Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: September 3, 2019 Guest:
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: That`s a big caveat, isn`t it?
JOHNNY WALSH, SENIOR EXPERT ON AFGHANISTAN, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: When the U.S. troops gone, I think they have a fighting chance. It will just be very violent and ugly.
TODD: All right, Johnny Walsh, thanks for coming and sharing your experience and expertise on that. That`s all we have for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with More Meet the Press Daily. THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now. Good evening Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening Chuck. Thank you very much and thanks to you at home for joining us and also my thanks to Ayman Mohyeldin and Chris Jansing who filled in while I was out last week and tonight we have a full show that includes some developing news with new video showing hurricane Dorian`s destruction.
You see these horrific images, nearly every building there has been flattened to pieces. The Category 5 hurricane stayed over the Bahamas for two days. It`s left at least 5 dead, that number is expected to rise. The Prime Minister lamenting this as a historic tragedy as Dorian approaches the Florida coast.
I can tell you that later tonight on this hour NBC meteorologist Bill Karins will give us an update with everything you need to know here state side. Also later night on THE BEAT we have a report on how Donald Trump is making you, the American taxpayer subsidize his hotels.
Also new breakthroughs in the gun safety battle including heat on Mitch McConnell. Neal Katyal is here on that later but our top story tonight right now, is this new intensity in congressional opposition to Trump including developments in a probe that some Democrats say could actually change the future of the Trump presidency.
Democrats in Congress are now preparing for what will be their last major legislative session before all eyes turn of course to the 2020 race next year and now I can tell you they`re outlining a new way they want to check President Trump. Now the context here is something you know about. It`s something you know from your calendar.
Summer is over. When Democrats left for the summer recess the members in their carcass calling for impeachment were in the minority and now they are the majority of the democratic caucus which may explain why congressional Democrats are pushing these newly aggressive probes into some admittedly familiar topics.
Investigative hearings on hush money payments a Donald Trump made back in 2016. Now, let`s break it down as we try to do around here really clearly. The knowledge of those payments, that`s not new. The knowledge they were illegal, that is not new either. Michael Cohen famously went to jail for that months ago.
What`s new is Democrats saying they could actually reach an indictable crime by the President treating Trump as a co-conspirator. So what is new about that? Well, basically the aggressiveness by at least some House Democrats to zero in on what they call their criminal and what is in their view impeachable acts which can be publicly pinned on Donald Trump.
Now how do you pin something on Trump when he has been obviously stonewalling so many of these probes? Well the news tonight here is Democrat saying that some of these crimes are effectively different for any impeachment style probe because they involve evidence from before Donald Trump became President.
That means no executive privilege claims can hide the underlying evidence or testimony to again as I`m saying, pin this on the President. Democrats say these new hearings could come as soon as October. House Judiciary Chair Nadler already saying, they`ve started formal impeachment proceedings and this is the framework that Speaker Pelosi will have to address, will have to basically contend with as she returns to Washington with some constituents who been demanding she and her party go further.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROTESTER: I need you to leave from my community.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I support an impeachment inquiry, one that is already going on. It`s happening.
REPORTER: But the lifetime achievement award ceremony is quickly interrupted with people holding `Impeach now` signs.
PROTESTER: Impeach now.
PROTESTER: Impeach now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I think we owe it to every American to find out what happened and make a judgment at the time but it is an extremely high bar.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It is now 134 Democrats as I mentioned, the majority of the caucus that are on board and want to get back to the impeachment business when Congress comes back into session. I`m joined now by Joyce Vance and Duncan Levin, former federal prosecutors and Nancy Erika Smith, a leading civil rights lawyer who we should know represented a Fox news reporter who wanted to be released from an NDA to report on this same story regarding the hush payments by Donald Trump to Stormy Daniels.
Joyce, do you see anything new coming here in this strategy?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I don`t think it`ll be new Ari but I think it might be fresh because the real question here is who will hold this President. He`s been notoriously tough like accountable.
It may be too little too late. That`s frankly what a lot of people think about the strategy but by circumventing the White House`s constant full court press against subpoenas by going back to pre-election activity where they can subpoena witnesses and acquire documents, the Democrats may come up with the narrative that the American people will finally get to see in full and may find compelling.
MELBER: And Duncan, as you know, this is a legalistic thing but it`s not strictly legal because we`re talking about Congress acting in its capacity under the constitution to do what amounts to the indictment of a President when they decide to impeach if they ever do.
And this is something Speaker Pelosi has obviously as I mentioned, been balancing. She is the key decision maker on that piece of it. For context, this is how she sounded before this week, before things hit the majority caucus as we`re calling it, take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If everyone from the majority of the caucus wants to go forward with an impeachment inquiry, would you go for it?
