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The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 9/12/17 FBI Investigating "Sputnik" Russian news agency

Guests: Andrew Feinberg, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Leah Wright Rigueur

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: September 12, 2017 Guest: Andrew Feinberg, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Leah Wright Rigueur

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY: THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now. Ari?

ARI MELBER: Chuck, music knows no party.

TODD: There you go, especially a little ragtime, right?

MELBER: Ragtime on classic Americana. Thank you, Chuck. I love it.

Tonight, we have major developments on the Irma cleanup as well as the Russia investigation. In a moment, I`m going to speak live to "Wall Street Journal"! reporter with news on Jared Kushner`s legal complications. That is Peter Nicholas. And it`s going to be, I think, an interesting conversation.

But, first, we want to bring you the latest on the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The body count is now 53 people killed in this storm. And at this hour, we can tell you 7 million people in the US still don`t have power.

Search and rescue units now on the ground in the Florida Keys. Officials say, a quarter of all homes in that area have been destroyed. Let`s get right to it from the Florida Keys, NBC`s Gadi Schwartz. What`s the latest?

GADI SCHWARTZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ari. It`s not just search and rescue on the ground. It`s search and rescue out in the ocean as well. They`re going to check submerged boats and submerged sailboats, in particular, to see if people are inside.

A lot of those are live-aboard boats, and so they think that there may be people inside that tried to ride out this storm.

We`re right now in Cudjoe Key. It`s an area that took one of the biggest hits from Hurricane Irma. I want to show you what we`re talking about. These are one of the weird peculiarities of hurricanes. The winds blow in all kinds of different directions.

First of all, the ocean is this way, OK. And so, Hurricane Irma came ashore this way. But I want to show you this. This is kind of a mystery that`s been puzzling a lot of the neighbors around here. They are thinking tornado because, if we step over here, you could see this is a mobile home. And this mobile home was actually sitting about 20, 30 feet over there, just next to these mobile homes that you see right next to it.

And somehow, the winds of Hurricane Irma picked this mobile home up over this fence that`s about 5 feet tall, snapped that concrete power pole and dropped it right here in the street. You could see this is a kitchen sink here. This is the very flat bed that the mobile home was on. This is where the living room was. This is where one of the bedrooms was. This is the destruction of Hurricane Irma.

This mobile home, obviously, destroyed while others seem to be spared. Some homes down the street, they were also spared, while others had their roofs ripped off. So, it`s kind of interesting to see how selective Irma was.

Some neighbors coming back right now and some neighbors are very concerned about those who have evacuated fortunately because their homes have been destroyed, feeling a little bit bad because their homes are OK and they`re goanna have to tell their neighbors that their homes have been destroyed because they`re not allowed back in here.

One thing, though, that we`ve noticed is cell phone service out here is non-existent, power is non-existent, no one has access to food or water, the supplies are starting to run low. It`s been four, five days. And so, now people are starting to try to figure out where they can go. They`re scavenging really.

We`ve talked to a few people that are going around, looking for water, looking for gas. And it sounds like, down in Florida Keys, there are lines forming for basic necessities, so they`re hoping the Calvary comes in and resupply soon. Ari?

MELBER: Absolutely. We`re hoping on that as well. And NBC`s Gadi Schwartz, thank you for that on the ground report.

Now, we turn to the breaking news on where Bob Mueller`s Russia investigation is headed. We`ve reported on the FBI interviews, the grand jury subpoenas, even that home raid of Paul Manafort, Trump`s former campaign chair.

But, tonight, the Russia news involves a vague word that is known to anyone who has ever worked a federal investigation, production. Here`s how Trump`s lawyer John Dowd puts it. They have a wonderful team handling the production.

He is referring to document production. This is where Trump`s legal team has to review every single White House document before handing it over to Bob Mueller.

And Dowd spoke about the production because "The Daily Beast" reported these hand-offs have begun. Now, Dowd clearly trying to praise the current legal team. And he`s a recent member, having come on board in June, which was a critical period according to a new "Wall Street Journal" report.

At the time, some Trump lawyers were trying to push out Jared Kushner from the White House, alarmed by his Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, which, at the time, had not been exposed.

The report says the lawyers discussed their concerns with President Trump at the White House. They even wrote a draft statement that could explain Kushner`s departure had he departed.

Now, today, Trump`s lawyers are saying, anyone who did want to undermine Trump is no longer on the team. And his spokesperson says, she was unaware of the discussion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jared Kushner, was there any discussion about him stepping aside earlier this year, leaving the administration?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. No conversation that I`m aware of. And, certainly, no presentation as both attorneys have gone on record to say.


