Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: July 25, 2017 Guest: John Harwood, Rich Benjamin, Walter Shaub, John Fund, Kirsten Haglun, Adam Jentleson, Tim Lewis
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Good evening. Thank you, Chris.
Donald Trump said he`d win so much, he`ll be tired of winning, but he is losing on Russia today with both parties joining in a major House vote to tie his hands on sanctions.
After six months of wrangling, there was an unusual site in Washington today, the prospect of a do-something Congress.
While Donald Trump continues to lash out at the Russia investigation, the Congress is lashing out at Russia, passing a bipartisan bill to keep sanctions on the Putin government, a move arriving the same day Jared Kushner faced House investigators and Paul Manafort got a new subpoena from the judiciary committee.
That pressure is the context for Trump`s new claims about the Russia inquiry. The president is not winning the day on this controversy. And from the way he`s treating Jeff Sessions, it looks like he`s tired of losing.
That`s understandable. Losing is frustrating. And President Trump seems to think that Jeff Sessions` decision to recuse from the Russia inquiry was a disappointing loss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m wondering if you would talk to us a little bit about whether you`ve lost confidence in Jeff Sessions, whether you want him to resign on his own, whether you`re prepared to fire him if he doesn`t and why you`re sort of letting twist in the wind rather than just making the call for him. Thank you.
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don`t think I am doing that, but I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office.
And if he was going to recuse himself, he should`ve told me prior to taking office and I would have quite simply picked somebody else. So, I think that`s a bad thing not for the president, but for the presidency. I think it`s unfair to the presidency.
I`m very disappointed with the attorney general, but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Time will tell. Time, this morning, showed Trump lashing out at Sessions on Twitter and reportedly when asked about what would happen if firing Sessions, Trump was sounding different people out.
Meanwhile, his aides are echoing on Trump`s emotions on the issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I know that he is certainly frustrated and disappointed in the attorney general.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: President has expressed frustration and consternation because the recusal really has allowed this - what he considers to be a witch-hunt and hoax.
HUGH HEWITT, RADIO HOST: It`s clear that the president wants him gone, isn`t it Anthony?
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I have an enormous amount of respect for the attorney general. But I do know the president pretty well. And if there`s this level of tension in the relationship that that`s public, you`re probably right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is tension on the Trump side of the aisle. What about everyone else?
Well, Sessions` allies now punching back, saying the attorney general is "totally pissed off." They`re calling Trump`s attacks beyond insane, cruel and stupid, according to The Daily Beast.
And a member of Trump`s own cabinet, in a very interesting quote, telling conservative activist Erick Erickson that this is a cluster can`t-read-the- rest-of-it and that if he can get treated this way what about the rest of us.
Now, in just a moment, I`m going to speak with judiciary committee member and Democratic Whip Sen. Dick Durbin right here on THE BEAT.
First, though, I want to bring in Robert Ray, a former federal prosecutor who served as independent counsel after Ken Starr, and Aisha Moodie-Mills, the president of the Victory Fund.
Bob, you look at this situation. Is this fair to any attorney general?
ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: It`s a terrible position to be in, but it`s not unprecedented. I mean, this was not a situation that is the first to occur.
During the Clinton administration, you`ll recall that President Clinton certainly had his issues with Attorney General Janet Reno, who appointed upwards of five independent counsels during the Clinton administration to investigate either the president or his cabinet officials.
MELBER: Is your point that it was bad then and bad now?
RAY: Well, it`s a very unpleasant situation to be in. But unless Jeff Sessions decides to leave under his own power and voluntarily resigned, he`s forcing the president`s hand and force the president to have to fire him, which is probably not something the president really wants to do because it creates another political issue about replacement of an attorney general.
MELBER: But, Bob, isn`t that a rerun of what we saw with Jim Comey where the president didn`t really want to own the firing, so he tried to say the DoJ recommended it. Now, he doesn`t want to own firing the head of DoJ. At what point do you view this as a problematic way to run the Justice Department?
RAY: Well, he`s the head of the Justice Department, so it`s different than replacing an FBI director. And from the president`s perspective, understandably, look, there`s a cascade of events here.
The attorney general recuses himself. As a result of that, that puts the deputy attorney general on the hot seat, Rod Rosenstein. As a result of that, we end up having the firing of the FBI director. And at the same time, we have the appointment of a special counsel.
From the president`s perspective, look, I can get an unconflicted and unbeleaguered attorney general. What do I need a special counsel -
MELBER: Well, I don`t know that he is beleaguered, but for Trump saying it. I mean, Aisha, Bob is describing this as a series of events. Of course, at no other point in history has a president ever fired an FBI director without cause. So, that`s a series of events initiated by this president.
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, VICTORY FUND: Sure. And let`s go back to the fact that at no other point in history has this dirty laundry been aired in the way it`s being aired right now.
