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Mueller's missing witness: Steve Bannon Transcript 12/11/17 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Eleanor Holmes Norton, Heidi Przybyla, Brian Wice, Paul Butler, Michael Caputo

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: December 11, 2017 Guest: Eleanor Holmes Norton, Heidi Przybyla, Brian Wice, Paul Butler, Michael Caputo

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": That is all for today. Chuck will be back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily". THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now.

Ari, remind me not to take a trans-Atlantic flight that gets in at 5 AM and then try to read scripts like that at 5 p.m.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Well, as they say in the news business, woof.

TUR: All right. Take eight away. Go, go.

MELBER: No. Did you work on that script for a long time?

TUR: Yes, I worked very diligently on it if my name was Naima Pearce.

MELBER: How many people wrote the puns? Just you and Naima?

TUR: Naima Pierce did. And she did a wonderful job.

MELBER: Respect, respect.

TUR: She does a great job with the puns.

MELBER: I don't know if you know this, but some people who are watching THE BEAT, and we're now 35 seconds into THE BEAT, know that I have a soft spot for terrible jokes. So, I'm right there with you.

TUR: I know you do. And if my brain was working better, then I would give you one right now. Man walks into a bar. What did he say?

MELBER: What?

TUR: Ouch.

MELBER: OK. OK. Ah! We can't get this time back and that's my fault. Katy Tur, thank you as always.

Turning from bad jokes to a very big show because I do have a lot of news for you. We're tracking a few stories. Number one, how Bob Mueller is probing the pivotal 18 days before Mike Flynn was ousted and whether that means trouble for Donald Trump.

Today, also, three women publicly detailing their harassment allegations against President Trump and calling for new action.

But we start tonight in Alabama where the Republican Party drew an ethical line two weeks ago which has now become something of an amoral soup. And there are three keys to this battle, which could upend politics in tomorrow's vote.

Tonight, I would argue we have all three covered in our big story with some special guests. Number one, will gender upend a 20-year winning streak for Republicans in Alabama.

Number two is class and an aversion to all things Washington driving the rebellion politics in this state. Alabama native son and former executive editor of "The New York Times" joins me on location in a moment.

And also, number three, are the allegations against Roy Moore even broader than many realize tonight because they involve not only alleged sex crimes, but also a different crime - of alleged crime, an abuse of power alleged in how he operated as DA, which is a perch he allegedly used to prey on teenage girls. Former Roy Moore opponent Bob Vance to judge on that in a few moments as well.

So, as you can see, we have a lot of great guests.

We are also right now just an hour away from Roy Moore's election eve speech. He's going to be joined on stage here for his closing argument with former trump aide Steve Bannon. And here is how the democrat in this race, Doug Jones, laid out the stakes today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG JONES, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR ALABAMA SENATE SEAT: It's a referendum not just on the issues that we've got, but it's who we are and what we're going to tell our daughters. And is Alabama going to stand with our daughters?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Joining me now is "Washington Post" reporter Anne Gearan and "The Wall Street Journal's" Shelby Holliday to start us off. And as I mentioned, a lot more folks going to join.

But starting, Anne, that closing argument from the Democrat, what does it tell you? And I would ask you to speak to us on two levels, the ethical level - because ethics are an issue in this race - and the political level of that closing argument?

ANNE GEARAN, NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So, Doug Jones is trying to appeal to the Alabama deserves better than this argument that we heard from none other than the senior senator from that state this weekend.

And he's also trying to appeal to Republican women, specifically, saying you can either vote for me, you can stay home, but you can do - you can do either of those things as a protest against voting for this man, who he is arguing they should not dignify with a vote.

It's a powerful moral argument. It is an historical argument. But the question of whether or not it will go beyond the giant class divide that we're seeing in this race really remains to be seen.

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes. I think politically, obviously, a lot is at stake and we're seeing it in the polls. Democrats are more enthusiastic. Doug Jones has a lot of people excited about the race, who typically wouldn't be excited about an Alabama Senate race.

So, we're seeing the ethical debate excite a lot of people. But, also, on the Republican side, we still are hearing from a lot of Republicans who say, whether or not they like Roy Moore, they're still voting for him.

"Vice" did a town hall style sit-down with them. And one woman said policy is everything. So, it doesn't matter if we like him. We're still voting for the conservative policies we believe in. And I think that that's something we saw in the 2016 election. We're seeing it again.

And the last point I would make is that, still to this day, a candidate's denial is weighed more heavily than some evidence from accusers. So, a lot of people say you better have proof. We still haven't seen the proof. They're doubting the women's stories.