MELBER: Now, here`s the thing about that. Sanders would not know about any kind of conversation like that because it`s legally privileged. And if Donald Trump`s criminal defense lawyer told her about it, that would literally break the privilege.

What`s more significant, though, is why these lawyers thought Kushner had these serious legal issues. Here are five reasons. He met with many Russians, including two meetings with the Russian ambassador, along with Gen. Mike Flynn, and one of them where they allegedly discussed creating a secret back channel with Russia.

And three, that included meetings with Russian bank executives and Kushner failed to disclose many of those meetings on his legally-required security forms. His corrections to that, as you may recall, added up to over hundred more foreign meetings and then filed he was at that secret Trump Tower meeting, of course.

Now, that might be enough to sink a normal staffer. But these lawyers knew they were basically asking Donald Trump to fire his son-in-law. And everyone knows Trump`s golden rule follows the Godfather. As Michael Corleone told Fredo, "don`t ever take sides against the family."

So, these lawyers thought there was even a shot that Trump would take their advice. Whatever they were concerned about, about the family, had to be serious.

With me now first is "Wall Street Journal" reporter Peter Nicholas, who broke this story. Good day to you.


MELBER: Peter, you don`t have all of the details, but you sure have some interesting ones. What light can you shed on giving someone, any client, let alone this powerful president, the advice that maybe you want to relieve your son-in-law of his job?

NICHOLAS: Well, I think it was a tough decision for the lawyers. And they weren`t necessarily united in the position. There were some lawyers who believed that he had legal complications that were more serious than those of any other aide in the White House and believed, for that reason, his continued presence there was a problem.

One scenario is, if he even talks casually about the Russia investigation, with anybody who is working in the White House, Bob Muller, the special counsel, might want to know what was said and might ask to speak to those people who were in those meetings with Kushner.

So, for those reasons, some of the attorneys believe that Kushner needed to step aside. They brought those concerns to the president.

But there were some others who didn`t think that step was necessary. We quote John Dowd, who is now the lead attorney, in the piece saying that Kushner is actually fine and thinks really highly of him, didn`t need to step down.

MELBER: I`m also reading from the piece about this cover story or description of an event that didn`t occur. So, it`s really fascinating because you`re sort of deep inside these debates. You write, "the statement on behalf of Mr. Kushner, had he left, expressed regret that the political environment had become so toxic that what he viewed as a standard meeting was becoming a weapon for Mr. Trump`s critics."

Is that in your view a cover story or is that 100 percent accurate in describing the reasons for his recommended departure?

NICHOLAS: Well, it shows the seriousness with which the legal team and the associates had drafted that statement were taking this. They thought it was a real possibility that Kushner would step aside. They wanted to be prepared for that.

So, they created these talking points that would be used. They`re putting the best spin possible on it, the best interpretation of it, because they work for - essentially, their client is the president and this is his son- in-law, of course, that they`re talking about.

But it was a serious concern. The talking points were never used because, ultimately, this is the president`s decision and he decided that Kushner didn`t do anything wrong, there was no need for him to step aside, and, ultimately, that`s the decision that he made.

It ran counter to some of the advice he was getting from some of the lawyers, but it`s a political decision and it`s the president`s to make.

MELBER: Right. One that the lawyers thought was legal enough they wanted to advise on. They certainly don`t advise on all White House personnel. But you`ve got the big story of the day. I want to thank you Peter Nicholas for joining.

NICHOLAS: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: I want to turn right to Nick Akerman, former Watergate prosecutor; Aisha Moodie-Mills, President of Victory Fund; and attorney Paul Abrams, a former editor of the "Yale Law Journal" who was first writing about the prospect of Trump-Russia pardons back in June.

Nick, walk us through how this works. As I mentioned, you don`t give advice as a lawyer if you think there`s no chance of it being followed. That`s basically a waste of time, but they had to know this was something that was going to be a real fight with the president.

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, I think they had to know it was a waste of time. There was no way that Donald Trump was going to listen to the lawyers on this issue.

I think it was pretty obvious that Jared Kushner is somebody who is never going to be fired by President Trump. He wasn`t qualified to do the job he was there for in the first place, whether it was making peace with Israel or reforming the entire government. He was just not qualified.

But everything he did, he did at the behest of Donald Trump. And there is no way, just like in The Godfather, he was one of the capos for the boss. He was carrying out Mr. Trump`s orders and there was no way that Donald Trump was ever going to listen to his lawyers on this issue.

