Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: August 29, 2017
Guest: Nick Akerman, Harlan Levy, Michael Riley, P.S. Ruckman Jr.; Jamil Smith, Leah Wright Rigueur
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": Everyone who reports and who consumes news to just be careful, especially on those Twitters. That's all we have for tonight. We'll back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily", but THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now. And, Ari, the pardon powers, as I told people you would reveal the answer at 6:02.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Truth in advertising slightly later in the show, but we do have a significant, I believe, report on what happens if there are mass Russia pardons, Chuck.
TODD: Fair enough. It's worth sticking around for. It would've been worth sticking around for almost any topic, Ari. But definitely for this one.
MELBER: I appreciate you saying that, Chuck. Thank you very much.
Robert Mueller is closing in. This Russia investigation now officially reaching President Trump and his inner circle. We will explain.
Investigative pressure today has moved to Donald Trump Jr. Today, he is consenting for the first time to a Russia interview with Senate investigators. Now, they had been seeking this, you might recall, since last month.
This session, sure to focus on his now-exposed Trump Tower meeting with Russians. And Robert Mueller's team is investigating whether President Trump personally dictated a misleading account of that meeting. Could that be part of a federal case for obstruction?
Trump Jr., of course, wrote that email, seemingly incriminating, saying that I love it when offered dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russian people claiming to support a Kremlin plot.
Now, that meeting was ultimately revealed. Trump Jr. first claimed it was simply primarily about adoptions.
All of this, of course, is coming tonight as we learn that Trump was seeking Kremlin help separately with business dealings and a new focus on Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
A Republican close to the White House telling Axios, this gives Mueller all the excuse he needs to open a full-blown investigation into Cohen. And it's worth knowing Cohen's financial affairs are inextricably intertwined with the president's.
You look at all this, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin sums it all up by asking what more proof of secret Russian connections do we need.
I want to bring in our panel immediately to dissect all this. Joan Walsh from "The Nation"; Ken Dilanian, "NBC's" intelligence and national security reporter, and John Harwood, CNBC's editor-at-large.
Joan, that's a conservative writing what more do we need. She uses the term connection which is certainly different than collusion.
But if we take a step back, because there's a desensitizing or some people call it normalizing to all this, if you found out a couple months ago or even during the campaign before Americans made up their minds, then in the middle of the Republican primary, there was help being sought from the Kremlin to make money for Donald Trump, how would that affect things?
JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, "THE NATION" AND MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know how it would have affected things. People put up with quite a lot from this candidate and this president.
His voters, they loved him either - sometimes because of his wheeling and dealing - it's beyond that. It's a very light word.
But I think we in the media, and I think a lot of mainstream Republicans like Jennifer, who was never Trump, I think would have made a lot with it.
And it also shows us, Ari, how inextricable to use that word again. His business dealings and his political dealing have been - sometimes you read those "Washington Post" and "New York Times" stories and you think he's pursuing Trump Tower to become president or he's running for president to secure his power. And maybe it was a little bit of both, but this is a really deep set of revelations.
MELBER: Well, John, Joan uses the word inextricable. It's one of those words I sometimes have trouble pronouncing on TV, but that's - it's hard to say and it's also hard to unentwine something that is inextricably linked. So, maybe it's hard on purpose.
I want to read more from Jennifer Rubin's assessment and get yours. She writes, the interaction of Trump's finances with foreign powers should also remind Congress and voters that Trump continues to receive money through his businesses from foreign governments, that be in the form of bookings at his hotel or benefits derived from expedited trademarks. This is the essence," she writes, "of financial corruption when someone benefits financially because of his official position." John?
JOHN HARWOOD, "CNBC" EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, Jennifer is right. Look, it is wholly inappropriate for a leading candidate for president to solicit the help of a foreign head of state of any kind, much less a hostile foreign power.
And moreover, they show Michael Cohen in these emails reaching out to Vladimir Putin's spokesman, but they also show Felix Sater, who is a career criminal, mob-connected, prosecuted for money laundering, who was Donald Trump's business partner over multiple years, was part of the back and forth with Michael Cohen over getting this project done.
It is alarming and it does underscore the issue of the president using his political campaign and now the presidency to profit his own family, which we have all been led to believe, it's never been tested, but we've all been led to believe for a very long time that that would violate the constitution.
MELBER: Right. And that is a case, interestingly, Ken Dilanian, that is moving through the New York court system. The original judge in that case by the way recused herself from the question of financial corruption and emoluments because her husband went on to take a coveted assignment with Robert Muller, but that case continues. We may ultimately find out what the courts think is illegal.