NANCY PELOSI, SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF UNITED STATES: That`s not - it`s not even close in our caucus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But eventually--
PELOSI: But you know what, why are we speculating on hypotheticals?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Duncan, hypothetical season is over. She does have this, whether it`s winded her back or pressure coming at her, depending on how you put it, how does that affect in your view, the balancing of whatever evidence a Democrats have if they want to go forward.
DUNCAN LEVIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, look, I mean, in addition to the political aspects of it, there are some legal aspects of it and there is one new thing coming out of this which is something that we wouldn`t really know if the Associated Press and other press outlets hadn`t tried to go ahead and get the unredacted search warrants from the Michael Cohen search warrant.
And what we know now because of what the associated press did is that the Southern District of New York is not going to go forward with an investigation into anymore campaign finance violations and the reason that that`s significant is that we know other people were involved.
Michael Cohen did not act alone. In fact, the indictment itself charges of conspiracy. We know if we can put that together with Michael Cohen`s congressional testimony, that individual one is named in the indictment is the President the United States.
We know that hush money payments that were routed through the Trump organization were re-characterized as legal payments when in fact there was no retainer, there were no legal services. We know that these things happened. We know that other people were involved and yet the Southern District of New York just dropped the inquiry in the middle of the night in the dark and in fact, it wasn`t going to say a word to anybody until the Associated Press moved forward with its lawsuit for the search warrant.
And so as a result of that, this is come to light and frankly, the Department of Justice does not owe any answers to us about why they want to not charge somebody but in cases where of great significance, the Department of Justice has actually explained its decisions and why it doesn`t want to charge people.
Obviously most famously, Jim Comey announcing why they weren`t going to charge Hillary Clinton with the email scandal but in addition to that more recently in the U. S. attorney in Brooklyn made a decision - made an announcement about not charging Daniel Pantaleo who was the officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold.
Joon Kim who was the acting U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York making an announcement 2017 about not charging for Bill deBlasio for campaign finance violations so we know that in certain cases the Department of Justice will actually make an announcement about why they don`t charge people.
There hardly could be a case of more national significance than this case so there are honestly, I think a lot of people who are following the case closely are just left scratching their heads and then there`s a question about whether other people can fill that void so Manhattan district--
MELBER: Right, let me bring in - bring in Nancy who was shaking her head. Go ahead.
NANCY ERIKA SMITH, CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER: Well, I just think that it`s really important to fill in the void did the Attorney General who`s obviously very enamored with Trump interfere with that investigation and do the American people have a right to know the whole story?
We know some of the evidence they have because my client got - was subpoenaed and we turned over a lot of evidence about what Trump knew about paying off a porn star, days before the election in order to affect the election and I think it`s important that some of the people who have been subpoenaed to this - to this hearing in front of Congress are Pecker, Dylan Howard, people who know about what they knew and what they were willing to pay up.
Is this an illegal campaign contribution? The entire Fox news organization is an illegal Trump campaign contribution in my view but they chose to kill the story days before the election. That`s going to come out in these hearings and the American people should know that. Fox viewers should know that.
It`s really important right now for the truth to finally be told. Trump has lied about this so many times and so frequently that we can`t just say oh well, he lies about everything. Why should we talk about this? We should talk about it all. Every - every aspect of it needs to be brought to the American public.
MELBER: Yes, Nancy and I will - I will say in all seriousness and fairness to Fox news they have a lot of opinion that may look like endorsing Trump but they have every right to the first amendment to go forward and share that. I don`t think that legally is a campaign contribution.
I think you`re speaking though, to the narrower point of whether there were deals made that were explicitly benefiting the campaign which is different. To give you a chance to follow up on that, any response you have to that and also we`re curious, will we hear from your client through this hearing as well?
ERIKA SMITH: Well, my client has briefed the committee so I don`t know whether she`s going to be asked to appear yet or not. The - if an organization presents itself as a news organization and then makes a decision not to run clearly important news days before the election about the President not only paying off a porn star to keep her quiet, but lying about it to the American people through the press.
That to me is an illegal campaign contribution. Killing that story days before an election in order to mislead the American public in favor of a candidate and my client will testify what -what was said to her about Murdoch`s preferences when she was told that her story was being killed.
And to this day Fox is telling us that she didn`t have the story. Hopefully now the American public will see what she had.
MELBER: Well, that`s very interesting, Joyce, I want to double this back to Congress. A lot of people at home watching are saying OK, we`ve heard about some of these problems. Why is this what Congress and the Democrats are coming back to here when they come back from recess as the impeachment caucus grows and part of it is this strange saga of Michael Cohen.
