Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: August 8, 2017 Guest: David Rothkopf, Barry McCaffrey, Dale Beran, Howard Fineman, Ben Schreckinger
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": - all announced their retirement in either late spring or early summer, none after July. So, if history is a guide, the makeup of the Supreme Court isn`t going to be changing for the next term.
That`s all for tonight. THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now. Good evening, Ari. Do I steal the - do I tell people the secret you`re in Washington today?
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Tell them the secret, Chuck.
TODD: There you go. Welcome to D.C., brother.
MELBER: Not breaking, but it`s true. Thank you. Great to be here.
We do have some other breaking news coming into our newsroom. This new report that President Trump relayed private communications to Special Counsel Bob Mueller.
Now, this is an unusual one. We`re going to break it down for you right now. The report is that Trump has relayed private messages with Mueller through his lawyer, and that part is not even in dispute. A lawyer for Trump confirming aspects of the communication to "USA Today" within the last hour.
Trump attorney John Dowd describing it as follows. The president appreciates what Bob Mueller is doing. He asked me to share that with him and that`s what I`ve done. Also, characterizing the messages as one of appreciation and greetings, adding the president has sent messages back and forth. Dowd declined to elaborate further, which is totally within his rights as a lawyer for the president.
But consider what even these general descriptions suggests, what we now know at this hour that we did not know, say, two hours ago.
On the one hand, Donald Trump has called the entire Russia inquiry a hoax and a witch hunt. Well, how can he appreciate a witch hunt. None of this adds up because the stories quite plainly contradict each other.
Trump`s public story to his base is that Mueller is leading a witch hunt, a political pursuit of the president based on what he stands for. But now we learn, he is apparently privately telling Mueller something else, that Mueller is doing something worthy of appreciation and, yes, greetings.
All of this occurring amidst new reports of alleged Russian efforts to interfere not only in US campaigns, which we all know about, but also at this hour in US governing. This time, they`re not backing a Republican, they`re attacking one.
Here is a new chart that shows the content currently being pushed by accounts allegedly linked to bots and trolls that are linked to Russia.
On Monday, a surge in - and you see it right there - resign, Paul Ryan. And this is data from the Alliance for Securing Democracy that was explored in a new piece in Newsweek.
Here at THE BEAT, we asked Speaker Ryan`s office for a response to all this. They have no comment yet.
With me now to unpack all of these stories is Shannon Pettypiece, White House correspondent for "Bloomberg News; Julia Edwards Ainsley, outgoing justice correspondent for Reuters, soon to be joining "NBC News"; Joe Conason, an editor with "The National Memo"; and David Rothkopf, "Washington Post" columnist and a former Clinton official and foreign policy expert.
I could go anywhere, but I`m going to go to you on the law, Julia. These kind communications are perfectly legal. They`re perfectly ethical. And they are at the same time totally weird.
JULIA EDWARDS AINSLEY, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, "REUTERS": You`re right. I mean, I won`t disagree with you there. There`s obviously a difference in what`s being said publicly and privately.
But that`s also the way business is often done, and we have a business leader as our present where it could be that he wants to privately kind of grease the wheels, warm a relationship for someone who he knows is carrying his fate in his hands, while publicly condemning the idea (inaudible 3:23).
And also what`s normal in investigations is for lawyers from different sides to talk to each other. For someone like his attorney Dowd to be saying this about Mueller is not unusual.
MELBER: This is not lawyer to lawyer. That`s cooperation. This is the president of the United States speaking to someone who also, we should remember, is a DOJ employee. He has some protections, Shannon, but he is not just any old lawyer on the other side of the table, and this is what Donald Trump in May was saying about this entire inquiry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: How do you square that?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": What I have seen is his legal team, Dowd, a very experienced lawyer who understands how these investigations work, putting a public faith that I respect Mueller, I respect what he is doing, the legal team publicly trying to take down the temperature on all these attacks and trying to respect this investigation, like good lawyers do.
And then, the surrogates for the president, his sort of kitchen cabinet, his outside advisors and the president himself on Twitter doing the Mueller attacks and behind-the-scenes going after these conflicts, trying to raise questions, chip away at Mueller`s credibility.
There is the sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act going on here with the legal team trying to play good cop and Trump surrogates and his Twitter persona playing bad cop.
MELBER: So, Joe, Shannon says it`s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I`m no English major, but I believe that was the same person?
JOE CONASON, EDITOR, "THE NATIONAL MEMO": Yes. And that person was insane. I mean, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were crazy. And this is pretty crazy behavior too, except that you see Trump do this over and over again.