No other president has insisted on doing business this much while in office, Ken. A lot of presidents were lawyers. You could charge a real high hourly rate, if you wanted to, while being president. Other people have chosen not to. This president made a different choice. Ken, Michael Cohen, is someone you've reported on a lot. Walk us through that part.
KEN DILANIAN, "NBC NEWS" INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Right. Well, he is the president's personal lawyer and he's got a long and colorful history of business entanglements with Russia and he is basically owned up.
What I find most interesting about this is, he's very frank. He acknowledged to "NBC News" and others that he spoke to the president on three occasions about this deal and signed a non-binding letter of intent.
So, Trump was ready and it's not something that they were doing without his knowledge. And I agree with everything that's been said. It's just extraordinary that this was going on during the campaign. And further, it's extraordinary that the president - that Donald Trump denied that this was happening, said there was no deals with Russia, no prospective deals, no potential deals, no loans.
And what this also shows, Ari, is that they are not taking a strategy of let's get everything out. So, we still may have a lot to learn about meetings, about entanglements, about potential deals with Russia.
And the other thing I'm intrigued about this is that Mueller is going at this case like he's investigating the Gambino crime family. There are no holds barred. We saw that with the search of Paul Manafort's apartment. We're seeing it with a series of subpoenas and the hardball tactics. There's no deference whatsoever because this is the president of United States and his team.
HARWOOD: Ari, let's just make one thing clear. The initial statement that was put out that we now understand the president had a role in was not just a little lie, it was a gigantic preposterous lie. It was saying that this meeting was principally about Russian adoptions, when we know now from the emails that have come out that Don Jr. is going to have to answer questions about before the Senate committee, it was about working with Russia to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
MELBER: Right. And that is to set the table on all this, the most controversial meeting that has ever been publicly exposed. It undercut the false statements. You see there the people who went to that meeting. Undercut the false statements that there were no high-level Russia meetings. You have literally the kitchen cabinet there in the family and Kushner, the son-in-law, and Manafort, the chairman at the time.
And then, Ken, the way these things leak out, you put it very measured because that's your nature as a reporter. You said they're not following the strategy of getting everything out. I would go further and say I know a Dennis who don't have to pull as hard as Bob Mueller to get any of these leaks out.
And let me read to you some of the intrigue. This was in a brand-new "Vanity Fair" report about how these things come out and fighting within the kingdom.
People close to President Trump wondering aloud whether it was Kushner's team that leaked the Don Jr. email, which we're all talking about to "The New York Times" in the first place, the implication that Kushner was willing to sacrifice his own brother-in-law in order to distance himself from the uncomfortable reality of the meeting. He seems to excel at waging war against certain colleagues whom he views as detrimental to his father- in-law, Ken.
DILANIAN: And there is also speculation that Manafort's team was responsible for that meeting becoming public because after all it was Manafort's disclosures to Congress that triggered the meeting becoming public.
It's just absolutely extraordinary. But one thing we know now is that Robert Mueller is investigating why the president caused that misleading statement to be issued, not necessarily because that's an illegal act in and of itself, but because it may show a consciousness of guilt.
It raises the question of why did they want to dissemble about that meeting and put out a false story that had to do with Russian adoptions, when clearly it was a meeting about sanctions, involving Russians with links to the Kremlin, Ari.
MELBER: Right. And, look, this is the time in the broadcast, Joan, where I will repeat, we don't know where the facts will ultimately land in this inquiry.
MELBER: This inquiry could ultimately be positive for Donald Trump if, for example, it finds no wrongdoing or only finds wrongdoing far afield from him. That's possible. I've covered cases that look one way and land another way.
Question for Republicans is, do they say that let's see where it goes or do they have some different response to this lifelong Republican prosecutor digging in?
Here's one response I want to read to, new, a Republican floating a measure to defund the Mueller probe. Congressman DeSantis putting forward a provision that would halt funding for Mueller's probe six months after his amendment passes. It would also prohibit Mueller from investigating matters that occurred before, oh, I don't know, he picked June 2015 when Trump launched his presidential campaign.
You know I like to be fair.
MELBER: There is no fair interpretation, telling a prosecutor, don't look at certain felonies.
MELBER: Because they happened at a certain time. If you are a law maker, you should care about the violation of the federal laws you passed. That's what Mueller is investigating.
MELBER: Regardless of when those potential felonies occurred.
