later.”
Will Democrats accept that? We`re going to speak live with Congressman Joe
Crowley on that important issue.
And breaking news about Jared and Ivanka`s private email accounts. Reports
they moved those accounts to control of the Trump organization after
queries from investigators.
And later, my exclusive interview live tonight with the lawyer who was in
the Supreme Court today, arguing before the court on an issue that could
swing the national balance of power to the Democrats.
I`m Ari Melber and you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Now, we turn to some developing news on the Las Vegas mass murder.
Journalists are now getting their first look inside the shooter`s hotel
room. This is where SWAT breached to get into that room.
And these are the new photos of some of the weapons recovered. You can see
that they sent bullets raining down on innocent people right there in the
lower part of your screen.
The gun propped up just behind the door. And officials revealing later
today, the killer had cameras inside and outside the room. One of the
cameras hidden on a service car just outside his door there.
Now, we don`t know the why. Investigators still probing why would this man
go on this deadly killing spree, murdering 59 innocent people and hurting
over 500 more.
NBC`s Steve Patterson live on the ground in Las Vegas. Steve, what is the
STEVE PATTERSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Ari, we`re next to a very active
crime scene to my left here. You see the crime scene tape. You see police
back there in the scene.
Beyond this street, beyond that barrier is the Route 91 concert venue.
That`s where those 22,000 people were packed in when the shooter started
There was just a recent press conference where we got some new information,
chief among it, really conforming to the sheriff`s point of view, the fact
that this is maybe a meticulously, very planned operation carried out by
They believe that for a number of reasons - the cache of weapons,
obviously; the check-in three days before the venue concert was to begin;
the vantage point from where he was, up above, looking down at that
concert; and, obviously, which obfuscates the ability for officers to fire
Not to mention, as you said, the cameras, both in and outside the room.
The sheriff just confirmed that.
They now believe - they have a loose belief of the time line. They think
about 9 minutes of shooting elapsed, 9 minutes that he was firing down at
that crowd of thousands.
Also, in that news conference, on the victim side of things, they updated
the number of injured to 530. They also said that all, but about three,
victims have been identified in that case. So, they`ve done some great
work in reaching out to families and getting those dead identified.
The question is, of course, as it has been from the start of this is how in
the world - or why in the world would a 64-year-old man shoot down at that
crowd. That still remains to be answered as we continue with this
MELBER: Well, Steve, as always, I know you`re reporting the facts on the
ground. You`re saying the why and they`re looking at that.
Next, we are going to talk about the how, which does have to do with gun
access. Steve Patterson, as always, thank you.
The tragedy, as I mentioned, returning gun control to part of the national
debate. Now, earlier today, President Trump said this about gun laws.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We`ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do you come down on the silencers bill?
TRUMP: We`ll talk about that later.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Democrats want it to be now. Even some Republicans are also
saying to that idea, maybe the gun debate should happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should Congress be reconsidering whether bump stops
are legal or not?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes. I would certainly look at
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you think now is the time to have this policy
GRAHAM: Yes, I think so. I think it`d be a good time to have a hearing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: New York Congressman Joe Crowley is chairman of the House
Democratic group on some of these issues.
I want to ask you, what is the most important thing for Congress to do?
And should it be in response this quickly to this incident, this murder?
REP. JOE CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: If not now, when? We`ve seen so many
tragic events like this happen over the past two years. It`s becoming
numbing quite frankly.
There have been as many mass casualty shootings as many days in a year.
There`s almost as many mass casualty shootings. Almost matching the number
of days in the year so far. So, if not now, when are we going to actually
really try to tackle this issue.
And I do think that we need to move towards a real bipartisan effort here,
bring in the NRA, bring everyone in, let`s have a really frank
conversation, a family talk.
MELBER: Do you think you and your fellow Democratic advocates of gun
control seemed to have lost some of the framing on this. If you`re being
accused of saying, you only want this now, it`s not as if Republicans
aren`t moving forward on gun issues, right?
