Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: November 15, 2017 Guest: John Merrill, Toni Van Pelt, Heidi Przybyla, Shelby Holliday, Adam Schiff
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now. Good evening, Ari. So many directions you could go.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: We have a lot coming out of that unusual press conference. Thank you, Chuck Todd.
Breaking right now, two new accusers stepping forward against Roy Moore as his campaign holds that press conference, rebutting just one of the seven accounts against him.
And tonight, the state of Alabama`s largest news publisher has a brand-new report with a sixth woman accusing Roy Moore of groping her. Tina Johnson alleging this occurred in 1991. She said she was 28 at the time and married at the time.
The new report also quotes a new second accuser, a woman who says when she was 17 years old and Moore was in his 30s, Moore asked her out and she recounts that he told her he went out with girls your age all the time.
Roy Moore has denied all of these sexual conduct allegations. And, tonight, we`re seeing new defiance from his campaign. Establishment Republicans pleading for him to step aside. He`s saying no.
Late today, before this latest accuser, Moore`s attorney also spoke out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRENTON GARMON, ROY MOORE`S ATTORNEY: I`ve been with him in probably over 100 different meetings and been around probably in excess of 10,000 different ladies in Judge Moore`s presence. And not once, not one time have I ever seen him act even remotely inappropriate against any woman. That`s the man that I know and that I`ve known for the last 24 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Today, Donald Trump, just back from his international trip, got many questions about Roy Moore. He responded with silence for now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should Roy Moore resign, Mr. President? Do you believe his accusers? Do you believe the accusers of Roy Moore, Mr. President? Should he resign?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Many say Moore could still win Alabama, but tonight a new leaked internal poll suggests he might lose by up to 12 points. That`s a swing of over 20 points from before these reports. We don`t know the rest of the poll. Nor do we know exactly which firm conducted it.
Also tonight, the Alabama GOP Steering Committee is having a special emergency meeting. This is the only group left that would have the technical authority to remove Moore from the ballot.
But most of the local GOP officials there in Alabama, as we`ve reported, have been either silent or supportive of Moore.
Last week, when this story was first breaking, I invited Alabama officials or conservatives backing Moore to come on this show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Five other Alabama Republican officials defending Moore, even if the allegations are true, we`ve invited them all on THE BEAT to discuss. So far, none of them have taken us up on the offer. The invite remains open.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That changes tonight. We`re going to have the latest from on the ground in Alabama and a response from our panel, which includes the president of the National Organization of Women.
But, first, as I mentioned, I did invite these Alabama officials backing Moore to come on THE BEAT. And, tonight, I am joined by one who does, that`s Alabama secretary of state, John Merrill, a Republican.
Thank you for joining me. You had said last week that, based on the information available, you hadn`t changed your support for Moore. What about all the new information? Does that change your mind?
JOHN MERRILL, ALABAMA SECRETARY OF STATE: Ari, I actually did not know about the two new allegations until I arrived at the studio this evening. We have been in the middle of interviews all day regarding this issue concerning Judge Moore`s candidacy, as well as other meetings in the office of the secretary of state. So, that was newly introduced to me this afternoon.
I do want to make sure that I correct one thing that I heard your reporters share. I think it`s very, very important for your viewers to know, is that the results of the meeting from the state Republican Party will not determine Judge Moore`s ballot position.
Judge Moore will be on the ballot on December 12th, regardless of whether or not he withdraws as a candidate, formally withdraws.
MELBER: He`ll be on the ballot. But you`ve said - (INAUDIBLE) you want to make the state ballot point, which is also part of your purview.
You`ve said, though, that if the Republican Party withdraws him, his name remains on the ballot, but the election will be void.
MERRILL: Yes, sir. If the state party takes formal action and removes their support from Judge Moore, even though he would remain on the ballot, if he receives the most votes after that action is taken, the election would be null and void. Yes, sir.
MELBER: Well, Mr. Merrill, you mentioned that the two latest accusers are brand new, and so you might not be ready to speak to that. And I understand the due process implications of that.
But let me run through those six other pieces of evidence that are now available for those Republicans supporter Moore like yourself.
Number one, "The Washington Post" report with four women accusers and interviewed 30 people who knew Moore between `77 and `82. That, in your view, is not disqualifying?
MERRILL: Well, again, what I have stated before and what I maintain is that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. The original counts that were introduced, those allegations, are very serious. And I think they need to continue to be vetted. I think all allegations or additional information that`s brought forward should be vetted.
And, again, I feel as though, if Judge Moore is indeed guilty of these allegations, that he should withdraw. I would not support him if I knew those were true. I don`t think the majority of Alabamians - I don`t know any Alabamian that would support Judge Moore for this position or any other position if they knew that those allegations that have been made were proven to be true.
