Feds to investigate Trump's Voter Fraud Commission Transcript 10/26/17 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Mike Quigley, Kurt Bardella, Olivia Nuzzi, James Mackler

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: October 26, 2017

Guest: Mike Quigley, Kurt Bardella, Olivia Nuzzi, James Mackler

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": I've got to go back and hit refresh to see if the government is ever going to give us these JFK files. They ain't doing it yet.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: A lot of people waiting on it. As much anticipation as international tweets.

TODD: Yes. Fair enough. Crossed the date line. We'll get tomorrow's tweets yesterday.

MELBER: Exactly. Thank you, Chuck, as always. We're tracking two developing stories. Big news on the bombshell story that "The Daily Beast's" Betsy Woodruff broke, with new reporting advancing her account of evidence showing Trump's digital team approached Julian Assange about emails that could be stolen from Hillary Clinton.

Now, a second report shows that another Trump insider knew about it. Tonight, I have a legal breakdown of why this is such an important breakthrough.

But we begin with the top story, this breaking news that President Trump personally intervened with the Justice Department to try to help out this new House Republican investigation into Hillary Clinton.

The issue is the 7-year-old uranium deal. The House could have investigated it while Obama was in office, but it has gotten new attention from "Fox News" anchor Sean Hannity, in continuous, breathless coverage focusing on people, two of them, who aren't currently president, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, rather than focusing on President Trump.

But now Trump's own role is at issue. "Fox News" reporting today he personally ordered the release of a gag rule on an informant in the case. Here's the bottom line on this. The idea is that Trump wants this informant to now be able to tell House investigators more about the issue.

And let's look at the facts. In theory, that could inform a non-partisan oversight of the executive branch if done properly. But note, this arrangement already under fire because it was rolled out with partisan fanfare on the very same TV show that's been feeding this very old story from the start.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, "FOX NEWS" HOST, HANNITY: Tonight, the huge breaking news. The Department of Justice is now going to allow that FBI informant, one of the key players in the Russia nuclear bribery plot, surrounding the Uranium One scandal, he will now - that gag order will be lifted, that NDA lifted and he can testify before Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: As this story has unfolded this evening, critics asking why President Trump is personally involved in the project in the first place. Now, there's no formal restriction, but just as there was no restriction against Trump personally interviewing candidates to be a prosecutor who have jurisdiction over Trump Tower in New York.

Legal experts say, the fact is, these moves risk DOJ's independence. Donald Trump has never shown much of an understanding that, in the US constitution, the president doesn't direct who gets charged or jailed.

In fact, he managed to violate that boundary both for and against Hillary Clinton. He claimed during the campaign his administration might lock her up. And then he claimed afterward, he wasn't going to prosecute her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: OK. Here's one. Just came out. Lock her up is right.

Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to run for the presidency.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you would be in jail.

I don't want to hurt them. They're good people. I don't want to hurt them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That last response was after the election. Donald Trump telling "60 Minutes" he wouldn't send her to jail.

Let's be clear, the issue there is not whether Clinton should be investigated or charged. The issue is, it is never the president's call to make. Not President Obama, not President Trump.

Former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder says the wall between DOJ and the president is essential. He stressed that in a recent interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: The Justice Department really is different from other cabinet agencies. I remember Sen. Leahy said to me during confirmation, you're not the secretary of justice. You are the attorney general of the United States.

And there has to be a wall between the Justice Department and the White House even though you're a part of the administration.

History has shown us that, when that wall is too low, that's when Justice Departments get in trouble. During the Nixon years, during the Bush years when you have White House contacts with the Justice Department in channels that are not approved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Joining me now former federal prosecutor Paul Butler and former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks. Paul, does this concern you that that wall may be in danger?

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It concerns me a great deal, Ari. When I was a public corruption prosecutor at the Department of Justice, in the 1990s, this was the deal. If we had an important decision to make, we go first to the attorney general for the criminal division, who happened to be at that time Robert Mueller. We called him Bob the Boss.

If it were a really important decision, next step up was the deputy attorney general. And finally, if it were a decision about whether to bring charges against a very high-profile person, a quick meeting with the attorney general to tell her what we were thinking and to get her to sign off.

The idea that anyone would go to the president of the United States never occurred to us. It's just so far out of the bounds of what's proper.

It's legal in a sense because the president is the boss of the attorney general. But the attorney general is not his lawyer. And that's something that President Trump just seems not to understand.

