Sen. Cory Booker on The Beat. TRANSCRIPT: 3.25.19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.
CHUCK TODD, HOST, MTP DAILY: Well, that`s all we`ve got for today. It`s
been quite the 96 hours and it`s going to be quite the week up ahead.
Thanks for watching. I really appreciate it. I hope you watch tomorrow.
In the meantime, “THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER” starts right now.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening and welcome to a special edition of
THE BEAT from Washington on the first workday since the Mueller probe ended
with no chargeable collusion and an open question on whether Donald Trump
My exclusive guest tonight is former Attorney General Eric Holder who
served under President Obama and is on THE BEAT tonight for his first
interview since the Mueller probe ended. Thank you for being here.
ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: It`s good to
MELBER: Before we get to your assessment of all this, what does it mean
that this probe ended with 37 indictments? What did they find? What did
they not find?
HOLDER: Well, they certainly found – the headline is that the campaign
was not colluding with Russia. But I think it also found, very
significantly, that the Russians in two ways tried to influence our
election, both through the use of social media and through hacking.
And, you know, that, Ari, takes me back to Helsinki. That is a consistent
finding with what the intel community has been telling the president over
these many, many months. And I think about him standing there in Helsinki,
in spite of the fact that he had this information from the intel community
and essentially saying that I believe this guy, and pointing at Vladimir
Putin, as opposed to the people who are sitting in front of me, the
Bob Mueller has really put in terms that are not intel speak a very
compelling case, that the Russians, in fact, did that which Donald Trump
has seen so reluctant to admit.
MELBER: Does the lack of the conspiracy indictment clear Donald Trump of
HOLDER: I think it does. I mean on the basis of what I have seen. I have
not seen the Mueller report. But certainly, on the basis of the letter
that Attorney General Barr put together, it would seem to me that that is a
substantial finding there. And I think it`s good news for, you know, for
the president and for his campaign.
MELBER: Good news for the president. Now, before we turn to obstruction,
let`s talk about the letter. All we have today is the four-page Barr
letter, not the Mueller report. What does it say to you that Barr`s letter
never quotes even a complete sentence from the Mueller report, let alone a
HOLDER: Yes, it`s a little troublesome because there are – you look at
the letter and you`re trying to figure how much of this is Barr, how much
of this is Mueller, how much of this is based on the Mueller findings?
I think it all points to the fact that at the end of the day, Congress, the
public are going to have to get access to the Mueller report. And then
also, I think hear from both Bob Mueller and from Attorney General Barr.
MELBER: When you were attorney general, would you ever get prosecutors
providing information without a charging recommendation?
HOLDER: I was attorney general for six years, third longest-serving
attorney general in the history of the United States. I never received
anything from a prosecutor –
MELBER: Never? Never once?
HOLDER: Not once.
MELBER: So what does that mean about what Barr says Mueller has done so
HOLDER: I think that what Bob Mueller was doing there was presenting
something as best he thought he should do under the obligations that I
think he faced. I think he was taking into account the Justice Department
regulation that says you cannot indict a sitting president.
And I think that really changed the way in which Bob Mueller conducted
himself, conducted his probe. I mean I`ve known Bob Mueller for 30 years.
MELBER: You hired him.
HOLDER: I hired him in the U.S. attorney`s office in Washington, D.C., saw
him go into one of the toughest parts of Washington, D.C., make homicide
cases, made him U.S. attorney in San Francisco. He is the assistant
attorney general for the criminal division.
This is a guy who has the ability to – and the constitution to make tough
decisions. So the fact that he did not make a call here I think is an
indication that he did what he thought he was supposed to do given the
strictures that he was under.
MELBER: Well, let`s get into it with those structures. Barr asserts
without quoting Mueller that essentially, by not giving a charging
recommendation, it lives it to Barr to determine whether Donald Trump`s
conduct constitutes a crime. Is that right?
HOLDER: I don`t see that. I don`t see that at all. It would seem to me
that the more logical thing to do would be for Bob Mueller to have made
these factual determinations. And then for the attorney general to receive
those and say full stop, and think about where this information then needs
to go. And from my perspective, it seems that it needs to go to Congress.
MELBER: So when Barr in his letter suggests this is up to him, is he right
or wrong about that?
HOLDER: I think he is wrong. I mean I think he is taking on too himself a
role that has not typically been used by people in the position that Bob
Barr has had.
MELBER: You mention typically.
MELBER: For your analysis, let`s look at the Nixon example where the
Prosecutor Jaworski had a probe and did not offer a conclusion on
obstruction, saying he would allow “the House to determine what action was
In the somewhat controversial Ken Starr example, he did not formally offer
a conclusion on obstruction, noting it was not the role of his office to
determine whether the president`s actions warrant impeachment. Is Barr
through his letter violating those precedents?
HOLDER: Yes. That`s kind of a strong term, violating those precedents.
But I think he is acting in a way that is inconsistent with those
precedents and I would say inconsistent –
MELBER: Is he departing from those precedents?
HOLDER: He is certainly departing from those precedents. And I would say
he`s acting in a way that`s inconsistent with the best practice. It would
seem to me that having received the information in the way that he did from
Bob Mueller that Attorney General Barr should have taken that information
and then packaged it in the appropriate form and sent it to the House for
MELBER: Do you know why he would be taking that approach, if as you say
it`s so unusual?
HOLDER: I don`t know. And that`s one of the things, one of the reasons
why I think his testimony before the House, Bob Mueller`s testimony before
the House, the examination of the report is so critical. It seems hard for
me to imagine that Bob Mueller asked Bill Barr to do this.