There is this whole silencer debate we`re hearing about. And I want to
play for your benefit of response, and for our viewers, the president`s own
son Don, Jr. in a promotional video on this issue. Take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think it`s awesome.
It`s about safety. It`s about hearing protection. It`s a health issue,
frankly, for me. Getting little kids into the game, it greatly reduces
recoil. It`s a great - it`s just a great instrument. There`s nothing bad
about it at all. It makes total sense. It`s where we should be going.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Getting little kids into the game. It`s a health issue. There`s
nothing bad about it at all. Your response?
CROWLEY: It`s actually heading in the exact opposite direction. How much
longer would it have taken law enforcement to identify this particular
shooter, Mr. Paddock, had he had silencers? You just don`t know.
This is not the debate that we should be having right now. It`s incredibly
insensitive, if we ever should have it at all, quite frankly.
And I think that the time right now - if there was some other disease
happening or if there was food contamination, if there was an auto safety
issue, we would be calling a special hearing by the Congress to investigate
But when it comes to gun and gun safety, it`s all so sacrosanct. We can`t
even have a discussion about it. There`s almost like a gag rule here in
Congress in discussing these issues. And that`s what we`re looking to lift
here in Washington, and to do it in a sincere, sympathetic, empathetic way
and understanding all the ramifications and trying to listen to all sides
on this, but to come to some kind of solution.
Too many innocent people are dying because of this. And I think
Republicans and Democrats, we can come together certainly on this issue and
find real ways, to find real solutions to prevent as many deaths as
possible when it to comes to gun violence.
MELBER: You said that there shouldn`t be a gag order. I want you to hang
with me here and I want to add someone who has worked on these issues a
lot. Mike Lupica from the “New York Daily News.” He`s got a new column
about the gun control debate.
I want to read from that. You say, “We can`t wait for the gunfire to stop
because it doesn`t. Maybe we could have the conversation while the next
active shooter is reloading.” Tough talk and you say it`s necessary. Why?
MIKE LUPICA, COLUMNIST, “THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”: Ari, that was the thing
yesterday and in the aftermath of this tragedy that I think made reasonable
people`s heads explode, the idea that this wasn`t a good time to have this
conversation, this wasn`t the day to have this conversation.
OK, all the people who say that, pick a day and tell the rest of us when
they think it`s appropriate to talk about 59 innocent Americans getting
gunned down and 500 more getting wounded.
There`s a false equivalency that goes on all the time in this debate. Will
this guy pass background checks? OK, so we should leave everything the way
it is until the next guy who didn`t pass a background check shoot some
people in the United States.
This country has become a killing field. And the idea that it`s working,
that our laws are working is dumb as rocks.
MELBER: Congressman, I think I saw you nodding. Go ahead.
CROWLEY: Well, there`s no question. I think Mike remembers the same
argument was made after Newtown that it wasn`t the time, this isn`t the
time to talk about it.
When innocent children are slaughtered in their school, when young people
attending a concert, an open-air concert in Las Vegas are literally
slaughtered, that`s not the right time to talk about what we can do to stop
or mitigate this public health disaster that`s going on in our country, if
not when, when? That`s the question I ask.
And, Mike, I agree with you 100 percent. Tell us when to have the
conversation. And let`s have the conversation.
MELBER: And so, Congressman and then Mike, respond to this question. How
do you draw the line to deal with the weapons on offense? Because the
Supreme Court has recognized an individual right to bear arms, whether
people like it or not. That is the jurisprudential holding of the court.
And people have a right to have a weapon in their home for self-defense,
just like they have that right for shooting and hunting.
So, starting with you, congressman, how do you recognize that right, which,
as I mentioned, is law and then patrol what people say we saw in Las Vegas,
which was not at home, which was a weapon of offense, a weapon of murder, a
set of weapons that looked like something you would basically only need to
commit felonious conduct, not to defend yourself. How do you, as a
lawmaker, find that line?
CROWLEY: I would say that the American people expect us to use common
sense and to approach this in a very judicious way, take into consideration
all the historical facts about the Second Amendment and actually invoke
laws that saves the public health first.
