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The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 9/4/17 Mueller the most powerful man in Washington

Guests: Bethany McLean, Ron Hosko, Tim Weiner

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: September 4, 2017

Guest: Bethany McLean, Ron Hosko, Tim Weiner

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Tonight, the most powerful man in Washington who potentially holds the fate of the presidency in his hands. No, we`re not talking about President Trump. We`re talking about Special Counsel Bob Mueller.

Bob Mueller has not spoken in public in the three months he has headed the Russia probe ¤ no speeches, no interviews, no written statements.

We know his team is digging in using a grand jury to gather evidence, documents and plan grand jury interviews, but the big questions do remain unanswered ¤ who exactly is Mueller targeting, what kind of evidence has he found and is he focused on charging Russians for accountability in the 2016 hacks or is he also focused on Americans who may have helped them?

Tonight, on THE BEAT, we have for you a very special report on Bob Mueller who may well be the most consequential man to run the FBI since J. Edgar Hoover.

We`re going to look tonight in depth at the work he`s done in the past and the clues it holds for the case before him today.

The Russia investigation could clearly define the Trump presidency and the man running it has experience in both domestic crime and foreign battles.

Mueller having served as a Marine in Vietnam where he was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. As a federal prosecutor, he ran high-profile investigations, including the terrorist bombing of the Pan Am flight in Scotland, and he served eight years in the Bush administration as the nation`s top investigator, FBI chief. And he went on to serve another four in the Obama administration, the only FBI chief to exceed ten years under a new president from a different party.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He assumes great responsibilities. He was chosen with great care and he has my full confidence.

BARRACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that everyone here joins me in saying that you will be remembered as one of the finest directors in the history of the FBI and one of the most admired public servants of our time.


MELBER: We can contrast that to the different path for public life for Donald Trump. He attended a military style school in New York, but never served. In fact, he got five deferments during Vietnam and later famously said that avoiding STDs while he was single was his own "personal Vietnam."

Until he entered the White House, Trumpism was clearly more about private gain than public service, about winning at all costs.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a series of home runs. They were grand slam home runs. Just everything I touched turned to gold.

It¡s not been easy for me. I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of $1 million.

Money sort of works for me, deals works for me. It`s easy.

Oh, did I get rich!?

I`m the biggest developer in New York by far. I`ve done better than anybody else in the hottest city there is, which is New York City.

My whole life has been money.

I want money. I want money. Greedy! I was greedy! Greedy! I want more money, more money.


MELBER: Colleagues of Mueller say that money has never been his motivation.

But how far does his public service reputation reach? Well, I want to talk to Americans from all over the country to find out and we found a few who were visiting New York City in Times Square.


MELBER: What`s your name and where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Karen Ferry (ph). I`m from from Dallas, Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m Jared (ph) from Indianapolis, Indiana.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m Sharon (ph) from Seattle area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Carol Ducey (ph). I`m from Hilton Head, South Carolina. Is that Rex Tillerson?

MELBER: No. Though they both are ¤ well, they are sometimes referred to as silver foxes. What if I told you it`s this guy running the Russia investigation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, good for him.


MELBER: Robert Muller, correct. He`s the lawyer in charge of the Russia investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He should go home.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What`s there to investigate?

MELBER: Do you think he will be fair?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`ve heard he`s very fair, yes.

MELBER: Do you think he will be fair?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t know. I just don`t think they¡ve given Trump a fair chance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m hoping he`ll have a chance before he gets fired.

MELBER: We`ve been doing this in Times Square today. You are one of only three people who knew Bob Mueller by sight.


MELBER: With me now is Bloomberg`s Tim O`Brien who wrote an authoritative biography of Donald Trump, which led Trump to sue him; Malcolm Nance, an MSNBC terror analyst, author of "Plot to Hack America" and Jill Wine-Banks, former Watergate prosecutor and US Army General Counsel.

Welcome to all of you for our special here, looking more broadly at Bob Mueller, this consequential man, who`s rarely in the public view.

Malcolm, he`s never on television. What do you think his public service experience says not only about his skills, which I think are relatively undoubted, but his impartiality to follow the facts wherever they lead or don`t lead?

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, clearly, this is an American hero. This is a man who has dedicated his life to serving the nation. And he has already shown that he`s impartial.

He`s been the FBI director for three entirely separate presidents. He had the confidence of each of them. He took over the FBI when it was in disarray after the 9/11 attacks.