That seems – because that would be Bob Mueller shifting the responsibility
from making the call to the attorney general, and that`s just not the way
in which Bob Mueller is wound. That`s just not the way he is wound.
MELBER: That is really striking coming from you as an attorney general,
one of the few people who has been in those shoes and understands what is
unusual here. And as you say, someone who knows Bob Mueller so well. You
And I want to show you a little bit of a younger Eric Holder giving a
tribute to Mueller on his retirement as FBI director. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: In every endeavor, Bob`s skill, his intellect, his excellent
judgment, his humility, and his natural sense of leadership were on
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: When you think about that, do you think it`s possible we would
later hear Bob Mueller`s view of this, either through what he wrote in the
report and whether this was intended for Congress, or a rebuttal to what
you say is Barr departing from precedent this weekend?
HOLDER: Do I think that we would hear from Mueller? Mueller, I think what
we heard from Mueller was him doing what he thought he was supposed to do,
given the parameters within which he was working.
He is a dedicated civil servant. He is an ex-marine. He follows orders.
He understands the mission. He completes the mission. And I think he
completed the mission in the way that he thought he was supposed to do it.
MELBER: Preet Bharara was a U.S. attorney who you also oversaw.
HOLDER: Good man. Good man.
MELBER: I want to play for you what he is saying about this because some
are putting this on Barr, as you just did. He seemed to accept Barr`s
explanation, even though we haven`t gotten the Mueller report and saying
Mueller is abdicating his role. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: My first reaction was it seems to be
an abdication of a responsibility. You give a case to a special
prosecutor, a special counsel for that person to make a prosecutive
decision. He did not. So he punts to Congress, and then sort of Bill Barr
runs on the field, takes the ball, and runs it in for a touchdown for the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Your reaction.
HOLDER: I respect Preet a great deal, but I think he is wrong there. I
mean I think Bob was faced with just a couple of possibilities. Given the
fact that he could not indict, he had the possibility of declining
prosecution, and he thought there was too much evidence I think there to
If you look at the letter. The letter talks about he is not exonerating
anybody. So he is not in a position to decline the case.
The only other option that he had was to put this case in as good a form as
it could with the expectation that somebody would do something with it.
And if past precedent is any guide, that would be the attorney general or
somebody in the Justice Department shipping out that which he put together
to Congress for consideration.
MELBER: When you look at the letter, there were two very negative things
about obstruction for Donald Trump that Barr felt the need to include.
One, that there are other secret actions that Mueller uncovered that Trump
took that go to the obstruction analysis, and he didn`t release what they
are. And two, as you just mentioned, that Mueller did not exonerate Donald
Trump on obstruction.
Given what you just explained to us, how are we supposed to interpret Barr
including that negative information while going beyond Mueller to say he
doesn`t think Trump committed obstruction?
HOLDER: Well, I think in some ways I think the attorney general is maybe
trying to cover himself so that he can say I was pretty fulsome in the
letter that I prepared. And in spite of that fulsome nature in which I
described that which Mueller did, I made the determination that there was
not a basis to proceed.
From my perspective, the fact that he says that there is information that
we don`t have access to, that the president is not exonerated means that
there has to be, as there has been, an examination by Congress to make a
determination about whether or not further action and what kind of further
action is necessary.
The injection of the attorney general to come in, especially this attorney
general, after that 17-page memo or whatever it was he wrote some months
ago before he was attorney general, I would think that given that history
and this determination, I would have been a little hesitant if I were
Attorney General Barr to make the determination here.
Now, I think he attaches Rod Rosenstein to the determination but I don`t
think that is sufficient to get me or I think many other people beyond a
concern that the appropriate process was followed.
MELBER: That`s significant coming from you. I mean it sounds alarming I
think for people listening to you as an attorney general with knowledge of
this saying, number one, this is never how prosecutors submit information.
And number two, the precedent, whether you like the findings or not, has
always been that if there is a potential high crime by the president, it`s
the Congress who deals with it. And that`s interesting because we`ve heard
from Ken Starr on this show about that.
And although I think the two of you may disagree about much, you seem to
overlap at least on the fact that, yes, it is Congress, not an A.G., even
one like yourself or Bill Barr or others who decides this. Take a listen
to Ken Starr.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEN STARR: I`m saying the House of Representatives took the evidence and
said we have a duty to do what we feel obligated to do.
MELBER: Well, you – that`s what you had them do.
STARR: The statute – it`s no longer a defect that Bob Mueller has to live
with is that the statute set the bar very low for providing information
that may constitute grounds for impeachment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Isn`t that what obstruction by a president would always be about?
Not prejudging the Mueller report, which we haven`t seen, but the process
is the House decides what to do about it if anything.
HOLDER: Sure. And obstruction is the thing that certainly brought down
Richard Nixon. It is something that the House is institutionally familiar
with. But let me be very clear. I don`t want to say – I don`t want
people to leave with the impression that I`m saying that Bill Barr has done
something that`s inconsistent with his duties as attorney general, that he
is doing something in a way that I`m questioning his integrity.
I think what I`m concerned about is that he has this really expansive view
of executive power, the power of the executive branch. And my concern is
that that might have somehow infected his decision about how he was going
to handle what he got from Bob Barr.
MELBER: Understood. I haven`t heard –
HOLDER: From Bob Mueller.
MELBER: From Bob Mueller. I haven`t heard you speak to his integrity at
all, but I`m hearing you say, echoed by the history we just showed and
people like former Prosecutor Starr that the notion that this would be
wrapped up by the attorney general is odd, just as Janet Reno did not
resolve the Clinton issue. Attorney General Richardson did not resolve the
And so Barr, as you say, is putting it in a maximalist position. There is
one other thing about all this that I`ve got to ask you.