WALSH: Absolutely. And I hope that this measure doesn't go anywhere. Paul Ryan has to put a stop to it. I don't know what it's going to be like when they all come back in September, Ari, but they really need to start speaking up about this, and at least speaking up on behalf of the process, as well as speaking up - you're going to get into this notion of pardons later, and you know more than I do, but speaking out against the notion of preemptively or after an indictment pardoning any of these players that there will be political hell to pay if he does something like that. We haven't heard anything like that yet.
MELBER: Right. And we do have a special investigative report on that on THE BEAT later this hour. That's what Chuck Todd was mentioning. We will get into that.
John Harwood, what else are you hearing in Washington? I know all of our cliches are dying this year, but the old cliche was, in late August, everybody chills. The breaking news here that we have on Russia suggests it's not that kind of day in Washington.
HARWOOD: That's right. And I think that events are moving in a very negative direction for the president, not only if you had this high-profile demonstration of moral indifference after the Charlottesville incident.
The same repeated with the pardoning of Joe Arpaio, the county sheriff from Arizona, which Mike Gerson, the former George W. bush speechwriter said in a column in "The Washington Post" today was the most straight-up racist incitement of the Trump administration, given what Joe Arpaio was accused of doing in Arizona to Latinos. He's suspected of beating illegal immigrants.
That, combined with the accelerating momentum for Bob Mueller's probe, makes it increasingly difficult for Republicans to stand up and defend him. They will not defend him if he issues preemptive pardons against people involved in the Russia investigation.
And we've seen an erosion in his polling support. He has now been consistently for more than a week at 35 percent or less in the Gallup tracking poll and about 60 percent in disapproval. That is a dangerous place to be, if you're a Republican trying to get reelected in 2018 and being - it's a tipping point where the fear of the Republican base in a primary is soon going to be outweighed by the fear of what happens to you in a general election and there's a lot on the line for them on that.
MELBER: Well, you make such an important point. We hear it so often and people say, oh, well, his base stick with him. As you say, the numbers showing otherwise. He won with 46 percent, which was the second in the popular vote and a very narrow way to get an electoral college victory. You're describing him falling from 46 to 35. That's a big change.
Ken Dilanian and John Harwood, thank you. Joan, stick around, and I want to talk you again on this show.
Now, coming up, as promised, we have an MSNBC legal exclusive report on what could happen to the Russia probe if Donald Trump does issue these pardons. The answer may surprise you.
And President Trump on the ground in Texas touring the devastation there. Details on that and the funding fight over disaster relief, which is dividing some Republicans.
Also, as John Harwood just mentioned, some new polling out. We're going to show it to you (INAUDIBLE) these alarming signs for Donald Trump a critical indicator things may be getting worse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a real team and we want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at in five years and ten years from now as this is the way to do it.
This was of epic proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Republicans fighting each other over Hurricane policy today as President Trump touring the flood ravaged Texas. He huddled to local officials and then talked to some political supporters in Corpus Christi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I want to thank you for coming out. We're going to get you back and operating immediately. Thank you, everybody. What a crowd, what a turnout.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump returning to DC tonight where he will confront an issue facing Congress, disaster relief.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie making waves for blasting Texas lawmakers who previously tried to block aid to the Northeast. Republicans who were doing in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: The congressional members in Texas are hypocrites. And I had said back in 2012 (INAUDIBLE 3:00) when you're a state that has any kind of coastal exposure, like Texas does to the Gulf, you are going to wind up having some type of disaster that's going to befall the people of your state. Then all of a sudden, you're not going to want a conversation at all preaching philosophical niceties because people are suffering, dying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Christie's version of the record there is true. Nearly every Texas Republican who was serving in Congress at the time of Sandy voted against that $50 billion aid bill.
Now, we want to show you a response. This was Texas Senator Ted Cruz on MSNBC defending that history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS: I and a number of others enthusiastically and emphatically supported hurricane relief for Sandy. The problem with that particular bill as it became a $50 billion bill that was filled with unrelated pork, two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And the problem with that particular statement is it's totally misleading. "The Washington Post" fact-checking Sen. Cruz's claim there on our air and said it was mostly false because that was hurricane relief funds in the main.
With me, Evan Siegfried, Republican strategist and author of GOP GPS: How to Find the Millennial and Urban Voters the Republican Party Needs to Survive, and Joan Walsh back with me.
Evan, this is a debate that could be important. Why is Ted Cruz, according to "The Washington Post's" account misleading about it?
EVAN SIEGFRIED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Ted Cruz is going out and he's trying to put principle here and talk about how, on the surface, it looks like the Sandy aid bill had all this pork thrown into it.
It was such as $100 million for head start, but $100 million dollars for head start went to rebuild facilities where head start took place in New York and New Jersey, which were impacted and devastated.
