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WH considering replacing Tillerson Transcript 11/30/17 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Niall Stanage, Steve Clemons, Jelani Cobb

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: November 30, 2017 Guest: Niall Stanage, Steve Clemons, Jelani Cobb

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": If massive Christmas trees are your thing, well, there you go. Here's a live look at the one in the back yard by the way of our NBC News New York City offices. It's always fun to see that as well.

It's America's two favorite Christmas trees. The one in Ellipse in Washington and the one in Rockefeller Center and, of course, the one in your house as well.

That's all for tonight. We'll be back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily". THE BEAT starts right now. Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Good evening, Chuck. I watched your toss and I just want to share with you, if you could tell Nicolle that, like Maxine Waters, I plan to be reclaiming my time.

TODD: There you go. Fair enough. But, again, you're not going to blame me. Always blame Nicolle.

MELBER: You were holding a debt that was neither yours on either end. And that happens in life. Thank you, Chuck Todd.

TODD: All right.

MELBER: Bob Mueller's probe is moving closer to President Trump, closer than ever before. We can report tonight that fact because we know now that, for the first time, there is a leak showing a Trump family member was facing a grilling from Bob Mueller's investigators. It is Trump's son-in- law, Jared Kushner. And he's facing a lot of questions about Russia.

So, I begin with a question about the questions. Is this bad news for Kushner or is it good news? Well, legally, it actually depends. The new reports are that Kushner spoke to investigators about Mike Flynn in an interview that was earlier this month.

Flynn and Kushner met with the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower during the transition and they were allegedly brainstorming how to create a secret back channel for Trump aides to talk with Putin's government.

Now, that proposal is suspicious because it allegedly included a discussion of literally using the Russian embassy for those conversations, but there are no reports that Kushner suggested that arrangement for talking to any other country in the world. Sounds bad.

We will note as well, though, that he denies that he was pushing that. As for the interview, a source telling NBC News that Kushner spoke to Mueller's investigators for under an hour. Now, that account would suggest that Kushner was maybe a mere witness with a small amount of information to offer. And by that logic, maybe he's not a focus of the investigation.

There's an alternative, though, and that would be that he is going to get more scrutiny later and that, right now, they just happen to be focused on Flynn.

The idea there would be that these investigators might grill Kushner in a longer interview down the line about undisclosed Russia contacts, about his emails regarding WikiLeaks, about the Trump Tower meeting as well.

And that's not all tonight. I can tell you there's another Trump family member under scrutiny. News breaking that house investigators will interview Donald Trump, Jr. And they're going to do it in a closed session next week.

There are sure to be questions about how his father coached his defense for the Trump Tower meeting as well and if anything seemed to hinder or obstruct the investigation coming from his father, the president.

Now, a question about that was what the top Democratic investigator says he posed to Jeff Sessions today.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I asked the attorney general specifically, did the president of the United States ever take any action that you believed - instruct you to take any action that you believed would hinder the Russia investigation. And he declined to answer that question.


MELBER: Declined to answer it. And that is certainly a weird question to duck. But I can tell you that the DOJ is informing NBC News tonight that they say Sessions does deny that Trump ever directed him to do anything improper. he just doesn't want to talk much about his private conversations with the president.

Now, in just a moment, I'm going to speak to a member of the House Intel Committee who was in those Sessions interviews. But, first, I'm joined by Maya Wiley, former counsel to the New York City mayor, and Jill Wine-Banks, a former Watergate special prosecutor.

Jill, your view on what it means if the accounts are correct that Jared Kushner did this meeting with Mueller's investigators, that it did touch on Flynn and that it was under an hour.

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I think that your analysis is actually correct that it could be either way and that it's just very likely that they are taking their time and doing things in order.

They need to have all the evidence and all the documents about Jared before they start questioning him. So, they may be waiting until they have more of the background information for him. And we know that they have a lot about Flynn. So, calling him in to talk about Flynn would be helpful to them on the Flynn investigation.

But also think about this. If he has information that's helpful about Flynn, it's because he was in a meeting where something wrong happened. And he is equally complicit in whatever that is.

So, it's sort of going both ways, I think.

MELBER: Right. And I think you put your finger on it. And, Maya, that's the big question when you talk about this in terms of, well, what are they doing. The FBI does not just do chit-chat. It's not just coffee. They are looking at alleged crimes. Indeed, their purview is a counter intel or criminal operation. So, they're either looking at bad stuff abroad or illegal stuff at home, if I may simplify it.