I think the thing that we all need to realize is that it is unprecedented for the president to be making staff decisions on Twitter, which is essentially what`s happening.
And I think that if I were Jeff Sessions - and by no means am I a supporter of Jeff Sessions - but if I were Jeff Sessions, I would just feel so disrespected that a real private conversation isn`t being had about the direction of the agency and the president not coming to him and saying, hey, these are my concerns.
The other piece of it, though, that I think we need to be talking about much more than we are because we get into the reads on timelines, et cetera, is what`s the real there-there.
The real there-there is that the president is doing everything that he can to try to derail investigation into him and his relationships with Russia. Point blank.
So, the question that we need to constantly ask is what does he have to hide. What is he hiding? And we need to be investigating that and not getting sidetracked with the schoolyard fight that he`s picking with his AG right now.
MELBER: But, Bob, you were a special prosecutor in this format. Is this the kind of behavior that you would find acceptable from a president or do you find this to be potentially unhelpful to getting a full investigation done?
RAY: Well, it`s not an ideal environment, but it comes with the territory. And anybody who thinks in a political environment that there`s not going to be a back and forth from the president, from the White House, from the president`s people, a criticism, fair criticisms or not, of a special counsel investigation doesn`t live in the real world.
I have news for you. I mean, that`s just the way it is. There`s a lot riding on this. I don`t think - in a constitutional system, the president has limits as to what he can do to control the course of an investigation, and appropriately so.
MELBER: But don`t you find he`s gone farther than - you`re using the example of President Clinton. Hasn`t he gone farther by talking openly about reopening an investigation of his political opponents as he`s doing on Twitter?
RAY: Well, look, if reopening it has merit, it either has merit or it doesn`t. The president -
MELBER: But that`s not what I asked you.
RAY: Well, the president is the head of the executive branch. If he wants to have an investigation reopened -
MELBER: So, you`re sitting here and you`re not concerned about that tweet about saying maybe we should reinvestigate Hillary Clinton. You as a prosecutor don`t see something wrong with that?
RAY: Ultimately, he`s not the one who initiates an investigation.
MELBER: I know that. I`m asking you whether that`s OK or not?
RAY: It`s fine for the president`s pushback in the political process. He`s the head of the -
MELBER: I`m not talking about the political process. You`re not answering the question. I`m asking you whether the president tweeting that there should be an investigation - that is not the political process, that`s the DOJ process - while he is beating up on his attorney general is appropriate or not.
You`re saying it is appropriate.
RAY: I`m saying that, ultimately, the Department of Justice decides whether to open an investigation.
MELBER: That`s true. Take a listen -
RAY: It`s for the FBI director to decide.
MELBER: It sounds like a - you`re a good lawyer, so you dodge (INAUDIBLE). Take a listen to -
RAY: It`s for the attorney general to decide.
MELBER: Take a listen to president-elect Trump on this because, at one point, he was for closing down any further inquiries into Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESLEY STAHL, CBS HOST, 60 MINUTES: You called her crooked Hillary, said you wanted to get her to jail, your people and your audiences kept saying lock them up.
TRUMP: She did some bad things. She did some bad things.
STAHL: I know, but a special prosecutor?
TRUMP: I don`t want to hurt them. I don`t want to hurt them. They`re good people. I don`t want to hurt them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Why did he change his tune?
RAY: Well, the flipside of that principle is that prosecution is not politics by other means. We throw around somewhat flippantly in the media the notion that somebody can be investigated for criminal offenses and open up an investigation and so forth.
Remember, we`re talking about doing an investigation to determine whether or not crimes are committed. And if they were and a prosecution is found to be appropriate that people can go to jail, that is not intended to be a part of the political process.
It`s intended be part of the criminal justice system, which is reserved for those cases, the sledgehammer of prosecution, if you will, and that`s not supposed to be made on a partisan basis.
We don`t run the risk of putting people in jail because we use the criminal justice process to damage our political enemies.
MOODIE-MILLS: Well, I think somebody should tell the president that, right? Because, I mean, at the end of the day, the entire point of what he is doing right now is he`s trying to avoid an investigation into himself because he believes that the office of the presidency makes him immune from following the law and having to account for his behavior, his actions, his business dealings with regard to the law.
And I think that that is the conversation that we need to be having, is that this president thinks that he`s above the law. He thinks that being POTUS -
MELBER: We`ve got to pause there because I`ve got to go to the senator. Bob Ray and Aisha Moodie-Mills, I thank you both for bring her. I hope you`ll come back.
With me now, as promised, Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, Democratic whip, and also, of course, on the Senate Judiciary Committee which is quite relevant here.
First of all, are you concerned that the president is acting this way towards his attorney general because of Russia?
