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The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 9/18/17 Russia probe: NYT exclusive on WH Lawyers

Guests: Austin Evers, Peter Choharis, Liz Plank, Aisha Moodie-Mills

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: September 18, 2017

Guest: Austin Evers, Peter Choharis, Liz Plank, Aisha Moodie-Mills

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, "THE BEAT": Good evening, Steve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great to see you.

MELBER: You too. Appreciate it. Now, lawyers are paid to keep secrets, but Donald trump's legal team may do things really differently. There's nothing wrong with talking about business over lunch, but they managed to land their strategy debate over the Russia case on the front page of "The New York Times," in an article detailing turmoil among the team.

Now, this is a story about beef and fights among Donald Trump's top advisers, but it's also a story about steak because "New York Times" reporter Ken Vogel spotted Trump's criminal lawyers, Ty Cobb and John Dowd, chewing the fat at a fancy Washington steakhouse where the Kansas City steak there goes for 60 bucks. The wine list includes a 2011 Cabernet that runs $3,000.

The problem was that terrible choice of a restaurant, as "The Washington Post" put it, right next to "The New York Times". So, that's how this beef turned public.

Some Trump aides are worried that their colleagues are now wearing a wire for Mueller. This is in "The Times" story.

Cobb, the current Trump lawyer, still fuming over leaks by an ex-member of the team who had tried to oust Jared Kushner. Now, that might be a reference to Marc Kasowitz, a brash Trump lawyer, no longer on the team.

And "The Wall Street Journal" recently reporting on a legal push against Kushner that failed. The article also flags attention we may see in upcoming weeks here between Don McGahn - he is, of course, the White House counsel - and the former Trump campaign lawyer, his old role - now, you see here on the screen. These are the two current criminal defense lawyers.

McGahn represents the White House as an institution. He was a witness to the Comey firing and Trump's effort to oust the attorney general over Russia.

What matters here is that Mueller is reviewing any obstruction inquiry and McGahn may ultimately testify in that. "The New York Times" suggesting that they are more than a criminal defense team that McGann has a couple of documents locked in a safe and that there was a reference to another person as a "McGann spy", suggesting something less than a collegial relationship.

Now, we don't know why Trump aides are worried their colleagues will be wearing a wire, though if you're not committing crimes at the office, being recorded there isn't that scary.

And McGahn may have legally defensible reasons to take a more combative approach to Mueller. He may even want to test executive power and foreign policy claims against having to hand over whatever is in that safe that's referenced in "The Times" article.

The strife is spilling into public view amidst new reports that Mueller is also zeroing in on Facebook over Russia-backed accounts there, suggesting that email hacks and obstruction are not the only crimes that Mueller is investigating.

Now, whatever beef was under discussion at that lunch, it is a good bet that it's not over. And as Sean Carter once said, all beef is returned; well done, filet mignon.

With me now is former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti and "The Wall Street Journal's" Shelby Holliday, and Shane Harris who has been working this story.

Renato, you have had some ideas about what might be in McGahn's safe and also the wider significance of what we've heard Mueller is up to. Explain.

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So, on Twitter, one thing that I discuss is a possible thing that could be in that safe is the original letter that was penned by Stephen Miller at the direction of President Trump regarding the firing of James Comey.

And there is reporting in multiple publications, but particularly in "The New York Times" about how there is a draft of that letter that had deletions and edits by Mr. McGahn as White House counsel and he had included comments with his advice.

And that would be extraordinarily important evidence for Robert Mueller as part of the obstruction inquiry because, presumably, for example, the White House counsel told him, hey, there is some legal problem, you would be in legal jeopardy if you went forward with the firing Comey for these reasons and he went ahead and did so, that I'll be extremely powerful evidence.

MELBER: Shelby, what do you think of this lunchtime conversation that's spilled out?

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL" REPORTER: As a video reporter and looking at that picture right there and I just can't help but notice how casual these lawyers look. They are looking like they're just chatting over -

MELBER: Hanging out.

HOLLIDAY: - any topic. Yes, just hanging out. It's so - I guess crazy is a good word. It's so crazy, you almost wonder if it was intentional; if it was just slip of the tongue this came up at lunch, they couldn't help but talk about it.

Regardless, it's not good for Donald Trump. But there are many reasons if you talk to legal experts about why Don McGahn would not want to release as much as he possibly could.

What this really shows is the division among Trump's legal team about how to approach the investigation. Some of his lawyers want to turn over all documents, get this done as fast as possible.

Others say, hey, the executive branch does have certain privileges and we shouldn't just set precedent by releasing everything we have.

