Politico: Mueller may interview Trump Transcript 10/12/17 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: David Frum, Paul Butler, Libby Casey, Anne Gearan, David Rothkopf, Spencer Ackerman, Maya Wiley, Margaret Carlson

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: October 12, 2017

Guest: David Frum, Paul Butler, Libby Casey, Anne Gearan, David Rothkopf, Spencer Ackerman, Maya Wiley, Margaret Carlson

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": Good evening, Ari. My apologies.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: All good. All good, Chuck. It`s, what do they call it, OJT, on-the-job training, when you step out to that podium like that.

TODD: There you go, there you go.

MELBER: Thank you, Chuck.

Now, will President Donald Trump sit for an interview with the prosecutor investigating the Trump White House. That hypothetical may sound like a dream for Trump`s opponents, but this story is breaking today in "POLITICO" thanks to leaks from the Trump White House.

Now, that is unusual. And the source of this story is shedding more light on the issue we reported here earlier this week. This schism growing between Trump`s criminal defense lawyers and his political loyalists.

The lawyers want to cooperate. The loyalists want to brawl. And the lawyers are moving towards Mueller, open, in this new report, they say to offering Trump`s sit-down for an interview with Robert Mueller, according to a senior White House official.

Now, that sourcing tells you this huge risk to Trump comes from a current employee. Historically, presidents don`t just offer to meet with any old prosecutor. Bill Clinton`s team fought Ken Starr tooth and nail for months over whether he talked.

Now, ultimately relenting for a grand jury interview that was, as they predicted, often focused on sex more than felonies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the grand jurists has said that you referred to what you did with Miss Lewinski as inappropriate contact. What do you mean by that?

BILL CLINTON, THEN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I mean just what I said. But I`d like to ask the grand jury because I think I have been quite specific and I think I`ve been willing to answer some specific questions that I haven`t been asked yet, but I do not want to discuss something that is intensely painful to me.


MELBER: That the last time a president spoke to a grand jury. Now, if you hear Trump allies say Trump lawyers are being more cooperative than Clinton, we should note that`s not exactly what this new reporting says.

"POLITICO" is saying Trump would do an interview with Mueller, not specifically a grand jury interview, which is that more formal setting which can create more legal liability. It`s a middle ground that we can tell you George W. Bush struck, by talking to prosecutor Pat Fitzgerald back in the Libby case, but there`s Bush`s own conduct there was not under investigation.

Today, Trump`s conduct, including firing Jim Comey, is being looked at as potential obstruction.

Other presidents have offered testimony in non-criminal investigations. Ford defended the Nixon pardon publicly before Congress.

Now, Trump has given testimony more than the average bear or the average president thanks to more than 4,000 lawsuits involving him, including at least 100 which he settled. That`s from an analysis by "USA Today".

He recently said he`d also talked to Mueller.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that -

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you, Joe (ph).


MELBER: And, strategically, Trump presents like a pretty different person when he`s under oath and something`s on the line. In fact, here he was being soft-spoken, cautious and really a different kind of guy in a deposition last year, a man even willing to say the words I don`t know.


TRUMP: I don`t have my glasses. I mean, I am at a disadvantage because I didn`t bring my glasses. This is such small writing.

I wouldn`t really know how to answer the question.

I don`t know. I don`t know.

I really don`t know.


MELBER: As for today`s report, "POLITICO" stands by the story, but one Trump lawyer, John Dowd, emailed that it was totally false. And in his email, he included 16 exclamation points.

Joining me now, David Frum from "The Atlantic", who was also an aide to President Bush; former federal prosecutor, Paul Butler; and Libby Casey from "The Washington Post". Good to see you all.

David, let`s start with Donald Trump under oath. He does look different when he does it in depositions.

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": Right. One of the reasons why I think it`s not right to call the president a pathological liar is that, when he`s under oath, he is able to avoid perjury.

That`s what happened when he unsuccessfully sued Tim O`Brien for defamation back a decade ago, who is now the editor of "Bloomberg News".

He lies a lot when he is not under oath. On oath, he`s more careful. And that raises the question of what kind of conversation does he plan to have with Robert Mueller.

I don`t think when he uses this language of cooperation, they are quite conveying. Unless his lawyers are total idiots, which we shouldn`t rule out because they do have their conversations at open-air restaurants next door to "The New York Times", they must have a strategy of non-cooperation because why would they cooperate. Cooperation can`t be helpful to the president.

MELBER: Well, you raise such an interesting point. And, Paul Butler, as a prosecutor, let`s get right into it. I`ve spoken to Ty Cobb, one of the lead criminal defense attorneys. He said to me on the record, cooperation is what they`re all about. That is the message.

