Politico: Mueller may interview Trump Transcript 10/12/17 The Beat with Ari Melber

David Frum, Paul Butler, Libby Casey, Anne Gearan, David Rothkopf, Spencer Ackerman, Maya Wiley, Margaret Carlson

Date: October 12, 2017

Guest: David Frum, Paul Butler, Libby Casey, Anne Gearan, David Rothkopf,
Spencer Ackerman, Maya Wiley, Margaret Carlson

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, “MTP DAILY”: Good evening, Ari. My apologies.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: All good. All good, Chuck. It`s, what
do they call it, OJT, on-the-job training, when you step out to that podium
like that.

TODD: There you go, there you go.

MELBER: Thank you, Chuck.

Now, will President Donald Trump sit for an interview with the prosecutor
investigating the Trump White House. That hypothetical may sound like a
dream for Trump`s opponents, but this story is breaking today in “POLITICO”
thanks to leaks from the Trump White House.

Now, that is unusual. And the source of this story is shedding more light
on the issue we reported here earlier this week. This schism growing
between Trump`s criminal defense lawyers and his political loyalists.

The lawyers want to cooperate. The loyalists want to brawl. And the
lawyers are moving towards Mueller, open, in this new report, they say to
offering Trump`s sit-down for an interview with Robert Mueller, according
to a senior White House official.

Now, that sourcing tells you this huge risk to Trump comes from a current
employee. Historically, presidents don`t just offer to meet with any old
prosecutor. Bill Clinton`s team fought Ken Starr tooth and nail for months
over whether he talked.

Now, ultimately relenting for a grand jury interview that was, as they
predicted, often focused on sex more than felonies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the grand jurists has said that you referred to
what you did with Miss Lewinski as inappropriate contact. What do you mean
by that?

said. But I`d like to ask the grand jury because I think I have been quite
specific and I think I`ve been willing to answer some specific questions
that I haven`t been asked yet, but I do not want to discuss something that
is intensely painful to me.


MELBER: That the last time a president spoke to a grand jury. Now, if you
hear Trump allies say Trump lawyers are being more cooperative than
Clinton, we should note that`s not exactly what this new reporting says.

“POLITICO” is saying Trump would do an interview with Mueller, not
specifically a grand jury interview, which is that more formal setting
which can create more legal liability. It`s a middle ground that we can
tell you George W. Bush struck, by talking to prosecutor Pat Fitzgerald
back in the Libby case, but there`s Bush`s own conduct there was not under

Today, Trump`s conduct, including firing Jim Comey, is being looked at as
potential obstruction.

Other presidents have offered testimony in non-criminal investigations.
Ford defended the Nixon pardon publicly before Congress.

Now, Trump has given testimony more than the average bear or the average
president thanks to more than 4,000 lawsuits involving him, including at
least 100 which he settled. That`s from an analysis by “USA Today”.

He recently said he`d also talked to Mueller.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about
that -

him exactly what I just told you, Joe (ph).


MELBER: And, strategically, Trump presents like a pretty different person
when he`s under oath and something`s on the line. In fact, here he was
being soft-spoken, cautious and really a different kind of guy in a
deposition last year, a man even willing to say the words I don`t know.


TRUMP: I don`t have my glasses. I mean, I am at a disadvantage because I
didn`t bring my glasses. This is such small writing.

I wouldn`t really know how to answer the question.

I don`t know. I don`t know.

I really don`t know.


MELBER: As for today`s report, “POLITICO” stands by the story, but one
Trump lawyer, John Dowd, emailed that it was totally false. And in his
email, he included 16 exclamation points.

Joining me now, David Frum from “The Atlantic”, who was also an aide to
President Bush; former federal prosecutor, Paul Butler; and Libby Casey
from “The Washington Post”. Good to see you all.

David, let`s start with Donald Trump under oath. He does look different
when he does it in depositions.

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, “THE ATLANTIC”: Right. One of the reasons why
I think it`s not right to call the president a pathological liar is that,
when he`s under oath, he is able to avoid perjury.

That`s what happened when he unsuccessfully sued Tim O`Brien for defamation
back a decade ago, who is now the editor of “Bloomberg News”.

He lies a lot when he is not under oath. On oath, he`s more careful. And
that raises the question of what kind of conversation does he plan to have
with Robert Mueller.

I don`t think when he uses this language of cooperation, they are quite
conveying. Unless his lawyers are total idiots, which we shouldn`t rule
out because they do have their conversations at open-air restaurants next
door to “The New York Times”, they must have a strategy of non-cooperation
because why would they cooperate. Cooperation can`t be helpful to the

MELBER: Well, you raise such an interesting point. And, Paul Butler, as a
prosecutor, let`s get right into it. I`ve spoken to Ty Cobb, one of the
lead criminal defense attorneys. He said to me on the record, cooperation
is what they`re all about. That is the message.