They don't want "The Washington Post" in their backyard. They don't want Gloria Allred in their backyard. Some of them don't even want the president and a former president doing robocalls.

To them, they feel like the nation has been telling them who to vote for for months and they're sick of it.

MELBER: You raise that question of when and how are women believed or disbelieved in politics. And we are also seeing concurrently a surge of women running for office.

These stories sometimes appear to be all about the darkness, but look at this, Anne, and give us context. You've covered so many races in Washington. More women than we've seen, according to these numbers, than ever before.

GEARAN: Including a whole lot of Democratic women. There's been a concerted effort ever since Donald Trump's election to get more Democratic women to run, a grassroots effort for women to run for everything from county commissioner on up.

And it's definitely having an effect in terms of the number of people turning out and the amount of money they're able to raise.

I think what we're seeing in the Alabama race, though, is this is a pretty retro race. It's two white guys and either one of whom on paper are qualified to do the job.

Where gender and the question of believability comes in is purely on the question of whether or not women who might otherwise have no qualms whatsoever about voting for Roy Moore say they will not. And that is where the democratic argument is aimed.

Just don't - what they're saying essentially is don't do it. Don't do that to yourself. Don't do that to the state.

MELBER: You're saying that the Democratic closing argument, even though, as you put it, retro vintage or one can think of other words for the identity politics of these two Alabama men running is really about, as you put it, an appeal to swing women voters in Alabama?

GEARAN: Absolutely. And it's an appeal that, on some levels, is cynical. Part of the appeal is don't do this. That could certainly mean don't vote. Like, don't vote for this guy.

HOLLIDAY: And according to a "Fox News" poll, 8 percent of voters are still undecided. So, that's a huge number going a day into an election.

MELBER: So, let's take that. Stay with me both. As promised, I want to bring in from the field - Howell Raines is the former executive editor of "The New York Times," native son of Alabama. He's got a piece, "Roy Moore's Alabama, making a lot of waves tonight.

He writes that "while residents there do fear being depicted as 'total rednecks', they also like to buck tradition, which is spreading. Alabama's preference for officials regarded as unfit by the rest of the nation is now a national tic."

Howell, explain your argument and respond to anything you just heard from our two reporters here.

HOWELL RAINES, FORMER EXECUTIVE EDITOR OF "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, this is a watershed election for Alabama. It's the most important since 1970.

Back then, I began my career covering Wallace rallies where he made Alabama a showcase for bigotry in America. And tonight, here we are, half century later, and Steve Bannon and Roy Moore are here trying to see if that same old trick will work on the people of this much misserved state.

MELBER: You say bigotry. Do you see the racial underpinnings as equal or greater than the alleged sexism and the alleged predation by Roy Moore?

RAINES: No, I think Roy Moore is offering up a Trumpian buffet of prejudices. And it, of course, includes race, but it also emphasizes a cultural war that's going on here.

And I think the most striking thing here is the defection of affluent, educated women in the Republican suburbs around Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. That and the black turnout which was the focus of Doug Jones' activities this weekend will decide this race.

And this is the first time in, I think, two decades that a Democrat has had a chance in Alabama. It's a really exciting opportunity for the state to become the last state of the old Confederacy to elect a truly modern new south leader like Jimmy Carter in Georgia or Reubin Askew in Florida.

And that happened 30 years ago. Poor Alabama is way behind, but this is a big opportunity for the state.

MELBER: Yes, sir. And you talk about defecting. Speak to Anne Gearan's point and then I'll have her respond to you. Do you mean defecting, that these women voters in Alabama, who normally traditionally are Republican, could go Democratic? Or defecting, by just not turning out tomorrow in what is a special election?

RAINES: No, I think defecting by turnout will be the deciding factor. And my sense is that the younger women in this state and some of the older church women in the state are crossing over.

And I think - I told a group of Alabama businessmen last week, about 20 of them, that if I could privately hear who their wives and daughters were voting for and not what they were telling their husbands and fathers, I could predict the outcome.

So, I think what we're looking for is the degree of crossover as opposed to staying home. Although as Doug Jones has said very candidly, every Republican who stays home helps him.

MELBER: Anne, go ahead.

GEARAN: Well, for sure. In any race where - I mean, the secretary of state is predicting a turnout of maybe 25 percent. It could be larger than that. But even so, it's clearly going to be by - far, far less than 50 percent, maybe less - considerably less than 30 percent. Every crossover vote counts an enormous amount.

And I think Howell Raines is right. There certainly is likely to be a secret vote here where moderate Republican women of any age are willing to vote for Doug Jones as well as people who will stay home who never would have dreamed of doing so in any other race.

