WH Chief caught in falsehood Transcript 10/20/17 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Ned Price, Hakeem Jeffries, Renato Mariotti, Julia Ioffe, Annie Linskey, Gay Talese

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: October 20, 2017

Guest: Ned Price, Hakeem Jeffries, Renato Mariotti, Julia Ioffe, Annie Linskey, Gay Talese

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now. Ari, apologies for handing the baton slightly late.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: No worries, sir. We`ll be watching on Sunday. Thank you, Chuck.

It is Friday night and the news coming out of the Trump White House is a red alert moment. This is not about tweets or feuds. Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly was busted for misleading claims and your government responded by saying he cannot be questioned because he is a general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you want to go after Gen. Kelly, that`s up to you, but I think that that - if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that`s something highly inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Highly inappropriate to debate a general. That is not what the US constitution says. Generals subject to oversight and vigorous reporting by the free press. News today that proves Kelly got his facts wrong.

But, right or wrong, the White House is challenging a much higher principle that civilians and elected officials do hold the military to account. And it was an elected official, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson who criticized President Trump`s call to a Gold Star family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The congresswoman stood up and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There is video of the event, which surfaced today, showing Kelly got it wrong is according to independent accounts. Now, Kelly could have made a genuine error and then he could correct it.

Tonight`s news is he failed to do so. And the White House spokesperson, who reports to Kelly, took a position more commonly associated with Trump than Kelly, standing by a false claim, contradicted by the overwhelming evidence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Gen. Kelly still stand by the statement that he made yesterday that he felt that she was grandstanding and that she was taking credit?

SANDERS: Absolutely. Gen. Kelly said he was stunned that Rep. Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There was a time when many saw Kelly as the last hope to change Trump. Today, it looks like it is Trump who is changing Kelly. And Kelly was known for discipline, but he is proactively continuing a political spat with misleading claims, while his boss drags his family and service into the political fray.

Yet, it`s Kelly now who is doubling down on a fight that he says is about respect for veterans in the military, a bizarre claim when waged on behalf of Donald Trump, who has demeaned military families and veterans, while invoking generals for his selective political claims.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you look at his wife, she was standing there, she had nothing to say. She probably - maybe she wasn`t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me. But plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet. And it looked like she had nothing to say. A lot of people have said that.

He`s not a war hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a war hero.

TRUMP: He`s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren`t captured. OK? I hate to tell you.

Under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Donald Trump does not appear to understand that when our soldiers are in their graves, they deserve only respect, not political grandstanding.

Now, it`s no surprise Trump is once again trying to accuse others of his own more outlandish offenses. His record of insulting veterans and their families is now well known.

He waded into that territory this week for no evident reason. And Trump`s penchant for projection is also no secret. But this isn`t just another squabble borne of emotional neediness.

It now includes a general in the White House who, caught in an incorrect claim, sends out an employee, paid by your tax dollars, to tell you that general is not subject to debate because he`s a general.

Let me say this tonight to Gen. Kelly. You will be debated. You will be questioned. And you now have an obligation to retract this odd White House spokesperson claim.

Our constitution explicitly places the military under civilian control. That matters not only for this week`s rhetorical sparring, whatever it is, whatever it was supposed to be, but also, far more importantly, as I hope we all know, for the underlying incident that sparked it, which the Trump White House has so vigorously distracted from, the death of four US soldiers and the injuries of two others near the Niger-Mali border.

The FBI is investigating it. The Trump administration thus far has been quite secretive. Now, we have no idea if the findings would show anything should be done differently. It`s way too early to say. But, again, it will be questioned. That`s how our system works, even if some in the Trump administration don`t want to understand that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I am joined now by Ken Dilanian, NBC`s intelligence/national security reporter, and Ned Price who worked for the National Security Council under the Obama administration and also for the CIA.

Ned, your view of what Gen. Kelly sent out his employee to say today?

NED PRICE, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, Ari, you had it exactly right. It`s Article 2 of the Constitution that says the president of the united states, a civilian leader, is the commander-in-chief.

And, frankly, not only is the military subordinate to civilian leadership, but generals, leaders within the military have a special responsibility to tell the truth under military guidelines, military code of justice.

So, for Gen. Kelly to go out there and to make what could well have been an honest mistake - look, everyone makes honest mistakes.

MELBER: Sure.