It`s funny because I worked in counterterrorism my whole career. Bob Mueller has been behind us and the FBI in virtually every one of these incidents, from Pan Am Flight 1O3 over Lockerbie, Scotland, all the way out to 9/11.

This man is a dedicated servant and he`s going to be impartial. He`s not talking about nothing. So, we should really give him his props for that.

MELEBER: Jill, we played some of the interviews in Times Square because it`s so interesting to hear what people think. We heard probably a bit more about politics and the noise around Mueller than his work, although several people did seem to know that he served the country for a long time, and I think people tend to respect that.

I want to read you from "The New York Times" account of when he went back into service, leaving a high paying job.

Eric Holder, a name many will recognize, was actually the chief prosecutor in Washington and he received "a surprising phone call. Muller offering to leave a highly paid positioned at a law firm to work as a homicide prosecutor in Holder`s office, a job with far less status and an even lower salary."

Jill, what does that tell us?

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR AND U.S. ARMY GENERAL COUNSEL: It is very indicative of his entire career, of public service and his dedication to justice in America.

I think he`s an admirable person who has served the country well and is currently doing exactly that.

MELBER: Tim, some lawyers are known because they like to fight, they like to argue, and that can be a good skill. Other lawyers, namely investigative prosecutors, like to dig in.

Mueller saying in a "Washington Magazine" profile in 2008 when I think he was slightly more inclined to share than now, where we hear nothing from him, he said, "I`ve always loved investigations." Love. This is what he loves to do.

TIMOTHY O`BRIEN, AUTHOR, �TRUMPNATION: THE ART OF BEING THE DONALD: He`s a law enforcement wonk. I don`t think he cares a minute that people in Times Square don`t recognize him on the cover of "Time Magazine," which, of course, is the polar opposite of the president, who if he wasn¡t recognized on a magazine cover would feel lost.

MELBER: You mentioned that. Trump, of course, as you documented, has tangled with people in and out of every arena.

Many people shrink from public fights. I`ve advised clients before. Let`s deal with this in a way that it doesn`t go as public. It will be less stressful for you. Donald Trump, the opposite.

Walk us through that. Your study of that and how that interferes in the investigation because Mueller has gotten ammo not only from people who want Donald Trump to go down, he appears to be getting ammo from Donald Trump.

O`BRIEN: Well, it`s (INAUDIBLE) Roy Cohn, who was Trump`s legal mentor when Donald first moved from the outer boroughs into Manhattan. And Roy Cohn, who famously was Joe McCarthy`s legal counsel during the communist hearings, red hearings in the 50s, taught Trump how to weaponized the legal system and essentially how to use the threat of a lawsuit or legal action to intimidate business partners, competitors, but maybe never follow through in the system itself.

MELBER: What did you think when you found out he really was suing you?

O`BRIEN: I was with "The New York Times" at the time. I had good in-house legal counsel. I had great counsel outside of "The Times" in Mary Jo White. So, we were lawyered up. He went to Marc Kasowitz in that litigation.

Kasowitz is in the Roy Cohn vein. Do battle, have a press conference, try to scare people, but be short on process, short on knowing your homework.

Robert Muller is not that guy.

MELBER: Well, and taking that to Jill, that strategy coming from someone who was basically the master of public red baiting, which is having a show trial rather than a real trial, that strategy can work, Jill, but it only works before you get into a courtroom where there are rules of evidence and an independent judge.

How is that strategy working now if Mueller is already empaneling people and putting them in front of the ¤ and planning the grand jury and putting people in that setting?

WINE-BANKS: Let me just say it`s not just that it only works to a certain point. It only works until you have a jury. And a jury will judge things fairly. They really pay attention to the facts. They take their sworn duty very seriously.

And I do not for a moment believe that all those people in "Times Square" who know nothing about what Robert Muller already knows and who are prejudging this would feel the same if they heard the evidence presented to it.

And, of course, if they were following MSNBC and your show, they would know a lot more about what the evidence actually is and about what the obstruction of justice is.

It`s not ¤ we keep using the word collusion. We`re not looking at collusion. The word is conspiracy. That`s a crime. Collusion isn`t a crime.

But beyond that, unrelated, even if there isn`t an underlying crime, the obstruction of justice, all of the attempts to mislead the prosecutor, to mislead the public, to evade responsibility for all the unreported meetings, what were those all about? It has to be about something. You don`t hide the information, if you`re not hiding something criminal.