And let me read what "The New York Times" is saying happened in this Kushner interview. A meeting in December, they mention, between the Russian ambassador and Flynn. Prosecutors also asking Kushner about any other interactions between Mr. Flynn and the Russian government.

As another lawyer, we have three lawyers here, what does that mean when they're then reaching out beyond that original topic?

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Well, I think the point is there are many allegations that they have to chase down. There's not just one. They have several possibilities with Flynn, but also with Kushner himself.

And I agree that we don't know which way this is going, but we have to remember a couple of things. One, Mike Flynn was able to be in the national security adviser position he was in because of Jared Kushner, because Chris Christie did not trust him. So, that is a precursor to that meeting that Flynn was in with Kushner.

The other thing, though, is if I'm the FBI and I think there may be a connection with Kushner too and Michael Flynn may be cooperating with the FBI or may be considering cooperation with the FBI, they also might want to test some of the things that they think they might have on Kushner to see if he says anything inconsistently with what Flynn is telling them.

MELBER: Right. And we've been really spellbound all week, Jill, about this idea and a lot of indications that they are getting closer to cooperating. One big one was the reporting that Flynn's lawyers basically pulled out of any cooperation with the Trump White House, which may be concerning to the Trump White House depending on what they think Mike Flynn knows.

Build on Maya's point, though, would Mueller ever want to change the timing here? What can you infer from the fact that, while there may be a cooperation discussion going on, they went ahead to talk to Kushner? And does that put pressure on Kushner?

WINE-BANKS: Well, it does. First of all, if, as we suspect, there was a proffer by Flynn of evidence, it means that they can follow up that they - Mueller's team - can follow up on anything that he said.

So, if they gave him any clues about Kushner, they can certainly question Kushner about that and test, as Maya was suggesting, test his veracity. Is he being consistent with anything they currently know.

So, it is - again, it's putting the pieces of a puzzle together. And you have to start somewhere and build. And you want to have documents first because those are the things that trip people up the most. And people who don't go through them as closely as investigators do and then they say something that they want to be true, but that isn't and that's proven to be a lie by the actual document.

So, I think that it could definitely be what you're suggesting.

MELBER: And then, you have Jeff Sessions, Maya, another individual who has forgotten some of his meetings. Here he was -

WILEY: A lot of them actually.

MELBER: A lot of them. Here he was using that defense a lot in previous testimony.



I don't recall it.

I don't recall it.

I don't recall that.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: In your testimony today, you have stated "I don't recall" at least 20 times. Is that fair to say?

SESSIONS: I have no idea.


MELBER: Does that work well if this becomes something that Mueller actually cares to pick at?

WILEY: It does not look good. It is not a good look. So, first of all, you have Jeff Sessions saying not only in his confirmation hearing that he did not have any meetings with Russian foreign nationals, but we know he met twice with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, he also failed to disclose that on his security clearance form.

And then, he doesn't remember the conversation he had with Carter Page at a dinner wherein Carter Page told him he was going to be traveling to Russia. And then, he doesn't remember once again what Mr. George Papadopoulos says about a meeting that he was in with Papadopoulos when he was going to brief some of the campaign members around what his conversations were with Russians.

So, that's a lot of not remembering, a lot of stuff related to Russia.

Maya Wiley and Jill Wine-Banks, thank you both. I turn now to Congressman Mike Quigley, who is on that pivotal intel committee and was one of the members interviewing today Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Let me start with what you can tell us. Did you walk out of there today feeling more confident that everything is on the level and there's no problem or less so?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think I left with the impression that the American public has two bad choices.

Either the attorney general is one of the most forgetful persons who works out of Washington D.C. and in our nation's history or he's being less than candid with the American public through his testimony to the Senate and/or the House.

MELBER: You say and/or the House. Do you feel that he was less than candid today?

QUIGLEY: Well, you talked about the "I don't recall" number that was evident in the Senate testimony. I think he easily eclipsed that number today.

MELBER: Really? You think he said "I don't know" more than 20 times?

QUIGLEY: It's "I don't recall," "I don't know," "I don't remember," "the best of my recollection," or he would answer an answer and say "I believe." There was very few definitive answers, yes, no, absolutely. And that doesn't engender a lot of confidence in his testimony.

Obviously, the question that he refused to answer from the ranking democrat was the most troubling one. It wasn't that complicated. There, clearly, is no privilege there and there hasn't been a privilege evoked.

And even if there was a privilege evoked, what he would be talking about, something that would be a criminal act, right, the president hindering the investigation would be a criminal act and there's no privilege at all with that.

