The Beat with Ari Melber, Transcript 10/3/17 Trump meets San Juan mayor

Guests: Nick Akerman, Michael McFaul, Bill Kristol, Paul Smith, Jaime Harrison

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: October 3, 2017 Guest: Nick Akerman, Michael McFaul, Bill Kristol, Paul Smith, Jaime Harrison

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": - with a lot more "MTP Daily". THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now.

Mr. Melber?

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: When is a good time? That`s the theme I took from your reporting there.

TODD: I don`t know. But, again, if we applied it to every other issue Congress tackled - if you think Congress is unproductive now, they`d have never passed anything over the last generation.

MELBER: Right. Chuck Todd, thank you as always.

TODD: You got it.

MELBER: President Trump dealing with two major crises facing the country right now. The mass murders in Las Vegas that Chuck and I were just touching on and, of course, the unfolding hurricane disaster and impact in Puerto Rico.

Now, we begin on that island. Trump spending hours on the ground there today amid the criticism over his administration`s response. Trump spoke to emergency responders. He met with residents.

Here he is passing out emergency supplies to a crowd. Yes, that`s the president of the United States. Some of those are paper towels that he`s sort of vaunting over them. Quite a scene.

Trump also had his first in-person confrontation with the mayor of San Juan, who made public pleas for Trump and the rest of America to help Puerto Rico in this crisis.



CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN: Sir, I don`t want to upset you (INAUDIBLE), but it`s not about politics.

TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you, everybody.


MELBER: That was brief. Now, the president has clearly taken a U-turn from his weekend tweets. Initially, this week, offering a more sober style since the terrible Las Vegas shooting.

Now, he seemed to lapse back into what some critics have called his hurricane double standard today. Empathy for Texas and accountability for Puerto Rico.


TRUMP: Now, I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you`ve thrown out budget a little out of whack because we`ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that`s fine. We`ve saved a lot of lives.


MELBER: The mayor there had objected to that statement by Trump. The president also - and this was sort of weird. He brought up Hurricane Katrina himself. Now, his critics have been bringing that up this week comparing Maria to it.

Now, he stressed that Katrina was far more deadly.


TRUMP: If you looked at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous - hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody`s ever seen anything like this - now, what is your death count as of this moment? Seventeen?

CRUZ: Sixteen, certified.

TRUMP: Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands.


MELBER: One thousand eight hundred and thirty-six people died in relation to Hurricane Katrina. That figure according to the National Hurricane Center.

Now, few have suggested Maria is at the same scale of death. The Katrina comparison has primarily been more about the federal response than the underlying hurricane. And the question of whether the Trump administration`s response to American disasters thus far appears to turn on which part of America they are in.

For more, I`m sure George Will, a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post", as well as Professor Leah Wright Rigueur, a historian at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Professor, I will begin with you, although I have two guests rich with knowledge of American history. But, professor, your view of the comparison that President Trump makes there?

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: So, I think part of what was happening during this visit was that Donald Trump was trying - it was all about the optics, right?

So, this is about making good PR and trying to recover from the weekend. And instead of kind of pulling himself away and not drawing a comparison to Katrina, which is what he`s trying to avoid, he actually kind of stumbles into one.

And he does that by centering himself and actually drawing more attention to the fact that the administration didn`t pay enough attention to Puerto Rico and to the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

And still - again, by centering himself, saying that he still doesn`t necessarily care, see the devastation and really trivializing this moment for millions of US citizens.

So, he actually draws a comparison himself. It`s not a good comparison to draw. It`s not one he wants to drive, and yet here we are again.

MELBER: Here we are. And, George Will, here we are looking at this video of president of the United States, according to a historian saying, there`s an element of performance here. Here he is chipping out, like at a basketball game some of these supplies.

GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": This is a teachable moment for Americans about a strange relation our country has with Puerto Rico.

We acquired in a fit of absentmindedness of the testosterone spell called the Spanish-American War in 1898. Since then, we`ve had various responsibilities for every president since Harry Truman.

And, of course, Puerto Ricans nationals tried to assassinate him when he was living Blair House across the street from the White House.

Every president since Harry Truman has said Puerto Rico has a right to opt for statehood or independence by referendum.

When Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy in 1979, he said in his announcement speech, I favor statehood for Puerto Rico.

They are Americans in a way. I was just thinking today - I mean, they are American citizens. That`s not even ambiguous. Sixty years ago last week, "Westside Story" opened on Broadway about the sharks, the Puerto Rican gang and the Jets, the Anglo gang.