We`ve reported on the schism because the loyalists don`t buy it. Paul,
walk us through why sometimes a criminal strategy would be to emphasize and
promote and discuss cooperation in public, while perhaps dragging out other
aspects of this in private.

Barack Obama because he`s the only president since Richard Nixon who hasn`t
been required to testify in a proceeding by federal prosecutors.

MELBER: Which is, Paul, a sad - it`s a sad little historical fact, I

BUTLER: Yes. But, again, props to President Obama. But you pointed to
the president who Trump will be looking at, and that`s Bill Clinton because
he walked into that Map Room, saying I`m going to answer all of Ken Starr`s
questions, and he walked out with a big fat impeachment.

When I was a prosecutor, we loved it when subjects of investigations would
come thinking they could talk their way out of being prosecuted because
that just doesn`t happen.

And especially with President Trump, he does not listen to lawyers, he`s
impulsive and he`s easily agitated.

And Bob Mueller is just the opposite. He`s a skilled prosecutor and he
would take some of the best FBI agents in the world in that room to ask

So, again, I think it`s good politically for Trump to look like he`s got
nothing to hide, but there`s no way his lawyers are going to let him do
this without a big fight.

MELBER: Libby, here is what Donald Trump sounded like talking Russia last
night to an interviewer that I would say has some differences. He is not
the same as Bob Mueller. Here he was talking to Sean Hannity.


TRUMP: But they said Russia. Then they say, ah, and it was Trump that
colluded with Russia. I`m saying, I did?

So, look, here`s the story. And I think it`s (INAUDIBLE). This was an
excuse by the Democrats and people get carried away. This was a terrible -
and it`s very bad for our country what`s happened because I don`t deal with
Russia. During this campaign, forget it, forget it.


MELBER: Libby, forget it.

there, not just in Sean Hannity, but also that crowd that was gathered
there to support Trump, so he was certainly speaking to his supporters
already in his base.

We have to think about the court of public opinion in this as well. And if
President Trump thinks he wins by saying, I`ve got nothing to hide, I`ll
have a conversation, we also have to wonder if the team could float the
option of having a conversation that is not on the record, that is not
under oath. Would Robert Mueller go for that?

And then, if the president says, I`m putting myself forward, I will go
under oath, let`s say I will have that conversation - David asked a great
question, which Donald Trump will we see and will we see the Donald Trump
who has been able to keep his calm and keep his focus, the kind of witness
a lawyer likes to represent, stick to the scripts, don`t give too much
information, be succinct, say you don`t know or will he be the President
Trump that we are all much more familiar with in the public, the one that
“The Washington Post” fact-checker has said has told more than 1,300
misleading or false statements since taking office?

Can he be controlled if he speaks to the Mueller investigators and can he
be the sort of person speaking to them that you - that he`s in control or
the lawyers are in control. And it`s very dangerous to go in front of
someone like Bob Mueller and think you can outfox him.

MELBER: You`re smiling, but I`m not sure why.

CASEY: Well, because I don`t think we know which Donald Trump would be
that. And the Donald Trump that can`t be controlled is a lawyer`s worst
nightmare because they really - I`ve covered cases where politicians have
taken the stand thinking they could be smarter than the prosecutors and
their temper gets the best of them.

These are very prestigious people who are not used to being challenged
necessarily and it can be hard to keep your cool and not (INAUDIBLE).

MELBER: David, speak to that point because I want to play Donald Trump
trying to walk away from Carter Page, who now is the second person who says
he may take the Fifth in the investigation. It really goes to what I think
Libby is talking about, which is, oh, if you think you can outsmart me,
buddy, you might commit to the record a lot of things that actually are

Take a listen.


TRUMP: I don`t think I`ve ever spoken to him. I don`t think I`ve ever met
him. And he actually said he was a very low-level member of, I think, a
committee for a short period of time. I don`t think I ever met him. It`s
possible that I walked into a room when he was sitting there, but I don`t
think I ever met him. I didn`t talk to him ever.


MELBER: David?

FRUM: As far as I know, that statement is true. And it points to
something very strange and disturbing that of Donald Trump`s top five
advisors on foreign policy during the campaign, before he clinched the
nomination, something like three of them or four of them, he had never met
the four, but who had very close connections to the Russian state, which
raises the question of how were they inserted into his operations.

To your question or to the last question about what kind of Donald Trump do
you see. In that exchange you played with Sean Hannity, the question and
the answer pointed to a much more cautious Donald Trump.