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Of course. Let`s analyze this. What the president is doing is brutal. How would you like to be working for a man who is trying to hound you publicly into resigning? What kind of loyalty does that inspire? And it`s unprofessional.
I agree with Lindsey Graham. For a president to be directing his attorney general to initiate a prosecution is unheard of. And to do it publicly is just unthinkable.
And the real reason behind it, as one of your guests noted, it`s all about trying to dissemble the Bob Mueller investigation, to try to stop this investigation into the Russian impact on our last presidential election and the Trump campaign.
It`s very obvious what he`s trying to do. And the scenarios were unfolding, get himself a new attorney general, take over the special investigation himself, take Mueller out of business, take the heat off the White House.
MELBER: If that`s the goal, senator, and he does remove the attorney general after you go out on a full recess, he might be able to appoint him without senate confirmation during the recess.
Do you want Mitch McConnell and the Senate to avoid going into a full recess for that reason?
DURBIN: Yes, if that`s what it takes. I think it`s that important. If we don`t stand for the principle that no one in this country is above the law, then what are? Is this a nation of laws? Is it a nation of justice? To think that the president, or any person in the White House, is about the law is unacceptable in America.
MELBER: So, how would you do that, senator? I mean, that`s pretty significant, if you`re saying that you can`t go into a full recess to avoid a potential jamming in of an acting attorney general, how would you do that?
DURBIN: We`re exploring the ways right now.
MELBER: Would you try to filibuster the adjournment resolution or can you give us any -?
DURBIN: I think I`ve told you as much as I can tell you at this moment. But the idea that his president would use the August recess to stop the investigation of the Russian impact on the election and his campaign is unacceptable.
MELBER: All right. Very interesting. You`re making a little news there.
I want to turn to Paul Manafort, who, of course, has been subpoenaed by your committee. After that meeting that has now been documented with officials claiming to represent the Russian government offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, he said this, take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign, and Putin and his regime?
PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: No, there are not. It`s absurd. There is no basis to it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Given your committee`s investigation, how do you view those kind of denials given what we know now publicly?
DURBIN: Well, you never know. If you heard Paul Manafort`s lawyer, give a list of particulars of things that we can`t do, can`t ask and who will be privy to a transcript, who can read it, who can`t, they are trying their very best to narrow this investigation to a big nothing-burger instead of going after the underlying issues of Paul Manafort`s involvement with the Russians, his involvement in the Trump campaign, and whether or not there was any linkage between the two.
The direction that we received from the Department of Justice on the special investigation is, do what you need to do as members of Congress, but make sure your witnesses are under oath and testify in public. Those are the two things that Mr. Manafort is fighting.
MELBER: He is fighting that. So, at this point, do you expect that he will ultimately appear?
DURBIN: I don`t know. It`s possible he shows up, pleads the Fifth Amendment. Who can say? But if he has nothing to hide, you should come before this committee, let us ask our questions and give us the answers.
MELBER: You had previously called for Jeff Sessions to resign. Are you basically changing that position now given the import of Russia and the president`s comments?
DURBIN: Well, of course, some of the things that Jeff Sessions has done as attorney general explain why I voted against him. He`s basically told federal prosecutors across the United States, don`t worry about filling our prisons, go ahead and prosecute to the highest possible penalty. Exactly the opposite what we should be doing from my point of view.
And secondly, his directives when it comes to immigration policy have been stunningly insensitive when it comes to number of people in this country who have done nothing wrong other than be here in undocumented status and deserve a chance to earn their way into a legal status.
So, those two things, I did object to. But this notion of displacing and pushing him out of office to end the Russian investigation really puts me in a very conflicted situation.
MELBER: Understood, senator. Before I let you go, I do want to touch on healthcare. Obviously, the other big, important story here with the Senate action. Your view of what it means today that there is this procedural progress, but that so many Republicans now appear to be exploring a straight repeal when, as we all know, they`ve been on record saying it`s better to repeal and replace.
What happens now? What`s your view? Why does it matter to regular folks?
DURBIN: Well, I think Mitch McConnell really was masterful in opening the debate, but I think he`s got his hands full in trying to close it because he has a number of Republican senators, not just the two Republican women, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, have showed exceptional courage, but he has a number of Republican senators who`ve serve notice on him that they`re not going to be party to the secret process jammed through at the very end.
And leading that charge is John McCain. Came in and voted with Sen. McConnell. Then gave a 15-minute speech and explained how awful this process has been and how he`s not guaranteeing a final vote unless we have some dramatic changes in our approach and substance.
MELBER: Sen. Dick Durbin, Democratic whip, thank you for your time tonight here on THE BEAT.
DURBIN: Good to be with you.
MELBER: Appreciate it.
Coming up, I`ll also speak to the congressman who interviewed Jared Kushner today. Adam Schiff joins me to talk Russia and the debate over whether a sitting president can be indicted.
