The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 7/24/17 Mueller & Trump's tax returns

Guests: Neera Tanden, Dorian Warren, Caroline Ciraolo, Sebastian Gorka, Rob Reiner

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: July 24, 2017 Guest: Neera Tanden, Dorian Warren, Caroline Ciraolo, Sebastian Gorka, Rob Reiner

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC ANCHOR: The premiere of THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now. Ari, we`re totally flagged. Good evening.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Thank you, Chris. I appreciate that. Good evening to you as well.

Jared Kushner did not seek the spotlight, but today it was shining brightly on him as he faced investigators. Why did he meet with so many Russians? Why the talk of back channels and dirt on Hillary? Today, Kushner revealed his answer. When things went wrong, he wasn`t paying attention.

Jared Kushner came out swinging today not with a tweet like his father-in- law or with a TV interview the method so many White House aides deploy to reach the boss. No, Kushner made his case in a carefully crafted statement for congressional investigators and he lays out a simple story.

He was overworked, out of the loop and unaware of any suspicious activities around him. This is an ignorance defense. Kushner describing the challenges of a political novice navigating a lean, fast-paced campaign, jumping between thousands of meetings and making it all up as he went along.

But he also cast himself as a foreign policy expert, huddling with Henry Kissinger, working in finance, speechwriting, polling and digital, an advisor so essential he was everywhere.

One story, two Jareds. So, which is it? The Jared Kushner, a political mastermind, or an overwhelmed rookie. It was apparently the rookie who showed up to the infamous meeting with Russians, promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Kushner says he didn`t read through the email he got about that meeting. The subject line was Russia, Clinton, private and confidential. And when he decided he wanted to leave the meeting, he emailed his assistant, "Can you please call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of the meeting."

It was also apparently a rookie who had to ask an associate what is the name of the Russian Ambassador. Kushner offers these stray quotes to show that he couldn`t possibly colluding through meetings he wanted to bail on with people he couldn`t even name.

At the White House today, Kushner reiterated his denial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Let me be very clear. I did not collude with Russia nor do I know if anyone else in the campaign who did so. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. And I`ve been fully transparent in providing all requested information.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There are four claims there - collusion, contacts, financing and transparency. Collusion, the big question mark for the special counsel.

Contacts are debatable here. While Kushner`s ignorance defense might hold up for early in the campaign, it seems to fall apart for any Russian meetings after October 7. That`s when, of course, the US publicly announced Russians were criminally meddling in the election and Kushner went on to meet with a Russian diplomat and banker in December.

Financing is another question. The Kushners and Trumps have complex holdings and debts around the world.

And transparency is a fail. Kushner submitted incomplete or misleading information to the ethics office and the FBI about his money and his Russia meetings, which is part of why he had to meet with investigators today.

Now, Kushner says those filings were an innocent mistake. Call it a rookie mistake, if you want. And maybe that`s what they were. It is a long ways from paperwork errors and suspicious behavior to an international election conspiracy.

But if Jared Kushner is so innocent and so out of the loop and so forgetful, why is he in charge of so much at the White House.

I`m joined now by Nick Ackerman, a former Watergate special prosecutor; Elizabeth Spires, who worked directly for Kushner at the "New York Observer"; and Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign advisor, who testified about Russia before the same committee that Kushner will face tomorrow, and his company website describes him as the only executive in history who has worked for both the White House and the Kremlin.

Welcome, everyone. Nick, do you see anything wrong with Kushner`s defense that he was innocent and just out of the loop?

NICK ACKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Yes. If you read through it, it is very carefully drafted, such that he basically lies about everything. He`s got himself out of every single situation.

For example, the June 9 meeting. He claims he didn`t read the emails. He claims he didn`t know what it was about, even though he shows up at 4 o`clock when he`s told in a subsequent email that the meeting was starting later.

He says that he didn`t know what was discussed at the meeting. No idea it was Russians even though he says they were talking about adoption. And of course, they had to be talking in Russian because at least two of the people there only spoke Russian, with a Russian interpreter.

He basically took himself out of any knowledge of anything to do with anything. I mean, that`s basically - if a guy who is going to come into a grand jury and purposely lie and knows what the contours are of what he can get away with, this was exhibit A in that routine.

MELBER: Elizabeth, he casts himself as overworked and not necessarily detail oriented. Does that match with the person you worked for, that you knew?

ELIZABETH SPIRES, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "NEW YORK OBSERVER": No. I mean, he has a good work ethic, so it`s possible that he was working harder than he is accustomed to.

But in terms of the detail orientation, I find it implausible that he would show up to a meeting without knowing what it was about.

He`s a busy guy. In my experience, every meeting we had was planned and scheduled. And he always had an agenda for it.

MELBER: When he showed up to meetings with you with his business, he knew what they were about.

SPIRES: Yes, yes. I don`t find it credible that he had no idea what these meetings were about.

MELBER: Michael, you interacted with Mr. Kushner and other aides when you were advising the campaign. Do you find it credible?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Absolutely. There is a steady flow of unannounced meetings that were going on around the 5th floor, the 26th floor.

There was always - especially, in the late summer - I`m sorry, the late spring, early summer when everybody started realizing that Donald Trump was on his way to locking this up. We were getting inquiries from all across the spectrum including people from other countries as well.