MELBER: Right. And Howell mentions the history here. Richard Shelby being someone who won as a Democrat, although then he joined the GOP.

My next guest, as promised, Bob Vance actually came within four points of beating Roy Moore in 2012. Vance, a judge, questioned Moore's approach to his office, now under scrutiny again because of questions about whether he abused his power as D.A. to prey on teenage girls.

Now, remember, this is a candidate who allegedly once told a 16-year-old that nobody would "believe her" because he was the DA, a claim that Moore still denies.

I want to bring in Bob Vance, Alabama circuit judge, to our full panel here, everyone with a good reason for being here, and you as well, Bob. And not as a - the kids use the term loser. We don't think of you as a loser.

But you are here because you came so close in what was a traditional environment. You outperformed what Democrats typically do against Roy Moore. So, you have a real insight on what's happening. First tell us what's happening.

And then, second, speak to the other piece of this. The idea that there is an allegation not only that Roy Moore was a predator, but an allegation that he was abusing his power as DA.

BOB VANCE, FORMER ALABAMA CIRCUIT JUDGE: Right. What's happening now in the election is what happened in my race against Roy Moore in 2012. And that is based on the central truth that Roy Moore is a very divisive person even among Republicans.

There are many Republicans in the suburbs of Birmingham and Huntsville and Mobile, for example, traditional establishment type Republicans who just cannot stomach the social conservatism, the hot button issues that Roy Moore keeps campaigning on.

So, I knew that getting into my race that there is an opportunity there to peel away what I always call the reasonable Republicans, to get their support simply because of who Roy Moore, my opponent, was.

And Doug Jones faces the same opportunity in winning votes from a number of people in the State of Alabama, who otherwise would not dream of voting Democrat.

Now, to your point about his history of abuse of power, keep in mind that the central accuser against Roy Moore, Ms. Corfman was a 14-year-old child in 1979.

In the Etowah County courthouse, she was with her mom, who was awaiting to be called into a courtroom to testify. Mr. Moore at that time was an assistant district attorney.

Now, in rural counties, especially like Etowah County, assistant district attorney is a high figure of authority.

MELBER: Sure.

VANCE: Law and order. Someone you can feel comfortable with, someone you can entrust your child to, we would think.

And Roy Moore comes up, strikes up a conversation, tells Ms. Corfman's mother, you can go in and testify, I'll sit with your girl out here. And used that entree to try to develop some sort of relationship with this 14- year-old child at the time. That is the kind of abuse of power that turned a lot of people off. It's just one indication of Mr. Moore's history.

Of course, he's always had a history of abusing power. That's why he was removed.

MELBER: Right. You're going to Ten Commandments.

Shelby, go ahead.

HOLLIDAY: Well, I think another point, 33 percent of voters simply don't believe these allegations. Many Republicans don't believe the allegations.

And I think what we're seeing here is, we talked about this a little bit last week, Ari, when voters commit to a controversial candidate, they stay committed and they filter in information that justifies their commitment. So, we are seeing that.

But I also - we heard some voters say, well, things were different 40 years ago. This is how they're justifying it. 40 years ago, older men did date younger women and people married younger in Alabama.

Well, if Roy Moore had just said that when these allegations came forward, I don't even know if we'd be sitting here talking about all of the allegations, but still to this day he's denying everything.

MELBER: And because we're short on time -

HOLLIDAY: And that's a powerful denial. Voters are listening to that.

MELBER: Judge Vance?

VANCE: I don't buy that.

MELBER: We're out of time, judge Vance. I give you, as we do in politics, what is your closing argument sound bite, a line or two.

VANCE: Whether it's 40 years ago or today, regardless of where it is, for anyone to prey upon a 14-year-old child is just immoral. Regardless of circumstance or situation.

MELBER: Bob, Howell, Shelby and Anne, thank you all for an important discussion tonight.

Coming up, we have exclusive NBC reporting on the Russia probe. A focus on when Trump learned that Michael Flynn committed a felony.

Also, new questions on Steve Bannon's role. Could he be a witness next?

Also, today, women accusing Donald Trump of sexual misconduct come forward and call for justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMANTHA HOLVEY, ACCUSER OF DONALD TRUMP: Nobody dreams of being ogled when you're a little girl wanting to wear a crown.

SUMMER ZERVOS, ACCUSER OF DONALD TRUMP: He kissed me on the lips and I was shocked, yes. I mean, devastated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Another important story we're following tonight. Special Counsel Bob Mueller wants to know when Donald Trump first learned Mike Flynn lied to the FBI, which turned out to be a felony.