Also, Sen. John McCain getting that well-warranted heroes` welcome, but what did he come back for, what I was just discussing with the senator.
You are watching THE BEAT with Ari Melber on MSNBC.
MELBER: Jared Kushner was back on the Hill today for a three-hour grilling by the House Intel Committee. And unlike his Senate meeting yesterday, this time Kushner was under oath.
Democrats of today`s interview led by Congressman Adam Schiff. I`ll speak with him in a moment. Now, Kushner`s appearance comes at one of the most tense periods of this whole investigation.
The president publicly berating Jeff Sessions. Mueller bearing down on business dealings and he has the authority to get Trump`s tax returns as we reported here on THE BEAT last night.
Now, a discussion that was once confined to more hypothetical debates about the presidency and one no president wants to see in the headlines. Can a sitting president be indicted, prosecuted and jailed?
Under both parties, the DOJ has said no. But there are three reasons this is being discussed now. One, Trump using on pardons and self-pardons, which is, of course, musing about confessing to a potential crime.
Two, the Russia inquiry including this review of potential obstruction of justice charges. Now, we can`t prejudge whether there would be obstruction in the inquiry, but we can note that the last two articles of impeachment did include obstruction charges.
And three, this new report that Kenneth Starr received legal guidance that made the argument for indicting a president in office. Now, that doesn`t mean it`s constitutional, but it does show there were prosecutors thinking about it.
Joining me now for more is Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence Committee.
Congressman, do you view indictment as a potentially constitutional way to deal with crimes by a president?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Look, I don`t think there`s anything in the constitution that prevents a president from being indicted or that would say that the president is somehow above the law.
But I do think that if that is where Bob Mueller`s investigation ultimately led that he would be much more likely to present that evidence to the Congress and deem this a political question rather than something that ought to be presented to an ordinary jury in a federal court somewhere in the country.
So, I think for prudential reasons, it`s unlikely to be the case, but I don`t think there`s anything either in the constitution or in statute that essentially says the president can commit a crime and not be prosecuted for it.
MELBER: So, your view, not as a matter of prediction about Mueller, but as a matter of law, is it is on the table constitutionally to indict a sitting president?
SCHIFF: It is, I think, constitutional to indict a sitting president. I think for prudential reasons, it`s unlikely that Bob Mueller would take that course even if the evidence supported it.
If Bob Mueller did go forward, and that leads to a lot of ifs, it`s also very possible that a court would decide to defer the prosecution until after the presidency. And I know there was some debate about that in the civil litigation involving the President Clinton, but that is also a possibility.
MELBER: And congressman, this is an issue that`s come up now. Why hasn`t it come up in your view more during the Obama administration? Why wasn`t anyone talking about indicting that president?
SCHIFF: Well, why wasn`t anyone talking about indicting President Obama? Well, I think the simple answer is there was no basis and no even speculative basis for such an action.
It is remarkable, as you say, Ari, that here we are six months into this presidency, where people are asking questions about whether a president can be indicted.
There were other questions on the news today about whether mental health experts are free to opine about what they may believe the president`s condition to be. These are not the kind of questions as president of the United States that you want to be hearing.
But moreover, these are not the kind of questions that the country wants to be asking. But some of the president`s actions, obviously, are forcing the country to confront these kind of issues.
MELBER: And turning to Jared Kushner, did you get what you needed from him in the committee room today?
SCHIFF: He is I think fully cooperative with our questions and our committee. We didn`t have all the documents we wanted before the interview. It was really at the request of Mr. Kushner`s counsel that he come in far earlier in the process than we would ordinarily have a witness of this significance.
There are also additional documents that we asked for and questions that we didn`t have time to ask today before we had to bring the proceedings to a close.
So, he did express a willingness to come back. I think that will ultimately be necessary.
SCHIFF: But he was fully cooperative during the interview.
MELBER: You mentioned the documents, last question on that. Did he provide documentation for the written claims in the testimony when he talked about the emails and talking to assistant and asking the Russian ambassador`s name?
A lot of those seem to refer to things he claimed he`d emailed previously. Do you have those documents?
SCHIFF: He did provide documents. I can`t go into the detail or description of the documents. We do think that there are more documents that are responsive to the request that we`ve made. And we`ve made additional requests in light of his testimony today.
But he has, and his counsel, been cooperative with the committee and we`ll expect that they`ll cooperate in the production of those materials.
MELBER: Congressman Adam Schiff, on what was obviously a busy day, thanks for your time.
SCHIFF: You bet. Thank you.
MELBER: So, what happens if President Trump were to fire Attorney General Sessions and could he appoint that replacement without congressional confirmation as I was discussing with Sen. Durbin?
And the question that so many are raising, is this really about Jeff Sessions or is it about finding someone who could interfere or remove Bob Mueller?