MELBER: Right. But we`re not in court. The time for the State of Alabama and others engaged in this is now to evaluate the information that exists. Let me play for you Miss Nelson who spoke out about all of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEVERLY NELSON YOUNG, ACCUSER OF ROY MOORE: I supported Donald Trump for president. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the Republicans or the Democrats. It has everything to do with Mr. Moore`s sexual assault when I was a teenager.
Mr. Moore reached over and began groping me. I tried fighting him off, while I yelled at him to stop. But instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck. I continued to struggle. I was determined that I was not going to allow him to force me to have sex with him. I was terrified. I thought that he was going to rape me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Do you view her statement as evidence that is probative, that is potentially true here or you don`t believe her?
MERRILL: No, I don`t know. Again, I don`t know Miss Nelson. I don`t know the other ladies. I`m not confident that I know anyone that knows them personally or has had a relationship with them in the past.
I do think that each and every allegation that is introduced needs to be properly vetted and needs to be given the full attention for the severity of the comments that have been made.
MELBER: That`s what we`re trying to do here. Again, you talk about the evidence. "The New Yorker" reporting again, Alabama former prosecutor saying it was common knowledge Roy dated high school girls. That`s more evidence in there.
And then, also, a police officer in Alabama who voted for Moore, relaying that he understood that Moore was banned from the Gadsden mall. And said, I voted for Moore, I liked him at one time, but I`m disgusted now to be honest with you. We are vetting this information. Do you believe that to be true -?
MERRILL: And I think that you need to continue to do that. And I think that each and every person that is introduced needs to continue to be vetted until these allegations can be proven to be true or false.
And that requires additional people to be interviewed, additional witnesses to come forward, additional people to collaborate or corroborate with the stories that are introduced because this is not about me. It`s certainly about our state and this is about our state`s leadership.
And I think that this is a very, very difficult time for the people of Alabama and for all of our people. Because the determination is going to be made on December 12th is who will be representing us in the United States Senate.
And I can tell you that the people of Alabama want the most highly qualified, most well-respected person that we can possibly send to Washington, DC.
MELBER: And I just want to be clear because you`re an endorser - yes, sir. You`re an endorser.
MERRILL: No, sir. I have not endorsed Judge Moore.
MELBER: You`re not supporting Mr. Moore.
MERRILL: (INAUDIBLE) United States Senate candidate.
MELBER: You`re no longer supporter - go ahead.
MERRILL: What you asked me, what you stated was that I had endorsed Judge Moore. I have not endorsed Judge Moore. I did not endorse any candidate in the August 15th primary or in the run-off on September 26.
I do think that it is important to know that, as a Republican, I would intend to support the Republican on the ticket.
MELBER: You make an important point. I read - that`s why we`re getting to hear from you directly. I read that you are the Republican secretary of state of Alabama and you`re still planning to vote for Moore. Do I have that right?
MERRILL: I said that I would continue to support Judge Moore and that I would vote for Judge Moore unless these allegations were proven to be true.
And if they are proven to be true, then I would not support Judge Moore. Nor would I expect any other Alabamian to support someone that exhibited this type of behavior.
MELBER: So, in closing, because I`ve got to get to my other guest. At this juncture, the evidence that is out there is not enough to change your plan with Moore today?
MERRILL: The evidence that has been introduced, I need to continue to see what`s out there. I need to continue to hear information. I need to continue to make sure that we`re doing what we can to ensure that we have a safe, secure, and fair election with the integrity and credibility that the people in the state expect and they should demand. And that`s what we`re going to provide in the office of the secretary of state.
MELBER: And I`ll say this, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, I do appreciate you coming on and taking the questions.
MERRILL: Yes, sir.
MELBER: I want to turn now to Toni Van Pelt, who is the president of the National Organization for Women; Heidi Przybyla, senior political reporter for "USA TODAY"; and Shelby Holliday from "The Wall Street Journal".
Miss Van Pelt, I begin with you. Your thoughts on what we just heard and where this story is going.
TONI VAN PELT, PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: Well, I`m really, really relieved more women are coming forward. I believe the women. And I think that the majority of the people of the United States believe the women.
And on top of that, there`s the year book, there`s the fact that he was banned from the mall, there are his dissent opinions protecting - trying to protecting sexual predators, men protecting men. He has a long history of this.
The evidence is out and it`s an artful dodge to say if this is proven. It has been proven. It`s time to come out and vote against Roy Moore.
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "USA TODAY": I thought it was interesting in the statement that was made earlier that the only challenge that was really made was to the one accuser.
There were four other accusers. Now, just since we`ve been on air, I guess, there has been two more. That does not meet what I`m going to call the Hannity Test, which, as you know, Sean Hannity in a sign of potentially even the conservative media turning on Roy Moore, said that he needs to issue an unequivocal denial within the next 24 hours. Well, that didn`t happen.