MELBER: And I just don`t know what happened here. I`m curious if you do.
There is a requirement under the rules that Congress should be notified
about the decisions about who to charge and not charge. And on Friday,
Barr said he was going to do that as soon as this weekend.
Does this letter constitute that? Because it seems to deal very
hermetically with a few things but doesn`t in any way tell Congress about
the other individuals or other issues under investigation that were
declined to be charged. Does that requirement still have to be met by the
HOLDER: Yes, I think it still has to be met. And I think it`s – it was
anticipated that that would be met by a fulsome disclosure to Congress
about the things that you have just mentioned and all the other things that
Congress needed in order to make a correct decision as to what actions
should be taken with regard to a president who was under investigation.
MELBER: It sounds like Eric Holder, former attorney general of the United
States tonight is saying the conspiracy collusion aspect of this is clearly
over based on what Mueller has done, and the obstruction questions are just
beginning for analysis.
HOLDER: Oh, I think the obstruction questions, I certainly would agree
with your characterization of my views on collusion. But with regard to
obstruction, I think we`re really at the beginning – maybe the middle of
this whole process.
Findings have been made. We need to see what those were. We need to see
exactly what was the nature of the interaction between Bob Mueller and Bill
And then we also need to understand how was it that Bill Barr reached these
conclusions. What were the things that he went through? What laws did he
apply? What rules did he apply? How did he interpret the appropriate
rules and statutes? How did he apply the facts?
This is just, you know, a four-page memo that makes some really
consequential determinations. And it seems to me that the American people
and Congress are entitled to hear substantially more than simply this
MELBER: Former Attorney General Eric Holder, thank you so much for coming
on THE BEAT tonight.
HOLDER: Good to be here.
MELBER: Appreciate it. Really good to get Eric Holder`s views here. He
broke some news as we just heard. And I`m about to get into it.
Let me be clear about what jumps out to me. The former attorney general
breaking with Mr. Barr in saying he was wrong in the way he handled this
letter, that it was selective, that the Mueller report should come out.
That is something, of course, that we`ve heard from other Democrats, not
just former Attorney General Holder.
And then also just there at the very end, he was just telling us, well, he
thinks, Eric Holder thinks that this new letter from Barr in addition to
its other problems also doesn`t even satisfy the DOJ rules about explaining
all the people he declined to charge.
We have a big show tonight, including as you can see on your screen
presidential candidate and Senate Judiciary Member Cory Booker. Also, a
special interview with me tonight.
But right now for more on this news, I bring in former Federal Prosecutor
Gene Rossi. Thanks for being here.
GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Thank you for having me.
MELBER: You listened to the attorney general there –
ROSSI: I did.
MELBER: – making news. Let me play very briefly the first point he made
that he thinks Barr is fundamentally wrong in part of the way he is
handling the Mueller findings. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: I think he is wrong. I mean I think he is taking on to himself a
role that has not typically been used by people in the position that Bob
Barr has had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s a big judgment coming from a fellow attorney general.
ROSSI: It is.
MELBER: Do you agree?
ROSSI: Yes. I want to say Eric Holder signed my certificate to be an
assistant U.S. attorney. I`m very proud of that. He is much more
diplomatic than I am.
I think that this letter is completely tainted for one reason. When Bill
Barr Sua Sponte became the Al Hag (ph) and said I`m in control and I`ll
decide the obstruction issue, he should have recused himself on that issue
because June of 2018, he already showed his cards and made a determination,
his prejudice against the charge.
So using a football analogy, that`s what Preet did. I want to use a
basketball analogy. We have a jump ball. We`re giving to it Bill Barr who
is taking the ball. He already decided the possession arrow. That`s
MELBER: Well, on that – let`s dig into that.
MELBER: Because as I show, there are people like Preet Bharara and other
experts who – this is all new. This is all unfolding here on Monday,
Sunday into Monday. They think maybe Mueller did leave this up as a jump
Eric Holder is saying tonight here making some news that it may be Barr
whose making it look like a jump ball, and that was not Mueller`s
intention. Take a look at that point, again, breaking news on THE BEAT
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: It seems hard for me to imagine that Bob Mueller asked Bill Barr
to do this. That seems – because that would be Bob Mueller shifting the
responsibility for making the call to the attorney general. And that`s
just not the way in which bob Mueller is wound.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Is it possible that the entire Mueller report would present a very
different picture than the Barr summary that Mueller did not leave it up in
the air, but rather maybe was sending it somewhere other than Barr`s desk?
ROSSI: Given my feelings that this is a tainted letter, the answer is yes.
I find it hard to believe that Robert Mueller, one, did not make a
recommendation yes or no, and/or said, “You know what? It is a jump ball,
but I think Attorney General Barr, I think the Congress should decide
You had up Leon Jaworski and also the Ken Starr. I agree with that. Maybe
Mueller said let Congress decide.
MELBER: You`re a prosecutor. We`ll put it back up on the screen.
MELBER: This is what everyone is now debating and what the Democrats in
Congress may get into. We`ll put up on the screen the precedents, Nixon
Walk us through what we see here. Basically, they both said it was
Congress to make the decision on obstruction.
ROSSI: Absolutely. And it`s possible that Robert Mueller was looking at
those documents and said you know what? It`s a jump ball. Let them
But I`ll guarantee you right now, he did not want Bill Barr to make that
decision. Because that June 2018 memo, I`m sure Robert Mueller read it,
and there is no way he would allow Bill Barr to decide the jump ball on
such an important thing. It`s too important for the United States. We
need to know the meat on the bones.
MELBER: Very interesting coming from you, in getting your analysis. We
have a lot more, including a lot of views and a player on this in the
Congress tonight. That`s why I`m going to keep moving.