He did this with Preet Bharara, pretty much the same thing, the kind of sucking up privately and then you fire. And Comey as well. That`s what all these Comey notes are about, these attempts by Trump to ingratiate himself with Comey when he was the FBI director investigating Trump and Trump`s associates.
So, this is not anything new for Trump. What`s amusing about it is that Trump seems to somehow think this will work, that this will have some effect on his fortunes with Mr. Mueller and I think that`s very doubtful.
MELBER: You mentioned Preet Bharara.
David Rothkopf, take a listen to Preet Bharara, the former federal prosecutor with jurisdiction at one time over Trump Tower, talking about what he viewed as these - what he thought at the time were such inappropriate overtures that he consulted the Justice Department. He called Jeff Sessions` chief of staff and, ultimately, on some of them, they declined to return the president`s phone call.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PREET BHARARA, FORMER UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: He called me in December ostensibly just to shoot the breeze and ask me how I was doing and want to make sure I was OK.
It appeared to be that he was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And, David, here was Jim Comey testifying about all this again where there was another law enforcement official, of course, under direct oversight of the president feeling that there were private communications that made him uncomfortable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN HEINRICH (D), NEW MEXICO: How unusual is it to have a one-on-one dinner with the president? Did that strike you as odd?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Yes. So much so that I assumed there would be others that he couldn`t possibly be having dinner with me alone.
The dinner was an effort to build a relationship. In fact, he asked specifically of loyalty in the context of asking me to stay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID ROTHKOPF, "THE WASHINGTON POST" COLUMNIST: Well, look, this is what you get with a scrupulous hypocritical person. I mean, Trump does this all the time. He tells people what he thinks they want to hear in order to get what he wants out of them.
There is another perfectly good example of this with the president of Mexico where he says one thing about the wall and I`m going to get those Mexicans to pay and then he gets to the phone with the Mexican president and he says, you know that wall, it`s really not that important, just don`t beat me up on it, OK?
He thinks his personality is so powerful that he can hypnotize anybody into doing exactly what he wants them to do. He`s had a pretty lousy track record of this with leaders in the justice community and I think it`s going to continue not to work for him.
I don`t think Bob Mueller is going to look deeply into the eyes of Donald Trump and fall deeply in love.
MELBER: I love a good Putin reference as much as anyone else, Shannon. This does seem to raise a fundamental question about this White House`s approach to this investigation in the long haul?
You were saying the lawyers wanted to tamp things down and that may be a good legal strategy, but certainly they want to encourage Donald Trump not to leave any potential confusion about his dealings with Mueller when they are part of the investigation.
And we`re not presupposing where it lands, but part of the investigation is reviewing those other contacts he had with other DOJ officials.
PETTYPIECE: And I think it`s still to be determined how much control the president`s legal team is going to have over him.
Because when we look back to this Donald Trump Jr. statement, which was written on the plane, which his legal team appears not to have had information on or at least know the extent of their client`s involvement in writing that statement, when you hear his legal team wanting to respect Mueller and his investigation and the president going on Twitter and calling it a witch hunt, it`s still to be determined how much control they have or anybody or John Kelly or whoever, how much control they have over this president and whether they can rein in some of the behavior that could be damaging to him in the long run, even from a legal perspective, not even politically.
MELBER: Right. I mean, Julia, appreciation is a word that can do a lot of different work, but it certainly - I would put in the ballpark of positive or legitimate, which makes it different than witch hunt and I want to play for you what a lot of we`ve seen from Newt Gingrich and other Trump allies on the attack, which is the idea that maybe there is something illegitimate about the investigation or its location right here where we are today in Washington.
I was interviewing Alan Dershowitz about this on THE BEAT last night and I posed a simple question if, as he was saying, Washington so favorable to Democrats, why was it part of the place where the Democratic presidency of Bill Clinton also faced a grand jury.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Does any of this apply to the Ken Starr example?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: I don`t understand your question. What does it -?
MELBER: Well, Ken Starr, obviously, was pursuing a Democratic president, but in Washington.
DERSHOWITZ: Right. Of course, because he was pursuing him in Washington, he was also pursuing him in Virginia. There were grand juries - if I`m not mistaken, this is a long time ago - I don`t understand what that has to do with anything.
We`re talking now about the possible effect of moving the grand jury from Virginia to the District of Columbia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Julia, is there anything legally, objectively suspect about this being a Washington grand jury?