Stephen Sondheim`s lyrics said, immigrants come to America, many hellos in America, nobody knows in America Puerto Rico is in America. So, this is a clear responsibility of the country.

MELBER: Well, first of all, I appreciate you bringing some Sondheim to THE BEAT here. Professor, speak to Mr. Will`s erudite, but very apt point that he we are, I`m told - I`m learning this from you, Mr. Will - 60 years later and those lines still reverberate because they don`t have statehood, an issue that is domestic and - a domestic issue in Puerto Rico and an issue that many presidents have weighed in on.

But they are fully Americans and the president here seems to speak to them, as many have pointed out differently than the way he spoke to the Americans affected by the other hurricanes.

RIGUEUR: Right. And the big question should be for everyone, why are we treating Puerto Ricans like second-class citizens.

I mean, there`s a clear - and I think this really came out in Donald Trump`s tiff or really attack on the mayor of San Juan, which is that Donald Trump really doesn`t know what to do with Puerto Rico. He doesn`t know what to do with people who challenge kind of his authority or his legitimacy, in particular, women and minorities.

And so, what we see is that playing out in the worst kind of way. And really, this visit to Puerto Rico was an attempt to clean that up with optics and with public relations. And it doesn`t really work.

MELBER: Stay with me. I want to turn to Congressman Darren Soto, a Democrat from Florida. Congressman, the president says this isn`t like Katrina because so many fewer people have died in Hurricane Maria. That is true. Is your view that that is right or that, even when President Trump is right, in a way, he`s wrong?

REP. DARREN SOTO (D), FLORIDA: Well, this was still a real disaster for everyone who is affected by it. And I suspect, much like with Katrina, we will see the death toll rise over the next couple of weeks and months.

We have an island without power, without cell phone service. They can`t fully determine the extent of the damage. So, it was really a misplaced comment today and one that - while we applaud the president for going to Puerto Rico - was really unfortunate for the folks there.

MELBER: What more do you want this administration to do?

SOTO: We want to helicopter out air supplies to rural areas. I was in for Rico yesterday, and there are places like Luquillo that are in the rural areas that haven`t seen anybody from FEMA. They saw one or two military personnel at their hospital, but they have no electricity, no food, very little water, and they are waiting for the federal government`s help.

MELBER: Do you think President Trump gets it, now that he`s been on the ground?

SOTO: Well, I hope so for the sake of my brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico. But we put the pressure on FEMA this morning about making sure to have enough air assets and to make sure to get this relief out there.

And then, of course, Congress is going to need a supplemental package to pass next week, which we`re hearing could potentially be a $10 billion package.

MELBER: Congressman Soto, thank you for joining me on what I know is still a busy day there on the Hill.

Turning to George Will, the other part of this, of course, is the needless feud. As a country, we are familiar with aggressive politicians. They are like boxers. We do expect them to punch and punch back.

But no one can argue, no supporter of President Trump can argue against the idea that he is constantly fighting, seeking fights where they are unnecessary and gratuitous and counterproductive. That is how it appears his fight was with the mayor.

I would notice that, while he was very tough and loud on Twitter, when he confronted her today, when they were face-to-face, he looked like he wanted to get away from there.

WILL: Well, he`s a forgiving man. You may recall that the president of China was a currency manipulating, aggressive trade demon. Then he went to Mar-a-Lago, they had cake and he`s a good friend after that.

So, the president is malleable.

MELBER: I think it`s a great point that George makes, Leah. I wonder what you think. Forgiving is one way to put it. He is forgiving or he is faking. If it`s just a fight, that`s a fake fight.

RIGUEUR: I think he`s forgiving in the face of people not questioning him. And so, the interesting thing is that, during today`s kind of conversations, a lot of his kind of effusive praise went to officials, in his words, who didn`t question him, right, and who kind of were with him and were all about whatever his agenda was in this particular moment.

But I think, at the end of the day, one, the mayor, since Donald Trump`s visit, has had a couple of comments, not so great comments about the visit.

So, one, we have to see how does he respond to that. And then, two, the thing that we should really be focusing that I think Puerto Ricans are really concerned about is what the policy response going to be from this point forward.

Is the administration going to invest the same amount of effort and time and concern and compassion that they did with Texas and with Florida?

MELBER: Professor Rigueur and George Will, thank you both for joining me.

Now, still ahead, we have new photos to show you from inside the gunman`s Las Vegas hotel room. Trump saying, he will talk about gun laws "later." Will Democrats accept that? We`re going to speak live with Congressman Joe Crowley on that important issue.