This isn`t unusual at all. And I think when you realize that - I`ve worked with many developers who ran for office and people in their family who tried to be helpful, and instead made a couple of mistakes.

I don`t see this as anything more than someone from the family who wants to be helpful, falling into a trap that he wasn`t aware of.

MELBER: That he was sort of brought into it.

Nick Ackerman, another interesting part in the way that he makes the defense here is with regard to how he wanted to approach Russia.

I`m reading now from the statement. He says, "I asked Ambassador Kislyak if he would identify the best person with whom to have direct discussions who had contact with his president." And then he says, "the fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after election day should, of course, be viewed as strong evidence I was not aware of one that existed before election day."

As a prosecutor, what do you make of what he`s doing there in that argument?

ACKERMAN: I mean, he`s just trying to turn things around. That makes absolutely no sense. He knew he was walking into a meeting with the Russians.

If he read that email, which I`m sure he did - I mean, this is the oldest trick in the book, oh, I never read the email. I just happened to show up at the meeting.

MELBER: You think he read the email - you think he`s lying?

ACKERMAN: I think he`s lying. I mean, look at the significance of that meeting.

What he also says is, he knows nothing about the Russian documents that were promised in the June 4 email.

The fact remains, those Russian documents, I will guarantee you, were hacked out of the Hillary Clinton campaign. They were provided to the Trump campaign. Trump called up Roger Stone and asked him how do we put these out without having us tainted by them.

MELBER: Well, you say guarantee, but you don`t have direct evidence of that.

ACKERMAN: I don`t have direct evidence, but my common sense and connecting the dots here, why would Roger Stone be talking to Julian Assange and talking to Guccifer, the Russian hacker? He wasn`t just making calls to try and enhance his Christmas card list.

I mean, there was a reason he did that. And if you look at the timeline, 14 days - if you - actually, a week later, Guccifer winds up issuing a number of those documents on his private website.

And then, what happens on July 22 or 23, WikiLeaks publishes the first cache of documents that they came up.

MELBER: Right.

ACKERMAN: And the only person from the Trump campaign who had contact with both sides was Roger Stone.

MELBER: Right. Michael, there is a timeline there and there is public circumstantial evidence, which doesn`t end the story.

But had you read this email that Jared Kushner says he didn`t read, would you have attended that meeting with foreigners promising dirt on your opponent?

CAPUTO: If I had read the email, I probably would`ve bucked up upstairs to the lawyers and to the opposition research department, of which neither existed inside the Trump campaign. So, I can see how this would happen.

But also, the narrative -

MELBER: I`m asking you, would you attend a meeting like that knowing what you know? Obviously, Jared Kushner feels - at this point, he wants to say he didn`t know.

CAPUTO: I would kick that upstairs. I would kick that upstairs right away because of the fact that it tempts fate and gets a little dicey when you`re talking about foreign governments.

But, of course, I understand how - if you look at those emails, I don`t read every bit of every email I get. I think it`s dubious for Mr. Ackerman to expect that everybody does.

And I think everybody out there watching understands that when you get a long drawn-out email and you`re under fire and under the gun and going from meeting to meeting, you might just look at the first couple of sentences. Of course.

Now, the idea that somehow or other this is an indication that there is widespread collusion in the Trump campaign, I just - I don`t know where you get that tinfoil hat.

To me, it seems that Jared Kushner is being honest and forthright. I am satisfied with it. I know we`ve got to get to the bottom of all this stuff, especially that June 9 meeting. But to sit here and think that this is some kind of smoking gun is really delusional.

MELBER: Nobody on set is wearing a hat at this moment, just as a general factual matter. But, Elizabeth, you wanted to get in -

SPIRES: I think at the very least you have to consider that his best defense here is that I was completely ignorant of process and that I`m incompetent.

ACKERMAN: This is a typical white collar defense.

CAPUTO: That`s not true.

MELBER: Hold on. Nick and then Michael. And then we`ve got to go because Sen. Booker is joining me next.

ACKERMAN: Yes. This is a typical white collar defense. I`m overwhelmed. It`s a corporate executive or somebody you`re prosecuting a white collar crime. I used to have this all the time. Oh, I`m so busy. I have so many things to do. I just didn`t know I was committing a crime.

MELBER: Michael and then Elizabeth, final word.

CAPUTO: Right. Of course, you hear that a lot because it happens a lot. It actually - that`s a defense that works a lot. It`s going to work in this case to because it`s just the truth.

MELBER: Elizabeth, he also said he was not representing his business when he went to these other meetings.

SPIRES: Yes. He says very specifically, I didn`t rely on the Russians for financing. But that strikes me as a very lawyered articulation. He said he didn`t rely on it. It doesn`t mean that he has no Russian financing. It just means that the business wouldn`t necessarily fall apart if the Russian financing went away.

MELBER: That`s an interesting point, the word rely as a (INAUDIBLE) good at word choices.

Michael, I`m going to have you back if you`ll join us. I appreciate you being on the first show. Nick Ackerman, Elizabeth Spires and Michael Caputo, appreciate it.

Now, we turn as promised to Sen. Cory Booker. Thanks for joining me.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Thanks so much. It`s great to be on your very first show.

MELBER: Awesome. I appreciate it.