PRICE: Even generals. But he now has a special obligation to go out and correct the record. Ari, there are countries in the world in which generals, decorated generals purport to have a monopoly on the facts. This is not one of them. This has never been one of them. And we must work to make sure that we never become one of those countries.

MELBER: Well put. And I know you`ve served. Ken, I want to play something else Gen. Kelly said yesterday when there was an initial response in Washington and, I think, elsewhere that part of his comments were really effective and were really heartfelt and lord knows he has served.

And yet, there were other parts yesterday and then what he`s overseeing today that appear dead wrong. Part of the discussion yesterday, at one point, he said he wasn`t going to call on all the journalists or use any random method. He only wanted to hear from journalists who had a link to the military.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY: Does anyone here know a Gold Star parent or a sibling? OK. You get question. Any other - someone who knows a Gold Star fallen person? John. I`ll take one more. But it`s got to be from someone who knows - all right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do appreciate your time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Ken, I wonder your response to that because, as an American, you have tremendous respect for the Gold Star families. In fact, we heard from one on this program this week.

But as a public servant paid by the tax dollars of this country in an open press setting, that really stood out.

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Ari. I think it`s a really dangerous road to go down. I think, for example, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said just in the last hour to reporters that he thought it was an inappropriate thing for Sarah Sanders to say, that, of course, a general can be questioned in our democracy.

And, in fact, what I have been reporting on all day are the very legitimate questions that the civilian oversight staffers in Congress have been raising about what actually happened in Niger and whether there was an intelligence failure and how 50 enemy militants could amass near our 12 special operations folks without the US military figuring out that they were there.

And so, these questions are now being raised about this incident. This rhetoric, I think, in the end is not going to have a meaningful impact on how all this is handled. Ari.

MELBER: Yes. You mentioned Sen. Graham. I have the readout here. This is a Republican senator. He was asked, is it highly inappropriate to debate a four-star general and, Ned, he responded, no, not in America.

This seems different than some of the news cycles of Donald Trump saying ridiculous things. And it seems to go to the heart of whether Gen. John Kelly, chief of staff, has an obligation to address and clean this up?

PRICE: Well, Ari, when Gen. Kelly took his current White House post and when he was commissioned as a general, when help enlisted as a marine in 1970, he took an oath that said he will protect and defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

He has never taken an oath that he will defend a president at all costs, that he will bend the truth, inadvertent or not, in the service of the president. He has a much greater service, and that is a service to our constitution.

To my mind, Gen. Kelly, his entire career, has been a good soldier. He has been a good soldier when he was an enlisted marine. He has been a good soldier as a general. But I think what his role demands now is that he be a patriot. He be a good patriot.

And as I`ve said before, those are often one and the same. But I think this administration is really tearing those two concepts apart. And there is a divergence there that`s especially dangerous.

MELBER: Right. And a lot of this goes back to what will the oversight be. What are members of Congress saying here on another Friday night where the Trump administration is making news, what would appear to be, for them, bad news.

I want to bring in New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries who serves on the Judiciary Committee with me in New York. Is it appropriate to debate a general?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: It`s absolutely. It`s appropriate to debate a general in a democracy. Of course. This is not a military dictatorship. We are a nation of laws, not a nation of men.

And pursuant to the rule of law, anyone is subject to being held accountable to those who are charged with representing the people of this great nation in terms of members of congress and as it relates to members of the fourth estate, media, as embedded in the First Amendment of the United States constitution.

MELBER: There was a lot of talk about Trump being changed or disciplined by Kelly. Are we seeing Kelly today sound more like Trump?

JEFFRIES: That unfortunately appears to be the case. Gen. Kelly served this nation in a phenomenal fashion. That service is to be respected and appreciated.

But it is saddening and shocking that he would actually engage in character assassination against a sitting member of Congress, calling her an empty barrel, and then trying to justify that character assassination by misrepresenting the remarks that she gave at the building renaming in 2015.

And then, for the White House today to double and triple down on that mischaracterization is just consistent with the chaos, crisis and confusion that we continue to see from the Trump administration.

And what Gen. Kelly should do is pick up the phone, call Congresswoman Wilson, apologize for the character assassination and then we can, hopefully, all move on from this episode and get down to the business of the American people.

MELBER: Right. And the business of this investigation. I want to ask you, congressman, as well as our panel, to broaden this out because sometimes these conversations become all about Trump. This today feels quite a bit deeper.

