Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: August 28, 2017
Guest: Matt Schlapp, Catherine Rampell, Zerlina Maxwell
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now. Hi, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Hi, Katy. Thank you very much. We have breaking news right now.
Newly revealed emails show Donald Trump`s top lawyer directly ask the Kremlin to help with a Trump business deal in Moscow and this was at the height of Trump`s presidential campaign.
This is a potential turning point in the Russia inquiry and we`ll show why right now. Number one, it undercuts Donald Trump`s claim that he never sought Russian government help with his business activities.
According to these brand-new emails, leaking out this afternoon, Trump`s top lawyer, Michael Cohen, emailed a top Putin aid asking the Putin government to help the Trump organization make money.
That means, contrary to Trump`s claims, which we have all heard many times, there is now publicly available written evidence of a top Trump aide proactively contacting the Kremlin for financial gain.
Now, these emails were submitted today to congressional investigators. "The Washington Post" first breaking this bombshell story. Cohen, who plays a high-level role in the Trump organization, emailing a senior Putin aide, Dmitry Peskov, in January 2016. Of course, the height of the GOP primaries.
"I`ve been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower Moscow project," he wrote, "and the communication between our two sides has stalled. As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance." That`s Kremlin government assistance. "I respectfully request someone, preferably you," he wrote, "contact me, so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals."
Michael Cohen is Trump`s longtime lawyer. He does Trump`s bidding. And here he is, in plain day light today, for the first time everyone can see it, asking the Putin government for help in the same year that Trump categorically denied any business or political ties in Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m all over the world, but we`re not involved in Russia.
I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, OK.
I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we`ve stayed away and I have no loans with Russia.
I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don`t have property in Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: No property in Russia. So, here`s what`s different right now. Even if that statement by Donald Trump were true, today`s revelation shows it was not for lack of trying.
The Trump organization wasn`t just trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. When the project stalled, it tried so hard they wanted to get Vladimir Putin to help seal this deal. And Putin is not known for his charity work. If he does something for you, he expects something in return.
Let`s get right to it with Carol Lee NBCs national political reporter who has been on the Russia story; Richard Painter, White House ethics lawyer for the Bush 43 administration; Glenn Thrush, who covers the White House, of course, for "The New York Times".
Richard Painter, this looks big to my investigative eyes. I`m curious, your view of the significance of this newly revealed information from an investigative perspective and an ethics perspective?
RICHARD PAINTER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER IN THE GEORGE W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION: Well, in and of itself, there`s nothing illegal about the Trump organization trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and, of course, seeking the help of the Russian government because that`s how you do business over there.
You`ve got to get the government on your side. So, all that is quite predictable.
What is very disturbing here is that President Trump can`t tell the truth about it. And candidate Trump did not tell the truth about it. And that`s what`s been going on with this Russia story for almost the past year, is that it`s been drip, drip, drip.
We hear a new revelation every week, sometimes every day, about relationships between the Trump organization or the Trump campaign and the Russians. Some of them pose serious legal issues, such as the meeting in the Trump Tower to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. The law very well may have been violated there.
Some of these other arrangements are not illegal at all, but they aren`t telling the truth about it at all. Repeated lies from a wide variety of people, including the president himself.
And the big picture, the big question here is how dependent is our president on the Russians for his financial dealings, for his political success, how many secrets do the Russians know about him that he would not want to be revealed, how much beholden is he to Vladimir Putin. And these are the questions we need answers too and the United States House and Senate investigating, not just this special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who is only focusing on potential crimes.
This is a critically important issue for our national security as we have crises developing in the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere in the world.
MELBER: Oh, you put the question, how dependent is Donald Trump on Russia and how truthfully has he been discussing these issues.
I`m joined as well by Ambassador McFaul, former US Ambassador to Russia under the Obama administration. Ambassador, Richard was just making a nuanced point that it is legal to do business in Russia generally and that does involve the Russian government oftentimes.
And yet, what is so stark in these newly revealed emails, which again are only coming out because of investigations, is there`s no nice way to say it. They undercut what the Trump organization and Donald Trump has said. They undercut the quotes I just played from him when he said no dealings and no efforts at dealings. Put this in the Russia context for us, ambassador.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA UNDER THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Well, first of all, as you just said, to do business in Russia, especially a major business deal like this one that was being proposed here, almost inevitably you`re going to have to deal with the Russian government.
That seems clear here. If you`re contacting the President`s Chief Spokesperson Mr. Peskov, that means that you think you need to deal with the Kremlin.