And I really wonder what you think now that we`ve taken it all in, it would be hard for people to understand at the beginning of this or if you saw this is a movie, how much ended up landing on Mr. Cohen`s shoulders including one of the longer sentences affiliated with the Mueller probe of course who was handed off to New York when he basically apparently did a lot of what was asked of him, first to help Trump.
Some of which he then later confessed to illegally and then what was asked to him by the Congress. For context we put together for your analysis, Joyce what Donald Trump said. He basically said you know, to use a common phrase, you better ask somebody - better ask Michael Cohen and ultimately the Congress did.
Here was that condensed story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. What else?
REPORTER: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to the allegations?
TRUMP: You have to ask Michael Cohen.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER TO DONALD TRUMP: He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair. He was concerned with effect that it had on the campaign. He knew about everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joyce, what would you say to critics of this strategy on the Democratic side that after everything that`s happened and many, many months after Michael Cohen did give his in person testimony, they`re circling back to this stuff?
VANCE: Well, to be fair Michael Cohen is a convicted felon, convicted in part because of untruthful conduct. So no prosecutor and no congressional committee would rely solely on his testimony to move forward but that said Ari, it`s important to remember that federal prosecutors stood up in the courthouse in Manhattan and essentially charged the President of the United States with being an unnamed and unindicted co-conspirator in Michael Cohen`s conduct.
And we have still not heard that full story. What was the evidence that that was based on in fullness? What were they thinking about and who else was involved? We know that there are members of the Trump organization at least one who became co-operators for the government.
We don`t know the extent of that cooperation or what resulted from it. So I think for critics who were talking about what is a political argument, this comes to later maybe a substance argument that it`s all been going over in the past and people already know the details.
There is still is I started out by staying fresh information that can be obtained here. The real question is whether Congress will be able to obtain it when Trump has successfully throwing up roadblocks in so many other areas. If they succeed, this could be compelling evidence of the President`s criminality.
And the real question will be does the American public care or is it all baked in at this point?
MELBER: Right, is it overly baked in? And you lay it out there as you often do so clearly for us a reminder that while Donald Trump certainly has been caught lying about and doing many, many obviously suspicious things, this is the one case in one part of the country where the Feds actually said, here`s the evidence he`s connected to a crime.
That does make this case different than others. We`ll be watching. Joyce Vance, Duncan Levin and Nancy Erika Smith, thanks to each of you.
ERIKA SMITH: Thank you.
MELBER: We have a lot more in tonight`s show. Mike Pence taking a foreign trip to Trump`s golf course at your expense. Walmart with a big change on guns after the latest mass shooting. We actually of the store employee who was part of leading the fight on THE BEAT tonight, very important, that`s later and then how Donald Trump got a factcheck on hurricane Dorian by his own administration while he was golfing and later an update from Bill Karins with more about where this storm is headed. I`m Ari Melber, you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: The Trump administration is billing you, the taxpayer for Vice President Mike Pence`s stay at a Trump property in Ireland, all thanks to heavy handed suggestion from President Trump. This chance to take dollars from the U.S. treasury and put them in Trump`s pockets looks especially desperate tonight because the golf club in question is a whopping 180 miles away from Pence`s government meetings which is a bit like getting a hotel in Boston to go to a government meeting in New York.
And all this comes up after Trump lobbied for the G7 summit to use his struggling Doral resort in Florida for its next meeting. This is not normal. It`s also not what Donald Trump promised in his - do you remember this? - very first press conference as President elect when he claimed he would be hands off management and his sons would take his businesses and run them professionally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: My two sons who are right here, Don and Eric are going to be running the company. They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They`re not going to discuss it with me. These papers are just some of the many documents that I`ve signed turning over complete and total control.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now tonight, the blowback on Donald Trump`s latest efforts to subsidize his own companies is actually strong enough that Vice President Mike Pence is out on defense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE Pence: The opportunity to stay at Trump International in Doonbeg to accommodate the unique foot print that comes with our security detail another personnel, made it logical.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That unique footprint as we`re reporting to you tonight includes a 180 miles of foot print and that`s why this is obviously illogical, even kind of embarrassingly so. Pence doesn`t have any better arguments and he`s not alone in what he`s up to. Have you heard about this yet?
Attorney General Barr now plowing $30,000 into a lavish holiday party at Donald Trump`s DC hotel and the career official who actually ran the ethics department during the Trump administration earlier last year says, all of this is sending signals that Barr`s loyalty is to Trump and not to the country.
We turn now to an ethics guru. You may recognize, the one and only Richard Painter, former Chief White House Ethics Attorney under the Republican administration of George W. Bush. First of all, nice to have you back, Sir.
