The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 7/31/17 Scaramucci out after less than a week

Guests: Antonio Villaraigosa, Steve Clemons, Richard Lewis, Annie Linskey, Stephanie Miller

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: July 31, 2017 Guest: Antonio Villaraigosa, Steve Clemons, Richard Lewis, Annie Linskey, Stephanie Miller

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST, MTP DAILY: - television in 11 years. That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily." THE BEAT with my man Ari Melber starts right now. Hi there, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Hi, Katy. Thanks for the hot tip there on the DVR.

We have a big show today. Donald Trump reportedly loved Anthony Scaramucci`s vulgar attacks on other Trump aides. But love don`t cost a thing, and in the Trump White House, it looks like loyalty is much more expensive.

Put aside the vulgarity and the most substantive part of Anthony Scaramucci`s now infamous interview was his boast that he reported directly to President Trump. But the news this evening is that Trump`s new chief of staff has decided Scaramucci actually reports to no one, an ousting on the first workday of this Kelly era.

Trump supporters cheering the new order, while critics offer a simple rebuttal. How can any staffer end the chaos if the chaos comes from the top? Language also comes from the top, so there was plenty of irony in this new White House message today that Scaramucci is out because of inappropriate language.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president certainly felt that Anthony`s comments were inappropriate for a person in that position and he didn`t want to burden Gen. Kelly.

Gen. Kelly has the full authority to operate within the White House and all staff will report to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Kelly is cleaning up a string of personnel changes that were linked, of course, to Scaramucci.

Sean Spicer resigned in protest of Scaramucci`s hire. Maybe he should`ve waited out the six days. Scaramucci then falsely accused Reince Priebus of a felony and mental problems. He was out by Friday. Replaced now by John Kelly, who sent Scaramucci packing this afternoon.

His six days on the job makes for one of the briefest stints in a White House gig ever. And today, just before his ouster, Trump slipped into the kind of language he used on the apprentice, referring to his cabinet room as a boardroom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Leader, chief of staff, he`s going to do a really great job. Thank you very much. We`ll see you in the boardroom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: But it is, of course, the situation room where Gen. Kelly has the most experience. And the man who knows from Trump well says efforts at White House discipline fall apart when they make contact with the boss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The thing that Gen. Kelly should do is try - is not try to change Donald Trump. Chuck, as you know, I`ve said you have to let Trump be Trump. That is what has made him successful over the last 30 years. That is what the American people voted for.

And anybody who thinks they`re going to change Donald Trump doesn`t know Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Joining me now, John Harwood, CNBC`s editor-at-large; Kurtis Lee, national reporter here with the "LA Times"; and at the White House, Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for "New York Magazine".

John Harwood, I begin with you with the core political, spiritual, relationship question, do people change?

JOHN HARWOOD, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNBC: No, they don`t. And, in fact, Corey Lewandowski, what he said to Chuck that the way Trump is has made him successful.

The way Trump is has made this White House unsuccessful so far. If Gen. Kelly can impose greater discipline, that might be a good thing for the staff below him.

The problem is above him, though, with President Trump. His character, the way he communicates, the way he makes decisions, his attention span, the whole range of characteristics is what Gen. Kelly has got to deal with.

And there`s no particular reason to think that he`s going to be more successful than Reine Priebus, although this move potentially is a step in the right direction today.

MELBER: And, Olivia, I`m wondering if the mood at the White House reflects what John is saying, the right direction, and also if you can put what I`m about to play in context.

The length of time between quotes of people in Washington and real-world events that overtake them or make them look ridiculous seems to be getting shorter. Take a look at Anthony Scaramucci on July 21.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think he`s got some of the best political instincts in the world and perhaps in history. I love the president.

The president has really good karma, OK? And the world turns back to him.

He is genuinely a wonderful human being. I don`t think I`d be standing here if I didn`t have a good relationship with the president. I love the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: He`s not standing there anymore. Go ahead.

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: (INAUDIBLE) are ageing in Trump years. I mean, time is just moving very fast here.

And the thing is Anthony Scaramucci had every reason to believe that he would be answering to the president. My sources say that the president made him keep news of his hiring very close to him. He wanted to prevent leaks.

I don`t think there was any reason for him to think that he would be answering to anybody else. I think overall this has been a very surprising day for Anthony Scaramucci after he was fired reportedly at 9:30 this morning.

MELBER: And so, Olivia, Anthony Scaramucci learns what from all this?

NUZZI: Well, I think that he learns that when it comes to Trump, you cannot always believe even what he tells you.

This is an unpredictable White House. People are out to get each other. And I don`t think that it ultimately works out for him to make so many enemies.

And you have to remember also, Ivanka and Jared were said to have been defending Anthony Scaramucci, but I have a source close to the White House who told me earlier that they were only defending him insofar as he acted the way they wanted him to, to get rid of Reince Priebus.

