New Pressure on Bill Barr TRANSCRIPT: 5/13/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.
And we have a packed show tonight, the president colliding with his own top
health officials again, breaking with Dr. Fauci. These are new comments.
They`re getting Trump in some hot water, but they`re important because we
want you to have the medical facts.
Also, brand-new pressure on Attorney General Barr, accused of undermining
the rule of law to help more Trump associates to undermine the most serious
consequences of the Mueller probe. It`s a story that any night would be a
big deal. Even in this pandemic, it`s a big deal.
And the most powerful Democrat on the entire issue in Washington, House
Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, he will weigh in, only here live on THE
We`re looking forward to what we think could be a newsworthy conversation.
Later tonight, we take a turn as we often have done during this climate. We
talk to people who are affected. Everyone`s affected in different ways.
And actor Sean Penn, who`s been on THE BEAT before and is an interesting
guest, to be sure, he is putting his money down now to try to help COVID
testing. He`s here also live tonight later in the hour.
But we begin with the top story, a barrage of contradictions, mixed
messages and more chaos from inside the Trump administration`s coronavirus
This deals with multiple topics that matter, everything from the facts and
the medical issues in the reopening. Whatever your policy views of it, do
they even get the medical science right? As well as new wrangling over the
very sad and tragic death toll and counting up those numbers accurately.
So, let me get into it, President Trump contradicting Fauci, who in his
testimony was cautious about reopening schools this fall without a vaccine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, he wants to play all
sides of the equation. We`re opening our country. People want it open. The
schools are going to be open.
I was surprised by his answer, actually, because, you know, it`s just – to
me, it`s not an acceptable answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Not an acceptable answer. Of course, what does acceptable mean?
We`re about to get into it.
Do you mean scientifically, medically acceptable or something else?
And when the president says there the people want it, well, we have a fact-
check on that coming up as well.
This is the president sowing confusion about the basic guidance for, yes,
what our nation`s children are exposed to. And he is, of course, breaking
with the nation`s top infectious disease expert.
Also new reports the task members falling in line with Trump`s claim that
the death toll may be estimated as too high, and there is a push on the CDC
to actually change how it calculates what up to now has been the way they
look at how many Americans are dying in this pandemic.
It also contradicts what Fauci has said, that, if anything – and this,
again, is the doctor`s view, this was in testimony to Congress from home –
he said, if anything, the death toll, numerically, scientifically, is
probably higher than these numerical reports that I just told you the
president wants artificially or potentially misleadingly lowered.
Fauci, meanwhile, getting battered for all of this on Donald Trump`s
favorite – his words, not mine – his favorite TV outlet. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Dr. Anthony Fauci also seems to favor what the
Democrats want, and that is massive restrictions with no end in sight.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: There is a real risk that you will
trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: With all due respect to Dr. Fauci`s expertise, no
one elected him to anything.
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Tony Fauci has not been elected to anything.
FAUCI: I have never made myself out to be the end-all and only voice in
HANNITY: He wants us locked up indefinitely.
FAUCI: I don`t give advice about anything other than public health.
CARLSON: Is Tony Fauci right about the science? Do we have any particular
reason to think he is right?
FAUCI: I`m a scientist, a physician, and a public account official. I give
advice according to the best scientific evidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: There is a little bit of a tell in this new round of criticism.
Just think about it.
Have you ever sat across from your doctor or your family`s doctor or your
kid`s doctor and, after getting information from the doctor, whether you
liked it or not, whether you wanted a second opinion or not, have you ever
looked at your doctor in the face and said, hey, nobody elected you to
It`s irrelevant to the question on the table, which is, what do the doctors
and medical experts tell us? Then the government, if it follows those
facts, makes decisions.
The doctors aren`t supposed to be elected to anything. Indeed, that`s the
whole point. They`re the doctors. I know, obvious. Why should we even have
to say it? But we do say things in response to what`s out there, so that
everyone can take a step back from the rhetoric and remind themselves,
right, the scientists and doctors aren`t supposed to be politicians.
Now, beyond that obvious sort of miniature fact-check, if you want to call
it that, how is this all playing?
Well, I can tell you tonight there are limits to rhetoric, at least for
most Americans, because the vast majority of people are taking the
scientists` word for it. Indeed, a supermajority of the public, 66 percent,
says that, based on what they have heard, learned and thought, it will take
until July or longer to be safe to go to public gatherings.