And so, what we have before us is evidence. This is the evidence that we`re going to get. Unless all of us can create a time machine and go back and actually be there for when these events took place, we have pretty compelling evidence out based on "The Post`s" interview with 30 people, the virtual neighborhood watch that they had out at the mall and people who were willing to actually coming out and speak on camera. These are not anonymous sources.
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Right. And I think that there are some important points here. Obviously, there`s the moral question of voters - this is not going to be tried by a judge. It will not be tried by a jury. It will be tried by the people of Alabama and whether or not they believe these allegations or they believe Roy Moore.
But there are also some big legal questions in the interview you had at the top of your show with the secretary of state. It was really important because what he is saying is that, if for some reason, Moore is disqualified by his party or he withdraws himself from the race, yet he wins, the election would be null and void.
I spoke to law professors today who said that may not be how it works. Alabama passed a law in 2014. And if you have one of these races, the person who wins has actually withdrawn or disqualified, then the winner would go to the person who gets the second most votes. In this case, that would likely be the Democrat.
So, there are a lot of legal questions that have yet to be sorted out. That makes it really tricky for Republicans to figure out what their strategy is because they have to know the rules, they have to know the laws before they can decide whether or not they should announce a write-in bidder, whether or not they should back another candidate.
There`s all kind of tricky situations surrounding this race.
MELBER: Right. And a lot riding on it. Panel, I want you to stay with me. We have a lot more.
I want to bring in Vaughn Hillyard who has been reporting for NBC on the ground in Montgomery, Alabama.
Vaughn, Heidi Przybyla just raised the key point here, which is that rather dramatic and, at times, bizarre press conference from the campaign was singling out one accuser and one issue - year book handwriting - and not really addressing in any comprehensive way the rest of the accusations.
VAUGHN HILLYARD, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that`s right. They`ve totally sidestepped everything that came in before that fifth accuser came forward.
Those first four initial women that came forward in that interview with Sean Hannity were completely sidestepped. We`ve reached out to the campaign tonight to ask them the very question about this now sixth and seventh accusers. And, of course, we`ve not heard back.
Where is Roy Moore tonight? Roy Moore is at a fundraiser out in Auburn. We`ll be heading that way and see if we can track him down. This is a campaign that, even if they`re able to stick it out and remain adamant about staying in this race, they`re being outspent right 11 to 1 on television and radio airways, Ari.
It`s a campaign that is trying to find money where the NRSC isn`t backing him, the RNC isn`t backing him, the Senate Majority Fund isn`t backing them. This is a campaign that is suddenly, one month out, with very much in terms of little funds and seeing what they can pull up at this point.
MELBER: Vaughn, stay with me.
Toni, I want to return to the other point you raised, which is actually Judge Moore`s record when he was on the bench around these issues of sexual misconduct with minors. "The Guardian" reporting that, in just September 2015, David Pittman had plead guilty to the rape of a 12-year-old girl.
Moore had previously said that Pittman ought to have been allowed to present evidence to court indicating this then 12-year-old girl had been sexually active and allegedly had an STD.
Toni, you raised that as relevant here. Your views on that.
VAN PELT: Well, I raised it as relevant as well as all of the other cases that he dissented in. In ten cases, eight out of those ten cases that were decided against the predator, he objected to that.
And this goes to his mindset and the kind of person that he is. He just thinks that women are property, that he can do with them whatever he wants to. And he sees now that that`s not the case.
Women are willing to stand up for other women and to stop what`s going on. Our democracy is at stake here. Let`s face it. We can`t afford to have him in the Senate.
MELBER: And, Heidi, I wonder if you could speak to the line between the secretary of state, who we heard at the top of the hour, who sounded downright passive about a process that he`s involved in.
He said, well, we have to see what happens. We have to do the vetting. We have to do (INAUDIBLE). But we are doing the vetting and the process is happening. And people in Alabama will be making their decision. I mean, he almost sounded like a bystander.
PRZYBYLA: The political duck and run, yes.
MELBER: Yes. And let me ask you, to link that to this very odd statement from Ivanka Trump. The president not speaking out today. Ivanka Trump saying, "there`s a special place in hell for people who prey on children." She said that and then she did not weigh in with her considerable influence on this race in any specific way.
PRZYBYLA: Well, it`s two separate things. But let me start with the Trump challenge because that had been the moment that everyone is waiting for, is President Trump coming back and weighing in on this.
We know there`s been phone calls between the White House and Mitch McConnell. And he gets here and doesn`t say anything.
Well, there`s two things going on. First, they`re worried about a potential - the same thing the secretary of state is worried about, a political - they`re trying to put their finger in the political wind and see if the voters are going to turn against Roy Moore. They`re basically watching polls.