MELBER: Yes. Jill, looking at the facts here, and echoing Mr. Butler's analysis, there's not a claim on the table today about illegality. But the claim on the table is the concern that the president is personally involved in what looks to be a House investigation into Hillary Clinton and something that is years and years old.

So, in your view, procedurally, how does this work and politically does this look to you suspicious?

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: This is definitely stinks. There's no other way to say it.

I'd like to make two points. One is that it's appropriate for the president to possibly talk to the attorney general about policies. Like my policy about anti-trust. It is not appropriate to talk about whether a particular anti-trust case should be brought. So that's the first thing that the president should have no role in.

And the Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst actually pled guilty and was convicted for his involvement in stopping the ITT case. And that's a proof of when it goes bad. So, it should not happen.

And, of course, Attorney General Mitchell went to jail for his involvement in many episodes during the Watergate era. So, we need to keep in mind that the bar has been low before. But since then, it has been raised and it needs to stay that way.

It may not be against any specific law, but it's inappropriate. And Paul is completely correct. The attorney general is not the president's lawyer. He represents the United States, the people against whoever the defendant is. And that's how it should stay.

MELBER: And, Paul, the underlying issue is really, really thin at this point. We welcome further evidence, if it comes out, although, as I've mentioned, this is a pretty old deal. So, a lot of this has been addressed, scrutinized, litigated.

But here was the "Breitbart" editor who did a lot of the writing originally about this. And when pressed, you could say to his credit, he acknowledged at the time, in 2015, there was no direct evidence of anything wrong. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER SCHWEIZER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "BREITBART": I think that deserves further scrutiny. I would question that. To argue that -

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, "ABC NEWS" CHIEF ANCHOR: Based on what? Do you have any evidence that she actually intervened in this issue?

SCHWEIZER: No, we don't have direct evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Paul?

BUTLER: Here's where I think this is important. What Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is thinking about, among other things, is whether President Trump obstructed justice. And he has a lot of discretion.

The question that he is asking himself, what prosecutors always ask themselves, is this a bad dude? Is this somebody who I think would actually try to impede justice? And you look at the evidence. There's rarely a smoking gun.

So, when you look at how the president is trying to intervene in this controversy, at the end of the day, what this little case is about, it is not the big deal. The big deal is what it tells the American people and Special Counsel Mueller about President Trump.

MELBER: And, Jill, I want to play a little more from Attorney General Holder. This was in the interview on MSNBC. So, it was - I want to be clear - before this latest new report today. But it was so on point because he said that there were times that he had to clash with his president.

And that's what Sessions has to do. And his concern that you really have to understand that, and he argued that President Trump does not. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLDER: There are going to be things that an attorney general is going to do that a president is not going to agree with. And the president, well, he's just got to suck it up and say the AG has the responsibility to enforce the laws. He's got national security responsibilities. And he is an independent actor in the way that other cabinet officials are not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: In your view, Jill, what is the right thing for Attorney General Sessions to do here on a week when people are basically processing the fact that the Trump administration's priority with today's news, and the House GOP's priority from the last two days, is more Clinton investigations.

WINE-BANKS: I want to answer that in terms of the most important lesson I learned during Watergate, which is the power to speak truth to power, the courage to do that.

Sally Yates did it. She got fired, but she did the right thing. And I hope that Attorney General Sessions will protect the Department of Justice will protect the Department of Justice by protecting its independence and saying, no, I will make the adjustments based on the evidence presented to me and not based on a political enemies list, which is something that Richard Nixon also had where he tried to get, for example, the IRS to enforce the laws against his enemies. And he actually had a list.

And that's just not appropriate. It's not appropriate to protect your friends or to prosecute your enemies. And so, I think that he the attorney general needs to protect the Department of Justice and its independence. It's very important to justice in America.

MELBER: Jill Wine-Banks, thank you. Paul Butler, I want to talk to you about this other story. So, stay with me.

We have seen some extraordinary developments in Trump's WikiLeaks issues here, all part of the Russia probe. You can take a look at something brand new here. A motion filed in federal court by the remnants of the Trump campaign. They are effectively supporting WikiLeaks, arguing that WikiLeaks posting those hacked DNC emails was legal because the website is basically a publisher. And that is something that has support in US law.

But, we should note, it's not the view of Trump's own CIA director. They view WikiLeaks as a hostile intelligence service. Mike Pompeo has said as much. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is. A nonstate hostile intelligence service, often abetted by state actors like Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: This tension newly important tonight because we're learning all about Trump's digital campaign secretly trying to reach out to what Pompeo called a hostile intelligence service. And this was at the height of the 2016 election.