We`ve reported on the schism because the loyalists don`t buy it. Paul, walk us through why sometimes a criminal strategy would be to emphasize and promote and discuss cooperation in public, while perhaps dragging out other aspects of this in private.

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So, Ari, first, shout-out to Barack Obama because he`s the only president since Richard Nixon who hasn`t been required to testify in a proceeding by federal prosecutors.

MELBER: Which is, Paul, a sad - it`s a sad little historical fact, I think.

BUTLER: Yes. But, again, props to President Obama. But you pointed to the president who Trump will be looking at, and that`s Bill Clinton because he walked into that Map Room, saying I`m going to answer all of Ken Starr`s questions, and he walked out with a big fat impeachment.

When I was a prosecutor, we loved it when subjects of investigations would come thinking they could talk their way out of being prosecuted because that just doesn`t happen.

And especially with President Trump, he does not listen to lawyers, he`s impulsive and he`s easily agitated.

And Bob Mueller is just the opposite. He`s a skilled prosecutor and he would take some of the best FBI agents in the world in that room to ask questions.

So, again, I think it`s good politically for Trump to look like he`s got nothing to hide, but there`s no way his lawyers are going to let him do this without a big fight.

MELBER: Libby, here is what Donald Trump sounded like talking Russia last night to an interviewer that I would say has some differences. He is not the same as Bob Mueller. Here he was talking to Sean Hannity.


TRUMP: But they said Russia. Then they say, ah, and it was Trump that colluded with Russia. I`m saying, I did?

So, look, here`s the story. And I think it`s (INAUDIBLE). This was an excuse by the Democrats and people get carried away. This was a terrible - and it`s very bad for our country what`s happened because I don`t deal with Russia. During this campaign, forget it, forget it.


MELBER: Libby, forget it.

LIBBY CASEY, "THE WASHINGTON POST" REPORTER: Yes. Very friendly audience there, not just in Sean Hannity, but also that crowd that was gathered there to support Trump, so he was certainly speaking to his supporters already in his base.

We have to think about the court of public opinion in this as well. And if President Trump thinks he wins by saying, I`ve got nothing to hide, I`ll have a conversation, we also have to wonder if the team could float the option of having a conversation that is not on the record, that is not under oath. Would Robert Mueller go for that?

And then, if the president says, I`m putting myself forward, I will go under oath, let`s say I will have that conversation - David asked a great question, which Donald Trump will we see and will we see the Donald Trump who has been able to keep his calm and keep his focus, the kind of witness a lawyer likes to represent, stick to the scripts, don`t give too much information, be succinct, say you don`t know or will he be the President Trump that we are all much more familiar with in the public, the one that "The Washington Post" fact-checker has said has told more than 1,300 misleading or false statements since taking office?

Can he be controlled if he speaks to the Mueller investigators and can he be the sort of person speaking to them that you - that he`s in control or the lawyers are in control. And it`s very dangerous to go in front of someone like Bob Mueller and think you can outfox him.

MELBER: You`re smiling, but I`m not sure why.

CASEY: Well, because I don`t think we know which Donald Trump would be that. And the Donald Trump that can`t be controlled is a lawyer`s worst nightmare because they really - I`ve covered cases where politicians have taken the stand thinking they could be smarter than the prosecutors and their temper gets the best of them.

These are very prestigious people who are not used to being challenged necessarily and it can be hard to keep your cool and not (INAUDIBLE).

MELBER: David, speak to that point because I want to play Donald Trump trying to walk away from Carter Page, who now is the second person who says he may take the Fifth in the investigation. It really goes to what I think Libby is talking about, which is, oh, if you think you can outsmart me, buddy, you might commit to the record a lot of things that actually are incriminating.

Take a listen.


TRUMP: I don`t think I`ve ever spoken to him. I don`t think I`ve ever met him. And he actually said he was a very low-level member of, I think, a committee for a short period of time. I don`t think I ever met him. It`s possible that I walked into a room when he was sitting there, but I don`t think I ever met him. I didn`t talk to him ever.


MELBER: David?

FRUM: As far as I know, that statement is true. And it points to something very strange and disturbing that of Donald Trump`s top five advisors on foreign policy during the campaign, before he clinched the nomination, something like three of them or four of them, he had never met the four, but who had very close connections to the Russian state, which raises the question of how were they inserted into his operations.

To your question or to the last question about what kind of Donald Trump do you see. In that exchange you played with Sean Hannity, the question and the answer pointed to a much more cautious Donald Trump.