Once he succeeded in getting rid of Reince Priebus, he was sort of useless to them. They had no reason to go to bat for him after that.

MELBER: Right. And that, Kurtis, goes to the whole office space issue, where the consultants come in and they interview you about your job and it`s nerve-racking, but in the end, they might also be the ones getting fired because their only role was to fire people.

Was Anthony Scaramucci just the loudest HR consultant in the history of the world?

KURTIS LEE, NATIONAL REPORTER, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": It seems like it. Obviously, this is day one for John Kelly. And he came in and he kind of - it starts with a bang, right? We saw Reince Priebus out on Friday. A week before that Sean Spicer. Now, here we are, ten days into Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, now he`s out.

It will be interesting to see if this falls two weeks from now. I mean, this is, again, John Kelly on day one. The White House is saying that everything is going to funnel through John Kelly. He has the authority. Will this play out two weeks from now that way?

I mean, at the end of the day, the president is going to be the president. He`s his own chief of staff in a way. And this just all remains very new. And again, this is day one for John Kelly.

MELBER: Well, and John Harwood, you`ve covered a lot of administrations. The saying tends to be that personnel is policy because the president - no president can handle everything, and so the people in place make a lot of big policy decisions.

I wonder if the obvious corollary to that in the Trump White House is that no personnel means sometimes a vacuum of policy.

We`re going to put up on the screen for you, John, all of these people that have come and gone. Scaramucci, six days; Mike Flynn, 23 days; Mike Dubke, the communications director, 86 days; Comey, of course, had a prior tenure, but 110 days only with Trump; Sean Spicer out after 183 days; Reince Priebus made it that whopping 189 days.

At what point does that level of change mean that parts of the jobs aren`t getting done?

HARWOOD: Well, Ari, I think you`re pointing to a really interesting question about the link between personnel and policy because one of the things that Reince Priebus was was a link to traditional Republican policies, a link to Paul Ryan, who was trying to implement those policies in the House of Representatives.

Donald Trump doesn`t really have a philosophy. He doesn`t have a set of policies he`s committed to. He`s been all over the map on multiple things.

And John Kelly is not somebody who has a political resume. So, he`s somebody who can bring order and discipline in theory, but he doesn`t answer the question of what is this White House going to push for.

Are they going to push for the Steve Bannon nationalist agenda? Are they going to push for traditional Republican supply side on tax policy? That`s a big mystery now and some Republicans are worried that they`re going to drift ever further from the Republican Party.

And we saw over the weekend that Donald Trump reacted to the turmoil and the failure of last week by attacking Republicans in the Senate for being quitters and losers.

MELBER: Right. Which was bizarre. We`re going to talk about that because we`re covering healthcare later in the hour with a US Senator.

But, John, you raise a point and I would push back on it hypothetically, which is to say there are two White House jobs that are supposed to have no or fewer opinions. And that`s the national security advisor who is supposed to only coordinate and not make war decisions, and then the chief of staff who is supposed to be this honest broker.

Reince, as you know, and Olivia was alluding, was never seen as an honest broker. He was seen as taking a big side. Trump himself said. And by the way, any candidate would say this. Hey, I remember when you told me to drop out of the race. So, I don`t really see you as 100 percent down with me and what I`m trying to do.

How much did it hurt Reince in that position? And is that potentially a good thing for Kelly because, as you say, he is a cipher politically?

HARWOOD: Yes, I think that could be a good thing for Kelly. I think that that is - Gen. Kelly is brought in for his bearing his toughness, his level of organization and all of those are potential assets.

They don`t fill in the blanks of policy, but as you suggest, in many cases, the chief of staff is not supposed to do that. But challenge is, you have a president who is not ruddered with an existing political philosophy and, therefore, he`s more apt to flap all over the place.

MELBER: Olivia, go ahead.

NUZZI: I mean, Reince Priebus was, obviously, viewed with skepticism by Donald Trump because of the way that he had urged him to get out of the race after the "Access Hollywood" tape.

But, recall, he`s also a Republican National Committee guy. He`s somebody who does not viscerally understand Donald Trump. This was also the problem with Sean Spicer.

No matter how loyal they were in practice in this White House, they were still seen as people who just didn`t really get it. And I think that`s what - ultimately what Anthony Scaramucci was supposed to do was bring in a familiarity to this White House, kind of a New York vibe, somebody that Donald Trump really understood, could joke around with.

In the end, obviously, that didn`t work out. We see the problems with that when you have something like the explosive "New Yorker" interview.

Today, at the briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that perhaps Kelly (INAUDIBLE) bring some discipline to the White House. And while that seems true on his first day today, with getting rid of Anthony Scaramucci, you have to wonder what`s going to happen when he inevitably does something to upset the president, which it will ultimately happen. It happens with everybody here.

MELBER: That`s part of the job.

NUZZI: Exactly.

MELBER: Did you say New York vibe?