So, if we know that, what does it mean legally? Well, up next, I'm going to give you a special breakdown on all of these developments because there are some overlapping legal and criminal liability questions. And we believe, based on our reporting, they will be of concern to the Congressional investigators and to Bob Mueller.

That's next right here on THE BEAT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: This week marked a breakthrough in the Russia investigation. "The Daily Beast" reporting the Trump campaign's digital shop approached Julian Assange about accessing emails stolen from the Clinton campaign. The key word there? "Is stolen."

The Trump campaign did not approach Clinton and ask her to give them her property. No. They asked a third party for property that would be stolen from Clinton, third party with a record of distributing stolen property and serving the Kremlin.

Trump's digital shop made this request, as we know, during a campaign when Russian hackers stole emails from the Clinton campaign and Assange's WikiLeaks distributed them. Every sentence I just reported is undisputed.

Assange does not dispute the Trump approach. The campaign does not dispute the approach. The criminal theft of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails is not disputed. We've all seen them.

It's remarkable there's not even an attempt by the Trump campaign to challenge these accounts. In legal terms, the defense here is not denial. Instead, the Trump campaign is offering a mitigation defense, arguing the approach to Assange doesn't matter because it didn't lead to additional email theft.

And the digital shop, Cambridge Analytica, wasn't a key to their victory. It's true that while the Clinton campaign emails were stolen, there's no indication the other emails deleted from her private server were ever located or stolen.

Now, that's notable because the quest for those deleted emails took on mythic dimensions for some GOP operatives.

Now-deceased GOP operative Peter smith was searching for them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: Peter Smith, and these people who he assembled, they apparently read the news that Democratic servers have been hacked by the Russians and they extrapolated. They basically mounted an effort to try to get Hillary Clinton's private server emails off the Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And so did Alexander Nix, CEO of the Trump campaign's digital firm, Cambridge Analytica, as the new report explains.

Candidate Trump went even further soliciting help from the Kremlin in public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It is illegal to solicit foreign help in a campaign. So, Trump quickly backtracked, telling "Fox News", it was a sarcastic remark, not an actual request to locate the emails. That may be galling sarcasm.

Can you imagine Jeb Bush or Al Gore joking about Iran boosting their campaign? But without other evidence, sarcasm can provide a legal defense. Even a despicable joke. Say joking someone ought to die is not typically treated as a legal threat or confession without other evidence.

But let me repeat that last part. Without other evidence. Which is why this new report is so portentous. It adds to a growing body of public evidence that some people in the Trump orbit were open, comfortable, even eager to solicit foreign help in the election.

Before this week, that list of Trump aides included Jared Kushner who attended the Trump Tower meeting, Paul Manafort who attended and took notes on his phone call about political contributions, and Donald Trump, Jr. who said I love it when offered dirt on Clinton that came from Yuri Chaika, a master of Kompromat, handpicked by Putin.

Now, that Putin source matters because, among the few people who face Putin's prosecutors and made it out of Russia, well, one of those people recently told us, Chaika would only offer that help to Trump on Putin's authority.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, FORMER OLIGARCH: Were he to decide to take such a step, he would get permission from Vladimir Putin beforehand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: So, the offer of Russia-backed dirt on Clinton seemed credible and it was welcome by the Trump campaign even as the campaign leadership denied any involvement, ties or deals with Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm all over the world, but we're not involved in Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, there are not. It's absurd.

TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, OK?

DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: It is not going to be about divisive politics and emails accusing people of working with the Russian government.

TRUMP: I promise you. I never made - I don't have any deals with Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: But journalist reports show there were foreign contacts at the time of those denials. And the evidence shows a list of Trump aides open to foreign help during the campaign. There's that list.

This new reporting adds another name to the list, Alexander Nix, who approached Assange and put his plan in writing. And that's the man atop Trump's digital operation.

Let's take a step back. The collusion investigation is all about digital conduct. Hacking, targeting, Facebook. Now, note the new name on this list isn't some random Trump staffer. It's not a field organizer in Ohio. It is the man running the digital firm the campaign hired for over $5 million.

The list of Trump aides open to foreign help exists. And now, you have evidence that supports adding a new person to that list. You can bet Bob Mueller is taking notice.

And that is not all. The other part of Trump's mitigation defense is that whatever his rookie staff did, he probably didn't know about it. Now, Trump has some experienced defense lawyers and they are ready to flip Sen. Howard Baker's famous question on its head.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD BAKER, FORMER SENATOR: What did the president know? And when did he know it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: If Donald Trump didn't know or didn't know till later, they can argue he didn't know about any solicitation of this foreign help that it looks like some of which occurred. And his own solicitation would remain in the sarcasm vault.