And breaking news about Jared and Ivanka`s private email accounts. Reports they moved those accounts to control of the Trump organization after queries from investigators.

And later, my exclusive interview live tonight with the lawyer who was in the Supreme Court today, arguing before the court on an issue that could swing the national balance of power to the Democrats.

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


MELBER: Now, we turn to some developing news on the Las Vegas mass murder. Journalists are now getting their first look inside the shooter`s hotel room. This is where SWAT breached to get into that room.

And these are the new photos of some of the weapons recovered. You can see that they sent bullets raining down on innocent people right there in the lower part of your screen.

The gun propped up just behind the door. And officials revealing later today, the killer had cameras inside and outside the room. One of the cameras hidden on a service car just outside his door there.

Now, we don`t know the why. Investigators still probing why would this man go on this deadly killing spree, murdering 59 innocent people and hurting over 500 more.

NBC`s Steve Patterson live on the ground in Las Vegas. Steve, what is the latest?

STEVE PATTERSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Ari, we`re next to a very active crime scene to my left here. You see the crime scene tape. You see police back there in the scene.

Beyond this street, beyond that barrier is the Route 91 concert venue. That`s where those 22,000 people were packed in when the shooter started firing down.

There was just a recent press conference where we got some new information, chief among it, really conforming to the sheriff`s point of view, the fact that this is maybe a meticulously, very planned operation carried out by the shooter.

They believe that for a number of reasons - the cache of weapons, obviously; the check-in three days before the venue concert was to begin; the vantage point from where he was, up above, looking down at that concert; and, obviously, which obfuscates the ability for officers to fire back up.

Not to mention, as you said, the cameras, both in and outside the room. The sheriff just confirmed that.

They now believe - they have a loose belief of the time line. They think about 9 minutes of shooting elapsed, 9 minutes that he was firing down at that crowd of thousands.

Also, in that news conference, on the victim side of things, they updated the number of injured to 530. They also said that all, but about three, victims have been identified in that case. So, they`ve done some great work in reaching out to families and getting those dead identified.

The question is, of course, as it has been from the start of this is how in the world - or why in the world would a 64-year-old man shoot down at that crowd. That still remains to be answered as we continue with this investigation, Ari.

MELBER: Well, Steve, as always, I know you`re reporting the facts on the ground. You`re saying the why and they`re looking at that.

Next, we are going to talk about the how, which does have to do with gun access. Steve Patterson, as always, thank you.

The tragedy, as I mentioned, returning gun control to part of the national debate. Now, earlier today, President Trump said this about gun laws.


TRUMP: We`ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do you come down on the silencers bill?

TRUMP: We`ll talk about that later.


MELBER: Democrats want it to be now. Even some Republicans are also saying to that idea, maybe the gun debate should happen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should Congress be reconsidering whether bump stops are legal or not?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes. I would certainly look at that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you think now is the time to have this policy debate?

GRAHAM: Yes, I think so. I think it`d be a good time to have a hearing.


MELBER: New York Congressman Joe Crowley is chairman of the House Democratic group on some of these issues.

I want to ask you, what is the most important thing for Congress to do? And should it be in response this quickly to this incident, this murder?

REP. JOE CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: If not now, when? We`ve seen so many tragic events like this happen over the past two years. It`s becoming numbing quite frankly.

There have been as many mass casualty shootings as many days in a year. There`s almost as many mass casualty shootings. Almost matching the number of days in the year so far. So, if not now, when are we going to actually really try to tackle this issue.

And I do think that we need to move towards a real bipartisan effort here, bring in the NRA, bring everyone in, let`s have a really frank conversation, a family talk.

MELBER: Do you think you and your fellow Democratic advocates of gun control seemed to have lost some of the framing on this. If you`re being accused of saying, you only want this now, it`s not as if Republicans aren`t moving forward on gun issues, right?

There is this whole silencer debate we`re hearing about. And I want to play for your benefit of response, and for our viewers, the president`s own son Don, Jr. in a promotional video on this issue. Take a look at this.


DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think it`s awesome. It`s about safety. It`s about hearing protection. It`s a health issue, frankly, for me. Getting little kids into the game, it greatly reduces recoil. It`s a great - it`s just a great instrument. There`s nothing bad about it at all. It makes total sense. It`s where we should be going.


MELBER: Getting little kids into the game. It`s a health issue. There`s nothing bad about it at all. Your response?

CROWLEY: It`s actually heading in the exact opposite direction. How much longer would it have taken law enforcement to identify this particular shooter, Mr. Paddock, had he had silencers? You just don`t know.