AINSLEY: Not legally. No, of course, we`ll see this as a talking point from people who are trying to delegitimize this investigation.
But I have spoken to people who have worked in this space before and they say that DC really makes sense as a place to convene this grand jury because they`re talking subpoenaing people who may have submitted incorrect information on their background checks.
Those background checks are vetted by the FBI, which is based in Washington DC. So, that makes this the venue that you would then pursue those charges.
MELBER: And that makes it part again of the underlying substantive issues.
Joe Conason, I want to put another headline up that hasn`t gotten enough attention, but it is interesting as we digest these new reports of Trump`s outreach to Mueller through his lawyers.
This was the US attorney for DC, that would be the top federal prosecutor, personally meeting with Trump, according to "The Hill", before her selection - before the selection, I should say, of Jessie Liu.
Put this all together for us about where this goes from here and can the president, as we started this segment, talking about Jekyll and Hyde, as Shannon was putting, can the president square this message to his base what law enforcement experts say are concerning contacts and some effort to also tell these people privately they`re doing a great job?
CONASON: Well, Ari, in the Trump base, I think there`s a proclivity to excuse anything the president does. I mean, in the real hard-core of the Trump base, all this is seen as fair play and he can pretty much do or say anything and it`s just seen as part of his personality and he`s the sort of wildcard and he gets away with it for many of those people.
On the other hand, his numbers, more broadly, among independents, among the broader electorate, continue to decline pretty steadily. And I think this is part of it. I think people see somebody cutting corners, trying to shave the odds, trying to compromise the justice system in ways that could really lead to his downfall.
I mean, you know and I do too that the obstruction case is being built and this is all part of the context of that case.
MELBER: Right. And again, I always say we don`t presuppose where the investigation goes. We don`t know. But history shows the last two times you had a president under review in the Nixon and the Clinton example, obstruction was part of what the House ultimately looked at. So, it`s certainly interesting.
David, I want you to stay with us. I want to thank everyone else - Shannon, Julia and Joe, a real expert all-star panel here in the district, a perfectly non-suspicious place to talk about these issues.
Coming up, a crisis that tweets probably won`t solve. The president`s options for North Korea, another big story today, and what a top admiral is saying he would do if ordered to consider a nuclear strike.
Also, new demands to investigate what some are calling blurred lines between Trump`s presidential travel and promotion of Trump, Inc.
Also, we have a special look later in the hour about how Trump says he won the Internet and how social media might be harnessed by the resistance ahead.
I`m Ari Melber and you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I could actually run my business. I could actually run my business and run government at the same time.
As a president, I could run the Trump organization - great, great company - and I could run the country. I`ll do a very good job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Legally, that`s true. President-elect Trump there was responding to possible business conflicts in the transition period before he took office.
The question is how. Today, President Trump is on day four of his 17-day New Jersey vacation at his own corporate golf resort. And in 200 days as president, get this, he has now spent 63 of them at Trump properties, 48 days at the golf courses.
Democrats on the House Oversight Committee say an investigation is needed. In a new statement, "the American people deserve to know how their tax dollars are spent, including the amount of federal funds that are being provided, essentially funneled to these private businesses owned by the president."
And they list some examples. Pentagon renting space from Trump Tower, a $9000 bill for Eric Trump`s hotel promotion trip to Uruguay, another $15,000 taxpayer dollars spent on just 19 rooms at a Trump Hotel in Canada. And then, of course, Mar-A-Lago, and reports that taxpayers footed a $3 million bill for visits there.
I`m joined by Richard Taylor, former White House ethics lawyer for Bush 43. When you look at this letter and this call for an investigation and those figures, do you see something that is unseemly, that is potentially a waste of taxpayer dollars or do you see something, sir, that is actually unconstitutional?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I see clearly a waste of taxpayer dollars in supporting the security operations, not just for the president, but for family members who are engaged in Trump family businesses.
And that should not happen. That`s not what taxpayers pay their taxes for, to support the Trump organization`s business enterprise.
Unconstitutional, probably not, but there are serious constitutional issues because a foreign government money is coming into the Trump organization and we know that it is through the hotel rooms and the hotel ballrooms and the financing for Trump properties.
MELBER: So, I just want to be clear, Richard -
PAINTER: That`s constitutionally impermissible.
MELBER: Right. And so, let`s get to that because you`re raising such another important point. But I want to be clear, I mean, you are known as something of a critic of the Trump administration, although I know you see it, obviously, as a Republican from a non-partisan place.