The right to bear arms does not usurp the right to life under the
Constitution - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, life is
And I think that that`s what we should be looking for as a Congress, find
common sense ground, things that we can agree with and enact those laws.
MELBER: And, Mike, briefly?
LUPICA: Ari, the Second Amendment was written from muskets, OK. There is
this notion that if you support any kind of gun control in this country,
you are supporting the government coming up your driveway in a tank and
coming to take your weapons.
That`s not what this is about. This guy owned enough guns to invade
California. There`s got to be a way to flag people like this.
MELBER: And, congressman, I thank you. And, Mike, if the NRA will come on
THE BEAT and talk to you about it, will you speak to an NRA representative
LUPICA: Absolutely. OK.
CROWLEY: I absolutely would.
MELBER: And you would as well, congressman. That invite is out to the
leadership of the NRA. As always, we like to have a lot of views on this
show. Consider that an open invite. Thank you, gentlemen.
Next, these reports I mentioned. Private email accounts of Jared Kushner
and Ivanka Trump and, guess what, the family business also involved after
investigators made queries. We`ll explain straight ahead.
MELBER: Turning to some breaking news from Washington on the Jared Kushner
and Ivanka Trump private email accounts.
Tonight, reports that Kushner and Trump moved their private email accounts
from a private domain to computers run explicitly by the Trump
Organization. There you see in “USA Today.”
It appears they only made that move after Kushner was under fire for using
his personal email for White House business.
Now, this story comes after reports that Kushner set up a third private
email account on his private domain and of the “hundreds of emails” that
have been sent since January from White House addresses to accounts on the
Kushner family domain, many went to that third account, which was also
shared with personal household staff, including non-public travel
documents, internal schedules and some official White House materials.
This is the kind of conduct that could potentially expose officials to
hostile foreign actors. Donald Trump made that very point on the campaign
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Hostile foreign actors gained access to the personal email accounts
of individuals with whom Clinton was in regular contact. And in doing so,
obtained emails sent to or received by Clinton on her personal account.
This is yet more evidence that Clinton is unfit to be your commander-in-
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Unfit. While that claim may have been politically self-serving,
Donald Trump there, obviously, hammering Clinton on the campaign trail
about the dangers of private email, the NSA also recently explicitly warned
senior Trump White House staffers against it. In January, Trump aides told
by the NSA their personal cellphones and e-mail were vulnerable to
espionage by Russia, China, and Iran. And with spies capable of turning
their phones into listening devices, taking photos and video and
transferring vast amounts of data via Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth. Kushner
was expected to attend that meeting. With me now is former Watergate
Prosecutor Nick Akerman a Partner at Dorsey and Whitney.
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Amazing.
MELBER: You can`t make it up.
AKERMAN: You can`t make it up.
MELBER: And then you had the first e-mail thing and everybody goes, oh, my
God, that`s hypocritical. And for the reasons, Donald Trump outlined all
be it with hyperbole and exaggeration, potentially problematic, and now a
third e-mail account. For people watching saying, gosh, the news is
repetitive. No, the hypocritical obvious and potentially incriminating
behavior of certain White House officials is repetitive.
AKERMAN: Well, what`s really outrageous here is that he does it – this is
done in the last couple days. He does it after it comes the light that he
is using the personal e-mail servers. So the question, the obvious
question is, why did they move it over to the Trump organization? Did all
of the same e-mails go over to the Trump organization? Did they take it
over there so they could cleanse these e-mails and take certain e-mails out
of what was in that server? I mean, we just don`t know what the
ramifications of this are. But there`s huge potential for all kinds of
criminal conduct that could be charged.
MELBER: Well, and you`ve been a federal investigator, how do you look at
this issue? How does Mueller look at it if makes a request for documents
and e-mails and then finds people start moving stuff?
AKERMAN: That can be an obstruction of justice. And particularly if they
move them for the purpose of cleansing them and taking documents out and
destroying e-mails. I mean, we don`t know exactly what the facts are here
yet but I can`t think of any legitimate reason why somebody who has a
private server is taking to task on that and then suddenly moves it over to
the Trump organization where there are lots of people who have access to
MELBER: The other things I want your views on, a Bloomberg report here.