Also, Sen. McCain`s emotional return to Washington after that cancer diagnosis. We want to look at this healthcare fight and what did he come back for. Stay with us.
MELBER: Rather dramatic protesters pushing back on that Obamacare procedural vote today, but Republicans did eke out this motion to proceed to a healthcare vote this week with Sen. John McCain flying 2,000 miles to cast his vote.
Everyone praising McCain`s courage and his dignified floor speech. His colleagues, though, have honestly yet to explain what precise bills and amendments they will be voting on in the coming days.
And the vote shows one thing the Republican Congress has done in both the Obama and the Trump era is cast a lot of votes on Obamacare, over 60 at this point, without ever actually getting a repeal measure into law.
Rich Benjamin is a political analyst, John Harwood, CNBC editor-at-large, thank you both. Rich, you look at this series of events, this never-ending series of votes without action, right, and it`s sort of like the Republicans have an elitist strategy here. Dust yourself off and try again. Try again. When will the trying lead to action in your view.
RICH BENJAMIN, POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, Ari, I thought about that. And in retrospect, it leads to the wisdom of the people who passed this bill that they had more of a long game than we gave them credit for at the time.
That once you pass a bill, it would be more difficult to take away. And the Republicans can keep trying. What we do know about their attempts to try is that most of them, bottom line, will dis-include at least 20 million Americans going to (INAUDIBLE) from healthcare.
And so, when we say that they are not succeeding, there is a small detail why they`re not succeeding, is that their efforts are simply not popular.
MELBER: Right. John Harwood, do you share that view?
JOHN HARWOOD, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "CNBC": I do. And first of all, Ari, let me say congrats on the new show.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Thank you.
HARWOOD: Delighted to be a Beatnik. And what I would say is that Mitch McConnell pulled off something very impressive today by uniting some of his previous critics on the right and the left in moving this along by keeping it as fuzzy and vague and possible what exactly they`re going to do. So everyone can take something out of the prospect of a debate. There`s still no indication that he has solved the fundamental problem that rich was just referring to which is it`s hard to take stuff away from people once they have it. And you`ve got a lot of people who would lose insurance without any mechanism for effectively dealing with their issues. However -
MELBER: But John, let me jump in -
HARWOOD: - as long as it stays alive, he gets his members invested in the process with every step they keep taking with him.
MELBER: You make great point on the strategic up side of fuzziness. I want to tell you though, you sound a bit like someone. I`m going to read a quote and then you tell me if you know who you sound like. This a new quote. The problem with repeal is you have millions of people out there - out there who will say how do we know we`re going to have health and I hate to do that to people. I`m always concerned about that. I don`t like it from that standpoint. You know who that is?
HARWOOD: I have no clue.
MELBER: That`s President Trump speaking today about what is apparently an argument against this policy.
HARWOOD: Well look, President Trump, it`s clear doesn`t know what`s in the bill. He has not paid close attention to the bill. He is trying to get a legislative victory that he can claim. It`s not about the substance, obviously, the elements of the bill said it moved through both the House and the potentially the Senate. Do the opposite of what he promised in the campaign which was more people covered better for less money. These don`t deliver on that.
MELBER: Go ahead.
RICH BENJAMIN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think - and this is beginning to look like a political (INAUDIBLE) village. People are fighting, fighting, fighting, losing sight of the big sight. And I have to say worth mentioning, I`m just coming back from six weeks abroad, seeing a bit of disarray in Teresa May`s government in U.K. and as an American, outside are looking into this system, we can forget how utterly dysfunctional and how much deliberate chaos has been injected into our executive branch and our legislative branch. And to see this come to a head today with McCain`s emotional speech is just worth noting. And I think Congress, you know, being caught in that, that`s one thing. If I could say to them, I would.
MELBER: Yes, maybe some of them are listening. I mean, you make the point that there`s a question about whether Congress can really function well, which is different from just the ideology of the potential outcomes. John Harwood and Rich Benjamin, thank you. John, Beatnic, we`ll see if that catches on. And we`ll have you back either way.
HARWOOD: Yes, excellent.
MELBER: Thank you so much. Coming up, Rush Limbaugh, of all people, warning President Trump against firing Jeff Sessions. Does the President also have a conservative problem on his hands if he continues to attack his so called beleaguered Attorney General? But first, a new Attorney General would need to get confirmed by this Senate unless Mitch McConnell helps the President orchestrate a very special run around. Senator Durbin making some news on THE BEAT here saying there`s a strategy in the works. We have more on that, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You intend on firing him, why should he remain as the Attorney General?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I`m very disappointed with the Attorney General but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Time will tell. That`s what we call leaving the door wide open, President Trump, about firing Attorney General Sessions. He lashed out of course at the Attorney General without doing anything today. The President reportedly looking for replacements though and as we`ve reported, the only reason that Trump has publicly offered that he`s disappointed is because of Russia. He wants someone more hands on to deal with the Russia inquiry, someone who apparently could potentially control or even try to remove Special Counsel Bob Mueller. The boulder in that road would be the Senate because any new Attorney General requires confirmation which happened when they approved Sessions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: I believe the proper thing for me to do would be to recuse myself from any questions involving those kind of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign.
