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The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 9/22/17 Alabama Senate Race

Guests: Howard Fineman, David Litt, Renato Mariotti, Jonathan Capehart, Erin Gloria Ryan, Benjamin Wittes, Gay Talese, David Litt, Nancy Giles

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: September 22, 2017 Guest: Howard Fineman, David Litt, Renato Mariotti, Jonathan Capehart, Erin Gloria Ryan, Benjamin Wittes, Gay Talese, David Litt, Nancy Giles

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Happy New Year. Appreciate that, Chuck.

Tonight, President Trump is on the verge of another stinging rebuke from his own party on Trumpcare. The key player is John McCain who came out swinging today and may ultimately be the veto of the Republicans` last- ditch effort to revive Trumpcare by next week`s deadline.

McCain saying tonight he cannot in good conscience vote for the new Trumpcare effort. This is a big deal. It means, obviously, Democrats only now need one more vote to save Obamacare and administer another bipartisan thumping of this young president, saving healthcare for at least 21 million people - that`s the policy side - and enshrining a victory with the word Obama in it. That`s the political side.

Obamacare does still hang in the balance because of that one vote, but tonight just one. Then it would be done. Sen. Susan Collins says she`s leaning against the new GOP plan. She was part of the McCain coalition that dramatically blocked the last effort at Trumpcare on the Senate floor.

Alaska maverick Lisa Murkowski also up in the air tonight. Pence also now coming out with a late day plea.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot in good conscience abandon this cause. The American people are hurting. As President Trump has made clear, inaction is not enough. Now, let me be clear, a vote against Graham-Cassidy is a vote to save Obamacare.


MELBER: This is the biggest domestic fight of the last decade and it hangs in the balance right now.

So, look at what`s happening. The Trump White House is rolling out Mike Pence, not the president, and that`s pretty telling. This is a president who tends to lose more Senate votes than he gains.

And perhaps, the best thing he could do for Republicans right now on this fight tonight is disappear because even in a Republican-controlled Senate, when the choice is boiled down to Obamacare versus Trump, Obamacare has been winning.

It`s another reminder of how unpredictable politics is, especially when you have a deal maker in the White House who looks boxed in and stuck, leading from behind.

I want to bring in right now Howard Fineman, Global Editorial Director for the "Huffington Post." This wasn`t how it was supposed to be, Howard. What is happening?

HOWARD FINEMAN, GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "HUFFINGTON POST": Well, I think there are two things happening. One on a substantive level, there are a lot of doubts about this bill. And not just from Democrats. A lot of Republicans either don`t know the details or are concerned about what impact it might have.

And then, politically, as you said, Donald Trump pounding the table rhetorically is not necessarily a winner to keep the Republican coalition together.

In the case of John McCain, who I`ve covered literally for decades, pounding the table by Donald Trump is certain to drive John McCain in the other direction, which is exactly what happened tonight in a move that I think is going to kill the bill.

MELBER: I want to play for you Jimmy Kimmel who, obviously, has been in this, not really by choice as a political matter, I think it`s fascinating to see someone who came out and spoke as I think everyone knows about his child, about how healthcare works in this country.

Then gets into it with Sen. Cassidy who, of course, is now selling here this thing hanging right now as of this hour tonight by one vote, by a thread. Listen to Jimmy Kimmel talking about his qualifications in all this last night.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL SHOW: A lot of people have been saying that I`m not qualified to talk about this, and that is true. I`m not qualified to talk about this. But I think those people forget, Bill Cassidy named this test after me. Am I supposed to just be quiet about that?


MELBER: Has this backfired on Sen. Cassidy?

FINEMAN: Oh, yes, it has because Jimmy Kimmel has very artfully framed this in terms of the question of preexisting conditions. In other words, who gets coverage based on whether they`re sick when they come into the program and lifetime spending on a particular illness, which is particularly apt in Jimmy Kimmel`s case because of the well-known travails of his little boy.

So, Jimmy Kimmel on those two topics has focused and been fierce and I think been very effective. Last night on Jimmy Kimmel`s show, he had Sen. Al Franken, a critic of the Cassidy Bill from Minnesota, who`s very knowledgeable and stuck to those talking points.

Actually, the Democrats, oddly enough led by Jimmy Kimmel, focused on some of the most personal, most telling and most emotional aspects of the attack, which I think has helped.

And in John McCain`s case, this is John McCain returning to the John McCain of 2000s.

MELBER: Right.

FINEMAN: Whom I my covered as the maverick.

MELBER: Let`s pause on that. And I want to get you on that and also I have Joy Reid by my side about to join us.