Gene Rossi, I always appreciate you being a part –
ROSSI: Thank you.
MELBER: – of our expertise and the reporting we draw on. Now coming up
as promised, a lot more in this show. I will go live one-on-one with
Senator Cory Booker, his first time on THE BEAT as a 2020 candidate. And
he has questioned Donald Trump`s new attorney general already once.
Will Bill Barr and Mueller be called to testify before Congress again?
That fight is already getting a lot of attention tonight. We`re going to
see whether the Mueller report will become soon public.
I`m Ari Melber. And you`re watching a special edition of THE BEAT on
MELBER: Welcome back to a special edition of THE BEAT. We have a lot of
breaking news coverage and special guests, I might add, as we look at Bill
Barr`s treatment of the Mueller report.
Now, in moments, as promised and as we`ve indicated on our screen, I will
be joined by Senator Cory Booker. He is a presidential candidate. He is a
member of the Judiciary Committee who could be in a position to face off
with Trump`s Attorney General Bill Barr again or even Bob Mueller himself.
But first, I want to turn to a very special guest, President Donald Trump`s
personal attorney Jay Sekulow, who joins me on a newsworthy night on THE
Good evening. Thanks for coming on the show.
JAY SEKULOW: Thanks for having me, Ari. I appreciate it.
MELBER: Your view of what Bob Mueller found regarding no chargeable
SEKULOW: Well, I`m going to say before we get to the no chargeable
collusion, I`ve watched former Attorney General Holder and Mr. Rossi, your
last guest. And you`ve conflated the independent counsel statute, which is
what Leon Jaworski and –
SEKULOW: – and Ken Starr were operating under. Hold it. Ari –
MELBER: Jay, here`s what I`m going to do. I`m going to let us get into
obstruction. I wanted to begin with something I thought you would be very
interested in which is I want to make sure –
SEKULOW: But I want to set the record straight.
MELBER: Let me promise you this. I will reserve time for you to address
anything you want to say about that.
MELBER: But as the moderator, I`m going to begin with something I thought
you might want to even talk about but that I`ve –
SEKULOW: Go ahead.
MELBER: – posed as the first question and I will save time for that
rebuttal to Mr. Holder. I promise you.
SEKULOW: Thank you.
MELBER: Now, walk us through your view of no chargeable collusion, sir.
SEKULOW: Well, I mean, it`s very clear. The position that we`ve advocated
since the beginning and that`s clear in what has been released is that
there was no collusion.
There was no evidence of collusion and there was no evidence of anybody
associated with the Trump campaign engaged in collusion with the Russian
government or people affiliated with the Russians. That was crystal clear.
So that was the basis – by the way, Ari, you know this. That was the
basis upon which this investigation started was this whole collusion issue.
What was the Russian engagement or lack of engagement during this campaign
cycle? And specifically, as it related to the president and the
president`s campaign. And the special counsel said there was none.
MELBER: And so on that, given that that would be by most accounts good
news for your client, President Trump, how do you explain how many
misstatements and falsehoods there were?
Other people as you know were convicted of obstruction, related crimes, and
lying to the feds. That`s not in doubt. How do you explain all of that
now that you have this result that would seem to be positive on the lack of
SEKULOW: Well, that – individuals that were charged or pled or were
convicted were charged with crimes unrelated to the issue of collusion with
Russia. Most of the charges were what`s called processed crimes. That`s
lying to the federal officers, tax evasion, FARA violations. So those are
There were no charges. Interestingly, if you look at all of the
indictments that were issued here, there were no indictments that made an
allegation of collusion with the Russians or Russian government officials.
So I think that the indictment spoke for themselves in that sense.
And apparently – and we haven`t seen the report obviously. We`ve seen
what`s been put forward in the summary letter that the attorney general
issued, that there was no collusion. And that`s crystal clear.
MELBER: Now you wanted to get into the obstruction part of the discussion
MELBER: – including what Attorney General Holder, former attorney
general, said. Let me play some of Attorney General Holder and get your
response. We`re going get this clip of it.
Because basically, one of the most interesting things that the attorney
general said, which relates not only to your client, the president of the
United States but relates to who should be the decision maker on issues of
MELBER: – is whether that`s something that the attorney general handles
or the Congress. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: He`s certainly departing from those precedents. And I would say
he is acting in a way that`s inconsistent with the best practice.
It would seem to me that having received the information in the way that he
did from Bob Mueller that Attorney General Barr should have taken that
information and then, you know, packaged it in the appropriate form and
sent it to the House for consideration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Do you dispute that that is how obstruction issues were dealt with
in both the Clinton and Nixon precedents?
SEKULOW: Yes. No, I don`t dispute that`s how they were dealt with in the
Nixon and the situation with President Clinton. But what the attorney
general and Mr. Rossi fail to recognize is that those investigations
operated under an independent counsel statute, Ari. That is markedly
different than that law sunset.
Bipartisan Republicans and Democrats did not want that law to continue
after the investigation of President Clinton. So what replaced it was a
special counsel regulation. And the difference between Leon Jaworski and
Ken Starr was they reported to judges and panels.
Here you have an interdepartmental Department of Justice situation. The
special counsel is not an entity unto himself. The special counsel reports
to the attorney general of the United States. That`s different.
And then there is a specific regulation that governs what confidential
report is delivered not to the United States Congress, but a report that
first goes from the special counsel to the attorney general. And the
attorney general then makes a determination pursuant to the regulations as
to what should be released to the United States Congress.
I also think it`s not right, you have given me the opportunity and I
appreciate it, to –
SEKULOW: – criticize both Bob Mueller and the attorney general for what
they wrote when we haven`t seen the report. So everybody`s jumping. And
you`ve got to give –
MELBER: Well, that`s hardly – I understand what you`re saying.