I have said, whenever it`s appropriate, I will recuse myself. There`s no doubt about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That process, as you saw there, was led by Senators doing their oversight work and as we all know, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ultimately did recuse himself saying that`s what he thought was appropriate on consultation with the DOJ. Then there would be a way around the Senate this time as my colleague Rachel Maddow first reported last night. In the August recess, Trump could fire Sessions immediately appoint who he wants using the recess power and he wouldn`t have to deal with the Senate at all. But if you were watching this earlier tonight here on THE BEAT, Senator Durbin explained the Democrats want to stop that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: If you`re saying that you can`t go into a full recess how - to avoid the potential jamming in of an Acting Attorney General, how would you do that?
SEN. DICK DURBIN (R), ILLINOIS: We`re exploring the ways right now.
MELBER: Would you try to filibuster the adjournment resolution or can you give us any - go ahead.
DURBIN: I think I`ve told you as much as I can tell you at this moment. But the idea that this President would use the August Recess to stop the investigation of the Russian impact on the election and his campaign is unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joining me now, Walter Shaub was the former Director of the Office of Government Ethics. His last day was a week ago. He resigned a little early during the Trump administration. He`s the Senior Director now of Ethics at the Campaign Legal Center. Also with us is John Fund, National Affairs Columnist for the Conservative National Review. Good day to both of you gentleman.
WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Thanks for having us.
MELBER: Absolutely. Starting with you Walter, the President has admitted the reason he`s upset with Sessions is not over immigration policy or cracking down on gangs or drugs, nothing relating to the rest of the country, it`s all about the Russia inquiry. From an ethics and legal perspective, is that fair game in your view or is that problematic?
SHAUB: No, that`s a deeply unsettling thing for him to say on two levels. First of all, it threatens interference with a criminal investigation which undermines severed rule of law in our country. And second, of all, it sends a message to federal employees and political appointees that maybe you should think twice before recusing when you have a conflict of interest and that`s really a significant threat to the ethics program as well.
MELBER: John, isn`t that the best argument against this behavior? The President does have tremendous authority over his cabinet and he can hire and fire as he sees fit but Walter outlines a deeper point which is that the government has power over people lives, something conservatives are concerned about with regards to abuse, and if you have a financial stake in something or political relationship under the rules you`re supposed to recuse and this seems like the ultimate punishment for following those good government ethics rules? John?
JOHN FUND, NATIONAL REVIEW NATIONAL AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Well, the ultimate threat of punishment, the Attorney General is not any cabinet officer. He controls the largest law enforcement apparatus in the country. So you have to defer to his independence at the same time recognizing that he`s a political appointee. Look, the President`s mistakes began at management. When you`re interviewing someone for a job as Donald Trump did Jeff Sessions last December, you asked all the relevant questions. Donald Trump should have asked him, are you going to recuse yourself because, within a month, he told the Senate at the confirmation hearings before he was voted out of the Committee that he would recuse himself. So that`s a management problem. The other management problem is, how in the world do you run a government when every cabinet officer thinks this could be next if I do something that upsets the President. Who in the world do you hire? Who`s willing to sacrifice their career to replace Jeff Sessions knowing that everyone will view him as a stooge for the President? So before we get to any speculation, and I don`t think Donald Trump is going to be firing Jeff Sessions, before we even get to that speculation, there`s bad management going on here.
MELBER: But John, you`re saying the reason that Donald Trump has a recused Attorney General is because of the way Donald Trump did the hiring?
FUND: Well, he said today, if I had known that Jeff Sessions was going to recuse himself, I would have picked someone else. Well, that meant he didn`t ask Jeff Sessions. So just on a management level, he`s contradicting himself. He`s basically saying, I didn`t do my job interview -
MELBER: Well, you`re saying the whole - the whole explanation when the President - is an admission - is an admission he doesn`t know how to hire. I`m a little reminded of the movie Office Space where you know, they call everyone and say what is it you`d say you do here? I mean, these are questions Water, you can ask people before you hire.
SHAUB: You know, it`s even worse than that. I think you make a very good point about the management issue. This also goes to the Counsel to the President because if he had any interest in the government ethics program or paying attention at all, he would have been aware that former Senator Sessions is an individual who is a member of the campaign and who spoke with Russian officials. So you know, well, I suppose Senator Sessions initially told the Senate that he had never spoke with them but you know, Don McGahn the Counsel of the President could have done some asking around among campaign officials and perhaps uncovered that. But their entire operation with the nominees has been one of neglect. And that`s something we struggled with at the Office of Government Ethics when I was there trying to move their nominees while you have a vetting operation in the White House that was ignoring all of the basics.