NBC News reporting Mueller is now asking people to piece together what happened in those crucial 18 days. It started January 26th. White House counsel Don McGahn warned Flynn was open to blackmail by Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: What did you tell the White House?

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: All right. So, I told them again that there were a number of press accounts, of statements that have been made by the vice president and other high- ranking White House officials about Gen. Flynn's conduct that we knew to be untrue.

We also told the White house counsel that Gen. Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI. Mr. McGahn asked me how he did. And I declined to give him an answer to that.

I remember that Mr. McGahn asked me whether or not Gen. Flynn should be fired and I told him that that really wasn't our call. That was up to them, but that we were giving them this information so that they could take action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: So, they could take action. That's very important. That testimony there from then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates about something that we now know did not happen for another 17 days.

Now, that's not automatically bad. Certainly not automatically evidence of a crime. But what we're learning here from this reporting tonight is a question about what Trump was waiting for.

Now, he was also asked about Russia during that key period before Flynn was ousted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST, THE O'REILLY FACTOR: Do you respect Putin?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do respect him.

O'REILLY: Do you? Why?

TRUMP: Well, I respect a lot of people, but that doesn't mean I'm going to get along with him. He's a leader of his country. I say it's better to get along with Russia than not.

O'REILLY: Putin is a killer.

TRUMP: We've got a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What you think our country is so innocent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you make of reports that Gen. Flynn had conversations with the Russians about sanctions before you were sworn in?

TRUMP: I don't know about it. I haven't seen it. What report is that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) reporting that he talked to the ambassador of Russia before you were inaugurated about sanctions maybe trying to -

TRUMP: I haven't seen that. I'll look at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I'm joined by Paul Butler, professor of law at Georgetown, a former federal prosecutor, and Cynthia Alksne, also a former federal prosecutor.

Cynthia, starting with you, you could make the counterargument that you got this information, you processed it and you came to a decision. Why is this of, as we would put it, investigative interest?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it's an investigative interest because good prosecutors are going in there and interviewing the witnesses.

And one thing we know about good prosecutors is that they're smart, they're very well informed before they go in and they're curious.

And these prosecutors have already interviewed Michael Flynn. They may know the answers to all these questions already. In fact, I would guess that they probably do.

So, when they're going in and asking White House people about did this happen on this day or did that happen on that day, they know the answer. What they're trying to find out is who is a truth teller and who is not.

MELBER: So, what you're saying - you're making such an important point, is when you hear these news headlines, Mueller asking about X, that's not like when random people ask, oh, you know, what are you up to today or where did have you dinner last night? They know where you had dinner and they're checking whether you're lying about it.

ALKSNE: Right. I think that's exactly what's going on here.

And the other thing that's important to think about, as you analyze this 18-day report, which is, obviously, very important, is that don't assume that Mueller thinks Trump had to find out in those 18 days. That's not necessarily true.

He may well have found out right after Flynn spoke to the FBI. Just because they're asking that question doesn't mean that's what they think actually happened.

MELBER: Right, exactly. Well, Paul Butler, take a listen to this other key part of the Lester Holt interview, which has become a part of, I don't know, the canon, if you will. It's become a classic hit, if you will. Usually for that moment about Russia.

But this was another part of the interview where - Lester Holt is a colleague, so I respect him a lot, but I think he nailed the questioning because it wasn't just that he got that Russia answer, he also got this key answer about this now crucial time lag.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The White House was notified that Flynn was at risk of compromise and blackmail. My question is, why allow someone in a very sensitive job to stay on for 18 days -

TRUMP: So, I'll tell you why.

HOLT: And Comey for something that happened six months ago is lopped off overnight.

TRUMP: Because my White House counsel Don McGahn came back to me and did not sound like an emergency - didn't make it sound like he was - and she actually didn't make it sound that way either in the hearings the other day.

We fired him because he said something to the vice president that was not so.

HOLT: Did you know that he had had received payments from the Russian government, that he had received payments from the Turkish government?

TRUMP: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That might be the last time Donald Trump does a truly adversarial interview. Speak to us about that answer that Lester got out of him. "Oh, well, yes, the reason I have it here, I didn't act because it didn't sound like an emergency. But then later he acted."

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Sally Yates goes to the White House counsel and says, just so you know, the national security adviser is dirty, he's lying about his contacts with Russians, he's lied to the vice president and now he's sworn in.

And when she testified on Capitol Hill that she didn't have any recommendation, it's because to any lawyer it would be obvious. You go to the national security director, Michael Flynn, you ask, did you lie, did you lie to the vice president, did you lie to the FBI? And you fired him when you learn that he did lie.