This is not the debate that we should be having right now. It`s incredibly insensitive, if we ever should have it at all, quite frankly.

And I think that the time right now - if there was some other disease happening or if there was food contamination, if there was an auto safety issue, we would be calling a special hearing by the Congress to investigate those things.

But when it comes to gun and gun safety, it`s all so sacrosanct. We can`t even have a discussion about it. There`s almost like a gag rule here in Congress in discussing these issues. And that`s what we`re looking to lift here in Washington, and to do it in a sincere, sympathetic, empathetic way and understanding all the ramifications and trying to listen to all sides on this, but to come to some kind of solution.

Too many innocent people are dying because of this. And I think Republicans and Democrats, we can come together certainly on this issue and find real ways, to find real solutions to prevent as many deaths as possible when it to comes to gun violence.

MELBER: You said that there shouldn`t be a gag order. I want you to hang with me here and I want to add someone who has worked on these issues a lot. Mike Lupica from the "New York Daily News." He`s got a new column about the gun control debate.

I want to read from that. You say, "We can`t wait for the gunfire to stop because it doesn`t. Maybe we could have the conversation while the next active shooter is reloading." Tough talk and you say it`s necessary. Why?

MIKE LUPICA, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Ari, that was the thing yesterday and in the aftermath of this tragedy that I think made reasonable people`s heads explode, the idea that this wasn`t a good time to have this conversation, this wasn`t the day to have this conversation.

OK, all the people who say that, pick a day and tell the rest of us when they think it`s appropriate to talk about 59 innocent Americans getting gunned down and 500 more getting wounded.

There`s a false equivalency that goes on all the time in this debate. Will this guy pass background checks? OK, so we should leave everything the way it is until the next guy who didn`t pass a background check shoot some people in the United States.

This country has become a killing field. And the idea that it`s working, that our laws are working is dumb as rocks.

MELBER: Congressman, I think I saw you nodding. Go ahead.

CROWLEY: Well, there`s no question. I think Mike remembers the same argument was made after Newtown that it wasn`t the time, this isn`t the time to talk about it.

When innocent children are slaughtered in their school, when young people attending a concert, an open-air concert in Las Vegas are literally slaughtered, that`s not the right time to talk about what we can do to stop or mitigate this public health disaster that`s going on in our country, if not when, when? That`s the question I ask.

And, Mike, I agree with you 100 percent. Tell us when to have the conversation. And let`s have the conversation.

MELBER: And so, Congressman and then Mike, respond to this question. How do you draw the line to deal with the weapons on offense? Because the Supreme Court has recognized an individual right to bear arms, whether people like it or not. That is the jurisprudential holding of the court.

And people have a right to have a weapon in their home for self-defense, just like they have that right for shooting and hunting.

So, starting with you, congressman, how do you recognize that right, which, as I mentioned, is law and then patrol what people say we saw in Las Vegas, which was not at home, which was a weapon of offense, a weapon of murder, a set of weapons that looked like something you would basically only need to commit felonious conduct, not to defend yourself. How do you, as a lawmaker, find that line?

CROWLEY: I would say that the American people expect us to use common sense and to approach this in a very judicious way, take into consideration all the historical facts about the Second Amendment and actually invoke laws that saves the public health first.

The right to bear arms does not usurp the right to life under the Constitution - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, life is right there.

And I think that that`s what we should be looking for as a Congress, find common sense ground, things that we can agree with and enact those laws.

MELBER: And, Mike, briefly?

LUPICA: Ari, the Second Amendment was written from muskets, OK. There is this notion that if you support any kind of gun control in this country, you are supporting the government coming up your driveway in a tank and coming to take your weapons.

That`s not what this is about. This guy owned enough guns to invade California. There`s got to be a way to flag people like this.

MELBER: And, congressman, I thank you. And, Mike, if the NRA will come on THE BEAT and talk to you about it, will you speak to an NRA representative about it?

LUPICA: Absolutely. OK.

CROWLEY: I absolutely would.

MELBER: And you would as well, congressman. That invite is out to the leadership of the NRA. As always, we like to have a lot of views on this show. Consider that an open invite. Thank you, gentlemen.

Next, these reports I mentioned. Private email accounts of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and, guess what, the family business also involved after investigators made queries. We`ll explain straight ahead.


MELBER: Turning to some breaking news from Washington on the Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump private email accounts.

Tonight, reports that Kushner and Trump moved their private email accounts from a private domain to computers run explicitly by the Trump Organization. There you see in "USA Today."