You think back to, say, 1951. We had General MacArthur butting heads with President Harry Truman about policy for the Korean War, trying to exert political pressure on Truman, appealing directly to the political branches.

Truman relieved then a big war hero with an influential following. MacArthur saying, if there is one basic element in our constitution, it`s civilian control of the military, policies to be made by elected political officials, not generals or admirals. And Truman basically saying he did not want to risk a wider war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY TRUMAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A number of events have made it evident that Gen. MacArthur did not agree with that policy. I have, therefore, considered it essential to relieve Gen. MacArthur so that there would be no doubt or confusion as to the real purpose and aim of our policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Ned Price, that was a very different model of leadership. It was not, by the way, easy within public opinion at the time, but it was something that Harry Truman felt the constitution was actually in play, not only his own personal reputation, if generals were trying to muscle out civilian control.

PRICE: Well, that`s right. And, Ari, frankly, we haven`t seen a proliferation of generals in senior civilian leadership in other administrations at least in recent memory.

The White House Chief of Staff, the national security adviser who is a currently serving general, there are other military officials throughout other cabinet departments and agencies that does not follow that model.

And it`s interesting when you hear President Trump speak of military leaders. He calls them my generals, which I think really speaks to the way he perceives them. He thinks he can - that they serve him and only him.

But I think the key is that they serve our constitution. They are there to protect our constitution, to protect our country. And I think Gen. Kelly and the others who are in this position will continue to need to do that, even risking the ire of President Trump.

MELBER: Well, you raised such an important point, Ned. And congressman, I wonder if you could speak to that here. It`s not his play, it`s not his White House, and it`s certainly not his army. How important is it that you, in a co-equal branch, remind Donald Trump of that when he has a general running the White House comporting himself this way?

JEFFRIES: Well, it`s the people`s house, it`s the people`s democracy. And you`ve indicated, Ari, there are separate and co-equal branches of government. It doesn`t seem like Donald Trump respects that. It doesn`t seem like he respects the Congress and our oversight responsibility. He certainly has shown that he doesn`t respect the Article 3 federal court system and the role that judges ought to play in our democracy.

He`s got autocratic tendencies. And the hope has been that the White House chief of staff would be able to dampen those tendencies and put Donald Trump on a path where he can function consistent with the manner that other presidents of the United States have functioned, understanding their role and their fundamental accountability to the people that they were elected to serve.

It`s shameful. We`re going to try to focus as Democrats on delivering better jobs, better wages and a better future. But in the context of the chaos that he constantly inflicts upon the American people, it`s always difficult in Washington, D.C.

MELBER: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thank you for giving us that perspective. And Ned Price and Ken Dilanian, appreciate you both in your analysis here.

New numbers showing Americans without insurance tonight. Is Trumpcare boosting that problem? I have the Reverend Al Sharpton here live.

And new reporting on Trump`s very unusual interviews of specific prosecutor candidates, including those with oversight of key Trump locations, including Trump Tower.

And the Trump administration showing some new confusion on a basic point. Is Vladimir Putin our adversary or our ally?

I`m Ari Melber. Much more ahead. You are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president - President Trump view Russia as an ally, a partner, or an adversary?

SANDERS: And as I`ve said before, I think a lot of that depends on Russia and what type of relationship they want to have and whether or not they want to be a good actor or a bad actor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Say what now? The White House today making some other news, saying it`s up to Russia to decide if we`re allies or adversaries. That`s not been the long-standing policy. Trump`s ambassador to the UN has made her decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, US AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: I find it fascinating because the Russians, God bless them, they`re saying why are Americans anti-Russian and why have we done the sanctions? Well, don`t interfere in our elections and we won`t be anti-Russian.

I will tell you when a country can come interfere in another country`s elections, that is warfare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Warfare, which is not something allies do to each other. Note to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Sessions saying Russia did meddle in the election and he knows that the threat Russia poses is severe. But then there was his answer on what to do about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Do you think we`re doing enough to prepare for future interference by Russia and other foreign adversaries in the information space?

JEFF SESSION, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Probably not. We`re not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Some credit for honesty there. But why not? That`s one piece of the puzzle.

Meanwhile, Special Counsel Bob Mueller digging into the Russia investigation, doing interviews, climbing up the chain.

With me now, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti; Julia Ioffe from "The Atlantic" who covers Russia; and Annie Linskey of "The Boston Globe".