And a lot of other polling shows people want obviously to wait until it`s
safe, if we can.
We begin with the former governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman.
She led the EPA under the George W. Bush administration and has exactly
experience in this intersection of science and government policy, and
infectious disease expert Dr. William Haseltine.
Thanks to both of you for starting off our broadcast tonight.
CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Good to be with you,
MELBER: Professor Haseltine, you have worked on many things. Can we begin
with a quick joke about your expertise?
DR. WILLIAM HASELTINE, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT: You may.
MELBER: Who elected you? Who elected you?
HASELTINE: I have heard every joke about me.
MELBER: Who elected you to anything? And should we listen to you just
because of your work doing a Harvard-level Ph.D, teaching and research on
genomes and other things?
Should we listen to you if you`re not a politician?
HASELTINE: I`d be happy to have you listen to me. And I do have a lot of
experience with infectious disease, developing drugs, and working around
the world in improving health systems.
MELBER: Well, having cleared the air on that, sir, your response to the
debate as just laid out, including the president`s comments about reopening
the schools and the expertise to make those decisions, as well as public
HASELTINE: I think the – I will be presumptuous enough to say what I think
a politician`s job is. It is to protect us.
My job and people like me have the job to help them do that job. It`s clear
that there is a killer in our midst. It kills old people. It kills people
in their middle ages, and now, tragically, we know it kills kids too.
That`s the first thing to say.
Until that killer is reduced and practically not at all in our midst, it`s
not safe to go out in big groups. You have got to be very careful. The
first thing is to protect yourself with masks and other kinds of behavior.
The second rule is for our health service to do whatever they can to
identify those who are sick, to contact trace those, and to make sure those
people aren`t mixing in the population.
When all of those conditions are present – and almost everybody you will
talk to in public health and many in government will say the same thing.
Until those conditions are met, it`s not safe to go out in big groups.
Now, are there some parts of the country where they are doing better than
others? Yes, there are. But even in those country – parts of the country,
you to remember, this infection that has now infected over four million
people in the world started with one person, one person.
One person can infect the world. One person can infect the country. One
person can infect the city. And one person can infect your home. That`s
something that we should have stuck in our mind as we go out into the
streets and try to open our schools and our businesses.
MELBER: All important to hear.
Governor Whitman, your view on all of the above and this reported pressure
by the Trump administration on the CDC to potentially adjust the death
WHITMAN: Well, unfortunately, I`m not surprised by that, because it`s clear
the president wants to get over this in everybody`s minds, so that he can
concentrate on opening the economy, which isn`t going to happen if we have
a resurgence of this disease.
And it`s – everything we know, every day, as scientists learn more about
it, we find more ways that it attacks the body. This is not just a
respiratory disease. This is not the flu. This is something much more
serious, and it can have long-term consequences.
So we need to be really careful. It`s not – to say he doesn`t like the
answer that Dr. Fauci is giving? Well, guess what? Dr. Fauci is not giving
answers to have them like him. He is giving them based on the best science
that he has available, and he is getting it from a host of different
scientists and doctors.
He is just one person. He says that. He wasn`t elected anything. Yes, it is
going to be up to the governors and the mayors – and, well, I don`t think
the president ever will really take it seriously – but for them to base
their decision-making on what the scientists are telling them to keep their
people safe, because it`s not going to rebuild the economy if we suddenly
open up, and we have a whole host of more people who die.
The whole issue of how do you count the deaths, that`s a problematic one,
because you can read those numbers two different ways. You could say, well,
we know there are a lot of people that haven`t been identified as having
COVID-19 who we think may have who have died, but does that mean that the
death toll is a lot less, because you have more people who haven`t been
tested and didn`t die?
I`m sorry, the other way around. They didn`t die.
And then you have people who did die who they now say, well, that could
have been due to COVID, be you`re not 100 percent sure. So, that, I
understand about being a little bit careful with those numbers, but good
lord, those numbers are big enough any way. We`re up to, what, over 80,000
Americans who have died from this.
We don`t need to get into the hundreds maybe one way or another. It`s a
serious thing. It`s affecting all of us. And we all want this to end. I
mean, it`s hard to sit across from – as I did last night from my children.