MELBER: Jill, we always learn something from you when you drill down and you make such an important point there, which is, right, collusion has been referred to in the political or espionage context and it`s an important lens, but both federal and now state prosecutors are ultimately going to look at whether there were crimes committed of any variant kind and a conspiracy could be not with Russians. You could conspire with a tech assistant in Alexandria, Virginia and you`d still have a lot of problems on your hands.

This is why we`re digging into Mueller¡s background. Then there`s Mueller`s relationship with Trump after he became president.

A fascinating detail that I want to drill into tonight as well. This often gets forgotten. In a discussion with the Russia inquiry, the very day before Mueller was publicly named to be special counsel, he actually met with President Trump at the White House.

The man, he was about to begin investigating, at the time, reportedly, the president said he was thinking about putting Mueller back in that old job as FBI director. That would be a rare Obama appointment that he would hold over. Now, here is Donald Trump described this incredibly interesting meeting to "The Times".


TRUMP: Did you know Mueller was one of the people that was being interviewed?


TRUMP: He was sitting in that chair. We had a wonderful meeting.

HABERMAN: Day before, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he want the job?

TRUMP: Of course, he was up here. Mueller wanted the job. I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts? But he was interviewing for the job.


MELBER: As with so many other Trump-related issues, Malcolm, not going to ask you to comment on the veracity of Trump¡s claim. There`s no actual cognizable legal conflict in having the meeting. Throw that out the window.

But there is something weird here. When I first heard this, I didn`t know what to make of it. Bob Mueller, obviously, doesn`t want to do anything that would jeopardize what he knew to be an investigation he was about to start.

If he turned down the meeting, that might have been weird, but he took it. What do you think these two men talked about in the Oval Office?

NANCE: Well, that remains to be seen. Maybe Mueller will put himself on the stand as a witness. I don`t know. Mueller¡s entire investigation ¤ and let`s not forget, this started as a national counterintelligence investigation where someone was conspiring with Russian intelligence officers for some purpose.

Mueller¡s entire investigation, from beginning to end, is more like a torpedo underwater than a direct attack. I think that the Trump administration is clueless about what is going to hit them because they don`t hear anything from him.

And that meeting ¤ taking that meeting could have, in fact, been an intelligence collection mission as far as he`s concerned. This is a man who ran the entire apparatus to determine whether there was threats to the United States from spies in this country.

MELBER: But, Jill, he wouldn`t want to gather information in a way that would ultimately taint anything he got, right? What do you think happened in that meeting?

WINE-BANKS: It`s impossible to tell. I don`t think it matters what happened because I trust Mueller enough that I`m sure he was careful not to say or do anything that could possibly jeopardize his investigation.

MELBER: And let me ask you the corollary. If you were Donald Trump`s lawyer because he has frustrated his lawyers, do you trust him enough not to say anything adverse to his interest in that meeting?

WINE-BANKS: Can I answer that honestly?

MELBER: Please.

WINE-BANKS: Of course, I don¡t. No, I don`t. And I think there is a big difference between what Mueller`s investigation is and what Congress is doing.

Congress must find out what the Russians did. It doesn`t matter to me whether anyone from anywhere in America was involved. The fact that Russia is threatening our electoral system.

Our very foundation of democracy is how we vote and the freedom of the vote. So, it`s very important that we find out who did what, whether they are Russian or American or Ukrainian, wherever they are, and we need to be able to protect Americans voting from any possible interference.

MELBER: Jill and Tim, thank you for joining our special coverage. Malcolm, please stick around.

Coming up, we have so much more in this special, including the time that Bob Mueller threatened to resign as FBI director over an illegal spying program under Bush.

And his biggest cases including a complex Enron task force that may have clues to how he`s pursuing the Russia query.

And is it just, as some allege, a fishing expedition? We get multiple views here. Two former federal prosecutors to debate that charge. I`m Ari Melber and you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.



SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST, HANNITY: The Russia investigation, which is being overseen by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, is beyond corrupt, beyond political and has now turned into an open-ended fishing expedition.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: These types of endeavors end up being fishing expeditions. They`re very broadly-cast nets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a fishing expedition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don`t think there`s a fair investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t think it can be.


MELBER: So, is Bob Mueller on a fishing expedition? That`s a key argument from the president`s allies that Mueller either has already gone beyond the scope of what he`s supposed to investigate or that he will.

With me now is former independent counsel Robert Ray. He led the Whitewater investigations of the Clintons, succeeding Ken Starr, and Harry Litman, a deputy assistant attorney general and US attorney/prosecutor under President Clinton.