But the second point, I think, is also very important that you were just discussing. Remember that Robert Mueller is investigating criminal problems, possible violations of the law. This is not that, but it most certainly sounds like something that`s a violations of norms, normal practices that we have during presidential elections and disclosures of what people are doing during presidential elections.
So, that`s why we need those investigative committees in the Senate and the Congress to do their work as well.
MELBER: Right. And then, you can lay up the timeline, Glenn. Within a month of this exposure, this is how Donald Trump was speaking about Vladimir Putin and defending him even against questioning here on MSNBC about the record of targeting journalists and other autocratic behavior. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I mean, also as a person that kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries, obviously, that would be a concern, would it not?
TRUMP: He`s running his country, and at least he`s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.
SCARBOROUGH: But, again, he kills journalists that don`t agree with him.
TRUMP: Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe. So -
SCARBOROUGH: So, you, obviously, condemn Vladimir Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?
TRUMP: Oh, sure. Absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Glenn, should we view this differently, knowing now what we didn`t know then without any tax disclosure or other transparency, which is they were actively seeking not only business in Russia, but again the headline coming into our newsroom tonight that they were seeking the Kremlin`s help with that business?
GLENN THRUSH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Look, the one thing I would caution against - and by the way, hearing him talk like that about journalists is a little bit chilling, having just sat 20 feet from him at a press conference.
Look, I think the one danger here is, every single day, we`re hearing revelations about this. The Felix Sater revelations today. I was stunned, for instance, by the fact that the White House didn`t deny the fact that Ivanka Trump sat in Vladimir Putin`s office chair during a visit to Moscow in 2007. These are sort of extraordinary connections. And as you add one after the next, it becomes a very interesting picture.
But, again, I think we`re going to have to be patient and see if all of these various jigsaw pieces paint a picture of criminality.
The one thing I would say -
MELBER: Well, Glenn, I`m going to jump in there and use moderator`s privilege. We don`t know yet whether they reach criminality. I speak often as chief legal correspondent about the fact that we can`t prejudge the outcomes.
What we know now, though, is even if these are not felonies, we now know, I think, some better understanding of why the tax returns never came out because they very well may have more than the emails, which show an effort to get Kremlin help with Russian property, which shows that the Trump organization was lying about some of this, no?
THRUSH: Yes. I think there definitely is a pattern of them not telling the truth. But, look, there are things that Donald Trump has done as president, that are also I think very much worthy of investigation.
I thought "The Washington Post" report about him pressuring Jeff Sessions to drop the case against Joe Arpaio was an extraordinary revelation.
Ari, at some point, there is so much of this stuff, it`s kind of hard to keep track. But the one thing I would caution against, I think, are people drawing all the lines between each component of this.
What is interesting, and I think your guests have pointed this out, what is interesting is Russia just keeps coming up over and over and over.
I was just at a press conference with the president and the Finnish president, and even then, President Trump was fairly circumspect in talking about the threat that Russia posed to Finland. He downplayed it. And I`m not certain, for instance, that the president is aware that the Soviet Union invaded Finland prior to World War - during World War II, and that was one of the bloodiest conflicts.
I`m not sure that he, in his conversations with the Finns, was exactly aware of that history, but it`s interesting that he always seems to downplay it.
MELBER: I hear you. You`re cautioning on being vague, Carol. That`s why we`ve taking care to be so specific. Let`s drill down on who Michael Cohen is for viewers. This is a man who has worked for Trump for over a decade. He used to work in Ivanka`s old office.
He wanted a senior administration post, according to a lot of reporting. Didn`t get it. And as "The Times" reported, if anyone crossed Mr. Trump or stood in his way, Mr. Cohen, who was known to carry a licensed pistol in his ankle holster, would cajole, bully or threaten a lawsuit. This isn`t just any aide, is it?
CAROL LEE, "NBC" NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: No, it`s definitely not just any aide. Obviously, this is a close associate to President Trump.
I think we have two things here. One is, there`s, obviously, a very significant case being built that looks at collusion and Russia and Trump and his business interest and Russia.
And then, you have what we know publicly which leads to the sort of perception problem that the president has. We don`t know whether all of this is going to lead to something where he`s found of criminal wrongdoing.
We do know, however, that, as Glenn said, Russia keeps coming up. It creates a perception problem. And not only that, but what we`ve seen in the past when these sorts of stories come out and Russia is back in the headlines, particularly in ways that are significant as this, the president tends to overreact, and that`s where he gets himself into trouble. So, we`ve seen before.