I mean, Sean Hannity invited Donald Trump to endorse the conspiracy theory
that Sean Hannity has so assiduously promoted, in which this terrible
murder of a 28-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer, who came
home extremely late and was apparently mugged and killed by a panicky
burglar or a robber who didn`t take his wallet and watch because first-time
criminals often drop things like that because they don`t mean to do the

Terrible story. Very hurtful to the family. And Sean Hannity has been
promoting this completely false and obviously false theory that this murder
victim was the source of Julian Assange`s, WikiLeaks` document dumps on the

And Sean Hannity invited President Trump to endorse that idea and indeed to
offer - somehow to pardon to Julian Assange, who has never broken an
American law as I can tell, in exchange.

Trump refused to do that. He did not endorse that theory. And that`s one
of the reasons why his answer was non-complete, non-syntactical, Russia,
did I - he didn`t want to say something because he didn`t want to accept
Sean Hannity`s invitation.

MELBER: Only a presidential speechwriter would notice how non-syntactical
it was, Mr. Frum.

Libby, I want to also play -

FRUM: High school English teachers across America would notice too.

MELBER: Fair, fair. I want to play something that nobody really likes to
talk about. Libby, I`m going to play for you to respond. In government,
elections officials who we talked to from both parties, intelligence
officials and really most elected officials in both parties don`t ever want
to get near the idea that maybe everything that happened in 2016 would
actually have swung the election.

And there are a lot of reasons why folks don`t want to get into that. Take
a listen, though, to Congressman Cedric Richmond today.


REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D), LOUISIANA: Let`s just start with the election.
We have real concerns and I think that there is evidence out there that
this could have turned the election.

I think that I can take anomalies and look at the third-party candidate
votes that they received in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and other places
and see how it impacted the election, I can draw my own conclusion.

And I think that there`s a lot of evidence that suggests that this election
could`ve been changed.


MELBER: Libby, he went there.

CASEY: And Democrats from House districts are willing to go there. We
even see representative saying that it is time to call for impeachment of
President Trump. But that is, at this point, still just one faction of
what people are talking about in Congress.

And as we know, the Republicans controlled the House and Senate. So, the
real meat of this is looking at who is testifying before the committees,
like we`ll see the attorney general to go before the Judiciary Committee
quite soon, who is talking to Bob Mueller behind closed doors, who is
talking to the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors because
that`s a slow grinding process that may actually yield some results and
yield some changes.

MELBER: Libby Casey, Paul Butler and David Frum, thank you for being on

Trump`s chief of staff trying to address these questions about him
“unraveling.” We`re going to tell you who he blames for all the reports of

And later, we have a special report on whether Facebook is looking more and
more like the next Goldman Sachs. The tech giant on offense in Washington,
but it didn`t go that well today.

And later, does Trump take his talking points directly from “Fox News”.
There`s some evidence for that.

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


MELBER: Turning to politics. The Trump White House has been in crisis
mode with Republicans openly questioning the president`s mind and judgment.

Today, Trump`s chief of staff made his first appearance in the briefing
room. This was a chance for Gen. John Kelly to evince some military
professionalism that can be lacking at the Trump White House, but soon
Kelly was telling reporters it`s not me, it`s you.


GEN. JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: One of his frustrations is
you. All of you. Not all of you, but many of you. You watch TV in the
morning, it`s just - it is astounding to me how much is misreported.


MELBER: He also said he`s “not getting fired today.” Kelly`s words,
though, overshadowed by his boss who tweeted today that he can`t keep
federal help in Puerto Rico forever, contradicting promises that Trump
himself and Mike Pence recently made to the island.

Joining me now is Anne Gearan, White House correspondent for “The
Washington Post”. She has new reporting on the mood inside the Trump
administration. And David Frum back with us.

David, John Kelly has a job to do. We all get that. But when he comes out
with a moment like this and then says, yes, he`s mad at the press, does
that help?

FRUM: Well, I think John Kelly thought he was walking a line, by saying
it`s a frustration of the president`s. I mean, that is, obviously, a true
description of reality. The president is very frustrated with the press
and he is frustrated with anybody who doesn`t throw rose petals in front of
his feet all the time and tell him that his hands are very large.

But John Kelly, although he thought he was doing only what he needed to do,
ended up seeming to endorse the president`s statement. And he`s put
himself in a position that Gen. McMaster when Gen. McMaster has briefed the

And McMaster tries very, very hard to avoid saying things that are untrue.
But in that job, it really becomes impossible and you then associate
yourself with statements that are either untrue or, in the case of the
president`s recent comments in the press, anti-constitutional.

I mean, we are within 24 hours of the president threatening to shut down
this network because he doesn`t like the way it reports. And this network
could be as horribly inaccurate, could be as inaccurate as Fox and it still
would not be right to shut it down.