Now, Harry, you wrote about this saying, the question is whether Mueller¡s conduct is accepted practice, lawful and good for the country and frame that answer you wrote isn`t controversial, saying Mueller is squarely within bounds. What do you mean?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL And US ATTORNEY/PROSECUTOR UNDER PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes. I don`t think anyone has said differently. I`m not sure what some of the people who charge fishing expedition mean exactly.

But if the question is whether Mueller in investigating Russian conspiracy is casting a wide net and is following the evidence where it leads, the answer is yes, of course. That`s exactly what he`s doing and what he`s supposed to be doing.

Witnesses are not going to walk in the door and say we`ve conspired with Russia. You need to acquire leverage against them, you need to start with the peripheral witnesses and work your way in.

And when you develop information that you can use to get a lower-up to testify against a higher-up, you run with it hard, you acquire leverage and you use it. That`s the name of the game. That`s the prosecutors, Ari.

MELBER: Robert?

ROBERT RAY, FORMER HEAD OF THE OFFICE OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I think it`s probably too early to say. In some sense, this is an unanswerable question because it`s in the eye of the beholder, isn`t it?

MELBER: Well, no. It¡s not in the eye of the beholder. As you know, there are legal standards and rules. There is authorizing investigative rules for this particular inquiry, which has extra independents because of, according to Donald Trump`s own appointed aides, his own DOJ, because he messed up. So, that`s why we`re here. There are rules.

RAY: Well, sure, there are rules and there`s a mandate and then the mandate says we to investigate Russia collusion.

The secondary part of that is that anything that`s directly related to that mandate is within his jurisdiction. And the third part is anything that deals with obstruction of justice, false statements or perjury ¤

MELBER: Right.

RAY: ¤ Is within the mandate. Where the rubber is going to meet the road, though, when it hasn`t happened yet is when we reach questions about the sort of how far that mandate goes.

It`s intended to be broad and all encompassing. It`s intended to provide Bob Mueller with sufficient authority to do an investigation, as you would in any other ordinary case, but there`s also a political dynamic here too.

And while I think entry into the domain of, let¡s say, for example, President Trump`s finances and the Trump organization may be at least initially fair game. The president is probably appropriate to push back without a further expansion of that mandate to go too far down into Trump¡s finances.

MELBER: So, Harry, let`s put up on the screen here the Rosenstein announcement of the mandate, so people can see exactly what he said.

"Links and coordination between the Russian government and those individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the matters that arise from it."

As Rob Ray mentions, if someone is investigating that and then somebody threatens a witness or tries to hurt somebody or tries to impede the investigation, those are obviously matters arising.

The money question is a big one because there has been more and more evidence that Donald Trump lied about not having deals in Russia when he was seeking them and that his aides sought help directly from the Kremlin for that, Harry.

Is that relevant under your plain reading of the Rosenstein language I just showed?

LITMAN: Completely. And I think it`s relevant under Robert`s reading and under any federal case and under any special counsel or federal prosecution.

Look, Robert just mentioned the political dynamic. Mueller¡s job is exactly to ignore that dynamic. If Mueller comes in with a report next year to Congress that says, well, we found some things, but we ignored others because we wanted to get this in before the mid-term elections or we didn`t want to be accused of a fishing expedition, people would take him to task. They`d say, do your job, your job is to be thorough and get to the bottom of this. This is our only chance to do it. There aren`t any do overs and Mueller has to go where the evidence leads him.

MELBER: Robert?

RAY: Well, that`s fair and that`s nice, but that`s not reality. Having lived through an investigation with a political dynamic, I can tell you that, yes, your job is to do your job, but you understandably are aware of the fact that you`re doing it in a political environment.

And if you think for one second that I or any responsible special counsel or independent counsel ignored the political environment, I think you`re nuts.

You have got to live with the reality of the fact that, for example, on the finances, yes, a full throttled investigation will necessarily, at least around the edges, deal with the issue of following the money trail.

But at some point, if it goes too far, and that`s to say within bounds, Bob Mueller would be well advised in the political process to seek further authorization, I think, to go too much further and that will present a political issue for the administration and for the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

MELBER: Harry? Harry, rebuttal?

LITMAN: Of course. But that`s what the rules say. And the rules also say for Mueller ¤ I`m not talking about Rosenstein, for Mueller to ignore the political dynamic and he plays by the rules.

The investigation that Robert is talking about went six to eight years and careened from many different charges, much unrelated to the original whitewater charge.

If Mueller is doing his job right and everybody agrees he does this job right, he`ll put that out of his head and so far he has.