SEKULOW: You`ve got to give Bill Barr credit. He received the report on a
Friday and returned something to the public what were called principal
conclusions in 48 hours. Now, everybody moves off the narrative.
MELBER: So let`s take both pieces, Jay.
SEKULOW: You move off the narrative –
MELBER: No, let`s take both pieces –
SEKULOW: Go ahead.
MELBER: And if you`ve seen THE BEAT, you know we will deal fairly and you
will get time. You`ve raised two points here. One, your rebuttal to
Holder and others about the historical record and two Barr time –
SEKULOW: Yes, nothing personal. It`s just – it`s just what the law –
MELBER: No, I got you. Not personal. So let`s take each of them. First,
on the historical precedent, you are alluding to the fact that there is a
different governing authority here.
SEKULOW: Which you know, right?
MELBER: Which I know, yes.
MELBER: Hold on, hold on.
SEKULOW: And the reporting authority is different.
MELBER: Jay, I know we`re both lawyers. I`m going to finish the question
and I will let you answer, all right. So given that different historical
precedent though, are you suggesting that obstruction by a president, any
president is no longer the province of the House Judiciary Committee? I
mean the Constitution did not sunset along with that federal law.
SEKULOW: No. You`re conflating two separate issues. You asked me if the
reporting process and your previous guest said that the Attorney General,
in essence, was derelict in his duties by engaging in what the statute
demands. And that is a confidential report initially between the special
counsel and the Attorney General.
You then take the issue of obstruction which by the way, if you read what
Bill Barr wrote in his letter, what did the special counsel say? I don`t
think this is any great you know mystery. None of us have seen the report,
but what does he actually say? He said that these issue of obstruction
presented difficult questions of law and fact.
Well, if you have a difficult question of law and fact – he didn`t say the
president violated the law in fact, he said the opposite. There`s no
statement about violating the law. He said it`s not an exoneration which
by the way, they don`t exonerate. As you know I prosecutor either makes
the case or does not. So what you have there is a rebuke –
MELBER: He`s said quote – if we`re going to quote the letter – you`re
quoting Barr quoting Mueller. He`s says “difficult issues,” not – that`s
the sentence, “difficult issues.” We don`t know what else was around the
sentence. I take it as of this hour you as the defense attorney with the
president have not seen the Mueller report, neither have I, and neither
have most people other than Barr and a few DOJ folks.
So let`s get it on record here before I turn to Senator Cory Booker who`s
on the Judiciary Committee and other guests in the show. Let me – let`s
get it on record. What does no exoneration on obstruction mean to you?
SEKULOW: It means that – no, what does no crime meet also. They could –
the special counsel –
MELBER: I don`t know. When you say no, I know what you mean. It says no
exoneration and I`m giving you a chance to say what does that mean to you?
SEKULOW: Ari, read the whole sentence. What does the whole sentence say?
What does it say right before no exoneration? Read the sentence.
MELBER: We could put the whole – we could put the whole thing on there.
SEKULOW: Put it on screen if you want. Let`s do it.
MELBER: While this report does conclude that the President committed a
SEKULOW: OK, there you go, number one.
MELBER: – it also do not exonerate him. Yes sir. So what does “not
exonerate mean to you?”
SEKULOW: They didn`t make a determination. That`s all it means. They did
not find the find the President committed a crime. They did not make
determination. What do they do? They either – for whatever reason they
had internally, they had a discussion, they decided that it was not going
to move forward as a crime. It says while this report does not conclude
the president engaged a crime, it doesn`t exonerate. Now, the exoneration
is interesting –
MELBER: And because – let me push you a little bit on this. I`ll give
you a chance to respond.
MELBER: Because as you and I know and as we`ve reported, so viewers know,
the standing policy of the Justice Department under administration`s in
both parties is not to indict a sitting president.
SEKULOW: Hold it. No, that`s not fair because Bill Barr said –
MELBER: Jay, you`re – Jay, I`m going to let you respond. Let`s keep –
this let`s keep pleasant.
SEKULOW: Go ahead. Your show.
MELBER: I`m going to finish and then you get to respond.
SEKULOW: Your show.
MELBER: So given that, is your view that Mueller should have given a
recommendation if it was for potential obstruction and you don`t indict,
doesn`t that go back to the Congress? You`re response.
SEKULOW: You read what the Attorney General wrote. He said the
determination was not based on the existing Department of Justice policies
regarding what issue. The issue of you can indict a sitting president.
MELBER: Barr`s view, not Mueller. Barr`s view.
SEKULOW: Barr is the Attorney General of the United States. The Deputy
Attorney General of the United States –
MELBER: Yes he is. The lawful Attorney General.
SEKULOW: Hold it. The Deputy Attorney General in the United States is Rod
Rosenstein. The office of legal counsel is part of the Department of
Justice and Bob Mueller is part of that same Department. So they did not
determine that there was a crime committed nor would they quote as you said
exonerate. What does that mean? They could not make a determination.
That`s what it means.
But what then happens? It then goes to the Department of Justice for
review under the regulations and that`s the decision they make in
accordance – in accordance to with the law.
MELBER: Well, let me put it very simple because we both – there`s things
we both don`t know. Let me put it very simple. I`m not trying to get you,
Jay. I think you`ve got a pretty good –
SEKULOW: Well, you really – Ari, listen, with due respect, I do watch
your show. You are conflating – you conflated the independent counsel
with the special counsel and then you conveniently leave off where it says
the president – we`re not accusing the president of a crime, a minor thing
you leave on.