And instead the president not only hangs on to him for as long as he can, he intervenes on his behalf to try to get Mueller to call off the investigation.

And what does he do about Sally Yates? He fires her. He doesn't say thank you for this national service.

MELBER: (INAUDIBLE) he fired her for allegedly a different reason.

BUTLER: Oh, that's what he said. But, again, he's got all kinds of different reasons for firing law enforcement officials. He originally fired Mueller for one reason, he said, and now we know it's for a different reason.

MELBER: Fair. Reasons on reasons on reasons. Paul Butler, say with me. Cynthia Alksne, thank you as always.

Ahead, the three women who accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct speaking out today and they want Congress to intervene.

And later, a former Trump campaign adviser calling the flipped colleague a coffee boy, but new reports suggesting maybe he had more power. That's a live special tonight on THE BEAT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Donald Trump apologized one time during the entire presidential campaign for bragging about groping women in that "Access Hollywood" tape, but when women came forward accusing him of doing what he said he did on the tape, Trump denied every allegation, which the White House reiterated today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has addressed these accusations directly and denied all of these allegations. And this took place long before he was elected to be president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The White House addressing the allegations because the accusers were out in force today. Samantha Holvey, Rachel Crooks and Jessica Leeds holding a press conference and going on the "TODAY" show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLVEY: He comes in like he owns the place and like he owns you and is just looking at us, eyeing us up and down. Nobody dreams of being ogled when you're a little girl wanting to wear a crown.

All of a sudden, he's all over me kissing and groping and groping and kissing. But then when his hands started going up my skirt, I'm not a small person. I managed to wiggle out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He kissed me on the lips and I was shocked. Yes, I mean devastated. I didn't -- it happened so fast, I guess, and I didn't really -- I wish I would have been courageous enough to be like you know, what's going on and you need to stop this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Today's accounts come during a period of reckoning for harassment allegations. Members of Congress from both parties have resigned recently. Senate Democrats mounting calls for Trump to resign including from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York who joins Trump accusers in calling for a new government investigation of Trump's conduct. 19 women have accused Donald Trump of inappropriate conduct. He denies it, but with more and more women feeling empowered to weigh in, denials aren't the end of the story. Oprah herself is predicting what would come after the Harvey Weinstein story broke as a watershed moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, AMERICAN MEDIA PROPRIETOR: In order to keep my job, in order to keep my position, in order to keep moving forward I've got to smile and I've got to look the other way, I got to pretend he didn't say that, I got to pretend he didn't touch me. I think those days are about to be over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: About to be over. I'm joined by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton from Washington D.C. In October, she introduced legislation that would offer Congressional employees more workplace protections from harassment. Congresswoman, is this call for a governmental investigation of Donald Trump's conduct before he entered the White House the most important next step or what are you advocating?

REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON D.C.: Well, it is the most important next step but the Republican Party is split and they control the Congress. I must say that the Democrats ought to have a roundtable of their own if Republicans won't do some kind of a Congressional hearing so these women can be heard. Remember, Ari, these women were not heard. We had Billy Budd, we had the President as you said essentially admitting and apologizing but we never heard from a single woman. Now when women see women coming forward for women of Congress, they say it's time for us to come forward too. Women are getting their strength in numbers. Women and women alone are forcing this change in climate, this change in culture.

MELBER: Congresswoman, I want to play for you something that the President to an ambassador said and I want to bring in my colleague, Stefanie Ruhle, a Journalist here at this network and have her weigh in as well. You first, take a listen to the U.N. Ambassador here about believing or listening to women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATION: They should be heard and they should be dealt with and I think we heard from them prior to the election and I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Congresswoman and then Stephanie Ruhle, your response to that and how important is that?

NORTON: The Ambassador spoke spontaneously as a woman. She didn't get to talking points and she couldn't bring herself to be an apologist for the President on this score. Remember, she had just finished in fact representing him on his -- on his issues, but representing him on this was a bit too far for her and I congratulate her.

STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC ANCHOR: She also said something very brave there that's important because right now, we like to look at this as a black and white issue across the board. Not just President Trump but sexual harassment, misconduct, sexual assault, and when you say you don't believe the accusers, people are up in arms. But Nikki Haley said something very important. She said we need to listen to everyone and that's what's very important here. Every person who feels violated, every accuser out there does have a right and should have a platform to have their voice heard.