MELBER: Right. And that tension goes to something we talked about on the show before, Shane, which is the likely asymmetry of information. Mueller knows a lot. The other lawyers know something. Don McGahn knows a lot about certain things, like these efforts to oust people over Russia.

So, when the criminal counsel says, hey, let's get it all out, let's get it quick, Cobb and others in "The Times" article suggesting that maybe this can all be done really quickly, they don't know everything that Don McGahn knows.

SHANE HARRIS, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": That's right, yes. And it's extraordinary to see from these leaks and these sort in-the-street restaurant conversations that are coming out that you're seeing a legal team that is both divided in its strategy and, in some cases, is at odds with each other.

They are, obviously, all in service of their ultimate client, but they clearly don't agree or it appears much like each other in many instances.

And so, now when we see Bob Mueller, I mean, going in for the Facebook warrant, that is just another signal that this investigation is really is focusing. We don't know exactly what evidence that he has to go in for that warrant, but to get a warrant you have to persuade a judge that there's probable cause to believe that a crime was committed.

So, this is clearly an extraordinarily significant development. The investigation appears to be heating up, but the lawyers are clearly at odds with each other about what to do now.

MELBER: Right. Well, Shane, you make such an important point. Let's pause on it. Any communications medium can be used in a crime, right? Someone can pick up the phone and go do offline activity and the phone is just a glancing part of it.

But the real issue here - and I wonder what your reporting is suggesting - is whether Mueller is seeing Facebook not as a one-off communications device, but more menacingly, and concerningly for the Trump White House potentially, as something where crimes or a conspiracy occurred over a long period of time. What light can you shed on that, Shane?

HARRIS: I think the bottom line is that we don't know, but there are a couple of significant points. One is that congressional staff and lawmakers, particularly Sen. Warner on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have been hammering again and again their suspicion that Facebook played some kind of role in the targeting of fake news or inciting information at key groups of people based on what we call targeting.

And we also know that, in the warrant, what Mueller was able to get was information about how these particular ads - in this case, bought by this Russian organization - the targeting information that may have been used in those ads.

So, it strikes me that Mueller is not so much on a fishing expedition, but might have - and again, we don't know - but some more idea of the kind of thing, of the kind of crime that may have been committed here to which this content about targeting of the ads, who bought the ads, play some kind of central role in that, in answering that question.

MELBER: Right. And that's the campaign side of it. Renato, on the lawyer's side, first of all, wondering what you think of people worrying about wearing a wire, whether that smacks of a kind of a movie-inspired paranoia or not.

And secondly, Don McGahn, in this particular role that he has, because the lunch thing is, obviously, just interesting because you see it all spill out into view here from the fancy steakhouse. And I don't think these guys - the lunch they're having and the things they are talking about are something most of us - most Americans are coming into contact with every day.

But then, you have this peculiar role of Don McGahn, who is described - this is the substance part, the meat, if you will, of the steakhouse discussion is, they describe McGahn in these very negative terms that he's got spies, that he's holding stuff in the safe, that we're seeing that tension.

Take a listen here to Don McGahn, who prior to this was seen as kind of an election bureaucrat, not the most interesting guy in Washington. Take a listen.


DON MCGAHN, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: The chilling effect that the government regulators had I think has been diminished significantly, which is why I think more and more people are willing to speak out now in politics that had been willing before.


MELBER: A backroom guy there talking about getting regulations off of elections, kind of interesting, whether that was a good idea given everything we're talking about. But more to the point, Renato, Don McGahn being put in this somewhat negative role by Trump's counsel.

MARIOTTI: Well, what I find very interesting is that you have one member of the Trump legal team keeping information from other members of the same legal team. And I think it goes to the point that was just being made a moment ago, which is the deep divisions in the legal team.

I will tell you. Since I've left the government, I have worked on many defenses of government investigations. And when the government is coming after your client, the legal team needs to be united and you need to present a united front against the government.

So, the idea that McGahn is withholding something from other members of the team is, I would think, a bad sign for that team. And the fact that that is spilling over into those conversations just kind of underscores the deep divides they have.

As for wearing wires, I think your instinct is right, Ari, that it is mostly just paranoia. That goes to show the divisions that they have. And that is exactly what a prosecutor like Mueller wants to happen. That's what a prosecutor wants to encourage and exploit, are divisions amongst folks that they're looking at because that is what generates cooperation, that's what generates conflicts in people pointing fingers at each other. That's exactly what Mueller wants.

MELBER: Right. And then there's the growth, Shelby. If you ever have kids and you put the little mark on the wall, good to see how they -

HOLLIDAY: Progress.