There was stuff to help repair the roof of one of the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC. Yes, that looks like pork, but it was actually damaged by Sandy.
This was dealing with Sandy damage, which was all up and down the eastern seaboard, particularly in New York and New Jersey.
There were other things in there that also looks like pork, like money for Alaska and the salmon fishing industry, but that was to deal with the prior disaster because they couldn't get the funding there.
Ted Cruz says he did support Hurricane Sandy relief in another bill, which was by then Congressman Mick Mulvaney and that bill had across-the-board discretionary spending cuts of 1.63 percent.
So, it was a chance to give Sandy relief, but only if we cut government spending across the board, and that was not a time to have that.
MELBER: Right. A kind of hostage taking. Evan Siegfried, bringing the receipt.
MELBER: Bringing the receipts to the conversation.
www And the Republican - let the Republicans do the job -
MELBER: I think these are the facts. This is the problem -
WALSH: Absolutely, the facts.
MELBER: - with Ted Cruz trying to have it both ways. If you want to say the federal government shouldn't do disaster relief, that's a position you can honestly and intellectually take and see what people think about it. Most Americans in both parties have said this is a good rule.
I want to play President Trump here. This was this week there in his press conference, taking out the broad position that, yes, Congress is going to help out, apparently unaware of the fact there is this Republican debate. Here is President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You're going to see very rapid action from Congress, certainly from the president, and you're going to get your funding. It's a terrible tragedy. We expect to have requests on our desk fairly soon and we think that Congress will feel very much the way I feel, in a very bipartisan way. That will be nice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALSH: It should be bipartisan as it always used to be. But in the last four or five years, as Republicans have gotten more conservative, it is no - disaster aid is no longer bipartisan unless it happens to them.
I wrote a piece in "The Nation" today, everyone is a socialist after a national disaster. They want their funding quick, they want the government to be there for them and that includes Ted Cruz.
MELBER: So, there's no atheists in foxholes.
WALSH: And there is no - and everyone is a socialist after a natural disaster. Those are - I'm going to elevate the second one. You know the first. But this is just the beginning for that slogan.
When you look at what Evan - the numbers that Evan ran down, Ted Cruz is not stupid. If Ted Cruz wanted to master the details of that bill, he could. He likes to remind us he went to great Ivy League schools, he's a brilliant man.
So, he's, obviously, either not interested enough or perhaps lying. And so, there is just a level of hypocrisy. I don't often agree with Chris Christie, but Peter King in New York and other Republicans, they're livid.
MELBER: Well - and this is where, Evan, the politics actually are the policy because what Chris Christie is saying is not - I'm criticizing Texas because I want something from them that right now - or I want to win an election.
What Chris Christie saying is, I see you and I remember when you stood up there and said you were against this funding because this wasn't a federal government role. Now, it turns out, no, you're only against it, Chris Christie says, for his state and his constituents and not for Texas.
Again, it's not to diminish the fact that the larger point here is let's get people - I think a lot of elected officials saying, let's get people the help they need. But what do you make of Chris Christie picking this fight?
SIEGFRIED: First of all, this isn't politics. This is reality and it's people's lives. And let's face it, reality doesn't have a Ted Cruz bias. Ted Cruz went out and tried to play politics with what was going on here and it's blown up in his face.
New York Republicans to push back against what Joan said, New York and Eastern Seaboard Republicans, we've always stood up for disaster aid, no matter where it is because that's what we do as Americans.
And I think it's important to note that there are New Jersey Republicans, Pennsylvania Republicans who were always there when people need help.
But in terms of Chris Christie calling him out on it, I don't know if it's a fight we should be having right now, considering what's going on in the ground at Harvey. I think we should be helping them first.
And I think that, at the same time, we do have the responsibility to remind people later on when we start having the political (INAUDIBLE).
MELBER: And, briefly, did Donald Trump had his empathy moment today?
SIEGFRIED: He didn't have the empathy moment yet, but he's done a very good job, except for asking - for complimenting the crowd size that came out to greet him. But empathy has never been a strong (INAUDIBLE).
WALSH: He didn't hug a mom or hold a baby or shake someone's hand or ask a senior how they were doing. It was really remarkable. He acted like this was a big field trip and it was the biggest and the best response and we're going to congratulate each other later. It was typical Donald Trump without an ounce of empathy.
SIEGFRIED: But has he ever been exposed to a situation like this? This is a guy who built luxury condos, that's it. He's never really had to deal with real hardship along these lines.
MELBER: Evan Siegfried and Joan Walsh, thank you both.