I mean, Sean Hannity invited Donald Trump to endorse the conspiracy theory that Sean Hannity has so assiduously promoted, in which this terrible murder of a 28-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer, who came home extremely late and was apparently mugged and killed by a panicky burglar or a robber who didn`t take his wallet and watch because first-time criminals often drop things like that because they don`t mean to do the killing.

Terrible story. Very hurtful to the family. And Sean Hannity has been promoting this completely false and obviously false theory that this murder victim was the source of Julian Assange`s, WikiLeaks` document dumps on the Democrats.

And Sean Hannity invited President Trump to endorse that idea and indeed to offer - somehow to pardon to Julian Assange, who has never broken an American law as I can tell, in exchange.

Trump refused to do that. He did not endorse that theory. And that`s one of the reasons why his answer was non-complete, non-syntactical, Russia, did I - he didn`t want to say something because he didn`t want to accept Sean Hannity`s invitation.

MELBER: Only a presidential speechwriter would notice how non-syntactical it was, Mr. Frum.

Libby, I want to also play -

FRUM: High school English teachers across America would notice too.

MELBER: Fair, fair. I want to play something that nobody really likes to talk about. Libby, I`m going to play for you to respond. In government, elections officials who we talked to from both parties, intelligence officials and really most elected officials in both parties don`t ever want to get near the idea that maybe everything that happened in 2016 would actually have swung the election.

And there are a lot of reasons why folks don`t want to get into that. Take a listen, though, to Congressman Cedric Richmond today.


REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D), LOUISIANA: Let`s just start with the election. We have real concerns and I think that there is evidence out there that this could have turned the election.

I think that I can take anomalies and look at the third-party candidate votes that they received in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and other places and see how it impacted the election, I can draw my own conclusion.

And I think that there`s a lot of evidence that suggests that this election could`ve been changed.


MELBER: Libby, he went there.

CASEY: And Democrats from House districts are willing to go there. We even see representative saying that it is time to call for impeachment of President Trump. But that is, at this point, still just one faction of what people are talking about in Congress.

And as we know, the Republicans controlled the House and Senate. So, the real meat of this is looking at who is testifying before the committees, like we`ll see the attorney general to go before the Judiciary Committee quite soon, who is talking to Bob Mueller behind closed doors, who is talking to the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors because that`s a slow grinding process that may actually yield some results and yield some changes.

MELBER: Libby Casey, Paul Butler and David Frum, thank you for being on THE BEAT.

Trump`s chief of staff trying to address these questions about him "unraveling." We`re going to tell you who he blames for all the reports of dysfunction.

And later, we have a special report on whether Facebook is looking more and more like the next Goldman Sachs. The tech giant on offense in Washington, but it didn`t go that well today.

And later, does Trump take his talking points directly from "Fox News". There`s some evidence for that.

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


MELBER: Turning to politics. The Trump White House has been in crisis mode with Republicans openly questioning the president`s mind and judgment.

Today, Trump`s chief of staff made his first appearance in the briefing room. This was a chance for Gen. John Kelly to evince some military professionalism that can be lacking at the Trump White House, but soon Kelly was telling reporters it`s not me, it`s you.


GEN. JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: One of his frustrations is you. All of you. Not all of you, but many of you. You watch TV in the morning, it`s just - it is astounding to me how much is misreported.


MELBER: He also said he`s "not getting fired today." Kelly`s words, though, overshadowed by his boss who tweeted today that he can`t keep federal help in Puerto Rico forever, contradicting promises that Trump himself and Mike Pence recently made to the island.

Joining me now is Anne Gearan, White House correspondent for "The Washington Post". She has new reporting on the mood inside the Trump administration. And David Frum back with us.

David, John Kelly has a job to do. We all get that. But when he comes out with a moment like this and then says, yes, he`s mad at the press, does that help?

FRUM: Well, I think John Kelly thought he was walking a line, by saying it`s a frustration of the president`s. I mean, that is, obviously, a true description of reality. The president is very frustrated with the press and he is frustrated with anybody who doesn`t throw rose petals in front of his feet all the time and tell him that his hands are very large.

But John Kelly, although he thought he was doing only what he needed to do, ended up seeming to endorse the president`s statement. And he`s put himself in a position that Gen. McMaster when Gen. McMaster has briefed the press.

And McMaster tries very, very hard to avoid saying things that are untrue. But in that job, it really becomes impossible and you then associate yourself with statements that are either untrue or, in the case of the president`s recent comments in the press, anti-constitutional.

I mean, we are within 24 hours of the president threatening to shut down this network because he doesn`t like the way it reports. And this network could be as horribly inaccurate, could be as inaccurate as Fox and it still would not be right to shut it down.