MELBER: Right. And it is odd that people around the president have tried to say that the money might be a red line. Indeed, the money is the key. They are going to follow the rubles.

Robert Ray and Harry Litman, thank you both for your expertise.

RAY: Thank you.

LITMAN: Thank you.

MELBER: Coming up next, what happened when Bob Mueller did take on one of the biggest corporate fraud cases in history and how it might help him now?

And Mueller`s showdown with his own bosses in the Bush administration all the way into the attorney general`s hospital room, why he threatened to resign as Bush`s FBI director and Bush changed course.



UNIDENTIFED MALE: And now to the Enron verdicts, the men who led Enron to spectacular highs and a dramatic downfall now face very stiff prison sentences after they were convicted in one of the biggest corporate scandals in US history.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Jurors deciding Kenneth Lay was guilty of 6 counts and Jeffrey Skilling of 19 counts, including fraud, conspiracy and insider trading.


MELBER: Guilty verdicts for the two former chief executives of Enron, that was one of the most complex financial frauds in history back in 2006. And the man who launched the inquiry, Bob Mueller.

He even formed an Enron Task Force weeks after the energy giant went bankrupt. And it was within his first few months on the job at the FBI.

In Enron, there was no smoking gun against top executives. As Bethany McLean explains in her book, "The Smartest Guys in the Room", former Enron CEO Skilling told a friend, "You`re not going to find one memo where Skilling said eff with the numbers. It just isn`t there."

And that was a challenge. Investigators had to make their case slowly instead. They also had to cut key deals with lower-level employees, who could provide the evidence that didn`t exist in the email record.

Two years after the task force began its work, Robert Mueller and then Deputy Attorney General James Comey announced the charges.


ROBERT MUELLER, THEN-FBI DIRECTOR: Today`s criminal charges are a significant milestone in our efforts to expose and to punish the vast array of criminal conduct related to the collapse of Enron.

The charges against Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Richard Causey in this superseding indictment take us another step closer to restoring the public`s confidence in our financial markets.


MELBER: The challenge, of course, was turning that complex case with clearly clever defendants into an airtight prosecution.

Now, do Mueller`s lessons from Enron apply to the Russia probe? I`m joined now by Bethany McLean. She wrote that book The Smartest Guy in the Room and is a Contributing Editor with Vanity Fair. Thanks for being here.


MELBER: You have been in deep on this, and you knew Mueller back then as a man in charge of something that was going to be very hard to conclude for those reasons. What did you learn about him then and how did the lessons apply?

MCLEAN: Well, he`s incredibly well-respected guy. One of the things I thought was interesting is the guy who actually led the Enron task force for a period of time through July 2005 was Andrew Weissmann who cut his teeth prosecuting mob families at the Eastern District of New York. And one of the first things Mueller did was bring Weissmann in and it was amusing. I ran into a former Enron Board Member shortly after this, and he looked at me and said, I almost feel sorry for Donald Trump. Weissmann is regarded as a very aggressive and skilled prosecutor.

I think in terms of the lessons, I was reading a headline this morning that somebody had -- close to Trump had described -- you commentator had described the stuff surrounding Russia as gross, but not illegal. And I thought that actually applies to a lot of Enron too, which is a fascinating parallel. It`s that while people think of Enron as a massive fraud, much of what happened there was gross but not illegal. And so the challenge is in some ways are the same which is finding -- we can all look at something and say it might smell bad or might seem like something wrong has happened here, but that doesn`t mean it did. Laws are very specific things.

MELBER: Right. And you mentioned the team and the hiring by Andrew Weissmann by Mueller for the new Russia probe as trying to bear down on that. The lack of certain types of incriminating evidence is fascinating. We have seen kind of a two-track thing going on. One, Donald Trump says stuff in public, like hey, Russia, help me hack Hillary`s e-mails that is worse than what any private or memo would be. And yet at the same time, he said under oath before that he doesn`t keep records partly for a range of reasons which may include self-protection.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you keep hand written notes?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your daughter told me in her deposition that you don`t e-mail and I observe that that`s because you`re very a smart person.

TRUMP: Yes. We figured that out. Took a lot of time for a lot of people to figure that out. That`s right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But -- do you make notes, do you have anything on paper related to this case?

TRUMP: No, I don`t.


MELBER: I wanted to play the direct deposition so you could give your analysis of it. The idea that the family says it`s smart of him not to have records.