NUZZI: I did. Do you have a problem with that?

MELBER: No, I have no problem with it. Kurtis, I don`t know that the Trump White House needs more New York vibes or at least - and I say this as a very happy resident of New York, but if that means more shouting at people, more jostling to get a taxi or get on the subway.

The other piece we haven`t gotten to yet because there is so much here is Steve Bannon. The conventional interpretation of this vulgar "New Yorker" interview was that Scaramucci was holding some serious cards for Donald Trump that you could mouth off to Steve Bannon and get away with it.

Well, he didn`t away get away with it. So, where does Steve Bannon figure in all this?

LEE: I think in this kind of reality TV show that we`re living in - we`re out here in Los Angeles, this is kind of like survivor in a way. And I mean, today, you`re looking at Steve Bannon. He`s still there. And Scaramucci is out.

I mean, he said some really intense things in that "New Yorker" interview about Steve Bannon. Steve Bannon remains. And Jeff Sessions is also still there in the administration even though the president has taken to Twitter to talk about him.

Right now, the administration - everyone in the administration is OK for right now. The president is happy with everyone.

What will it mean at the end of the week? It remains to be seen.

MELBER: Kurtis Lee - we`re out of time. Real quick, John.

HARWOOD: I was just going to say, of all the reasons that might have existed for getting rid of Anthony Scaramucci, I think we can safely assume that it wasn`t because Donald Trump was shocked and appalled by the language he used.

MELBER: I think a voluminous public record underscores that, which means they`re just putting out a position or a statement to explain it that we all know to be false, which is itself an unfortunate little subset of all of these issues today.

John Harwood, Kurtis Lee, Olivia Nuzzi, appreciate you joining THE BEAT.

Still ahead, more on the rapid rise and the sudden fall of Anthony Scaramucci. We`re actually going to read you some of his own writings. You can compare that to his approach to governing.

Also, the president`s Obamacare obsession, will he really demand Republicans refuse to do anything else until another vote on healthcare? We have Sen. Tammy Baldwin on the show.

Also, very excited to say, Richard Lewis is a special guest today, an unscripted star, breaking down America`s current unscripted drama.

I am Ari Melber and you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: What exactly have we learned from the angry rise and sudden fall of Anthony Scaramucci? He is not a typical Washington figure, but his fall does reinforce some typical lessons.

Consider "classic hubris comes right before some dude comes crashing down." Or "we get blindsided by our own ambition and start to make very big mistakes." Or "avoid compromising your morals and integrity in exchange for status."

Each of those pearls of wisdom are from Anthony Scaramucci in his 2010 book about finding fortune without losing your soul.

With me now is Howard Fineman, Global Editorial Director for the "Huffington Post" and Stephanie Miller, host of "The Stephanie Miller Show".

Howard, we last saw you on THE BEAT during the breaking news Friday, making sense of a major staffing change and a man who saw himself as a shadow chief of staff reporting directly to the president.

I wonder, number one, your thoughts since THE BEAT viewers last saw you and, number two, your thoughts on that advice that Anthony Scaramucci once offered.

HOWARD FINEMAN, GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "HUFFINGTON POST": Well, first of all, the lesson is don`t go to lunch because something huge is going to happen. That`s number one.

Number two, I can assure you that every reporter in town is mourning over their drink tonight about the passing, so to speak, of Anthony Scaramucci because we had been or were going to be doing business with Anthony Scaramucci, we thought.

In other words, if he got in there as chief of staff, unlike Corey Lewandowski, who you were showing on the screen right there, Scaramucci would`ve been talking copiously to everybody.

Of course, his big mistake was he talked at great length to Ryan Lizza of the "New Yorker", which ended up being an excuse for his being ousted today.

MELBER: Howard, I`ve got to cut in to tell you, just while you`re speaking, we`re looking at a great shot there of Anthony Scaramucci working the phones in his sunglasses. We can put it back up.

You see his team. Yes, you see Corey in front, but in the back you have Anthony on the phone.

FINEMAN: I see. You need to circle him. The thing is, I don`t know how much you learn in the end about Scaramucci. I mean, he`s a one in a million character. You can`t make him up. We`re all going to miss him because he was great copy and he talked.

So, those are the two things that all reporters in Washington like. But what it shows about Donald Trump is that people are Kleenex to Donald Trump.

He pulls him out of the box, he uses them and throws them away. That`s what he did with Anthony Scaramucci.

Now, will he do it with Kelly? He needs Kelly right this minute. But Kelly is a four-star Marine - four-star general Marine and he exerted his authority today by dramatically taking down Scaramucci and tossing him out.

And the word out of the White House is everybody, including Ivanka and Jared and Bannon and everybody is going to report through Kelly.

We`ll know very quickly whether that`s the truth. If Kelly can actually get a hold of this thing - and we talked about this on Friday, if Kelly can get a hold of this thing, it will be, number one, miraculous and, number two, probably the best thing that`s happened so far to the Trump administration.