Coming up, we were now going to go the MSNBC legal unit exclusive that I mentioned. Our new report on whether President Trump can use his pardon power to shut down the Russia probe? Or as we have found, there might be a new door opening if he does that. This is a BEAT exclusive. Next.
MELBER: Now to our special report. President Trump's early pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio before that case even ended has many asking if Trump may pardon any Americans under scrutiny in Bob Mueller's Russia probe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's sending a message to people that may be under investigation by Bob Mueller that I have your back and I've got a pardon waiting for you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump also recently claimed he has complete power to pardon people in the Russia probe, an inflammatory statement since pardons are for criminals.
This is to us becoming the most significant legal question of the Trump era. Could Trump use pardons to end the prosecution of all crimes related to Russia's 2016 election meddling?
We have the answer in our special investigative report tonight. And the answer is no. Even mass pardons by President Trump would not close the door to all prosecutions for crimes related to the 2016 election meddling. And here is why.
If Trump were to pardon every person facing scrutiny in Mueller's Russia probe, it would halt federal prosecution for those Russia-related crimes.
When President George H.W. Bush pardoned his defense secretary two weeks before his trial for lying to Congress, it ended that case for good. Lying to Congress is a federal crime. Bush gave out a federal pardon. End of story.
But the Russia allegations are potentially different. They do not only implicate federal crimes. And tonight, for the first time, we can report new findings from an MSNBC legal unit investigation into the other way this Russia probe could continue even after pardons, through prosecution for state crimes.
Bob Mueller is investigating these federal crimes. And when his investigation is complete, he can charge people and report to Congress on any misconduct found in the White House.
Our reporting on the allegations in the Russia probe, though, shows several state crimes could also be implicated. That's key because President Trump has no power to pardon state crimes.
And depending on the facts, state prosecutors could pick up the case where Bob Mueller leaves it. First, if any Americans were involved with Russian hacking at the DNC, they could face charges in states like Virginia, where much of Washington's tech support is located.
Second, if any Americans were involved with Russian intrusions into state elections, they could face charges in some of those 39 states
Third, if any Americans were involved with other interstate conspiracies with Russians, they could face conspiracy charges in those states. Some of the charges don't even require the plot to be successful. If Americans try to commit a felony with Russians, they could face charges. Now, historically let's be clear. States usually differ to federal investigators but if Trump issues mass pardons, that legal door would be open in some states. The state also may obtain grand jury material if it shows a violation of state law. So if Mueller's investigation ends, a state could pursue the transcripts of every Mueller interview before the Grand Jury and other evidence.
In fact, I can report tonight that a source with knowledge of one state Attorney General's preparations tells me that office is already looking at its potential jurisdiction for Russia related crimes. The source also notes the feds generally do go first. Now, whether there are state cases, depends on a lot we don't know at this point including whether Trump ultimately interferes with Mueller over what he considers that red line. On this week, of course, we learn some investigators looking at his efforts to do business with Russia during the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES CORRESPONDENT: If Mueller was looking at your finances and your family's finances unrelated to Russia. Is that a red line?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Would that be a breach of what his actual --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I would say yes, I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don't -- I don't -- I mean, it's possible there's a condo or something so yes, you know, I sell a lot of condo units and if somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don't make money from Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Whether a state prosecutor picks this up depends on not only if Trump pardons people but when he might do it. Now, this has never been reported previously but several key state laws on double jeopardy would actually turn on the timing of any federal pardon. Translation, an early pardon by Trump would actually leave the door more open to state prosecution. That's the case for example in Illinois where we found state hacking laws would be easier to enforce in the Russia case if a pardon came earlier rather than later. And just as the law empowers state to pursue grand jury material, it's possible for state to ultimately hire Mueller or his team down the road. The laws vary but states allow the hiring of special investigators.
Now, President Trump has already tested several parts of our constitutional system. One of its core foundations though is federalism that the federal and state governments do have separate authority to pursue criminal inquiries. Now, when the federal system takes a backseat for whatever reason, sometimes states step up. So, President Trump my test the limits of this pardon power on this Russia case at his own peril. Joining me now for our special report is Nick Akerman a former Assistant Watergate Prosecutor and Harlan Levy a former Chief Deputy Attorney General for New York State, another words a local Prosecutor. Nick, if there are mass pardons, is this an alternative route for criminal investigations of the Russia issues?