MELBER: Right. To put it in plain terms, there is no way that you could use even a legitimate privilege to hide an ongoing crime or criminal conspiracy. You're referring to the fact that he appeared unable, according to the ranking member Schiff, to rule out whether he was asked to hinder the investigation.

And here's the part that's weird for me. I mean, part of my job is just to ask questions and process everything.

"It is no longer far-fetched at this point given what has leaked out that Donald Trump would be asking senior officials to do things they're not supposed to do." I mean, that is what Jim Comey testified under oath regarding Flynn. That is what - there have been reports about other folks in the intel community, including folks memorializing it, just like Jim Comey did and just like every good general counsel does at every agency.

So, it really is, at this point, I think a flipped thing, which is why wouldn't Jeff Sessions have run into this by now. And if so, why can't he say, well, I may have been asked something inappropriate, but I assure you I said no.

QUIGLEY: Clearly, the question gave him pause and trouble. That's not what you want to hear from the number one law enforcement officer in the United States, the number one attorney for the United States.

It would have been very simple for him to answer one way or another. It was indeed a troubling day in testimony.

MELBER: Congressman Mike Quigley, thank you for joining us after your interviews there with Jeff Sessions today.

Coming up, there are reports of a new shakeup in the Trump administration. Rex Tillerson on shaky ground. What does this do to national security, this many staffing changes.

Also, we have reporting on how Trump's anti-Muslim tweets are actually sparking real security concerns for Americans overseas and condemnation from our allies.


STEPHEN DOUGHTY, BRITISH MP: He is either a racist, incompetent, or unthinking or all three.

DIANE ABBOTT, BRITISH MP: It is offensive to all decent British people.


MELBER: We'll show you more of that.

And we are now, very important, hours away from a vote on a bill that could give the Trump family up to a $1 billion tax break and also, as we have meticulously documented, betray his campaign promises.

Later on the show tonight, Lawrence O'Donnell is here live to break it down. Our tax man.

I'm Ari Melber. You're watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER: Donald Trump has been tweeting conspiracy theories and attacks. There is a problem in his White House tonight that he apparently does not want to get attention.

It is a slow-motion decay at the State Department, beginning with career diplomats that's in the middle of the org chart, and now may soon reach the very top.

Reports the Trump White House approving a plan to fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, payback apparently for Tillerson calling Trump a, quote, "effing moron" as NBC News reported.

The president ducking the issue today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want Rex Tillerson on the job, Mr. President? He's here. Do you want him to stay in his job?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.


MELBER: That is the tension inside the White House. Historians now saying that the firing of this secretary of state in year one would make this one of the highest turnover administrations on national security ever in a first year.

Shakeups at the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, now possibly the State Department, not to mention the Trump officials that, along with Mike Flynn, are gone, like Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer. MIA.

That's the decay at the top. But here on THE BEAT tonight, we actually have more to this story. I can report exclusively on a 35-year American diplomatic veteran who served under presidents of both parties now sidelined by the Trump administration out of government.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, speaking in her first television interview since leaving the State Department, is one of many career diplomats, saying they're being pushed out, a hollowing out of expertise. And she just spoke to me about the impact.


LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS: We lose influence. We lose the ability to change people's minds, to get their support when we need their support. For example, at the UN. It's our ambassadors that can go into heads of state and encourage them and urge them to support the United States when we need them the most.


When we need them the most. And that is a deeper issue here. While these posts remain vacant, a vacancy at the top also could be filled by a Republican hawk, Mike Pompeo, from the CIA.

And there's reporting that spot would then be filled by Trump with Tom Cotton, which, yes, leads back to Russia. Sorry, you can't make it up.

But as "Mother Jones" notes, "Trump would install one of the most vocal supporters of his efforts to dismiss the Trump campaign's suspected collaboration with the Kremlin."

A lot of dominos. And here to play dominos with me is Catherine Rampell, columnist for "The Washington Post" and Howard Fineman, global editorial director for "Huffington Post."

Howard, I start with you because, if you want to be as fair as possible, there's turnover in every administration and the first year is harder than the fourth or eighth.

Having said that, what do you see at the State Department that is problematic for national security because we're hearing from a lot of experts about expertise problems.

HOWARD FINEMAN, GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "HUFFINGTON POST": Well, the entire administration is now part of the gig economy. Everything is a temp job.

But the thing here with the State Department is it stands in the way of how Donald Trump operates. Everything is about him. Everything is about his ways, his whims, his political wants.

He's the center of attention. And anything that smacks of process and expertise, like the State Department is out the window.