Julia, because we started there with the foreign affairs, I go to you first. Put this into context for us, the history of how US administrations have viewed Russia as an adversary.

JULIA IOFFE, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, I think that`s just - if you talk to former administration officials from across administrations, they - everybody comes in thinking, we`re going to do this differently, we`re smarter than the last guy and we`re going to have a better relationship with Russia.

And then, Russia continues behaving the way it behaves, acting counter to our interests in a way that they think is advancing their interests, which often run perpendicular to American interests. And we get to where we are now. Usually not as bad, but where we are now, which is an adversarial relationship.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders isn`t wrong. She`s saying if you want to be friends, if you want to be allies, you`ve got change up your game. You`ve got to act better. So, she`s not totally wrong.

MELBER: Well, she seemed to suggest that the current status is up in the air and the UN ambassador is saying the current status is adversary. I mean, what was the famous saying that countries don`t have friends, countries have interests. And, assured, if the interest changed enough, sure.

IOFFEE: Yes. No, I heard it more as a kind of - we`re open to talking or we`re open to some kind of diplomacy - maybe I`m giving her too much credit - but if Russia changes its behavior. Whether that`s likely is a totally different story.

MELBER: Renato, the president had held back on tweeting about Russia for quite a while. And we covered that on THE BEAT whether the lawyers were finally making some inroads or if he had moved on because it was actually notable that he was still picking fights, he was still the Donald Trump we know, and yet he stayed out of Russia.

That appears to be changing. A new tweet, "Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?"

What do you think about him weighing in there and how that relates to Mueller`s work right now?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I mean, I think once again it`s a mistake. There are still a lot of people sitting at home who don`t know what this dossier is. And I`m sure there was a lot of people who saw that tweet and were googling to read it for the first time.

I think it`s certainly a mistake. And what it tells me is that it`s something that`s on his mind and that he`s concerned about. It`s something Mueller can draw inferences from. In other words, that he can draw conclusions from.

But in terms of the dossier itself, we know that Mueller interviewed the creator of the dossier. We know that Mueller is not going to be able to use the dossier as evidence itself. He`s going to ultimately have to go out and get witnesses that will be able to testify firsthand about what they say and heard.

He`ll have to get documents that can be authenticated. So, all of this hubbub around Devin Nunes` independent, one-man investigation of the dossier, I`m not really sure how much it actually matters. It seems like a side show that somebody who is under investigation is pointing to in order to distract from what is really important.

MELBER: Right. And, Annie, I don`t know if you heard that Paul Ryan has a comedy special coming out on Netflix? Have you heard about that?

ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Yes. I heard a preview of it, I believe.

MELBER: Killing it. Obviously, Mitch McConnell doing the opening act, which I understand related to some tension. If you are watching at home, whether or not you think these are funny jokes, they are jokes. I`m not saying that as literal news truth, but here was Paul Ryan cracking jokes last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I learned how DC works. I play the good cop. Mitch McConnell plays the bad cop. And Bob Mueller plays the really bad cop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Annie, what do you think of Paul Ryan wading into joking about an open criminal investigation? Gutsy.

LINSKEY: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think it gets to the level of which this investigation has sort of infiltrated kind of every single nook and corner of the Capitol.

And it`s something that`s clearly on the minds of not only the Democratic senators, who are kind of sitting and hoping and wondering if there will be something concrete in there to where they can really take a whack at Donald Trump, but it`s also the Republicans who control the chamber, who are just so wary of this investigation.

While they`re doing many of their own investigations, which I continue to think is remarkable that a Republican-controlled both House and Senate have multiple investigations into a Republican president. I mean, that is really, when you think about it, quite extraordinary.

MELBER: And, briefly, Annie, do you think the Senate investigation will wrap up any time soon?

LINSKEY: No, I don`t. They have lot - they clearly have a lot of work to do. They`ve signaled they have a lot of work to do. And so, I think there`s going to be - it will be quite some time before we see something definitive as long as you`re talking about a joint report from the two sides, which I think is the goal.

MELBER: Right. Annie Linskey and Julia Ioffe, thanks both for joining me. Renato, stick around.

And check us out on Facebook at THE BEAT with Ari. We have a special new digital video about Trump`s failing approval rating and how it could lead to new subpoena powers for the Democrats. I`ll explain. If you go right there, if you go right there Facebook.com/TheBeatWithAri.