But you`re saying that what is going on with money coming from the taxpayers of the United States and into Trump corporations itself, that flow is probably not unconstitutional, but you`re pointing to - and we`ll put it up on the screen - a part of the Constitution about bribery that you say could be, the money that would come from foreign governments into those same Trump properties, the emolument office title or any kind whatever from any king, prince, foreign state. That`s the kind of thing he can`t accept. Explain what you mean by that part two.
PAINTER: Well, that clause is there to prevent anything that could even come close to bribery. It doesn`t have to actually be criminal bribery to violate the emoluments clause and no person holding a position of trust in the United States government can make profits off dealings with foreign governments or entities controlled by foreign governments, such as foreign banks controlled by foreign governments or sovereign wealth funds.
And there are large loans to the Trump organization from the Bank of China, I believe, and there may very well be others from foreign governments. We just don`t know. The president won`t disclose those facts. And he gets very nervous when another Bob Mueller gets anywhere near the financing operations of the Trump organization, even though Bob Mueller is just looking at Russia.
We need to know what`s going on there because the founders contemplated this problem and made it very, very clear that people holding positions of trust in the United States government cannot be making profits of dealings with foreign governments. Clearly, unconstitutional.
And back to the waste of taxpayer money, not unconstitutional, but I am a partisan Republican. I think it`s going to destroy the Republican Party to have this type of waste of taxpayer money. We pay the taxes, we`re tired of our taxes, and we`re not paying taxes to support the Trump family. That`s not appropriate.
MELBER: When he says this is a working vacation, do you think he means doing work as president or working on behalf of promoting the Trump organization?
PAINTER: Well, I think he`s probably mostly promoting the Trump organization, but I think he needs a vacation. He definitely needs a vacation from Twitter and he doesn`t appear to be taking enough of a vacation from Twitter.
He needs to calm down and think about what the priorities are here for this administration and focus on policy. Not on the Russia investigation. There`s a ray of hope here, in that his lawyers have reached out to Bob Mueller maybe in a conciliatory tone, maybe we can get back to a situation where the president is focusing on policy, Bob Mueller does his job, and the White House does what we did in the Bush administration -
PAINTER: We just would say no comments on investigations.
MELBER: We`re out of time. But you just said something so interesting, I`ve got to ask you. In the earlier part of the show, we were talking about the fact that the president does have a history of what some have viewed as inappropriate contact with law enforcement.
You are saying there might be something positive in the Mueller story today. What do you mean?
PAINTER: Well, if his lawyers are reaching out to Mueller, trying to at least be somewhat conciliatory to Bob Mueller, I don`t know what the details are there, but if the president`s legal team wants to try and tamp things down a bit, and I hope they can encourage their client to stop talking about the investigation.
That`s what every other criminal defense lawyer says to their client. Don`t talk about it.
MELBER: Richard Painter, I always know you to be fair. We rely on your judgment, your expertise and now we`ll apply some of your self-help and try to all take a Twitter vacation now and then.
PAINTER: Thank you.
MELBER: Thank you, sir. Ahead we are living in an Internet world and we have an Internet president. Social media weaponized in the age of Trump
And also, a report this hour on the "fire and fury." President Trump threatening North Korea or warning them this could be his first true crisis as president. We have a lot of reaction coming in.
MELBER: The other big story. President Trump just using some unusual rhetoric in his response to North Korea today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.
He has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, that`s a new statement Trump officials have yet to define the "fire and fury." Trump responding, of course, to these intelligence reports today. And North Korea is now capable of putting a nuclear warhead inside a ballistic missile.
Now, while many are responding to the president`s unusual word choice, the real issue here as always is policy. Does the president have a foreign policy plan for this?
Meanwhile, the new cover of "The Economist" magazine looks at the unthinkable, showing Trump and Kim Jong-un staring each other down inside that ominous mushroom cloud.
Joining me now for expert analysis, retired General Barry McCaffrey, former national security council member and, back with me, David Rothkopf, a " Washington Post" columnist and foreign policy expert.
General, what does it mean to threaten North Korea with fire and fury?
BARRY MCCAFFREY, RETIRED GENERAL AND FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Well, at face value, it sounds like he`s threatening a nuclear attack on North Korea, which is unprecedented.
Somebody earlier said it sounds like Kim Jong-un`s kind of threats, which tend toward the comical. We`ve heard them for so many years.
But basic rule of diplomacy is you don`t threaten people in public. If you do threaten them, you - by the way, you have to say something that you mean to follow through on. And it`s a thoroughly bad idea to try and have a confrontation of military nature with North Korea over these nukes.