The other thing I would say is that, if you go back to when this was happening and when President Trump was then a candidate, was talking about Russia in positive ways and praising Vladimir Putin, that was a time when the US - that was a real downturn in US relations with Russia.
And this was in 12/2015, was after Russia went into Syria and surprised the Obama administration. And so, that was already raising eyebrows.
MELBER: No, look, I appreciate - I feel like the odd lawyer out here. Everyone is talking about how big a legal story it is. It may be a bigger foreign policy story, these revelations today than legal, although, Ambassador McFaul, foreign policy has incredible impact.
Take a listen here again with the lens of what we know today about Donald Trump speaking off the cuff supposedly about getting Russian help during the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: How does that comment look today, ambassador?
MCFAUL: Just as bad as it always looked, in my view. I just want to underscore two points about this bigger story because I do think the drip, drip, drip, we sometimes forget a couple of core things that are still true.
One is, they never tell us about these connections with the Russians until it`s disclosed by somebody else. And that makes people wonder what are they hiding. If there`s nothing to hide, why are we just learning about this story today.
And number two, candidate Trump when he was saying that and President Trump, up to today, including in the press conference today, is alone among Democrats, Republicans, I would say he`s even alone within his own government, in speaking the way he does about Vladimir Putin and Russia.
Everybody else worries about the fact that Russia invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, bombed to smithereens cities in Syria, intervened in our elections in 2016. He`s the one person that is somehow out of bounds of that narrative, why is that the case? That`s the question that I think is still perplexing and we need an answer to.
MELBER: Right. And his Twitter stream may not be all that revealing all the time, but the fact that it attacks literally almost everyone who crosses him except Vladimir Putin, even after sanctions are put to punish US diplomats in Moscow, is very, very interesting piece of evidence.
Carol and Glenn, thank you for sharing your reporting with us. Ambassador and Mr. Painter, please stay with me because there is another breaking report on another angle of this coming from these documents that went over the congressional committees today.
We`re going to dig into that. And Ivanka Trump, as mentioned, sitting in Putin`s private office in the Kremlin, allegedly. Big news, after the break.
MELBER: The other Russia story breaking tonight reveals a Trump-linked businessman pitching a business deal that would put Trump allegedly in the White House with Putin`s help.
A newly revealed email, this one from Trump associate Felix Sater, boasting that a Moscow business deal will "get Donald elected".
The email exchange documented by "The New York Times" and this again involves top Trump aide Michael Cohen.
"I`ll get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. Buddy, our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin`s team to buy in on this. I will," he wrote.
Now, consider what we`re learning just from today`s reports. On the one hand, Trump aides writing to the Kremlin asking for business help; on the other hand, Russian fixers telling Trump aides the Kremlin would help Donald Trump.
This would look bad even if we didn`t know that Russia ultimately hacked the 2016 election. The very combination of carrot and stick that has been chronicled by Russia experts and suggested in the infamous 2016 dossier.
Now, these new emails also show Sater, the Russian businessman, recounting how weirdly, in 2006, he allegedly arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin`s private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin.
Why would a businessman have such deep ties to the Kremlin? Well, Russia experts explain that, under Putin, there are no truly independent private markets. Every money trail leads back to Putin, if he chooses. And he rewards businessmen who do his bidding. He punishes those who do not, like his campaign to bankrupt and jail the billionaire who once ran Russia`s largest oil company.
As the Russian journalist and Putin dissident Masha Gessen wrote explaining that story, Putin used the attack to give the Russian business community two options, bend to Putin`s will or suffer the fate of a now jailed billionaire.
Joining me is that Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, the author of The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Also with me Ken Dilanian, "NBC News" intelligence reporter, who has been on the story from the start. And back with us former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter and former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
Masha, I start with you. We see all of these new emails telling this story. Does it fit with what we know about Putin`s Russia?
MASHA GESSEN, AUTHOR, THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE: THE UNLIKELY RISE OF VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, I`m not sure what story these emails are telling. So, let`s just not rush to conclusions, OK. That email from Sater makes no sense. Can you make it make sense? I can`t make it make sense.
MELBER: I could make it make sense. I don`t know if it`s true. I think he`s pitching the idea that Russia would be helpful and the business deal would be good for Donald financially and politically.
GEESEN: But we don`t understand what he`s saying. There is - what the connection is between the business deal and getting Donald elected.
MELBER: It`s not articulated.
GEESEN: It is not at all articulated. Considering that we also have learned that Michael Cohen wrote to Peskov, Putin`s press secretary, and apparently it sputtered and ended in nothing, this isn`t much of a story that`s being told by these emails, right?