I couldn`t touch them, couldn`t good within six feet of them.
I`m never going to get that close to my grandchildren.
WHITMAN: And that`s hard for everybody, much less those who are losing
their jobs and their homes and their livelihood.
So we all understand that. But this is something we have got to take
MELBER: Yes. You mentioned that exchange, the 80,000, briefly.
I want to play for viewers another – this was another important moment in
the hearing that has triggered the president. This was the exchange with
Senator Sanders and Dr. Fauci.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The official statistic,
Dr. Fauci, is that 80,000 Americans have died from the pandemic. There are
some epidemiologists who suggest the number may be 50 percent higher than
that. What do you think?
FAUCI: I`m not sure, Senator Sanders, if it`s going to be 50 percent
higher, but most of us feel that the number of deaths are likely higher
than that number.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Higher than that number. I wanted to play that, so our viewers have
that full context.
Our experts stay with us.
The governor was just mentioning that governors do make these calls in our
system. That`s certainly the case.
Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat of Colorado, joins us now. We should
mention he met with the president at the White House today. They have had
policy differences, but everyone trying to get together and make it work.
Let`s start with what we see on camera there. You were using a mask, unlike
some have in these meetings, for part of the meeting. And then you also had
removed it at one point.
Anything you can share with us from that meeting? Do you think the
president is improving at all in this learning curve?
GOV. JARED POLIS (D-CO): Well, unlike most environments, Ari, we were all
tested before we went into the White House.
And so we took the 20-minute test. I came back negative. We were in there.
So we were more secure. When I`m out in public in Colorado, I wear a mask
at all times. I encourage everybody to do the same.
POLIS: We had part of the meeting in public, and that was reported on. And
then we went to a private meeting for another 20, 30 minutes.
And I really wanted to update the president what`s going on in the real
world, how he can be a better partner for the states and supply us with
some of the things we need in terms of masks and tests.
MELBER: Yes, understood.
We have just mentioned Dr. Fauci discussing 80,000 deaths in the United
States, roughly over 1,000, exactly 1,009, in the latest count, in your
state. And you are on the front lines of this.
One of the things that has been discussed is, do you reopen partially and
safely, or what do you do when you try to do that and people don`t follow
the rules? I wanted to mention just a local story we have seen.
This is the case count in Colorado there.
But there was a Castle Rock, Colorado, restaurant that began to reopen the
way these rules have worked. But we have some video that shows then you had
activities that basically, obviously, you see here were not following the
rules. Anyone can see that here.
This looks like this footage could be from any time last year, close
together and no masks.
What did you do about it? And what can we learn about the right way to
POLIS: Yes, so, in that example, the license of that restaurant to operate
has been suspended indefinitely, at least for 30 days.
We have had restaurants open this entire period, mostly for takeout, for
delivery. Now in parts of the state, there`s limited in-dining capacity.
But it`s very important. Just like in good times, Ari, we always worry
about hepatitis outbreaks at restaurants. Right?
So they have health guidelines. They can`t just have rats in their kitchen
and people without washing their hands. There is stuff in good times.
That`s even amplified more in this time.
So we`re very serious about making sure that guidelines are workable for
small businesses, so they can get by, they can provide a critical customer
service and value. At the same time, they have to do it in a new and safer
way that`s consistent with protecting the public health.
MELBER: So, is your experience on the ground there that this is viable,
that establishments will continue to improve, or that is really an open
Because it`s not a binary in black and white. And I think some of the
complaints that have come out of the White House and its sympathizers are
basically attacking the straw man, that, well, we`d have to stay shut
forever, and we can`t, so let`s just open like normal.
But your state and others are trying to experiment with, well, what does it
look like if, yes, people take a little more risk by going out, but follow
all these rules? Is that viable?
POLIS: Yes, it`s really finding out how we can live in this world with the
We expect the virus to be here, Ari, until there is a vaccine or a cure. It
could be many months, potentially years.
And so we have to learn to live in a way where we enshrine that social
distancing. How do we do as much as possible six feet apart, wearing masks
in public? We actually require it in all stores and restaurants in the
state of Colorado. The employees have to wear those masks.