Secondarily here, I've got to say, maybe we can talk about this a little later, I think this is about, to some extent, not just Iran and the hawks taking over to go after Iran and not just about aligning with the Saudis and the Gulf states over there, I think there's a Russia angle to this story that I think we need to get to when you've got a minute.

MELBER: I got a minute. You do it quickly and then I'll go to Catherine.

FINEMAN: OK. All right. One of my best sources on this story, as I cover it, you've got to look at the whole chessboard. Rex Tillerson is closer to Vladimir Putin than Donald Trump will ever be. They go back a long time.

Putin has a nuanced view of all that. Putin can be a danger to Donald Trump if he decides to mess around with the investigation.

Pompeo and Cotton, two military guys, two Harvard Law School graduates, two very respected guys on the Hill, I think, are being put into place to take on the FBI and Robert Mueller down the road on the Russia investigation.

These are guys who are going to try to undermine it and say that national security means that it has to be shut down. I know that's a big prediction on my part, but I'm going to make it right here. That's their role ultimately.

MELBER: Catherine, I mean, that's something that has come up in the Nixon administration and other times, whether you can get the muscle, if you will, at the intel to override everybody else.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. This administration has been full of so much tumult and turnover and turbulence, it's really hard to wrap your head around basically.

It's bizarre, in that, already a year into the administration, they still don't seem to have settled on any sort of approach to how we should be conducting foreign policy, how we should be interacting with our allies, let alone our enemies. It's hard to get a sense of where things are going forward.

But I can tell you this much. Given how many people have left, I doubt you that many of those people miss their days in this White House.

MELBER: And, Howard, you outlined a theory that the president is just focused on himself. I'll play a little quiz with you. Who said, I'm the only one that matters? You get one guess.

FINEMAN: I think it's Beyonce. No, it's Donald Trump.

MELBER: All right. We'll go to the tape. Here's who said it.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST, "THE INGRAHAM ANGLE": Are you worried that the State Department doesn't have enough Donald Trump nominees in there to push your vision through?

TRUMP: We don't need all the people that they want. Well, you don't need to fill slots. Don't fill them. I'm the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that's what the policy is going to be.


MELBER: Howard?

FINEMAN: Well, look, as I said, he's going to pursue the policy of siding with the Saudis and the Gulf states against Iran. Both of these people, both Pompeo and Cotton, are down the line hawks on that view, totally with the president on it.

I think they will reflect the instincts and the moves, impulsive or otherwise, that Donald Trump has made, will make.

But I also think there's a Russia angle to this because I think they will - they've not only expressed their skepticism in various ways about the Russia investigation by Mueller, they are guys who are respected on the Hill, who are tight in the Republican conservative establishment on the Hill, not the McConnell stuff, but the hard liners, and they're going to be there to take on and push when it comes to that down the road. There's going to be a reckoning.

MELBER: I think it's an important point, as you look around the corner. And, Catherine, also you mentioned all of the turnover. The other departures here, though, they really stack up.

You look at Reince Priebus, Katie Walsh, Mike Dubke, Sean Spicer, Jim Comey, Sally Yates, Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon, Tom Price, (INAUDIBLE), Michael Short, Anthony Scaramucci, Sebastian Gorka, Preet Bharara, Keith Schiller. Yes.

RAMPELL: Yes. There are so many of them. So few of them have managed to leave with their dignity intact, which would also be an interesting point to make here.

A few of them, Yates, I would say Comey - he's probably the only one who left with a better public image than he had when Trump came into office. Walter Shaub, he's another one.

But the rest of them, they've either beclowned themselves, they've ripped off taxpayers and have been caught for it, they have crossed the president's son-in-law which is not terribly advisable if you want to stick around. They've done all sorts of things that have humiliated themselves, that have humiliated the country.

MELBER: Right. Catherine Rampell and Howard Fineman, I want to thank you both.

Up next, this rage towards Donald Trump is breaking out internationally over the retweets of anti-Muslim propaganda.

LUCIANA BERGER, BRITISH MP: Donald Trump is now actively sowing seeds of hatred in our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the president was stupid in what he did.


MELBER: And later, my special guest, "The New Yorker's" Jelani Cobb on Trump Justice Department moves and how the FBI may be targeting black activists. We'll explain.


MELBER: Words have consequences. And tonight, President Trump facing an unusual and large international backlash to those anti-Muslim tweets that he shared and that have also formally raised security concerns for Americans overseas.

It all stems from him posting and retweeting these anti-Muslim videos which came from the leader of an ultranationalist far right group called Britain First.

The US State Department now warning the White House that his actions, those tweets, could actually endanger the security of US officials abroad.