Mueller task an adviser with getting ahead of preemptive pardons, he talks
about his top legal counsel. Michael Dreeben is researching past pardons
to determining what if any limits exist. This is something that people
like you and I think a lot more about than normal folks. You know, there`s
an absolute power to appoint a replacement Senator, right? But when you
try to sell it, as the Illinois Governor did, you actually find a way to
limit the absolute power, right? Is there a version of that with pardons?
AKERMAN: Well, there`s nothing that`s absolute. The only way that you`re
going to argue that the pardon power in the constitution is not absolute is
to look at another provision of the constitution where it might conflict.
In one provision in these circumstances where it very may will conflict is
Article Three, Section Three, that basically says that the President has
the duty to enforce the laws in good faith, to carry out and execute the
laws of the United States.
MELBER: Take care of the (INAUDIBLE)
AKERMAN: That`s right. Now in this case, where a President has a conflict
of interest, possibly, also maybe a co-conspirator with various individuals
that he may pardon, I think there`s a good argument here that the pardon,
under those circumstances, conflicts with faithfully executing the laws of
the United States and therefore the pardon power may be limited. No court
has ever –
MELBER: No court said that to be clear so we don`t know but the report
here is that Mueller has a very serious Supreme Court litigator looking at
it. Nick Akerman, as always, thank you.
Up ahead, did you know Donald Trump has a new Ambassador to Russia? And
there he is today, meeting with Vladimir Putin. There`s actually an
important echo here to one of the crucial meetings Bob Mueller is
investigating, we`ll explain. And a new case that could actually shift
political power for decades to come. My exclusive tonight, speaking live
to the attorney who argued in front of the Supreme Court today.
MELBER: Vladimir Putin had a high-level meeting with a Trump official
today, an important meeting that hasn`t gotten much attention. Now, the
last senior diplomatic meeting between Russia and the U.S. was not routine.
In fact, that meeting which Trump held in the Oval Office the day after Jim
Comey was fired is now one of the 13 categories that Bob Mueller`s
investigators has identified as critical to their probe. The meeting
including Trump, Russia`s Ambassador, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The U.S. press was barred and some administration officials were so
concerned about Trump`s conduct that they leaked his shocking comments
about firing Comey which allegedly he said released pressure on Russia.
While Mueller is apparently interested in whether anything in that meeting
would add to any potential case regarding obstruction. Today, one of those
same participants was in that new meeting I mentioned, Lavrov plus his boss
Putin, plus the newest member of Trump`s Russia team Jon Huntsman. So this
is the mirror image of the meeting that Mueller is investigating, that May
10th meeting in Washington our President had with their Foreign Minister
and Ambassador to the U.S. Today`s meeting in Moscow has their Foreign
Minister, our Ambassador to Russia, and their President. Now, we know that
the very last time this kind of meeting happened with Russia, Comey`s
Russia investigation was discussed. And then in the interim, the DOJ
tapped Mueller adding back whatever “pressure” Trump thought was relieved.
That is quite a back story.
Now, we don`t know if the Russia investigation was discussed at all today.
Meanwhile, we know that Putin`s spokesman struck a defiant tone saying this
meeting today should help improve relations allegedly harmed by damage done
by Washington`s actions. Now, the Russians of course, damaged this
relationship by hacking into a U.S. political party and undermining
potentially the election confidence. Everything that`s happened since
then, the sanctions, the embassy closings, it all goes back to Russia`s
actions. For his part, Huntsman has pledged to Congress that it was yes,
Russia`s actions that harmed this relationship.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON HUNTSMAN, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: There is no question,
underline, no question, that the Russian government interfered in the U.S.
election last year and Moscow continues to meddle in the democratic
processes of our friends and allies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I`m joined fittingly by a man who would be in such meetings,
Michael McFaul the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia under Obama, and Bill
Kristol, the Founder, and Editor at Large of the Weekly Standard.