MELBER: Paul, I want to play for you the sound from Jared Kushner because he did do the meetings and he and his own lawyers have expressed their view that he has been cooperating and they don`t see him as any kind of legal liability. Take a listen to this rare time that he spoke publicly.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The record in documents I`ve voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign.

Let me be very clear. I did not collude with Russia nor do I know if anyone else in the campaign who did so. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. And I`ve been fully transparent in providing all requested information.


MELBER: Paul, do you think Jared Kushner is in the clear?

PAUL ABRAMS, FORMER EDITOR OF "THE YALE LAW JOURNAL": Well, clearly not. And I think that his basic problem is and will be credibility. And I think the lawyers probably were advising them to have him leave because the further he was away from the White House for a longer period of time, the easier it would be for a son-in-law to claim that what he did both was proper.

And also, an issue that`s going to come up is did he tell the president about this meeting or that meeting or what he did. And as a son-in-law - whatever the situation, as a son-in-law, he has a higher bar of credibility to say that it was never discussed.

MELBER: And, Aisha, the larger question about President Trump`s judgment is what exactly does this individual bring to the table. Nick was arguing that he`s unqualified. He certainly doesn`t have a lot of government or international experience. We`ve heard that he has a massive portfolio.

But, clearly, as I`m emphasizing, what`s so interesting about this report is that the lawyers who stay out of whatever they can stay out of, they`re only there to give criminal legal advice. That`s their foundation. They`re not there to second guess who you send to the Middle East.

But they`d reached a judgment that it would be better to maybe have him gone, some of them. And other than family ties, what do you see as the judgment and basis to keep this individual in the White House?

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, PRESIDENT, VICTORY FUND: Well, I think that`s a great question. And I think we all realize that the family ties for Trump means that he has more people around him to hide his dirt. And that`s why he`s there.

The fact that Jared Kushner had hundreds of meetings that he then failed to disclose and had to go back and disclose them, the fact that he`s met multiple times with Russians and tried to create a back channel, and clearly has some kind of business interest that we`re not actually getting to the bottom of shows that there is some benefit to the Trump enterprise for having this engagement with Russia, for completely ignoring the fact that Russia has propagated all the fake news that was out there during the campaign, that they`ve been creating all this fake energy against Hillary Clinton, et cetera. And so, they`re turning a blind eye to that.

And I think that Jared Kushner`s point and reason for being in that White House is to be the guy to bury the dirt and keep the secrets, and that is problematic.

And the fact that this guy has a high-level security clearance and he lied to get it essentially is really problematic, and I think that that should be revoked.

MELBER: Nick, is that your view that if other individuals acted the way he did on government security clearances, they would face a stronger reaction?

AKERMAN: Oh, my God, yes. He lied over 100 times. He left off all those meetings with the Russian ambassador, with the Russians. He had his secretary actually fill out his security clearance, which is almost like saying, kind of turning your back to the importance of this whole security clearance process.

He had to have sat down with an FBI agent who took him through every single question. He had to have lied on those questions. This is not a simple process where you can just have your secretary fill out a form.

MELBER: And, Paul, just briefly, you had written previously about pardons. Why did you zero in on that, something that we later heard a lot more about?

ABRAMS: Well, just because it seemed like a way that they would be able to not face the ultimate consequences of what they may have done. And since Trump has the pardon power for everyone, but himself, it does have the opportunity - he does have the opportunity of perhaps -

MELBER: You think he`ll use it?

ABRAMS: I don`t know. Obviously, it has the negative consequence, of course. And I think I mentioned this in one of the articles is that, at that point, none of the potential actors, other actors can claim the Fifth Amendment because they`ve already been granted a pardon for whatever it was that they did or may have done.

So, it`s a double-edged sword and, of course, Bob Mueller seems to have gone to Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, to participate in some of this, so that it`s not so clear that a pardon would, in fact, get them off from all of what they may have done because that only affects federal.

MELBER: Right. Which goes back to the big question, if you are in a legal fight with Bob Mueller, do you think he`s thought out more steps ahead than you, and the answer we are told by many people who work for him is probably yes.

Nick, Aisha, thank you for being here. Nick, I want to check back with you. Paul, thank you for your time.

Coming up, there`s also new evidence breaking. The Kremlin was using online organizing for offline real-world events and rallies inside the US.

And later on THE BEAT, an exclusive TV interview with a former Sputnik employee, who went from working at the White House to being questioned by the FBI.