MELBER: Yes, because without the mark, you don't release it. It's gradual.


MELBER: Donald Trump has grown in one way, which is, today, as of this time, 6:10 PM on THE BEAT, we haven't seen a Twitter freak out about Russia.

He still tweets terrible things. We saw some violent imagery he tweeted yesterday. So, I don't think he gets a cookie for improving the Twitter habit per se.

But what does it tell you that, as compared to months ago, when there were Russia headlines, particularly once like this in "The New York Times" and he would try to seize on them, respond to them or call them fake news. Someone somehow got him to stop tweeting about Russia.

HOLLIDAY: And I think there was a noticeable shift after Gen. Kelly took the job as chief of staff. He's still allowed to tweet. Trump is still being Trump, but he is not attacking the Justice Department.

This is a huge development. I think we need to really respect the fact that he's not going after judges. The bar was low. But he's not trying to attack the media, he is not attacking Mueller.

MELBER: But to respect it is to suggest that he is doing it for a good or altruistic reason. What if the lawyers just got to him and said you hurt yourself too much.

HOLLIDAY: Absolutely. But I think, right now, if I were President Trump, I wouldn't be worried so much that my legal team was divided. I'd be worried that they're sloppy. They're out there talking in public about matters that are, obviously, very sensitive.

And if they can't agree on anything and this becomes a public dispute, you go back to square one with all of the negative headlines, all of the problems. Wouldn't surprise me if we saw a tweet about that.

MELBER: Right. Well, this Russia story, this steakhouse was something a little different than usual. Shelby Holliday, Renato Mariotti and Shane Harris, thank you all and appreciate it.

Still ahead, would investigators want to know about Trump's business dealings? His son and lawyer about to go before the Senate. We're going to talk about it with Senator Amy Klobuchar.

And what happened to that leftover money from the inauguration? Trump had promised to give it to charity. We're holding them accountable and we'll tell you what is happening.

Also, once upon a time, Trump was craving approval from the Emmys. Last night, he looked more like the punch line and Sean Spicer claiming he regrets some of his sparring with the press.

I'm Ari Melber and you are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER: Senate investigators are now bearing down on the business side of the Trump empire. Trump lawyer and business aide, Michael Cohen, facing senators tomorrow. They want to ask about his appeal to the Kremlin for help with that Trump Tower project in Moscow, an effort that contradicted Donald Trump's claims he wasn't seeking deals with Russia.

And if anyone crossed Mr. Trump or stood in his way, "The New York Times" has reported, it was Cohen, sometimes known to carry a licensed pistol in his ankle holster, who would cajole, bully or threaten a lawsuit. And he brought that style to the campaign trail.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER AIDE TO DONALD TRUMP: Ted Cruz should be reprimanded by the RNC. He's a whining baby who basically, again, lied to the American public. He's lied to the RNC.

I know Mr. Trump. I've stood by him shoulder to shoulder for the past decade. I've seen him in action.

I truly believe he's not just my boss, he's a mentor. He's an inspiration and I consider him to be like family.


MELBER: A family that has had some separation lately. In a recent interview, Cohen said that his lawyer told him not to speak to Trump during this phase of the Russia investigation. "I'm the guy who would take a bullet for the president," he added.

"Vanity Fair" also noted that Cohen has been described as the sixth Trump child.

Now, we could be hearing soon as well from an actual Trump child. The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee says Donald Trump, Jr., the president's oldest son, will publicly testify before the committee sometime this fall. The committee already interviewed Trump, Jr. for five hours in a closed session.

Now, only six senators went to Trump, Jr.'s closed door appearance. One of them joins me now, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar from the Judiciary Committee.

Thanks for being here.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Thanks, Ari. Great to be on. We're in the middle of voting, but I found a moment to come talk to you. And congratulations on your show.

MELBER: Oh, thank you so much. And thanks for making time during all the voting.

When you look at all of this, what are the lines of inquiry that are important, in your view, for Donald Trump, Jr., particularly for a public setting?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, as you know, we didn't talk about that private interview. It went on most of the day afterward.

But for a public hearing, I think the public will want to know exactly what happened at that meeting, why he wrote the email back, as you remember. When he got the email, hey, we've got some stuff on Hillary Clinton, and he wrote back, "Love it!"

How can we forget that?

And so, I think that there will be a lot of questions about that. And as well as some of the points you get to about the business dealings because you know that one of the things that people are going to want to hear about is what were the business dealings of the Trump empire with the Russian empire, with the country of Russia?

And how did that factor into these decisions with the campaign?