For customers, some of the municipalities do, and some of them don`t. But
whether they do or don`t, everybody should wear a mask in public. So, the
more that people are using their individual responsibility in a good way to
protect themselves and their family members, the more we can continue in
this direction of being able to make sure that there is more economic
opportunities in a safe way.
Governor Polis, working with people in his state and meeting with the
president today, thank you very much.
I did want to give the – Governor Whitman one final response, which was
just the downward pressure on science. How do you push back in the
government? How should that be addressed?
WHITMAN: Well, I mean, it`s difficult now, because this administration has
been denigrating science and scientists from the very beginning, and the
administration has lost a lot of the scientists with the institutional
What you have to do is get the best available advice that you think you can
rely on as a governor. You listen to those who tell you what you don`t want
to hear, as well as those who tell you what you do want to hear, and see if
you can figure out, where is the preponderance of evidence?
And that`s what you go with. And as the governor just said, we can do this
sensibly. And the really tragic thing is, the CDC apparently has a very
detailed way to open things up and to open restaurants, for instance,
safely. That should be out there. Everybody should be working off that same
song sheet, so that we have some consistency and people can feel some level
MELBER: Copy, all of that important, Governor Whitman and Dr./Professor
Haseltine, thanks to both of you.
Coming up: There are major questions about Trump aides suddenly getting all
kinds of sweetheart deals, including getting out of prison early.
Well, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee who has constitutional
oversight over these very issues, Jerry Nadler, is here live. That`s coming
Also, former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman, who we have had many times
with his insights on these issues, he may be directly involved in what
comes next in the Flynn case. He joins us.
And, later, Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn is here tonight. He has a
nonprofit that`s trying to support testing of those who need it.
I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Major news stemming from the Mueller probe right now.
The most high-ranking Trump official to go to prison, Donald Trump`s
campaign chair, Paul Manafort, is now walking out of prison, even though he
had 70 percent of his prison time left to serve.
Manafort released and heading into his own home quarantine. This is a very
lenient treatment for a man convicted of serious felonies and accused of
lying to the feds after striking a cooperation deal.
The Trump administration says Manafort was released over the coronavirus,
and that has been a problem in many prisons. But there are reports saying
there are zero, not a single case of the virus at the prison where Manafort
served, raising suspicions, especially since all this comes within days of
the Justice Department trying to drop the prosecution of Trump`s adviser
Mike Flynn, even though he already plead guilty also to Bob Mueller`s
In fact, we`re hearing publicly from many nonpartisan Justice Department
veterans, saying this is wrong and that Trump`s allies are clearly getting
a pass from the attorney general, who also intervened, infamously, to help
Trump adviser Roger Stone, overruling the DOJ`s own career prosecutors.
And that led those career prosecutors, some of them with basically ties and
veterans of the Mueller probe, to withdraw completely in protest, publicly
saying what we almost never hear, which is that the Justice Department was
out of control.
Now one of them speaking out, saying Barr is running an operation infected
by politics that will do lasting damage to the institution.
Now, Barr has faced so much heat about all of this that he was actually
scheduled to try to answer some of it under oath. He was pressed into doing
that for planned high-stakes testimony facing Congress.
Now, if you follow these stories, do you remember that testimony that he
agreed to do? Do you remember Bill Barr sitting there answering and finally
explaining his view under oath of what exactly went down in this highly
suspicious situation with the Roger Stone case?
It was back in March that it was scheduled, but, no, you may not remember
it, because nobody remembers, because it didn`t happen. As with so many
other things that have been adjusted, even if they`re important, because of
the coronavirus pandemic, it was rescheduled.
The Judiciary chairman saying it would be basically rescheduled,
understandably, as the crisis was breaking – quote – “when the crisis
Now Barr facing a new wave of criticism for asking a judge to drop the
Flynn case, even though he pled guilty, as mentioned, to the FBI for lying
to the FBI. Barr saying bluntly he doesn`t think there was a crime, even
though Mike Flynn publicly admitted to one.
I cannot underscore for you enough how rare it is to have prosecutors who
prosecute for a living win, meaning they win the guilty plea, and then all
of the sudden out of the blue say, we don`t want to win. We want to lose.
This almost never happens, and it`s happening in the case of a person who,
of course, the president has personally tweeted and requested for this kind
of sweetheart treatment; 2,000 DOJ alumni underscore that point. They`re
calling on Barr not just to back off what he did here, but to resign over
the whole thing.