MELBER: Walter - yes, and one more (AUDIO GAP) U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara today. Trump and Sessions studies in weakness. Trump won`t fire the AG though he wants him gone. Sessions won`t stand up for himself. Truly weak. Walter, is Sessions being weak or strong by staying on?
SHAUB: Well, you know, I`ve got other concerns with Attorney General Sessions, but I think that it would be a mistake for him to resign for the reason that he had recused from the Russia investigation. You know, I myself, spoke with Department of Justice Ethics Officials and caution them that they should get involved and start looking at this because I felt that he needed to recuse and in the public statements that the Department of Justice issued, they said they worked with those career government ethics officials so that`s exactly how the process is supposed to work. That is literally the definition of the ethics program.
MELBER: Right. And that`s so important. We have to, as we say in the business, recuse ourselves out of this segment a legal recusal joke, a big hit around here. Walter Shaub, John Fund (AUDIO GAP)
A GOP (AUDIO GAP) Trump`s treatment (AUDIO GAP) immigration (AUDIO GAP) what is the end game here? Is this a long drawn out plan to fire Mueller? I`m going to speak to a Federal Judge later in the hour.
MELBER: President Trump can certainly fire Jeff Sessions, but should he? And would firing Jeff Sessions go too far for conservative supporters? Here`s Newt Gingrich.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: I personally would strongly recommend against firing Sessions. Sessions has been remarkably loyal to the President. And loyalty, I think, has to be a two-way street.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Meanwhile, a person close to Trump saying the President asked him about firing Sessions and how it would play in the conservative media. We may have an answer already. It`s not playing well. Here is Breitbart, quote, "Sessions represents one of the vital pillars of Trump`s immigration agenda." A piece that takes on the whole idea of removing him. And then, there`s this group, FAIR, a conservative immigration association, saying today, "Sessions deserves your support not criticism." And then, there`s Rush Limbaugh.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I frankly think that Sessions is the kind of man Trump needs in his administration. It`s also kind of, a little bit discomforting seemingly for Trump to go after such a loyal supporter this way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: With me now is Kirsten Haglund, Conservative Commentator, and Adam Jentleson, a former aide to Senator Reid. Kirsten, it seems like conservatives are upset. Is that what you`re hearing and should we read Bannon behind that Breitbart headline?
KIRSTEN HAGLUND, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, yes, of course, because obviously, the relationship there was very close with him being in charge and still is. But on the Hill, you`ve already seen some Senators come out very publicly, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Cornyn. And that is the general feel. I mean, Sessions was a good friend to many Senators for many years. And morale is really low within the White House, even among Cabinet members, right? Because they`re looking around saying, Senator Jeff Sessions was one of the earliest Trump supporters and has continued to be one of the most loyal, even though he recused himself. Who of us is next?
And when you have that kind of feeling, it`s very hard for people to work together and really get on board with the President`s agenda. So, conservatives both on the Hill and within the Cabinet are very, very nervous about this. I think what is really interesting is he`s asking how this is going to play in the media and I think we can actually be glad that Trump cares so much about how things plays in the media in this case. Because what people need is stability, right? And the American people are looking at a government which is -- you know, has I think a lot of chaos --
MELBER: I think things feel -- I think things feel very stable.
HAGLUND: Very stable, very stable. One of the most stable in history, Ari. Stable moments in history.
MELBER: Stable is -- yes. I`d love to bring in Adam. Stable is the word that comes to mind.
ADAM JENTLESON, FORMER AIDE TO SENATOR REID: Yes, right. It`s about the last word that comes to mind. I mean, I think this is fundamentally about the rule of law. And, you know, you have to wonder if this is the last straw even for Republicans on the Hill who`ve been very eager to defend the President, or at least willing to defend him on virtually every transgression that he`s committed so far. And it truly must mean that Trump is getting desperate, because Jeff Sessions has been one of the most reliable implementers of a Trump agenda. He`s been reliably implementing his agenda on anti-civil rights, anti-voting rights, crackdown, on all sorts of things that Trump got elected on. So (INAUDIBLE).
MELBER: Right. But let me just (INAUDIBLE)
JENTLESON: -- firing must be desperate
MELBER: Two points -- two points on that. One, conservatives would say it`s not anti-civil rights, it`s more of a state-law-based approach. But two, on the immigration issue, today, Jeff Sessions is unveiling new policies to crackdown on sanctuary cities. Is this something that you think will remind conservatives what they like about Jeff Sessions?