Concerns also in the British House of Commons. This is what we were showing you a little earlier in the broadcast. It's really extraordinary. A display of lawmakers going out of their way to specifically condemn an American president.

DOUGHTY: By sharing it, he is either a racist, incompetent, or unthinking, or all three.

ABBOTT: Not just offensive to British people of Muslim heritage, it is offensive to all decent British people.

STUART MCDONALD, BRITISH MP: The sharing of tweets by an extremist, offensive and racist organization is not fitting of someone holding such high office and must be condemned unequivocally.

BERGER: Donald Trump is now actively sowing seeds of hatred in our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president was stupid in what he did.


MELBER: That is their blunt legislature. What about the head of state? Well, British Prime Minister Theresa May, who is actually usually a Trump ally, calling out his actions today.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The fact that we work together does not mean that we're afraid to say when we think the United States have got it wrong and to be very clear with them. And I'm very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do.


MELBER: Two international experts on this transatlantic issue. Steve Clemons, Washington editor-at-large for "The Atlantic" and Niall Stanage, a White House columnist for "The Hill".

Niall, how unusual is this level of specific rebuke from so many people across the political spectrum there in the UK?

NIALL STANAGE, WHITE HOUSE COLUMNIST, "THE HILL": It's absolutely extraordinary, Ari. I mean, this is yet again an instance where we have to remind ourselves during the Trump presidency, this is not normal.

You played the prime minister's remarks there. You played some of the member of parliament's remarks. We've had today two members of the British parliament say that if Donald Trump visits the United Kingdom, he should be arrested for incitement.

This is members of parliament in a stalwart US ally saying that about an American President. Again, it's just an extraordinary vista that we're facing here.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: You mentioned that and the idea of what would happen if Trump goes to the U.K. after doing this and not taking responsibility, certainly not apologizing for it. Steve, take a listen to that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President of the United States should not be afforded a state visit to the United Kingdom. Isn't one of the key dangers of a state visit that we have absolutely no idea of what the President will see or tweet next.

YVETTE COOPER, MEMBER, PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: We cannot simply roll out a red carpet and give a platform for the President of the United States to also sow discord in our communities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Action is needed now not a slap on the wrist. Cancel the state visit.


MELBER: Steve Clemons, from a foreign policy perspective, is this bad for America?

STEVE CLEMONS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE ATLANTIC: As Niall said, it's unprecedentedly bad. This is a situation in which the United States and the United Kingdom and their alliance is one of the most vital and important in the world. And Donald Trump has just ripped the heart and soul out of it. So no matter what we do as partners in the future, there will be no enthusiasm for it. There will be no energy of the British people for projects that the United States needs British support for despite their own interests. It's an unbelievable moment. We've seen Donald Trump take what happened in Charlottesville and send it global.

MELBER: Steve, you talk about Charlottesville which is a place where there was some free speech and there was also hate crimes and there was also violence and there was also, as mentioned earlier in this broadcast, the notion of incitement because there are some things you cannot say if they get too close to a conspiracy to advance violence and it is that subject which also arose today. Take a listen here. This is a conservative leader. This is on the right side of the political spectrum in the U.K. on those issues.


TIM LOUGHTON, POLITICIAN, BRITISH CONSERVATIVE PARTY: If Twitter is genuine in its commitment to fight hate crime online it should have no hesitance in taking down the Twitter account of the first citizen of the U.S. as it would any other citizen of the world who pedaled such hate crime.


MELBER: Steve, as you know, the first citizen there being a reference to the President posting these kinds of messages.

CLEMONS: Right. No, it's outrageous and I think the President of the United States right now is giving a wink and nod to hooligans who are racists and bigots. And this is something we've seen happen in the United States. You know, one of the advisers to the Trump campaign was Frank Gaffney who is a very, very well-known anti-Muslim bigot who has run campaigns against previous appointees that were Muslims. He and Pam Geller and others have been this and they're very close to people like Mike Pompeo. So this is not an anomaly for Donald Trump. This is part of the composite of personalities that are around him. I think many of us are just unwilling -- we shouldn't accept that fact but it's been part of the equation of the Trump Presidency so far. They've kept it buried but now we see an explosion of it come out and have really global consequences.

MELBER: Global indeed, an important story. Steve Clemons and Niall Stanage thank you both. Ahead, Donald Trump's Art of the Deal Co-Author made some big news on this show last night alleging some serious concerns emanating from the White House.


TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, THE ART OF THE DEAL: I know that two different people from the White House or at least saying they were from the White House and that turned out to be a White House number have called somebody I know in the last several weeks to say we are deeply concerned about his mental health.