So, you speak about that. This is not, of course, the first friction between McCain and Trump. People remember in the campaign, plus in February when Trump tweeted McCain has been losing so long, he doesn`t know how to win anymore. Days later, it was at that security conference in Germany, McCain firing back.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This panel is going to ask us to consider whether the West will survive. In recent years, this question would invite accusations of hyperbole and alarmism. Not this year. If ever there was a time to treat this question with a deadly seriousness, it is now.


MELBER: The respectful implication being that the president not being serious. And then, after Trump`s comments on Charlottesville, McCain wrote the president is often poorly informed and can be impulsive, but we are not his subordinates, we don`t answer to him.

And then, of course, back to healthcare, McCain famously killing the last Republican attempt to get Trumpcare in over Obamacare in dramatic fashion.

There it was. And there it is. I want to bring in MSNBC`s Joy Reid, the host of "AM Joy," as well as David Litt, a former Obama administration official and author of a new book, "Thanks, Obama: My Hopey Change White House Years."

Joy, last time, he did it straight up on the floor like that.


MELBER: This time he`s coming out earlier. Is that worse for Trump?

REID: I think any time that he is at war with John McCain, it`s worse for Trump. And the reason for that, John McCain is not defending Obamacare here. You`ve never heard him actually defend the lies.

He is defending the Senate. And I think one of the things that has become the most broken with Donald Trump in the White House is the idea of the co- equal branch of government behaving as something other than supine lackeys of the White House.

The Republican Party, including its leadership in both the House and Senate, have behaved as if they`re Donald Trump`s employees. And John McCain is the guy standing up saying, actually, we`re not his employees. And so, he is defending the process.

The only way that Donald Trump wins in Capitol Hill where he has no friends actually, nobody except Chuck Schumer, the president actually knew before he came to Washington, the only way that he wins is that the chaos forces the Republican Party to fear the base so much they just do whatever he says.

So, he can`t afford to keep alienating John McCain and yet he doesn`t learn. Donald Trump doesn`t learn. He is not a friend of John McCain. John McCain owes him nothing.

MELBER: Well, you make such an insightful point as you so often do, Joy, that it`s not necessarily Obamacare being defended, right, but it is about, as you say, the actual constitutional dimension of who is in charge. There`s a Jamaican saying - I don`t know if you know it.

REID: I know every Jamaican saying.

MELBER: Do you?

REID: Well, maybe.

MELBER: We run things, things not run we.

REID: That`s correct.

MELBER: And this is John McCain saying we run this senate and it`s not going to be run roughshod over by someone who doesn`t show a lot of respect for how government works.

REID: Exactly. And the thing - Donald Trump has exploded a lot of norms. And one of the most alarming things about him being president is that it does call into question whether institutions created a couple of hundred years ago are strong enough to withstand someone like him, somebody who doesn`t seem to really understand the office or respect the limits and the constraints on it.

Well, at some point, the American people need the co-equal branch of government down the street to actually stand up and be a co-equal branch of government to rein him in.

The strongest argument that Democrats have in 2018 is that Republicans are incapable of doing it and unwilling to do it. They are unwilling to be the Senate and be the House, they have decided to be lackeys, they have decided to be employees.

John McCain is the one guy saying, no, actually, we don`t want to be lackeys and employees. That`s not a lot for Democrats to hang their hats on by the way because John McCain is not on Democrat side on any of these policy questions at all. He`s probably on Lindsey Graham`s side.

But all he`s saying is unless we go back to the process, the regular order and let the institution work, I`m not playing along.

MELBER: Right. And so interesting, as you point out. I mean, this goes to whether Republican fan fiction can be governable or not. And this is an example of it not.

Howard, I want to put up on the screen Jimmy Kimmel`s response. This came just into our newsroom. Obviously, he`s been all over this debate. But he praises John McCain here coming out against Trumpcare today and writes - Jimmy Kimmel says, "Thank you, Senator John McCain for being a hero again and again and now again."

Howard, as mentioned, you`ve covered him for a long time. Walk us through the kind of leadership we`re seeing here from John McCain today.

FINEMAN: Well, I covered his 2000 campaign, which was the best McCain. That was John McCain saying that he was for bipartisanship, that he was searching for consensus even while he was running as a maverick and a sort of outsider who also wanted regular order in a way.

And to follow on what Joy was saying, the interesting thing here is, he is Mr. Maverick in the current context of Trump`s Washington, but what he`s arguing for is tradition.

Don`t forget, John McCain is third or fourth generation Navy. His father is an admiral. His grandfather is an admiral. He has a sense of continuity of the constitution and service in America. And it`s that I think above all that motivates his distaste and disdain for Donald Trump.

And the feeling between the two of them is mutual. They are barely in the same world. And the John McCain you saw today is the John McCain of 2000. And as he faces the illnesses and the battles that he faces now, I think he is consciously seeking to recapture the energy and the emotion and the best of himself politically that you saw in that earlier campaign.