Ahead, Trump breaking tradition and talking directly to prosecutor candidates. Does it have anything to do with their jurisdiction?

Also, an alarming spike in Americans without health insurance. Rev. Al Sharpton is here talking to me live Trumpcare`s future next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Trump administration under criminal investigation for potential collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice and that makes news reports especially odd that Donald Trump`s personally interviewing candidates to be new prosecutors at DOJ, including those with jurisdiction for Trump Tower and discussions with Marco Rubio about Mar-a-Lago. Now, there is no law or rule preventing this but there is a long-standing DOJ custom providing for independence including a 2009 memo on the issue from Attorney General Eric Holder.

The attorney`s Trumps interviewed have links to Rudy Giuliani and Marc Kasowitz, you may have remembered he was removed after a short and controversial stint on Trump`s Russia criminal defense team. Now, there would be a problem if that legal team was hand picking new prosecutors, and the New York position already went through controversy over how he reached out to and then fired Obama appointee Preet Bharara just spoke about this in new reports that Trump interviewed candidates.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I was never interviewed by Barack Obama. Richard Blumenthal was not interviewed by the President who appointed him and Jeff Sessions was not interviewed by the President who appointed him. You`ve got a President personally interviewing the candidates who will oversee the offices that could investigate him.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, when he held that prosecutor post under Obama, I actually interviewed Bharara at the time he was stressing his independence from politicians in both political branches. Another DOJ official Matt Miller adding Obama never interviewed a U.S. attorney candidate. Trump is trying to breach the DOJ wall. I`m now joined by that man, Matt Miller, as well as former Federal Prosecutor Renato Mariotti back with me. Renato, when you became U.S. attorney, were you interviewed by the President?

MARIOTTI: No, I wasn`t, obviously. And I -- you know, the question I think, the more pertinent question is -- was Pat Fitzgerald here in Chicago, to my knowledge, he was not interviewed by the then-President George W. Bush. And It`s -- look, as Matt Miller has pointed out, it is very unusual. Certainly, President Obama didn`t interview any U.S. Attorney candidates. And the issue here is that there`s reportedly an investigation into Trump`s businesses in Manhattan in the Southern District of New York. You know, there is legitimate concerns about whether or not that you know, that interview could set up a certain sort of you know personal relationship and create -- yo know, create feelings that could hinder the independence of that person when they are making a decision regarding prosecution.

MELBER: Right, which is exactly what Preet Bharara said when he spoke out. He was one of the many fired U.S. attorneys. Although Trump had personally met with him during the transition asking to him stay on, and Matt, you know, he worked under Holder as you did in different roles. When I did interview him, this was while he was a prosecutor. He was really stressing the important role of independence.

MATT MILLER, MSNBC JUSTICE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, that`s absolutely --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BHARARA: You have to be independent and fearless. You know, we`re not elected so we don`t have you know, local political clubs that we have to be beholden to. We just do this job -- you know, without fear or favor, like the oath requires.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And so Matt, that`s something prosecutors take very seriously regardless of who`s President. Put that in the context that you`ve been sort of both sharing but also reporting out, because I saw from reading that you`ve been speaking with other officials about just how unusual this is.

MILLER: Yes, obviously independence is the most important thing at the Justice Department. And look, there is nothing inherently wrong with the President interviewing U.S. Attorney candidates. I think it`s probably a poor use of his time if you wanted to interview all 93 U.S. attorney candidates. But what happened here is he`s not interviewing say the U.S. attorney candidate for North Dakota. He is interviewing the U.S. attorney candidate where he has potential legal exposure. Those in New York and of course over the summer, he interviewed the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who have --

MELBER: Let`s pause -- Matt, let`s pause for that. You are saying something so important, I almost just want you to slow down. You`re pointing out, a number of most people I don`t think know off hand. 93 federal prosecutors across the country are appointed by the President. And you are pointing out if there was some new policy that said he`s going to take 93 hours and do all those interviews, that would be one thing. And you`re saying, no, he`s only reportedly interviewing a very few handful. So go ahead and speak to that.

MILLER: Yes, that`s exactly right. Look, there are 1,200 Senate confirmed position that the President appoints. He interviews a very small number of those, typically only cabinet officials, and other people like say, the FBI Director. He doesn`t get down into the subcabinet. He doesn`t interview the 93 U.S. Attorneys, the 94 U.S. Marshalls that are appointed by him and confirmed by the Senate because he has more important things to do. And what`s happening here is, he`s not interviewing -- you know, I think he`s nominated 45 U.S. Attorney candidates. We know that he`s interviewed three.