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: There's no question about it. I mean, it really comes down to what are the facts, what kind of facts are uncovered. But I can give you one example. In New York State, criminal possession of computer data is in itself a crime. It's felony. So for example, if you take the situation with the meeting at Trump Tower on June 9th where it was promised by this Mr. Goldstone that he was going to deliver documents to Donald Junior. If those documents had been hacked from Hillary Clinton's campaign office and then were brought to that June 9th meeting. If that could be proven by a local prosecutor, you would have a prosecution for a local, federal felony for the criminal possession of computer data. So yes, the answer is yes. I think where it goes off though is this obstruction of justice that Donald Trump has got himself involved in lying to Congress, all of these are federal crimes.
AKERMAN: You would not have the ability to prosecute those.
MELBER: And that's the difference say in the bush example. Those were exclusively federal crimes. What our reporting finds Harlan, is in some states as I mention, there are also potentially state infractions.
HARLAN LEVY, FORMER CHIEF DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR NEW YORK STATE: That's right. And you know, what state prosecutor can deal with whether it be attorney generals or local D.A.s are state crimes. They are limited. So to the extent, there's a big national or international investigation, that's less within their scope and their target. Now, to the extent their crimes that are committed, that are committed in state and that violate state law, there could be path forward here.
HAYES: Right. And Trump's defenders, I want to play some of the President Bush Senior. Trump's defenders say, wait a minute, the pardon power is broad and absolute for federal crimes. So here was President Bush Senior defending those pardons I mentioned of his own aides and their own contra.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I pride myself on 25 or more years of public service of serving honorably, decently and with my integrity intact. And certainly, I wouldn't feel that way if I had a lack of respect for the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Nick, his argument has he respected the law while using his pardon power in way that was widely seen as self-interested. And that ended the case although the independent counsel at the time complained about it. The difference here being that this is such a sophisticated plot, 39 states implicated, many of which have still never been identified that it does have a door number two.
AKERMAN: Of course it does. I mean, look, most crimes started out as state crimes. And what you're really talking about either lying or stealing. All of the crimes that we have as federal crimes have an analog in the state system. The difference being that you have federal jurisdiction by virtue of interstate, commerce or by virtue of using the internet or anything that revolves interstate. So there's a wide array of federal crimes. In fact, I would argue that in some instances you may have some better crimes to charge on the state level than you do on the federal.
MELBER: Well, and you say that. That's such a key part of this. I want you to stay with me. There's so much intention on that state piece from the DNC e-mail. But the other part of the Russia plot which Investigative Reporter Michael Riley broke the story was all of these intrusions in 39 states hit by allegedly Russian hackers. The Obama administration was sent into a tail spin. Now, many Americans involved in that, a presidential pardon wouldn't totally help them. I want to expand our discussion by bringing in that reporter Michael Riley and one of the nation's prominent pardon scholar P.S. Ruckman Jr., an author on a book about the pardon power. Starting with you Mike, do you have an indication about why so many of the states that were hit remain unknown and whether there is any investigative interest in this part of it. .
MICHAEL RILEY, BLOOMBERG INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Sure. It helps to sort of break this down a little bit. It turns out that what the Russians were doing around hacking an election breaks down to two blocks. One is, they were stealing e-mails from the DNC, the DCCC political figures and they are leaking those e-mails to WikiLeaks but they were also leaking them to bloggers, all sorts of people. That creates a chain of custody presumably where you can try to chase that information and see if there's any collusion there. The 39 states come into the second bucket because what these Russians were also doing was hacking or probing state election systems from voter databases down to systems that were actually being used on election day.
The fear of the Obama administration that -- was that they were trying to learn enough to create some sort of incorruption on election day. At -- so much so that they used the cyber (INAUDIBLE) the red phone to warn Moscow that this was an escalatory act and that they needed to back down. What we do know is that they didn't pull the trigger on election day but we don't know exactly why. We -- and there is a question of like, OK, what does that -- those events -- were their people involved in gathering information or hacking that second bucket as well that could be implicated in this.
MELBER: And briefly, did your reporting ever shed light on the question of whether Americans could have been involved in that or that was purely and wholly foreign?
RILEY: You know, obviously the information piece and information distribution piece, the possibility of collusion brings up a lot of elements that come back into the U.S. in terms of the way the information was distributed. Who got it, right, or Stone has already said that he had access to and discussed Guccifer which is a profile for one of the Russian hackers. It - so, that piece, there's certainly some implication that we didn't discover anything that showed that there were hackers that were in the U.S. based that were involved in the state hacks but it's certainly possible. Keep in mind, for example, the Yahoo hack which turns out to be tied to the FSB used hackers that included a hacker in Canada to do a lot of work. These guys go wherever they're needed to.
MELBER: You mentioned that Russian yahoo hack. There were indictments on that. They were federal in May. Profess Ruckman, on the big question here, if President Trump does use what he calls his complete power to pardon people, is that a bar to potential state prosecution?