MELBER: And that`s all the politics and the relationships. We have David Litt here and I want to play something for you from one of your colleagues in the Obama administration, Josh Earnest, who as you know is a much better communicator than you. You know that.

You`re just a writer. He`s a talker.


MELBER: I`m just messing with you. But in one blizzard last night on "The Last Word", where I was watching him and Joy Reid last night, I was glued to my TV screen with all the different facts you guys were unfurling, and he basically went through policy of this.

Put the personalities aside, he talks about where people and companies involved in healthcare are on this new Trumpcare bill. Take a listen.


JOSH EARNEST, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It seems that every single group that`s in any way involved in providing healthcare to Americans opposes this bill. Hospital executives oppose this bill because it`s bad for hospitals. Doctors oppose this bill because it`s bad for doctors. Nurses oppose this bill because it`s bad for nurses. Patient advocates oppose this bill because it`s bad for patients.


MELBER: I mean, David not everyone in healthcare loves Obamacare, but Josh Earnest is arguing everyone in healthcare hates Trumpcare.

DAVID LITT, FORMER OBAMA SPEECHWRITER: That`s exactly right. You have the Republican Party and Donald Trump saying we want to rip healthcare away from 20 million people because we don`t like Barack Obama very much.

That`s what the argument boils down to. It`s not the care part. It`s the Obama part. And it doesn`t make sense. There`s a reason that Obamacare is now at 54 percent popularity. We would have loved that back when we were in the White House.

And Graham Cassidy, I think, I saw today, is at 24 percent. This makes no political sense. It makes no policy sense. And I think that`s what Josh is getting at.

MELBER: Howard Fineman, thank you for being here and reflecting on some of your reporting history. David, stay with me. Joy, stay with me.

I want to ask you, Joy, if you could interview anyone on your show this weekend, who would it be? I`ll ask you that. OK? That`s a warning. And then you get to answer.

Ahead, we have some other really important breaking news. This just came into the newsroom. The federal government now identifying specifically for the first time the 21 states targeted by Russian hackers. Yes, they really are only getting around to doing tonight.

Trump also breaking a Twitter silence on Russia. We`ll tell you what it means.

Later, Steve Bannon going to war with his old boss. Bannon and Trump squaring off in good old Alabama, a battle for the base.

And Jim Comey made his first public appearance today ever since that Senate testimony. We`re going to show it to you and what it means and speak to a good friend of his.

I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER: Breaking news on this Friday night. The feds say they are now telling individual states if they were targeted by Russian hackers in the 2016 election. This may be a Friday night news dump, but it sure is important.

We now know that 21 states` election systems were hacked in some way. That has been on the books. But what is brand new tonight, believe it or not, is the Department of Homeland (INAUDIBLE 1:58) in those individual states for the first time.

For example, in Wisconsin tonight, state officials say this is the "first time the Trump administration informed them they were targeted by Russia." We are, of course, ten months after the election.

These notifications may obviously be tense for some Trump officials. They work for a man who still contradicts the evidence that Russia hacked United States last year.

Now, that`s what the authorities are doing to help address potential Russian hacking in the future. Meanwhile, the Russia probe continues. Some Trump aides "reaching out to headhunters to find jobs outside the administration."

The surveillance of Paul Manafort back in the news with reports he was monitored after he left the Trump campaign and Facebook handing their Russian ads over to investigators.

Is Trump noticing this heat? Well, we ran the numbers here and signs point to yes. Take a look at this. Trump had been tweeting about a dozen times a month about Russia in early summer, which fell to five in August, the last one on August 15.

Then nothing. Trump went over a month - 38 days - without tweeting about Russia. And given his usual rate of tweeting, that suggests either his advisors or his lawyers convinced him he really was hurting himself with his tweets.

But you know what? A tweet diet is really like any diet. The test is time. Anyone can diet for an hour. I`ll go sometimes two hours without a cinnamon roll. A month, though, is harder for Trump. We see 38 days was his breaking point as he picked up this Facebook news to slam the Russia hoax today.

But Trump may reveal more than he intends. Is there something about Facebook and that issue that strikes too close to home? His return to tweeting about Russia violates the cardinal advice that Richard Nixon gave to President Reagan about how to avoid making a scandal worse.

He wrote the president, don`t ever comment on the Iran-Contra matter again. Have instructions issued to all White House staffers and spokesmen, they must never answer any question on or off the record about that issue in the future." That may be good Nixonian advice, if you can follow it.

Back with me is Joy Reid. And joining us, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. Renato, you look at the authorities giving this information finally to the states. Is there any good reason it should take ten months?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I don`t think so. I mean, certainly, there can be reasons that you`d want to protect sources and methods, but a warning should have been given to these state that they needed to take action to protect themselves and the citizens of their state in the future.