And I think the second thing with President Trump is the fact that he has his own problem that he can`t give a simple declarative statement, like many other Republicans have done - I believe the women - because he has his own problems. His campaign is being subpoenaed in the Summer Zervos case regarding his own sexual harassment allegations.
The White House does not want to dredge up all that. So, they`re in a difficult spot politically both in terms of Alabama politics, I think, which is what`s driving the secretary of state`s response and then his own personal background and challenges.
MELBER: Yes. And, Shelby, in that sense, Donald Trump is actually alone among Washington Republicans.
HOLLIDAY: He is. Because we`ve heard all kinds of senators - Republican senators say they believe the women. Richard Shelby said he is voting for the write-in candidate if there is one. All of the Republicans in the Senate that we`ve heard from have distanced themselves from Roy Moore.
But whether or not you believe these women - I wonder if the president weighing in would even matter because we did see the president go down to Alabama, campaign against Roy Moore for his competitors and it didn`t matter. Roy Moore still won the primaries.
I`m not sure that the people of Alabama want a candidate who Washington insiders, and now the president, are out there backing. They wanted the insurgent candidate. And whether or not the GOP wants to put all of its chips on these controversial people, sometimes you just let the chips fall where they may.
MELBER: Right. Although, ultimately, we`re living through a leadership test here because it`s a question of -
MELBER: - what are the qualifications for public office. And that`s something that people in public life have to navigate and take a position on or be loudly, noticeably absent as we`re seeing some.
Shelby, Toni, Heidi and Vaughn on the ground, thank you all of you for being a part of this discussion.
Coming up, Jeff Sessions is actually going to be heading back to Congress with new questions about Russia in a closed session. The top House Democrat on the Russia probe, Congressman Adam Schiff is on THE BEAT tonight.
New GOP attempts to take down Obamacare are already faltering. We`ll tell you about that important story.
And I have a special report later in the hour. My legal breakdown of Mike Pence`s shifting defenses on Russia and why it matters.
All that, plus Sherrilyn Ifill from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on a very important story about Trump remaking the judiciary. It hasn`t gotten enough attention. That`s tonight.
I`m Ari Melber and you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: The Russia probes are about intelligence and evidence. What is alleged and what can be corroborated? Which ultimately comes down to what`s true.
The now famous dossier assembled about alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia has many asking whether Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer, who famously wrote it was mostly right or mostly wrong.
And, tonight, I can tell you there`s a new book reporting Steele`s view. He thinks the raw intel he gathered, which we know is not always correct, has ultimately proven to be 70 to 90 percent accurate.
The top Democrat in the House Russia probe, Congressman Adam Schiff, has said the dossier`s allegations that Russians tried to help elect Trump turned out to be true.
Meantime, tonight, I can tell that you Attorney General Jeff Sessions is walking back some previous denials under oath that the Trump team was in contact with Russians. And, now, his breaking news that he will appear in a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee on November 30. That`s new.
I`m joined now by the man in the center of all of this, Congressman Adam Schiff. Good evening to you.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening.
MELBER: This idea of fact checking the dossier is very interesting. The report I just showed is Steele`s view. And anyone would point out, well, maybe he has a self-interest in finding it correct.
But let`s start with how this works. What does it mean, just for folks who aren`t intel experts, when raw intel or leads turn out to be true or corroborated?
SCHIFF: Well, Christopher Steele was acting, I think, in compiling this - what`s now called the dossier, much like he probably did when he worked with British intelligence. And that is, he is sending raw intelligence reports back. He is sending reports of what he is hearing from his sources.
Now, when our intelligence agencies do that, the analysts look at these raw intelligence reports and they will use their expertise to try to determine, OK, this we can corroborate, this we`re learning from other sources, this is consistent with what we`re learning in other channels through signals intelligence -
SCHIFF: But these are just the raw data. Now, the overall conclusion that he was reaching that the Russians were endeavoring through active measures to help the Trump campaign and influence our outcome here has certainly been borne out by our own intelligence agencies. And he may have been on to that even before our own intelligence agencies were.
But I think people need to recognize one other very critical fact. And that is, we have a deep interest in what aspects of the dossier are accurate, but this is a very small part of a very big investigation.
And I think there`s an effort by the GOP to say, well, the whole investigation hangs on this one thread of evidence. And that`s not true at all.
MELBER: Copy. The other big thing going on, as you well know, is this constant barrage of allegations coming out about Roy Moore. And I don`t know why it would link back to what we are here to talk to you about, which is Russia.
But then, you have Sen. McConnell raising the prospect of this, removing the current attorney general, who has recused from overseeing Mueller. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The name being most often discussed may not be available, but the Alabamian who would fit that standard would be the attorney general. He`s totally well-known and extremely popular in Alabama.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Jeff Sessions a possibility?