The two in New York, the Southern District of New York, Manhattan and the Eastern District New York and Brooklyn and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colombia. Those prosecutors in New York would have jurisdiction over any wrongdoing at his companies and the prosecutor in D.C. would have jurisdiction over any wrongdoing, potential criminal wrongdoing at the White House. So when you look at the fact that he`s singled out those three candidates to interview, you have to ask why. And the only -- the only answer to that really makes sense that he`s trying to cultivate a relationship, the same way he did with Preet Bharara.

MELBER: Exactly.

MILLER: Because we have to go back and look, there`s a pattern here. He met with Preet Bharara during the transition and he didn`t stop there. He called him twice during the transition --

MELBER: He called him, Matt, you know this. He called him so many times that Preet and his legal counselors -- because they take this seriously reviewed those rules and contacted Jeff Session`s Chief of Staff to say we don`t think we can return the President`s phone call. Which again, in any other agency, you do return the call. The whole point is, this one is different. Matt, I`m moving forward because I want to play also for your response Jeff Sessions being grilled about this, this week. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D) CONNECTICUT: How many other Attorneys General candidates has the President interviewed besides New York?

JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: I`m not aware. I`m not sure I remember whether he had interviewed for New York, but if you say so, I assume so. And he has the right to for sure because he has to make an appointment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Matt?

MILLER: There are two things that are staggering about that. One is that Sessions didn`t seem to know that this has -- that this has happened. This is a fairly big deal. It`s the kind of thing that if it happened if the President reaches down into -- you know, into the bows of the agency and wants to interview you know, someone like a U.S. attorney candidate, it`s the kind of thing that would sets off alarm bells, you`d wonder why. It would be a big deal. The second thing is that he`s not doing anything about it. And this goes to the pattern with Sessions where -- look, the President tried to breach the wall between DOJ and the White House a number of times.

Obviously, there`s the Comey firing, the loyalty pledge, his repeated public request for what DOJ should and should not investigate, trying to ask Session not to go -- to drop the prosecution of Joe Arpaio. And Sessions` job is to stand up to that if those breaches of independence. And he`s not done it time and time again. And it`s clear he`s not done it here. He`s not said to anyone at the White House, look Mr. President, or if not the President, the White House Counsel, these aren`t interviews you should be doing -- you should be doing, I`ll take care of it, thank you.

MELBER: Right. Yes, Matt Miller and Renato Mariotti, thank you, interesting stuff. Up next, numbers showing millions of Americans without health care, Al Sharpton is here to talk about what`s happening under so- called Trumpcare. And later, should the press focus on Trump`s character so much or are we doing something wrong? Before "FALLBACK FRIDAY," it`s Gay Talese because you`re watching THE BEAT. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Donald Trump is on record being for sabotaging the running of ObamaCare. Now, we can report some numbers for you tonight. The number of uninsured Americans is up since Trump took office 3.5 million. Gallup citing it`s a fact that the uncertainty about the health care law but it`s also confusion Trump himself has shown on health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a big heart. I want to take care of people. We have horrible health care.

I want to put in a health care bill, a real strong health care bill.

You are going to get health care at a much lower price with a much lower deductible.

We will repeal the disaster known as ObamaCare.

Health care is failing in our country and we`re going to get a change and we will get a change fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m joined by Reverend Al Sharpton, Host of "POLITICS NATION" right here on MSNBC. Rev, I don`t know if you know something we have in common?

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: What`s that?

MELBER: We have spent about seven years covering ObamaCare. I didn`t know coming into this building we could become pseudo-experts like you said about ObamaCare. It is complex and the law is not perfect, but the numbers that we have show that more people were getting health care when ObamaCare was being run under a Health -- sorry, Human Services Department that was trying to over -- really run it. And right now, the numbers are initial, but in this first year now, fewer people getting health care because of the way Trump is running it even though he failed to repeal snit.

SHARPTON: Well, I think that fewer people are getting it because fewer people are clear enough to apply. You certainly can`t do -- I remember my civil rights group National Action Network, NAACP and others were all in the drive along with social media thing, to really get people to sign up you`ve heard none of that.

MELBER: No, they`re cutting that.