They`re not going to negotiate them away. We`re going to have to find a way to hand them in, provide defensive measures and engage them.
MELBER: General, you said that sounded like a - resorting to what is traditionally seen as the very last military maneuver the United States considers.
I want to play for you Sen. John McCain`s response today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I take exception to the president`s comments because you`ve got to be sure that you can do what you say you`re going to do.
All it`s going to do is bring us closer to some kind of serious confrontation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: General, do you share that concern?
MCCAFFREY: Yes, sure. Of course. No, Sen. McCain has been around a long time. He is a very thoughtful man. Like, most of us who have seen a lot of combat, it`s something that we`re going to try and avoid as the last resort, never mind the nuclear option.
Look, part of deterrence is to have a capable, modernized, under control nuclear retaliatory ability. We do have that.
The North Koreans don`t yet have a functional ICBM/SLBM system. They will in five to ten years. So, the question is, what do we about it? And certainly, in the short run, we don`t want a conventional attack on the North Koreans.
MELBER: David, when this news was breaking, we know what Donald Trump was doing. And the reason is he was tweeting about Hillary Clinton issues in the media.
And I`m just going to go ahead and put it up on the screen as a factual matter. He said at 2 PM, "E-mails show that the AmazonWashingtonPost and the FailingNewYorkTimes were reluctant to cover the Clinton/Lynch secret meeting on the plane and after 200 days rarely has any administration achieved what we have achieved. Not even close. Don`t believe the fake news suppression polls. 2:10 p.pm." I suppose this will be a digital gift to historians who will be able to stitch together exactly how he spent much of his time. What do you make of it from a foreign policy view?
DAVID ROTHKOPF, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, it sends a bad message. It suggests the President of the United States is not engaged with the issues that are most important. I think the contrast between him being distracted by still re-litigating the last campaign and complaining about his poll numbers, and then the over the top statements that he offered later will also be seen as revealing something about the way he and his White House Team work. You can just imagine from the way he presented his statement that one of his advisors said to him fire and fury, boss. Say fire and fury. We got to counteract the fact that you`re obviously tweeting about something else.
And so, you`ve got the President offering something over the top and as the General said sounding a lot more like a North Korean leader than like the leader of the most powerful nation on earth that has more resources than he`s able to deal with virtually any challenge with which we are presented. You know, it used to be that we look at the North Koreans and said, you know, those are the nuts with nukes and that`s why it`s troubling. But now it looks a little bit like we have our own nut with nukes and that`s much more disturbing for the rest of the world.
MELBER: So, General, take our viewers and me because I`m really curious and don`t know into the room there when something like this happens with the President. Is the military role of the Joint Chiefs or the National Security Advisor to simply walk through the facts or as David was just saying, is there also an effort to say, well, here is what we want to say and don`t want to say, and how do you get up to the line without making policy on the fly?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, FORMER UNITED STATES ARMY OFFICER: Well, I would guarantee you for 100 percent guarantee that was never written and approved by H.R. McMaster.
MELBER: You don`t think - you don`t think he wrote fire and fury?
MCCAFFREY: He wouldn`t even aware of it. That came right impossibly out of the top of the President`s head or one of his other advisors. I think Secretary Mattis who`s, fortunately, a thoughtful, experienced law based person would have never signed off on that. So, you know, that National Security Council can actually operate very rapidly to provide options for the President that are likely to achieve our objective. What is the objective the President is trying to achieve is that kind of a statement? Is it likely to have them swerve from their course of nuclearization? Of course not.
The North Koreans are trying to unify the peninsula under their control, final victory. They`re trying to get U.S. forces out of South Korea. And finally, they`re trying to be recognized as a nuclear power. So, we need to listen to people like Secretary Bill Perry who said, you know, what are we going to do now? Essentially the fact of recognizing them as a nuclear power, hemming them in with a defensive capability and trying to convince the Chinese, look, you`re at risk too. If there`s a nuclear exchange in the region, this is a tragedy for the globe, not just the Korean Peninsula.
MELBER: Well, General, I think you leave us with the big question here today. What was the strategic or policy purpose of that big, big threatening language fire and fury? I don`t know that we have the answer but it`s an important question to pursue. General Barry McCaffrey and David Rothkopf, thank you, both.
ROTHKOPF: Thank you.
MCCAFFREY: Good to be with you.
MELBER: And we`re going to turn to politics next. A big fight brewing in Nevada, the vulnerable Republican there facing off against his own conservative member of the Republican Party and a deep dive into how Trump won the internet and if the resistance can take it back.