Ambassador, what do you view as an important in today`s meeting and does it
have any of those echoes from the previous meeting that is under
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: I actually
don`t think so, Ari. This was the presentation of credentials that all
ambassadors do. It`s done on a kind quarterly basis in the Kremlin so
there were other ambassadors present. It wasn`t just a one-on-one meeting
between Putin and our new ambassador. So there wasn`t a substantive
exchange that took place.
MELBER: And do you think Huntsman`s job there has some tension between his
role as kind of a high-profile fixer? I mean, if you look at him here with
Putin, the dramatic images, the best case scenario is he`s somehow cleans
up some of this. The worst case is that Donald Trump who has pressed other
aides into all sorts of assignments may press him.
MCFAUL: I think he has a tough assignment. I think he was a terrific
hire. I`ve had a chance to speak with the Ambassador and I know what he`s
walking into. I would say two big challenges he has though. On the one
hand, you just read, you just played some of his testimony. He`s pretty
explicit about what the Russians did in 2016, his boss, the President, is
not. So there is a policy difference right there for the new
representative of the President of the United States in Moscow.
And number two, let`s be honest, ambassadors in the margin can change
policy but they don`t make policy, they implement policy. I`m telling you
as a former Ambassador and also as a former White House official, I had a
very nice ceremony with President Medvedev when I presented my credentials.
We drank champagne and laughed and talked about the reset that we`re going
to do. But larger forces were at play that drove the relationship into its
negative place. First and foremost, as you rightly said, negative things
that Vladimir Putin did, vis-a-vis that bilateral relationship. So it only
changes he changes his policy and that I don`t expect.
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I mean, I think
Ambassador Huntsman`s task is to – well, I don`t know how much you can
influence Russian policy as Mike says. We have a lot of issues of Putin
meddling in our elections and other nation`s election as one of them, but
that`s only one. They`re occupying part of Ukraine, there`s a ton of issue
there. They meddle in the Middle East in ways that the Trump
administration has not pushed back much on.
I mean, I was talking with a conservative today, very conservative member
of the Congress who said, you know, he was very critical of President
Obama`s administration for allowing, almost inviting Russia into the Middle
East, into Syria and then we were so weak that they sort of managed to do
more and more. He expected Trump to push back and Trump hasn`t. So there
are real policy issues with Russia but I don`t know – but Huntsman, I
don`t think was involved in anything in the campaign. He wasn`t a big
Trump supporter. He was Ambassador to China, to President Obama. He`s not
a very partisan guy.
MELBER: No, and he called on Trump to drop out. He was Nevada`s –
KRISTOL: I think he will be a diligent – he`ll be a diligent,
(INAUDIBLE), I think he`s probably one of the 42 people I`ve tried to
recruit to run as an independent in 2016 against Trump and against
Secretary Clinton. So no, I mean, I think he`ll be a diligent and honest
Ambassador. But I go – I agree with Mike that the chances of him changing
Trump`s basic attitude towards Putin which is one of the fundamental
problems here, leaving aside the illegality and all that for a minute. We
have a President of the United States who for whatever reason is extremely
tolerant and understanding and even sympathetic to Vladimir Putin which
there`s a pretty good bipartisan consensus in the U.S., that`s not the
right position to have as a member of public policy.
MELBER: And you mentioned the legal issues, the new report from the
Washington Post is that Trump`s lawyer and business confidant, personal
attorney exchanged e-mails weeks before the RNC about an economic
conference in Russia which included Putin, although they didn`t ultimately
go. What do you view as the leaks that seem to be roughing up a lot of
people, Bill, other than current White House officials?
KRISTOL: Yes, I mean, one task (INAUDIBLE) is going to have is when
somebody of Trump`s shows up in Russia. This is the problem in every
administration a little bit. You know, they – could you open some doors
for us and get us in? Some of it is legitimate American – one of the
things that ambassador does is help American businesses compete you know,
fairly for contracts and so forth. But I would say with the Kushners in
the White House, that really is astonishing incidentally.