That may sound dodgy, but it could be a decent legal defense. Conspiracy doesn't require that your plot was successful, but it does require you knew about it and you plotted it.

And that's why the news tonight that another Trump adviser might land on this list is so significant. A new report making waves. This is from Kara Scannell and Dana Bash that Nix, the Trump digital adviser, told Rebecca Mercer about his Assange outreach with the idea that any email obtained or stolen from Clinton's server via Assange could be turned into a "searchable database" for the Trump campaign.

Rebecca Mercer and her father, Robert Mercer, owned part of Cambridge. They're close to Trump and Steve Bannon. So, this looks bad for Trump because it suggests Nix wasn't freelancing, that he thought the Assange approach could bring real results. And he offered it in writing to the owners of his company, so they'd know about it.

And if Mercer knew about this plan, it is another step closer to Trump. It was Mercer who boarded a helicopter and flew to meet Trump face to face in August, urging him to fire Manafort and let someone more aggressive run the campaign, as Joshua Green recounts in his book, installing Steve Bannon, who at the time was a website proprietor who had never run a campaign.

So, the list of Trump aides open to foreign help looks to be growing. Legally, Trump's mitigation defense will be strained if evidence points to him knowing about these efforts or even joining them.

Then there's the politics. Trump's allies can pursue distraction efforts. Note, all of these revelations are breaking, while Washington is in overdrive new GOP investigations into Obama and Clinton email, while Trump's New York allies are citing those investigations to argue Bob Mueller should be sidelined.

I admit, the noise does make it easy to lose track. But this week could be an inflection point because reports show new evidence of Trump aides seeking foreign help with the campaign.

And even if you forget everything we just reported, you can remember this. Foreign help for a US campaign is a crime. Full stop. That's a legal fact before you even approach the collusion question of whether foreign help was deploying the fruits of other crimes.

If a foreign national hands money over to a political campaign right here in the US, there's a word for that. It's a felony. And in a similar situation where you have a foreign national, but this time they hand over, say, stolen property like stolen money or emails to a US campaign, in that case, you don't have just one felony, you have two felonies.

Now, we don't know if the evidence will show those two felonies occurred. Right now, we only know about one felony. The hacking. And as we often note when reporting this story, the Mueller investigation could end with great news for Trump. It could clear him of liability for conspiracy with foreign nationals or it could find that US malfeasance occurred lower down the org chart or didn't occur at all. We don't know.

But if it does find a conspiracy creeping up the org chart, or evidence of a plot to conspire with foreign nationals in real-time during the campaign, then our constitutional system may ultimately be called to adjudicate the sarcasm defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: For a special discussion on this special report, I'm joined by John Harwood, CNBC's editor-at-large; Olivia Nuzzi, political correspondent for "New York Magazine"; and back with me former prosecutor, Paul Butler.

John, there's a lot here because there's a lot we're learning. I invite your reaction to any of it and especially the ending, which is there are potential felonies here, and the question is who knew about what?

JOHN HARWOOD, "CNBC" EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, Ari, I think it's stunning how open all of this is now and the road map that is there for Mueller. It's possible that some of these things were coincidental and happened at the same time.

But step back a minute. The intelligence community concluded that the Russians interfered with our election, hacked emails for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.

Then the question is, well, did Donald Trump have anything to do with that? Well, we know that his son convened a meeting with his son-in-law and his campaign chairman with a Russian offering to help against Hillary Clinton.

Now, we know that Alexander Nix made this approach on behalf of a data firm working with the Trump campaign. We have a weird non-denial from the Trump campaign itself saying, well, the RNC was our main source of information and they didn't play a key role.

That does not answer the question of whether they played a role. And you also have Roger Stone who foreshadowed the release of the Podesta emails, some of which involved me, by the way. I'll say in full disclosure.

And Roger Stone could be an intermediary between Julian Assange and the Trump campaign. We don't know. But I think it's kind of like when Lester Holt interviewed Trump and Trump said, well, yes, Russia was on my mind, I was thinking it was a fake probe. And "SNL" later did the schtick on it. And the guy said - in his ear said, wait, we got him, he just admitted it, right?

I mean, some of this stuff is right on the table.

MELBER: Paul, speak to the growing list of people affiliated with the campaign who seem open or eager for foreign help, which, as we've documented, itself is a crime.