MELBER: Yes. I mean, Anne, we`re going to turn to your reporting in a
moment. But first on this, you have laughter in the briefing room. I
don`t know what it is, nervous or awkward laughter. I`m not laughing.

David Frum makes the point there`s nothing to laugh about when someone
comes out there, paid by our tax dollars, they`re running the government`s
staffing operation and they`re telling the press you`re the problem and we
don`t like the work you`re doing and we don`t like your sources on the
heels of, as David said, something that on THE BEAT we`re not covering all
that much because we don`t care to get into it, but the president making
what are flatly unconstitutional, a.k.a. illegal, threats to the free
press in this country based on what it reports.

How do you view that? And let me button up my little essay with a question
since in anchor school, they say, well, you should still have a question
somewhere in there. Is John Kelly becoming more like Donald Trump as he
stays in this job?

actually think we know the answer to that question. Much of the laughter
in the briefing room was because John Kelly can be disarming and funny and

And he opened the briefing by saying that, to the best of his knowledge, he
was neither quitting nor getting fired today despite reporting that he`s on
thin ice with the president.

MELBER: I`m going to continue, but aren`t we, as reporters - I`m really
asking. Aren`t we supposed to be better than just being charmed by this
government official? I mean, I get it. I respect his service, but are we
supposed to be that disarmed by this stuff.

GEARAN: No. But that doesn`t mean - I think that people can`t at least
greet that with a smile.

And the questions were tough and they ranged from domestic policy to the
boundaries of his job to foreign policy to basically whether he can control
the president or whether that`s what he`s supposed to be doing in that job.

And I thought his answer to that was very interesting and something that
will be useful in understanding his role and his relationship to the
president going forward.

He said that I was not brought into this job to do anything other than
control the flow of information. Now, I think controlling the flow of
information to this president is extremely difficult, but if that is how
Kelly sees his job, that does not mean that he sees his job as telling the
president, don`t do this, it will be bad for you, do do that, it will be
good for you.

MELBER: You mentioned tough questions. You`ve been posing some in your
reporting - as promised, we want to look at that - in “Washington Post”.
The president threw a fit. Sources say, Trump`s anger over the raw deal
forcing aides to scramble for a compromise.

My question to you on this is, this is executive power. On Iran and on the
Dreamers issue, we see a president very angry about the very avenue of
authority that, if he were a real CEO with that kind of experience, he
would be best versed to exercise because he can turn these things on or

Why the anger? Why his feeling of, what you describe, which is a sense of
tension or even powerlessness on this issue?

GEARAN: Well, remember from the time really early on in the campaign that
the president criticized the Iran deal as poorly executed, a raw deal for
America, an embarrassment and so on and so forth, what really happened -
and you key in on an important thing here is - what really happened when he
won and he became president was he realized you can`t just walk away from
this deal without triggering all kinds of other potentially unpleasant and
ill-advised consequences.

And so, he has been - he`s felt put in a box, he`s felt really pushed to
the wall by his advisors, by allies, by Congress, all telling him that he
can`t do what, in his gut - you really know he wants to.

So, what we believe he is going to do tomorrow, it is a compromise that
keeps the deal in place, but under which he will tell Congress that he can
no longer certify that the deal is in US national interest.

That`s a half measure. It puts a lot of onus on Congress about what to do
next. It makes his intentions clear, but it doesn`t actually bust the

MELBER: To be fair though, no one knew nuclear non-proliferation was going
to be this complicated.

GEARAN: It`s hard stuff.

MELBER: Anne Gearan, David Frum, thank you both.

Up next, Facebook`s Russia connection. For the first time, a top executive
at the company actually sitting down with political reporters to discuss
the Kremlin`s meddling, but raising some new questions we`re going to

And later, my exclusive with one of the Democrats on Trump`s voter fraud
panel. An inside view live on THE BEAT.


MELBER: Facebook under fire for its approach to Russian meddling and fake
news. We knew that.

But, today, something brand-new. The company put a top executive in an
interview with a non-tech journalist to take questions on Russia.

Sheryl Sandberg is probably the most powerful woman at Facebook, the author
and former treasury department official, who is now worth roughly $1
billion from her time with Mark Zuckerberg. And she spoke to political
reporter Mike Allen, part of this public push after her private meetings on
Capitol Hill yesterday.

Now, Allen asked if Facebook saw that Russians use the same targeting as
the Trump campaign. Sandberg didn`t answer. So, he asked again. And she
didn`t answer. And he asked again.


learn about the overlap in targeting between the Trump campaign and these
Russian accounts?

SHERYL SANDBERG, COO, FACEBOOK: Targeting on Facebook is broad.

ALLEN: The overlap between the Trump campaign and these Russian accounts.

SANDBERG: Well, targeting is something everyone uses.