MELBER: New Yorker's Jelani Cobb, will join me on that and other issues. Also, this Trump backed tax plan could save his family a billion. What happened to the middle class that was supposed to get taken care of? Lawrence O'Donnell about to tell us. He is live next.


MELBER: Here's a live look right now at the debate over the tax bill on the Senate floor. Bernie Sanders there. And today John McCain says he'll back the bill. That's a key move of course because Republicans can only afford to lose two votes. McCain has blocked Trump's bills before, famously on ObamaCare. But today McCain argued that process is different than taxes saying, on this bill the Senate used regular order for the normal legislative process and a markup in the Senate Finance Committee. My next guest knows that process well. Lawrence O'Donnell was the top staffer on the Senate Finance Committee in the 1990s and now Hosts of course "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O'Donnell. Nice picture.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: What happen to that hair?

MELBER: Put that back. It's a great picture.

O'DONNELL: When I was -- when I was writing tax law I had so much more hair.

MELBER: With Moynihan.

O'DONNELL: Senator Moynihan --

MELBER: Yes, you had the power walk there.

O'DONNELL: And you know, this is -- John McCain is, to put it mildly, exaggerating. This was not regular order on tax legislation. That's right outside the Senate Finance Committee hearing room and the Senate Finance Committee staff offices where reporters will hang out forever trying to find out you know, what's in the bill.

MELBER: Wait, you're saying McCain's not quite right?

O'DONNELL: They didn't -- they didn't have any real a hearing at all. A meeting over the Finance Committee is not a hearing by definition, as you know. They marked up the bill and they did do a markup which is when the committee meets and votes on the bill. But that's the very end of the process of regular process in the committee. And that was the first thing they did. So you know, McCain is -- the notion of regular process is hanging by a thread there. It's certainly a lot more regular process than they used on other things that they've just rushed straight to the floor. But you know, this is an inconsistent moment for John McCain. He voted against the Bush tax cuts. He voted against them on the basis of what they would do to the deficit. Here he is voting for an explosion in the deficit in, you know, this next time.

And so, there's no consistency at all in his position but this bill is in a remarkable amount of trouble for a Republican tax cut bill which always flies through. It always flies through, and Republican tax cut bills always fly through with Democratic votes because a tax cut is an irresistible thing to vote for for many politicians especially in states that can swing Republican. They don't want to be accused of being for higher taxes. And to get no Democratic votes on this is really one of the indicators of just how bad a bill this is. Senate parliamentarian as we speak has a very big problem with their latest zany idea which was Bob Corker's idea about why don't we have a trigger if the deficit is not reduced as much as we say it will be.

Why not we have a trigger in there to raise revenue to make up for that which is to say a trigger somewhere in the future to raise taxes? The -- of course, the parliamentarian could not allow something like that in the bill because it's un-scoreable. You can't -- there's no conceivable way you could say how much a future tax increase would raise somewhere down the road. It's impossible to do. And so that won't be in there. It was a bad idea, to begin with.

MELBER: Well, and you're making -- you're making a nuanced and complex point about how that scoring works.

O'DONNELL: I'm sorry.

MELBER: I have a simpler one for you which is isn't it weird, aka, hypocritical for Republicans who always said you know, you got to run the government and the budget the way you run a household, how much debt you can take on to come up as you're describing the thing that's supposed to save this bill is a thing where you literally wouldn't know in the long run what it would cost and what would happen and what the financial and economic reactions would be. I mean, isn't that just a weird position to say?

O'DONNELL: Well, I got to say, you know, it was Bob Corker's idea and I guarantee you that all of the worst ideas in tax bills always come from members who are not on the tax-writing committee. The Finance Committee members sit there and they look at this nonsense, you know, when it's pouring in at the last minute and people are trying to do something that will make them more comfortable with the vote. And they all know that this is absolute nonsense. It was from the start.

But you know, in this kind of thing where you're trying to hang onto every vote, humoring Bob Corker for a few days on a thing like the trigger helps you build momentum, and one of the things that happens with these senators, as you get closer to the finish line, it becomes more difficult for them to vote against it. And so if you've strung Bob Corker along for a few days and in the meantime he has seen John McCain move into the yes column and Bob Corker feels more and more isolated, the likelihood of Corker voting against it goes down. But you know, they can always afford to lose two Republicans on this so we'll see.