BUTLER: Ari, I've got to say, I love this will because in addition to being a former federal prosecutor, I'm a law professor. And this is like everything, national security law, First Amendment law and criminal law.

So, the First Amendment law is, it's not a crime for a WikiLeaks to republish stolen information as long as they didn't actually steal it. It's not a crime, as you say, to collude, to just work with the Russians, but you can't solicit a contribution including opposition research.

MELBER: Right.

BUTLER: And so, then the question is, is that what people in the Trump campaign have done? Have they actively tried to get things of value, to use the language of the campaign contribution statute, from the Russians?

And we're getting more and more evidence that yes, they did. And then the question is, well, what about the big guy? What about the candidate Mr. Donald Trump? Was he involved?

And when you look at this body of evidence that he is saying on national television, please, give me any information. Wikileaks, if you could somehow get those hacked emails to us, I would love it.

Again, at the end of the day, as I keep saying, Mueller is asking himself about Trump, is this the kind of guy who would do that? And there's more and more evidence that, yes, he would be very interested.

And when he was asking for that hacked emails, that wasn't a joke. He was actively soliciting that information.

MELBER: Right. And your view that it's not a joke. Olivia, it's an open legal question whether it was a joke or sarcasm or something else. Bob Mueller is not just going to look at how funny Donald Trump is and his style on the campaign trail. And you've been to many of the rallies.

Bob Mueller is going to look at what other circumstantial and direct evidence sheds light on whether this was an ongoing conspiracy - that's the criminal term - or a lot of stuff that happened that didn't amount to a plot.

OLIVIA NUZZI, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": Right. Well, remember, you're supposed to take Trump seriously, but not literally. An important thing to remember here.

Trump does say sarcastic things all the time, but there does always seem to be a grain of truth or a grain of honesty in whatever it is that he says. So, I think maybe it is a valid legal defense, like you said.

But I have a difficult time believing that they would be able to really make that case.

MELBER: You think he meant it.

NUZZI: I don't think that he didn't mean it. I don't know.

I would point out, Rebecca Mercer is not just close to Steve Bannon. She's also long-time friends with Kellyanne Conway, who remains in the White House, and that's something people forget because "Breitbart", Steve Bannon, it's so much more in the news these days.

MELBER: Well, you've tracked these people so closely. When you see this report out today, following up on "The Daily Beast", that Cambridge was telling Mercer, who is a part owner, we're doing this outreach to Assange, what does that say to you about who else would likely know?

NUZZI: Well, it's difficult to say because, as Trump says, he hires the best people, right? He's going to let them handle everything. He's going to delegate. But as we know from watching him in this White House, he is very bad at doing that. He is sort of a micromanager in a lot of ways.

And I can't imagine that the campaign really worked that differently. Rebecca Mercer, I saw her at the Trump Hotel recently meandering around there for some reason that you wouldn't talk to me about. I saw her at debate afterparties during the campaign.

She is very much an insider.

MELBER: Yes. She's very much an insider. John, I want to also play Julian Assange on this. John, reporters understand the need to protect sources and sometimes sources are criminals. Or at least accused of criminal conduct. And I've reported on the legal precedents there that do support WikiLeaks.

But as a political matter, not legal, Assange clearly went further. I think everyone knows that and remembers it and really echoed a lot of Trump political agenda in downplaying the potential that Russia was involved, as US intelligence alleges. Take a listen to Julian Assange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: Our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party.

So this is something a 14-year-old kid, a 14-year-old kid could have hacked Podesta that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There he is making the case on a program that's been central to all of this, John. I am -- to be clear, and I always have to be clear or Twitter will come for me, I am not saying he has any obligation to discuss his sources but talk to the politics of the way he -- the way he dealt with that.

JOHN HARWOOD, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNBC: Well, first of all, I wouldn't believe a word Julian Assange said. OK. That's just me. Second of all, I think it is less important, the role of WikiLeaks as the disseminator of this information than where they got the information. He says, well, it wasn't the Russian government. OK. Well, the lawyer who came to meet with Donald Jr. and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort was not, as I understand it, an employee of the Russian government but of course, as Khodorkovsky was saying in your interview with him, that there are things that in a country that's organized the way Russia is that are not done unless it's approved by Vladimir Putin.

And of course, our intelligence agencies have concluded that he did approve the intervention purposely to help Donald Trump. So I don't -- it doesn't -- it doesn't seem a great moment to me exactly what Julian Assange's rationalization is. It is whether or not he was the critical link between Russians trying to help Trump and Trump trying to benefit from the help.