MELBER: Right. And with regard to the public side, I mean Trump, Jr. did offer a public version of part of his opening statement to whatever else he told your staff privately, saying that, "To the extent that the Russians had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believe that I should at least hear them out. I also note at this time there was not the focus on Russian activities there is today."

What did you think of that claim, that he sort of sees himself as kind of a PolitiFact in the campaign?

KLOBUCHAR: Right. Again, as many Democrats and Republicans have said, when you get a call where you're going to hear about things from another government, that is inching toward violations of election law because you can't have a foreign government interfering in an election. And you can't use that information in some way.

And so, that's why I think you've seen this kind of a backlash about the documents that came forward and why we think it's really important that he come before the public.

Equally important, of course, is that Bob Mueller is allowed to finish his investigation and interview everyone that he needs to interview. That is the main focus right now of the investigation of what happened in the past.

And the other thing, for me, is how we're going to handle this going forward. Whatever happens, where the chips fall, is just as important as the fact that we need to pass my amendment, which has broad bipartisan support, to get some funding to our state election equipment, so that we don't have this happen again.

Twenty-one states, our intelligence agencies have found, were the subject of hacks by Russians. And everyone who looks at intelligence believes they're going to try again.

So, why we wouldn't put some funding into backup paper ballots when the 2018 election is just over 400 days away is beyond me.

So, yes, you want to find out all of this information about the past, but you also want to look to the future. And that has to be a bipartisan effort.

MELBER: Right. And your proposal to do that sounds like a pretty sort of normal way to do it. It's weird, to some degree, how these have also become polarized, or as if there was a partisan angle in having reliable elections, which wouldn't seem to be a partisan issue.

On that question, Hillary Clinton, who's on her book tour, was asked a pretty interesting query about all this.

I want you to take a listen to this.


TERRY GROSS, HOST: Would you completely rule out questioning the legitimacy of this election if we learned that the Russian interference in the election is even deeper than we know now?


GROSS: You're not going to rule it out?

CLINTON: No, I wouldn't rule it out.


MELBER: Would you rule it out? And do you think this is an area where the results of the Mueller investigation could, ultimately, beyond the criminal dimension, also raise questions about the outcome of the election and the current government? Or for you, you would rule that out?

KLOBUCHAR: I'm a former prosecutor and I don't do hypotheticals till I know the facts. I did that for eight years as the prosecutor in Minnesota's largest county. So, I would want to get the facts.

And, again, after Bob Mueller completes his investigation and we find out the conclusions of that or more is uncovered in public committees in Congress, that's the time to ask that question.

But I simply think I need to know the facts before I comment on that.

Right now, our job in the Senate is to allow this investigation to be completed and then to do our best to keep running the government while this is going on. And I think you have to do both things at once.

MELBER: Well, senator, it's very old-fashioned of you to want the facts first. We...

KLOBUCHAR: Oh, come on. Some people do. I actually believe that facts exist and that there are no such thing as alternative facts. So, there you go.

MELBER: It makes some sense and we know you've got to vote.

Senator, thanks for giving us some time here on THE BEAT.

KLOBUCHAR: OK. Thank you.

MELBER: I want to turn now on Russia to former prosecutor and US attorney Barbara McQuade. Thank you for joining. Any response you have to what Sen. Klobuchar was saying and also those lines of inquiry for the public side of this hearing from these Trump associates about these meetings they took?

A lot of lawyers have said, you shouldn't even be in a meeting with foreign government officials and people claim to represent them offering dirt on an opponent.

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER US ATTORNEY: Well, certainly. And I think, although Donald Trump, Jr. did answer questions in a closed session to interviews, I think the public deserves an opportunity to see him and to listen to him in a public setting.

I think there still remain many questions about what happened at that meeting and also the role of President Trump in crafting the statement about the meeting. If he didn't know about the meeting, how could he have written the statement.

So, I think there are many unanswered questions that are really important there and I look forward to that hearing to find out more about it.

MELBER: And then, on the Michael Cohen part, again, we're kind of walking through some of the different figures that we're going to hear from. This is from "Vanity Fair," the same article I mentioned, where he talked about taking a bullet for Trump.

Cohen said that, "On the advice of his lawyer, he and the Trumps are now on a forced break from speaking to each another. All parties thought it would be best if we ceased communication unless it was an emergency. So that when the questioning occurs, nobody can say to me, well, did you speak to the president within the last week or three weeks, what did you talk about?"

That is on the heels, though of "New York Times" reporting that Michael Cohen had hoped to work in the administration. And something unstated in the article, and I want to be fair, we don't know what kind of thing it was, but something kept him out of the administration.