And that Trump Voter Fraud Commission is actually hearing arguments about a gun background check to exercise your voting rights.

And later, ten years of the iPhone, a look at how far we`ve come.


MELBER: Developing news in the Russia probe tonight. New evidence that Russian efforts at election meddling went beyond bots and trolls and involved real-life, offline political activity.

Russian operatives organizing political protests in the US during the campaign, including an August 2016 rally in Twin Falls, Idaho promoted on Facebook. That`s according to a new "Daily Beast" report.

Now, here`s a Facebook account Russians allegedly used, touting secure borders. And then, look at this, their event page advocating American citizens "before refugees."

And you can note the irony here. Foreign adversaries of America, posing as Americans, against alleged foreign adversaries.

The page does not indicate many people attended that rally. And Facebook says it`s been shutting down events like this recently after learning more about Russian meddling.

But this is the first time the tech company has admitted that its paid ads were used for these kind of events in America.

The news comes, of course, as Hillary Clinton is saying in a new interview on her book tour she`s convinced Trump associates colluded with Russia, while also noting she defers to the evidence that investigators are gathering.

And all of this is happening as the evidence there includes Facebook spreading fake news and profiting from fraudulent Russian events, even if passively, it has several tech experts today arguing Mark Zuckerberg should be put on the step.

Joining me now for more is Moveon.Org`s Karine Jean-Pierre; Democratic Pollster, Jefrey Pollock; and former chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, Richard Painter.

Richard, your view of what it means now that some of these efforts from Russia were going into actual events, offline, real-world during the campaign.

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, this is what a lot of people suspected all along, that Russia was engaged in a multifaceted effort to interfere in this election and that a lot of this alt-right movement was fueled not just by white supremacists at "Breitbart News" who are Americans, but by Russian operatives, organizing through the Internet.

So, this is a specific example that we`ve uncovered. I`m sure we`ll hear about more. But this is how the Russians are doing business. And they`ve been trying to subvert our democracy for 100 years since the 1917 Russian Revolution, but they`ve only recently discovered the extreme right, the far right in American political spectrum and, in particular, have tried to take advantage of our racial tensions.

Our racial diversity in the United States is our great strength, when we work together, but the Russians, of course, would like us to turn on each other. And that`s what this whole alt-right movement is about and the anti-immigrant fervor is. This is definitely their agenda and we fell for it.

MELBER: Right. And as a movie plot, Karine, if it weren`t so serious, you could say, oh, these foreigners are posing as Americans to be against foreigners. There`s a lot to digest there.

It`s also a corporate issue because there is a lot of companies who want to make money and don`t care about anything else unless they`re forced to, which is where regulations come from.

Here was Sen. Warner leading this charge today, talking about Facebook.


SEN. MARK WARNER, VICE CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I`m disappointed that when Facebook came and presented to the Senate intel staff, they didn`t lay out this incident. I think that is one of the reasons why we need to bring in Facebook, Twitter and others at some level of public hearing.

UNIDENITIFED MALE: Has Twitter already briefed you?

WARNER: No, they have not yet. They are coming in shortly.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISOR AND NATIONAL SPOKESWOMAN, MOVEON.ORG: Look, I think it goes into the long list of things that we already know. That our 17 agencies told us that, yes, Russia meddled in our elections.

If you ask congressional investigators, whether they are Republican or Democrat, they will say, yes, Russia interfered in our elections.

So, that`s what we know, right? We know that is the case. The question now is, did Donald Trump campaign collude with Russia? And we have the Don, Jr. email, which certainly seems to be the case.

And, honestly, Ari, this is starting to look more and more like Watergate because the two things keep coming up. The number one is follow the money and, number two, is what did the president know and when did he know it.

And you have a president who doesn`t want to deal with this issue. So, now, we`re going to go into 2018, with not really haven`t gotten to the bottom of this because the president wants to focus on fraudulent commission on fraud that doesn`t exist.

JEFREY POLLOCK, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: He doesn`t want to deal with it except that he is obsessed with it, right? So, this is a man who has to talk about it, whenever he can. He goes to Russia whenever he - meaning, the subject of Russia whenever he can.

And the thing about the Facebook thing, look, I have no idea what they knew and what they didn`t know.

But what we know is that the number of voters who are paying attention to Facebook news - look, in 2013, it was less than 50 percent, who said they were sort of looking to Facebook for news. It`s now over two-thirds. So, we`re talking about a huge number of people and voters nationwide, who are being influenced by what they see on Facebook.