MELBER: Yes. And that's why there's so much here. It actually takes a little time to go through it. and yet, so much breaking this week even though I'm sure some people feel like there's always something breaking on this Russia probe. Paul Butler and John Harwood, thank you both for your expertise. Olivia Nuzzi, stick with me. I need more of your expertise so don't leave. Next, I'm going to speak live to a member of the House Intelligence Committee about the Russia probe. The panel (INAUDIBLE) key figures including that digital director. And later, open warfare reports on GOP civil war. Mitch McConnell versus Steve Bannon, it is about to get real.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: You're watching THE BEAT. I'm joined now by Congressman Mike Quigley from the House Intelligence Committee. Sir, we're going to talk about couple of items but here in the commercial, I heard you were watching some of our coverage on the WikiLeaks issue and were interested in that as well so I'll hand it over to you. What did -- what did you want to add to that?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, it's interesting listening to the folks you just had on. Yes, it's true, as a lawyer, we probably are creating questions for law school students for the rest of our lifetimes. That's not so bad. What is bad is the fact this investigation, after a year, probably has at least another year to go, it's certainly not getting any help from the White House, just the opposite. And unfortunately not getting any helps from -- help from the House Republicans. This is serious stuff. We face the very real possibility of a constitutional crisis. For those months ago who said, I heard after Charlottesville, hey, you're just re-litigating the election. And I said, well, you're just re-litigating the civil war and we have serious work to do here. Please let us do it.

MELBER: Congressman, when you say, it could go on for a year, which investigation are you saying could last up to more than another year?

QUIGLEY: Well, I think the House and Senate investigations certainly could. I think the Mueller investigation certainly could. Let's remember, even while the House and Senate were in Democratic control during Watergate, that took well over a year. And this, we're meeting extraordinary resistance in our efforts here and this is far more complicated than Watergate. It involves a foreign involvement, as you know, and people who aren't exactly willing to turn over information. It is far more complex. If Watergate was algebra, this is calculus and we're dealing in a hostile environment. So I caution the American public when you hear news as we've had in recent weeks about Nix and analytic Cambridge, be patiently impatient.

MELBER: Well, Congressman, you're giving me some rough news because I went to law school because I couldn't do calculus. So if that's where we're headed, I'm in trouble. But I got to also ask you about colleagues launching these new probes into Obama administration issues and Clinton issues, getting first intervention reported tonight from Donald Trump. Why now?

QUIGLEY: I think it is an insult to the American public. Think of it as one of two things. Assuming the American public would be distracted by a shiny object, or pay no -- it's the legal defense of, oh, yes, what about you? At a time we're investigating the most important investigation, I think in Congressional history. So it didn't begin just recently with the masking and unmasking and the uranium investigation. It began at the very beginning when Chairman Nunez went to the White House at midnight, had a press conference the next day and then briefed the President. The President of the United States discouraging Mr. Comey from the investigation of Mr. Flynn and then firing him. So there's been a long string of what was initially deflection, delaying, distraction, to what grew into outright obstruction. And unfortunately, the White House --

MELBER: When you say outright obstruction, is that -- that's a conclusion you've drawn?

QUIGLEY: I think when the President of the United States fires Director Comey for that Russian thing, that is obstruction.

MELBER: Is that a high crime?

QUIGLEY: I believe it is. It's just my view.

MELBER: But -- so what do you do with that view? If you believe the President has committed a high crime?

QUIGLEY: Look, at this point in time, the -- I did criminal defense. I'm not sure what kind of law you did but what I tell folks is in the middle of an investigation, you don't stop and say, OK, let's charge someone.

MELBER: Right.

QUIGLEY: I think you wait until the investigation is complete.

MELBER: You find all the facts. I understand.

QUIGLEY: Let's find all the facts. I asked your viewers not to jump to conclusions on other matters as to coordination, collusion, conspiracies with the Russians. Let the investigation take its course. Look, two years ago, if you had said that we had found out, that we would find out the President's son would have agreed to this meeting, encourage it and said he'd love to get that information, the information we're gleaning about Mr. Smith, the nix revelation, Mr. Kushner's wanting to have back-channel meetings through the Russians. We never would have anticipated all this. But I suppose we should have after what we learned with Roger Stone talking about his good friend, Julian Assange and he communicating in his (INAUDIBLE) knowledge.

MELBER: Right. And anticipation is only part of the issue. Yogi Berra said, you know, predictions are hard, especially about the future. Congressman, Mike Quigley, I hope you will join us again.

QUIGLEY: Anytime. Thank you.