It appears they only made that move after Kushner was under fire for using his personal email for White House business.

Now, this story comes after reports that Kushner set up a third private email account on his private domain and of the "hundreds of emails" that have been sent since January from White House addresses to accounts on the Kushner family domain, many went to that third account, which was also shared with personal household staff, including non-public travel documents, internal schedules and some official White House materials.

This is the kind of conduct that could potentially expose officials to hostile foreign actors. Donald Trump made that very point on the campaign trail.


TRUMP: Hostile foreign actors gained access to the personal email accounts of individuals with whom Clinton was in regular contact. And in doing so, obtained emails sent to or received by Clinton on her personal account.

This is yet more evidence that Clinton is unfit to be your commander-in- chief.


MELBER: Unfit. While that claim may have been politically self-serving, Donald Trump there, obviously, hammering Clinton on the campaign trail about the dangers of private email, the NSA also recently explicitly warned senior Trump White House staffers against it. In January, Trump aides told by the NSA their personal cellphones and e-mail were vulnerable to espionage by Russia, China, and Iran. And with spies capable of turning their phones into listening devices, taking photos and video and transferring vast amounts of data via Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth. Kushner was expected to attend that meeting. With me now is former Watergate Prosecutor Nick Akerman a Partner at Dorsey and Whitney.


MELBER: You can`t make it up.

AKERMAN: You can`t make it up.

MELBER: And then you had the first e-mail thing and everybody goes, oh, my God, that`s hypocritical. And for the reasons, Donald Trump outlined all be it with hyperbole and exaggeration, potentially problematic, and now a third e-mail account. For people watching saying, gosh, the news is repetitive. No, the hypocritical obvious and potentially incriminating behavior of certain White House officials is repetitive.

AKERMAN: Well, what`s really outrageous here is that he does it -- this is done in the last couple days. He does it after it comes the light that he is using the personal e-mail servers. So the question, the obvious question is, why did they move it over to the Trump organization? Did all of the same e-mails go over to the Trump organization? Did they take it over there so they could cleanse these e-mails and take certain e-mails out of what was in that server? I mean, we just don`t know what the ramifications of this are. But there`s huge potential for all kinds of criminal conduct that could be charged.

MELBER: Well, and you`ve been a federal investigator, how do you look at this issue? How does Mueller look at it if makes a request for documents and e-mails and then finds people start moving stuff?

AKERMAN: That can be an obstruction of justice. And particularly if they move them for the purpose of cleansing them and taking documents out and destroying e-mails. I mean, we don`t know exactly what the facts are here yet but I can`t think of any legitimate reason why somebody who has a private server is taking to task on that and then suddenly moves it over to the Trump organization where there are lots of people who have access to those e-mails.

MELBER: The other things I want your views on, a Bloomberg report here. Mueller task an adviser with getting ahead of preemptive pardons, he talks about his top legal counsel. Michael Dreeben is researching past pardons to determining what if any limits exist. This is something that people like you and I think a lot more about than normal folks. You know, there`s an absolute power to appoint a replacement Senator, right? But when you try to sell it, as the Illinois Governor did, you actually find a way to limit the absolute power, right? Is there a version of that with pardons?

AKERMAN: Well, there`s nothing that`s absolute. The only way that you`re going to argue that the pardon power in the constitution is not absolute is to look at another provision of the constitution where it might conflict. In one provision in these circumstances where it very may will conflict is Article Three, Section Three, that basically says that the President has the duty to enforce the laws in good faith, to carry out and execute the laws of the United States.

MELBER: Take care of the (INAUDIBLE)

AKERMAN: That`s right. Now in this case, where a President has a conflict of interest, possibly, also maybe a co-conspirator with various individuals that he may pardon, I think there`s a good argument here that the pardon, under those circumstances, conflicts with faithfully executing the laws of the United States and therefore the pardon power may be limited. No court has ever --

MELBER: No court said that to be clear so we don`t know but the report here is that Mueller has a very serious Supreme Court litigator looking at it. Nick Akerman, as always, thank you.

Up ahead, did you know Donald Trump has a new Ambassador to Russia? And there he is today, meeting with Vladimir Putin. There`s actually an important echo here to one of the crucial meetings Bob Mueller is investigating, we`ll explain. And a new case that could actually shift political power for decades to come. My exclusive tonight, speaking live to the attorney who argued in front of the Supreme Court today.