MELBER: Which makes Facebook more like a utility.

POLLOCK: It`s almost universal given the number of people that have it. For sure.

MELBER: Richard, take a listen to the White House today talking again going back at Jim Comey.


SANDERS: That`s not the president role. That`s the job of the Department of Justice and something they should certainly look at.

REPORTER: Does it mean he`d like to see it?

SANDERS: I`m not sure about that specifically. But I think if there`s ever a moment where we feel someone has broken the law, particularly if they`re the head of the FBI, I think that`s something that clearly should be looked at.


MELBER: How do you read that, Richard?

PAINTER: Well, I don`t know what they`re talking about. Jim Comey, I believe did break the law when he sent that letter about Hillary Clinton a week before the election, implying that they were reopening an investigation.

He should not have sent that letter. He did a lot of damage to the Clinton campaign, the way that investigation was conducted and the comments he made about Secretary Clinton the previous summer.

So, I did believe the Hatch Act had been violated. That was investigated by the Office of Special Counsel at my request. I filed the complaint. But they dismissed that when he laughed when he was fired from the FBI by President Trump.

If they want to manufacture a story that somehow he helped Hillary Clinton, that`s just a joke. I don`t understand what`s going on there because he did an enormous amount of damage to the Clinton campaign.

And quite frankly, I think he got us into this mess through that letter he sent the week before the election there, which is really misleading.

MELBER: And, Karine, when Richard Painter says something is a joke, he doesn`t mean funny ha-ha, he means funny oh-no.

JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, yes. Very seriously. And then just add to what Richard was saying was that, on the day of the election, there was only one candidate that was under investigation, and that certainly was not Hillary Clinton. It was Donald Trump and his associates and what was happening with Russia. And we didn`t know about it, but we knew about everything else.

MELBER: Karine, Jeffrey and Richard, thank you very much on this important story.

Next, we turn to a live report from a different angle. Former Sputnik employee, the group accused of Russian propaganda, spent hours talking with the FBI. He`s here for a live exclusive interview on THE BEAT, his first remarks on TV since that FBI interview.

And we have a report on Trump`s controversial Voter Fraud Commission, including arguments about a ground check used for guns on voting. That`s the Trump idea. Stay tuned.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: The FBI is now bearing down on Russia backed entities inside the U.S. like RT and Sputnik and until this week government scrutiny on them came mostly from U.S. Intelligence Agencies looking abroad, like the report on Russian meddling, listing Sputnik as a Russian propaganda effort serving as a platform Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences. So that`s the Intel. But the FBI is different. It focuses on crime. And today RT says authorities asked them to formally register as a foreign agent and a failure to do that under the law is something the FBI can investigate. There are reports it`s already doing that. Former Sputnik employee Andrew Feinberg says, he was interviewed by the FBI and a federal prosecutor. You may have heard his name in recent reports on the Russia case after he broke ties with Sputnik.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the President doesn`t want to do it, is that because he would rather focus his efforts with Russia on partnering to try to defeat ISIS?

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think Ambassador Haley has noted at the U.N. that any attempt to undermine sanctions that currently exist because of the annexation of Crimea will remain in place until that -- until that issue is resolved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But why does sending weapons to Ukraine have anything to do with sanctions?

SPICER: I`m not -- right, I`m not going to get into the President`s negotiating strategy

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Andrew Feinberg who says that his supervisors regularly would say, Moscow wants this or Moscow wants that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Russian media organizations like RT and Sputnik spreading false hoods and negative Hillary Clinton stuff.

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: The Russian state owned news site Sputnik actually pressured its own White House Correspondent to advance this fake centric story. And when he refused, he was fired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Andrew Feinberg, the former White House Correspondent for Sputnik, a Russia known wire, radio and digital news service, took to Twitter a few days ago and said he`s quitting. He`s leaving. He said, "it seems Sputnik is not happy with real journalists. He`d rather have actual propagandist operate anonymously.


MELBER: That was Feinberg`s view after leaving in June. And there is a debate to be held about propaganda. But then the FBI contacted him raising a debate about the law. Feinberg spoke to them for two hours, handed over a thumb drive with internal e-mails from Sputnik and he detailed how he got directions to ask questions in that White House Briefing Room. Now his exchanges with the White House are under new scrutiny. At the time, U.S. Intel had publicly criticized Sputnik. Experts knew what their links to the Kremlin. But the White House was still treating them and him in the Briefing Room like a legit news organization. Most viewers would have no idea that entity was actually doing propaganda and that it now, we can say is under FBI scrutiny.