ALLEN: But the Trump campaign and the Russian accounts, you don`t know or
you won`t tell me.

SANDBERG: When the ads get released, we will also be releasing the
targeting for those ads. And so, again, we`re going to be fully


MELBER: Her last non-answer echoes St. Augustine, who famously wrote in
his confessions book, “Grant me chastity, but not yet.” Facebook will grant
us transparency, but not yet.

Sandberg also cited Facebook`s white paper on this topic.


SANDBERG: In April of 2017, we put out a white paper saying, hey, we think
there`s this new kind of threat going on and, importantly, linking to the
government account, government report, which said they thought it was


MELBER: They put out a white paper. Do you remember Facebook ringing the
Russia bell in April?

The company actually cut the references to Russia from that very report
amid internal debate over how much info to share, as “The Wall Street
Journal” exposed.

Now, Sandberg also returned to Facebook`s long-running claim that it`s more
like a utility or a neutral platform than a media company.


SANDBERG: We`re very different than a media company.

At our heart, we are a tech company. We hire engineers. We don`t hire
reporters. No one`s a journalist. We don`t cover the news.

But when we say that - we`re not saying we don`t have a responsibility.


MELBER: That is what it all comes down to here. Facebook is better it can
keep avoiding regulation if people think of it as just technology, as a

If people think of it as media, as content that shapes our world, well,
then it has more responsibility.

People against gun regulation say guns don`t kill people, people kill
people. The idea here is sort of social media companies don`t shape
elections, people shape elections.

What if those people are shaping elections illegally? Federal law bans
foreigners from giving anything of value to US campaigns. Social media can
be very valuable, just as Facebook, which is valued over $400 billion.

Now more rules that could hamper foreign election meddling could cost
Facebook time and money. Powerful companies make all kinds of arguments
for why they shouldn`t be regulated, and some of this is starting to eerily
echo the argument made by Wall Street after the financial collapse. Expect
to hear more of it from Facebook. Just like gun companies or financial
companies, these are arguments that corporations make the loudest when
their business model hurts the wider public. After the market crashed,
bankers of Goldman Sachs say they were just kind of a neutral platform.
They didn`t pick sides between the forces that crash the economy. They
just created a market for those forces. You know, like a platform.


CARL LEVIN, FORMER SENATOR, MICHIGAN: Do you think they know that you
think something is a piece of crap when you sell it to them and then bet
against it? Do you think they know that?

LLOYD BLANKFEIN, CEO, GOLDMAN SACHS: The nature of the principal business
and market making is that we are the other side of what our clients want to


MELBER: That Senator was asking about the crap the bank sold and the
banker`s answer was basically they are not responsible for the crap. They
are just a platform. With me now is Spencer Ackerman, National Security
Reporter for the Daily Beast and David Rothkopf a Columnist for the
Washington Post and former Clinton Administration Official. David, are
they just a platform?

platform. Facebook is largest organization of people on planet earth.
It`s a couple billion now. Their goal is to have 5 billion members by
2030. And of course, the argument that they`re not a media company is also
ridiculous. They`re using an old definition of media that they themselves
were responsible for helping to kill. They become the principal means of
most of their members of getting the news. And they don`t want to have any
sort of responsibility, any sort of regulation.

They don`t want to get in the discussion because they know it`s a slippery
slope towards them having to assume greater oversight of their own work and
also to you know, acknowledge the liability they have when they are just,
you know, out there taking money from the Russians or somebody else. And I
think it`s going to be a long, long time judging from what Sheryl Sandberg
said before they step up to the plate and start assuming the
responsibilities that they really ought to be assuming. And I think it`s
going to take Congressional pressure.

MELBER: Spencer?

really right on that. We`re talking about not just a platform perhaps that
has become a media company but the most important media company in the
world. Essentially a source for millions of people you know, in the United

MELBER: They are saying we are not a media company, leave us alone about
Russia and you`re saying they are “the media company.”

ACKERMAN: They are – they are the most important media company with you
know, some you know, similarly Russian penetrated others like Google.
Imagine if you were reading you know, a news story that seemed to be really
sympathetic to a certain you know, perhaps foreign point of view or can
video or attacking the targets that that foreign power wanted attacked.
And you saw the byline, you didn`t see that it reflected someone on behalf
of that foreign power. If you`re reading that newspaper, if you know, if
one of our colleagues did that they would be fired, they would deserve to
be fired. Their news organization would come under fire for that and
deserve at least so. That`s what happened on Facebook during the 2016
election. The Russians wandered and in some cases acted as imposters for
authentic American accounts, authentic American voices across the political
spectrum pushing messages (INAUDIBLE) to Russia.