Now, it doesn't mean that they're 100 percent telling the truth. And that gets people very angry. You don't believe the accusers. That's not what anyone is saying but people should feel safe, should feel like they're not going to be retaliated against if they do speak up. And it is rich for the White House to say, Kellyanne Conway has said it before, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, President Trump has denied these accusations, this has been litigated. You're a lawyer, not me. Nothing has been litigated. This information was out there before the election and people did vote for President Trump. That doesn't mean that anything has been litigated and with regard to the women who came forward again today to tell their story, it was important because we heard in that Vice News piece over the weekend, one of Roy Moore's supporters saying, well, after he wins, you know, he's going to be right just like President Trump was right and all those women were liars and we learned that. We didn't learn that President Trump's accusers were liars and, remember, the Billy Bush tape that the Congresswoman was referencing, those are President Trump's words. I move on her like a bitch.

You can do what you want when you're a star and Billy Bush came out -- we haven't heard from him in 14 months and said those absolutely were President Trump's words. And don't forget, he also told Howard Stern about being backstage at a teen pageant. I just go backstage. It's what you can do when you own the place. Yes, beautiful women with no clothes on. I'm known for doing that. Those are the President himself words. Those are inappropriate action that is a man in a position of power did then and is reminded of it now. But unless there is an action step here, if there is an investigation, if you think that suddenly President Trump is going to do the right thing here or Sarah Huckabee Sanders is going to say something different, well, then you're mistaken. They're not going to do anything different, they're going to stick on script.

MELBER: Congresswoman, final word to Stephanie's practical point that there's not an expectation of government response here.

NORTON: There's not an expectation but there will be government response. Look, this notion about denials. Look at the change that women have forced. These are uncorroborated and unwitnessed attacks or moving in on women. So, why are women believed? In part, because they don't know each other. But the denials don't work anymore, Ari. It is true that you have outliers like Trump and like Roy Moore, but look how many men have fessed up, even though nobody could have proved it on them any more than they can, "prove it" on the President. Women are forcing a change in men's attitudes, even getting them to confess which is something I thought I would never see.

MELBER: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, thank you very much for joining and thank you, Stephanie, who you can catch weekdays 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m. "VELSHI & RUHLE" and Saturdays at 12:30. Coming up Bob Mueller interviewing people who are the who's who on the Trump insider list. Why not Steve Bannon?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Well, the turmoil in the Trump White House is here. There is a picture that explains a lot. The photo of the disappearing Trump aides that's made the rounds, also can tell you something interesting about Bob Mueller's Probe. Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty, others have been interviewed. Mueller's team went to Reince Priebus and former Press Secretary Spicer which leaves Trump himself, Pence and in that room Steve Bannon as actually the only people who have not reportedly sat down with Mueller's team. That would be big news if Mueller interviewed the President or even the Vice President but what about Mr. Steve Bannon? Politico reporting today that people close to the probe believe Bannon will be a key witness for prosecutors and investigators but he says allegedly he hasn't been interviewed by Mueller and has told people he doesn't even have a lawyer and isn't worried about any potential exposure which itself is an interesting thing to convey.

Bannon, of course, had rules on the Trump campaign and in the White House. He'd be in a position to know all kinds of things about the campaign, about Russia, about sanctions and since Bannon's last day in the White House we have heard a lot of talk about whether he might ever even turn on Trump. But despite any differences on primary campaigns, Bannon doesn't criticize the President on just about anything except the firing of James Comey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone said to me that you described the firing of James Comey. You're a student of history, as the biggest mistake in political history.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST, WHITE HOUSE: That would be probably -- that probably would be too bombastic even for me but maybe modern political history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And that's what he says on national T.V. Imagine what he'd say in a private interview. I'm joined now by Heidi Przybyla, a Senior Politics Reporter for USA Today and Criminal Defense Attorney Brian Wice. Brian, do you buy Bannon's positive vibes on this one or do you not want to be the last guy into the interview room?

BRIAN WICE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, look, spoiler alert, Ari. There's no indication Steve Bannon has done anything wrong.

MELBER: Sure.

WICE: But let's face it. For Bob Mueller to conduct a fair, full and complete investigation without talking to this guy is like doing Hamlet without Hamlet. I mean this, is the guy, this is the President's bench coach. This is the President's conciliary, this is the guy in the Oval Office, on-air Force One, at Mar-a-Lago. This is the guy that has been privy to some of the most important conversations I believe that shape and drive Bob Mueller's investigation. Of course, he's going to want to talk to him and talk to him pretty soon.

MELBER: Yes, and the Hamlet, of course, raises the issue of all the dead mark sanctions in that play, just a sanctions joke there, Brian. Yeah, nothing. Nothing, nothing.

WICE: Look.