Now, senator, you heard this. Today, Kushner saying, he hopes the information he`s provided on the Russia meetings will put these matters "to rest."

In your view, did he put these matters to rest today?

BOOKER: Well, again, I wasn`t in the hearing, but certainly not to rest. I`m still one of those people that finds this astonishing that the folks who were the recipients of that email and who attended that meeting wouldn`t have understood that this is serious a violation of United States laws.

They were seeking to collude with the Russians. Foreign agents were seeking to collude with the Trump campaign. They should have turned that information over when those emails came through.

And even in that meeting, they should have realized that what was being attempted to take place was way out of the pale and, frankly, an assault on our country. And to me, patriotism would`ve mandated even, just to make sure that the authorities knew that this was going on.

MELBER: And at that White House presentation today, Jared Kushner said, they won because they ran a better campaign. Is that in your view even relevant at this point to the inquiry?

BOOKER: It`s not relevant at all. I really think that Americans should understand, of any political stripe whatsoever, the gravity of what`s going on.

I`ve met with leaders from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, I`ve been to Ukraine and Poland. But the Russians are in the midst of a hybrid war on Western democracy, whether it`s the actual physical conflict going on in Eastern Ukraine or the tactics they`re using to try to undermine free elections.

And they have most recently assaulted the United States. Our nation, our sovereign status, our elections themselves, the foundation of our democracy has now been attacked by a foreign power.

And now that they`ve not been checked, that they even seem to me minimized - the attack is being minimized by the president of the United States, we can all be confident, no matter what party you`re in, that the next elections, 2018, 2020, 2024, that the Russians are going to continue to get more sophisticated at trying to undermine our elections.

We need to get to the bottom of this. We need a federal branch. We need a president and his top advisors to be seeing the gravity and the seriousness of this and to be taking it seriously, prepared to do something.

Even the fact that we`re looking to push sanctions this week in the House and the Senate, bipartisan agreement, and the White House has been trying to throw water on this effort is just, to me, unacceptable, if not outrageous. And frankly, there`s a lot of behavior just going on in that White House that makes me thinks this is how people would behave if they were guilty of colluding.

MELBER: Yes. Walk us through the sanctions because it passed 97 to 2 in the Senate, as you say, going to the House.

I don`t know what you hear from your constituents. I hear from some people in the Trump era, well, it feels like nothing matters. It feels like negative or concerning things about the government are exposed and then there`s no consequence or accountability.

Put that in contrast with what appears to be happening this week, which is a bipartisan effort. The Congress now united to stop Trump from having more personal sway over Russia policy.

BOOKER: Well, look, there`s a lot of my colleagues down here in private conversations who find much of what`s coming out of the White House not only beneath the dignity of the White House, and I`m happy to hear Republican colleagues just as offended by the shattering of a lot of the norms that the Trump White House is doing.

But when it comes to the defense of this nation, you can be sure that there are patriots on both sides of the aisle here in Congress.

And everybody understands the sophistication - we`ve all sat in enough classified hearings, briefings to know the sophistication with which the Russians are working, as I`m speaking, with their efforts on social media to undermine our democracy, especially the electoral process, especially with their propaganda.

And so, folks here want that checked. And they Putin is the kind of player that if he`s not checked, he doesn`t - if his forces have met with a force that he`s going to continue to push the envelope, see how far he can go, how much mischief, chaos, how much he can do in undermining our democracy.

So, I`m so happy that the Senate, almost in a unanimous vote, voted to put sanctions on the Russians. And I`m so happy that the House resisted White House`s attempts to undermine this becoming law. And now, we`re going to hopefully send it over to the president for him to sign it.

MELBER: And to sign something interesting, which is him sort of signing - tying his own hands on that.

Sen. Booker, I do want to also ask you about the challenge President Trump issued to Democrats today on healthcare policy. Please, stay with me for a moment. Republicans heading for another healthcare vote tomorrow.

So, we`re going to talk with Sen. Booker about what that means. Are Dems winning or just watching Republicans lose?

And later, my question tonight, was Donald Trump better at pretending to fire people on the apprentice than he is at actually doing it as president? We`re going to look at this slow-motion shakeup, leaving his staff in an apparent limbo.

Also, our special report on Trump`s tax returns. How can Special Counsel Robert Mueller get them and will the public even know when he dies does?

You`re watching THE BEAT with Ari Melber on MSNBC. And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Welcome back. The biggest story in politics may be Russia, but the widest story is still Obamacare, which provides health policies to roughly 11 million Americans and patient protections that apply to tens of millions more.

Trump is right now in West Virginia there. That is where Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito could have the pivotal vote in this effort to repeal Obamacare, reigniting tomorrow.

Now, earlier the president met with what the White House is calling victims of Obamacare and blasted Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They run out. They say death, death, death. Well, Obamacare is death. That`s the one that`s death. And besides that, it`s failing. So, you won`t have it anyway.

They`re obstructionists. That`s all they are. That`s all they`re good at, is obstruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We can also report for you this hour, top Republicans saying they`re trying to get a special doctor approval for Sen. McCain to come back tomorrow during his recovery, so he could participate in this healthcare vote.

Now, back with me, as promised, is Sen. Cory Booker. You heard the president there. Do you see these people as victims of Obamacare?