JENTLESON: That seems like what it`s intended to do, but, you know, Trump may be beyond that point. I mean, he may be truly desperate because he`s afraid of where the Russian investigation is going. And so, he wants to fire Jeff Sessions regardless of how reliably he`s been implementing Trump`s agenda.
MELBER: And Adam, Kirsten is saying, Oh, maybe this is a good thing that he`s sounding out the conservative media. Wouldn`t it be better if the President were sounding out, I don`t know, law and order justice and legal experts about a legal decision like this?
JENTLESON: That would be better. I think, the President has shown us nothing to expect, that that is something that he takes seriously.
MELBER: Kirsten, final word.
HAGLUND: Of course, we would rather him be sounding out legal professionals in this matter. But Donald Trump right now is low on political capital, especially within his own party. I think that he has tested the waters. We`re seeing it`s not (INAUDIBLE) and conservatives want him to stay for immigration, as well as many other agenda items that he has promised the American people. And those that voted for him want to see those promises kept.
MELBER: Adam Jentleson and Kirsten Haglund on the politics. Thank you so much. It does seem that everyone has an opinion about Russia from voters to politicians to all the lawyers increasingly picking up work around the Trump White House. But one group you rarely here from are federal judges. They have strict rules about what they can say. But we have an exclusive here on THE BEAT, a former federal appeals judge to talk about Russia and what comes next. Straight ahead.
MELBER: You know, when it`s all over, the Russia inquiry will come down to judgment. Will prosecutors reach a judgment that indictments are warranted? Well, the White House exercise judgement and avoiding improper pressure. And if any cases do go to court, how will federal judges view these charges and the defenses? The people we actually hear from the least on these issues are the people who do the most judging, and that`s because strict rules prevent federal judges from commenting on pending cases, and former judges are, as we say here in the business, hard bookings. But we do have one here today. Tim Lewis was a federal prosecutor and a Republican appointed federal appeals court judge. He joins me exclusively. Thanks for being here on THE BEAT.
TIM LEWIS, FORMER FEDERAL APPEALS JUDGE: Thank you very much for having me, Ari, and congratulations on your new show.
MELBER: Thank you. Thank you, Your Honor. When you look at a case like this Russia inquiry, how important will it be for prosecutors to figure out, whether people intended to break the law or got caught up maybe in a mess that wasn`t of their own making?
LEWIS: Well, intent is always a critical issue in any federal prosecution or any prosecution. So, certainly, that will be a critical component as the investigation continues. But in order to get there in the first place, I think we need to take a look at just what is happening and how this is unfolding. The fundamental issue, and where all of this flows from, is a failure, I think, to respect institutions and, I include, not only the legal profession and federal judiciary but also the media and so forth. These are norms that we have observed for many, many, many years now. And this is kind of unprecedented, what we are seeing now. So I think that we need to let the investigators do their job, let the courts do their job. If intent is uncovered in connection with obstruction of justice or anything else, that wiill come out. But it should be unimpeded and they should be permitted to proceed a pace as you normally would.
MELBER: When you see the Trump White House say that people who made political donations have conflicts, is there a basis to that?
LEWIS: No. The Justice Department has very specific guidelines on conflicts of interest and what constitute conflicts of interest. And political contributions is not among them. They`re specifically delineated, and they are pretty clear, and those are just not included. Now, certainly, a conflict of interest itself would give rise to a possible removal, or a valid concern about whether or not someone should receive it. There`s some other listings that are included there, too, but not political contributions.
MELBER: Yes. I want to turn to the drug war something that when you got off the bench, you`ve been a big advocate for reform on. You look at Jeff Sessions. This is something that doesn`t maybe get as much attention, but reading from a new memo he just provided to prosecutors saying, they should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense. What do you think of his agenda on that and where we`re headed as a country?
LEWIS: I think it is out of step with a bipartisan enlightened trend that thankfully, the country had been on, and that most states throughout the country have been pursuing also. You know, I can discuss this from both a personal and a professional perspective because I felt it up close and personal as a federal judge. And as you`ve noted, I`ve done some work since leaving the bench on criminal justice reform. Mandatory minimum sentences which are really at the heart of the Attorney General`s memo are really a sad and unfortunate commentary on us as a country and on our legal -- on our profession, our judging profession and legal profession. I think that we saw Rand Paul and Senator Leahy, hardly ideological soul mates, they`re doing everything that they could to try to roll that back and the legislation did not pass.
MELBER: Right. And that`s something that Sessions seems to be pushing back against.
MELBER: I would love to have you come back and talk about that again if you`re amenable.
LEWIS: I`d be more than happy to do that. Thanks very much for having me. I appreciate it.
MELBER: Judge, thank you so much. I appreciate you being on THE BEAT. That does is for our show. "HARDBALL" starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Pressure cooker. That`s the HARDBALL.
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