MCCONNELL: We don`t know. But he fits the mold of somebody who might be able to pull off a write-in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: He fits McConnell`s mold. Do you have a concern that this is an attempt to potentially lay the groundwork for interfering with the Mueller probe? Or you view this as unrelated politics?
SCHIFF: I don`t think it is unrelated at all. That scenario would solve a lot of problems for the president as well as Mitch McConnell.
And that is Mitch McConnell campaigned against Roy Moore and lost badly. Roy Moore has said very disparaging things about Mitch McConnell.
The president wants the attorney general gone, so he can appoint someone more pliable and someone who may help them get rid of Bob Mueller, should he choose to go down that path.
So, it meets a lot of these common objectives. But, of course, if that is the motivation here, and that is to get someone more pliable in the AG`s office that could interfere further in the Russia investigation, that would be a terrible new turn of events.
Because the administration is already succeeding in breaking down that barrier of independence of the Justice Department. They succeeded in doing it when they got the Justice Department at White House urging to lift the gag rule that helped further a congressional investigation of this seven- year-old uranium deal.
And now, they`re trying to pressure the AG into appointing a special counsel, essentially to go after the president`s vanquished political rival.
MELBER: If the DOJ does that, if they open a new investigation because Sean Hannity and Donald Trump asked for it, is that a potential crime?
SCHIFF: Well, I don`t know that it`s a crime, but it is yet another dismantling of our system of checks and balances. What we are discovering, Ari, is the painful fact that even operating within the law, if that`s assuming that`s what the president is doing, can be enormously destructive of our democracy.
There is no law against his interviewing candidates for US attorney.
MELBER: Right. It`s norm shattering.
SCHIFF: It`s norm shattering, it`s the kind of behavior you see in developing democracies and not the strongest democracy on earth.
MELBER: And last question, real quick. Carter Page`s transcript came out. But nobody else`s has come out. Is that what we would colloquially call just like a Carter Page thing? Why did we get to see his transcript? And will we see other transcripts?
SCHIFF: Well, this was a private deal that the majority reached with Carter Page to treat him differently. Now, we disagreed with that. We thought we ought to treat the witnesses consistently. And we also have a concern, frankly, with - when you publish transcripts of percipient witnesses like Carter Page, it allows other people to line up their stories. So, there are investigative reasons not to do -
MELBER: Did you say percipient?
MELBER: What does that mean?
SCHIFF: Well, meaning, you`ve got expert witnesses, so they can testify, for example, on how the Russians used social media.
But then, you have fact witnesses who were there. Carter Page was in Moscow. He knows what happened in Moscow. Carter Page went to Budapest. We want to know what did he do in Budapest. We know that he met with Hungarian government officials and the Hungarian government is the strongest Putin proxy in Europe.
So, he is an eyewitness to a lot of very pivotal events. And by allowing his testimony to be made public, it allows other people to align their stories and make them consistent with that account.
MELBER: Congressman Schiff, always fascinating talking to you. And now, I learned a new word. Percipient. What more could I ask for? Thank you and have a good evening.
Up ahead, we have new reporting on the Roy Moore scandal developing. Two new accusers in the last hour coming out in a new account.
And, an under-the-radar story that we think is important on THE BEAT. We`re going to take you inside Trump`s plan to reshape the federal judiciary. Sherrilyn Ifill from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is here live.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEVERLY YOUNG NELSON, ROY MOORE`S ACCUSER: I was terrified. I thought that he was going to rape me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Do you view her statement as evidence that is probative, that is potentially true here or you don`t believe her?
JOHN MERRILL, SECRETARY OF STATE, ALABAMA: No. I don`t know. Again, I don`t know Miss Nelson. I don`t know the other ladies. I`m not confident that I know anyone knows them personally or has had a relationship with them in the past. I do think that each and every allegation that is introduced needs to be properly vetted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Properly vetted. That was Alabama Secretary of State Republican John Merrill moments ago on THE BEAT. He explained after some back and forth, he still plans to vote for Roy Moore despite these new allegations. The latest tonight, accusations of sexual misconduct include a woman who says Moore groped her during a meeting at his law office in 1991. I`m joined by Dr. Howard Dean, former DNC Chair, and back with me, Reporter Heidi Przybyla. Heidi, we were talking this at the top of the show. This is clearly the political and ethical story rocking Alabama and Washington. Digging in on what we heard from that Republican official and this huge, huge gap between Washington Republicans trying to strategize on this and Alabama Republicans digging in, where do you see this going? What should people be focused on?