P.S. RUCKMAN, JR., PARDON SCHOLAR: No. It's pretty well settled that the pardon power only applies to federal offenses. I just had to say that sometimes with Trump you have to be careful not to look for the bottom of something that isn't shallow. What feeds I think legitimately this concern about the radiating effects of the Russian probe is that this isn't a policy. The Arpaio pardon, it wasn't a policy decision or the result of reflection about how to use the clemency power. And so, I don't think the 10 or 11,000 people that have applications in for clemency right now are rejoicing. I think this is kind of a punch in the stomach to them, a demoralizing punch and it feeds the misconception that pardons are for rich people, celebs, cronies of the President and that type of thing. It's a misperception but it's a very strong one. And it discourages executives from using the clemency power.
MELBER: Right, and you're speaking about again, all this in the wake of Arpaio. So, Nick Akerman, tie this all up for us, if you would. The White House is looking at the pardon power according to some reports. Donald Trump is tweeting about it. We just showed that. Bob Mueller is going to move forward on this investigation no matter what. But if he exercises a lawful federal pardon power, Mueller is basically closed down if it applies to enough people, right? And the only other game in town is this new reporting on the states.
AKERMAN: I think that's right. Mean, if he winds up giving broad pardons to all the people under investigation, he's closed down. There's no question about it. And that leaves it to the state district attorneys, state attorney generals to fill in the void. And there's no reason why they shouldn't.
MELBER: Right. And this is something we wouldn't normally be talking about this early in an inquiry but for a lot of what we heard out of Trump White House and his supporters. Nick Akerman, Harlan Levy, Michael Riley, and Professor P.S. Ruckman Jr. thank you all for making time. I appreciate it gentleman.
Coming up, a long time Trump aide getting the ax. We'll tell you why the President was not happy after this rally in Phoenix.
MELBER: President Trump under fire for returning to an obsession that dodged his first days as President, crowd size. His Texas visit is about hurricane relief but he did still marvel at his crowd.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I want to thank you for coming out. We're going to get you back and operating immediately. Thank you, everybody. What a crowd, what a turn out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: New reports that Trump even fired a long time campaign organizer after a sparse crowd at his rally in Arizona. The rally crowd thinned out toward the back of the room. One can blame the event or the organizer and Trump had hailed that beautiful turn out, even marveling at the crowd at the start of the very rally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What a crowd. What a crowd. You know, I'd love if the cameras could show this crowd because it is rather incredible. It is incredible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And the question with anyone praising their crowd size is whether the praise is for the crowd or the speaker?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I wonder if the television cameras will follow you. They don't like doing that when they see these massive crowds.
But we had a massive field of people. You saw them.
It looked like a million, million and a half people.
I just got over from Los Angeles. We had a tremendous crowd there too. We had a tremendous crowd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I want to bring in Jamil Smith, a Contributing Writer for the Daily Beast and Leah Wright Rigueur, Historian and Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Jamil, why is he harping on crowd size and even reportedly terminating people over it?
JAMIL SMITH, THE DAILY BEAST CONTRIBUTING WRITER: Well, I think it's because he's allergic to accountability. He'd rather not take you know, account for the fact that he, you know, bored a lot of people in that audience. I mean, Washington Post reported a lot of people leaving, getting tired of the President's message or frankly because it was a school night. People had to go home. I think that the President needs to understand that no one cares about how big -- how big his crowds are except for him. Maybe that's all he cares about, it's whether or not he cares. But the point is, I think, you know, when you look at firing people over the crowd size, I think it's real shortsighted move because I think you know, he's going to be surprised the next time when people are not quite as enthused about his message as you know, as they think -- as he thinks they should be. He's at 35 percent approval. That's on him.
MELBER: And Professor, I mean, he presumably understands the difference between any large number of people you gather in person and the larger numbers -- he used to tweet a lot about polls. Crowds can be big. (INAUDIBLE) big crowds and didn't win or crowds can be small and you can still win. It sort of seems like a whole mismatch premise.
LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Right. So I think it reinforces the idea that we're on perhaps the most disturbing season of Celebrity Apprentice yet. And that we have a President whose really concerned about ratings and abstract ideas of crowd size which is also a pretty low, low bar. I mean, these are the things that matter to him. It matters -- ratings and crowd size matter apparently more than actually the humanity and you know, the nation as a whole. And so, I'm not surprised to see that he is you know, firing people over this because that's who he is. That's how he has dictated himself. And again, when you think that, you know, when you think that life is a game show then you fire people willy- nilly.