Now, they`re up in a race against time. We have elections here in Illinois. We have an election coming up in March, a primary election. And voters in this state want to know, is their vote going to count? Is their vote going to be tampered with in some way and I`m sure it`s the same in all the rest of the states across this country?

And really now, it`s going to be up to state and local governments to step up and make sure that this matter is investigated and that their systems are protected, so they can assure their citizens that this won`t happen again.

MELBER: Joy, it`s one of these things we`re sitting here - this is real. This is ten months later. This is not, wait, I think I heard about that, didn`t I see the headline. This is now Friday night, ten months later and the feds say to the states individually, "hey, I know you might have heard, 21 of you, but instead of just guessing and wondering or checking it, we`re actually going to help out now.

I`m just going to read from this so people understand what`s out there. Department of Homeland Security saying that earlier this year it had evidence of Russian activity in 21 states, but they failed to inform individual states whether they were among those targeted. State election officials finally contacted by federal authorities on Friday today.

REID: Yes. One might deem it suspicious that the administration that benefited from Russian intervention in the election, they wasted no time deciding that they needed to launch a 50-state scheme to collect the private data of voters, so that they could stop fictional voter fraud because they wanted to prove that somehow Donald Trump really did win the popular vote and there were millions of fraudulent voters.

They wasted no time empaneling a commission led by the vice president with no vote suppression experts like Kris Kobach on it. That didn`t take any time at all.

But DHS, which used to be headed by the now Chief of Staff General Kelly, they couldn`t get around to letting the states know until this late in the game when there`s another election coming up, which control of the House and Senate, meaning control of the committees that can issue subpoenas, that could pose a threat to this administration on the Russia investigation, took them this long to get around to it, so states could prepare. One might deem that odd and suspicious if you had a conspiratorial mindset.

MELBER: Or, if, as you say, I`ll let you connect the dots, you`re telling me, oh, yes, John Kelly, that guy who was supposed to be everyone`s savior (INAUDIBLE 1:50) the order - and I`ve reported on John Kelly. I respect his career.

But if we`re looking at this policy, I haven`t heard a good defense from Kelly or anyone around him why this would take ten months or why it`s a Friday night news dump. We know how that works.

REID: Yes. The urgency around things like banning Muslim travelers - immediately. That has to get done right away. They`ve got all these deadlines. It`s super urgent that they stop people of the Muslim faith coming into the country.

They`ve got interesting priorities. And again, they are the people who benefitted from Russian intervention the last time. So, they might have, even just for the optic of it, wanted to be a little more proactive.

MELBER: Right. Well, there is an old question, Kui Bono, who Benefits? We don`t just do Jamaican things. We do Italian sayings.

REID: I was just going to say, are you going to come with another JA saying. I was getting ready for it.

MELBER: Renato - we can laugh on Friday even though we have serious news. At least when Joy is here. And I`m going to ask you the question actually in a second about who you want to interview.

But before I get to that, I want to play for you something very interesting from a former national security official, Renato, about the other big news, which is this focus on Paul Manafort.

And this may be bad for him without being as bad for Trump, depending on your theory of the case. Take a listen here to Jeremy Bash.


JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF: It`s possible that Russia actually sent and dispatched Paul Manafort to the Trump campaign. Or at least that once Paul Manafort attached himself to the Trump campaign, the Russians said, OK, our agent is now on the inside.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST, "Deadline: White House": Are you saying it`s possible that they`re going to want to find out if Manafort was a Russian plant? Is that one of the questions the investigation is going to try to answer.

BASH: Absolutely.


MELBER: Renato?

MARIOTTI: Wow! Wow! That is really something. What I would say is that that would definitely be a primary purpose of the counterintelligence aspect of the investigation.

On the criminal side of it, which I know a lot of people are focused on, and certainly as a former federal prosecutor, I am, what I would say is that would be explosive evidence that probably would actually not be admitted into a trial unless it was very, very highly relevant because you could imagine it`s so (INAUDIBLE 3:55) that they would not be focused on the issues that matter for the particular crimes that are charged.

To me, one thing that we found out this week from "The New York Times" is that Manafort is somebody that Mueller intends to charge and he has told Manafort that.

MELBER: He is a target, according to that reporting, yes.

MARIOTTI: Exactly right. And one thing we also saw this week, Ari, is that both Ty Cobb, who is the president`s lawyer, and Vice President Pence distanced themselves from Paul Manafort. And I thought that was very interesting because what we saw was for the first time that the allegations had gotten so explosive - and I think this is right after the reporting about him offering special access to a Russian billionaire - that now he`s not somebody that you want to keep in the fold.

So, if I represented Manafort, I would be telling my client, I don`t know if you`re going to get a pardon, you may be a fall guy here and you need to be thinking about how you could help Mueller.

MELBER: Right. And that isolation strategy is clear. And by the way, only Renato Mariotti, when asked a question about potential secret spy goes right into the evidentiary ruling in a potential trial. It`s getting deep into the boring part of law school, but that`s why we love your expertise.