MELBER: Well, Stephanie, speak to that. Number one, Howard talks about loyalty and Kleenex. And the truth is you do want Kleenex to be loyal to you, but you don`t care how you treat it. And that may be the sort of the version of loyalty we`re seeing.

But number two, with Reince gone and Scaramucci gone, if the leaks continue, to Howard`s point, then it would suggest that even the general cannot tame the people there.

At a certain point, you have to say nobody`s left on the island, if we`re going to abuse this analogy. And, gosh, maybe Bannon and Kushner are the ones leaking.

STEPHANIE MILLER, HOST, "THE STEPHANIE MILLER SHOW": Well, everybody comparing this to a reality show, Ari. And I kind of feel like we`re more in Lord of the Flies time. Like, I feel like someone is going to get killed with the rock soon. I think that that`s the only place we can go.

Honestly, would anything surprise you? If hired Andrew Dice Clay, Gary Busey, it is really astounding the level of backstabbing and chaos in this - I love that he tweeted this morning. "No chaos in the White House."

MELBER: What do you think was Anthony Scaramucci`s biggest failure here?

MILLER: Well, I don`t know how many layers of rich you`re ready for about Trump being offended that he was too vulgar, which, of course, it took him a while, I think, as you said, to realize that he was offended.

MELBER: It took time for him to get offended about it.

MILLER: President P-grabber was offended by the crassness of the interview. Once again, Ari, he was offended by everybody`s reaction to it.

I`m sure he watched TV. But, seriously, is there anyone more vulgar than Donald Trump? He clearly loved the interview, found out it got a bad reaction and then stabbed him in the back as he does to everybody.

MELBER: And so, Howard, what are we going to see next from people like Anthony Scaramucci and Reince Priebus because one of the fascinating things is that these former Trump aides - we showed Lewandowski there - many of them have remained at least publicly loyal even after intense defenestration?

HOWARD: If I can even offer another metaphor here after Kleenex and throwing people out the window, I think that they don`t escape the gravitational pull of Donald Trump.

In other words, they`ll remain in orbit around him as Lewandowski has done. They`ll probably end up on TV somewhere. A lot of these people will either get a big interview on TV, a confessional interview in exchange for a contract on one outlet or another. They`ll be part of the commentary universe around Trump.

But more seriously, there are a couple of things here. First of all, we`re at a stage, an odd stage in American public life, where we`re turning to generals for order.

You have McMaster as the national security advisor. You have Mattis as the newly retired general who took over the Pentagon, even though the rules beforehand would`ve barred that because he`d only retired a couple of years earlier. And now you have Kelly as chief of staff.

There have been generals in that role before. There was Colin Powell in that role.

But the fact that it`s kind of the American public life turning to generals, even some Democrats and liberals expressing relief that the generals are somehow maybe in charge, I think is a sad commentary on where we are as a government and as a democracy, and we should be careful before we glorify generals too much because I`m afraid that`s where we`re heading right now.

MELBER: Well, you raise an intriguing point, which is that the complete total loss of faith in many other institutions, how does the Congress work, how do these other officials represent, and that`s clearly bipartisan, has left people looking for the few heroes left and they may be heroes in what they do, but whether they should have total civilian control of everything is certainly not how we`ve traditionally done.

Howard Fineman and Stephanie Miller, thank you. I know you`re going to come back to join us a little later in the hour.

Now, some big policy news. President Trump versus President Putin today. Sanctions now from Moscow. The defiant leader vowing to punish the US in his back.

Also, later in the show, legendary comedian Richard Lewis, he knows how to ad lib on "Curb Your Enthusiasm", what does he think of all of the ad lib- ing coming out of the White House. He`s here live.

Keep it locked on THE BEAT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mick Mulvaney says the White House doesn`t want any votes in the Senate until they`ve voted on healthcare. Is this the White House position that they will accept the Senate voting on non-healthcare things over the next few weeks and months?

SANDERS: We`re continuing to push forward, hopefully, with the repeal and replacement Obamacare. We`ve never been shy about that. We`re going to continue to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The White House pushing Obamacare. With me now Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Democrat from Wisconsin, and, of course, a member of the Health, Education and Labor Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining. You are still in session for the next two weeks. Your response to the White House saying, they need more Obamacare votes.

SEN. TAMMY BALDWIN (D), WISCONSIN: If the new team that Donald Trump is assembling was smart, they would really press him to switch gears. It is time to put aside these efforts to sabotage, to destroy and to repeal and replace, and instead focus on where we can find some common ground.

And I truly believe that there is common ground to be found if Republicans work across the aisle with Democrats.

If you think about it, the big issues are costs. And whether that is in the form of our working together to make these CSR payments that would stabilize the insurance marketplace or work on tackling the spiking cost of prescription drugs, there`s a lot of common ground out there.