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, REPORTER, USA TODAY: You know, I have really been racking my brains about that, and so I`m asking Republicans directly. How do you see this ending? And I thought one of the best observations was from a Republican Strategist friend of mine who said, look, with all of the things that are happening in our party right now, this is not a fantastical scenario to think that it`s possible that Roy Moore will come to Washington and that we will have to unseat him. You already have some Republicans who`ve been on this network, like Steve Schmidt saying that McConnell should even start beginning to whip count now just to show that they have every intention if Roy Moore does make it to Washington, that that would -- that`s what would happen to him. And I think that the Republicans see this as a clear line to hear because you are not talking about sexual harassment of an adult woman as bad as that may be. Here you`re talking about straight up pedophilia.
MELBER: Yes, Governor Dean?
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR, VERMONT: This is a fascinating thing for a lot of reasons. A long time ago I predicted when Alabama got all these -- Alabama has had a great run economically. A lot of car factories are going in there, jobs, universities, now, not just a great football power but is actually a great academic center. And I for a long time have thought that Alabama was going to turn around. This is time -- this is the time. Will the voters elect somebody like this? In the old days, they would have. I don`t think they will this time. The only thing that`s off the table for me is do not change the election to benefit the Republican Party in Alabama. That is really a disgraceful discussion to even be having. I can understand why it`s having the back rooms with Republican operatives. That`s not something anybody ought to be entertaining -- notion anybody should be entertaining.
MELBER: How do you mean?
DEAN: Well, I mean, do you change the election because you`d now all of a sudden have a bad candidate with a month to go? That`s an outrage.
MELBER: I mean, Heidi, yes, this has cut both ways. The lawyer press conference from the Moore campaign which was odd because faced with five- plus accusers, they walked out down those steps today and they sort of struck a pretend genteel format and talking about their personal knowledge of him which legally I would argue it is pretty irrelevant because he`s not accused of groping his male lawyer. He`s accused of groping all these other young women and girls that he has had contact with, teenagers, 14- year-olds. But they lashed out against the yearbook handwriting samples and then let everything else in play. The clear implication Heidi being that they think they can muddy the water and still beat at the Democrat in the Alabama race.
PRZYBYLA: We`re at a point in the cycle of the story where it becomes more and more credible, not less and less because you start to reach this tipping point, this critical mass point of victims who are coming forward. And where have we seen that before? We`ve seen that in the cases of men like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. And we`re starting to get to that point here now where the women see, for example, the statement that was made tonight, Ari, trying to discredit one of these victims who appears to all of us to be you know, on its face, very critical -- credible. And what that will do to then the other victims who may have yet to come forward. And that is the real danger here. And the reason why the President is staying quiet but the rest Washington and Republicans are racing to try to get out ahead of this and get on the record that Roy Moore is not someone who belongs in a position of power let alone as a U.S. State Senator.
MELBER: Right. And finally, Governor Dean, the Democrats are watching this. They keep at arm`s length from Alabama because as you know, was the party chair. It`s one of the states that doesn`t want a lot of national attention, certainly not in public in Alabama. But where does the Democratic Party go facing this down?
DEAN: Well, I think they`re going to raise a lot of money for Roy -- for Doug Jones. Just you know, small contributions and all of that kind of stuff. That happens because Doug Jones is actually a very, very good candidate. He`s a native Alabamian, a working-class guy, and he`s a real Alabama person. And you know, I think Alabama is at a turning point. Again, as I said before, I`ve seen this coming over the last 10 or 15-year period. I think the time is at hand.
I think the last thing we need to do is run down to Alabama and tell Alabamians how to make their decision. They`re going to do the right thing. We ought to stay out of there. Of course, we should donate to Doug. He`s a very good candidate and a very decent person. But I do not think we ought to be sending busloads of people from other states. Maybe if some Mississippians or South Carolinians want to go there, that`s fine. But this is a matter for Alabama to decide who they want to be and what they want to do. And it`s not for anybody else to tell them.
MELBER: Howard Dean and Heidi Przybyla, thank you both on this story that continues to develop.
Up ahead, does Mike Pence have a good three-point plan for Russia or does he have a lot of defense that`s aren`t adding up? I have a breakdown. And later, Donald Trump has launched a massive effort to remake the federal bench. The NAACP Sherrilyn Ifill is here live to explain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some have suggested on the left, all this bad stuff about Hillary and nothing bad about Trump that your campaign is in cahoots with WikiLeaks.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: Nothing could be further from the truth. I think all of us have -- you know, have -- had concerns about WikiLeaks over the years and it`s just -- it`s just a reality of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That denial was not true. Vice President Mike Pence wrongly claiming last year that the Trump campaign did not have contact with WikiLeaks. But now new reports expose that Donald Trump Jr. was cahooting with WikiLeaks, directly messaging and coordinating about campaign issues. And that left Mike Pence on the record in the wrong because he was so quick to play the role of denier in chief for Donald Trump. Back during the Nixon administration, Ron Ziegler had this same denial problem. He would deny parts of Watergate, reporters would expose them, and then he would have to find ways to minimize, obfuscate or scrub those past denials. He would say things like his statements had become inoperative, a tortured way to admit something he said was false. Pence now finding himself in that same Nixonian role, just like did he with Mike Flynn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- before you today that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has filed with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent.