MELBER: Yes. I mean, Anne, we`re going to turn to your reporting in a moment. But first on this, you have laughter in the briefing room. I don`t know what it is, nervous or awkward laughter. I`m not laughing.

David Frum makes the point there`s nothing to laugh about when someone comes out there, paid by our tax dollars, they`re running the government`s staffing operation and they`re telling the press you`re the problem and we don`t like the work you`re doing and we don`t like your sources on the heels of, as David said, something that on THE BEAT we`re not covering all that much because we don`t care to get into it, but the president making what are flatly unconstitutional, a.k.a. illegal, threats to the free press in this country based on what it reports.

How do you view that? And let me button up my little essay with a question since in anchor school, they say, well, you should still have a question somewhere in there. Is John Kelly becoming more like Donald Trump as he stays in this job?

ANNE GEARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST" POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don`t actually think we know the answer to that question. Much of the laughter in the briefing room was because John Kelly can be disarming and funny and charming.

And he opened the briefing by saying that, to the best of his knowledge, he was neither quitting nor getting fired today despite reporting that he`s on thin ice with the president.

MELBER: I`m going to continue, but aren`t we, as reporters - I`m really asking. Aren`t we supposed to be better than just being charmed by this government official? I mean, I get it. I respect his service, but are we supposed to be that disarmed by this stuff.

GEARAN: No. But that doesn`t mean - I think that people can`t at least greet that with a smile.

And the questions were tough and they ranged from domestic policy to the boundaries of his job to foreign policy to basically whether he can control the president or whether that`s what he`s supposed to be doing in that job.

And I thought his answer to that was very interesting and something that will be useful in understanding his role and his relationship to the president going forward.

He said that I was not brought into this job to do anything other than control the flow of information. Now, I think controlling the flow of information to this president is extremely difficult, but if that is how Kelly sees his job, that does not mean that he sees his job as telling the president, don`t do this, it will be bad for you, do do that, it will be good for you.

MELBER: You mentioned tough questions. You`ve been posing some in your reporting - as promised, we want to look at that - in "Washington Post". The president threw a fit. Sources say, Trump`s anger over the raw deal forcing aides to scramble for a compromise.

My question to you on this is, this is executive power. On Iran and on the Dreamers issue, we see a president very angry about the very avenue of authority that, if he were a real CEO with that kind of experience, he would be best versed to exercise because he can turn these things on or off.

Why the anger? Why his feeling of, what you describe, which is a sense of tension or even powerlessness on this issue?

GEARAN: Well, remember from the time really early on in the campaign that the president criticized the Iran deal as poorly executed, a raw deal for America, an embarrassment and so on and so forth, what really happened - and you key in on an important thing here is - what really happened when he won and he became president was he realized you can`t just walk away from this deal without triggering all kinds of other potentially unpleasant and ill-advised consequences.

And so, he has been - he`s felt put in a box, he`s felt really pushed to the wall by his advisors, by allies, by Congress, all telling him that he can`t do what, in his gut - you really know he wants to.

So, what we believe he is going to do tomorrow, it is a compromise that keeps the deal in place, but under which he will tell Congress that he can no longer certify that the deal is in US national interest.

That`s a half measure. It puts a lot of onus on Congress about what to do next. It makes his intentions clear, but it doesn`t actually bust the deal.

MELBER: To be fair though, no one knew nuclear non-proliferation was going to be this complicated.

GEARAN: It`s hard stuff.

MELBER: Anne Gearan, David Frum, thank you both.

Up next, Facebook`s Russia connection. For the first time, a top executive at the company actually sitting down with political reporters to discuss the Kremlin`s meddling, but raising some new questions we`re going to explore.

And later, my exclusive with one of the Democrats on Trump`s voter fraud panel. An inside view live on THE BEAT.


MELBER: Facebook under fire for its approach to Russian meddling and fake news. We knew that.

But, today, something brand-new. The company put a top executive in an interview with a non-tech journalist to take questions on Russia.

Sheryl Sandberg is probably the most powerful woman at Facebook, the author and former treasury department official, who is now worth roughly $1 billion from her time with Mark Zuckerberg. And she spoke to political reporter Mike Allen, part of this public push after her private meetings on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Now, Allen asked if Facebook saw that Russians use the same targeting as the Trump campaign. Sandberg didn`t answer. So, he asked again. And she didn`t answer. And he asked again.


MIKE ALLEN, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE EDITOR OF AXIOS: What did you`ll learn about the overlap in targeting between the Trump campaign and these Russian accounts?

SHERYL SANDBERG, COO, FACEBOOK: Targeting on Facebook is broad.

ALLEN: The overlap between the Trump campaign and these Russian accounts.

SANDBERG: Well, targeting is something everyone uses.