SHARPTON: They are cutting that. They cut the budget even to promote it. And people don`t have the sense of security that I know what I`m joining. And the insurers are also being very let`s say shaky because nobody knows what you are doing. You have an executive order that he comes out with saying that we`re going to allow insurers to come in with smaller guaranteed packages, doesn`t necessarily have to include people with pre- existing conditions and they can lowball it, which then makes the whole premiums go up. Then he turns around a week later and says, well, I kind of like what I`m hearing to compromise the bipartisan compromise that Alexander, Senator Alexander, and Murray say that they come with.

And then the very next day, he says, yes, but I`m not going to do it. I`m not going to support it. I liked it yesterday, but I`m not going to support it. In the middle of this, would you go apply for insurance or if you were an insurer, would you feel this is stable? So I think that his lack of being able to govern and his lack of sticking to a position has caused the lowering of insurers and the lowering of people applying for insurance because you don`t know what is going to end up being what you are applying for.

MELBER: You know him. He once explained his outer-borough insecurities.

SHARPTON: Right.

MELBER: Do you think this is strategic Donald Trump trying to bad mouth that which he couldn`t defeat in the Congress or is this just impulsive Donald Trump, talk, talk, talk?

SHARPTON: I think that you are seeing this obsession with, that he wants to undo anything Barack Obama did and I think it is also him saying he has a very serious problem of trying to show that he`s the boss and he`s smart. Anytime you have a guy runs around talking about his I.Q. all the time, he`s trying to convince everybody that I`m smart enough. So if somebody else comes in and says something I`m smarter than you, no I changed my mind.

MELBER: Do you think Trump knows deep down that Obama had a much more legislatively effective first year?

SHARPTON: I think that he knows that deep down that Obama did, that Obama knew how to govern better, which is why it`s driving him crazy. It`s like, you are trying to measure up to a guy that is 7-foot-tall and you are 5` 10 and you`re just not going to measure up, so you go and buy high heels but you`re still not that tall.

MELBER: That`s well put. And next, I get to ask you later in the show a question I never asked you before which is who needs to fall back? So --

SHARPTON: Oh, I can`t wait.

MELBER: -- stick around. Coming up next, a legendary author Gay Talese is back on THE BEAT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Do you ever feel like people talk more about Donald Trump than about what Trump is doing as President? A new study finds the press covers Trump more personally than other Presidents. The cast majority stories covering his character, 69 percent, with the public, focused on the man and his conduct while a minority of stories about policy. But for Obama half, the stories at this point were about character. For Clinton and Bush the numbers in the 40s and 30s. One reading is the press takes Trump`s bait too much, another is when the President acts like this, it`s news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think there is blame on both sides.

Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he`s fired.

Come here. Come here. Where are you from? We have all of this beautiful Irish press. Where are you from?

I love your show. I call it deface the nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Should reporters and citizens respond less to Trump`s behavior? The only alternative is that Trump will reign in his outbursts and to paraphrase Kanye West, you can wait for that to happen on the 35th of Neveruary. To probe the big question, we have legendary New York Times Journalist and Author Gay Talese.

GAY TALESE, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Thank you.

MELBER: What do you think?

TALESE: In all my 60 years as a working journalist, I have never been so aware of the hostility of journalism towards the President as the case now. Now, no doubt, as Reverend Sharpton and others among my friendly group will agree, it`s -- he deserves it. This President deserves all the rancor hoisted upon him by the media. It is hard to cover the policy, because the man himself, Mr. Trump, makes it so easy, he draws to himself, and because he`s so consumed with himself, so unlike as Reverend Sharpton said, Obama, who was a revered figure, an eloquent figure and contrasting that and following the failure of Mrs. Clinton to become the President that we thought she would be.

We have the media as well as much of the nation disappointed in what we have now compared to what we thought we would have. I was a -- I was a Bernie Sanders man, so don`t think I was a Hillary Man, but I was a Bernie Sanders man, but that -- forget me, talk about where we are as a veteran journalist looking upon my colleagues who are 35 or 40-years-older than when I was covering the news. What we have is a target that is so unavoidable because every day he says or does something that brings out so much ire in the press and I today, I came in thinking I was going to be a happier guest of your show than I am now because sadly, in the last hour or so, on this show and others before it, I see that Mrs. Sanders, perhaps unwittingly, brought some dis -- some tarnish on a great American, General Kelly.

MELBER: Then General Kelly.