PENCE: Well, let me say hearing that story today was the first I heard of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re disappointed by the story.
PENCE: The first I heard of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: First I heard of it. That also didn`t hold up because it turned out Pence was alerted to Flynn`s foreign work months earlier in a written letter from Congressman Elijah Cummings, flagging that Flynn took money to lobby from foreign government interests. Flynn ultimately we all know was ousted from the White House also for allegedly lying to Mike Pence. He`s currently under investigation for alleged bribery offers from that same foreign government that Pence was warned about, Turkey.
So Pence`s defense of Flynn, inoperative, Pence`s first defense then, to blame others, he blamed it on Flynn. But Pence`s WikiLeaks denial involves Trump`s family and just like you learned in the godfather in the Trump White House, never take sides against the family. So Pence employed his second defense, the Jeff Sessions defense. And now he says this week that he just didn`t recall that WikiLeaks contact saying, "he was never aware of anyone being in contact with WikiLeaks. And then there`s the third and final Pence defense. Misdirection.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?
PENCE: I joined this campaign in the summer and I can tell you that all the contact by the Trump campaign and the associates was with the American people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, I`m just trying to get an answer.
PENCE: Of course not. Why would there be any contacts?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Just trying to get an answer. Here`s your answer. That wasn`t true. At least nine people on Trump`s team had contacts with Russia. Pence also used misdirection when pressed about the Comey firing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the President fire Director Comey to impede the Russia investigation?
PENCE: Well, as you know very clearly, as has been stated repeatedly and the President has been told, he`s not under investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But intelligence officials have said there`s investigation into potential ties between campaign officials and Russian officials.
PENCE: That`s not what this was about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Or was it? Like Pence was actually present at the Oval Office meeting where Trump read a draft memo about that decision to fire Comey a screed about Comey`s handling of yes, the Russia probe. Now if you knew what Pence knew, you might want to have a few defenses too, from blame to IDK, to misdirection. With me now, the former Federal Prosecutor and Candidate for Illinois Attorney General, Renato Mariotti. As you know, IDK stand --
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I don`t know.
MELBER: Stands for I don`t know. Mike Pence has a -- has a couple of defenses here, are they working?
MARIOTTI: Well, what I -- what I -- they`re clearly not because we`re having segment. The fact is --
MELBER: We see him.
MARIOTTI: Exactly right. The fact of the matter is, there continues to be questions about what Mike Pence knew and when he knows it and he keeps making statements that distance himself it seems like from the White House which is odd. You know, for example, you know, after this recent revelation about WikiLeaks, his office released a statement distancing himself from that saying that he, you know, had not been aware of that. Why, why would the President do that? Is it a political reason? Is it some reason why he`s trying to get in front of something before he`s interviewed by Mueller. And I think those are questions we can`t answer because we don`t know everything that Robert Mueller knows.
MELBER: Right. A lot we don`t know. He clearly as a political or media strategy wants to put these markers down. You know they upset Donald Trump. You have the WikiLeaks thing involving his own son and then his Vice President out there going like hey, I didn`t know about that. He didn`t quite blame Don Junior but that`s not allowed.
MARIOTTI: Well, I mean, you have to think that the Pence camp is planning for potential eventuality of what might happen if there becomes political problems for the President himself. And so I would suspect that that`s part of what`s going on. It`s not merely a legal strategy. If this was merely a legal strategy, I would expect those conversations to be behind closed doors. And so the fact that he`s releasing this is his way of trying to tell establishment Republicans, maybe I was separate and apart this.
MELBER: Because if you had a client without a press strategy, you`d say, don`t put it in the paper. Just the Special Counsel and say hey, I can prove we didn`t know this. Sometimes that`s the case.
MARIOTTI: Exactly right. And if -- or make the statement through your attorney. Why make it yourself you know, put out a statement that supposedly in your behalf. Why not have your attorney call up someone at the Special Counsel`s office and alert them to it.
MELBER: Always better to talk to an attorney. All right, I got to remember that. I`m doing too much talking all by myself. Our favorite attorney here at the time, Renato Mariotti, thanks for being here. Coming up, inside President Trump`s plan to stack the courts. We`ll tell you who he is picking.
MELBER: -- this week is Donald Trump pressuring his own Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton. As we`ve reported, it can be illegal if Jeff Sessions carries out that order without proper evidence. That`s the prosecution side of things. But what about judges? The New York Times has reported on a new secret plan hatched to film some of the most powerful federal courts by Donald Trump, with some unusual people. Now, it only takes these days a simple majority vote, and they`ve already confirmed eight appeals judges. That`s the most early in this presidency since Richard Nixon. And of the 18 nominees so far from Trump, 14 are men and 16 are white, a very different record than the last administration. Now, one of the appointed, John K. Bush has compared abortion to slavery.