MELBER: We all know Donald Trump likes to tweet, but that`s not the only part of the internet that`s spreading Trump`s message. He also does well with memes. Those eye catching pictures often paired with an irreverent joke or text to spread online and go viral like the thanks Obama meme, or of course the crying Michael Jordan or evil Kermit. That`s a goofy picture of an alter ego of the Kermit the Frog giving out bad advice. And these memes are big part of online culture and they usually have nothing to do with politics and can get lots of attention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It was huge he talked about yesterday mainly in the form of memes and of course at the Patriots` expense the #DeflateGate trending most of the day on Monday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night, the cameras caught Michael Phelps before his semi-final heat there just backstage with the angriest of faces there. This one really captured the exact sort of laser stare.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, take a look at this next photo of a Frog with nails on its heads. This meme says when you realize you may have been sold knockoff Beats by Dre.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So, that`s fun. But what happens when people weaponize memes for their candidate? Steve Bannon saw this type of passion online and he sensed that the powerful currents that run just below the surface of the internet, he began to wonder if those forces could be harnessed and he might exploit them. And Josh Green recounts in his new book. Many Trump supporters gather on internet sites to brainstorm and share memes that might spread, a kind of a free online advertising. Some were supposed to be funny mixing Trump`s immigration views with a knock on Justin Bieber, others went to darker places. Candidate trump re-tweeting this image which critics slammed as anti-anti-Semitic and Hillary Clinton seized on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATES: A man with a history of racial discrimination who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of super market tabloids and the far dark reaches of the internet. His campaign famously posted an anti-Semitic image, a star of David imposed over a sea of dollar bills that first appeared on white supremacist websites.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Clinton`s pushback was part of a larger effort to define "alt- right" as an extremist passion of hate which includes online hate and of course confronting that`s important. But some activist in the Trump resistance now says, understanding how to tap this energy is also critical and the progressives have to develop a better set of online tools than simply shaming what might be a shameful part of the alt-right. One expert on the internet politics says the whole picture is mixed. That Trump did appeal to questionable figures online but the way that Trump used the internet shows some insights into why he`s now hard to beat.
His online supporters feel they`re in on the joke that Trumpism is "a fantasy we can dwell in though it will never become true like a video game. And for this reason, the left should stop accepting Trump supporters to be upset when he doesn`t fulfill his promises because many know the promise is empty." Now the man who wrote that is Dale Beran who has a forthcoming book about internet politics and kicks of our discussion. What do you mean that these web supporters of Trump know this is a fantasy?
DALE BERAN, MEDIUM WRITER: Well, the idea is that for younger supporters of Trump, they - Trump`s message sort of as an outsider appeals to them and that these people are sort of a combination of folks who were sort of economically disenfranchised. That we sort of know that over the past several years it hasn`t been that good for young people on the economic end of things and then the internet as it grows more elaborate, more complex and more alluring, more people - young people to spend most of their time there and also video games as a sort of component of that. So combing those two things, you get a group of people who are sort of dwelling in fantasy worlds who don`t have much going for them in real life.
MELBER: And so they`re more comfortable in this discourse even if they don`t think it will change what was sometimes called the offline world?
BERAN: Right. So, their attitude isn`t that Trump will kind of restore the 1950s and sort of deliver me a middle-class lifestyle, it`s more that Trump will - I`m sort of (INAUDIBLE) about my life, don`t have much going for me and Trump as a joke, as sort of someone who is going to destroy the system or sort of is deeply sort of transgressive that he`s spitting in the face of the powers that be (INAUDIBLE) and all these people on the coast of elites, right. They feel resentment, they feel anger, and they - Trump expresses that.
MELBER: Well, so fascinating because you wrote a piece about this that takes this seriously. You`re critical of something what you say is wrong but actually, you take it seriously and say it`s part of the larger Trump phenomenon. What I want do here actually broaden this conversation out because we`ve got Ben Shrek from Politico who`s been documenting this, Howard Fineman, a Political Expert, well known to our folks. What I want to do is take a quick break and when we come back, talk about where this goes with the Trump resistance. We`ll be back right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take a look at this, this is a photo of Donald and Melania Trump sharing a slow dance. This meme is called when bae`s heel just stabbed you in the foot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now it`s trending on social media but for a different reason, I give you the phenomenon known as Trump your cat. This is flying around the internet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The internet was alive and is still right now all because of Chris Christie.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He stood to the side but take a look at this. His body language pretty much took center stage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We`re back talking Trump memes and politics with Dale Beran, Ben from Politico who reported on the impact of memes on 2016 and Howard Fineman from the Huffington Post who taught at Penn University of course on this and is obviously a long time Political Analyst for us. Howard, I go to you. Some of this is new. People at home watching thinking what have we been talking about these pictures that people are forwarding around but this sense of alienation and a candidate you believe in regardless of his results.