MELBER: And what does Mueller do about this? You think he`s looking at
Facebook? We see the reports about ads, we see the report about it as a
tool, like I said. But does he reach deeper into how the company dealt
with this and whether they should have done more earlier or whether the
type of people who were doing this work – we don`t know all who they were
– had inroads in this – inside there?

ACKERMAN: Certainly as Mueller is piecing together a picture of how
Russian propaganda spread during the election and who were the vectors for
it. It`s extremely hard at this point to ignore. At this point, not just
what Sheryl Sandberg is talking about but the centrality of Facebook to
these efforts. You know, with every – with every passing month, you know,
thanks to really aggressive journalism at places like the Daily Beast, the
Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere, we`re really
seeing that just day after day after day. Certainly, this is taking up
most of the oxygen on Capitol Hill for the intelligence committee

MELBER: David?


MELBER: What do you think? I mean, does this something that Mueller digs
into beyond just the evidence of it, beyond OK we found bad stuff, now
we`re going to see who put it there?

ROTHKOPF: Well, of course, I mean, Mueller has got to make a case for
collusion. If the answer to Mike Allen`s question was that there was a lot
of overlap between the Trump targeting and the Russian targeting. And in
fact there were so much overlap that it was beyond coincidence, then you
know, that might help him make a case and he might dig deeper and find out
who was doing the targeting. Personally, I do think that there was a trap,
which was that we look too much at the 2016 election and not at the 2018
election and not the 2020 election.

And what I worry about is that the inertia that we see with Facebook and
dealing with these issues is matched by the inertia of Congress on these
issues, is matched by the inertia of the White House which is not actually
following through on the Russia sanctions it`s supposed to be following
through on, which I find kind of amazing that that`s not getting more
attention. And as a consequence, we have an election a year away and we
are no safer against the kind of intrusions that the Russians made into our
system today than we were in 2016 because the President denies it, Facebook
isn`t stepping up, the Congress doesn`t take any action. We live on this
issue in the age of inertia.

MELBER: The age of inertia and you mention the foot-dragging from the
administration on sanctions where a lot of victory laps that the cargos
made them do something. We`ve been looking and covering that. So, David,
I would love if you join us in the future to dig into that. Spencer
Ackerman, thank you for sharing your reporting with us. And coming up,
from the rightwing media right into the Trump White House, new reporting on
Trump`s late night phone calls with a certain Fox News Host. Also, the
definition of political bribery itself on trial, we have new developments
in Democrat Bob Menendez` case ahead.



JOHN KELLY, CHIEF OF STAFF, WHITE HOUSE: Although I read it all the time
pretty consistently, I`m not quitting today. I don`t believe, and I just
talked to the President, I don`t think I`m being fired today. And I am not
so frustrated in this job that I`m thinking of leaving. So unless things
change, I`m not quitting, I`m not getting fired, and I don`t think I`ll
fire anyone tomorrow.


MELBER: More on the unusual appearance there in the White House Briefing
Room today, the man who reported leads containment strategies for an
“unhinged President.”


KELLY: It`s funny, I read in the paper, you bot – you all know, you write
it, that you know, I was – I`ve been a failure at controlling the
President or a failure at controlling his tweeting and all that. Again, I
was not sent in or was not brought to this job to control anything but the
flow of information to our President so that he can make the best


MELBER: What about when that flow of information comes from Shawn Hannity?
He lobbed some softballs to Trump last night. And the person close to the
White House tells the L.A. Times Trump often calls Hannity right after the
Fox News Host`s nightly show. And allies saying Trump is frustrated with
Kelly, refusing to be managed and he starting to call people more on the
weekends from the cell phone. The White House disputes that report. But
here are the two of them last night, and in the past on the media and free


really dishonest people. I call it fake media. It`s fake. It`s so much
fake news. And we have to understand –

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS: Do you agree with that, fake news?

TRUMP: Truly dishonest people in the media and the fake media.

HANNITY: The alt-radical left propaganda destroy Trump media. They are on
a mission to take down President Trump.

TRUMP: I call the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are. They
are the enemy of the people.

HANNITY: Journalism is dead. You guys are done. You`ve been exposed as

TRUMP: Fake media. Fake news.


MELBER: And for a President who can`t seem get on the same page with many
people in his Cabinet, he does sound unified with his friend Sean.


HANNITY: Your communities are being hurt because of illegal immigrants,
crimes, and drugs that are coming across the border.

TRUMP: We will get the criminals out, the drug lords, the gang members,
we`re getting them out.

HANNITY: ObamaCare itself is single fundamental massive big government

TRUMP: ObamaCare was one of the biggest broken promises in the history of

HANNITY: When it comes to recognizing the violence that took place, and
both sides were involved in the fighting.