Another, Michigan Judge Joan Larsen, opposed by 27 LBGTQ rights groups, like Lambda Legal and the National LGBT Bar Association partly over her vote against an appeal that gave a same-sex couple to a constitutional right to marital benefits. Then take a look at Brett Talley. He`s actually never tried a case. He didn`t disclose that he was married to a Trump lawyer involved in the process. And as the Daily Beast reports, you can see here, they note that he investigated paranormal activity. OK. Joining me now is Sherrilyn Ifill, the President and Director Council of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. There`s people, there`s personnel, the old saying is personnel can be policy. Judges aren`t supposed to make policy, but this complete step backward in diversity, not only from the Obama administration but even from other Republican administration tells us what?
SHERRILYN IFILL, PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR COUNCIL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Well, I think, Ari, we have to focus on the nature of the candidates that are being nominated by this President. And actually, diversity is only a part of the picture. President Trump has only been in office for nine months, and he`s nominated a number of nominees. Four of them have been found unqualified by the non-partisan American Bar Association. This is -- this is unprecedented. President George W. Bush, who eschewed the ABA ratings, in eight years of nominating judges, they found four of them to be unqualified. In nine months, four of them have been deemed unqualified.
You just mentioned Brett Talley, someone who has never tried a case, never even argued a motion in court, has been nominated to sit on a trial court in the Middle District of Alabama. Yes, he may have blogged about paranormal activity, but he also wrote a blog post, praising what he called the first KKK before the KKK went bad, and writing encomium to Nathan Bedford Forrest. I mean, these are the things we should be focusing on about this individual. Another one of the nominees, Steven Grass, was found by the ABA to be ungratuitously rude and to lack the temperament, therefore, to sit on the bench. And other nominees have been found to also be inexperienced. It`s not just that these nominees are right-wing nominees, and many of them are, it`s that some of them are far-right.
You mentioned John Bush earlier, the person who had on his blog linked to white supremacist postings and blogs, but it`s also that many of them lack the basic qualifications as experienced lawyers, to serve. So when you put that together, when you put together John Bush, when you put in Thomas Farr, nominated to a seat on the Eastern District of North Carolina, someone who has been the lawyer defending the North Carolina voter suppression law, and who was the mentee of Jesse Helms and defended the Jesse Helms campaign that it was accused by the Department of Justice of intimidating black voters. So someone who has an unbroken career of defending voting discrimination, and you put that together then with the other nominee who lack the basic experience that we would expect of someone who sits on the bench and has a lifetime appointment to make judgments about legal claims and to decide the meaning of the constitution in this country.
And this is astonishing. And this reflects, actually, a kind of effort by Trump and his administration to degrade the federal courts, to transform the federal courts, to lower the standards used in the federal courts. And we`ve seen -- this is Trump`s mark. This is what he`s done with a number of his cabinet nominees, selecting people that are patently unqualified and lack the basic knowledge that he would they would need to fill that office and now he`s doing it with the judiciary.
MELBER: You talk about qualifications and process. What is it about this Trump administration that there`s extreme vetting for any random person that might come into the country, but essentially almost no vetting for people who will be judges who uphold the law of the land?
IFILL: You know Ari Melber, there is no position I think that is more important than those who are appointed to serve on the federal courts. It`s a lifetime appointment, you can no be the removed from that office unless you`ve done something really egregious and terrible and you have power, incredible power. And to not vet these candidates, to have a nominee who hadn`t disclosed that he`s married to the Chief of Staff of the White House Council come before the committee, these are things that are just unheard of. And you know when we think about who should be vetted, who are the people that we should be really turning our eye on, who deserves a vigorous look, it`s those who we are entrusting with interpreting the laws o of this country for a lifetime and who we the taxpayers will pay for, for a lifetime.
MELBER: Right. And you can`t -- and you can`t drain the swamp if you`re putting in people who basically have their own conflicts.
IFILL: That`s right.
MELBER: As always, Sherrilyn Ifill, thank you for being here.
IFILL: Thank you so much.
MELBER: We will be right back.
MELBER: We began the show tonight reporting on two new accusers against Roy Moore, the Senate Alabama Candidate. I want to ask you and you can put your answer on our Facebook page. At this point, do you believe these accusers? Do you believe the women making these allegations against Roy Moore? You can do that on Facebook or as always, you can e-mail our show at firstname.lastname@example.org. Later tonight, I will be in for Lawrence O`Donnell at 10:00 p.m. If you are around then, stop by and say hi on MSNBC. But that does it for THE BEAT. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Two more accusers. Let`s play HARDBALL.
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