Joy, they`re telling me I`m way over time. That happens with great guests. If you could interview anyone right now on your show, who would you interview?

REID: Right now, I think I`d go for Hillary Clinton.

MELBER: Would you go for Hillary Clinton?

REID: I would, I would.

MELBER: I hunched that was the answer. And Joy Reid`s show, tomorrow, Hillary Clinton, 10 AM. I will be watching. I will be tweeting. I think a lot of people will. Joy Reid -

REID: Thank you.

MELBER: - we will tune in. Thank you for joining us. And, Renato, appreciate it as well.

REID: I am taking my swag with me.

MELBER: Is that cleared? Because we always get to ask. You got it cleared. Oh, nice. Both of us. Thank you both. I appreciate it.

All right. Nothing uglier, up next, than a break up. And there`s a new fight between Trump and his old allies Bannon and Sarah Palin playing out tonight.


SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: But, alas, ten months later, guys, the swamp, it`s trying to hijack this presidency.




SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I`m here to support the next president of the United States Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, this is a woman that - from day one, I said, "If I ever do this, I have to get her support." She feels it, she understands it better than anybody.


MELBER: Trump had Palin`s support then. But loyalty can be a one-way street. She`s now lining up against Trump`s pick in Alabama, Luther Strange. Trump rallying there tonight and trying to beat back a primary challenge from Judge Roy Moore who has the backing now Palin and Bannon.


PALIN: I followed the judge`s career for many years and you know he was deplorable before deplorable was cool.


MELBER: That Republican judge`s career includes using his post to pick fights on marriage quality and a 10 Commandments monument. In fact, an Alabama court ultimately kicked him out of office over his refusal to remove that religious monument from a courthouse.

Joining me now is Jonathan Capehart from "The Washington Post" and Erin Gloria Ryan from "The Daily Beast." Jonathan, what does this civil war tell us?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, OPINION WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The one thing, Ari, it tells me is that the Republican Party, which has been at war with itself since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, when it lurched really hard to the right.

Well, now, it is lurching even more to the right where you got two people who you don`t know who to root for between Luther Strange and Roy Moore. And so it`s just a matter of the fringes of what used to be the fringes of the Republican Party having a battle with each other over who`s going to take this seat. Because no matter what, whether you know, Roy Moore has got Palin and Bannon and Luther Strange has the President of the United States, no matter who wins that race, that`s a vote for President Trump.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Yes, I mean, Erin Gloria Ryan, there`s a little bit of the seat in the dark knight where you have the mobsters are like really scary and then like, who`s going to scare us. But then when he`s let his joker comes in, you`re like, oh, maybe there is someone even scarier. And there`s that element here because this is a really conservative Republican Senator backed by this insurgent pseudo-Republican President Donald Trump. But Roy Moore, for anyone who` been following, has been ripping it up Republican politics for years.

ERIN GLORIA RYAN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Right. Well, I think that there`s a couple of things that kind of remind me. First of all, I think that like the New York D.C. Media and I realize that I`m a part of it so it`s probably rich for me to indict this at all. But at least the New York D.C. Media is always hungry for a narrative and really seductive narrative. In this case is this narrative of like Trump versus Palin and Bannon. In reality, I think that the voters of Alabama are just going to decide for themselves. If celebrities determine who won election, Hillary would have won 2016 in a landslide. Like --

MELBER: Wasn`t she running against the bigger celebrity?

RYAN: No, I don`t think that -- I mean, if you look at all the -- like people lined up like at the DNC who are speaking for like Boys II Men did like an opening number for her.

MELBER: (INAUDIBLE) I was there. Yes.

RYAN: So was I. But I think that like, you know, the narrative that this is like celebrities versus celebrities is entertaining like professional wrestling is entertaining. But I think ultimately, what is going to matter is what the voters of Alabama think of these two candidates. I do think Roy Moore is the more colorful, the louder, the crazier one. I think he can out-crazy even Donald Trump and I think that`s maybe more of the story. It`s like he is a bigger draw than Luther Strange because he is more interesting.

MELBER: And I think I buy that and yet Jonathan, what makes him more interesting is where the Republican Party is going which is, he literally preferred to have a talk radio parade around his ten commandments monument fight than actually holding the series power he had as a judge at that sake.

CAPEHART: Yes, I mean, I was you know, the ten commandments. He was also, when he was sitting on the high -- like he was the chief judge of the state. And when marriage equality was made law of the land, he sent a directive to his judges telling them to ignore the law, to ignore the supreme court. That`s -- Alabama -- the choice that Alabama has to make. Whether they`re going to vote for Luther Strange or whether they`re going to vote for Roy Moore, a person who as was previously said, is somebody who`s I think colorful is a nice way of saying somebody, say -- a nice way of describing someone who seems to behave in a way where he feels that he is a law unto himself. And really, sometimes I think just from things that I`ve read about him, it feels like God is on his side and that`s a very dangerous position to be in.