MELBER: Vladimir Putin had a high-level meeting with a Trump official today, an important meeting that hasn`t gotten much attention. Now, the last senior diplomatic meeting between Russia and the U.S. was not routine. In fact, that meeting which Trump held in the Oval Office the day after Jim Comey was fired is now one of the 13 categories that Bob Mueller`s investigators has identified as critical to their probe. The meeting including Trump, Russia`s Ambassador, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The U.S. press was barred and some administration officials were so concerned about Trump`s conduct that they leaked his shocking comments about firing Comey which allegedly he said released pressure on Russia.

While Mueller is apparently interested in whether anything in that meeting would add to any potential case regarding obstruction. Today, one of those same participants was in that new meeting I mentioned, Lavrov plus his boss Putin, plus the newest member of Trump`s Russia team Jon Huntsman. So this is the mirror image of the meeting that Mueller is investigating, that May 10th meeting in Washington our President had with their Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the U.S. Today`s meeting in Moscow has their Foreign Minister, our Ambassador to Russia, and their President. Now, we know that the very last time this kind of meeting happened with Russia, Comey`s Russia investigation was discussed. And then in the interim, the DOJ tapped Mueller adding back whatever "pressure" Trump thought was relieved. That is quite a back story.

Now, we don`t know if the Russia investigation was discussed at all today. Meanwhile, we know that Putin`s spokesman struck a defiant tone saying this meeting today should help improve relations allegedly harmed by damage done by Washington`s actions. Now, the Russians of course, damaged this relationship by hacking into a U.S. political party and undermining potentially the election confidence. Everything that`s happened since then, the sanctions, the embassy closings, it all goes back to Russia`s actions. For his part, Huntsman has pledged to Congress that it was yes, Russia`s actions that harmed this relationship.


JON HUNTSMAN, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: There is no question, underline, no question, that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. election last year and Moscow continues to meddle in the democratic processes of our friends and allies.


MELBER: I`m joined fittingly by a man who would be in such meetings, Michael McFaul the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia under Obama, and Bill Kristol, the Founder, and Editor at Large of the Weekly Standard. Ambassador, what do you view as an important in today`s meeting and does it have any of those echoes from the previous meeting that is under investigative review?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: I actually don`t think so, Ari. This was the presentation of credentials that all ambassadors do. It`s done on a kind quarterly basis in the Kremlin so there were other ambassadors present. It wasn`t just a one-on-one meeting between Putin and our new ambassador. So there wasn`t a substantive exchange that took place.

MELBER: And do you think Huntsman`s job there has some tension between his role as kind of a high-profile fixer? I mean, if you look at him here with Putin, the dramatic images, the best case scenario is he`s somehow cleans up some of this. The worst case is that Donald Trump who has pressed other aides into all sorts of assignments may press him.

MCFAUL: I think he has a tough assignment. I think he was a terrific hire. I`ve had a chance to speak with the Ambassador and I know what he`s walking into. I would say two big challenges he has though. On the one hand, you just read, you just played some of his testimony. He`s pretty explicit about what the Russians did in 2016, his boss, the President, is not. So there is a policy difference right there for the new representative of the President of the United States in Moscow.

And number two, let`s be honest, ambassadors in the margin can change policy but they don`t make policy, they implement policy. I`m telling you as a former Ambassador and also as a former White House official, I had a very nice ceremony with President Medvedev when I presented my credentials. We drank champagne and laughed and talked about the reset that we`re going to do. But larger forces were at play that drove the relationship into its negative place. First and foremost, as you rightly said, negative things that Vladimir Putin did, vis-a-vis that bilateral relationship. So it only changes he changes his policy and that I don`t expect.


BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I mean, I think Ambassador Huntsman`s task is to -- well, I don`t know how much you can influence Russian policy as Mike says. We have a lot of issues of Putin meddling in our elections and other nation`s election as one of them, but that`s only one. They`re occupying part of Ukraine, there`s a ton of issue there. They meddle in the Middle East in ways that the Trump administration has not pushed back much on.

I mean, I was talking with a conservative today, very conservative member of the Congress who said, you know, he was very critical of President Obama`s administration for allowing, almost inviting Russia into the Middle East, into Syria and then we were so weak that they sort of managed to do more and more. He expected Trump to push back and Trump hasn`t. So there are real policy issues with Russia but I don`t know -- but Huntsman, I don`t think was involved in anything in the campaign. He wasn`t a big Trump supporter. He was Ambassador to China, to President Obama. He`s not a very partisan guy.