MELBER: Let me play for you Donald Trump just pitching this tax plan with a lot of predictions. Here he was yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under our plan, middle class families will not only see their tax bill go down, they will see their incomes go up by an average of around $4,000. And that's because we're going to cut taxes on American businesses so they will compete for workers. They'll raise salaries. The business is going to be happy and the workers are going to be happy and the country is going to be a happy place.


MELBER: I haven't found the happy place quite yet, but what do you make of the actual claims?

O'DONNELL: It's the funniest thing anyone's ever said about a tax bill that wages are going to go up $4,000 a year. It's just ludicrous and laughable and he doesn't care. He has never cared in his life about these things. Whatever he has to say today is what he says, and he doesn't care if he's proven wrong the next day. In this case, he won't -- we won't be able to prove him wrong for a couple of years. And once we've done that, he absolutely won't care then. And so you know, you've got someone who's willing to say absolutely anything to try to pass this bill. And what's so fascinating about it, it's not working. Trump voters oppose it. He doesn't have as much support for this tax bill as he had in voters when he was elected on election night and later through the Electoral College.

And so you know, you've got 49 percent opposition to it. The support for it is in the 20s. That's the support they have. So you have Republicans opposed to this out there because there's -- quite rightly, there's nothing they see in it that is for them and there is some vague understanding out there that the deficit is bad and eventually we're going to have to pay off the debt and the deficit. And so voters know there's nothing in this for me and there's some big explosion of the deficit.

MELBER: Right. And that's the debate that's going to go into tonight here as we looked at Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio which means into your show.

O'DONNELL: We will be covering it live at 10:00 p.m. Tax debate on the Senate floor.

MELBER: There you go, Lawrence. 10:00 p.m. every night obviously the last on MSNBC. Also, you got to check out his new book "Playing With Fire", the 1968 election and the transformation of American politics.

O'DONNELL: It's for -- it's for aging hippies and any aging hippies you know and love. They will happily accept it as a holiday gift.

MELBER: A holiday gift for all the hippies in your life, whatever age bracket really.

O'DONNELL: Yes. If you -- if you're probably desperately trying to understand aging hippies, this is your manual for that.

MELBER: This is how to do it, all right.

O'DONNELL: It's going to translate it all.

MELBER: Fantastic. Lawrence O'Donnell, always a pleasure when you stop by THE BEAT. Coming up is Donald Trump's Justice Department actually now targeting civil rights activists. Jelani Cobb is reporting on this next with me. And why does the Trump tax plan punish teachers? Why does it let churches engage in politics? Why does it do a bunch of things that don't have anything to do with taxes? My fact-checks later this hour.


MELBER: Hate crimes are up in America 4.6 percent from last year. Now, of those, about half were committed by white offenders, about a quarter by African-Americans. Now, those numbers are from the FBI. What is Trump's DOJ doing about it? Well, a DOJ internal report zeros in on what it calls, "black identity extremist warning that African-American political activist are dangerous and engaging in "targeted premeditated attacks against law enforcement." But that report was not public. It's not part of Trump's Twitter storms or distractions. It's not what the administration apparently wants you to see. It was obtained by Foreign Policy Magazine which led Congresswoman Karen Bass to press Jeff Sessions for example.


JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: There are groups that do have an extraordinary commitment to their racial identity, and some have transformed themselves even into violent activists.

REP. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: Could you name an African-American organization that have committed violent acts against police officers?

SESSIONS: I believe I could but I would want to be -- to confirm that and submit it to you in writing.

BASS: Has the FBI done a report on white identity extremist that are likely motivated to target law enforcement officers? Is there such a report?

SESSIONS: I'm not aware of that.


MELBER: And in that New Yorker report, Cobb argues that Trump's native inclinations are trafficking in the ugly history of abusing the FBI to targeting civil rights leaders like MLK who was famously wiretapped. Jelani Cobb is here. And you write about this term, black identity extremists. What are we talking about?

JELANI COBB, CONTRIBUTOR, THE NEW YORKER: So, I mean, that's the question. What are we talking about? Because it appears to be a very arbitrary designation and so they -- if you read the report, they talk about people who have an animist to police who are motivated by what they perceive as racial grievances. But there is no connection to an organization or to a kind of ideological leader figure, or cult figure. And then they said they're worried about some of these individuals being radicalized by the sovereign citizen movement. But then they later in the report say that there's no evidence that there's actually any interaction or connection with the sovereign citizen movement. So at the end of it, it seems as if the report exists solely to create a kind of language, an umbrella that you can arbitrarily use for all sorts of purposes, very many of which would likely be surveillance of African-American activists.

MELBER: And isn't there a big difference that there was a lot of violence in the '60s and '70s, and while there was an assassination of African- American leaders, there were also unrest incidents, there were also riots.