If you`re asking me about the connection between business and the Kremlin, no business is done in Russia without the Kremlin, right? If you want to have success, if you want to have a chance of success, you have to have connections to the Kremlin.
MELBER: Ambassador, can you speak to that and your view of the theory, the case in emails. Again, I agree, we don`t know. One theory, and the reason why these are what we would call investigative interest, is they suggest part of a larger conversation about Russians offering to help Donald Trump in the same way that the Trump Tower meeting had Russians saying allegedly they were speak on behalf of the Kremlin and could rough up Hillary Clinton in an information campaign.
MCFAUL: That`s right. There is a larger narrative out there with lots of data to support it that the Kremlin wanted Trump to win and did what they could to try to help him win, including, most audaciously, stealing emails from the DNC and John Podesta and publishing them.
We know that to be true. We also know it to be true that there were connections between Trump-affiliated people and Russian-affiliated Kremlin people, business people, that were trying to do business deals.
As back as early as 2008, that trail has been talked about. What we don`t know is the details of that trail precisely because we haven`t seen the tax documents, we haven`t had full disclosure of what was happening, and that`s why when we see things like this it raises a question, is there a bigger story here.
These emails, I agree with Masha, are not definitive in that, but the fact that we didn`t know about these contacts before, we didn`t know that there was a Trump Tower being proposed in Moscow (INAUDIBLE) begs a question what is it that we need to know to know the full story.
MELBER: Right. Ken, that`s the flipside. If this were all coming out of the normal course, say, around the month it happened, then it would look perhaps less suspicious. The problem is the sound I played, in the interest of time, I`m not going to play it again, was all of these very public, very categorical denials of having any business in Russia, Ken.
KEN DILANIAN, "NBC NEWS" INTELLIGENCE REPORTER: Well, that`s absolutely right, Ari. It`s extraordinary. Even leaving aside this whole question of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, it would have been extraordinary for any major party candidate for president to be like, oh, by the way, I have this business deal I`m trying to do with Vladimir Putin government in Russia and I would like to be your president.
That would be disqualifier in many senses in any other election. So, we didn`t know that was happening at the time and Donald Trump actually denied it.
But the other interesting thing about this whole exchange in these emails is this character, Felix Sater. He`s one of the most mysterious and fascinating characters in the whole Trump Russia saga, a Russian-born, Brooklyn raised.
He got into trouble back in the 90s. He got into a bar fight and served jail time after allegedly stabbing a man with a margarita glass.
MELBER: Broken margarita glass. He is on the far right for our viewers, the man you`re talking about. Go ahead.
DILANIAN: Exactly. So, fast forward to 2008, he is implicated in a stock swindle, a mafia-connected stock swindle, but makes a deal with the FBI and spends years cooperating to the point where the Justice Department later says he was very helpful in a national security sense.
We still don`t know the extent of his cooperation and what he did, but he`s also working for Donald Trump. He`s got a business card that says he`s working for Trump. But in a deposition, Trump says, I would know this guy if he walks in the room.
So, now we have Michael Cohen in these emails saying Sater was trying to get me to go to Moscow and I didn`t want to. There`s an implication there. Was Sater a dangle? Was Sater working for the Russians trying to induce the Trump organization? There is a lot we don`t know about why this deal didn`t come to fruition.
But here is what we do know. Michael Cohen emailing "NBC News" today. He talked to Donald Trump about this deal on three occasions, he said, and signed a non-binding letter of intent in 2015.
MELBER: Richard Painter, your view on this part, in the Sater connection and the lack of transparency?
PAINTER: Well, just one more shoe to drop on the (INAUDIBLE). There have been shoes dropping on the Russia story literally every other day or certainly every week since the election.
The big picture is that the Russians have been at this game at least since the 1917 Revolution in Russia where the Communist sought to undermine Western democracies and choose who would run governments in Europe.
And they succeeded, particularly after World War II in Eastern Europe, not only through tax and weaponry and armed force, but through manipulation of elections and through the communist parties. They tried in the United States. They didn`t succeed.
But they struck the jackpot on this one. It`s abundantly obvious they wanted Donald Trump in the White House. He was their man. They didn`t like Clinton. They like the Obama administration. And they feel that President Trump is going to be beholden to them.
This needs to be investigated by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. This goes well beyond the criminal investigations Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. It`s critically important that we know whether our president is beholden to the Russians.
We know that the Russians helped choose him as president, but to what extent is he beholden to the Russians. Are we a banana republic? Are we going to have other world powers choosing our leadership? Are we an independent country? And this is an issue that Congress needs to address. And all of these facts need to be laid out on the table.