I don`t – we don`t know the truth is about the Trump organization server
but having your daughter and son-in-law as special advisors in the –
special assistants in the White House creates such a – and they still have
all these business operations going, it creates so many problems right off
the bed. If write the U.S. Ambassador now, I`d be very he careful when
people show up and say can you help me? You really would need to look into
it and say – make sure it`s a legitimate kind of helping as opposed to
something that was set up in some private conversation back in 2015 or 2016
by Paul Manafort or Jared Kushner.
MELBER: Right, where it`s designed even to implicate them in some way
because foreign governments have all sorts of ways of making mischief.
Bill Kristol and Ambassador McFaul, thank you, both.
Coming up, as I mentioned before, this major fight of the Supreme Court
today, a case that could swing power nationally. I`ll have an exclusive
interview with the lawyer who was at court today.
MELBER: Now to a huge political battle in the Supreme Court which could
swing the national balance of power to Democrats. In an exclusive on THE
BEAT tonight, we`re about to hear from the attorney who argued in the
Supreme Court today taking on Republicans in a case he says cost democracy
itself. Now, the context for this blockbuster case is all about the
democratic deficit in America right now. Consider that in many places,
more voters prefer the Democrats. That nationwide, millions more voters
backed Clinton over Trump, and that in the U.S. Senate, Democratic Senators
represented 36 more people than Republicans. Yet even when Democrats do
win more votes, often it is the Republican who takes power.
And that is because the system is rigged by the right, according to
challengers at the Supreme Court today. They point to Wisconsin, where in
2012, Democrats won about 51 percent of the vote for the state legislature,
Republican had 48.6 percent but took more seats, and not by one or two
points. They turned that 48.6 percent into 60 percent of the legislature
seats. Now, in court today, veteran litigator Paul Smith argued that kind
of outcome isn`t merely just shrewd politics. He says it`s a potentially
illegal effort to undermine democracy. And he implored the Justices, “you
are the only institution in the U.S. that can solve this problem, just as
democracy is about to get worse because of the way gerrymandering is
getting so much worse. Now, there`s no doubt it`s getting worse, both
parties have drawn absurd district lines to rig outcomes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: North Carolina`s 12th district looks like spilled
coffee. Pennsylvania 16th is flexing its muscles. And one commentator
compared Maryland`s third to a broken-winged pterodactyl. And then there`s
this, they call it the ear muffs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, some states have reformed this kind of rigging. Today, one
former California Governor went to the court steps to call out
gerrymandering and use some of his best movie lines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, FORMER GOVERNOR, CALIFORNIA: This is the system
where the politicians are picking the voters rather than the voters picking
the politicians. So I say this time to say hasta la vista to
gerrymandering and it is time to terminate gerrymandering. Thank you very
much. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Many voting experts agree with Schwarzenegger. They say it`s past
time for the court to get to the chopper and take action. Now, there are
legal reasons why the court has held back while it patrols blatant
political cheating like bribery or election tampering. We all know judges
do try to avoid what they consider political questions. And today`s
hearing shows that gerrymandering has become so blatant even a conservative
Supreme Court may step in. In many states, a less rigged system though
would boost Democrats at least in the short run because it would return
victories to the popular vote victors.
That prospect alone though clearly worried the court today. Chief Justice
John Roberts said in some quite candid remarks. “If the court issues a
decision and let`s say the Democrats win, people will say, well, why did
the Democrats win? It must be because the Supreme Court preferred the
Democrats over the Republicans, and that`s going to cause serious harm to
the integrity of the decisions of this court. Justice Roberts said that in
an exchange today with Attorney Paul Smith who argued before the court for
Wisconsin and their Democratic challengers. Very interesting stuff, you`ve
been doing this a long time. You are the person to talk to. How did you
counter that fair point that Chief Justice Roberts made?