BOOKER: First of all, again, I want to just say publicly my prayers are with John McCain. I had a conversation with him. I`m actually one of those folks that hopes he comes back. He`s a fighter and I`m looking to wrestling with him on this issue.

MELBER: Absolutely.

BOOKER: But, I mean, there`s just outrage in that statement. And for two really particular reasons.

One is, the American Medical Association doesn`t say that. They actually say his Trumpcare is going to cause death rates to go up and savagely hurt American people.

The American Cancer Association, nurses` association, the AARP, all of the healthcare organizations, non-partisan organizations are screaming right now.

In fact, last week, we had insurance companies themselves weigh in to talk about what Donald Trump is trying to do is dangerous to tens of millions of Americans in healthcare. So, for him to say that is objectionable for that obvious reason.

But the second reason, and this is what should be concerning everyone, is what he is doing to so-called Obamacare, to the Affordable Care Act. He himself, right before he got elected, Standard & Poor`s said that the marketplace was strong.

And what he has done in the short time that he has been there is to weaken the marketplaces by putting in all this uncertainty, by all these threats.

I`ve had insurance companies in my own state talk about his - not necessarily willingness to put in cost-sharing. His failure to even advertise and to pull back on advertising to get more folks, especially healthy young folks to enroll.

MELBER: Yes. Senator, I mean, you`re making such an important point here about not just the overall policy, which the Congress is going to continue to debate, but what are the obligations of the federal government under the current policy.

And I saw you had a new letter with several other folks, we can put up on the screen, where you basically are arguing that this administration might be violating the anti-lobbying act because they`re using federal government resources and social media to actually advocate lobbying and repeal.

Can you tell us about that effort and do you think they`re violating the law?

BOOKER: I have a lot of concerns and questions, and thanks to the leadership of Brian Schatz and pulled on me and Sen. Murphy and others, to really point out the fact that you can`t have federal agencies like the Commerce Department working to try to undermine and kill congressional intent, congressional legislation.

And a lot of tactics they are using right now are, to me, seem on the face, abjectly political and frankly dangerous to people right now who are benefitting from the Affordable Care Act. So, we wanted to check that behavior, expose it and try to stop it.

But, again, this is an administration that in so many different ways is trying to tell people that Obamacare is failing out front publicly, but behind its back, it`s stabbing it in the back multiple times, trying to kill the Affordable Care Act.

It`s opposed to what Americans want. And I`ve been out on the road hearing this from people all over my state, is people to say, hey, why can`t you all just sit down and say, let`s keep all the things that Americans on both sides of the aisle love about the Affordable Care Act and fix some of the things that need to be fixed.

That`s what people want. They want him to fulfill his promises because I think we`ve gotten to this point in America and it`s amazing just watching when I talk to small group and large audiences, most Americans now believe fundamentally in a nation that talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that fundamental to that is the right to have healthcare, quality healthcare and affordable healthcare.

That`s what the president promised, but he`s now delivering the exact opposite of that.

MELBER: And, senator, before I let you go, all the talk about Jeff Sessions standing, are you concerned that the president may remove the attorney general and then it would be related to trying to remove the special counsel or are we just not there yet?

BOOKER: Look, nobody more than me tried to stop Jeff Sessions being put in that office. Metaphorically, I drew myself on the railroad tracks trying to stop that train.

I`m appalled at the things he`s doing, from rolling back voter rights efforts, rolling back civil rights efforts, what he is doing on the - reigniting the drug war 2.0.

But, clearly, this is a president that`s undermining his own attorney general. And again, this is just norms smashing left and right. And I`m not sure what is going to happen.

Frankly, I have concerns about not only the firing of Jeff Sessions, but I`m concerned about the special prosecutor, and that`s why tomorrow I`m introducing - in a matter of hours, I`m introducing legislation to try to make sure that the president can`t just fire a special prosecutor, that there has to be for cause and that the judicial branch should have a say in whether there is legitimate cause or not.

MELBER: Very interesting. Appreciate you telling us about that. And I hope we can talk to you about it again. Sen. Booker, thanks for being on the program tonight.

BOOKER: Thank you for having me on your first. Thank you so much.

MELBER: Absolutely. Now, ahead, our special report on President Trump`s tax returns. Does Special Counsel Robert Mueller already have them?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Donald Trump got really famous for pretending to fire people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You`re fired.

Stacy (ph), you`re fired.

Chi-Chi (ph), you`re fired.

Ayan (ph), you`re fired.

Carol (ph), you`re fired.

I`ve been firing people all my life, so it`s not like a big deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It`s also not like a big deal when the people being fired aren`t really being fired because they are contestants on an entertainment show.

Even after his election, Trump invoked his catchphrase in explaining what would happen to his kids if they didn`t do a good job running the family business while he ran the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I hope at the end of eight years, I`ll come back and I`ll say, oh, you did a good job. Otherwise, if they do a bad job, I`ll say, you`re fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Will he, though? As president, it turns out Donald Trump struggles to fire people working for him. That`s actually the unifying thread in several dilemmas that are consuming the White House.

Consider Trump`s long dissatisfaction with Sean Spicer never led to a pink slip. Instead, he took him off the podium, then sidelined him further last week until Spicer quit.