MELER: Jay, Jay, Jay, save the media criticism for when we`re not doing
SEKULOW: No, no, this isn`t media criticism.
MELBER: The full screen – the full screen – you want to – you want to
get into –
SEKULOW: We already did.
MELBER: – and you can tell the president this. The full screen up on the
screen that we prepared for this interview has the entire quote, so what
you just said was inaccurate and I`ll leave it at that.
SEKULOW: No, you – when you – let`s play the tape back, Ari.
MELBER: I`m not going to do a Trump media debate with you, Jay. I won`t
play the tape back but I`m not going to do it in this interview.
SEKULOW: Play the tape back where you did not say – where you only said
the “did not exonerate,” you did not say not – the president not guilty of
MELBER: Because I`m asking – I`ve been reporting that all weekend, sir.
I`ve got a backup on the screen. I`m not doing that to undercut you. It`s
just the fact is we have the entire quote. We deal with context here.
Now, Jay, before I let you go – and viewers might wonder why you – why
you aren`t more excited about the good part of this which is the –
SEKULOW: I`m excited about all. It`s a great day for the President, a
great day for the country.
MELBER: Right. So before I let you go and I turn to Senator Booker. Let
me ask you this final thought which is why do you think the Barr felt the
need to go farther than Mueller on the obstruction issues? Why not leave
it the way it is, notify Congress under. As you say the DOJ rules written
by Neal Katyal that are different than the underlying federal statutes they
used to exist, why did Barr go further? it was good for your client Donald
Trump but was it necessary if the Mueller report left it good enough?
SEKULOW: Here`s the – again, Ari, with due respect. You are conflating
independent counsels with special counsel. Bob Mueller works for the
Department of Justice. He doesn`t report to a three-judge panel. It`s a
completely different system. It was eliminated the Independent Counsel
Statute and Ken Starr was under it.
MELBER: Sure. But Barr didn`t have to –
MELBER: – the Mueller report without this extra letter. You would
SEKULOW: He did in conjunction with the Office of Legal Counsel and the
Deputy Attorney General, do what the Attorney General of the United States
is supposed to do as far as an interpretation of the law or a theory of a
case. That`s actually that simple.
MELBER: I will – I will say this while you and I may disagree about your
assessment of THE BEAT or how much conflation is going on my mind, I
appreciate – I appreciate on a big news night, I appreciate you coming on
MELBER: We gave the Attorney General Eric Holder his view, we give you
your time, and I really appreciate it.
SEKULOW: Thanks. I appreciate it, Ari. Thank you.
MELBER: Jay Sekulow, lawyer for the President of the United States. We
turn now to the other big interview tonight. Yes, I told you we have a lot
of interviews. I`m very excited to tell you along with the others, U.S.
Senator Cory Booker`s here. I could see him right now in our Washington
studio, his first interview since Mueller submitted the final report to Mr.
Barr and Mr. Barr released this controversial letter. And there`s also
signs of news on the Hill when we`re back in 30 seconds.
MELBER: Welcome back. Breaking news on Capitol Hill moments ago. I`m
holding the letter that just came out and has signatures of six different
Democratic committee chairs and they`re pushing Bill Barr demanding he
submit Mueller`s full report, no exceptions to Congress by a deadline of
This is fast movement on the story that`s been unfolding ever since Mueller
formally finished his probe on Friday. I`m joined by a senator with a big
view and a big role in this, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey for his
first interview since the release of Barr`s now quite well known for page
set of highlights, according to him of the Mueller report.
Senator Booker is a member of the Judiciary Committee. He is also running
for president. He even questioned Mr. Barr during those confirmation
hearings. Senator, thanks for joining us on this big night.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: It`s good to have you. You have been
doing a lot of hours and probably a little sleep.
MELBER: That`s true. Does that mean you`re watching T.V. while you`re
also out in the trail? You follow the news?
BOOKER: I have had you on the background of many a room that I`ve been in.
MELBER: So much to talk about but let`s start here. Mueller finished
MELBER: Barr took charge of this process and at least the public
perception of it over the weekend. This would look to be what your
colleagues in the House are calling for. Breaking news, these six
signatures saying, give us the Mueller report by April 2nd or else. Is
this the right call? what else needs to happen in your view?
BOOKER: So first of all, it`s a chorus of people that have been calling
for this, even people for more less partisan, independent backgrounds,
they`re saying this is something that should be released to the American
public. Considering the resources and money, and just for the sanctity of
the judicial system. There`s a lot of suspect right now to show that this
process was fair and transparent.
This is a really important step in that process and there`s a lot of us
myself included who don`t want to draw conclusions yet until we`ve actually
seen and read the report.
MELBER: Does it trouble you that Barr went through a 22-months
investigative product over the weekend and released quotes without any of
them being a full sentence?
BOOKER: I`m deeply troubled by Barr himself, one of the reasons I voted
against him. I mean, he came out before he even saw the Mueller report
with conclusions about this investigation which I think taints him. He
should have recused himself in my opinion.
So I have a lot of problems with Barr seeming to try to be a filter for a
report that allow us in Congress who ultimately according to the
Constitution, should be making some of these big decisions.
MELBER: You say this is the Congressional call. This was what Eric Holder
was saying too. And I think a lot of folks have been following this and
waiting to see what Mueller did and there wasn`t a lot of thought about
well, who would the ultimate umpire be.
Now we seem to be in this huge debate where Barr says he`s the umpire. We
just heard from the president`s lawyer who came on THE BEAT. I`m glad he
did. He has a very different view which is the A.G. should be the umpire.
Let me play for you what Eric Holder was telling us tonight that Jay
Sekulow was I think it`s fair to say, I try to be fair, somewhat exercised
over. Is that fair?