We need to find out about the Trump organization`s financial arrangements with the Russians and payments he has received. And they haven`t opened the books. They won`t even disclose the tax returns.
All of this needs to be disclosed immediately. It`s not a partisan issue. This is an American issue. It`s about our own independence and our national security.
MELBER: Masha, you are bowing your head. I don`t know if it`s skeptically or more insulated?
GESSEN: It`s skeptical. I think it`s overstating the evidence that we have. But we know Americans elected Donald Trump, right? And it is a huge problem that we have Americans elected Donald Trump.
He lies. He admires Vladimir Putin, apparently quite sincerely, regardless of whether Putin has anything on him or not. He is destroying the American government as it was constituted before he became president.
All of this is out in the open. That doesn`t make the United States a banana republic. That`s not Putin doing that stuff. That`s Trump doing the stuff, right?
MELBER: You are talking about Americans being accountable of -
GESSEN: I`m talking about Americans being accountable and I`m talking about focusing on what`s out in the open, instead of imagining that somebody is pulling the strings and turning the United States into a banana republic, which is just such an absurd thing to say.
MELBER: Do you think Trump has autocratic tendencies?
GESSEN: Absolutely, Trump has autocratic tendencies.
MELBER: So, I think what Richard is referring to is the notion that you have the potential foreign meddling with - well, not potential, the meddling in, the collusion a question, and then Trump governing the way he is.
GESSEN: We don`t know anything about collusion. So far, the evidence that you have just produced is evidence of corruption. It is in fact further evidence of Trump lying as if we needed any more evidence of Trump lying.
MELBER: Last word, ambassador.
MCFAUL: Well, I feel we`re like talking about apples and oranges here. On the one hand, are we a banana republic? No, were not. Our institutions are strong. We`re going to survive the Trump presidency. I`m very confident in saying that.
That doesn`t mean that there`s not suspicious things involved in the relationship between the Trump organization and various Russian individuals.
And I just go back to the point I made earlier. Why is it only when somebody does incredible investigative reporting that we hear about this? That to me suggests that they`re covering up something.
And if they didn`t have anything to cover up, they should just lay it all out in one 24-hour story and we would be done with it. The fact that they don`t leads me to believe that there`s more that we need to learn.
MELBER: Right. That`s an important question to rest on that we will continue to look at. I don`t want to end on a joke, but the old saying what happens when ambassador, a dissident, a reporter, and an ethics lawyer walk into a bar. You get a lot of different interesting views.
Thank you for coming on THE BEAT.
GESSEN: Thank you.
MCFAUL: Thanks for having us.
MELBER: Masha, Ken, Richard, and Ambassador McFaul, thank you all.
Now, Donald Trump today says he is standing by the controversial pardon of Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff. Are Republican, though, getting his back? I`m going to speak to a leading conservative and get into the details.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Sheriff Joe is a patriot. Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders. And Sheriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration.
So I stand by my pardon of Sheriff Joe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: President Trump defending his controversial pardon of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio late today. Trump who pardoned Arpaio as Hurricane Harvey bore down on the U.S. Friday night added that the pardon was popular among the attendees at his political rally last week. That`s the kind of nakedly political detail most presidents avoid admitting would enter their calculus in this kind of decision. Now, a judge held Arpaio in contempt of in July based on his previous flouting. A federal court orders to stop detaining people based solely on his suspicion they were undocumented immigrants. The pardon already proven to be one of Trump`s most divisive moves as president, even drawing a rare rebuke from Republican Speaker Paul Ryan. So for conservative perspective on the pardon, we welcome American Conservative Union Chair Matt Schlapp and a former Political Director -- we should mention -- to President Bush. How are you?
MATT SCHLAPP, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION CHAIRMAN: Great. Good to be with you.
MELBER: Thanks for being here, Matt. I`ll ask you straight up. How can a law and order President defend a pardon undermining the rule of a federal judge in upholding a law issued before this case was even completed?
SCHLAPP: Well, very simply, which is the constitution lays out the powers in each branch of government. And one of the powers vested in the executive branch as you know well is the ability to pardon. It`s basically an unlimited power. It can be done at any time in the criminal process and Donald Trump believed that this was the right time to intervene and he did it.
MELBER: Right. I know he did it. And the Supreme Court has held you can do it at any time. Was it a good idea and does it reflect conservative principles of law?