ALLEN: But the Trump campaign and the Russian accounts, you don`t know or you won`t tell me.

SANDBERG: When the ads get released, we will also be releasing the targeting for those ads. And so, again, we`re going to be fully transparent.


MELBER: Her last non-answer echoes St. Augustine, who famously wrote in his confessions book, "Grant me chastity, but not yet." Facebook will grant us transparency, but not yet.

Sandberg also cited Facebook`s white paper on this topic.


SANDBERG: In April of 2017, we put out a white paper saying, hey, we think there`s this new kind of threat going on and, importantly, linking to the government account, government report, which said they thought it was Russia.


MELBER: They put out a white paper. Do you remember Facebook ringing the Russia bell in April?

The company actually cut the references to Russia from that very report amid internal debate over how much info to share, as "The Wall Street Journal" exposed.

Now, Sandberg also returned to Facebook`s long-running claim that it`s more like a utility or a neutral platform than a media company.


SANDBERG: We`re very different than a media company.

At our heart, we are a tech company. We hire engineers. We don`t hire reporters. No one`s a journalist. We don`t cover the news.

But when we say that - we`re not saying we don`t have a responsibility.


MELBER: That is what it all comes down to here. Facebook is better it can keep avoiding regulation if people think of it as just technology, as a tool.

If people think of it as media, as content that shapes our world, well, then it has more responsibility.

People against gun regulation say guns don`t kill people, people kill people. The idea here is sort of social media companies don`t shape elections, people shape elections.

What if those people are shaping elections illegally? Federal law bans foreigners from giving anything of value to US campaigns. Social media can be very valuable, just as Facebook, which is valued over $400 billion.

Now more rules that could hamper foreign election meddling could cost Facebook time and money. Powerful companies make all kinds of arguments for why they shouldn`t be regulated, and some of this is starting to eerily echo the argument made by Wall Street after the financial collapse. Expect to hear more of it from Facebook. Just like gun companies or financial companies, these are arguments that corporations make the loudest when their business model hurts the wider public. After the market crashed, bankers of Goldman Sachs say they were just kind of a neutral platform. They didn`t pick sides between the forces that crash the economy. They just created a market for those forces. You know, like a platform.


CARL LEVIN, FORMER SENATOR, MICHIGAN: Do you think they know that you think something is a piece of crap when you sell it to them and then bet against it? Do you think they know that?

LLOYD BLANKFEIN, CEO, GOLDMAN SACHS: The nature of the principal business and market making is that we are the other side of what our clients want to do.


MELBER: That Senator was asking about the crap the bank sold and the banker`s answer was basically they are not responsible for the crap. They are just a platform. With me now is Spencer Ackerman, National Security Reporter for the Daily Beast and David Rothkopf a Columnist for the Washington Post and former Clinton Administration Official. David, are they just a platform?

DAVID ROTHKOPF, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Of course they are not just a platform. Facebook is largest organization of people on planet earth. It`s a couple billion now. Their goal is to have 5 billion members by 2030. And of course, the argument that they`re not a media company is also ridiculous. They`re using an old definition of media that they themselves were responsible for helping to kill. They become the principal means of most of their members of getting the news. And they don`t want to have any sort of responsibility, any sort of regulation.

They don`t want to get in the discussion because they know it`s a slippery slope towards them having to assume greater oversight of their own work and also to you know, acknowledge the liability they have when they are just, you know, out there taking money from the Russians or somebody else. And I think it`s going to be a long, long time judging from what Sheryl Sandberg said before they step up to the plate and start assuming the responsibilities that they really ought to be assuming. And I think it`s going to take Congressional pressure.

MELBER: Spencer?

SPENCER ACKERMAN, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: David is it really right on that. We`re talking about not just a platform perhaps that has become a media company but the most important media company in the world. Essentially a source for millions of people you know, in the United States.

MELBER: They are saying we are not a media company, leave us alone about Russia and you`re saying they are "the media company."

ACKERMAN: They are -- they are the most important media company with you know, some you know, similarly Russian penetrated others like Google. Imagine if you were reading you know, a news story that seemed to be really sympathetic to a certain you know, perhaps foreign point of view or can video or attacking the targets that that foreign power wanted attacked. And you saw the byline, you didn`t see that it reflected someone on behalf of that foreign power. If you`re reading that newspaper, if you know, if one of our colleagues did that they would be fired, they would deserve to be fired. Their news organization would come under fire for that and deserve at least so. That`s what happened on Facebook during the 2016 election. The Russians wandered and in some cases acted as imposters for authentic American accounts, authentic American voices across the political spectrum pushing messages (INAUDIBLE) to Russia.