So, there seems to be an interesting wedge here of someone who was very close to the president, was an attorney and a business person, is caught up to some degree, but also has sort of been pulled away for multiple reasons.

MCQUADE: I don't know what that reason is. I think the advice not to talk to President Trump during this period of time is probably very sound because, especially for someone who has said, I would take a bullet for him, you could see how that could be interpreted to mean that they've been talking lately and they've been trying to get their stories straight, so that Michael Cohen can help protect the president and figuratively at least take a bullet for him.

MELBER: And on the business side, I mean, it's not that people might have made a lot of money in various ways that Mueller is interested in, right? I mean, what is the - walk us through what is the potential federal legal hook that he would need to actually get in and use the business dealings in any future proceeding?

MCQUADE: Well, we have this very interesting set of facts that Michael Cohen was involved in negotiating with the Russians to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

And remember, there was that email message from the Trump associate Felix Sater that said that we're going to get to Putin and talk about this.

Well, now it goes from being a routine business deal to a political matter, reaching to the very top of the government of Russia. What are your interactions with them?

And as you heard Sen. Klobuchar talk about, it's illegal for a foreign national or a foreign government to make any kind of contribution, including a thing of value, in our elections.

And so, this is during a time when Donald Trump is running for president. So, I think what Robert Mueller is looking for is, was there, in these business relationships, any discussion of assistance in the campaign, a quid pro quo, a debt, a leverage, a favor. And so, any connection there could be incredibly important in proving collusion with the Russians.

MELBER: Right. And that's something that they, at the time, were vociferously denying some of the evidence we already have undermines those denials.

Now, Barbara McQuade, before I let you go, I have to say, I see Michigan, the big house, I think my alma mater in the background behind you, always makes us happy. Beautiful shot there. So, go blue.

MCQUADE: Thanks very much and go blue.

MELBER: Go blue. Thank you, Barbara. Appreciate it. Sean Spicer behind the podium again, this time in a controversial appearance at the Emmys. We're going to tell you what Spicer is now saying in "The New York Times" today.


MELBER: New reports that Donald Trump and Mike Pence may be misusing funds marked for charity. Their inaugural committee raised $107 million. That's double Obama's first inauguration, but they pledged to donate any leftover funds to charity.

But a new "AP" report find "nothing" has yet gone to charity. And some of the money is already being missed for what looked like clearly non- charitable purposes, like a redecoration of this residence, the naval observatory where Mike Pence lives, a three-story brick house with a swimming pool, a hot tub and a putting green.

It's one thing to run late on promised charity donations, as Trump has done repeatedly, and quite another for Trump and Pence to raid the money they earmarked for charity and spend it on their own stuff. Pence singing a different tune during the transition.


MIKE PENCE, UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: I told him it was important to continue a tradition I've had throughout my life of stopping by (AUDIO GAP) giving encouragement to ministries like (AUDIO GAP)


MELBER: (AUDIO GAP) Executive Director of (AUDIO GAP) which had sued the Trump administration for its failure to release documents and Peter Choharis, a Lawyer and prominent Political Strategist who helped write John Kerry's Presidential platform. Good day to both. Austin, your view of this charity story?

AUSTIN EVERS, AMERICAN OVERSIGHT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well, I think he started from the position that this President does not deserve benefit of the doubt when it comes to charitable (AUDIO GAP). Mentioned at the top, (AUDIO GAP) long documented history of making big promises and then not following (AUDIO GAP) until there's (AUDIO GAP) amount of public (AUDIO GAP). You can go back to the campaign when he did a fund fundraiser for veterans, (AUDIO GAP) wasn't until six months later after public (AUDIO GAP) cut check from his personal (AUDIO GAP) unfortunately (AUDIO GAP) largely (AUDIO GAP) these days.

MELBER: Peter.

PETER CHOHARIS, CHOHARIS GLOBAL SOLUTIONS FOUNDER: Well, look, are there allegations of illegality or criminal conduct? No. Do I think they should have followed through on their promise? Yes. Charitable contributions, not the same as renovating the Vice President's house or the White House. But frankly, I think there other more burning issues that especially with respect to Congressional inquiries that probably (AUDIO GAP a lot more attention.

MELBER: And we've covered those -- I mean, we've covered some of the Russia stuff in first two blocks. I think what is also important though, Peter, is there's always something else. I mean, most stories won't be top story. It's a tautology. And yet, when you look at what seems to be a systematic style -- systematic of breaking pledges and making misstatements and making falsehoods, it almost seems like larger action going on here to sort of exhaust or normalize this thing. I mean, they didn't even need to make the promise. For some reason made this promise it would all go to charity and now they're not going through on it and the AP comes up with story and I don't think the response has to be well, let it go.