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS ATTORNEY UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you very much. I`m thrilled to be back with you.
MELBER: Yes Sir. This is not normal. The arguments that Mr. Pence is making don`t pass any kind of test as we just showed and the things that Mr. Barr is doing, while not again technically illegal do appear to be basically blinking red ethics violations. How does this compare to anything you saw in your tenure in government and what should be done about it?
PAINTER: It`s outrageous and indeed I think it`s illegal. I think the whole thing is illegal. Let`s start with the Vice President`s stay. The United States taxpayer is paying for that. The federal government is going to make a big outlay in order to promote the Trump hotel.
Trump will make money when secret service agents stay there. Also the promotion value. Our money is being used to promote his hotel. This is a violation of the domestic emoluments clause which caps the President`s compensation for his services at his compensation set by Congress.
He is not entitled to milk the taxpayer, right, left and center and that`s what he`s doing here. This is illegal as well as immoral and illogical.
MELBER: Take a look at--
PAINTER: General Barr-
MELBER: Let me - We`ll get to Barr. Let me - I`ve got a slight tape delay. My fault though. I want to get to Barr. Let me play for you a little more from what I do think is an important test for everyone to remember which is Donald Trump isn`t only failing the ethics test. He`s obviously failing the promises he made in his very first press conference as President elect when he had his money on his mind. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I could actually run my business. I could actually run my business and run government at the same time. I don`t like the way that looks but I would be able to do that if I wanted to. I`d be the only one that would be able to do that. You can`t do that in any other capacity but as a President, I could run the Trump organization, great, great company and I could run the company - the country.
I do a very good job but I don`t want to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Richard, your response to that by today`s facts and what you wanted to get in about Mr. Barr?
PAINTER: Well, that`s exactly what he`s doing. He is running the Trump organization. He`s trying to make the Trump organization richer and he`s using his official position as President of United States to do that and he is enriching himself in violation of the constitution which restricts his compensation.
He has no right to do that with our money. Attorney General Barr is using his own money so it`s not a taxpayer issue but there`s a gift rule. You`re not allowed to give a gift to your superior in the government worth more than $10. You can`t take your boss out to lunch unless a lunch costs less than 10 Bucks.
Attorney General Barr is going to spend $30,0000 at a Trump hotel having his so called holiday party where he invites his rich friends to schmooze people in the Trump administration, whoever else there is.
That`s a $30,000 outlay, you could bet the profits are that are a lot more than 10 bucks that`s going right in the back pocket of Donald Trump. That`s a violation of the gift rules and the Attorney General of the United States, the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the United States.
He should be ashamed of himself. He should resign for having even suggested that and Donald Trump shouldn`t take the gift.
MELBER: Tough words on some issues that are really out here wide open. I mean brazenly wide open. Richard Painter, always appreciate your perspective on the program, Sir.
PAINTER: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
MELBER: Thank you. We`ll have you back. We`ve got a lot more on this show as I was mentioning, when we came on the air tonight including Neal Katyal coming up but as promised, we have a brief update on the story that of course has consumed so many.
This destruction wrought by hurricane Dorian. New aerial footage, you`re looking at here the Abaco islands and the Bahamas showing all of the problems. The water canvassing the entire island. The storm was hovering over the Bahamas for about two days. Five dead. This is a Category 2 at this point in time.
It`s nearing the south-eastern coast of Florida before we move on to other topics on the show as promised an update from meteorologist Bill Karins with NBC news. Bill.
BILL KARINS, NBC METEOROLOGIST: Hello Ari. We`re watching the storm closely. It`s still out right on 80 miles off the east coast of Florida. The heaviest bands are now rotating closer to the coast and this will be the peak of the storm for areas from Volusia County, south towards the Indian river, Palm Bay area, Fort Pierce and Jupiter.
Again, windy conditions almost like a tropical storm is right on top even though the hurricane is off the coast. As far as the wind speeds go, right at 110 miles per hour. It`s a category 2 but if it goes up just a tiny bit more, it would be a category 3 so still a very powerful storm. It`s just you know, the perspective that it was one time 185 makes it seem that much weaker but this could do a lot of damage if it was to move on shore up here in the Carolinas.
And that is the potential and that`s the next question. Hurricane Center has it off the coast safely in Georgia and off of Florida but that cone of uncertainty still includes Charleston, Georgetown, Myrtle beach, the Wilmington, Wrightsville beach areas up here to Emerald isle, Atlantic beach, Morehead city, all of the - sound region.
And then heading off shore as we go throughout the day on Friday and one of the things that we`re going to be watching too is how close is it gets to areas like say Nova Scotia who could have a direct impact and also we still have Nantucket close the storm but that forecast is actually improved.