There`s a similarly passive aggressive approach to diminishing Reince Priebus. Axios reporting today, Trump wants him to get the hint that he should leave.

And the same for Jeff Sessions with the present criticizing him in an interview last week and then today tweeting Sessions is "our beleaguered AG" and suggesting he should be reinvestigating Hillary Clinton.

I mean, people remember Trump`s nicknames from the primary. Is beleaguered AG is the new lying Ted?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, should Jeff Sessions resign?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Meanwhile, some Trump allies are leaking that Sessions should go ahead and resign if he has indeed lost the president`s confidence? Translation, he should fire himself if Trump won`t.

Joining me now, Neera Tanden, she`s the President of the Center for the American Progress and a former Adviser to President Obama and Hillary Clinton, Dorian Warren is President of the Center for Community Change Action. Neera, why is this hard for him?

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR THE AMERICAN PROGRESS PRESIDENT: I mean, I think firing people is an element of being a CEO and it just points out that the entire - you know, he was good at - he was good at firing people on a TV show, which wasn`t really real. So that`s very different from real life, which he obviously has problems with. But firing people is part of being a CEO. I`d say, it`s not just firing people, he`s run a White House that if a company ran a White House that had so many divisions that leaked against each other, that was ineffective in producing results, a board would stage an intervention and fire that - fire that CEO. Unfortunately, we can`t do that with President Trump.

MELBER: Well, it`s really bizarre in a certain managerial level, Dorian. Take a listening to Trump in that New York Times interview literally saying he wish he didn`t hire Jeff Session.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITE STATES OF AMERICA: How do you take a job and then recuse yourself. If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, thanks, Jeff, but I can`t - you know, I`m not going to take you. It`s extremely unfair, and that`s a mild word, to the President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It may be a mild word in his lexicon, Dorian, but obviously what`s left unsaid is if he`s concluded this, he could make a staffing change. Good or bad, he could make it. He seemed unable to take that next step.

DORIAN WARREN, CENTER FOR COMMUNITY CHANGE ACTION PRESIDENT: He could but here`s the problem. Nobody wants to work for him now because they understand that they`ll be thrown under the bus like he did with Jeff Sessions like he did with some previous folks. Let`s remember, how well is that firing Comey working out, right? And if everybody in here that you actually have hired is not doing a good job, who do you choose to fire next if everybody essentially sucks? I mean, the issue here really is the lack of good hiring in the first place. So actually I partly agree with him on that. He hasn`t made good choices and in fact, his administration is much slower than the previous administrations in filling senior level positions. So he`s making bad choices and when he does, he throws them under the bus. So much so that people that could be nominated for important positions are talking to head hunters who are saying don`t do it, it will ruin your reputation.

MELBER: Well, you mentioned the Comey firing. And Neera, this is - the other one that actually is botched, there`s a conservative former Giuliani Prosecutor, Andrew McCarthy who has a new piece out that got a lot of attention in conservative legal circles because he points out that had only Donald Trump directly fired Comey, this might have all gone differently. But instead, he claimed to rely on this DOJ recommendation which we all remember, right? It wasn`t you`re fired, it was you`re fired because I think Sessions and Rosenstein told me to fire you. But no, two days later, to Lester Holt, that wasn`t the case. Let me read you from McCarthy and get your response. He says, "This whole botch firing was basically feeding the Democrats` narrative that Comey had been removed in order to obstruct the FBI`s probe of Trump campaign collusion and Putin`s election meddling. And that`s from the National Review. Neera?

TANDEN: Yes, I mean, I`d like - I would like to step back and just point out that he fired Comey, he said he fired him because of the Russia investigation, he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he fired him. We`ve had a whole series of actions. It`s not like it fed a Democratic narrative. This has been a Trump created message, which is, he`s obsessed with Russia. We can all tell it because he tweets about it every day. He harangues his own DOJ, his own Attorney General.

I mean, from a management perspective, he could have this conversation with Jeff Sessions. He chooses to have it with the New York Times. Who wants to work for somebody who`s going to publicly humiliate them on a daily basis? Now we`re reaching 10, 11, 12 people who worked for him, who he has publicly humiliated. Either he humiliates directly or other leak against them. And I`d say this is - I mean, the most dysfunctional White House I have ever seen. And I think more and more Republicans, Independents, and Democrats see that it`s also unable to deliver results for the people.

MELBER: Neera Tanden and Dorian Warren, I want to thank you both for your time. And insights, as for the dysfunction of the White House, we`re going to get another view from inside the White House with current Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka. He`s the assistant to the President. And later in our hour, the report that we`ve been promising on President Trump`s tax returns. How Special Counsel Robert Mueller could legally get his hands on them, and potentially soon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We are back with a special report on Robert Mueller`s investigation into the Trump campaign`s links to Russia, which may include probing Trump`s finances. Now, news of that probe sparks Trump`s claim that it would be a violation for Mueller to look at his business dealings.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Mueller was looking at your finances and your family`s finances, unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be a breach of what his actual -

TRUMP: I would say yes. I would say yes. I think that`s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: Trump also told his aides he was, "especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns, and the Washington Post reporting that Trump has resisted enormous pressure to keep his tax returns private. That`s his choice. And in a reporting in THE BEAT tonight, what we look at is whether Mueller has the authority to get Trump`s taxes and how soon he could get them. There is good and bad news here for Trump. The good news is, in general, the law does support Trump`s quite secretive approach to his taxes. Taxes are private under federal law. Leaking them is a felony that could land you in prison for five years.