TRUMP: Do you think there is blame? Yes, I think there`s blame on both

HANNITY: Americans don`t want to see the flag and the national anthem

TRUMP: For people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our
national anthem I think is disgraceful.


MELBER: I`m joined by Maya Wiley former Counselor to the Mayor of New
York, now at the New School and Margaret Carlson a Columnist for the Daily
Beast. Maya, is this the secret Chief of Staff that you know, Sean Hannity
is the Chief of Staff Trump never had?

just the BFF Trump never had, I think, which is to say Donald Trump has
always demonstrated that he is particularly interested in people who make
him feel good about himself. I think what we have seen is Hannity has done
that repeatedly by not – by as you said, throwing him softballs and
generally supporting him no matter what he says or does unless DACA, it
departs from some fundamental conservative belief that Sean Hannity has,
but otherwise has been one of the closest allies in the news media. And so
I think what we`re seeing is the way a president can be influenced by
someone who supports him.

MELBER: And Margaret, Steve Bannon got his campaign and ultimately White
House job, it all started with interviews on Breitbart radio.

also see Trump change his opinion to match Sean Hannity`s. If trump leaves
the Hannity reservation, Trump will then adjust his positions as he did on
DACA. Hannity, you know, draws such a warm bath for Trump that he
sometimes, you know, has too much room as he did last night, and he says
things that don`t add up. When he talked about, you know, the missiles
that we have that can block missiles in the air, we don`t – you know, two
at a time.

I don`t think we really have that kind of defense – star wars defense
system yet. And he brings up the stock market repeatedly, which by the
way, the stock market is covered pretty consistently on every news channel.
And he says, well, the debt, the national debt is going down because the
stock market has gone up so much. There`s no relationship between the two.
But Hannity would never ever correct him. But this bromance, you know,
doesn`t work for Trump, because he needs a John Kelly, as we saw at the
beginning, he doesn`t need a Sean Hannity. He needs somebody who brings
him in within the guard rails, not lets him roam all over the place.

MELBER: Well, Margaret you make the great point that the relationship
between Hannity and Trump is much closer than the relationship between our
debt and our stock market. Here they were at the end getting really, you
know, romantic.


TRUMP: I will say this, you have been so great, and I`m very proud of you
and you know, I`m a ratings person, you notice, I always do. OK, has
anyone seen his ratings? I`m very proud of you. And it`s an honor to be
on your show. I have to tell you that Sean.


MELBER: First of all, Margaret, you never sign off our interviews like
that. I know you are not proud

CARLSON: I have to tell you, Ari, it`s such an honor and I`m very proud.

MELBER: You`re just not proud. And that`s fine, you don`t have to be
proud. You know, I don`t know you that well. Although I know you well
enough to make that joke. Margaret, what do you see there in the strategy
of a president working with an ally in the press there who are both so
committed as we showed in the lead to really degrading the factual
reporting that`s going on in which we have seen a lot of Americans, he`s
talking ratings, seen a lot of Americans embrace a lot of journalism since
Trump`s election, Washington Post, New York Times, ProPublica, a lot of
places, because facts are so important right now. Your view of that part
of this?

CARLSON: You know, if only we could go back to that long ago day when we
all agreed on the basic facts. That seems to be gone. I hope it`s only
temporary. Trump would like to suspend the first amendment for a while so
he could straighten out the media which hasn`t gone his way. You know, can
I bring up, when John Kelly said today, I`m not so frustrated, I`m not so
frustrated that I`m thinking of leaving. Back to you Ari, if I said, Ari,
I`m not so frustrated that I`m thinking of never being on your show again,
I could be that frustrated, right?

MELBER: Yes, it`s a tell. It was a linguistic tell.

CARLSON: Yes, it was. Yes, it was. That was not fake news. There we had
John Kelly right in front – in front of us except to the extent it might
have been a hostage tape where he was sent out to say these things.

MELBER: Well, it had echoes of Sean Spicer, Maya, although I will say John
Kelly is genuinely a more responsible and factual steward, although I was
criticizing some of what he said earlier on the show, but he had that same
thing or the Spicer thing where he would be marched out then you got the
feeling he just came out of a yelling Oval Office and we know they`ve been
shouting if you believe the L.A. Times report that Kelly is in a shouting
match with him about these things.

WILEY: Absolutely. But I don`t think anyone takes Chief of Staff job for
a President of the United States and expects not to be yelled at once in a
while. I don`t think that`s enough to make John Kelly quit. I think it`s
more perm pertinent question whether Donald Trump is going to go after
Kelly and try to push him out. That`s actually a different issue from
whether John Kelly himself will step back. But it`s a hot seat job and
he`s a person who can take the heat. So I think it would be wrong to count
him out.