Now, Sputnik says it let Feinberg go for his performance and argues all of this scrutiny actually undermines press freedom. Feinberg though says that faced tension on the job whenever he tried to be independent, and he came to conclude Sputnik was pure Kremlin propaganda. Now, Yahoo! first reported this week about the FBI`s scrutiny and its questioning of Feinberg who is here today for his first T.V. interview since speaking to the FBI.


MELBER: Andrew, thanks for joining me.


MELBER: What did the FBI want to know from you?

FEINBERG: They wanted to know a lot about internal processes, who I reported to, who paid me, what my day was like. You know, where I got instructions on what to cover, how to cover it. That sort of thing. It was you know, a lot of internal processes like I said. And a lot of it stemmed from the article in Politico a few weeks back. And you know, a lot of the issues we cover I discussed in that article but this was a lot more detailed of a conversation.

MELBER: The FBI wanted to know from you who was calling the shots at Sputnik and whether it went back to the Kremlin?

FEINBERG: Yes. And you know, I can`t say where exactly the instructions came from before they got to me. They came to me from my editors who were with exceptions, Russian, and you know, they would come to me and you know, they would say Moscow wants this, Moscow wants that. And you know, I don`t know if they were speaking to people in the Kremlin, but even if they were speaking to people back at the home office in Moscow, you know, the Sputnik and RT parent company gets their instructions from the Kremlin.

MELBER: Before the 2016 hacking, there has never been a big government push to make Sputnik, your former employer register as a foreign agent. And viewers recall, of course, that`s what Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn ultimately were pressured to doing. Did this new interview you had with the FBI suggest they`re looking at making Sputnik potentially register as a foreign agent? Did they saw -- show an interest in that?

FEINBERG: Absolutely. That was the purpose if the interview. That`s what they`re looking at. They are interested in determining whether or -- whether or not Sputnik should be registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act as foreign propaganda. And there is a carve out in that act for what they (INAUDIBLE) calls bonafide news agencies. But based on my experience there, I would argue that Sputnik is not functioning as a bona fide news agency.

MELBER: Right. And that`s the big question and you`re one of the -- one of the handful of people who spoke it out about that at the time where the first amendment principles are big because there are good reason why the government shouldn`t mess with real journalist. But you`ve raised the question, are they real journalists? Here`s some other former Sputnik and RT employees speaking out about the same thing.


LIZ WAHL, RT CORRESPONDENT: Personally, I cannot be a part of network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I`m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth and that is why after this newscast, I`m resigning.

SARA FIRTH, RT LONDON CORRESPONDENT: What RT does is that it very much marries the Kremlin line. So you know, whatever they`re putting out, we`re kind of (INAUDIBLE) for those lies, basically.


MELBER: Those former employees like yourself are certainly sharing experience which is helpful to the public records. The flip side is the question to you or them, why didn`t you realize this was going in? Why was it such a surprise that an entity with public financial backing of the Kremlin would be like this?

FEINBERG: That`s a good question. And you know, I don`t think I was naive when I took job. I knew that Sputnik was Russian government backed. I went in to interview for the job. You know, they asked me questions. I asked questions and they made certain he assurances. They told me that I would have the editorial independence and the ability to work in the same manner that you know, I would work at any other journalism organization. And those promises turned out to be false. But you know, I`m not going to call someone I don`t know a liar without giving him a chance to prove himself one.

MELBER: And final question is the big question. From your time there and what you`ve learned, do you think these Kremlin backed organizations and the Russian government did have agreements, collusion or arrangements with any Trump officials?

FEINBERG: I can`t speak to that. What I tell you is that many of the most popular, you know, articles about things like WikiLeaks and Pizzagate and other conspiracy theories were prominently featured on the Sputnik Web site. (INAUDIBLE) I worked for the news wire division which is a separate part of the office but you know, they were featured very prominently on the Sputnik Web site and you know, they get picked up by other American outlets. InfoWars, Breitbart --

MELBER: By right wing outlets?

FEINBERG: Yes, right wing outlets. And Sputnik functions as you know, part of this right wing media ecosystem. And there`s a big difference between these sites that are run by Americans, employ Americans, exercising their right to freedom of speech and a news site funded by a foreign government with the express purpose of not reporting the news but influencing opinion. And when the money for that site comes from a foreign government, then it`s foreign propaganda, not news.