The bad news for Trump is that all changed once this criminal investigation began. If the IRS suspects crimes relating to tax fraud, the IRS can send the tax returns to the Chief Tax Prosecutor, the Justice Department, for investigation. Now, that post is currently held by David Hubbert. He`s seen here testifying before Congress just last month. If there`s no tax crime suspected but the tax returns are relevant evidence in a criminal investigation, then a Prosecutor can pursue them like any other evidence. You go to a Judge, and you ask for a subpoena for the taxes. And the bad news for Trump, the standard here is pretty lax. The Prosecutor just has to show that a crime probably occurred, and the tax returns are relevant to investigating it.

For Mueller, one crime on the table is the Russian hacking felony and Trump`s taxes can be relevant to checking whether there are links to Russians who may be involved. If Mueller went to court for Trump`s taxes, would we know? The answer is, almost certainly not because this is a secret order under the law, which means Mueller can lawfully get the taxes without the White House or the public knowing. In fact, the highlights of these taxes would only become public if they were used for later indictments potentially or reports to Congress. So if it`s straight forward to get the taxes, is Mueller pursuing them? Would a typical criminal inquiry have gathered them by now? We have a very special guest for this. Caroline Ciraolo is the former Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ`s Tax Division. The office that is relevant. Does Special Counsel Mueller have a strong legal argument for getting Trump`s tax returns?

CAROLINE CIRAOLO, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DOJ`S TAX DIVISION: Well, first of all, let me say thank you for inviting you on the show. Congratulations on your new show.

MELBER: Thank you.

CIRAOLO: You know, I think we have to step back and not assume that Special Counsel Mueller doesn`t already have the tax returns. Tax returns are an important tool in criminal tax investigations, and federal criminal investigations, non-tax investigations. They provide a treasure trove of information and it`s more likely than not that he`s already considered, if not already obtained the tax returns.

MELBER: You think based on your experience being in that Tax Prosecutor`s Office at DOJ, and you were in there under multiple administrations. I know from your experience. You think it`s likely that Mueller already has Trump`s taxes?

CIRAOLO: The tax returns are frequently obtained if in criminal investigations, and so therefore, based on the nature of this investigation, it is more likely than not that he has already sought the tax returns.

MELBER: Wow. Because a lot of people, I mean, you`re more on the legal side, but on a political side, during the campaign, this was the thing everyone was talking about. Will we receive them? Will anyone look at them? Absent a criminal inquiry, right, they would be under that lock and key but you`re saying Mueller can get them?

CIRAOLO: Well, it`s important to remember that with respect to the tax returns, Special Counsel has the authority to seek an order - I should note - from a Federal Judge. It`s an ex parte order so it`s not public to obtain the tax returns. Once he has those tax returns, he can use that information in preparing for and conducting a Grand Jury Investigation. It doesn`t mean that he can make the returns public.

MELBER: Sure.

CIRAOLO: The returns only become public in a court proceeding if they`re probative to a matter related to the issue in the investigation, or the case.

MELBER: And could they show links to other countries?

CIRAOLO: Certainly. One of the reasons why the tax returns may be of interest in this investigation is that taxpayers are required to report their foreign financial assets, they`re required to report their interest in foreign partnerships corporations or trusts. They`re required to report real estate transactions, interest received from third parties. And so, certainly, they`re relevant in this investigation.

MELBER: And lastly before I let you go, you mentioned me something I never heard of before, a super special Pinnacle Request to get someone`s taxes?

CIRAOLO: Yes. If the IRS has not referred the matter over to the Department of Justice, along with the tax returns, the Department can seek the tax returns through what we have referred to inside the Department as a Pinnacle Request. It means that you go to the highest level of the Department, either the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, or an Assistant Attorney General and they make a request. But this is an extremely extraordinary step to take.

MELBER: Did you ever see it happen?

CIRAOLO: No, not during my tenure and I`m not aware of one being issued.

MELBER: Caroline Ciraolo, a former Tax Prosecutor who knows this area. Appreciate your expertise. Thank you very much.

CIRAOLO: Thank you.

MELBER: And we`re going to now turn back to the White House. We`ve been talking about Jared Kushner`s very public moment in the first six months of the Trump administration that landed today when he spoke outside the White House. This was after leaving an interview that he said was voluntary to clear the air about any questions about Russia before the Senate Intelligence Committee. How does this performance go over in the building behind him? Was the President watching and what does he think? Well, I`m very happy to say, Sebastian Gorsuch, Deputy Assistant to the President joins us. Sebastian, I want to get your views on that and also your response to the former Tax Prosecutor we just had on the air who is saying it would be lawful and appropriate for the Special Counsel to review the President`s taxes. Do you share that view?

SEBASTIAN GORKA, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S DEPUTY ASSISTANT: I`m not going to comment on the Special Counsel, but I was there. I spoke to Jared just before he came out of the doors of the west wing. I spoke to him afterward and I congratulated him, a wonderful testament to the transparency of this administration. And again, another example of how we have nothing to hide, there is no Russian connection and just the obsessive phantasmagorical obsession of the media is again punctured like a balloon.