MCLEAN: Well, he may not have records, but in this digital age, there are going to be a lot more records than there were even in the time of Enron. There are going to be his tweets, which do provide something of a road map. There are going to be other people`s records, other people`s calendars, other people`s e-mails, other people`s text messages. So there`s going to be an enormous amount of information, which is an opportunity as well as a challenge, right?

MELBER: Right. Bethany McLean, who has profiled battles of Bob Mueller won against great odds, thanks for joining our special.

MCLEAN: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Coming up next, one of the most dramatic moments in Washington history, the showdown between Mueller, Comey, and the President who hired them, George W. Bush. Why they threatened to quit and what happened.



MUELLER: 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.


MELBER: Bob Mueller on integrity in the 2013 speech there. Many people who work with him say he has it. One of the biggest tests of his career does show why. When the Bush administration was testing its power after 9/11, Mueller was at the FBI, Jim Comey became Acting Attorney General while John Ashcroft was in the hospital. And Comey determined he couldn`t authorize a spying program because it was illegal at the time. And Comey then recounted how the top White House Lawyer Alberto Gonzales, did something lawyers are not supposed to do. He tried to circumvent the law.

Gonzalez infamously took the fight to the Attorney General`s hospital bed. In one of the most dramatic hearings in Senate history, Comey later recounted how Mueller helped him defend the rule of law and how he placed an emergency call to Bob Mueller asking for armed FBI agents to get Comey`s back in that hospital standoff. Mueller ultimately joined Comey in telling Bush they would both resign if that spying program was not changed to follow the law and the President ultimately reformed the program.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: So I raced to the hospital room, entered, and Mrs. Ashcroft was standing by the hospital bed. Mr. Ashcroft was lying down in the bed, the room was darkened, and I immediately began speaking to him, trying to orient him as to time and place and try to see if he could focus on what was happening. It wasn`t clear to me that he could. He seemed pretty bad off. I went out in the hallway, spoke to Director Mueller by phone. He was on his way. He handed the phone to the head of the security detail and he instructed the FBI agents present not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances.

And I went back in the room, with only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzalez, carrying an envelope and Mr. Card. They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the Attorney General very briefly and then Mr. Gonzalez began to discuss why they were there, to seek his approval for a matter. Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. Drawn from the hour-long meet we had a week earlier, and in strong terms expressed himself, then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, but that doesn`t matter because I`m not the Attorney General. The two men did not acknowledge me. They turned and walked from the room.


MELBER: Mueller ordered FBI agents to stop the Secret Service if they even tried to remove Comey from the hospital room, quite the standoff. And Comey testified that he and Mueller were going to resign rather than agree to any illegal surveillance of Americans.


COMEY: I prepared a letter of resignation intending to resign the next day, Friday, March 12.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I understand it, you believe that others were also prepared to resign, not just you, is that correct?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Was one of those Director Mueller?

COMEY: I believe so. You would have to ask him, but I believe so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had conversations with him about it?



MELBER: President Bush did make those changes to the program later that week under the pressure. So Mueller and Comey did not resign. The whole situation not revealed until years later. Unlike Jim Comey, Mueller has never publicly discussed the episode in any detail. He was questioned about it once at a House hearing and he showed his trademark restraint.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you surprised when you received the phone call from Mr. Comey indicating there was going to be this visit to Mr. Ashcroft like Gonzalez and Card?

MUELLER: It was out of the ordinary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me why you decided to make notes of your conversation with Mr. Ashcroft?

MUELLER: It was out of the ordinary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why was that out of the ordinary, Mr. Mueller?

MUELLER: Being asked to go to the hospital and be present at that time.


MELBER: It was out of the ordinary. I`m joined now by the Ron Hosko, former Assistant FBI Director who was appointed by Mueller to the Criminal Division and back with me Malcolm Nance. Ron, how out of the ordinary was it? What does it say about Bob Mueller? And finally on a smaller point, contrast the rather full-throated description by Comey under oath, his style, to Bob Mueller, who, if you didn`t know the back story, that moment and that hearing might blow right by you because he didn`t aggrandize at all.

RON HOSKO, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR: I think it was completely extraordinary. We`re talking about a very sensitive collection program by NSA that Jim Comey believed did not have the legal basis to continue. And you have a former Deputy Attorney General preparing to resign from office, certainly triggering a crisis at the highest levels of government, particularly if he takes Bob Mueller with him or Mueller independently decides to go. And oh, by the way, it`s reported that the current Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, was also contemplating going -- retiring or resigning his position as the then Assistant Attorney General for the criminal division. So it certainly would have triggered an inquiry intense media focus at the time. Going --

MELBER: And then -- and then contrast the styles there.