BOOKER: I think that`s very fair.
MELBER: Someone exercised. This was what the attorney general from the
Obama administration said. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: He`s certainly
departing from those precedents and I would say he`s acting in a way that`s
inconsistent with the best practice. It would seem to me that having
received the information in the way that he did from Bob Mueller, that
Attorney General Barr should have taken that information and then you know,
packaged it in the appropriate form and sent it to the House for
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Is Barr basically trying to do your job, the Congress` job for
BOOKER: Again, I have a lot of suspicions about Barr who`s already spoken
to these issues before even saw the report. So again, I worry about that
filter. And secondly, I think Barr has characterized something in a piece
of paper that almost seems to be handing the president talking points and
did a job that we should be able to do as Congress by looking at this
MELBER: So looking at you as a talented and distinguished attorney, not
just also a senator and presidential candidate, was this letter, is it too
early to say or do you think this letter was bad lawyering that it was more
P.R. than an investigative product?
BOOKER: I think the letter came from somebody who was already suspect that
should have recused himself. Number two is he`s drawing conclusions with
no evidence whatsoever. He`s not – how did he come to these conclusions?
How did he – what facts is he basing his conclusions on?
These are – really raise a whole lot more questions than it actually does
answer. And it should be turned over to the public and to representatives
of the public to begin to go through. And I am very much looking forward
to having come before the Judiciary Committee Robert Mueller. I think he
should sit before judiciary committee in the Senate and he should go as
well as to the House.
MELBER: So even – that`s interesting. Even if you get the full Mueller
report which this new letter as of 6:30 p.m. Eastern is the House chairs
demanding it and putting forward a process. You`re saying Mueller should
still testify under oath. Should that be in public?
BOOKER: I absolutely believe it should – the aspects – we`ve done this
before. There are aspects that should be in public and then clearly there
might be some things that should be in private. But you know, this is –
this is not the end in any way to what`s going on.
You mentioned one of Donald Trump lawyers. Well his private lawyer has
been indicted and so has his campaign manager and his deputy campaign
manager. Even his son that was exposed for lies saying that we didn`t meet
with people from Russia when it turns out he did. There is a lot going on
here and Mueller has spent months and months and millions of dollars going
Now this is a part of a longer process that`s going to be investigated by
Congress understandably so as well as the Southern District. We see
investigations going on literally from coast to coast.
MELBER: Now is that just on the remaining criminal questions including
whatever happened in New York and obstruction as you – as you put it which
is Congress`s ambit, or do you see collusion is still an open question?
BOOKER: Well, again, what legal term are we using here for collusion and
what exactly went on? And this is again why there are fact patterns and
evidence in that report that should be presented to Congress for us to draw
our own conclusions.
MELBER: Well, let me press you on that because I think in the case of the
Mueller probe, Bob Mueller did not find a chargeable collusion conspiracy.
That much we know and let`s look at – Senator Booker, I don`t know if
you`ll get like Jay Sekulow on me. I don`t know. We`ll see what happens.
For a guy on a good news day, he had his feelings.
MELBER: But I want to press you on this, sir. Here`s what – how you
described it as recently as 2017. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOOKER: Look, we`re at a point in American history where we`re seeing a
lot of dots that are – that seem to be directing us towards a real problem
and potential collusion because there continues to seem to be smoke that
might result in an actual fire. In other words, real collusion going on
between us and the Soviet Union.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Real collusion going on.
BOOKER: First of all, besides the fact that I do the flashback there and
called it the Soviet Union not Russia. I`m glad you just gloss over that
and give me an ask.
MELBER: Well real collusion going on, you said. Do you now have to revise
that to say not chargeable collusion?
BOOKER: Again, when I have an Attorney General who in my opinion is
suspect filtering a report that I have not seen, I`m not willing to
conclude anything yet based upon a letter that he wrote.
MELBER: So you – but let me – let`s ask.
BOOKER: Press me. Yes, press me on that.
MELBER: But Bob Mueller didn`t charge anyone for conspiracy collusion on
MELBER: So you know that at the criminal level, Bob Mueller is now done.
He`s not doing the probe anymore.
BOOKER: Bob Mueller is a soldier that knows that his department has set a
sitting president cannot be charged, could not be indicted. And so again,
I think that this is – this is an issue for Congress. Let`s look at the
fact pattern. Let`s look at the report and come to our own conclusions.
MELBER: OK. So let me ask you it this way and then I`m going to move on.
One more. If somebody then says well, Senator Booker is advocating
Congress do over Bob Mueller`s collusion probe, what is your response to
BOOKER: No, my response to that is I`m not going to make any conclusions
until I`ve read the report. Not at all. I think that we should read the
report. Congress should have access to it. I think it should be made
public before we draw any conclusions especially those who are being
filtered through an attorney general who has said, who`d written, before he
even saw the report about issues of collusion.
MELBER: Now, I`m going to ask you the same question I asked the
President`s lawyer tonight. And I think we always learn more when we hear
MELBER: The question I posed to him was when Bob Mueller says Donald Trump
was not exonerated of the crime of obstruction, what does that mean?
BOOKER: Again, I haven`t read report so I cannot say exactly.
MELBER: Is it bad for Donald Trump?
BOOKER: I think head for him not to exonerate him, it really raised –
should raise a lot of concern for a lot of people. And for a President of
the United States to behave like he did, to even tell us that he`s firing
an FBI director because of the Russian investigation, all this points to
possible – the behavior that could possibly be considered obstruction.