Meanwhile, former President Obama saying Barr appears to be putting the
rule of law at risk, in a reference to a lot of these recent developments.
Now new calls for Bill Barr to answer to all of this together and to
testify to Congress, so that this can be done and dealt with under oath,
where lying is, yes, a crime.
There`s also calls for the inspector general of the Justice Department to
come in and investigate – quote – “The American people deserve to know
the full extent of the politicization of the Department of Justice,”
according to a new round of letters.
So, we are going to get into all of this with the powerful judiciary
chairman, Jerry Nadler, when we are back in 30 seconds.
MELBER: I`m joined now by Congressman Jerry Nadler, chairman of the
Thank you for joining me.
First, your reaction to the release of Paul Manafort from prison?
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Well, it`s highly suspicious. It seems to be
another step in the politicization of the Justice Department, where the
president`s friends, the people the president supports, are treated one
way, and everybody else is treated the other way, just another example,
like the outrageous decision to drop the prosecution of Michael Flynn after
he stood up in court and swore under oath that he was in fact guilty.
This is unprecedented, and we have a real problem with the Justice
Department being subverted and politicized to be the personal agent of the
president, instead of the Department of Justice of the United States.
MELBER: We reported the history of Bill Barr and this committee you run.
Are there any plans to have Mr. Barr come back in to address all of this?
NADLER: Well, yes.
He was – he had agreed to come in and testify before the committee on
March 31, as you pointed out, and that was put off. We have been in
communication with them.
And now that the District of Columbia has expanded the stay-at-home order
until June 8, we are saying that we would expect to see Barr in front of
our committee on June 9, the very next day.
MELBER: Well, that`s new. Is that something you have reason to believe he
will agree to?
NADLER: Well, he hasn`t agreed to it yet, but we will do what we have to
do, whether that`s a subpoena or whether that`s deciding the Department of
Justice doesn`t really need all the appropriations it`s getting, or the
office of attorney general doesn`t need its appropriations.
We cannot have a situation where the attorney general just thumbs his nose
and the administration holds Congress in contempt.
MELBER: Very interesting.
So, your view is, as a practical matter, Washington formally reopens there
June 8, and you`re demanding Barr come back on this effectively overdue
hearing on June 9. And if he doesn`t, you`re prepared to use the power of
the purse or subpoena to make it happen?
NADLER: We`re prepared to do whatever we have to do. We will consider all
Let me remind viewers – you know the issues well, of course – what
happens when you keep score of some of the more serious convictions from
the Mueller probe.
I want to put up on the screen some of the top convicted Trump advisers.
Manafort, as mentioned, was incarcerated. Now he is effectively released on
home confinement or call it home quarantine. Mike Flynn had pled guilty,
and now there is an effort to have him drop the case.
Interestingly, Michael Cohen was initially supposed to get home
confinement. His prison reportedly had much more of a coronavirus outbreak
than Manafort`s, where it was zero, and that has been basically interfered
with at this point. He remains incarcerated.
Mr. Chairman, do you view this as an active set of steps to use the Justice
Department and the Bureau of Prisons to reward people who were effectively
loyal to Trump and also to punish those who were not?
NADLER: Clearly – that is clearly the case. And you see this in exactly
what you just pointed out about Manafort on the one hand, Cohen on the
other hand, Flynn, the attempt, to reduce the sentence of Roger Stone, step
after step after step to make the Justice Department not a Department of
Justice of the United States, but simply a handmaiden of the president.
And the president says so. The president comes out and says, we`re going to
look at the crimes committed by the investigators. We`re going to
investigate other things.
That`s why we have to have Barr in front of us on the 9th to get to the
bottom, that they are subverting the Department of Justice into a personal
agent of the president and subverting justice.
And that`s completely contrary to the interests of justice in the United
States. We cannot have a Department of Justice that it is not impartial and
that serves the personal interests of the president, and not the interests
MELBER: Will you seek to hear from any of these prosecutors as well?
NADLER: We`re in discussion with a number of individuals, and that may very
MELBER: What do you say to people who watched the impeachment probe, where
you were a House manager, watched the claims made there – and we have
reported those claims by some of the very same lawyers made in the Supreme
Court this week, an out-in-the-open, an out-loud argument that laws do not
apply to the president, the constitutional and congressional oversight
You add them all together, it can sound sometimes like the sitting
president has people saying that he is above the law, and thus we`re not
really in a lawful democracy anymore.