HOSKO: Yes. I think -- look, Jim Comey, we`ve seen is you know, a really, in ways, a great story teller. Very compelling in the way he delivers a speech, the way he measures every word. And by contrast, Bob Mueller is very circumspect. Maybe because he hasn`t been put in the exact same role that Jim Comey was a year ago and more recently but Bob Mueller is very, very guarded, circumspect in his public statements, prefers to let the FBI`s work talk for the FBI. He is not one given to fits of hey, look at me. Look how great I am. Look how great the organization is or the organization I lead. He`s very, very guarded and circumspect. He`s a dedicated, steely-jawed public servant.

MELBER: Well, and Malcolm Nance, we talk sometimes on THE BEAT about the laws of power. One of the laws of power is when through action, not argument. Bob Mueller has won a lot within a standard of integrity according to his colleagues but not by talking about it.

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Not at all. And let me tell you. You know, I`ve said this many times. I thought over the last year we were having a crisis of honor in this nation. And even during that period, during the Bush administration with the illegal warrantless wiretapping, that we were really going down a bad road. Bob Mueller and Jim Comey have both proven to be shields to this nation and the highest pinnacle of honor when it mattered. And they took action. They didn`t talk, they didn`t -- you know, go and bad mouth people or send out tweets about them. They are doing that now. I mean, Comey is going to end up a witness in this trial - - in whatever comes out of this.

MELBER: In what it is. We don`t know what it will be.

NANCE: Right. We don`t know what capacity. But at some point, they`re going to sit him down, they`re going to ask him what went on. Mueller and him know each other and they know the law and they know that that was what must be held up above all.

MELBER: And so Ron, a final thought for our viewers who are learning about this man who acts without being in the spotlight. What did you learn being around him in law enforcement and under some of his oversight that people may not know?

HOSKO: Well, first, Bob Mueller was very much shaped by 9/11. He took the position just weeks before 9/11. It shaped him. It shaped the organization. It shaped those of us inside the organization. And you know, Bob Mueller uniquely was given the tasking by President Bush. He was not to answer who were the 9/11 attackers. It`s how do you prevent, what are you doing, Bob Mueller, the FBI, to prevent the next attack. Look, that`s going to leave a mark on you, and we saw it exemplified every day in senior level briefings where he was drilling down and being the prosecutor in charge, asking the counterterrorism folks what are we doing about this next threat, and cross examining them every morning. He was focused. Bob Mueller is intense. Bob Mueller is driven by the mission, by what we must do as an organization to stop that next threat. It was you know, very much Bob Mueller on the attack. There was no easy day with Bob Mueller.

MELBER: It`s so fascinating what you said. And the FBI played different roles throughout history. At times where it`s focused on the crime families, the Mafia tech hacking has been its recent focus. As you say, no wider shift in its focus than on that terrible day on September 11 and Robert Mueller being in charge. Ron Hosko and Malcolm Nance, it is a fitting setup to where we`re going to go after the break, how Bob Mueller confronted this terror threat and why the man who is briefing the President every day is not going to be squared off by tweets when there was special security in place to protect his life. And we look at President Trump`s claims that Mueller`s team might be biased.



MUELLER: The men and women of the FBI join the nation in expressing our deep sympathies for the victims of these horrific tragedies and their families.

We will leave no stone unturned in our quest to help find those responsible and to bring those individuals to justice.


MELBER: Bob Mueller there after 9/11. He was sworn in as FBI Director days after the attacks formally, and from then on, the fight against al- Qaeda transformed the FBI and him.


MUELLER: In the wake of September 11th, it became crystal clear that the FBI needed to change even more than had been anticipated. Immediately following September 11th, the FBI`s number one priority became the prevention of terrorist attacks.


MELBER: Mueller in charge of tracking those threats. As Tim Weiner reports, for every day for the next three years after 9/11 he`d rise before dawn, read through the overnight reports of threats, arrive at headquarters for a 7:00 a.m. counterterror briefing, confer with the A.G. at 7:30, and travel in an armored limousine to the White House to talk to the President at 8:30. Mueller wasn`t personally immune to the threats, either. A biographer notes that mere days after 9/11, FBI agents swept down on the Muellers at home and moved them to officers` quarters a to the Navy yard because of a viable threat on Bob Mueller`s life. Let`s be clear, that is what Mueller already dealt with on a daily basis. Focusing on the threats to the nation while putting aside threats to his own life. Tweets are not going to scare this man. I want to bring in now the author I mentioned, Tim Weiner, wrote Enemies: A History of the FBI. Walk us through how this man does his job and how terror affected him.