And that`s what the president`s new team should be advising him to do.

MELBER: There may be common ground somewhere, but we`re hearing from the White House, they are looking at ways to further undermine Obamacare. Do they have that power? Can you stop them?

BALDWIN: Certainly, there is a lot of damage that the president can do and, frankly, already has done. But there was a powerful moment last week - actually several powerful moments, whether it was John McCain`s speech when he rejoined us on the floor and urged us to restore sensible order to the Senate or that vote when so many Americans took a deep breath of relief because they were so worried about their loved ones with pre-existing conditions or worried about people on Medicaid and nursing homes, et cetera.

Let us use that moment to work together rather than the president continuing to insist upon this sort of sabotage and destruction strategy. His new team ought to be pressing him to change course.

MELBER: So, you keep mentioning the new team ought to do that. It doesn`t look like they are doing that. So, what does that tell you? And do you think this is a net gain or loss, the recent staffing changes?

BALDWIN: I believe it is his new Chief of Staff`s first day on the job. I think there`s an opportunity here to really weigh in and say, time to stop destroying, stop sabotaging people`s health care and instead take a new path. I mean, Trump seems to be completely obsessed with scoring a win and maybe they can persuade him that the real win would be one for the American people if they work together.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Senator Tammy Baldwin, appreciate your views on health care and everything else today.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

MELBER: Now, we touched on something a little earlier. Kellyanne Conway saying President Trump will make a decision this week about whether to cut off the subsidies that insurance companies use under ObamaCare. That`s part of how people get health care under the current system that payments keep what are called exchanges afloat, people saying withholding them could lead the exchanges to potentially unraveling, depending on the state. With me for more is a local view, the former Mayor of Los Angeles, and a current candidate for Governor, Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa. Thanks for being here first of all.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, FORMER LOS ANGELES MAYOR: It`s good to be here with you.

MELBER: Do you think it is fair for the administration to look at undermining that money because that is something that they have the power to do, or do you think it`s over a line?

VILLARAIGOSA: It`s way over a line. When - to undermine the exchange in the way that they could, as Tammy Baldwin said, is unacceptable. Look, everybody agrees that we can fix ObamaCare. Let`s do that. He obviously doesn`t have the votes to replace or repeal. We would bump off, what, 22 million people off of health care, in California alone somewhere between 2 million and 2.5 million. Let`s work together on a bipartisan basis or he can continue with what he`s doing. They`ve just made a change with the White House Communications Director. They`re changing the chairs on the deck of a sinking ship. They had a right to ship by trying to go more to the middle and not so far to the right because if they do that on health care, on the environment, on immigration, they`re frankly not going to be successful because most people want to fix the immigration system. They believe in climate change.

MELBER: Let me ask you this. You`re a Democrat running statewide in a big blue state. In a sentence, what is the Democratic message of an alternative to Trump?

VILLARAIGOSA: The economy, the economy, the economy. We`ve got to get back to the notion that this economy isn`t working for too many people. We`ve got to move people into the middle class by educating and training them. That`s my minute.

MELBER: Donald Trump ran on helping working people. Do you think he`s forgotten about them or he`s going to get to them later? Or what do you think of his legislative accomplishments thus far in that area?

VILLARAIGOSA: I think he cynically talked about appealing to working people, and yet he`s proposing a tax system that would tax them, and not tax the people who can afford it. I think the fact of the matter is, most of what he said, according to political fact, I think it was 75 percent, I`ve heard you on TV speak to that. It was either a lie or a misrepresentation of fact. You know, most of what he`s proposed was a snake oil to a group of people that felt demoralized, and as if you know, the government, both parties, aren`t really fighting for them. So I think my party, speaking of that, has got to talk about the economy again.

MELBER: Right.

VILLARAIGOSA: It`s really the basics. People feel like too many Democrats and Republicans fly over the homes of people we`ve left behind. Never been in their living room and don`t understand what they`re going through every single day.

MELBER: Former Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, thanks for being here. We`ll keep an eye on your race.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

All right, up next. Remember when Donald Trump was talking about how Putin was so strong? Well, we`re seeing some of that strength being deployed against the Trump administration. And as promised, Richard Lewis, live on THE BEAT, the legendary comedian here to talk comedy, and much more, that`s ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I`m not a friend of Putin. I don`t know Putin. I`ve never met Putin. I respect Putin. He`s a strong leader, I can tell you that, unlike what we have. We have a pathetic leader. Pathetic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Donald Trump praising the putative strength of Vladimir Putin. That was on the campaign trail last year. Now that strength is being used against, guess who, against Donald Trump. Putin ordering the U.S. cut its embassy staff in Moscow by 755 people and discussing "other possible measures that could be used to counterbalance these anti-Russia sanctions that Congress just passed." The White House says the President will sign the sanctions bill. He has not weighed in on these latest moves. Steve Clemons is the perfect guest to help us understand. First of all, what are the other possible measures Putin could use?