MELBER: And what does Mueller do about this? You think he`s looking at Facebook? We see the reports about ads, we see the report about it as a tool, like I said. But does he reach deeper into how the company dealt with this and whether they should have done more earlier or whether the type of people who were doing this work -- we don`t know all who they were -- had inroads in this -- inside there?

ACKERMAN: Certainly as Mueller is piecing together a picture of how Russian propaganda spread during the election and who were the vectors for it. It`s extremely hard at this point to ignore. At this point, not just what Sheryl Sandberg is talking about but the centrality of Facebook to these efforts. You know, with every -- with every passing month, you know, thanks to really aggressive journalism at places like the Daily Beast, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere, we`re really seeing that just day after day after day. Certainly, this is taking up most of the oxygen on Capitol Hill for the intelligence committee investigations.

MELBER: David?


MELBER: What do you think? I mean, does this something that Mueller digs into beyond just the evidence of it, beyond OK we found bad stuff, now we`re going to see who put it there?

ROTHKOPF: Well, of course, I mean, Mueller has got to make a case for collusion. If the answer to Mike Allen`s question was that there was a lot of overlap between the Trump targeting and the Russian targeting. And in fact there were so much overlap that it was beyond coincidence, then you know, that might help him make a case and he might dig deeper and find out who was doing the targeting. Personally, I do think that there was a trap, which was that we look too much at the 2016 election and not at the 2018 election and not the 2020 election.

And what I worry about is that the inertia that we see with Facebook and dealing with these issues is matched by the inertia of Congress on these issues, is matched by the inertia of the White House which is not actually following through on the Russia sanctions it`s supposed to be following through on, which I find kind of amazing that that`s not getting more attention. And as a consequence, we have an election a year away and we are no safer against the kind of intrusions that the Russians made into our system today than we were in 2016 because the President denies it, Facebook isn`t stepping up, the Congress doesn`t take any action. We live on this issue in the age of inertia.

MELBER: The age of inertia and you mention the foot-dragging from the administration on sanctions where a lot of victory laps that the cargos made them do something. We`ve been looking and covering that. So, David, I would love if you join us in the future to dig into that. Spencer Ackerman, thank you for sharing your reporting with us. And coming up, from the rightwing media right into the Trump White House, new reporting on Trump`s late night phone calls with a certain Fox News Host. Also, the definition of political bribery itself on trial, we have new developments in Democrat Bob Menendez` case ahead.



JOHN KELLY, CHIEF OF STAFF, WHITE HOUSE: Although I read it all the time pretty consistently, I`m not quitting today. I don`t believe, and I just talked to the President, I don`t think I`m being fired today. And I am not so frustrated in this job that I`m thinking of leaving. So unless things change, I`m not quitting, I`m not getting fired, and I don`t think I`ll fire anyone tomorrow.


MELBER: More on the unusual appearance there in the White House Briefing Room today, the man who reported leads containment strategies for an "unhinged President."


KELLY: It`s funny, I read in the paper, you bot -- you all know, you write it, that you know, I was -- I`ve been a failure at controlling the President or a failure at controlling his tweeting and all that. Again, I was not sent in or was not brought to this job to control anything but the flow of information to our President so that he can make the best decisions.


MELBER: What about when that flow of information comes from Shawn Hannity? He lobbed some softballs to Trump last night. And the person close to the White House tells the L.A. Times Trump often calls Hannity right after the Fox News Host`s nightly show. And allies saying Trump is frustrated with Kelly, refusing to be managed and he starting to call people more on the weekends from the cell phone. The White House disputes that report. But here are the two of them last night, and in the past on the media and free speech.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Media is bad. They`re really dishonest people. I call it fake media. It`s fake. It`s so much fake news. And we have to understand --

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS: Do you agree with that, fake news?

TRUMP: Truly dishonest people in the media and the fake media.

HANNITY: The alt-radical left propaganda destroy Trump media. They are on a mission to take down President Trump.

TRUMP: I call the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are. They are the enemy of the people.

HANNITY: Journalism is dead. You guys are done. You`ve been exposed as fake.

TRUMP: Fake media. Fake news.


MELBER: And for a President who can`t seem get on the same page with many people in his Cabinet, he does sound unified with his friend Sean.


HANNITY: Your communities are being hurt because of illegal immigrants, crimes, and drugs that are coming across the border.

TRUMP: We will get the criminals out, the drug lords, the gang members, we`re getting them out.

HANNITY: ObamaCare itself is single fundamental massive big government failure.

TRUMP: ObamaCare was one of the biggest broken promises in the history of politics.

HANNITY: When it comes to recognizing the violence that took place, and both sides were involved in the fighting.