TIM WEINER, FORMER NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: For 12 years, Bob Mueller ran the FBI from the week before September 11th until September of 2013 when James Comey took over. In those 12 years, the FBI went from a chaotic organized agency where the left end didn`t know what the right hand was doing, the FBI couldn`t talk to the CIA, the FBI often couldn`t talk to itself into. For the first time in its more than 100-year history, an agency that serves as an intelligence service under law.

MELBER: Under law. Let`s pause on the point you raise of what he inherited. My colleague, NBC Chief Justice Correspondent, Pete Williams, was reporting on this. On that day, we pulled this out there in 2001 about what the bureau looked like.


PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS, TELEVISION CORRESPONDENT: If Robert Mueller gets the job, the first thing he will encounter here is lots of advice from at least four separate investigations, all looking at how to make the FBI better.

The FBI under more scrutiny than ever, separate investigations, one led by former FBI Director, Webster, on the embarrassing and damaging Robert Hanssen spy case. A Justice Department examination of the FBI fouled up and turning over McVeigh documents, and a top-to-bottom review of the FBI`s mission and management ordered by the Attorney General.


MELBER: That`s what was perceived of as what was wrong with the FBI. How did Mueller make it right?

WEINER: Well, that wasn`t the half of it. In the weeks after 9/11, the FBI rounded up 1,200 people, none of whom belonged to al-Qaeda. Some of them were treated very harshly. The FBI`s internal communications systems were a wreck.

MELBER: So what did he do?

WEINER: Over the course of two years, with tremendous turnover, the average counterterrorism director at the FBI lasted less than a year, gradually, Mueller righted the ship and got to steer in the direction of, we can`t just investigate crimes after they happen, we have to serve legally as an intelligence service, and we have to not only combat the war on terror but at the same time protect our civil liberties that balancing act was very hard.

MELBER: Was he better situated to handle the Intel given the military background he has.

WEINER: Very much so. Marine officers tend to make very good FBI Directors. If you`re a Marine, commanding troops, as Mueller was, and you send your troops up the hill, you go up the hill. So for 12 years, Mueller went up the hill and people followed him.

MELBER: FBI Historian Tim Weiner, thanks for joining our special. You bring a lot of -- a lot of the context. I appreciate it.

WEINER: You bet.

MELBER: Still ahead, who was on Mueller`s Russia team and what are they doing? That`s next.



TRUMP: Well, he`s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome, but he`s also -- we`re going to have to see. I mean, we`re going to have to see in terms -- look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey but there`s been no solution, no obstruction, and virtually everybody agrees to that. So we`ll have to see. I can say that the people that have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters.


MELBER: Not quite. Out of 13, publicly confirmed attorneys on Bob Mueller`s team, about 8 have made donations to Democratic candidates and about 5 did make contributions to Hillary Clinton totaling $54,000 altogether. But the real question is whether campaign contributions have typically been evidence of bias. DOJ regulations say no and they don`t prohibit Mueller from discriminating against people. In other words, he has to include people, regardless of their past political processes or views. Donation history is not the issue.

Now, there`s a claim that people on Mueller`s team work for Hillary Clinton and that is completely false. One did work as a lawyer for the Clinton Foundation at a law firm and another has represented, we should note, a former Hillary Clinton aide, who helped manage the private e-mail server. Trump defenders also say conflict of interest rules would bar Mueller from investigating any matters regarding Manafort, Kushner, Ivanka Trump because of Mueller`s law firm WilmerHale previously had represented them. But that firm tells the Washington Post that Mueller was never involved in that case or any client regarding the Russia inquiry. Then there`s a DOJ conflicts check that has cleared Mueller and his attorneys to this case. So it may be ironic that a President who himself isn`t divesting from businesses is saying those kind of things are conflicts for other people.

In fact, he tweeted, this is the single greatest witch hunt in political history led by, again, that word conflicted people. Now Trump`s attorneys reportedly have been trying to build some sort of public case against Mueller claiming in part that these conflicts are a problem. As a legal matter, we can tell you if they -- if they were able to persuade Rod Rosenstein there, the Deputy Attorney General, that actual conflicts exist, the DOJ regulations should kick in. But as this story shows, most of those conflicts do not rise to the level of anything under the rules. You are allowed to vote and allowed to make political contributions. Now, thanks for watching our special. I will see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. "HARDBALL" starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Lord of the flies. Let`s play HARDBALL.



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