MELBER: Right. We`ve sort of laps into catalog speech, you know, he`s such a colorful pop of color. Like -- also he`s lawless. He`s totally lawless. Jonathan Capehart, thank you for spending part of your Friday night with us. Erin Gloria Ryan, you`re coming back for "FALLBACK FRIDAY."

RYAN: I am?


Coming up, Jim Comey out today with his first public comments since his bombshell Senate testimony.


MELBER: Jim Comey has not spoken in public for 106 days until today in a speech at Howard University.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Our country is going through one of those periods where we`re trying to figure out, who are we really and what do we stand for? And I look forward to adult conversations about what is right and what is true. Thank you.


MELBER: You can hear some protesters in the background. But if Comey is seeking adult conversations, he may not get them from protesters or the Trump Administration which would turn to slamming Comey as not only a bad FBI Director but potentially a criminal one.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President was right in firing Director Comey. We`ve learned new information about his conduct that only provided further justification for that firing. There`s no secret, Comey by his own self-admission, leaked privilege government information weeks before President Trump fired him. His actions were improper and likely could have been illegal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would the President encourage the DOJ to prosecute Comey?

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


MELBER: Trump White House did not provide any evidence that Comey did anything illegal. The White House attack also basically bizarre because Trump already admitted he fired Comey over Russia, not some unstated illegal conduct. Now, Comey has testified under oath and it all boiled down to loyalty and a pledge Comey declined to make. That bombshell testimony sure to interest Bob Mueller. He followed a report that long before he was fired, Comey confided an associate about that loyalty request. There are many anonymous sources in Washington but a key source that article came forward.

It was legal expert Ben Wittes, who explained, the principal source for the rest of this story is, well, me. He is Editor in Chief Lawfare blog that has become the place for serious legal analysis of the Russia inquiry. He works for the centers Brookings Institute in the conservative Hoover Institution. He has gained some notoriety for his Twitter countdowns of tick, tick, tick, boom before bombshell stories. Now he spends most of his time doing research and writing, not television, but he has agreed to join me on THE BEAT today. Thank you for being here, Ben.


MELBER: When you look at these attacks on Jim Comey and him stepping out today, where are we in the White House battle against him and have we seen last of the effort to impugn his character or accuracy?

WITTES: Well, I`m sure we have not seen the last of it. Jim`s appearance at Howard today was a long-scheduled set of appearances that he`s going to be making there throughout the academic years. So that has nothing to do with the timing of any of the attacks. The attacks are, you know, disgraceful and disgusting and they have been sort of the normal course of business for the White House more or less since the time that he was dismissed. And you know, I don`t really know what there is to say about them except that you know, this really isn`t the way you would want a White House talking about a long-serving public servant who particularly in the absence of any evidence to support any of the allegations that they`re making.

MELBER: Right. No evidence. One of the key questions is what was Jim Comey`s state of mind as FBI Director? In your conversations with him before the firing, what was his level of concern about pressure or what he did is potentially inappropriate conduct by President Trump?

WITTES: Well, he was very concerned about the behavior of the President and his interactions with law enforcement. And he, I think the last time I talked to him while he was in office, he thought he had the situation under control and he really thought it had -- would have required a lot of what he called training of the White House about what the proper way to engage with law enforcement was. But he --- but at the same time, he did think it was going to require kind of constant vigilance on his part in the future. And he, you know, he made clear that he thought it was going to be very long few years.

MELBER: When you look at what we`re learning about Mueller`s categories, 13 areas of request, as you know, from your legal writing and reporting, pretty standard way to organize an investigation. And it doesn`t mean every category will then have, a crime at the end of that path. But when you see that one of the categories is specifically a Donald Trump`s dealings with the Russian Ambassador, and reported reference to the firing of Jim Comey, someone as we mentioned that you know, what do you as a legal analyst think that tells us about what Mueller`s counsel -- Special Counsel probe is looking at with regard to that contact.

WITTES: Look, I think the investigation is clearly interested in the President`s pattern of interaction with law enforcement, including Comey, including the firing of Jim Comey, and including the way the President talked about that firing after the fact. And I think as well, the interactions between that pattern of activity and some of the underlying matters that are the subject of separate investigation. And so, you know, and so I think it is not surprising if you behave this way toward your law enforcement leadership. That is, you ask them to drop investigations, you put pressure on them for substantive outcomes and then you fire them when you don`t deliver -- when they don`t deliver. And then you go to a foreign adversary power in the Oval Office and boast that you`ve relieved a lot of pressure of yourself. You`re going to attract the interests of law enforcement when you do that. And I don`t think anybody should be surprised that Bob Mueller takes that pattern of behavior very seriously.