CHOHARIS: Now, I'm not saying that the response has to be let it go. The question is, do we have Congressional inquiry on this or do we focus on other things in Congress? And I think there are lot more important things to focus on frankly. With this administration, yes, is trust an issue? Would you think want to focus on things that enhance trust and accountability and fiduciary responsibility? Yes, you think they would.

But again, I'm worried about you know, that President speaking to U.N. General Assembly tomorrow, I'm worried about North Korea and I know you've covered that but I think it can't be covered too much because we had three principals of the national security team, the Secretary of State, the National Security Adviser and the U.N. Ambassador. For the first time this weekend, all talking about I'm not sure sanctions are going to work North Korea, war may be a possibility. I think that in the grand scheme of things can't be talked about enough because millions of lives could be at stake. That's my point.

MELBER: Yes, and Austin -- yes, I hear that. Austin, when you look at how these things work, I mean, at the end of last week, the Ethics Office which had been vacated by Walter Shaub, who some viewers may know because he's popped up criticizing the Trump administration with trying to make a reversal in Obama era rule that would allow secret donations to legal defense fund. And they have unilateral authority over that. They have -- to Peter's earlier point -- it is legal for them to make that call. And then, when it was exposed and when there was pressure, they pulled back from it. You're leading a group that's trying to sort of pick your battles with the Trump administration, ethical, legal and otherwise. What is the role here in your view of what is the right thing to focus on and does that accountability make a difference? Are you seeing areas where certain things are working even when they have the call when they have the power?

EVERS: I think that's exactly right. By forcing people's focus on these ethical issues, even what seem like minor transgressions, you talk about the larger issue. And when you look at the inaugural funds, let's not forget the broader issue which is what was the original purpose of the funds that were donated to that event? It buys access and influence with this administration and we've seen it pay off. You have the Venezuelan Oil Company gave half a million dollars and (INAUDIBLE) omitted from the recent Venezuelan sanctions.

You have Dow Chemical gave half a million dollars to the Trump inaugural and one of the first things that Scott Pruitt did when he got to the EPA, was overturn a long pending rule on pesticides. These issues matter and you know, I wasn't that long ago that Candidate Trump was running on cleaning up Washington. I think it really matters to hold him to his promises. And certainly in this case, when he reaped the benefit of making big promises about giving to charity, well, if he's not going to follow through, he should reap the repercussions of that too.

MELBER: Austin Evers and Peter Choharis thank you both. I'll have you back as soon as possible. Ahead, I asked the question which side is Facebook actually on? A special look at how the tech giant is facing questions in the Russia query. And the Emmys turn political. Sean Spicer talks about his big regret.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The nominees for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series are --

OK, and the Emmy goes to, Cynthia Nixon.



MELBER: Donald Trump had presenter duties at 2004 Emmys. The award itself did elude him. He never won despite eight nominations for The Apprentice. But Trump clearly coveted the glitz and Hollywood approval associated with the Emmys, seeking the embrace of A-list stars, so perhaps it's a painful irony that having ascended to the highest position in the land, he is now their detested enemy and punch line which was on display last night.


ALEC BALDWIN, AMERICAN ACTOR: At long last Mr. President, here is your Emmy.

DONALD GLOVER, AMERICAN ACTOR: I want to thank Trump for making black people number one on the most oppressed list. He's the reason I'm probably up here.

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, AMERICAN ACTRESS: We did have a whole storyline about an impeachment but abandoned that because we were worried that someone else might get to it first.


MELBER: Was not all digs either. Some actors used their moment to stand up for causes they feel Trump has attacked.


RIZ AHMED, BRITISH ACTOR: If this show has shown a light on some of the prejudice in our society, Islamophobia, some of the injustice in our justice system then maybe that's something.

NICOLE KIDMAN, AMERICAN ACTRESS: we shone a line on domestic abuse. It is -- it is a complicated, insidious disease, it exists far more than we allow ourselves to know.


MELBER: Which would be good if they stopped there but Hollywood being Hollywood, it seems there's no position, critique, or consistency that won't yield in pathetic deference to another perceived big name. And that's why this is the moment of normalization I'm about to show you that many critics say undercut any pretense of political message last night.


STEPHEN COLBERT, AMERICAN COMEDIAN: Is there anybody who could say how big the audience is? Sean, do you know?

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period. Both in person and around the world.


MELBER: Sean Spicer taking the stage to tell jokes about when he used his government-funded salary to mislead the nation. It's apparently part of a larger tour by Spicer to put Trumpism behind him and reintegrate into elite media society. Today, he tells the New York Times he absolutely regrets that crowd size appearance at the lectern. But there's something important going on here. If Spicer is now in on the joke, if he concedes that he peddled falsehoods, working for a President who peddled falsehoods, it may offer a kernel of transition, crumb of growth.