SCHLAPP: Yes. So the first question is, are there legal questions involved here and I don`t think there are. The second question is, what`s the right way for presidents to handle pardons and this is where I do think the White House should be cautious and careful to come up with a process, and a thorough process and most presidents do that. As a matter of fact, politically, pardons have gotten presidents in a lot of trouble. And obviously president Bill Clinton exited the White House with a huge cloud over his head because of mistakes in judgment around pardons. So I think having a big process would be useful.
Now, that being said, it is quite stunning for the President to do this so early in his administration. Most presidents do this as they`re kind of slinking out the door because they don`t want to deal with the political consequences of making tough decisions. As with most things, Donald Trump approaches it from a completely different standpoint. He likes Sheriff Joe. He thinks Sheriff Joe Arpaio was trying to enforce our immigration laws so he did it really early and now we`re talking about it.
MELBER: Well, he admitted -- he admitted -- we are talking about it. He admitted today, he thinks it`s popular among his supporters so he didn`t act like it was some sort of political courage, the opposite. He kind of American Idoled it and held it out at the rally, people cheered and he cited that cheering today on the substance. I want to read to you from the contempt citation so folks can understand. It was a finding that there was a definite order that Arpaio violated by failing to do anything to ensure compliance and directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed. Some are conservatives have spoken out about this and I`m wondering if you as a leader of a conservative organization, what is conservative? Or law and order about detaining people when you cannot substantiate the charges against them and add on to that the fact it was done according to a federal judge in a racially discriminatory manner? Why defend that?
SCHLAPP: Well, the -- what the facts are, from my understanding of doing research on the topic, is that being in the state illegally was not enough for the border agency, and the feds, to do anything about this population of folks who were here illegally. They had to commit a state infraction on top of it. So we get to the question about how we handle our federal immigration laws. What it seems like these judges are saying is that being here illegally is not enough to trip the legal process. You actually have to do something additionally, you have to break a state law. And what that basically means is you have amnesty when it comes to breaking federal immigration laws.
MELBER: But Matt, that`s what the Supreme Court ruled. I mean, you are accurately describing the state of the law. And the question is, why would a president go in and try to allow for that kind of attention -- and let me read to you one thing from that so the folks have the benefit of it. They said if you believe or know that a person is in the country unlawfully you cannot detain them based on that alone, which you mentioned. You either have to have arrest based on state charges or you release. Those are the options. Again, to go to conservative principles, that`s what conservatives used to cheer because you don`t want a sprawling government power that has no check on it.
SCHLAPP: I believe that it`s perfectly appropriate, though, for the -- for sheriffs to work with the federal authorities, to make sure people who are here illegally aren`t able to stay and flout the law. So it comes down to a basic question of this, which we`re having a disagreement on in the country, I will agree with you but it should be enough to trigger federal law enforcement if somebody is here illegally. And if we want to change those laws, and say, look, we want to -- we want to soften them, well, that`s the option of the legislative branch. But in the meantime, you have to uphold the law. Now, you can ask this question about the process by which people were detained, and there were all types of complications about that but it comes down to the fundamental question which is, do sheriffs have the ability to work with the federal government to bring up the --
MELBER: But Matt, respectfully, Sir, the question has been answered. We are a nation of laws and the Supreme Court has held that the state doesn`t do that on its own because it doesn`t have the federal powers. So that is -- the answer has been issued and then you have judges enforcing it and then you have a president who ran a law and order to come in and say that what federal judge`s rule isn`t good enough before the guy was ever even sentenced. It is -- it is mind-boggling to me to hear intellectually honest conservatives to defend that as for the rule of law. It`s obviously undermining what the federal judge held.
SCHLAPP: What basically what the federal judge said is that being here illegally is not enough to trigger the feds to do something.
MELBER: To do state detention.
SCHLAPP: There`s a people -- there`s a lot of people across the country that don`t think that you should be in a safe harbor, and that immigration laws shouldn`t apply to you because simply you haven`t also committed a state infraction. And I think what the question here with Arpaio is that he said, OK, I`m going to allow the feds, I`m going to bring this to the border patrol folks and say, look, we have these folks who are here illegally, will you do something with them. The border is going to --
MELBER: Because we`re out of time, this is the last question I want you on the record on.
MELBER: Is this --
SCHLAPP: Well, this has all been on the record.
MELBER: You`re right. It`s all on the record, Matt. Is this the new position of conservatives, that the President should go around and undo federal judicial orders that are consistent with federal supreme court precedence because they don`t like the outcome? Is that the new law and order?