MELBER: And do you know what the President thought of Mr. Kushner`s remarks today?

GORKA: I haven`t spoken to the President since Jared gave his statement outside the west wing but I`ll see him tomorrow on the way to Ohio. So, maybe after I speak to him tomorrow.

MELBER: What do you see as a key to the Obamacare votes tomorrow and then this week, given that the White House hasn`t yet moved enough Republicans to do repeal? Will straight repeal be any different than the replace and repeal votes?

GORKA: I think really it`s a matter of personal conscience. We have asked our colleagues on the Hill to really do the right thing. In the -- in the last eight years, we`ve seen Obamacare implode. It`s a disaster. Before I came into government, my deductibles, my premiums were skyrocketing, and I`m just one of millions of people out there.

So, you know, if they want to do right by the American people that elected Donald J. Trump to become their President, one of our platforms was Obamacare. So, now it`s really up to the Hill to follow through on the eight years they have been promising the American people to repeal and replace, and hopefully, they will look in the mirror and do the right thing.

MELBER: And what is the White House`s legislative strategy at this point? Is it that the President will sign anything, but not get involved in the details? Because, as you know, there was a debate about the Cruz proposal, there have been debates about different ways to do this. There`s now a debate over a straight appeal, which as you know, is a hard vote because many Republicans said that would be irresponsible. The thing that now is getting voted on is something many are on record is saying not the way to do this. So, is the President an all-in strategy of we`ll sign anything, or are you guys going to pick specific legislative goals here?

GORKA: Look, the President is the ultimate pragmatist. You look at what he`s succeeded in doing as a billionaire developer in the private sector before he came into government. You look at what he`s done already in just 26 weeks, whether it`s with illegal migration, plummeting by 70 percent, revitalizing NATO, helping the Iraqis liberate Mosul. He is a pragmatist and he said very clearly last week and before, he is sitting in this building over my shoulder, pen in hand, ready to sign what they will pass. And hopefully, it will be what we`re expecting, which is a fix for the American people.

MELBER: And is there a cut-off? If you don`t get the vote you want here this week, do you move on to other issues, or is it just continuing no matter what, more and more Obamacare votes until this thing is repealed?

GORKA: Look, I don`t want to steal the President`s thunder, and other thing that we do a little bit differently from the other administration, is that we don`t give our gameplay away. That`s not good, whether it`s a strategic issue or whether you`re playing poker at a table. You don`t show your hand. Right now, the pressure is on the Hill to get it done because the President is ready. If that doesn`t happen, then we`ll be very sad for that result. And we`ll see what we have to do next. But right now, it is incumbent upon the legislatures to do the right thing by the American people.

MELBER: You mentioned other folks being more obsessed with Russia than the White House. But it`s the President who continues to raise the topic in tweets and interviews. With regard to Attorney General Jeff Sessions who by the President`s own words has lost some of his confidence, is there any issue other than Russia that accounts for that?

GORKA: No. Look, let`s look at the fact, let`s not look at the fake news industrial complex. Look at the policies we`ve put in place in the first six months of this administration. Tell me one policy that hasn`t been hard-lined with regards to Russia? Look at what we`ve done with defense spending, look at what we said with Article 5 --

MELBER: Well, no, as an American, I understand, but you --

GORKA: So, not -- but look --

MELBER: The question, though, is there an issue besides Russia, because the President went to The New York Times, says, he`s unhappy with Jeff Sessions, and the reason he cited was his approach to Russia. Is there any other reason?

GORKA: No. no, no, no, no. Look, again, the issue is the recusal, OK? That was a disappointment, and the President made clear to The New York Times that that was a disappointment. And that should surprise nobody. I mean, the idea that you remove yourself from that process, and you don`t inform the person who is your superior, why would anybody be surprised at the President`s statement. I wasn`t, neither should Jeff Sessions nor should anybody.

MELBER: Well, I just want to make sure we`re not -- I want to give you the benefit of response. I want to make sure we`re not talking past each other. The recusal from the Russia investigation. So the President isn`t saying he`s unhappy with the Attorney General`s approach to immigration or the drug running or policies.

GORKA: No, no, no. I mean, he`s made that clear.

MELBER: He`s saying with regard to the Russia investigation.

GORKA: No, he`s made clear that the Attorney General has his vote of confidence. He`s one of the most loyal, toughest individuals in the Cabinet, in the meetings, sort of, the principles. He is perhaps one of the people that most represents the kind of mentality that got the President elected, so absolutely, it is simply that matter.

MELBER: Sebastien Gorka, I appreciate getting the Trump White House`s view as well as your thoughts. I hope you`ll join us again.

GORKA: I`d be delighted. Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Thank you. Now, straight ahead, Donald Trump writing his own script. The Academy Award Winner, Rob Reiner, is here. That`s straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: You ever feel like we`re in a movie? That is what a lot of people have been saying about the first six months of this very active and at times chaotic presidency. If you follow that analogy, President Trump would be a character who`s managed to write and direct. In fact, New York Times Columnist, Maureen Dowd, said something interesting about this.