TALESE: And I think in a 24-hour period, General Kelly from being the revered figure that he had been, now in a matter of a couple of hours -- in tomorrow`s paper, it probably shows (INAUDIBLE) yours -- were going to have him answering for what, for perhaps misspoken comments from the speaker?

MELBER: But shouldn`t General Kelly clean it up?

TALESE: Can General Kelly clean up what is already set of him? I mean, she didn`t necessarily reflect what he believes. I think she said you can`t talk to a four-star general, now all these people will say oh generals --

MELBER: But as you know, Gay, he`s also -- he`s also making what on a video or have been revealed to be false claims. And he`s acting as the political enforcer of the Trump White House and so at a certain point, you know, you think about the arc of history here, I don`t know that this is what generals going into the political space are supposed to do.

TALESE: Well, they`re probably not supposed to do what you suggested they`re not supposed to do. But what I`m suggesting is anybody that goes into the Trump White House, even a revered figure as Mr. Kelly, sooner or later, is going to be tarnished, because the whole focus of that White House as viewed by the media that we both respect, this mainstream media, it is such a villainous place and the participants within it are so susceptible to the kind of endless, vituperous view that they bring upon themselves and we hoist upon them to a greater degree.

MELBER: Well, you make an important point, which is, you`re describing this vituperous view, and it reminds me of where we started a week where George Will a fellow writer like yourself said the dirt that attaches to those who transact with Trump makes them too dirty for any subsequent scrubbing. And maybe those are bookends to a difficult week. Gay Talese, it`s OK you`re not happy today. We`ll have you and be happy another day.

TALESE: Thank you so much. I hope so.

MELBER: Thank you, Sir. And up next, who needs to fall back?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: It`s Friday on THE BEAT and you know what that means. It`s time to fall back. I am joined by Chuck Nice and Reverand Al Sharpton. I`m going to ask you both. Chuck, who needs to fall back?

CHUCK NICE, COMEDIAN: Well, I`m going to go with former presidents. And yes, because quite frankly, we know who they were talking about. Their veiled attempt to speak to the nation and appeal to our better angels and speak to us with dignity and a reserved tone all to make us nostalgic for that long ago time called last year and, by the way, it`s two of them, two presidents against one, that is bullying. And what kind of President would bully somebody?

MELBER: Chuck Nice going with the sarcastic approach to fall back. It`s the way to make a point.

NICE: There you go.

MELBER: It`s very 2017. Rev, who needs to fall back?

SHARPTON: I think General Kelly needs to fall back. He is a figure that was as Gay Talese has said, revered, respected, and now you come out and pick a fight with a Congresswoman and the family of a slayed member of the military. How do you get into the gutter of following your President where you ought to be raising him out of the gutter because that`s why people thought you were there. For him to be calling names to the Congresswoman and to back up that the family was lying about something in the middle of their grief to take a shot for the President, fall back, General, fall back up. Get up to being who you were supposed to be. We were looking up to you, now we`re looking somewhere else.

MELBER: Wow, very well put. I`m going to do mine. We can cut the music for mine because mine is about the CIA and Harry needs to fall back. If you don`t know, Harry is a bomb-sniffing dog at the CIA, he`s replaced Lulu, who was the CIA`s dog. Can we see Lulu? Not right now. You know, who else needs to fall back? My pictures of dogs. This is a great story, though, we think where you have a dog at the CIA and she`s doing her bomb sniffing and they found out she was no -- she used to do it fine. She was no longer used to it. Mid -- there`s harry, making a mid-career change and they replaced with Harry, now the CIA has also announced while Lulu was being let go, they said, "she wasn`t -- there she is -- she wasn`t interested in searching for explosives, so now she`s moving on to other things, Rev.

SHARPTON: Well, she might have found something more interesting to sniff.

NICE: How can I beat that?

MELBER: Can you beat that?

NICE: Well, you know, not on -- not on T.V.

MELBER: You`re a Comic.

NICE: I can but not on T.V.

MELBER: You`re a Comic but Reverend Sharpton is not only closer to God that you, he`s also funnier than you. Thank you, both for being a part of "FALLBACK FRIDAY." Our friend Chuck Nice and as always the Rev. Al Sharpton, you can catch his show, "POLITICS NATION" Sunday morning, obviously 8:00 a.m. right here on MSNBC. Do not miss it. I will be here to see you Monday night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. I hope you have a great weekend. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END

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