But it's not accountability, it's not a serious reckoning for work in government where he stood from that podium and pushed falsehoods about millions of Americans voting illegally without evidence, a defense of his boss that included a baseless attack when you think about it, using the power of the United States on millions of imagined voter felons, and there many other examples I don't have time for right now, which is not to say that Sean Spicer can't laugh at himself or ask others to join in. But without accountability is it funny yet? To join me for the conversation, Liz Plank from and Aisha Moodie-Mills, President of the Victory Fund. Liz?

LIZ PLANK, SENIOR PRODUCER & POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, VOX: I think that the only thing that Emmys did was raise Sean Spicer's speaking fee. Like actually that is going to happen after this appearance because it normalized him, right? It made him funny, it made him cool, it basically excused the awful things that he did when he was you know, working for the administration, which you've laid out in your intro. And I was just -- I mean, even before he came out, I was just disappointed. I thought like progressive Hollywood, you know, there was a huge opportunity to use this moment to talk about important issues but he talked about the people who are --

MELBER: But he's a "star." So to Hollywood, it's like, that's fine.

PLANK: Right. And comedy is you know, it sort of low-hanging fruit. I thought Colbert's monologue could have you know, had so many opportunities but unfortunately didn't really used any of that to call out Donald Trump and call out the people that are hurt by his administration.

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, VICTORY FUND PRESIDENT: Yes, the fact that we are in a place where culture, right, which sure can make fun of ourselves with culture is actually normalizing behavior that is otherwise just disgusting in terms of lying to the American public is the problem is. So now we're in place where -- we're desensitized to the highest office in the land literally telling falsehoods and lying and being proud of it. And this idea that we can laugh at it, is you know, to me is a little bit deplorable. I think that the message of the night was really great but the fact they're saying you know what, doesn't really matter if you don't tell the truth is what's problematic.

MELBER: Right. Well, and you're putting finger on something that's a deeper problem in the -- in the politics now that obviously is infecting the culture which is, can we all get along with different ideologies? Yes, hopefully, that's pluralistic society. Can we all get along with different understandings of the facts and people lying knowingly about the facts? No, we can't get along about that because that is contra everything in an empirical democracy, right? And so, I want to read from something that was written about this in the Atlantic, the same problem, "turning the PR guy for the Trump administration and into just another character in the entertainment landscape, a loveable provider of quips and shticks flattens the moral dimensions of the national debate. It says, Deep down politics is just sport, just drama, which undercuts the anti-Trump stands made on the Emmy stage."

MILLS: Yes and it's forgetting that politics ultimately affects people's day-to-day lives. And policy is about people and the impact on our day-to- day lives. So when Nicole Kidman gets off and she talks about domestic violence and she talks about how this is something that is pervasive in our society, we don't quite talk about it, et cetera, you're really feeling like, oh my god, we're drawing light to something that's impacting real Americans. So then turn politics into something that is just sultry and that is just sport, I think really denigrates democracy. And that's one of the things that makes me sad about where we are right now in our discourse.

MELBER: So, it is it, Liz, because Hollywood is more comfortable with fiction, to begin with?

PLANK: I mean, I think your point about the role of the arts and to bringing people together is so interesting because there is an opportunity for that. And you know, I was watching and I was thinking, is anyone who voted for Donald Trump going to be convinced otherwise after watching this? To me just sort of proved every sort of stereotype that conservatives often tend to believe about Hollywood, which is it's you know, a bunch of progressive sort of patting themselves on the back were out of touch.

And in a way also, I mean, yes, diversity was better but there is -- there's still a sea and crowd of white people. And you know, even Colbert -- I'm talking back to Colbert, I'm sorry, I'm a big fan of the show but you know, calling out African-Americans, like look at all the great black people, I thought one of the best moments was unscripted. And it was you know, Dave Chappelle saying, he was surprised as he counted 11 black people in the crowd. I thought that was true, you know, a reflection on yes, Hollywood, we're great and we talked about domestic violence and diversity but we still have a lot of problems too.

MILLS: Well, I do want to shout out the fact that there was a historic first which were awesome. Lena Waithe who is an amazing writer, director, producer. She won, she became the first black woman to actually win comedy writing for this beautiful coming out portrayal of black lesbian in Master Of None. So that was really fantastic.