MELBER: Right. It`s important, it`s fascinating and we are seeing the lines the journalistic and legal lines changing under pressure here. Obviously, the FBI interested. I appreciate you taking some time to tell us about your experience and your discussions with them Andrew Feinberg.a

FEINBERG: Thank you.

MELBER: Ahead, could you (INAUDIBLE) to pass a gun background check to vote? Trump`s voter fraud commission hearing about that today and is Trump taking the cyber threat seriously? We`re going to dig into Equifax and what you need to know about your own Social Security Numbers ahead.



CROWD: Hey, hey, ho, ho, (INAUDIBLE) has got to go!


MELBER: Protesters say outside the first meeting of Trump`s the voter fraud panel in New Hampshire, a state where Trump wrongly claimed there was widespread he voter fraud. The Commissioner Chair, not even pretending to wait to gather evidence and said using a partisan outlet, Breitbart to make the unfounded claim that out of state voters changed the outcome of a Senate Race. Fact checkers noted that`s not true. Kobach offers get evidence, so do Fact Checks Matter? Well, apparently they do. Today he began to second-guess his words.


KRIS KOBACH, PRESIDENT ELECTION INTEGRITY COMMISSION CHAIR: In that column, I struggled with the word, what verb to use. And (INAUDIBLE) the columnist said, it appears that nonresidents may have tipped the results. And I`m still wondering if that was the right word.


MELBER: Wonder away. Today the Commission is hearing a proposal apparently design to treat people`s right to vote peacefully as if it were as dangerous as weapon. A proposal to make people pass gun background checks before you`re allowed to vote.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Think about applying a background check system that we use for purchasing guns, the NICS for voting. And you know, democrats have long been concerned about voter suppression and -- but they`ve also long lauded the background check on guns.


MELBER: Joining me now, a Democratic Critic of this voting panel, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky Secretary of State. If we can, let`s put aside some of the crazy, let me just ask you, what do you believe is the true purpose of this commission?

ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES, KENTUCKY SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Ari, it`s great to be with you tonight. The Emmys are this weekend and the plot for this horror film has already been written, voter suppression. Today they were merrily looking for a cast of actors who will help them write the fiction, not facts that they`re searching for. And my hope is that the American tax payer dollars won`t be used to subsidize this largest national voter suppression effort anymore.

MELBER: Does that make Donald Trump the show runner, the EPE? Where does he fit into the enemy analogy?

GRIMES: Well, he does always love to produce a good you know, reality T.V. show. That fact is that our Democracy, our election system, the ballot box is our greatest equalizer. And when we start talking about ways to keep people from the ballot box, we`re not addressing what`s the most pressing concern of our time, and that`s that over 40 percent of Americans aren`t participating in our elections. There`s a fundamental difference between my philosophy and the philosophy that you saw of this sham voter suppression commission today. They want fewer people to participate. I think that democracy is best when all eligible Americans are able to have their voice heard.

MELBER: Do you think Donald Trump has told the truth about voting in the 2016 election?

GRIMES: Well, I think when you are as a candidate talking about a system being rigged, and then you continue with such dangerous and reckless rhetoric that every party has denounced that millions voted legally in the last election just to sanctify your own ego for losing the popular vote, you are playing a hard and fast loose game with our democracy. One that myself and thousands of other elections administrators across this nation are standing up against in voicing our opposition not only to the reckless demand of voters personal information, their Social Security Number, their Registration Number, voting history.

But to the discussions that are going on today, the need to have voter background checks, or to nullify the 26th Amendment, making it harder for youth, minorities to participate in our elections. That`s not the direction we need to go and there have been prior administrations that have come forth with great recommendations. That`s what we should be focusing on, not the tactic of making the ballot box harder for people to actually have their voice heard.

MELBER: Understood. Secretary, stay with me. I want to bring in Leah Wright Rigueur, a Historian Professor from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Professor, throughout American history, when we talk about access to the ballot, we end up talking about discrimination. How do you view this commission and what Secretary Grimes was saying?

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY`S KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT PROFESSOR: Sure. So I think the commission was pretty open about the fact they want less people to vote. And I think they`ve been a little less clear but it is apparent they want certain people, certain people to have less power at the ballot box. So they`ve directly been targeting you know, college students, minorities, people of color, people who look like they shouldn`t belong in the voting booth. And I think this opens up all kinds of problems, all kinds cans of worms. I think it`s a little bit disingenuous to call these things voter I.D. laws. Instead what we should cause them are either voter intimidation laws, voter suppression laws or voter depression laws in general.