MELBER: No response. Heidi, never mind the Hamlet joke. Your thoughts, though, on the Steve Bannon issue. Of course, he's going to be in the mix. He's in the room but he clearly as a smart guy has put up a very public wall around the Comey firing. What does that tell you?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, USA TODAY: It's odd that he hasn't received more scrutiny at least by the media but for the first thing it tells me is that this investigation is nowhere near finished. That Mueller is working his way up the ladder to the innermost circle. We just saw Hope Hicks for example who is also one of his closest confidantes interviewed. But even if Bannon did nothing himself, it's odd that he wouldn't get a lawyer because what we're seeing in this investigation is that there could tangential charges for people who just witnessed things like obstruction of justice. And like your previous guest said, he was witness to a lot starting with the firing of Comey.

MELBER: Yes, Heidi, play that out. I mean, Bannon's public theory here seems to be that maybe the only issue left is obstruction and he has waged his public defense. Not only was he not involved, he's laid out methodically that he thought it was literally the worst thing ever. What does that tell us?

PRZYBYLA: Well, politically he's taking a lot of shots at Mueller and it's kind of brazen, right, if you actually did believe that you could be strung up for something. But we don't know that he actually hasn't consulted a lawyer or that he won't eventually get a lawyer. If he hasn't been contacted at this point, he certainly will. And it's not just for the Comey firing. There's so much more here he was witness to. For example, that Mar-a-Lago phone call from Michael Flynn where they strategized about the sanctions. He had direct contact with George Papadopoulos too who is becoming a key figure in this investigation. We're now learning, no, he wasn't just a coffee boy. And he also has what we know from his financial stake in Cambridge Analytical which was that group that was at least trying to coordinate with WikiLeaks, Bannon is the one who made that -- tried to make that connection to the Trump campaign and Cambridge Analytical.

MELBER: Brian, yes, speak to that. The headline from Cambridge was it was, oh, I tried to team up with Assange and as Heidi so well remembers, it was something he's on the board of.

WICE: Yes, and what's important about Steve Bannon, Ari, is that he provides three things when he is ultimately called in to talk to Bob Mueller and his A list of lawyers and investigators. Context, content, and corroboration, what was said whether it's in relation to the Comey firing or to any other investigation that Mueller may be pursuing but also how was it said? What was the context? Then more importantly in my estimation is does Bannon corroborate anything or everything that Michael Flynn or anybody else who's been called in to talk to the Mueller team have to say? That's why Bob Mueller is constructing this investigation from the bottom up. And, you know, obviously, at this point you bring in your lesser lights early on and then only then do you bring in somebody like Steve Bannon.

MELBER: And that's --

WICE: Steven Spielberg used to say -- yes.

MELBER: You (INAUDIBLE) let's hear it. What was it?

WICE: No, you don't (INAUDIBLE) Jaws in the first reel, Ari, obviously. You want to bring in your heavy hitters later on down the line.

MELBER: Well, and Spielberg also said, you may remember Brian, you can't do Hamlet without Hamlet.

WICE: I think he said that.

MELBER: He may have said that. Heidi, thank you for putting up with Brian and I. Some days are harder than others. Thank you, both for having on the show. Up next, I will talk to the former Trump aide who called one of his colleagues a coffee boy after an indictment. New reports that might throw that description into question.

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MELBER: -- Russia probe by now you probably remember the now famous coffee boy defense offered about George Papadopoulos. It was offered by my next guest, the memorable former Trump Campaign Adviser Michael Caputo.

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: He was the coffee boy. If he was going to wear a wire, all we've known now is whether he prefers a Caramel Macchiato over a regular American coffee in conversations with his barista.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Macchiato burn. But there's more to the story. The Washington Post reporting Papadopoulos did have the ability to convince some foreign officials and he was allegedly a high-ranking Trump staffer at one point who could arrange meetings for example with Greece's Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, its President and a former Prime Minister, which is an impressive Macchiato. That schedule in line with what Papadopoulos' fiance says about some of his time working with the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMONA MANGIANTE, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS FIANCE: There are consistent evidence that he was not a coffee boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he in touch with the Chief Strategist Steve Bannon?

MANGIANTE: Yes. As far as I know, yes. I know Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was in touch with Michael Flynn? General Flynn?

MANGIANTE: Yes, as well. As far as I know, absolutely, yes. He never took any initiative without the blessing of the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I'm joined by former Trump Adviser Michael Caputo as well as former Federal Prosecutor Paul Butler. Michael, you have to admit there was more than just coffee orders being discussed.