And one of the things we watch as our computer model, one of the more accurate ones is our European computer model and the new update just out this afternoon. There is that heavy rain on the Florida coast as we go throughout the day, tomorrow.
Watch the center, here`s Savannah and here`s Charleston. It gets up to this point as we get to Wednesday night - Thursday morning, we`re like wow, this is getting close to the coast. We needed to take that turn. It does but it`s very close to areas around Georgetown, Myrtle beach, the Grand Strand and then it`s going to almost go over the top of Wrightsville beach and then just off the coast here of Hatteras.
So Ari, we`re not done with this storm just because it`s "weaker," it`s still almost a major - a major hurricane and everyone in North Carolina, eastern portions of the state and South Carolina especially Georgetown, Myrtle beach, you need to be prepared.
You could have a direct impact of a category 2 hurricane and that`s nothing to sneeze at. That would mean power outages for a week or two in some cases, flooding problem, storm surge too. We`re not done with this just because we`re in a little bit of a low.
MELBER: Understood and words to live by, especially for those folks down in Florida. Thank you Bill. There is meanwhile pressure on Congress to act on gun safety measures. The Second Amendment under the microscope. Neal Katyal is here for opening arguments when we`re back in just 30 seconds.
MELBER: Let`s start with the question. How do you know when any gun control pressure out there is working if the United States Senate blocks most of the attempts to get Congress to act? Well, tonight here`s a new sign of some shift.
The largest retail in the United States, Walmart pulling back on some gun sales and halting ammunition sales for assault style rifles and hand guns and this store, popular across the south and Midwest is also drawing a line by banning its own customers from openly carrying when they shop inside Walmart.
The decision comes in the wake of two deadly shootings at Walmart stores, last month including the shooting at the El Paso store which was one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history.
Now, this weekend there was another shooting rampage this time in West Texas with seven people killed. Altogether 53 people have died in just mass shootings in the United States in August alone. Walmart`s decision is not only coming from the top either but after what we know from a lot of activism including internal pressure from employees.
My next guest works for Walmart and last month he sent a petition to company`s CEO asking for a halt to all of those gun sales. He eventually got over 140,000 signatures. Thomas Marshall joins us now.
Thanks for being here.
THOMAS MARSHALL, WALMART EMPLOYEE WHO PUSHED COMPANY TO STOP GUN SALES: Hi.
MARSHALL: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: I`m very happy to have you. You`ve obviously been part of a wide group a coordinated group that`s had impact. What made you do this? What did you learn from it? What do you want to do next?
MARSHALL: Definitely. Well, especially after the recent tragedies in El Paso in South Haven, we, as employees felt that we you know would no longer be willingly complicit in a company that was continuing to make profits off of firearms.
And so we really kind of got together in the office and decided to take a stand and we are incredibly grateful and impressed at the direction that Walmart has -- is now going. You know, we were very hopeful. But, you know obviously, this is something that is difficult to change in this country. And we`re really hoping that this, sort of, sets a paradigm and a precedent really to help curb this horrible trend of mass shootings and violence in this country.
MELBER: When you first started on this path, were you worried about your own job?
MARSHALL: Definitely. And we did face a little bit of retaliation. However, you know, down the line we really believe that this renewed our faith in the company in a way. Hopefully, we will see continued change and continued advocacy. But we`re very much impressed by the direction we`re currently going.
Initially, I was completely willing to put my job on the line. And most of us who are protesting were. There was a lot of pressure coming from on high not to speak out, but we`re incredibly glad that we did. And, you know, I feel very proud of having been able to speak out as well.
MELBER: And finally, I`m wondering about this as a backdrop of debates that can be so black and white in America, especially with the role of corporations. We think about how they`re addressed on the campaign trail. What was important to you about not just doing local political or civic activism, but trying to get a company to weigh in. Obviously, Walmart, what they do or don`t do matters.
MARSHALL: Yes. And Walmart is one of the largest retailers in the world and one the largest firearms retailers in America. And so, we`re really hoping to take a stand within our sphere of influence. You know, as employees of this company, Walmart is very receptive to the voice of every employee, and that`s something that goes back to its founding with Sam Walton.
And so, we were very much hopeful that they would take our opinions into consideration and really hear us out, and we`re very glad they did. The next step, of course, is, you know, this is an ongoing problem in this country. You know, there`s legislative action that can be done.
But we really, you know, in our sphere of influence with the retailer, that is something that really hasn`t entered this national conversation, that people have to buy these weapons and ammunition from somewhere, even as recently as the mass shooting in Florida in the nightclub that killed 60 people. Those bullets were bought at a Walmart.