But there are people that I`m sure you know, Chairman, who say, well, maybe
they`re just getting away with it all. What is your response to that larger
NADLER: Well, that is a very, very large concern for all of us.
This president and Attorney General Barr actively aiding him is making the
arguments that the president is above the law, he cannot be prosecuted
criminally. And they argued in court the other day that he cannot be even
investigated in a criminal suit dealing with something that has nothing do
with his being president.
They are arguing that the president is above the law and that he is subject
to no restrictions. This is exactly what the framers went against. They
didn`t want George III. They wanted a president, not a king.
He is arguing he`s a president. And Attorney General Barr is trying to make
sure he is a king, not a president. And this is intolerable to democracy in
MELBER: And finally, sir, let me play for you Mr. Barr in his own words.
You made some news just now, saying the lengths you`re going to go to, to
make sure he testifies June 9, the day D.C. is back fully open.
Here he was during both the Mueller probe and recently. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: If Bill Barr was your first attorney general, would there have
been a Mueller probe and Russia hoax?
TRUMP: No, there wouldn`t be. He would have stopped it immediately.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: The president was frustrated
and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining
I think the president did the right thing in removing Atkinson.
I think the president has every right to be frustrated, because I think
what happened to him was one of the greatest travesties in American
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What is your response to Mr. Barr`s defense that the president`s
personal or emotional feelings about something can justify actions which
you and your committee have identified as potentially unconstitutional?
NADLER: Well, the president`s emotional responses cannot justify illegal or
unconstitutional acts, obviously, if we are a nation of laws.
And here you have a perfect illustration. The president, on the one hand,
and Attorney General Barr on the one hand, are making sure that the
president`s friends, Roger Stone tries to get a lesser sentence, Flynn
doesn`t get prosecuted, even though he pleaded guilty on the one hand, but
anyone who is honest, like Atkinson, the inspector general, who simply did
his job, mandated by law, he is punished, he is fired.
The people who were witnesses in the impeachment hearings, Vindman and
Sondland, even`s Vindman`s brother, other people, they were all fired. And
someone who testified against the president, like Roy – like Cohn, like…
MELBER: Michael Cohen.
NADLER: … Cohen gets – I called him – what is it? Yes, Roy Cohn.
He is still in jail.
MELBER: You`re referring to Michael Cohen in jail, although Roy Cohn was
the president`s former lawyer.
MELBER: So, we`re on a slight delay.
MELBER: I was just saying, Chairman, it`s an understandable overlap.
Go ahead, sir.
NADLER: I said he committed the unpardonable sin of telling the truth
afterwards, a truth that wasn`t convenient to the president.
So you have a pattern here of the Department of Justice under Barr being
used to punish the president`s enemies or just honest people who testify
about things, and to try to protect anyone who defends the president or is
the president`s friends, and in unprecedented ways.
We have never seen a situation before where someone who has pleaded guilty,
who stood up in a court of law and swore under oath that he was, in fact,
guilty, where then try to drop the charges.
This is unheard of. It is an outrageous miscarriage of justice. And it`s a
subversion of the rule of law. And, that, we cannot have in this country.
And interesting, the news you made tonight, and we will be watching,
obviously, leading up to what happens with Mr. Barr and your committee.
I appreciate you coming on. I hope you will come back, Chairman Nadler.
NADLER: Thank you for having me.
MELBER: Thank you, sir.
And when we come back, Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman – right after
MELBER: We have had major news in the Mueller case of Mike Flynn.
I`m joined now by former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman, an expert for
us, and we should note he is actually one of 16 former Watergate
prosecutors who is trying to weigh into this case, writing a formal letter
to the Michael Flynn judge.
And it says – quote – “When a court accepts a plea agreement, it enters a
judgment of conviction, which in turn carries immediate sentencing
implications,” arguing, there is more to be done here than what Mr. Barr
says should just go away.
Nick, good to see you again. Please explain what you are arguing in this
letter and what would happen if you were allowed to intercede and your side
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well,
essentially, what we`re saying to the court is this is not automatic.