MELBER: Yes, Maya Wiley and Margaret Carlson, thank you both. Coming up,
Trump`s voter integrity panel facing some big questions. I`m going to spec
to someone on the commission, a Democrat calling out the process.


MELBER: Donald Trump`s controversial Voter Fraud Commission had promised
transparency. But a Democrat member of the Commission is now calling out
the leader there Kris Kobach saying the Commission is operating in secret,
there`ve only been two meetings and the panel “has no idea what it`s
working on or when it will meet next. ” We hear a lot of the criticism of
this voter fraud panel from outside but now it looks like some of the calls
are coming from inside the House. Joining me now for an exclusive
interview is that Elections Official Matthew Dunlap, who is Maine`s
Secretary of State. Is this Commission working the way it`s supposed to?

MATTHEW DUNLAP, SECRETARY OF STATE OF MAINE: Well, certainly isn`t working
the way I expected it to or probably many of us expected it to. I`ve been
on a lot of commissions and committees in my time and typically you do a
lot of your work in public. Some of the work that you prepare for, you
have extensive communication with other members of the commission,
staffers, and frankly, none of that has really been happening. And it`s a
bit of a mystery to me as to what has been happening. And my alarm bells
have started to go off after ProPublica built a timeline showing that a lot
of the communications had been coming from the commission have actually
been developed outside of the offices of the commission by people that in
one particular instance, a couple members of the commission before they
were members of the commission.

And I think I had sort of anticipated that those are the types of things
that were going to be conducted by our staff, which seem to be very capable
of doing those sort of things. So the fact that hasn`t been happening and
that we haven`t had any word on what has been going on, I have heard
nothing from staff or anyone else on the commission really since we
adjourned our meeting in New Hampshire almost a month ago. So it does
raise some questions.

MELBER: So you`re a Democrat – you`re a Democrat but you gave this a good
faith shot.


MELBER: I`m sure you took some heat for doing anything about Donald Trump
investigating alleged voter fraud. You gave it a shot. At this point in
time, do you have confidence that this is a fair and legitimate process or
are they losing your confidence?

DUNLAP: Well, I think it`s a little bit early to pass a final judgment on
the work of the Commission. I think, we still have the opportunity to
answer the questions. And the questions raised by the President that three
to five million people voted illegally which I don`t believe we`re going to
find anything like that, but you don`t necessarily answer the question by
not answering the question. What my question now is —

MELBER: What about these reports – what about these reports that Kris
Koback had a preordained plan to try to use this to change federal voting

DUNLAP: I think what is rooted behind that is, you know, the work that
we`re doing. I came to sort of wonder whether or not we`re even using the
same definitions of terms. When he says fraud and I say fraud, we`re not
necessarily talking about the same things. When we talk about voter fraud,
which is a very specific thing, by the way, we tend to frame it in terms of
voter misconduct, not fraud. You know, we`re thinking of somebody trying
to vote twice or something like that. In the New Hampshire meeting, when
he was waving the bloody shirt about 5,000 cases of voter fraud in New
Hampshire, what he was really referring to was a statutory construct of New
Hampshire law that he did not agree with.

MELBER: Right, and I wish – we`re almost out of time so I can`t do too
many statutory constructs but my last question for you. Yes or no, are
there further public meetings scheduled?

DUNLAP: I don`t know. We have heard nothing.

MELBER: Pretty telling. Secretary Dunlap, I appreciate your approach and
your service. Thank you for your time. Ahead, I have an update on an
important bribery case against a Democratic Senator next.


MELBER: Now the case against Menendez is a legal matter doesn`t look
close, it looks overwhelming. In fact, the only legal defense left is what
you could call the Governor Bob McDonnell defense which would be OK, I took
unethical gifts but I would have helped this donor friend of mine anyway.
That was the report we brought you when the trial Democratic Senator Bob
Menendez began. Now the prosecution has rested after bringing an FBI agent
to the stand recounting internal e-mails which they say show Menendez
abusing his power to help a donor. Now that`s the case against Menendez.
The relationship is documented. It looks bad. But as we reported when
this trial began, the Supreme Court has made it harder to prosecute gifts
in the unanimous decision overturning a conviction of Republican Virginia
Governor Bob McDonnell. Menendez can use the McDonnell defense, well, yes.

It looks like the Judge think he has a point. They spent three hours
discussing a motion from Menendez to toss part of this case. The judge
asking how the Supreme Court has narrowed what counts as a bribe and that
it must now be a very specific exchange, not a vague stream of benefits.
Both sides filing their responses this Monday. If Mendez wins on this
point, he could narrow the case from a question about bribery to a much
narrow question about false statements. That would be good news for
Menendez and the Democrats in the Senate but it`s bad news for limiting
gifts to politicians, something most voters support but that the Supreme
Court is making easier –



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