And now, we no longer sell those bullets as of this morning. So this is a very, very good step, but they`re a lot greater cultural things that need to change in this country as well to hopefully curb this, you know, really horrible stem of violence and hatred.
MELBER: Thomas Marshall, you`ve been working on this issue. I think it`s a story that`s going to interest a lot of people. We wanted to hear from you directly. Thanks for coming on THE BEAT.
MARSHALL: Thank you so much for having me.
MELBER: Absolutely. Now, I want to turn to the depth of this, on the legal side, with a friend of ours on this show. You may have noticed in this gun debate that when you ever talk about gun control, you have a lot of people talking about protecting the Second Amendment. That`s almost a backdrop. Even when people want some change to the laws.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Look, it`s very simple. There is nobody more pro-Second Amendment than Donald Trump.
JOE BIDEN, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to say it again, this is not in any way a violation of the Second Amendment.
SEN. RICK SCOTT, (R)-FLORIDA: I believe in second amendment. I don`t want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D)-WEST VIRGINIA: No one`s going to take my guns away. I`m going to protect the Second Amendment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You may have noticed several Democrats in that collection of policymaker reaction. So what does the Second Amendment mean within the gun control debate, legally and factually. Well, as promised, we turn to a friend and a constitutional expert in our OPENING ARGUMENTS series, former Acting Solicitor General, Neal Katyal, who`s argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court.
And let`s start with the English, sir. What is the second amendment? What does it prevent in this area? And what are people getting wrong about it?
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL OF THE U.S.: Thank you Ari. Because the reason I want to talk about this after the horrific shootings in El Paso and other places is that the Second Amendment is being used as this bogey man. Obviously, it`s been around since the Bill of Rights, but the language talks about a well-regulated militia.
TEXT: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
KATYAL: And really, until 2008, throughout American history, the Second Amendment has been about the rights of states to form their own militias, not about individuals like you and me to hold a handgun.
But in a five-to-four decision in 2008, Justice Scalia, said, "The Second Amendment gives an individual, like you and me a right." But the most important thing is that even Justice Scalia said, "It`s very limited right. The government can regulate it, just as it can regulate all sorts of rights."
And so, Justice Scalia`s opinion said, "You can have background checks. You can prevent the mentally ill from getting guns. You can prevent felons from getting guns. You can prevent domestic abusers from getting guns." All sorts of things like that.
And also, he said, "The type of guns can be restricted." So, he said that, "The Second Amendment was about the right about the guns that were in common use at the time." That`s his language, "Common use at the time."
Well, what was in common use the time? Things like muskets and the like, not grenade launchers, and assault weapons, and high capacity cartridges, and all this stuff that is creating murder and mayhem today.
MELBER: So that`s the substantive piece. Now, I want to ask you about the rhetorical, strategic piece, which you are quite an expert at. This is the opening arguments session.
And while you`re not an advisor necessarily to any particular gun control advocate, I wonder what you think in the public realm of the frequency with which gun control and gun safety advocates, Democrats who have been more critical on this issue, revert to referencing the Second Amendment?
Because do you think at a certain point it almost reinforces the misperception that a lot of these are Second Amendment issues when certainly, when it comes to limiting, say, grenade launchers, or weapons of war? As you say, there`s not a lot of case law to suggest the Second Amendment is even relevant.
KATYAL: Well, I actually like what the Democrats are doing in the clips you showed, because they`re saying, "Look, I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe an individual can have a right to a gun, but that doesn`t mean a gun that can produce mass murder and mayhem. And it doesn`t mean any individual, someone who`s mentally ill, or something like that shouldn`t have a gun, and nor should someone who`s under age."
And so, there are any number of reasonable restrictions that can be imposed, totally consistent with the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment is being used as a bogey man to stop sensible gun reform. And, you know, the results are in the streets and they`re devastating and sad. And this country has to do something about it.
KATYAL: And I`m sick and tired of Republicans hiding behind the Second Amendment.
MELBER: Well, you lay it out that way. And it`s something we sadly deal with so much in the news room. And Americans deal sadly so much in their communities, in their stores, in their schools, in their churches, basically everywhere. And so, there is this slow accrual of what are we going to do about it? If people want to do something about it.
So appreciate your primer on that. Before I lose you, I did want to ask you about another story that hasn`t gotten as much attention, but a Harvard student who says he was basically denied entry to the United States is now getting to campus. This is a Palestinian student who basically said that he was questioned for hours at the Boston airport last week. A border agent searching his phone and laptop.