COBB: Sure, right.

MELBER: Right now as someone who covers law enforcement issues, most of that has been on the hate crime side of white supremacist groups and these rallies and disappear the Jews and all -- Charlottesville -- we're not seeing any bounce. So how do you account for that?

COBB: No, there's been a great deal of (INAUDIBLE) around this. And if you remember, one of the things activists have pointed out even going back to what happened in Charleston in 2015 is that there was no -- there was no designation of Dylann Roof's actions as terrorist by the FBI, something that James Comey was criticized for.

MELBER: When he was targeting a black church explicitly.

COBB: That's right. We saw -- explicitly. And the attempt to create a kind of racial conflict. And so --

MELBER: Race war.

COBB: Yes, race war. The U.S. code defines terrorism as ideologically motivated violence intended to produce a political outcome. That's what these elements of political outcome to it. And that's certainly a political objective but the FBI refrained from that. And so there's been a weird kind of asymmetry in terms of how they use these designations.

MELBER: It's such an important story and your article in the New Yorker is really an important contribution to it. I also want to ask you about something else entirely because you've been such an interesting analyst and critic of the President. I was speaking last night to the Co-Author from the Art of the Deal, Tony Schwartz, the interview with him made some news. Tony knows very well Donald Trump, having worked closely with him. And here is part of the interview where he made a revelation.


SCHWARTZ: I know that two different people from the White House or at least saying they were from the White House and that turned out to be a White House number have called somebody I know in the last several weeks to say we are deeply concerned about his mental health. I believe there are people who are concerned. Most of them I think are hostages to a cult leader. When you watch Sarah Huckabee Sanders right now, you really feel as if you're watching somebody who is being brainwashed. All of America needs to understand that this is a person who is now exceptionally dangerous because he is losing his grip.


MELBER: A Co-Author of the Art of the Deal. That is not what we would call medical evidence from a doctor but it is journalistic evidence of what was he calls two people in the White House lodging this concern. As a -- as a journalist and analyst, how do you view this?

COBB: Well, I mean, I don't even have to kind of go strictly form a journalistic perspective. There's this book that came out Duty to Warn, in which 25 people who are mental health professionals said that they were deeply concerned, even people who have not treated or examined Mr. Trump in person. But it's said, in their clinical opinions that he exhibits many characteristics and traits that they find to be consistent with a mentally unwell person. That's something I think that we should take very seriously. These are not conversations that we typically have. We would say, oh, well, Obama did this, that's crazy or you know, before that people would say, Bush you know, did this, that's nuts. But they meant that kind of colloquially. We're having actual substantive conversations with people who know about these issues saying this is something we at least need to examine and discuss. Yes, I think that's important.

MELBER: Jelani Cobb, a voice of clarity, thank you so much for being here.

COBB: Thank you.

MELBER: I appreciate it. Up ahead, this is a fact check I mentioned earlier. There are some oddities inside the tax plan, the unforgettable kiss, that's next.


MELBER: You know, there are certain questions that keep recurring in the Trump era, like, is this normal or, is this real life? Well, now let's turn to one of the most fundamental questions that does arise when it comes to the Trump administration. The question is, but why? And tonight we're asking that about the tax plan which the White House rolled out with affection.



TRUMP: Great job, thank you. I didn't know I was going to be given a plaque.



MELBER: Don't lose it. Now the tax proposal has changed in the last 28 days since that little outline. The Senate is rushing a vote on it as we speak. But consider how many things in this bill might make you go, but why? This plan specifically hikes taxes on teachers, for example, but not all teachers. This plan singles out teachers who choose to spend money out of pocket to get supplies for their students. Trump's plan cuts their $250 deduction. The bill also loosens restrictions on political activity in church. It rolls back a 60-year-old law banning churches from politicking. Church donations generally tax deductible to encourage charity, political donations are not.

And while Republicans say this is a tax plan, consider that it also tries to give new legal rights to fetuses. A nontax provision that experts say could violate Supreme Court precedent, the bill attempts to change the federal definition of the homo sapiens species in order to give people early savings accounts for future education. But why? Why stiff teachers and deregulate campaign rules and redefine the federal definition of a fetus in a so-called tax bill?


TRUMP: But why?

But why?

But why?

But why?

But why?

But why?

This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing. Believe me, believe me. This is not good for me.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Not good for him. Trump drawing attention to the fact that he is the only latter day Presidential candidate to insist on hiding his tax returns from voters. But why? That's the question I leave you with. "Hardball" starts now.



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