MELBER: Right. Lawfare`s Ben Wittis, thank you for your expertise tonight.

WITTES: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Coming up, how are we actually listening to people on the other side of the political divide? Renowned journalist Gay Talese joins me live up next.



SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The President was very receptive to listening. That is a key to understanding.


MELBER: Senator Tim Scott saying President Trump listened to him during their discussion of Trump`s response to Charlottesville. But within a day, Trump reiterated his both sides comment about white supremacists suggesting Trump may not have been listening all that well at all. There are reports he is one of the least attentive people to ever occupy the White House. But is Trump setting a wider tone that he devalues listening in our culture? We know humans aren`t great at listening, to begin with. We forget half of what we hear within a day and only remember 25 percent in the long run. Today`s politics can make it worst.

A new study released just this month shows people on the left and right are motivated to avoid even hearing from the other side. Both sides hearing different views will cause frustration or alter the reality they want to hold in their minds. Joining me now is a legendary author known for his listening, Journalist Gay Talese famously refuse to ever use tape recorders in his interviews. He says he better when you take notes. He covered the Selma Marches for the New York Times, he`s the author of 12 books and the winner of the Norman Mailer Prize. Gabe, always an honor to have you here.

GAY TALESE, JOURNALIST: If I may speak as not a political person, I know, that the people you have on are tune into the moment and so say to course because they`re on your show. Let me say that Donald Trump is probably in our lifetime, the worst listener. But --

MELBER: The worst listener.

TALESE: He would not be Donald Trump. I think, when you think of Trump, his towering achievement is that he listens to nobody ever.

MELBER: Never.

TALESE: Never.


TALESE: In the history of non-listener -- but also he`s the man of his time and that we`re part of a narcissistic age. This is the narcissistic age of America and we have the narcissistic President running our time whether you like it or not. I think in the history of non-listeners however, if you go back. I`ll bet Napoleon was not a listener. I mean, Castro -- how would Castro ever -- if he listened to anybody, conquered Cuba with 12 guys.

MELBER: Fidel Castro.

TALESE: Fidel Castro. I mean, Trump is a combination of like Evel Knievel or Sylvester Stallone in Rocky movies or a bit of he`s like a wire -- walks across wire like Philippe. There`s something very not admirable but something impressive about Trump`s ability to listen to nobody and get where he otherwise would not got --

MELBER: Well, you`re saying he might connect within reflect, a very superficial culture. You as someone who does listen, how do we get out from this? I mean, you don`t want young people, whether they want to be journalists or firefighters, whatever they want to be, to take the advantage -- to take the example of this President if that`s not listening.

TALESE: The problem is that in order to stop people who are so single- minded as Trump. You have to have people who have equal -- a sense of conviction that matches his own bouldering, blustering way. And you don`t have that maybe because people who are non-listeners do not know how to deal with a non-listener. There have to have -- he is such a forceful negative personality. But I tell you something. If he listened to anybody, which he hasn`t, he wouldn`t be in the White House.

MELBER: Right. And that`s -- and that`s the thing about him, right? And that`s the thing that -- it`s so interesting arguing with you of your history but I think historians will look back and say he did get this far, at least through the electoral college and that is a ratification of something. But that`s like you know, fraudulent advertising can work. It doesn`t mean it`s where you want everything to go. Let me play for you Trump explaining to Chris Wallace why he doesn`t need to listen even to the best experts we have.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t have to be told, you know, I`m like a smart person. I don`t have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years. It could be eight years, but eight years. I don`t need that.


MELBER: He`s saying he doesn`t need daily intelligence briefings.

TALESE: Contrary to our expectations or aspirations, the guy is right. I hate to say he`s right and I hate to say that I`m saying things that are probably going to offend your audience. But the point is --

MELBER: Well our audience listens closely. They`re open-minded.

TALESE: This society we`re in now doesn`t listen either. Sometimes you go to the opera or you go to a baseball game, people are not even watching a ballet. They`re watching their voice, their cell phone. Who`s calling, who`s calling me?

MELBER: How do we change it?

TALESE: Well, you can`t change what seems to work for people. And what it works for people is a sense of self. We`re in a nation that`s very absorbed with -- everybody, there`s the world of selfie or a world of self- centeredness. It dominates our society. I`m not saying everybody is condemned by it or everybody is -- should be concluded into this. But we are in a period now that has to be addressed with some distance, not political day by day but some distance historically. Why did Trump get to be where Trump is? Sadly he got to where he is because he believed only he knew the answer.

MELBER: Well, as the saying goes --

TALESE: It`s not what we want to hear but here we are.

MELBER: The hour calls for optimism. We`ll save pessimism for better times.

TALESE: Thank you. Nice to see you.