And the student now has told Harvard`s newspaper, which has given some life to the story, that after five hours they were called into a room and there was screaming. She said she found people posting political points of view that oppose the U.S. on this incoming student`s Friends list. And then, there was basically an officers effort to cancel initially the students visa.
This is one of those stories that goes to the way we live immigration now. What jumps out to you about it?
KATYAL: So much jumps out. First of all, this is a conscious Trump policy since June, to say that you have to, if you`re applying for a visa anywhere in the world, you`ve got to submit your entire social media profile. And what the border agents did here is they said, "Well, this student, he didn`t do anything wrong, or say anything wrong. But he had some friends on Facebook, or whatever, that said some things that were hostile to the United States."
And Ari, I can`t imagine something more pernicious and destructive than the idea that we`re not going to let people into this country, because we`re afraid of what their friends might say or think. I mean, our entire country is built on the idea that we celebrate debate. We celebrate disagreement. What makes America so awesome is that we want these other people to come in with these ideas about America and convince them that they`re wrong, and have a debate, hear them out, and the like.
But this is the encapsulation of Donald Trump`s snowflake presidency. He`s afraid to have people who disagree, or have friends who disagree. I mean, we don`t even know that the student disagreed and it`s getting out of control.
And I really do think that, you know, Americans need to stand up for the proud traditions of, "Look, we`re not afraid to have a debate about whether America`s great or not. Come to this country. We`ll have that debate. We`re not going to bar you, because of your friends` ideas.
MELBER: Yes. It`s a very interesting story and one that may not have got enough attention yet. Neal Katyal, thank you as always. And I want to remind viewers, you can go right to MSNBC.com/OpeningArguments tonight. You can get this segment later tonight as well as an archive of Neal`s work.
Still ahead after the break, Donald Trump making some bizarre and false statements about Hurricane Dorian, sowing confusion and earning a rare fat check from his own administration.
And an update on a new flashpoint in the immigration fight. Donald Trump`s plan to deport immigrants facing severe medical conditions who may have been in the country undocumented.
MELBER: President Trump is struggling with the basics when it comes to Hurricane Dorian. While claiming to monitor the storm over the weekend, the president was also seen golfing repeatedly at his club in Virginia. And he set off a false alarm for Alabama residents by incorrectly warning they would, quote, "Most likely be hit harder than anticipated."
This was more than a gaffe. It risks setting off a panic and derailing resources, which may be why within 20 minutes, the federal government`s National Weather Service rushed out this unusual correction of the president saying, "We repeat, no impacts for Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama." The president has not apologized or retracted this mistake.
Now, these disasters are scary for many different reasons. But Donald Trump`s critics say it is times like these that underscore the additional risk, the unknown risks of a president who is, quite frankly, uninterested in many parts of the job, and who makes false claims with lives on the line. Hurricanes are real world, potentially catastrophic events. Treating them as a backdrop for melodramatic spin can backfire and reality can undermine a politician`s attacks on reality.
That`s something that if you go back into the archives, President Bush found after Hurricane Katrina when his spin about FEMA doing a great job at that time quickly gave way to reality. The FEMA director ousted, the disaster undeniable. And then, President Bush`s attempts to calm the nation with the flyover seen around the world, remember, that photo? Will ultimately serve to illustrate his very distance from reality. That president, unlike this one, later admitted it was a, quote, "Huge mistake."
We turn now to Mark Thompson, the host of the "Make It Plain" podcast. There`s many aspects to this story. And our colleagues here have been covering, of course, what`s happening on the ground and everyone`s praying for the best possible outcome.
But what does it say, in a world where Donald Trump continues to try to define and redefine what`s normal, that he proactively, in baseball would be an error, right? He didn`t need to weigh in. He did in a way that was so damaging that whoever at FEMA press send on that tweet may have been worried about their job -- I should say at the National Weather Service -- but felt they had to do it.
MARK THOMPSON, MAKE IT PLAIN PODCAST HOST: Well, it begs here, Ari. And, of course, everyone should be praying for all in the path of this, including those in the Bahamas who have been pounded for the past 24 hours.
He is totally out of touch with reality. He has made a reputation for himself. And has been enabled by just saying whatever comes to the top of his head. No regard for the irresponsibility of his statements.
To mention a state being in the path of a hurricane when in fact that state is not, you`re absolutely right, would cause a great deal of panic. But he`s not presidenting. He`s not a real president. And one doesn`t even have to be a president to decide not to be irresponsible. The National Weather Service, of course, came out and corrected what was said.
But, you know, I think you and I talked about this the last time we were here in the studio together. You know, sometimes the mainstream media will amplify what his opponents may do. There`s a lot of amplification of Joe Biden`s gaffes. But what about Trump`s? And this is one that is was very dangerous and could have really impacted people`s lives.