TRUMP: Do you think there is blame? Yes, I think there`s blame on both sides.

HANNITY: Americans don`t want to see the flag and the national anthem disrespected.

TRUMP: For people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem I think is disgraceful.


MELBER: I`m joined by Maya Wiley former Counselor to the Mayor of New York, now at the New School and Margaret Carlson a Columnist for the Daily Beast. Maya, is this the secret Chief of Staff that you know, Sean Hannity is the Chief of Staff Trump never had?

MAYA WILEY, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, THE NEW SCHOOL: He`s just the BFF Trump never had, I think, which is to say Donald Trump has always demonstrated that he is particularly interested in people who make him feel good about himself. I think what we have seen is Hannity has done that repeatedly by not -- by as you said, throwing him softballs and generally supporting him no matter what he says or does unless DACA, it departs from some fundamental conservative belief that Sean Hannity has, but otherwise has been one of the closest allies in the news media. And so I think what we`re seeing is the way a president can be influenced by someone who supports him.

MELBER: And Margaret, Steve Bannon got his campaign and ultimately White House job, it all started with interviews on Breitbart radio.

MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Right, you know, you can also see Trump change his opinion to match Sean Hannity`s. If trump leaves the Hannity reservation, Trump will then adjust his positions as he did on DACA. Hannity, you know, draws such a warm bath for Trump that he sometimes, you know, has too much room as he did last night, and he says things that don`t add up. When he talked about, you know, the missiles that we have that can block missiles in the air, we don`t -- you know, two at a time.

I don`t think we really have that kind of defense -- star wars defense system yet. And he brings up the stock market repeatedly, which by the way, the stock market is covered pretty consistently on every news channel. And he says, well, the debt, the national debt is going down because the stock market has gone up so much. There`s no relationship between the two. But Hannity would never ever correct him. But this bromance, you know, doesn`t work for Trump, because he needs a John Kelly, as we saw at the beginning, he doesn`t need a Sean Hannity. He needs somebody who brings him in within the guard rails, not lets him roam all over the place.

MELBER: Well, Margaret you make the great point that the relationship between Hannity and Trump is much closer than the relationship between our debt and our stock market. Here they were at the end getting really, you know, romantic.


TRUMP: I will say this, you have been so great, and I`m very proud of you and you know, I`m a ratings person, you notice, I always do. OK, has anyone seen his ratings? I`m very proud of you. And it`s an honor to be on your show. I have to tell you that Sean.


MELBER: First of all, Margaret, you never sign off our interviews like that. I know you are not proud

CARLSON: I have to tell you, Ari, it`s such an honor and I`m very proud.

MELBER: You`re just not proud. And that`s fine, you don`t have to be proud. You know, I don`t know you that well. Although I know you well enough to make that joke. Margaret, what do you see there in the strategy of a president working with an ally in the press there who are both so committed as we showed in the lead to really degrading the factual reporting that`s going on in which we have seen a lot of Americans, he`s talking ratings, seen a lot of Americans embrace a lot of journalism since Trump`s election, Washington Post, New York Times, ProPublica, a lot of places, because facts are so important right now. Your view of that part of this?

CARLSON: You know, if only we could go back to that long ago day when we all agreed on the basic facts. That seems to be gone. I hope it`s only temporary. Trump would like to suspend the first amendment for a while so he could straighten out the media which hasn`t gone his way. You know, can I bring up, when John Kelly said today, I`m not so frustrated, I`m not so frustrated that I`m thinking of leaving. Back to you Ari, if I said, Ari, I`m not so frustrated that I`m thinking of never being on your show again, I could be that frustrated, right?

MELBER: Yes, it`s a tell. It was a linguistic tell.

CARLSON: Yes, it was. Yes, it was. That was not fake news. There we had John Kelly right in front -- in front of us except to the extent it might have been a hostage tape where he was sent out to say these things.

MELBER: Well, it had echoes of Sean Spicer, Maya, although I will say John Kelly is genuinely a more responsible and factual steward, although I was criticizing some of what he said earlier on the show, but he had that same thing or the Spicer thing where he would be marched out then you got the feeling he just came out of a yelling Oval Office and we know they`ve been shouting if you believe the L.A. Times report that Kelly is in a shouting match with him about these things.

WILEY: Absolutely. But I don`t think anyone takes Chief of Staff job for a President of the United States and expects not to be yelled at once in a while. I don`t think that`s enough to make John Kelly quit. I think it`s more perm pertinent question whether Donald Trump is going to go after Kelly and try to push him out. That`s actually a different issue from whether John Kelly himself will step back. But it`s a hot seat job and he`s a person who can take the heat. So I think it would be wrong to count him out.