MELBER: For more on these breaking stories, you can check out my Facebook page @THEBEATWITHARI. Ahead, Mitch McConnell linking Steve Bannon to white nationalism, open warfare promise in this fight. I have a former Bannon colleague turned critic next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST, WHITE HOUSE: We are declaring war on the Republican establishment that does not back the agenda that Donald Trump ran on. It's a new game in town. We're going to cut off the oxygen to Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell's biggest asset is the money. We're going to make it the biggest liability. We're going after these guys tooth and nail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There you have it, a lot of talk about Republican civil war. I'm joined by Kurt Bardella who worked with Steve Bannon at Breitbart News who was not afraid to criticize him and back with me, Olivia Nuzzi. Kurt, if he wanted a fight, he got one. There are McConnell allies now who are saying what many other people have said that Steve Bannon is effectively a "white nationalist." But is this what he wants?

KURT BARDELLA, WORKED WITH STEVE BANNON: This is exactly what he wants, Ari. This is what he's been waiting for. In Steve's paradigm, attacks are relevant. He always believes that if you don't say anything about him or Breitbart, then they're not being effective. And so here, Mitch McConnell and his -- and his political allies are giving him exactly what he wants. They're going to spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars making Steve Bannon the centerpiece of a political ad campaign. And that's only been served to elevate Steve.

And they're also kind of ignoring the fact that they're not terribly popular either with Republican Primary Electorate. They've already rejected the establishment party by electing Donald Trump as President in the first place. Since they've become President, they haven't gotten anything done. They have a Republican House, Senate and the White House and no legislative accomplishments to speak about. It's only fueled the anger and the rage that Bannon is tapping into and directing and channeling at Mitch McConnell.

MELBER: Right, you say fuel, I mean, Olivia, there is a Steve Bannon application of a kind of a Kanye principle here. I use their hate as a steam to power my dream. And he seems to thrive off hate.

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Yes, I think that's a little offensive to Kanye but yes he does. I mean, he feels relevant. You know, there was a party at the Breitbart Embassy which is what they call their house basically where Breitbart is --

MELBER: (INAUDIBLE) right?

NUZZI: It's just a house.

MELBER: IT'S a house, yes.

NUZZI: It's a house. And --

MELBER: And they can call it whatever they want.

NUZZI: And the mood there last week -- and the mood there was so -- they were so excited and they felt so victorious. This is exactly what they want. And recall -- you know, when he first left the White House for a little while, the establishment really did not really address the things that he was saying. And that seems to have changed in the last couple of weeks. And you have to wonder what they think that they're accomplishing that sort of legitimizing Steve Bannon and everything that he's been saying by engaging with it.

MELBER: Well, Kurt, as he sort of hit his ultimate fantasy football in politics, because Breitbart would pick stories and sometimes really selectively obviously drive what it wanted to see in the world. Now, he's skipped over that editorializing, he just isn't. He has become a character, right, so he can pick these fights. But he seems not unlike the President he once served more interested in content controversy programming than actual governing.

BARDELLA: Right. And (INAUDIBLE) things. Steve doesn't care about keeping the Republican majority or growing Republican majority with at which Mitch McConnell and most of the people in the U.S. capital do. Steve is a disruptor. He's an instigator. He's a provocateur. That's his brand of politics.

MELBER: Is he a -- is he a disruptor or is he just constantly fighting with everybody? I mean, there's a difference. When people in California - - Silicon Valley say that, they're like disrupting incumbents and then they have their own product, right? What's his product?

BARDELLA: His product are the league of extraordinary candidates that he's trotting out to challenge Republican incumbents nationwide. And you know that it's actually being disruptive in effect that here, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican Leader, is going to spend money attacking Steve Bannon. What Steve is doing is working. he certainly got their attention. Think about where we were just three, four years ago when the mention of Bannon or Breitbart, you would get a response of, who the heck is Steve Bannon? And let's not take them seriously. They're on the fringe, we're not going to mention them, talk about them, worry about them. Flash forward to where we are right now and they're openly declaring war against him. The paradigm has shifted significantly and Steve has been at the center of it.