MELBER: Jamil, can we talk about the young people for a second?
MELBER: OK. Let me show this. We'll move from crowds which aren't scientific to more scientific polling. Look at Trump hitting a record low, new Gallup poll. This is among voters under 30. Are they learning? What are they thinking? This is an all-time low. 100th day in office, Trump had peaked at 36 percent among these young people. 20-something is basically, it's now fallen to 20 percent in Gallup. What do you make of that Jamil because one interesting thing during the campaign was that there was a belief that Trump wouldn't do well among young people but he did slightly better than expected given the historical turnout? Here we're seeing young people leaving in droves now.
SMITH: Yes. I mean, well, they weren't a lot of them there in the first place. I mean, I toured a lot of college campuses last year reporting and folks were just not hearing his message. I think there were -- there's a core base of Republicans that are young. Obviously, we see that he appeals to young white extremists as we saw in Charlottesville. Let's not pretend that there isn't a base of young conservative people who don't hear what he's saying or not buying what he's selling. But you know, 20 percent, you just can't win national elections with that.
MELBER: I want to talk about what is sometimes called affectionately a Javanka, Professor. I don't know if you saw the report here in Vanity Fair. They obviously are influential family members. Vanity Fair calls them exiles on Pennsylvania Avenue. According to one political veteran, I'm just going to read this to you. What is off putting about them, Jared an Ivanka Trump is they don't grasp their essential relevance. They think they are special. Professor, there was a lot of talk on the policy side initially about nepotism. That seems to have curled into, according to Vanity Fair, a lot of people in Washington just feeling these are two people who don't quite know their place or have the proper deference. What do you make of this sort of fallout?
RIGUEUR: Right. So I don't think the shocking part of the Vanity Fair article was that you know, Washington elites, or Washington, you know, people of that town and policy makers and legislators don't particularly care for you know, Jared and Ivanka. The shocking part is that Jared and Ivanka came to town thinking that they would be different. And so, part of you know, part of this is that Jared and Ivanka haven't really done anything in the White House. There was a lot of you know, talk about how Ivanka was going to be moderating presence, that we were going to see kind of liberal and moderate of centrist kind of policies come through.
And that you know, Jared was going to do things and clean up the government and things like that. And none of that has happened. Instead what we've seen is that they're simply enablers and they often give the President cover for some of his worst excesses and poor behavior. So with that, it's no real surprise that they're on the outskirts not only of kind of Washington D.C. but also just kind of you know, political life in general.
MELBER: And is there a kind of an issue, Jamil, with them just being spread so thin and sort of, they're in charge of everything but that can also mean you're in charge of nothing?
SMITH: Well, that also -- and they have no experience doing the things that they're being asked to do. I think if they want to show that they're important, if they want to show that they, you know, have some kind of meaning in the White House, or you know, frankly, in our politics, something they can do is take some of their money and send some boats to Houston right now. They could do some actual public service as opposed to sort of you know, dancing around you know, these roles in the White House and also, like Leah said, providing cover for the extremist agenda that's coming from the Trump administration.
MELBER: Right. And they -- I think they started the tradition of blind leaks saying they were against something that was going to happen anyway. And now we've seen Mr. Cohn and some other people also. I really oppose this but I couldn't do anything about it but I want you to know, I'm leaking that I don't like it. And the question in the Trump era would be, what -- will you ever do anything about it. Professor Rigueur, Jamil Smith, thank you both and we will be right back.
RIGUEUR: Thank you.
MELBER: Here's Bob Mueller talking integrity four years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR RUSSIA INVESTIGATION: If you're not honest, your reputation will suffer and once lost, a good reputation can never be regained. As the saying goes, if you have integrity, nothing else matters. And if you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Next Monday, I hope you'll join us for a Labor Day special on THE BEAT at 6:00 p.m. focusing on Mueller, the Most Powerful Man in Washington this coming Monday. Now, it is time for Who Said It. here is the quote. "In the social and civil context as well, I appeal not to create walls, but to build bridges." The author and the lucky person who met him right after this break.
MELBER: We're back with Who Said It? The quote, "In the social and civil context as well, I appeal not to create walls, but to build bridges." The answer, Pope Francis. And when Trump went to the Vatican, Sean Spicer did not get to attend the meeting with the Pope, although he is a practicing Roman Catholic. At the time, Glenn Thrush called it this one depressing but we want to show you, Spicer, this past weekend he got to be there taking pictures of the Pope in the Vatican. A nice coda. That does it for us, "HARDBALL" starts right now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Trump in Texas. Let's play HARDBALL.
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