MELBER: I appreciate that. And if course, shouting on Chappelle, I want to shout out when keeping it real goes wrong, just a great Chappelle segment, for just doing shout outs --

PLANK: It wouldn't be your show if you -- if you couldn't do it.

MELBER: Aisha Moodie-Mills and Liz Plank, always a pleasure. Coming up, why Mueller is zeroing in on Facebook.


MELBER: In the Russia investigation, Bob Mueller is now zeroing in on some key tools like Facebook and it looks like he's using a subpoena or warrant to make Facebook cough up more than it gave Congress. Now, a search warrant suggests Facebook was used for some kind of crime but Facebook's corporate message is always to claim that it's neutral, that it's just a platform where people communicate and share, which may sound neutral but it's not. Because there's nothing neutral about helping spread lies. That makes you part of the problem. And remember, neutrality was also Facebook's first offense for how it pummeled users with pro-Trump fake news during the general election.

Here are some of the stories with the highest engagement on Facebook in late 2016. A false claim that an FBI agent tied to Clinton was found dead. That never happened. Another, about Clinton selling weapons to ISIS, it didn't happen. And the most popular was the false claim the pope endorsed Trump. Those are false stories that spread like wildfire on Facebook before people voted. Now, they didn't spread as literally fan fiction or onion style jokes. They spread through a very specific fraud. That fraud that they were real. Which Facebook packages its articles and presents like any other real article, those, kind of, fake news stories. In fact, they got more attention as you can see in this chart than actual news on Facebook as the election approached. Now, afterward, the President, after this election, the President called out fake news. Not that president, this one.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: In an age where there's so much active misinformation and it's packaged very well and it looks like the same when you see it on a Facebook page. We can lose so much of what we've gained in terms of the kind of democratic freedoms and market-based economies and prosperity we've come to take for granted.


MELBER: President Obama was worried that lies were more believable on Facebook which impacted democratic freedom. But Mark Zuckerberg's response to the election was to say it was, "crazy." He told a November conference it was crazy to blame Facebook for fake news and people upset about it showed a lack of empathy and failed to internalize the message of Trump voters. Adding that, Facebook gave people information through the social system that's inherently more diverse than to old news systems.

Now, note his tricky use of the word diversity. Yes, diversity of opinions and ideas is good. Diversity, though, as we discussed on this show today is not a concept that applies to facts. You can't have a diverse set of facts about whether the Pope endorsed Trump. He didn't. And fake article that claim the Pope did endorse Trump are not diverse. They're false. In business, they're called a fraud, Mr. Zuckerberg. But on Facebook they're clicks. And so, Zuckerberg has an incentive to keep that fake news flowing. And that was in November.

But after pressure, Facebook recently changed its tune announcing it will add fact checks to debunk hoax spreading on the site and won't let those types of hoax paddler by ads. So maybe Facebook will change under pressure for the current controversy. How it let Russian operatives buy ads while posing as Americans. Congress is interested in that and so far, Facebook won't even us, its own users, whether they were targeted by Russians or whether it will release its internal review on Russian meddling via Facebook.

So the social network facilitating these foreign frauds and profiting off them doesn't think it owes Americans any information about that. Mark Zuckerberg risks sounding like a combination of Equifax and Alex Jones here, a corporation that doesn't care about its costumers or the truth. We know the Russian effort online was basically a type of political catfishing creating a fake online profile to trick another person. MTV's Catfish documents how people do that to basically trick folks into a hoax relationship which is painful.

Now, political catfishing may not be as tailored but it also exploits this vague personal foreign matters to social media, this thin line between verified and fake. And the Russia are still doing it. I'll show you the top hashtags that Russia linked accounts and blogs are pushing right now. This is today, from Syria to MAGA, to the Emmys according to Russian tracker from the alliance for securing democracy. We need to know a lot more about this. Facebook and other social media companies have multiple obligations not only to the Special Counsel and Congress who may legally compel them but to the public at large who put so much of our lives and privacy and time into these sites. You know, during the cold war, Reagan ran that famous ad, positing Russian is a dangerous bear on the horizon which some people refuse to see.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Others don't see it at all, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear, if there is a bear.


MELBER: If there is a bear. Every day we learning more about Russian meddling and we know there is a bear even if some refuse to see it. It's past time for Facebook to decide which side it's on.


MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT. We were just talking about some key questions for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg but we're not above telling you to check out our Facebook page which is still in good working order there. THEBEATWITHARi or you can check us out on Twitter or as many of you have been doing, because I read them, you can always e-mail me ARI@MSNBC.COM. That is a working old fashion e-mail. That does it for our show tonight on THE BEAT, thanks for watching. And up next is "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Caught on camera. Let's play HARDBALL.



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