Just because the Department of Justice enters a motion to withdraw the
entire case doesn`t mean that the judge should go along with it. This is a
situation that, once a defendant pleads guilty in a case, it then does go
automatically to sentencing, and once it goes to sentencing, it`s really
within the bailiwick of the district court judge.
It`s outside of the executive and then into the judiciary. And what we`re
saying is, this should not be automatic, that the judge should look at this
very carefully, understand the reasons why the Department of Justice asked
for this, when twice Mr. Flynn appeared before the judge and basically
He basically said he did it. I mean, the justification for withdrawing this
plea is suspect, at best.
Well, to your evidence, we always like to show people the facts and
evidence with their own eyes. There is a transcript of when Flynn pled
guilty, December 2017. And this same judge that you`re appealing to now
says: “Do you understand your guilty plea and continuous sentencing? You
give up your right forever to challenge the circumstances under which you
were interviewed,” which is the only thing people are debating now.
And Mr. Flynn said, under oath, trying to reduce his prison sentence, he
said, “Yes, Your Honor.”
Eagle-eyed viewers will note the source at the bottom of the screen says
“Source: U.S. Justice Department,” which is to say, Nick, if you are
allowed to join in to this case with a brief and more, some of your best
evidence comes from the other side.
It comes from the Justice Department, before Bill Barr ran it.
AKERMAN: Oh, that`s absolutely correct.
And not only did Flynn plead guilty. He also stated what he did. The judge
had him recite what he did, what he lied about, and what he said, and
examined the materiality of that lie.
And the judge made a finding twice, not once, but twice that what he
recited to was a federal crime.
So, I just don`t see how the judge can suddenly just dismiss this out of
hand, without more explanation than he`s already received. I might add…
MELBER: I`m almost out of time. I got to get you on one more thing, Nick,
because there is you, but there is also Sean Penn coming up later.
When will you know whether you are allowed to participate and when will we
know whether they reject Barr`s attempt and potentially give Flynn a prison
AKERMAN: Oh, I think this is going to take some time.
I don`t think we`re going to know right away. And assuming that we do get
accepted, I think it`s going to be sometime before the judge finally
decides this issue. This is not going to happen next week.
MELBER: It`s a fascinating case.
You are becoming a potential legal participant, which is different than how
we have used you in the past, which is as an analyst.
So, I always like to make sure everyone understands that. But knowing your
legal mind and acumen, I`m fascinated to see you stepping up with, as
mentioned, 15 other prosecutors to potentially provide legal arguments.
We obviously will be coming back to you, sir. Thank you.
AKERMAN: Thank you.
MELBER: As mentioned, we`re moving ahead because I want to fit in a break.
But, later tonight, Oscar winner Sean Penn is trying to step up and use his
prestige and his funding to help give out free coronavirus testing to
people who need it.
We have a lot more on the show. Stay with us after a break.
MELBER: After everything we have been through as a nation, here is
something about the pandemic that we do know.
Health experts say the biggest single obstacle for the United States to
fully reopening is the lack of national testing.
The actor and author Sean Penn is one of many people stepping up to help,
as the federal government struggles to provide this testing. He joins me in
Let me give you a little background that you probably don`t need.
Mr. Sean Penn has, of course, appeared in over 50 films and so many
classics, to name a few, “Carlito`s Way,” “Dead Man Walking,” “I Am Sam,”
“The Thin Red Line.”
He is also a two-time Oscar winner, winning best actor for his role in the
2004 film “Mystic River” and then again for something that hits close to
home for many people, and, of course, is a theory and a facet of our
politics for years, his heartbreaking portrayal of the politician and LGBT
activist Harvey Milk.
Penn also co-founded this relief organization, CORE, back in 2010. This was
after earthquakes in Haiti. CORE has been operating now a dozen testing
sites. This is both throughout California and additional sites in Atlanta,
Detroit and North Carolina.
This is the day-in-and-day-out work of supporting all the other efforts,
including governmental, to improve testing in our country.
Now, in the coming weeks, they`re working to expand into other parts of
America, including in New Orleans. Recently the organization got another
boost with a $10 million donation from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey,
working on this mission of helping many of the most vulnerable during the
CORE has given about 130,000 COVID-19 tests since the end of March, and
each and every one of them are free.
Sean Penn returns to THE BEAT.