She explained that Trump has been able to defy political gravity by recasting himself. It`s very reminiscent of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", where you have the toons interacting with the humans," she says. "Trump was like this Batman toon and now he`s running kind of as a toon. And the reporters keep trying to treat him as a human."

Dowd is, of course, citing the classic 1988 film, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", which, imagine the world where regular humans interacted directly with the cartoons, called "toons", and that`s heed up clashes over how humans and toons is related because cartoons are not like people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drink the drink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I don`t want to drink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn`t want to drink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He does.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, when I say I do, that means I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: So, under this lens, President Trump would be a cartoon living in a human world. And cartoons don`t have to follow all the human rules. They are the exceptions to the rules and can even make their own rules, at least until the humans catch up with them.

Here to talk about Trump`s approach to politics, I have famed director and political activist, Rob Reiner, as well as former RNC Chairman, Michael Steele. Two dramatic and insightful men. Rob, what do you -- what do you think about understanding Donald Trump as a -- as a toon?

ROB REINER, DIRECTOR AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST: I don`t -- I don`t -- I think, you know, that`s demeaning toons. I mean, this guy is below toons. He`s in some kind of other level. And, you know, if you went into an office in Hollywood, one out of the executive, and you pitched the idea of this idiot becoming President of the United States from a reality show, they would throw you out of the office.

But I have to say one thing that I`ve been watching all of, you know, the unfolding saga of this Trump-Russia thing. And the one thing that nobody seemed to talk about is, let`s say for the sake of argument, first of all, I don`t believe that Jared Kushner and Don, Jr. didn`t know what was happening in that meeting. But let`s say for the -- assume for the sake of argument, they didn`t know it, they`re idiots, they didn`t know what was going on, there was a man -- and Michael Steele knows this better than anybody, there was a man sitting in that office and his name is Paul Manafort. This guy has been around campaigns for the last 40 years. He`s a professional, he`s trained, he knows it. If he got that e-mail, he would then immediately say, this is against the law, we`re breaking the law by taking this meeting, he would make sure that Don Jr. wasn`t there, and that Jared Kushner wasn`t there.

MELBER: I just -- I`ll point one thing out, Rob. This is a classic situation where I want to talk to you about movies and you want to talk to me about politics and law, which I totally respect. You`re making an important point but let`s take --

(CROSSTALK)

REINER: This is important. This is important and nobody talks about that.

MELBER: Rob, Rob, you`re making an important point, right? Which is that, even if you buy the ignorance defense and you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, that Don Jr. and perhaps Jared Kushner, both young and new to politics, only involved by virtue of nepotism, didn`t know that Paul Manafort ran a firm called Manafort, Black, and Stone and they spent 25 years doing consulting for foreign governments. And there`s no way he`s on the e-mail and shows up ignorantly. That`s what you`re arguing?

REINER: No way. I mean, he would know full well that by going to that meeting, he was breaking a campaign law. He was breaking an election law. There`s no question about it. And Michael knows that very well.

MELBER: Michael, it`s dealer`s choice, you could talk about Roger Rabbit or you could talk about Jared Kushner.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: All right. So, let`s do a little bit of both. First off, this deal with the Roger Rabbit analysis here, I think what we`re kind of forgetting and what the piece that you cited forgets is that a cartoon is drawn. It is not real. It does what you ultimately want it to do. And that is not the situation here. We can`t control this environment that we find this President in. We cannot control this President. So, the reality is instead of trying to look at him through a cartoonish lens, deal with the man as you see him, and then bring the game directly to him. That`s ultimately, what I think Donald Trump respects more than anything else. That`s why he gravitates towards a Vladimir Putin is because he appreciates that sense of authority and power being thrust in his direction and being in that orbit. So, the medium, bring the game to him. Hill Republicans, bring the game to him, push back in that regard and see what happens.

MELBER: So, Rob, take Michael`s point but recognize that courtesy of Donald Trump, the game done, changed.

STEELE: Yes.

REINER: Yes. Yes. It has changed. But here`s the thing, you know, and David Buoy is a great -- a great lawyer, said one time, you can say whatever you want on television. You know, we know, we talk about it all the time, he lies and he doesn`t tell the truth and all. You can you say whatever you want on television, but when you get into a court of law, or you get into a situation where you`re under oath, you cannot make stuff up. You have to tell the truth. And he is now under investigation along with his whole administration. So the rules will change. He can -- he can manipulate the rules now and be a cartoon all he wants, but in the court of law, it`s not going to play.

MELBER: Michael, briefly?

STEELE: Yes, I think that that`s right. I think that`s the Achilles heel here, is that you`ve got Robert Mueller, you`ve got the Senate and House investigations, you have people going in and testifying under oath. We haven`t heard a peep out of Flynn and that side of this equation in a while. We don`t know what Robert Mueller is gathering, and what he does know, what he doesn`t know. So, there`s still a whole lot more to be explored here that the President, despite maybe a level of cockiness and trying to sort of gain the system by threatening the Attorney General, that he`s going to have to confront.

MELBER: Michael Steele, Rob Reiner, thank you both so much. That does it for me. You can always weigh in at #thebeat. Thanks for watching our debut, we`ll be back tomorrow, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. And you could find us on Facebook and Twitter @thebeatwithari. That`s @thebeatwithari. More importantly, "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Whatever it takes. That`s the "HARDBALL".

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