SCHLAPP: Let`s be very clear. A pardon is about an individual and it does nothing to change the state of the law. It simply means that individual receives different treatment. It could be clemency or complete exoneration. In this case with Sheriff Arpaio, he is now out of legal harm but it doesn`t change this basic question in this country about what do sheriffs and local law enforcement do when they find people are here illegally? It sounds like what I hear the other side saying is they can do nothing. And the fact is, that means blanket amnesty. If you do that with immigration laws, you can do that with all kinds of other laws and that`s the problem.
MELBER: I don`t want our viewers to get the wrong impression. You keep referring to other people. It`s not an issue of other people, it`s what the Supreme Court has held about who has which powers and I`m old enough -- I`m not that old -- but I`m old enough to remember when conservatives were big on federalism, and having those divisions. We`re out of time --
SCHLAPP: And the federal -- and the federal government had the obligation to take these folks who are here illegally and enforce the law. And they decided not to do that. That is also an abridgment of their duties.
MELBER: Matt, I always like talking to you because we go back and forth.
SCHLAPP: You, too, sir.
MELBER: It gets more and more intense. I hope to have you back on THE BEAT. Thanks for being here.
SCHLAPP: Thank you.
MELBER: I appreciate it.
Now, ahead, some more breaking news. This from NBC News on the Russia probe and what Special Counsel Mueller is looking at. I got this five minutes ago and I`ll bring it to you right after this break.
MELBER: 6:44 p.m. on the East Coast and we have a breaking NBC News exclusive. Sources telling our newsroom right now, that Special Counsel Mueller is focusing on President Trump`s role in crafting that response to the quite suspicious Don Jr. June 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower. Here is what`s new. Investigators on Mueller`s team, according to NBC sources, want to know what Trump knew about the meeting, and whether he intervened explicitly to conceal its purpose. This is obviously new. It`s also important because Mueller has already indicated that potential White House obstruction is in his criminal investigative purview. Joining me now is SiriusXM`S Zerlina Maxwell, a former Hillary Clinton Aide, and Washington Post Catherine Rampell. Catherine, this is one of those news nights. We came into the room with two big Russia stories going at new revelations in the e-mails about business dealings. Here we are on the other side, on the investigative side. Your view of this story?
CATHERINE RAMPELL, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: I mean, it`s almost hard to keep track of every additional development, because it`s like a Russian novel, right? There are too many characters to keep track of, and too many twists and turns. It does make me think that Trump was not terribly forward looking, surprise, surprise when they basically tried to lie repeatedly about what the purpose of the meeting was, who was in the meeting. I mean, the more that they try to block what the public knew about it, the longer this investigation into it gets stretched out. They should have just been -- you know, up-front.
MELBER: And let`s be clear, the reason this is so important Elena, is this meeting was problematic because it was the first contemporaneously documented time that people claiming to represent Russian government interests were offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, which matches with some of what happens in the campaign. Then on top of that, you have a thing that happens a lot with Donald Trump. He takes an action without thinking about the reaction.
MELBER: In the case of firing Jim Comey, it almost certainly led to the appointment of the Special Prosecutor who we`re discussing right now. We`re literally probably wouldn`t be discussing this if he hadn`t taken that want on action. What`s new right now is NBC`s Julia Ainsley and Tom Winter reporting out that sources close to Mueller saying, he`s looking at the spin, the P.R., the crafting of that statement as its own potential legal issue.
ZERLINA MAXWELL, SIRIUSXM DIRECTOR OF PROGRESSIVE PROGRAMMING: And I think every piece of new evidence goes to Donald Trump`s state of mind at the time. Why was he doing certain things, why did he lie about the meetings to begin with, and then why did he wait until the reporting came out to say, oh, well, we did have this meeting, or here`s what the meeting was about, it was about adoptions when it really wasn`t? And I think that if you think about after the G-20 when they`re on the plane and essentially Vanity Fair said it was a frenzy going on trying to come up with a statement to react to this e-mail, it essentially looks like they were doing some sort of crisis management, which the President was directly involved in. And people who have worked with him said he is somewhat of a micromanager. So I think Mueller is rightfully looking at this stuff because it goes to his state of mind and perhaps intent.
MELBER: Catherine, there is a saying if you know, if you want a job done right, do it yourself. Donald Trump --
RAMPELL: Or listen to the experts? I mean, that would be the version that I heard abide by but yes, go on.
MELBER: He thinks he`s his best spokesperson. He thinks he`s his best business person, he thinks he`s his best campaign manager. He did engineered an electoral college victory. So, some of these things you can understand where he got the ideas. And apparently, he also thinks he`s his best lawyer because there`s not a lawyer in the country that would tell you to personally get involved in writing the defense of facts that you weren`t a party to because he wasn`t in the meeting. I mean, the best news for Donald Trump was you`re not in the meeting. Donald Trump`s legal strategy was to find a way to get himself implicated in this meeting by talking to his son about how he describes it.