PAUL SMITH, ATTORNEY: Well, I basically made the point that we`re facing a
crisis of democracy and that gerrymandering has gotten very bad and is
about to get an awful lot worse in the next round of redistricting after
the 2020 census with the technology that`s available and with the polarized
and therefore more predictable electorate. You`re going to have more
people following the lead of Wisconsin which set up a system that basically
decided before anybody voted that one party was going to control the
assembly for the full ten years that the map would be in effect.
MELBER: So you argued – you argued to the court today that basically,
Republicans rigged Wisconsin so they would win even if they lost.
SMITH: That`s right.
MELBER: How do you – how do you prove something like that?
SMITH: Well we had a full trial and we had a ton of evidence about the way
that this map functioned. And it was not that hard to prove. In 2012 they
got about as you said 48.6 of the vote – percent of the vote, the got 60
seats out of 99. And the evidence showed that it would take what the
District Court, the Trial Court called an unprecedented political explosion
for the Democrats even to have a chance to get over 50 percent of the seats
in the assembly, even though Wisconsin, of course, is a very 50/50 state.
And that`s why we`ve had all kinds of people come out and support us in
this case, including many Republicans, Senator Mccain, Senator Dole,
Senator Lugar, Governor Kasich, a lot of people of the both sides of the
MELBER: And the terminator – and the terminator.
SMITH: And the terminator. Of course who was there on the steps with me.
A lot of these people, including many of the leaders in the Republican
Party recognize this problem is completely out of hand, it`s producing bad
politics and with the – if the Supreme Court doesn`t step in and finally
do something about it, we`re going to have nothing that no one can do
anything about it. The politicians aren`t going to fix it.
MELBER: Right. We won`t have – to your point, we won`t have fair
elections. Hang with me. I want to add into our conversation Jaime
Harrison and he`s the Executive with the DNC and he formerly Chaired the
South Carolina Democratic Party and has calls gerrymandering the greatest
evil we face as a democracy. Sir, your view of this and what this court
JAIME HARRISON, ASSOCIATE CHAIR, DNC: Ari, I hope the court will decide
that enough is enough with partisan gerrymandering. It`s time to get rid
of it. It really is the greatest threat to our democracy. It`s the reason
why we can`t get anything done right now. When you think about simple –
the simple functions of government, paving our roads, making sure that
children have health care, we can`t pass that bill. And not only is the
problem happening in Washington, D.C., but we`re seeing it on a local
level. Here in South Carolina, Republicans control the governorship and
both bodies of the legislature and it took them six or seven years just to
pass a roads bill. Gerrymandering has gotten so bad that the folks are
only talking to 20 and 30 percent of the people who live in their district
and no one else has any impact on them. And enough is enough. We need to
take back this for the good of our country. We have to stop having the
elected officials choose the people who vote for them.
MELBER: Paul, if you win, do Democrats then likely win the Congress and
will some folks see this just more partisanship?
SMITH: Well, if we win there will certainly be a tendency to make the vote
a lot close in the House of Representatives. It`s true that at least a
large part of the deficits of the Democrats in the House is caused by
gerrymandering. Now, the other place is where Democrats will lose power
because they`ve been the gerrymanders in Maryland and elsewhere in all
likelihood. So I want to make sure – we see this as a bipartisan problem
and bipartisan solution. People have come out from both sides of the aisle
to try to fix this.
MELBER: Let`s talk about it again when we get the decision because we`ll
be covering it. Big case. Paul Smith, Jaime Harrison, thank you both and
we will be right back.
MELBER: Tomorrow there are several important tests for the federal
government. President Trump will head to Las Vegas as that city mourns and
as he faces calls to stop answering the gun debate with procrastination.
John Lewis speaking out on guns as well tomorrow about a year after his
protest sit-in on the House floor. And in the Russia case, we can tell
you, tomorrow there is a scheduled bipartisan and what looks to be unusual
press conference because it has the leaders of the Senate Intelligence
Committee. They said they want to give a “public update” on the Russia
case. We`re going to have special coverage of why they`re doing that and
the rest of the stories tomorrow on THE BEAT at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. As for
now, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Now or never. Let`s play HARDBALL.
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