STEVE CLEMONT THE ATLANTIC EDITOR AT LARGE: Big range, what they`ve already done is harassed our diplomats. But for now, they`re expelling them but they actually abused diplomats. They can create all sorts of visa issues. But the biggest thing Putin can do is mess with our allies. He has threatened allies in Europe over energy and gas exports from Russia. He basically harassed our planes you know, flying over the Baltics, harassed soldiers. He was bombing our allies in Syria the first day that the Russians took military action inside Syria. He - I was with John McCain that day. He was bombing the people that we were arming and supporting inside Syria. There are all sorts of pressure points that Vladimir Putin can hit and push to frustrate and antagonize the United States.

MELBER: We`re here at the end of a work day in Washington. These sanction responses have been issued. How unusual is it that the United States has nothing to say about them?

CLEMONS: It`s unbelievable and it`s unconscionable, really because what you`ve done is to a certain degree Vladimir Putin`s actions of expelling or saying we`re going to reduce the force by 755 of our diplomats and technical people there, it`s returning clarity to a relationship that`s troubled and complicated and that`s probably where it should be. But the fact is, you know, Michael Flynn told the Russians, don`t worry, we`re going to take care of these sanctions issues and get out. And so, they thought they were on a honeymoon with Donald Trump. Well, it`s not a honeymoon with Donald Trump, it`s not a honeymoon with Donald Trump franchise or with the U.S. government. There are a lot to vote problems there.

MELBER: Well, and you can cut right to the heart of it. You know, we can`t draw that direct line, but we sure can put those two dots really close together. Sally Yates testified under loath there was underlying conduct from Flynn that might be illegal. You have this game over to Sessions, right?

CLEMONS: Illegal or not, they thought, blink and nod, whatever it was, they thought they were going to have a period where the - whether it was the Crimea related sanctions, whether it was other things that they wanted, that they were going to be moving into what Russia most wanted. And it`s been in the papers (INAUDIBLE) respect. We have a U.S.-China relationship, a strategic and economic dialogue. It`s a dance we do, a lot of formality - and they`ve been wanting that, and Barack Obama would never give it to them. They thought Trump was going to give it to them. That didn`t happen.

MELBER: And then Trump tells Russia, hey, I`ve got Comey out of the way, that`s going to help.

CLEMONS: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

CLEMONS: And you can`t deal with Congress that way. And Congress has been as suspicious as everyone else has been about the Russia hugging the Donald Trump has been doing. It hasn`t made sense on any level. And that`s Congress is saying, we don`t quite trust you, Mr. President, on this issue. And that`s -

MELBER: Fascinating and concerning. Steve Clemons, as always, thank you for bringing clarity to the table.

Straight ahead with Priebus out, is President Trump on a collision course with actually the entire Republican party, and as promised the first Confessional Comedian Richard Lewis in the house. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Many of today`s stand-up comics are known for getting very personal, but before this was cool, Richard Lewis was the original Confessional Comedian with an unvarnished raw style that became such a character, he basically ended up playing himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD LEWIS, CONFESSIONAL COMEDIAN: The plan is a plan, a confirmation is a guarantee you`re going to show up.

LARRY DAVID, COMEDIAN: OK. Sunday, same time, same place.

LEWIS: Well, I`ll need a confirmation.

DAVID: You`re not getting a confirmation!

LEWIS: I`ve got to have a confirmation.

DAVID: This is a confirmation right now!

LEWIS: This is like a plan.

DAVID: You`re like some kind of government bureaucracy. You`ve got the plan, you`ve got the confirmation, you`ve got a subcommittee, I got to go through all the levels.

LEWIS: Well, I`m not the Kremlin. I`m just a human being who needs to be assured that if I`m going to take a shower and get my clothes on and drives to a (BLEEP) restaurant, you`re going to show up.

DAVID: I`m assuring you right now, there`s no confirmation.

LEWIS: Fine. Show up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD LEWIS, CONFESSIONAL COMEDIAN: Jesus, that Larry -

MELBER: Incredible.

LEWIS: He`s a genius, but with a mental case.

MELBER: Incredible. The show, I cannot finish the script thing, the show like Richard stand up, is unscripted.

LEWIS: You`re a genius, you don`t have to read from that crap.

MELBER: An ad-libbed. I`ve got one more to show you. Unscripted moments, great for comedy, not as great for real-life governing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.

We`ve signed more bills, and I`m talking about through the legislature, than any President ever.

I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.

A scout is trustworthy, loyal, we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you. So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously.

Shut up. Shut up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Richard Lewis.

LEWIS: I wasn`t even - I was in the Jewish scouts, and I had all women walk me across the street and I had to quit.