MELBER: Interesting. And that`s as you`ve been saying throughout this
interview in it and from before today to be fair, that`s for Congress to
bear down on. I mean Attorney General Holder telling us tonight, he views
this as the beginning of that. And I think that`s true regardless of
whether one looks at a Mueller law or a Ken Starr law, the Constitution
gives Congress that oversight. I want to turn to another issue that you
have worked on –
BOOKER: Can I just –
BOOKER: It`s really important that we as much as we can separate politics
out of this. There are a lot of people who have been hurt by Trump by his
rhetoric, by his policies, that want to drive him from office. But this is
a I think a sacred constitutional moment for us where we should be
examining the President on the accusations that have been made. That the
reason why we founded this report was very serious and we should look, was
their obstruction, was their collusion based upon the facts and the
So I just think that as much as this it`s hard to have a conversation in
this town without people talking about politics and we`ve seen the
absurdities under what Secretary Clinton for example of which the
Republicans in Congress were behaving whether Benghazi hearings, e-mail
hearings that were well beyond the pale. But in this one, in my
conversations with other Judiciary Committee members, there seems to be a
sobered examination of what is really going on here.
And do we have at the higher highest levels of our country someone who
already has seen a lot of people around them, personal lawyer, campaign
staff, senior up foreign policy advisor be indicted for serious crimes. We
have not seen this level of corruption going on around an individual
president for decades and decades, probably around the time than you and I
And so this is – this is very serious especially because what we do know
as attorney general reiterate – former attorney general reiterated here on
the show, an ongoing attacks on our democracy by Russia, ongoing attacks,
and we`re going into another election.
MELBER: Before I lose you, I do want to turn a couple other issues. This
one obviously super important.
MELBER: But you`ve done a lot of work on criminal justice reform.
MELBER: And in Barr`s hearings, you had an exchange that was important
about incarceration, about the underlying racial inequities, and his
defense that the tough-on-crime agenda he led in the old days was important
to reducing crime, he said. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: My motivation was to
provide safety in these neighborhoods.
That crime rate has gone down. The drug penalties as I said very high in
draconian in and in some cases that might have been necessary, but I
supported revisiting the penalty structure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Was that an acceptable defense to you?
BOOKER: No. Some cases, that would have been necessary. We have declared
war on the American people. War on drugs is a war in the American people.
Federal prison population since 1980 alone has gone up 800 percent
disproportionately poor, addicted, mentally ill, and overwhelmingly
No difference between blacks and whites for using marijuana, dealing
marijuana, but African-Americans almost four times more likely to be
charged for that. And don`t think this is not big things. 2017 alone
there were more marijuana possession charges in all violent crime charges
What has happened in America since 1980 and that what he`s talking about
what he`s done has been perhaps one of the most devastating things, cancer
in the soul of our country. Why? Well, our infrastructure crumbled. We
were building a new jail or prison every 10 days from the time I was in law
school to the time I was married in Newark.
We`ve had Villanova report that we`d have 20 percent less poverty in
America for incarceration rates were the same as our industrial peers. And
when it comes to racial inequities in this country, there`s a reason why
Michelle Alexander called it the new Jim Crow because it has so devastated
black and brown communities that we have more black men in prison today
than all the slaves in 1965.
MELBER: Right. It`s remarkable. Before I let you go then, in a word or a
sentence, what is the issue policy or priority that separates you most from
other Democrats in this presidential field right now?
BOOKER: I have a record for bringing people together to solve the toughest
problems whether America see passing criminal justice reform. For me this
is a moment in America where we have persistent injustice. And the way to
solve that especially in the Democratic Party, not just talking about who
we`re against or what we`re against, we`ve got to start talking about what
Not just beating Republicans, our party needs to be defined as having the
ability to unite Americans to solve persistent injustice. That`s why I
have a call to create what King called that more beloved community. We
really need to talk to fight to do that and that`s really my purpose for
MELBER: Senator Cory Booker, we`ve spoken about some of these issues
before. It`s your first time on THE BEAT as a presidential candidate. I
hope we have you back.
BOOKER: I hope that – you know, I`m a little disappointed you didn`t give
me one lyric from one – I mean, come on, not even Don`t Believe the Hype
for crying out loud after that last interview you had with Trump`s lawyer,
Don`t Believe the Hype.
MELBER: Are you applying Chuck D to Jay Sekulow.
BOOKER: I am exactly doing that. I`m sorry I had to go there.
MELBER: Well now – you know, it`s a serious news day.
BOOKER: It`s a serious news day.
MELBER: Is there –
BOOKER: But sometimes when you have public enemy who seriously was talking
about fighting the power before –
MELBER: Fight the power of THE BEAT. You brought it up. Is there a
member of the Trump administration that most reminds you of Flavor Flav?
BOOKER: The fact that this is a president is often having his policy
defined by pop icons in the like is – probably says it all.
MELBER: It says it all.
BOOKER: It probably says it all.
MELBER: Senator Booker bringing up the – bringing up the Public Enemy and
getting to a lot of issues, I appreciate you –
BOOKER: I appreciate you very much. I look forward to be back on.
MELBER: Thank you, Senator. Thank you. Up ahead, what does happen to the
Trump aides who are awaiting sentencing or prison or trials? The Mueller
cases aren`t over. We have that update next.
MELBER: We`ve had a lot going on but as promised I did want to tell you
one more thing. Up ahead we`re going to have a quick announcement about
the man who helped launch the entire Mueller investigation.
MELBER: Quite a busy night. As we like to say around here, can`t stop,
won`t stop, and so I want to tell you tomorrow night we have a special
guest, the man who Bob Mueller`s investigation found unwittingly helped
launched the Russia probe, former Trump campaign adviser, George
Papadopoulos. He`s here tomorrow on The Beat in his first ever interview
on MSNBC. But don`t go anywhere right now because HARDBALL with Chris
Matthews is up next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
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