MELBER: That`s very interesting. Let me put your point to the Secretary. Do you think some of this proposal like this gun back ground idea that came up today, are those in your view voter suppression ideas?

GRIMES: They are. I couldn`t agree with the Professor more. We`re already seeing an impact, a negative impact of this commission on voter registration rolls across the nation. People actually de-rolling, removing their name from the voter registration roll because they didn`t want their information residing, their personal information, Social Security Numbers, voting history, residing in the White House under Donald Trump. We need to be moving forward with Election administration, not backward. The days of poll tests, owning property, back ground checks. That`s not the direct we need to go. And what we`re talking about the greatest equalizer in our democracy, our ballot box.

MELBER: Professor, do you think that states should continue to push back? One political idea from Governor Howard Dean, a former Governor was that New Hampshire should actually maybe lose its special first of the nation status if it keeps being sort of a part of this effort.

RIGUEUR: So, I think what you`re going to continue to see is states across the country just continue to push back at the Trump administration and at this kind of voter fraud commission. And the interesting thing here too is that the pushback is coming not just from Democrats who I think that we might expect but it`s also coming from a handful of Republicans. And it`s causing some kind of interesting, a little interesting consternation amongst them. In part because I think, they recognize that you know, it`s a constitutional right to vote. So we should be helping people to vote and helping more and more people to get to the ballot box. We`re also seeing courts beginning to push back rather strongly at the determination or these various kinds of laws that have been put into place. So that`s a thing to watch right now.

MELBER: Secretary Grimes, I don`t know if you heard Jay-Z`s new album, but he says what`s better than one billionaire, two. And here today, what`s better than one voting expert, two. You guys have taught us a lot so thanks for joining.

GRIMES: Thank you very much, Ari, great to be with you.

MELBER: Fantastic. I appreciate it. We`ll be back with a hack that may have exposed the private information of half of America.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It could be Russia but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.


MELBER: That was Donald Trump speculating on who might have done election hacking other than Russia. U.S. Intel says he was wrong. And Trump`s lax approach to cyber security not confined to the Russia scandal. His hotel company failed to even tell its own customers after hackers stole credit card and personal info from Trump Hotel computers. Last year, Trump`s company paid out a settlement with the New York Attorney General over the lapse. Trump officials "tried to cover up the first cyber-attack, did nothing to fix the vulnerabilities," notes the Huffington Post reports. And then they were defenseless when the hackers struck a second time. And that Trump Hotel approach to cyber security clearly as other corporate followers like Equifax which is now stumbling through one of the largest financial hacks in history, 143 million Americans.

To put that in context, if you are watching this program with one other person, odds are that hackers breached one of your Social Security Numbers in this new hack. So what can you do about it? Well, people who want to check whether they were victims on Equifax`s site were told at first that in order to find out, they may have to waive their right to sue over this. The company then later said that would not apply to the cyber security incident, quite a scorched earth approach to consumer protection. One of the principles President Obama forced into law by creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and its first Nominee Elizabeth Warren. Of course, you may remember, Republicans filibustered her so she went on to win a Senate seat instead. An example of an old cliche, obstruct consumer protection too much and you might end up getting the nation`s leading consumer protection advocate a promotion.

Now, Democrat Dick Durbin says, this shows the need for regulation with Equifax but Trump is going in the opposite direction. He is trying to gut that same consumer protection bureau cutting it $6.8 billion over the next decade, a reduction of 93 percent. Some regulatory issues are complex. This isn`t one of them. When politicians make it easier for companies to sell your personal information and lose your Social Security Number, they`re not on the consumer`s side and they`re certainly not draining the swamp.


TRUMP: It is time to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C. We`re going to drain the swamp and we are going to drain the swamp. Drain the swamp.




STEVE JOBS, APPLE CEO: Today, today apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is.


MELBER: And they did. Steve Jobs introducing the first iPhone exactly ten years ago and understand that revolution, you have to remember how cell phones began.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put the whole world in your hand with Radio Shack`s new portable cellar phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finding a phone in a car isn`t that unusual anymore except when it leaves the car for greener pastures, the high seats or a leisurely lunch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eventually, seeing people using cellular phones may seem as common places, someone checking time on an electronic watch figuring on an electronic calculator or programming on an electronic computer.


MELBER: Well someday this new iPhone X unveiled today could seem as primitive as these old flip phones. That does it for our show. I`ll see you back tomorrow 6:00 p.m. Eastern. "HARDBALL" starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The web tightens. Let`s play HARDBALL.



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