MELBER: Now, you - are you so big time, are you going to do the sunglasses -

LEWIS: By the way, I just got - there was some new tweets. So I don`t know what to talk about. What a - you know - you know what, here`s - I`ve got to tell you right now. I`ll take all these off. I didn`t want anyone from the administration to recognize me. They might fire me, morons.

MELBER: I`ve never seen that -

LEWIS: You`re not morons. This is what I want to tell you, seriously.

MELBER: Tell me.

LEWIS: You know what bothers me? And honestly - I need an answer from you. You`re so brilliant and congrats on the show and -

MELBER: Thank you.

LEWIS: - it would have been Kerouac`s favorite show.

MELBER: Kerouac?

LEWIS: Jack Kerouac, hello, do some reading.

MELBER: What`s his twitter handle?

LEWIS: I`m dead. That`s his twitter handle. Listen, this - I can`t take this base business anymore. He`ll do anything, he`ll tweet North Korea - I`ll find the code. I put it - I think it`s in Melania`s purse. Whatever he writes - I mean, he doesn`t know anything. The whole - he`s way out of his - he should just be - it`s a mistake that this happened.

MELBER: You think it`s a mistake?

LEWIS: Mistake? He`s alienating the world, he`s alienating the country. And the people that vote - let me get back to the base. I`ve got to ask you this question. Let`s say there`s 38 percent of the people that no matter what he says, no matter how rude, no matter how crude, I am convinced that half the percentage of that 38 percent who they say is his base and he`s just playing to them, are decent Americans. It doesn`t matter the religion or pro-choice or not pro-choice, they`re just good people. But they were riddled with fear, they didn`t have enough food, they were sick of Congress. You know how low the ratings were. And I just pray to God that they can see what this guy is doing to the Presidency. Now, forget him. The Presidency, and to what he`s doing to all our people all over the world.

MELBER: Well, to put that way, it`s interesting -

LEWIS: No, but they never talk about the decent part of the 38 percent.

MELBER: Right. You`re saying a lot of Trump - you`re saying a lot of Trump supporters are wonderful decent people, right?

LEWIS: Of course they are.

MELBER: We need that in our civic discourse. You`re also saying, though, that you think he conned them, that he played a character.

LEWIS: He`s not even giving them what he promised. They still don`t have food. They`re still going to lose their health insurance. They`re still not going to - it`s a bit con. No, I mean, listen, everything`s been listed. There`s arrows, there`s pointers, it`s like Jackie Mason, why should I do this? He does this, he`s not going to do this, he did this, he promised this, he fired him - the whole thing is a joke. It`s a big comic book. And I just feel badly for the - I can`t stand this base business. Like he could do anything he wants as long as he has this 38 percent. Well, they have to vote. This is - this America. You know, as Lou Reed said, the statute of bigotry, that`s what he`s turning this country into. And this is -and this not our country.

MELBER: Let me ask you this. On curb, Larry and you are not the most likable characters in the history of television.

LEWIS: Never have been, we`ve always fought.

MELBER: How much does it matter whether a character is likable because Donald Trump has a lot of detractors, but seems to also have a lot of followers and viewers?

LEWIS: First of all, Larry David has a persona, OK? He might get someone upset at a bagel - at a deli. There`s not enough - this is not real salmon, this is frozen. That`s a little different than, you know, meeting, you know, going overseas and meeting 20 leaders of countries, and, you know, and bringing a circus act with him. This is an organ grinder that I hired and I`m bringing him on The Voice. I mean, he does thinks - he`s ruining our reputation. This is America. He is just one guy. He`s the President and he`s - and again, forget the base, I made my point clear. And I think the key to all of this is voting. There`s going to be more Hispanics, more Blacks -

MELBER: Richard, let make sure I understand -

LEWIS: We have to vote -

MELBER: Let me ask you. Are you -

LEWIS: - these kind of people out of office.

MELBER: Are you saying that the key to electoral politics is voting?

LEWIS: It`s total voting.

MELBER: This is a - you`re taking a bold position.

LEWIS: Why is that so bold?

MELBER: I`m kidding you.

LEWIS: How dare you mock me in front of a relative who just passed way? I met your brother. If he continues to ask me - and then you sent me a driver? I loved the guy. I didn`t understand what he was saying.

MELBER: Well, you`re taking the -

LEWIS: He had no idea where Universal was and then pulled a globe out on the sheet - that`s Italy, you moron.

MELBER: Let me ask you a Larry David question as well while you`re here

LEWIS: I love that. We`re born the same hospital.

MELBER: We talk about born, so we could put this up on the screen. There are basically these new reports that Larry David and Bernie Sanders actually are apparently distant relatives. Sanders, quote, a third cousin or something. Does that surprise you?

LEWIS: No. I can`t tell you. I had dinner with Larry last night, and I said, I just saw this thing, what the hell is this? He says I can`t tell you. He wouldn`t tell me.

MELBER: What do you mean he wouldn`t tell you?