MELBER: You know, I`m a big admirer, so I always love when you come by.

TALESE: You`re such a successful guy, I dare not differ with you.

MELBER: Stop. Gay Talese, thank you and "FALLBACK FRIDAY" is next.


MELBER: It`s Friday and you know what that means. It`s time to fallback. To fallback, it is a chance tell someone to chill out, relax or maybe even reassess poor choices you`ve made at least this week. We have a gangbusters panel, Nancy Giles, soulful Commentator and Host for the Giles Files Podcast on iTunes.


MELBER: Giles, you know, I know you.

GILES: I know, but you said, Giles.

MELBER: I`m telling you to fall back. OK.

GILES: OK, fallback, step off.

MELBER: David Litt who we saw earlier in the show, an Obama Speechwriter and a Comedian of sorts and Erin Gloria Ryan who we saw early in the show. Nancy who needs to fall back?

GILES: Well, I was a little confused about fallback and step off. I kept calling it step off Friday Friday for some reason. But I think everybody who`s criticizing Jimmy Kimmel and saying he`s an elitist and what is he as a Hollywood person know about, anything should really fallback because when you look at starting with Trump and Trump`s cabinet filled with elite, billionaires who have abused airplanes left and right, have Secret Service coverage that they don`t need. Trump has bankrupted the Secret Service. It`s sort of strange to look at people that are privileged and elite like that talking to a guy like Jimmy Kimmel who is speaking straight from the heart about something that is simple and basic as health care.

MELBER: Yes, and speaking as a -- as a father.

GILES: That`s right.

MELBER: I hope they fall back and let`s let parents and children let`s let everyone into this health care debate.

GILES: Absolutely.

MELBER: Who needs to fallback, Erin?

RYAN: Once again Gwyneth Paltrow needs to fall back.


RYAN: Gwyneth Paltrow`s Web site Goop, I was perusing it as I do normally have my weekend (INAUDIBLE). And I saw yesterday that they were selling a psychic vampire repellant sprayable elixir which is 3.4 ounces too big to carry -- I don`t (INAUDIBLE) unfortunately -- of protective mist that`s used as a combination of gem infused healing and deeply aromatic, therapeutic oils reported to banish bad vibes and shield you from the people who may be causing them. It also can safeguard your aura. Those are apparently things that people believe exists and it costs $30 but unfortunately, if you want to buy it, it`s sold out.

MELBER: Have you ever found anything good on Goop, on her Web site?


MELBER: It feels -- it feels very proud of living well which I don`t think is a good look. David, who needs to fallback?

DAVID LITT, POLITICAL SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I`m going with Sean Spicer. This has been a week where he`s been around way too much. There`s a -- there`s a template that you follow when you`ve done something disgraceful as a political figure. You take time off, you grow a beard and he should be doing that. And he said this week that people are questioning his integrity and that`s over the top. And I mean, that`s like questioning whether or not I can dunk a basketball. Like there`s no question. He has no integrity. It`s done and he needs to think about his life choices before he reenters public life.

MELBER: Yes, so Sean Spicer needs to fall back like all the way back, like back out of the news cycle.

GILES: (INAUDIBLE) he`s going to fall back into a like reality series and a probably book deal and a fragrance line. That`s what they all do.


MELBER: You know, Nancy, do you -- do you want to know who I think needs to fall back?

GILES: Tell me, who needs to fall back, step off?

MELBER: Don`t rename the segment.

GILES: I`m sorry, Ari.

MELBER: It`s not that kind of party.

GILES: Who needs to fall back?

MELBER: The State of California needs to fall back because of this video game. This is a real video game of Usain Bolt that Gatorade put out. There he is, he`s drinking his Gatorade, and when he drinks it, he runs faster. Nothing wrong with that, look at the fuel meter. Like this a harmless fun promotion. But California sued Gatorade saying this was anti- hydration, anti-water and Gatorade settled rather than deal with this bizarre lawsuit. They paid them with 300K. I will say to be clear for any kids watching, there is a -- they have a point. We can put up the sugar in Gatorade is off the chart. I mean, you literally get more sugar out of that Gatorade the Snickers but Nancy --

GILES: But it`s shivery --

MELBER: Is this really what California should be doing?

GILES: No. They should be saving their money for -- actually, they could spend that money on actual water to water you know, people`s lawns and what not.

MELBER: Yes, it`s a weird one. And let people make video games even if they promote sugary drinks.

RYAN: It`s over the counter Adderall.

MELBER: That`s -- look, that`s the -- you know, we believe in taking standard right here. So that`s the standard I`m taking here on "FALLBACK FRIDAY." I want to thank David, Nancy, and Erin for joining us. I hope you had a great week. That does it for THE BEAT. I will see you back here Monday night 6:00 Eastern. But don`t go anywhere right now. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.



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