MELBER: Yes, Maya Wiley and Margaret Carlson, thank you both. Coming up, Trump`s voter integrity panel facing some big questions. I`m going to spec to someone on the commission, a Democrat calling out the process.


MELBER: Donald Trump`s controversial Voter Fraud Commission had promised transparency. But a Democrat member of the Commission is now calling out the leader there Kris Kobach saying the Commission is operating in secret, there`ve only been two meetings and the panel "has no idea what it`s working on or when it will meet next. " We hear a lot of the criticism of this voter fraud panel from outside but now it looks like some of the calls are coming from inside the House. Joining me now for an exclusive interview is that Elections Official Matthew Dunlap, who is Maine`s Secretary of State. Is this Commission working the way it`s supposed to?

MATTHEW DUNLAP, SECRETARY OF STATE OF MAINE: Well, certainly isn`t working the way I expected it to or probably many of us expected it to. I`ve been on a lot of commissions and committees in my time and typically you do a lot of your work in public. Some of the work that you prepare for, you have extensive communication with other members of the commission, staffers, and frankly, none of that has really been happening. And it`s a bit of a mystery to me as to what has been happening. And my alarm bells have started to go off after ProPublica built a timeline showing that a lot of the communications had been coming from the commission have actually been developed outside of the offices of the commission by people that in one particular instance, a couple members of the commission before they were members of the commission.

And I think I had sort of anticipated that those are the types of things that were going to be conducted by our staff, which seem to be very capable of doing those sort of things. So the fact that hasn`t been happening and that we haven`t had any word on what has been going on, I have heard nothing from staff or anyone else on the commission really since we adjourned our meeting in New Hampshire almost a month ago. So it does raise some questions.

MELBER: So you`re a Democrat -- you`re a Democrat but you gave this a good faith shot.


MELBER: I`m sure you took some heat for doing anything about Donald Trump investigating alleged voter fraud. You gave it a shot. At this point in time, do you have confidence that this is a fair and legitimate process or are they losing your confidence?

DUNLAP: Well, I think it`s a little bit early to pass a final judgment on the work of the Commission. I think, we still have the opportunity to answer the questions. And the questions raised by the President that three to five million people voted illegally which I don`t believe we`re going to find anything like that, but you don`t necessarily answer the question by not answering the question. What my question now is ---

MELBER: What about these reports -- what about these reports that Kris Koback had a preordained plan to try to use this to change federal voting law?

DUNLAP: I think what is rooted behind that is, you know, the work that we`re doing. I came to sort of wonder whether or not we`re even using the same definitions of terms. When he says fraud and I say fraud, we`re not necessarily talking about the same things. When we talk about voter fraud, which is a very specific thing, by the way, we tend to frame it in terms of voter misconduct, not fraud. You know, we`re thinking of somebody trying to vote twice or something like that. In the New Hampshire meeting, when he was waving the bloody shirt about 5,000 cases of voter fraud in New Hampshire, what he was really referring to was a statutory construct of New Hampshire law that he did not agree with.

MELBER: Right, and I wish -- we`re almost out of time so I can`t do too many statutory constructs but my last question for you. Yes or no, are there further public meetings scheduled?

DUNLAP: I don`t know. We have heard nothing.

MELBER: Pretty telling. Secretary Dunlap, I appreciate your approach and your service. Thank you for your time. Ahead, I have an update on an important bribery case against a Democratic Senator next.


MELBER: Now the case against Menendez is a legal matter doesn`t look close, it looks overwhelming. In fact, the only legal defense left is what you could call the Governor Bob McDonnell defense which would be OK, I took unethical gifts but I would have helped this donor friend of mine anyway. That was the report we brought you when the trial Democratic Senator Bob Menendez began. Now the prosecution has rested after bringing an FBI agent to the stand recounting internal e-mails which they say show Menendez abusing his power to help a donor. Now that`s the case against Menendez. The relationship is documented. It looks bad. But as we reported when this trial began, the Supreme Court has made it harder to prosecute gifts in the unanimous decision overturning a conviction of Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Menendez can use the McDonnell defense, well, yes.

It looks like the Judge think he has a point. They spent three hours discussing a motion from Menendez to toss part of this case. The judge asking how the Supreme Court has narrowed what counts as a bribe and that it must now be a very specific exchange, not a vague stream of benefits. Both sides filing their responses this Monday. If Mendez wins on this point, he could narrow the case from a question about bribery to a much narrow question about false statements. That would be good news for Menendez and the Democrats in the Senate but it`s bad news for limiting gifts to politicians, something most voters support but that the Supreme Court is making easier --



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