LEWIS: He wouldn`t tell me. He says you have to wait and watch the show. I said where is it on, national DNA-graphic? What is it on, what station? He won`t tell - he wouldn`t tell me.

MELBER: Anything you want to plug before we let you go?

LEWIS: No. Curb starts in October and then I start my tracks and my fears tour in October through January in all the big cities.

MELBER: You`re a very funny man. You are an original and you honor us -

LEWIS: I`m very proud of you. You`re a great, great edition to MSNBC. Congratulations.

MELBER: I thank you for that.

LEWIS: And tell your brother, if he continues to get to bug me about going to a deli, I`m going to snap.

MELBER: It`s great. My brother came today because he wanted to meet Richard Lewis like we all did.

LEWIS: Well, it was nice. But why all these selfies and autographs and then I had to sign a thing for one of his charities. I couldn`t take it.

MELBER: I think some of this may be untrue. I`m not sure.

LEWIS: It`s mostly untrue.

MELBER: Richard Lewis, thank you for being here. President Trump and the Republican Party still complicated but what comes next? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: So we had two Republicans that went against us which is very sad. I think it`s very, very sad for them.

Well, I`m sitting, waiting for that bill to come to my desk. I hope that they do it. They`ve been promising it for years. They`ve been promising it ever since ObamaCare, which has failed.

This is really is the group. What a great group of people and they`re not even doing it for the party, they`re doing it for this country because we suffered with ObamaCare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You notice the one thing each of those quotes had in common? Every time Republicans were they, not we which is different than most Republican Presidents in how they describe their arguably fellow Republicans. Now think about that with the backdrop of all of this news today. Priebus out, that was one of the last links to the Republican establishment. John Kelly in, highly respected, as we`ve covered but not the card-carrying Republican any of us know about. Annie Linskey is here to help us unpack. She is Chief National Correspondent with the Boston Globe and back with me, Stephanie Miller, Host of the radio talk show, the Stephanie Miller Show. Annie, you look at this, is it all a reminder that Donald Trump was not a Republican for most of his life?

ANNIE LINSLEY, THE BOSTON GLOBE CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think with Donald Trump you have somebody who`s a President, who - he has more of a cultivate personality. I mean, it really is the party of Trump more than a Republican Party or the Democrats that he peeled off to help him win this election. But I would remind your viewers Ari, that what Donald Trump did do is he pack his cabinet full of Republicans. So while he himself might have been on literally every side of every issue, which is his hallmark, he does have people running his government and running the federal government who are a sort of true blue - I shouldn`t say true blue, but certainly, die in the world of Republicans.

MELBER: And that`s important because the policy goes on at the agencies with or without the show in the White House. Stephanie, Donald Trump has really been on this problem for a while and sometimes used it politically to his advantage because the Republican Party brand was not very popular during key periods when he was running but he also distanced himself all the time. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you joining the reform party?

TRUMP: Well, for one thing, I really believe the Republicans are just too crazy right and then just - what`s going on is just nuts.

I would like people that are making hundreds of millions of dollars year pay some tax because right now they`re paying very little tax that I think is outrageous. I want to lower taxes for the middle class.

Everybody has to be covered. This is an un-republican thing for me to say. I am going to take care of everybody. I don`t care if cost me votes or not. Everybody is going to be taken care of much better than they are taken care of now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: No one knows exactly what he believes but it is true that he might be returning to his natural state which is an un-republican state.

STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: That was several personalities ago. I might have voted for that guy, Ari, but - I mean, I don`t think he believes anything. I honestly don`t. I mean, I think he believes in Donald Trump and I think we just saw how great the art of the deal last week, that was spectacular.

MELBER: So, Annie, with that in mind then, does that ever matter on the Hill? Or is there still, as you say, enough of the cult to get him over the line?

LINSKEY: I mean, sure. I think it does matter on the Hill. I mean, you are seeing the first major piece of legislation to come out of this Congress is a Russia sanctions bill that the President opposed. And you know, he see Congress perhaps acting a little bit more like a co-equal branch of government which is how it was intended to be. I mean, it was really sort of a stunning to see that happen. The other thing I would add though, Ari, is that you know, I was out in Ohio recently, and you know, talking to Republicans who believe him and trust him more than the Republican Party, so he`s bringing Republicans with him to this sort of cult of Donald Trump and this cult of the personality that he has been able to wrap on so much policy into.

MELBER: Well, as they say, Annie and Stephanie, after the party is the Trump cult of personality and after that comes the after party. It`s a famous, famous saying in politics. Annie Linskey, Stephanie Miller, I leave you on that note. I won`t force you to respond to that one. That does do it for me. I will see you all right back here tomorrow night if you tune in. I hope you will, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Also, you could check us out on Facebook and Twitter @thebeatwithari or all of you can always get me on regular old e-mail, ari@msnbc.com. I do read them. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Mooch, vamoose, let`s play HARDBALL.

END

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END