MELBER: You make a good point that he has transcended the who that phase of his life into this other phase. And it's good news I suppose for Democrats if Steve Bannon is making Mitch McConnell spend money on a Republican civil war. Kurt, you always teach us something. Olivia Nuzzi, thank you for being here as well tonight. Next, the flip side of this infighting. We are joined by a Democratic Senate candidate who says he could turn Tennessee from red to blue. An Iraq War Vet running for Bob Corker's seat is here live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Republican infighting creating new opportunities for Democrats maybe win some key Senate seats. My next guest is James Mackler. He's the first Democrat to announce his 2018 Senate candidacy in Tennessee. An Iraq war veteran spent three years as a black hawk helicopter pilot. And you may remember, Republican Senator Bob Corker is of course retiring. He has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump. And though Democrats have come close in this state before, it was back in 2006 when Harold Ford lost by three points too, of course, Bob Corker. I'm joined now by James Mackler. Thanks for being here.

JAMES MACKLER, SENATE CANDIDATE, TENNESSEE: Thanks for having me, Ari.

MELBER: Why would you be a better fit than Bob Corker who is stepping aside partly because your state apparently wants more Trump?

MACKLER: I think you have to understand a little bit about why I'm running. And I'm running for the same reason that I joined the Army after 9/11. I love my country and I felt called to service. After our country was attacked on 9/11, I left the law practice, join the Army and became a combat helicopter pilot. Then I was a Military Prosecutor going after military sexual offenders for several years. I came back to private practice, raising my family in Nashville and I feel like our democracy is under threat again in a serious way. Different but very serious and I have to do more.

MELBER: Well, here's -- and here's the thing. I love everything you said. I love that you're a prosecutor. I love that you're in the military. But you went to candidate school where they teach you to give you that answer. I'm asking you, how do you win in Tennessee when you've got people there who say they want more Trumpism?

MACKLER: I am traveling the state, I'm speaking to people where they live about a proven track record of service and sacrifice. And that message resonates throughout the state of Tennessee especially with people who are ready for change. And I'm certainly not a career politician.

MELBER: Marsha Blackburn is potentially your opponent. Take a listen to her here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARSHA BLACKBURN, POLITICIAN: I know Steve Bannon well and what he's looking for is those that are a part of the swamp, part of the establishment and I'm not. I stand with the President of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What is your knock on her, if she's your opponent?

MACKLER: It amazes me that Marsha Blackburn would say she's not part of the swamp. Marsha Blackburn the quintessential career politician. In fact, Marsha Blackburn just took $120,000 of special interest money that allowed the streets of Tennessee to be flooded with opioids resulting in the deaths of Tennesseans. She is the swamp.

MELBER: I read that your wife is a rabbi?

MACKLER: That's right.

MELBER: Your kids go to a Jewish school.

MACKLER: Correct.

MELBER: But I read that they've been evacuated because of bomb threats? Is this an issue in Tennessee? Is this going to affect your candidacy?

MACKLER: Well, I don't believe being Jewish will affect my candidacy at all. The people of Tennessee are open and welcoming people. Certainly, a lot of Tennesseans believe very strongly in their faith and certainly want a candidate who himself is guided by his faith, which I am. When my kids' school was evacuated, you know, that just reminded me of where we get when we become so tribal and so divided --

(CROSSTALK)

MACKLER: We need to be bringing people together and frankly politicians like Marsha Blackburn is seeking to drive us apart for their own political advantage.

MELBER: Well, I'll say two things. Thanks for coming on. Thank you for your service. And as for Marsha Blackburn, she's invited to come on alone or with you, anytime.

MACKLER: I'd love that.

MELBER: Coming up, Trump's commission to investigate voter fraud is itself now under investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Will Smith's Enemy of the State posed an important question. Who monitors the monitors?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We knew that we had to monitor our enemies. We also have come to realize that we need to monitor the people who are monitoring them just like --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, who's going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't mind doing a little monitoring myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Donald Trump started a commission to monitor voter fraud, but as one commissioner explained on THE BEAT, the secretive commission itself could use some monitoring.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW DUNLAP, SECRETARY OF STATE, MAINE: It's a bit of a mystery to me as to what has been happening and my alarm bells have started to go off.

MELBER: My last question for you, yes or no, are there further public meetings scheduled?

DUNLAP: I don't know. We have heard nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Today the government's top watchdog announced it would, yes, monitor the monitors after Congressional complaints about this panel's partnership and secrecy and purpose. The commission has only met twice and appears bent on proving Donald Trump's voter conspiracy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every time voter fraud occurs, it cancels out the vote of a lawful citizen and undermines democracy. I can't let that happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The issue here has always simply been that we don't need no frauds. The question is whether the voter frauding is an issue or the voter frauding commission. On that we'll just say, we'll stay on the story so stay tuned. That does it for THE BEAT, I'll be back at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump is Trump. Let's play HARDBALL.

END

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