CAPUTO: I might have exaggerated Papadopoulos' role when I called him a coffee boy. He wasn't really at the level of the campaign staff where we would have trusted him with the coffee machine. This guy is zelig, Ari. He's unimportant character who kind of haplessly pops up across the different scenes of this campaign. You know, the meetings in Greece were not authorized by the campaign. He put them together himself. He leveraged this nonexistent position volunteer, low-level position with the campaign to try to advance his own personal interests. I stand by what I said.

MELBER: Was he then, though, as you just put it, a coffee boy, or was he a campaign adviser who went rogue and started meeting with foreign officials?

CAPUTO: Well, I think, you know, we understand now that Papadopoulos came to the campaign via Dr. Ben Carson's campaign who found him because he in- mailed them on Linkedin without being invited. And they for some reason quickly hired him as an adviser based on a falsified resume. And when some of the Ben Carson's advisers came to the Trump campaign after the doctor dropped out of the race, they then brought on a couple of their guys including Carter Page and Papadopoulos. He had no business advising a presidential campaign. At the time, our campaign was desperate for foreign policy advisers. We were getting hit on constantly by our Republican counterparts in the primary for not having any. He wasn't the right guy to bring in. It was a mistake to bring him in and we're paying for it even today.

MELBER: Paul Butler?

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So here's what's not credible about what Mr. Caputo just said. So when there's a new president-elect in d.c., there is a feeding frenzy for access. George Papadopoulos literally had a seat at the table. We just saw a photo of him with the president. The President says that he's one of his top five advisers for foreign policy. And so --

CAPUTO: That's not what the President said.

BUTLER: Well, he named -- he listed him to the Washington Post as one of his top five advisers.

CAPUTO: That he did say.

BUTLER: Yes. So again, that's the kind of access that a coffee boy would not have. And then the question is why is the President and why are you contributing to this false narrative? Why not just tell the truth if the truth is that he went rogue.

CAPUTO: It's not a false narrative. You're creating the false narrative right now. You're repeating the false narrative. The truth is Papadopoulos was not a senior adviser in the campaign. He did very little, if anything. And he traveled around the world dining out on his new business card and picking up women. That's what he did. As we know from the Washington Post report, I read the same story. And I think the Post report confirms that this guy was nothing in the campaign. And we see at the end of the Washington Post story that he is devolving into nothingness. Like I said, he's zelig. He's a hapless, unimportant character.

MELBER: Let me get Paul a brief response. I got one more question.

BUTLER: Zelig is singing like a canary to the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. He has pleaded guilty to one count and he is cooperating. So I think we'll find out just how low level, what a low-level coffee boy does in the Trump administration.

MELBER: I don't know that the word "coffee boy" has ever been said this many times in a single segment but we break all kinds of barriers here. Michael, the over thing I got to ask you, we were covering earlier Steve Bannon criticizing the decision to fire James Comey. You are someone who - - I believe it's fair to say wants Donald Trump's Presidency to succeed. What do you think is the biggest mistake he's made in this Russia probe?

CAPUTO: Well, I think you know, James Comey should have been fired on January 21st, probably to the great fanfare of Democrats across the board. I think he waited too long to fire Comey. And in the end, it may end up being the biggest problem that was created by the White House. I think it was the biggest mistake by far. It's put a lot of people in danger, including the President himself. But I think we're all going to get through this. I think Comey should have been fired, but January 21st.

MELBER: And final question, Michael. What do you order at Starbucks?

CAPUTO: I drink tea.

MELBER: Hey, all right. Not bad. Paul Butler, Michael Caputo --

CAPUTO: By the way -- by the way, in this Hamlet kind of running joke, you know, Steve Bannon would have been Polonius, not Hamlet.

MELBER: Boom, boom! Now there's two of us.

CAPUTO: Right?

MELBER: Because I'm not sure that -- thank you. I'm not sure my earlier work in Shakespeare went over well. We always like to hear from all sides and Michael we appreciate your time. And Paul Butler, thank you both. Ahead, this has been under the radar. Someone Jared Kushner hired during the campaign will testify. That's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: It's been a busy news Monday. And here's another story breaking today. A private eye pleading guilty to trying to steal Trump's tax returns. Prosecutors say he tried and failed to do it during the election. I could tell you that tomorrow the Alabama Special Election of course arrives and we'll be covering that. Later this week, a preview, on Thursday, Alexander Nix, the CEO of that data firm hired by Jared Kushner for the Trump campaign, he is going to testify before House Intel. We'll be covering that on THE BEAT. And then Friday, Eminem not testifying in the Russia probe, but he has been getting political and his new album revival drops Friday. So you can stay plugged in on all of it watching us at 6:00 p.m. Eastern or on Facebook. That is our show. "HARDBALL" starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: 18 days. Let's play HARDBALL.

END

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