Good to see you, even in tough times, sir. Thanks for being here.
SEAN PENN, ACTOR/ACTIVIST: Thanks very much. Good to see you again.
You have been at this a while, as mentioned. This organization has done
different things. Walk us through how you and your colleagues looked at
this challenge and jumped into this.
PENN: I guess the short version is that we`d been initially involved in
We had built up some skills and some lessons learned over these years. We
had moved from operating just in Haiti into the United States in the
Hurricane Belt, in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and we developed a network of
volunteers, and did trainings, with a real agenda for prevention, and
And then this came. And we had been through the cholera epidemic in Haiti,
and been through a particular case of diphtheria, where we were dealing
with a transmittable infectious disease, and with these issues of testing,
And so, when this happened, we went to the governor`s office, Governor
Newsom, who has been doing an extraordinary job here in California. And he
put us onto Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti, who had put us into place, with the
L.A. Fire Department, a fairly robust testing program.
But those sites were being manned by the L.A. Fire Department, who should
be available to the city for their emergency response, their paramedics in
So, we were able to plug right in with our volunteer corps, get everybody
trained up, and get those firefighters back in the streets and, God forbid,
fighting forest fires.
Out of that, we began to expand into the governor`s program in California
statewide, and then, from that, by extension, as you noted in the opening,
because of an extraordinary support and donation from Jack Dorsey, you
know, into going nationwide.
MELBER: Yes. I will make a quick joke. Who knew Twitter was good for
PENN: I didn`t know what Twitter really was for…
MELBER: Go ahead. Go ahead.
PENN: I say, I wasn`t – I`m a Luddite who has avoided all social media.
And I have just gotten my first Twitter – tweets out, through Jack`s
challenge, in the last week.
But, yes, it`s – he`s…
MELBER: I saw that, man. I saw you jumped on, and you were new.
So, you basically, because of working with him in the humanitarian work
you`re doing, you thought, OK, I will try it. You had really – I got to
hand it to you.
Staying off Twitter until 2020 is a – that is an accomplishment, and a
PENN: Well, I hope to accomplish staying off of the comments board as well
as I have so far, because I have a sense of what those kinds of things can
MELBER: Yes. So, you went and did these meetings.
One thing I wanted to ask you. I got to hang with you a little bit when you
were in for your book, so we talked in person.
And most people are busy trying to get through their lives and their
challenges and their day. You, in addition to being obviously this
tremendous actor from all the stuff we mentioned, you have had the
privilege of going a lot around the world.
And you are very interested in the rest of the world. I`m curious, just
because of that, how much that informed the way you approached this,
because America, in the recent era, if you don`t go back to 1918, is living
through this for a first time.
But, as you know, many other countries around the world have recently dealt
with this level of fear, of lockdown. I am just curious how that played
into your view of all of this?
PENN: Well, I would answer two ways.
One is, there are pockets of America for whom this isn`t an entirely new
dynamic. And those are the same pockets that are being most specifically
targeted by this virus.
And that has to do with the marginalized communities, those who are less
And so – and Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western
Hemisphere, and twice as poor as the next poorest country in the Western
Hemisphere, was a very good training ground for – to have kind of a belief
in resilience and citizenry.
We have extraordinary volunteers and staff there. And so I believed we
could do the same here.
And, sure enough, there`s 450 volunteers manning our sites as we are
talking, all from the communities where the sites are, all trained, local
people, and doing an incredible job.
There is a really untapped power in community support and the idea that
what we are trying to hard to model is to be able to bridge with and
partnership between whether it is community organizations or NGOs like ours
and local governance, state governance.
MELBER: Right. That is so important,
And I love what you are bringing to it. We wanted to spotlight this. I`m
going to tell people how to get involved.
Sean Penn, thanks for coming on THE BEAT again, sir.
PENN: You bet. Thank you very much.
MELBER: A hundred percent.
Let me tell everyone, you can go volunteer or donate. You can get involved
in the way that makes sense for you and your life.
And THE BEAT will be right back.
MELBER: Thanks for watching THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER.
You can always find me @AriMelber on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram –
Twitter, something we were discussing with Sean Penn tonight, because he
just joined for COVID relief.
We will be back at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.
Keep it right here, right now on MSNBC.
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Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
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
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the