MELBER: No, and he called on Trump to drop out. He was Nevada`s --


KRISTOL: I think he will be a diligent -- he`ll be a diligent, (INAUDIBLE), I think he`s probably one of the 42 people I`ve tried to recruit to run as an independent in 2016 against Trump and against Secretary Clinton. So no, I mean, I think he`ll be a diligent and honest Ambassador. But I go -- I agree with Mike that the chances of him changing Trump`s basic attitude towards Putin which is one of the fundamental problems here, leaving aside the illegality and all that for a minute. We have a President of the United States who for whatever reason is extremely tolerant and understanding and even sympathetic to Vladimir Putin which there`s a pretty good bipartisan consensus in the U.S., that`s not the right position to have as a member of public policy.

MELBER: And you mentioned the legal issues, the new report from the Washington Post is that Trump`s lawyer and business confidant, personal attorney exchanged e-mails weeks before the RNC about an economic conference in Russia which included Putin, although they didn`t ultimately go. What do you view as the leaks that seem to be roughing up a lot of people, Bill, other than current White House officials?

KRISTOL: Yes, I mean, one task (INAUDIBLE) is going to have is when somebody of Trump`s shows up in Russia. This is the problem in every administration a little bit. You know, they -- could you open some doors for us and get us in? Some of it is legitimate American -- one of the things that ambassador does is help American businesses compete you know, fairly for contracts and so forth. But I would say with the Kushners in the White House, that really is astonishing incidentally.

I don`t -- we don`t know the truth is about the Trump organization server but having your daughter and son-in-law as special advisors in the -- special assistants in the White House creates such a -- and they still have all these business operations going, it creates so many problems right off the bed. If write the U.S. Ambassador now, I`d be very he careful when people show up and say can you help me? You really would need to look into it and say -- make sure it`s a legitimate kind of helping as opposed to something that was set up in some private conversation back in 2015 or 2016 by Paul Manafort or Jared Kushner.

MELBER: Right, where it`s designed even to implicate them in some way because foreign governments have all sorts of ways of making mischief. Bill Kristol and Ambassador McFaul, thank you, both.

Coming up, as I mentioned before, this major fight of the Supreme Court today, a case that could swing power nationally. I`ll have an exclusive interview with the lawyer who was at court today.


MELBER: Now to a huge political battle in the Supreme Court which could swing the national balance of power to Democrats. In an exclusive on THE BEAT tonight, we`re about to hear from the attorney who argued in the Supreme Court today taking on Republicans in a case he says cost democracy itself. Now, the context for this blockbuster case is all about the democratic deficit in America right now. Consider that in many places, more voters prefer the Democrats. That nationwide, millions more voters backed Clinton over Trump, and that in the U.S. Senate, Democratic Senators represented 36 more people than Republicans. Yet even when Democrats do win more votes, often it is the Republican who takes power.

And that is because the system is rigged by the right, according to challengers at the Supreme Court today. They point to Wisconsin, where in 2012, Democrats won about 51 percent of the vote for the state legislature, Republican had 48.6 percent but took more seats, and not by one or two points. They turned that 48.6 percent into 60 percent of the legislature seats. Now, in court today, veteran litigator Paul Smith argued that kind of outcome isn`t merely just shrewd politics. He says it`s a potentially illegal effort to undermine democracy. And he implored the Justices, "you are the only institution in the U.S. that can solve this problem, just as democracy is about to get worse because of the way gerrymandering is getting so much worse. Now, there`s no doubt it`s getting worse, both parties have drawn absurd district lines to rig outcomes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: North Carolina`s 12th district looks like spilled coffee. Pennsylvania 16th is flexing its muscles. And one commentator compared Maryland`s third to a broken-winged pterodactyl. And then there`s this, they call it the ear muffs.


MELBER: Now, some states have reformed this kind of rigging. Today, one former California Governor went to the court steps to call out gerrymandering and use some of his best movie lines.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, FORMER GOVERNOR, CALIFORNIA: This is the system where the politicians are picking the voters rather than the voters picking the politicians. So I say this time to say hasta la vista to gerrymandering and it is time to terminate gerrymandering. Thank you very much. Thank you.


MELBER: Many voting experts agree with Schwarzenegger. They say it`s past time for the court to get to the chopper and take action. Now, there are legal reasons why the court has held back while it patrols blatant political cheating like bribery or election tampering. We all know judges do try to avoid what they consider political questions. And today`s hearing shows that gerrymandering has become so blatant even a conservative Supreme Court may step in. In many states, a less rigged system though would boost Democrats at least in the short run because it would return victories to the popular vote victors.