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think - I think the nihilism that you`re talking about, the kid in the basement wanting to blow up the system, the person that Steve Bannon embodies and brought into the White House is both instructive and a challenge for as you call it, the resistance. Because the resistance is not nihilistic, the resistance does not simply want to tear down the system. It`s easy to be the kid in the basement wanting to blow things up.
It`s harder to make a positive argument and that`s what they have to figure out using the technology, using the internet, using memes, using the language of memes, which is not new by the way. It`s historic in democratic societies in American politics. Everything from George Washington on a white horse, that was the meme of the commander. Abraham Lincoln the rail splitter, I mean, this isn`t new, it`s been adapted to this world and the other side better gets a hold of it because Donald Trump himself is a meme. I would argue. He is a cartoon character as President.
FINEMAN: And that`s why the people in the basement could support him without they thought consequence. Of course, it does have consequence.
MELBER: Right. And if by meme, we mean something big that people want to spread then and yes, the federalist papers were a meme. Yes, this is an old idea. I want to put up one more and then talk to you because you covered this. A full screen here, this is pro-Trump meme mocking liberals and he`s the guy from off the space and he`s saying, yes, this point if President Trump cured cancer, liberals would complain he`s taking work from the grim reaper. Now, a lot of people don`t find that funny and that`s fine. And some of the stuff as I reported in the early segment is dark enough and actually has to be driven out and confronted. But that one, which is a harmless movie reference, people did find it funny and it helped them organize?
BEN SCHRECKINGER, POLITICO REPORTER: That`s right. It helps people organize online, identify other supporters, generates enthusiasm, sustains enthusiasm, allows you to share a message with your broader social network, someone who may be on the fence. It may persuade them in a clever way. Humor often does that.
MELBER: Dale, listen to Donald Trump talking about why the internet is good.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Prime Minister Modi and I are world leaders in social media. We`re believers. Giving the citizens of our countries the opportunity to hear directly from their elected officials and for us to hear directly from them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Dale, take it to Howard`s point about the resistance. Where does that come into this?
BERAN: Right, so there are means on the left, there`s a lot of them. Twitter and other places are used to sort of places to develop and generates left as means, right? And so the question is how to be effective with them, right? How to make a message that somehow -
BERAN: Well, it`s an - it`s an excellent question. And I think it`s unclear how effective means are at this point, right?
MELBER: I mean, I don`t have the answers, I have the questions. Howard, do you have an answer?
FINEMAN: Well, I totally agree that the visual language, the language of a big message in one picture or concept is crucial to the way people communicate now. And they`re trained from birth practically with emojis, with visual elements, with things that tell a big story in a compact, concise, easily viralized way. And that`s something the left has to figure out. They used to be the masters of it going back to the year of posters and propaganda, a generation or two ago.
SCHRECKINGER: That`s right. And you know, it`s unusual in fact that the right so dominated this new form of online communication on the left. As younger, it tends to be tech savvier and it speaks to the unique nature of Trump`s candidacy. The fact that he is a cultural icon that he appealed to this base of disgruntled, mostly young, mostly male, and mostly white.
MELBER: Mostly young white male.
SCHRECKINGER: But in the long run, you have to think that the left is going to be able to catch up with the right on this and perhaps even beat then.
MELBER: It`s fascinating stuff and we`ve had three experts who really taken it seriously. I appreciate all of you guys coming in. Dale, Ben, and Howard thank you very much. And don`t forget, if we`re talking memes, you can find our memes on Facebook, THEBEATWITHARI and Twitter and the oldest meme of all the e-mail ARI@MSNBC.COM. I read them. We did a segment based on one of your e-mails yesterday. Next, we return to this big story tonight. President Trump`s lawyer saying he is passing messages to Bob Mueller. What does that mean? We have some new reporting next.
MELBER: Breaking news in a scoop in USA Today that came into our newsroom just within the last 90 minutes. Donald Trump, according to his own lawyer, has been sending messages with the Special Counsel Bob Mueller and he`s been doing it through John Dowd. I want to bring in the Christina Greer Associate Professor of Political Science in Fordham, and Rick Tyler, a Republican Strategist and former Adviser to Senator Ted Cruz. Rick, is it a witch hunt or is it something the President, "appreciates?"