MELBER: Yes. And that comes against a backdrop where it all is, sort of, fodder. "The Washington Post" has this reporting again, about how Donald Trump views these situations. "Trump administration tried to divert disaster relief funds to border enforcement," which of course, has prompted an outcry.
And then, you look at "The New York Times" reporting on Donald Trump seeing this as, kind of, a time to be loud, but not be accurate. "Mr. Trump awaited landfall by assuming the role," The Times writes, "of meteorologist in chief, adding weatherman-style updates to a usual weekend routine of attacking his enemies, retweeting bits of phrase and critiquing the performance of his cable news allies."
I suppose the risk here is that it all becomes mixed up in one soup and tuned out rather than people who live in Alabama, which -- and this would matter regardless, but politically, happens to be a state that went heavily for Trump -- people there are going, "Wow, I really wish he didn`t set off a false alarm here. That`s not helpful."
THOMPSON: Well, I would hope the people of Alabama and particularly the voters of Alabama would take that tack. But I think we all know from time to time people excuse his behavior. And it`s just Trump being Trump. That`s just what he does. But it`s not good for anyone.
I also think, you know, it`s one thing for him to say it, but it also speaks to his lack of knowledge, even about history and geography. He may actually think Alabama is directly on the East Coast. I think we ought to consider that, you know, just as much. We also know this weekend, when he was asked about the 80th year commemoration of Hitler`s invasion of Poland, he congratulated Poland.
So he says these things, I don`t even know if he knew what happened 80 years ago. That`s not something you congratulate.
THOMPSON: So he clearly does not know anything about any of the topics that he talks about off the cuff.
MELBER: Mark, you`re putting your finger on it as you often do. We`re talking now about the intersection of ignorance and pride.
MELBER: It didn`t begin with Trump. We have a history with the Know Nothing party that proudly wrapped itself in literally, quote, "Knowing nothing." But you have that now. You have that with people retweeting as if it`s all a game.
You know, a random citizen in Florida saying things that aren`t true. Trump saying things that aren`t true. He`s the president. And it all being treated as if a game. It`s not a game. And a hurricane, if ever there were an illustration of that, as we know from this one and from past ones. Mark Thompson, always appreciate you coming on, sir.
THOMPSON: Thank you, sir. Thank you for having me.
MELBER: Thank you. We`re going to fit in a quick break and then an important update to a story we`ve been covering here on MSNBC on the president`s plan to try to deport sick immigrants. Well, there`s major backlash when we come back.
MELBER: We go to an update now about how even in this current political era, sometimes, yes, facts still matter. The Trump administration is formally walking back its much criticized plan to deport six immigrants who were supposed to receive lifesaving medical attention in the U.S. This was going to be something they did as a way to punish them for being here unlawfully.
Now, officials say they are reversing themselves and will consider applications for these people to stay inside the U.S. The reversal comes after an outcry from immigration activists, lawmakers and families.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN SANCHEZ, MIGRANT CHILD ON LOSING AMERICAN HEALTH CARE: If they deny the program, then I need to go back to my country, and I`ll probably die because in my country, there is no treatment for CF. Doctors don`t even know what`s the disease. The only ones who can help me are here in the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Those are the stakes for people and they are inside this country. Other families have also sounded the alarm about all this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MASSA (PH) KANNABABU (PH), ATTORNEY FOR 14-YEAR-OLD MIGRANT, SERENA BADIA: How could you tell families like this to just pick up and leave and basically, as many people have said, you know, issue your child a death sentence.
SERENA BADIA, 14-YEAR-OLD HEART PATIENT: It`s was scarier than having the surgery and it was very surprising. And I was bewildered.
DANIELLE (PH) SAILES (PH), COUSIN OF SAMUEL COSTA: For Samuel to stay here, it keeps pretty much his life. Him leaving the country, he wouldn`t have this specialized treatment that he has right now, that he`s currently having, and the monitorized health treatment that he`s having here right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Those are just some of the families that spoke with Chris Jansing here on MSNBC. Now today, we reached out to representatives for all of the families you heard from. They are cautiously optimistic. The big picture is a meaningful result for these individuals. And a reminder that these facts and these stories matter. And for many, the facts are a matter of life and death.
And one final note tonight, THE BEAT goes on, even after we go off the air. I was just talking to comedian Chuck Nice about Chris Christie`s new push for civility. And tonight, if you go there right now @THEBEATWITHARI on Instagram, you can see that new behind the scenes video. We just posted it. And we`ll keep on posting there, I hope you join us again at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. That does it for THE BEAT. "HARDBALL" is up next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END