That prospect alone though clearly worried the court today. Chief Justice John Roberts said in some quite candid remarks. "If the court issues a decision and let`s say the Democrats win, people will say, well, why did the Democrats win? It must be because the Supreme Court preferred the Democrats over the Republicans, and that`s going to cause serious harm to the integrity of the decisions of this court. Justice Roberts said that in an exchange today with Attorney Paul Smith who argued before the court for Wisconsin and their Democratic challengers. Very interesting stuff, you`ve been doing this a long time. You are the person to talk to. How did you counter that fair point that Chief Justice Roberts made?

PAUL SMITH, ATTORNEY: Well, I basically made the point that we`re facing a crisis of democracy and that gerrymandering has gotten very bad and is about to get an awful lot worse in the next round of redistricting after the 2020 census with the technology that`s available and with the polarized and therefore more predictable electorate. You`re going to have more people following the lead of Wisconsin which set up a system that basically decided before anybody voted that one party was going to control the assembly for the full ten years that the map would be in effect.

MELBER: So you argued -- you argued to the court today that basically, Republicans rigged Wisconsin so they would win even if they lost.

SMITH: That`s right.

MELBER: How do you -- how do you prove something like that?

SMITH: Well we had a full trial and we had a ton of evidence about the way that this map functioned. And it was not that hard to prove. In 2012 they got about as you said 48.6 of the vote -- percent of the vote, the got 60 seats out of 99. And the evidence showed that it would take what the District Court, the Trial Court called an unprecedented political explosion for the Democrats even to have a chance to get over 50 percent of the seats in the assembly, even though Wisconsin, of course, is a very 50/50 state. And that`s why we`ve had all kinds of people come out and support us in this case, including many Republicans, Senator Mccain, Senator Dole, Senator Lugar, Governor Kasich, a lot of people of the both sides of the aisle.

MELBER: And the terminator -- and the terminator.

SMITH: And the terminator. Of course who was there on the steps with me. A lot of these people, including many of the leaders in the Republican Party recognize this problem is completely out of hand, it`s producing bad politics and with the -- if the Supreme Court doesn`t step in and finally do something about it, we`re going to have nothing that no one can do anything about it. The politicians aren`t going to fix it.

MELBER: Right. We won`t have -- to your point, we won`t have fair elections. Hang with me. I want to add into our conversation Jaime Harrison and he`s the Executive with the DNC and he formerly Chaired the South Carolina Democratic Party and has calls gerrymandering the greatest evil we face as a democracy. Sir, your view of this and what this court should do.

JAIME HARRISON, ASSOCIATE CHAIR, DNC: Ari, I hope the court will decide that enough is enough with partisan gerrymandering. It`s time to get rid of it. It really is the greatest threat to our democracy. It`s the reason why we can`t get anything done right now. When you think about simple -- the simple functions of government, paving our roads, making sure that children have health care, we can`t pass that bill. And not only is the problem happening in Washington, D.C., but we`re seeing it on a local level. Here in South Carolina, Republicans control the governorship and both bodies of the legislature and it took them six or seven years just to pass a roads bill. Gerrymandering has gotten so bad that the folks are only talking to 20 and 30 percent of the people who live in their district and no one else has any impact on them. And enough is enough. We need to take back this for the good of our country. We have to stop having the elected officials choose the people who vote for them.

MELBER: Paul, if you win, do Democrats then likely win the Congress and will some folks see this just more partisanship?

SMITH: Well, if we win there will certainly be a tendency to make the vote a lot close in the House of Representatives. It`s true that at least a large part of the deficits of the Democrats in the House is caused by gerrymandering. Now, the other place is where Democrats will lose power because they`ve been the gerrymanders in Maryland and elsewhere in all likelihood. So I want to make sure -- we see this as a bipartisan problem and bipartisan solution. People have come out from both sides of the aisle to try to fix this.

MELBER: Let`s talk about it again when we get the decision because we`ll be covering it. Big case. Paul Smith, Jaime Harrison, thank you both and we will be right back.


MELBER: Tomorrow there are several important tests for the federal government. President Trump will head to Las Vegas as that city mourns and as he faces calls to stop answering the gun debate with procrastination. John Lewis speaking out on guns as well tomorrow about a year after his protest sit-in on the House floor. And in the Russia case, we can tell you, tomorrow there is a scheduled bipartisan and what looks to be unusual press conference because it has the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee. They said they want to give a "public update" on the Russia case. We`re going to have special coverage of why they`re doing that and the rest of the stories tomorrow on THE BEAT at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. As for now, "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.




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