RICK TYLER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it is manipulation. I mean, the President is trying to send Mueller different mixed messages because he wants to keep him off balance. And I think it is the way he likes to control people.
MELBER: And do you think it will work?
TYLER: No. I think Mueller is a professional and he`s going to keep his head down and keep his nose to the grind stone and do the work and he`ll have a report and one way or the other, we`ll find out what he finds out.
CHRISTINA GREER, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE: I think the President thinks as he`s lot more charming than he actually is. Mueller is a trained professional and unfortunately, it seems like the President wants to - wants to distract us with North Korea and a several hosts of other shenanigans, unfortunately, but this is clearly getting to him as evidenced by his morning tweet rants while he`s allegedly on vacation. But you know, the thing is, this President has essentially run a scam for way too long. We know that he - you know, is not a student of history, not a student of politics, he has never served as public servant so all of this is coming crashing down on him. He thinks he can sort of call Mueller and you know, send him little messages and say, hey, we`re friends.
That`s actually not how these investigation operates at all. And I think the gravity of the situation might slowly be seeping in and unfortunately, this President loves praise and adulation. And when he, you know, had his first State of the Union Address and he saw the huge applause he got when he talked about the military, I fear that he will try and redirect either the conversation or his approval ratings by getting us into certain army, you know, some nuclear disputes that unfortunately we won`t be able to get out of.
MELBER: Rick Tyler, why would John Dowd, the President`s celebrated criminal defense counsel publicly confirm this? He doesn`t have to. It`s totally fair game to say, I`m not going to get in to what my client may or may not be saying to anyone.
TYLER: It`s hard to know. I mean, it seems like they want to make it look like they`re cooperating on some level. The White House has consistently said they`re cooperating and the President is the only one who`s out there sort of (INAUDIBLE) talking about a witch hunt. Nobody else inside the White House is talking about that. They`re saying, we`re cooperating, so that`s a consistent message. Trump is consistently inconsistent and he has two different messages but that`s typical of him.
MELBER: Did you say he is consistently inconsistent?
MELBER: Is that like a George Carlin like jumbo shrimp type joke?
TYLER: Yes, that`s kind of like that. You can be consistently inconsistent.
MELBER: Christina, you don`t know about Rick Tyler`s logical joke side. It`s a whole different Rick Tyler here.
GREER: No. You know -
MELBER: Go ahead.
GREER: Obviously Ari, all day I`ve been thinking about you. I know you`re a lover of hip hop but you know, all I can think was Kanye West and he drives well home. He - hopefully, some of his advisers are telling him that you know, this is a nuclear interaction that he`s you know, threatening to get a fire and fury and he fundamentally does not understand if he enters into this type of interaction with Kim Jong-un and North Korea, you`re going to put China in jeopardy, Japan in jeopardy, South Korea in jeopardy and some of the American - certainly the men and women who are there - you know, protecting our country.
MELBER: You know, I appreciate that Rick Tyler, if we are going to try to do foreign policy by tweet or lyric, which I don`t recommend, I would definitely prefer Diddy, I ain`t got to talk because I live it and let`s talk less about the military confrontations until they`re actually necessary.
TYLER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it`s - foreign policy by Twitter is dangerous. And imagine what the - imagine what the American-South Korean ambassador is saying to South Korea, oh, wait, there isn`t one.
TYLER: This is a real problem. And so, the whole region is probably freaking out and this fire and fury is kind of laughable. I mean -
MELBER: You think it is a joke? I mean you think it is comical that kind of language?
TYLER: So sophomoric. It was so laughable and he did sound like - and I agree with Evelyn Farkas - he sound like Kim Jong-un who said, after McCain called him fat crazy boy, Kim Jong-un got upset and he would reduce U.S. to ashes. That`s similar. That`s the -
MELBER: Right, that kind of overheated rhetoric.
TYLER: That`s not how the United States speaks.
MELBER: You know, it`s THE BEAT, I appreciate Christina bringing in a lyric. Rick, you`ll get us next time, right?
TYLER: I`ll get you.
MELBER: You`ll hit us next time?
TYLER: I might even sing.
MELBER: You might even sing. Wow, a little levity on a serious day. That does it for THE BEAT. We`ll see you tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. "HARDBALL" starts right now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Fire and fury. Let`s play HARDBALL.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END