RAMPELL: And to insert himself into a statement that, again, was -- from what the reporting has been -- was attempting to be more forthcoming allegedly, right? That they initially said they wanted to get ahead of the story, and say, OK, here`s what happened, here`s what we did, let`s not make the cover-up worse than the crime. We don`t know what the crime was to the extent that there may have been one, but that`s what the reporting said. And he inserts himself into this situation when he may not have needed to. It`s kind of the Peter Principle at work here, right?
MELBER: What`s the Peter Principle?
RAMPELL: That people rise to the level of their incompetence. Like to the level they where they can no longer add value. It`s that he`s risen to the top and he thinks that because he`s at the top, he must know everything and he`s writing off every piece of advice, legal or otherwise, that he could be -- legal, political, for that matter, that he could be getting-- that he could benefit from. But he thinks he knows best because he`s the boss.
MELBER: I see your Peter Principle and I raise you a Peter Pan principle. When does Donald Trump grow up and into the office here? Because this report that I want to read, just so folks again have the understanding of it, federal investigators working for Mueller focused on Trump`s role in crafting the response to the meeting between the Russians and his son Donald Jr. This is three sources to NBC News moments ago. We just got it saying, Prosecutors want to know what Trump knew about the meeting and whether he sought to conceal its purpose. The Peter Pan principle would be if you allow me to just --
MELBER: That if you to grow into being president and that means letting a White House counsel and your criminal lawyers and your defense team deal with this. And the benign explanation was this was an error that Donald Trump made because he cares so much about his son, Don Jr. What, "any father would do." I wonder if your view as someone who works for a campaign up against him thinks there`s a less benign view of this?
MAXWELL: I don`t know if there is a less benign view because we don`t have all of the facts. What I do know is that this does not look good in context of all of the other details we know. When you put this on the time line of what was happening last summer, this June meeting was not just some meeting that Donald Trump might have wanted to get involved in creating a statement to help his son Don Jr. This was at the time right before and during the hack of the DNC and the later release of e-mails in July. And so, in the context of what was happening at the time in the campaign, if you put all those facts together, Donald Trump getting involved in this does look like he is covering up something. I`m not saying he is because we need more facts, but I do think that when you put it on the timeline is when it becomes a problem and it doesn`t look like he`s just trying to help his son.
MELBER: And that goes to denials that we`ve been covering throughout the show and a couple of stories. Here was Don Jr.`s denial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON: I`m more than happy to be transparent about it and more than happy to cooperate with everyone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So as far as you know, as far as this incident`s concern, this is all of it.
TRUMP JR.: This is everything. This is everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAMPELL: That wasn`t everything. Clearly, because they revised their story multiple times after that.
MELBER: Catherine Rampell and Zerlina Maxwell joining us on a very, very new story about an old story, a new story about an old story. Thank you, both for being here. We will be right back with something new.
MELBER: An NBC News exclusive this hour. Special Council Bob Mueller is now focusing on Donald Trump`s personal role in crafting that response to the Don Junior meeting. We`re going to continue that conversation in our Facebook and Twitter @THEBEATWITHARI or e-mail ARI@MSNBC.COM if you have questions for me. And now as always, it is time for, "WHO SAID IT." Here`s the quote, "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." And in a twist tonight, there are are two people who have been saying it. The answers and why it is suddenly relevant after this.
MELBER: We are back with a really good, "WHO SAID IT." The quote, "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. Now, there are two people who said it. One is Obi-Wan Kenobi while fighting Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode Four, A New Hope.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A great line from a great film now being repurposed in politics by this man, former White House Aide Sebastian Gorka, left his post there Friday night during the hurricane and made the following comment this weekend about Steve Bannon, who is also recently left, to go back to Breitbart. With Steve back at the helm, it is like the last scenes of star wars, do you remember what Obi-Wan Kenobi said to Darth? If you strike me down, I will be more powerful than you can ever imagine. Gorka saying, that Bannon is some kind of Obi-Wan which of course begs the question, who would Gorka be in this analogy? Twitter had an answer. Seb, Bannon is more Jabba the Hutt and you yourself are pretty close to Jar Jar Binks. If you know Star Wars, you know there is no lower insult. All right, that does it for THE BEAT, "HARDBALL" starts right now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Trump tackles storms. Let`s play HARDBALL.
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