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Trump in denial about Russian meddling Transcript 12/14/17 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Nick Akerman, Jamal Simmons, Lori Lodes

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: December 14, 2017 Guest: Nick Akerman, Jamal Simmons, Lori Lodes

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Good evening. The Democratic victory in Alabama changed a lot and tonight there are signs it might even change everything for Donald Trump's last hope for a legislative win before Congress adjourns for the year, which is our top story tonight.

In our newsroom, we are getting new right now new signs that Donald Trump's tax reform bill, which he just touted as days away from passing as recently as yesterday now hanging by a thread. Let me explain why.

Within the last few hours, two Republican senators came out formally against it. That's new. A third announcing he is now "undecided." In the current whip count, three no votes would kill this bill. So, two down and one undecided. Obviously, it does have Republicans slicing their margin into some very thin carpaccio.

And time not on their side because any vote delay into next year would, of course, drop another vote because of that Democratic upset in Alabama this week.


WOLF BLITZER, "CNN" ANCHOR: Republicans stunning defeat in Alabama special election.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST, "MORNING JOE": Republicans lost a Senate seat in deep red Alabama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is one of the most stunning elections that we're going to see in our lifetime.

CHRIS MATHEWS, MSNBC HOST, HARDBALL: The humiliating crush of defeat.

DON LEMON, "CNN" ANCHOR: And stunning victory in Alabama last night shocked some seasoned political observers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think about what it took to get to this particular moment, losing an unlosable senate seat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alabama, the reddest of red states, blood red, bright red, and they could not win the state. That should be sending chills down the spines of many Republicans in Congress. It does not bode well for their fortunes in 2018 at all.


MELBER: You see it there. An overwhelming reaction which reflects politics that are now moving faster than some in Washington ma realize. The whiplash all the more pronounced because so many Republicans saw Alabama as safe red turf.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would not be investing in that race if I were the Senate Republicans. One, they don't need to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roy Moore has the nomination now, according to this poll, comes in with a big lead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump is still very popular in Alabama.


MELBER: It's precisely these shifting political winds right now tonight that are putting tax reform at least potentially in doubt. Now, according to partisan math, this should be a done deal, of course.

The GOP has a Senate majority still. But politics does not ever just boil down to today's math. I think we've learned by now, it's also about tomorrow's calculations.

Are there Republicans in states that looked like Alabama on Monday, reliably red, that can turn blue in a day, leaving their senators wondering if they could be next? That is the climate for these sudden signs tonight of some wobbliness on Trump's signature bill, which we'd have to report would also potentially gut a key Obamacare provision, something republicans couldn't pull off even before Alabama arrived.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": The big story of the day, what is still underway tonight, is Republicans' last-ditch effort to pass a bill, any bill, that would have the effect of repealing Obamacare, repealing the Affordable Care Act, despite the rabid unpopularity of them trying to do that and despite the determination of lots and lots of their constituents, who have been pressing every way they can for their senators to please not do this.


MELBER: And they didn't do it. At least pull it off last summer. And that, of course, before this Democratic wave in Alabama.

So, the question now is whether this week's blue wave is cresting or if it could explode into a full tsunami with the right triggering event. After all, tsunamis are caused by shockwaves on the ocean floor, like a meteor strike or a powerful underwater earthquake.

Tonight's political question is whether this tax bill and this attempt to again gut Obamacare is the earthquake that could catalyze a full blue tsunami.

I've got to tell you, for this question, we are not indebted to a meteorologist, but two former Republican congressmen, David Jolly, who went next level on this analogy on the "11th Hour" last night.


DAVID JOLLY, FORMER REPUBLICAN MEMBER OF THE HOUSE: They are creating not just a wave, but a tsunami. And we can't overlook how policy will impact that. Listen, tsunamis are caused by an underwater earthquake. The underwater earthquake about to launch this is not Roy Moore. It's now the tax bill that is historically unpopular. And going into 2018, Democrats have every tool they need to take over the House and possibly the Senate.


MELBER: Joining me now, Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation" magazine; Katty Kay from "BBC World News America"; and Dana Nessel who is the Democratic candidate for the attorney general of Michigan. One of the candidates we hear about so often joining our conversation.

Katty Kay, is this tax bill the underwater earthquake?

KATTY KAY, BBC HOST, "BBC WORLD NEWS AMERICA": Top Democrats certainly say it is. You heard Nancy Pelosi again today talking about the tax bill. She believes, if it's passed, it's going to be more damaging to the Republicans than if it doesn't pass.

And the other thing that Democrats are looking at is the new Monmouth University poll that shows there's a kind of 15-poing in generic difference between enthusiasm for Republicans and Democrats, and they think that this tax bill if it goes through will play into that.

You do have economists who will say, look, it's going to have a short-term boost in growth short-term boost in benefits for people, not long-term, but there will be a short-term upside.

And, I guess, the question is, when the downside of the tax bill for middle class families starts kicking in.

MELBER: And, Joan, take a listen here to Sen. Rubio who has gotten back in it and there's plenty of political intrigue and debate over what he's up to. But, again, this isn't what they wanted to do post-Alabama. They could have united. Instead, we are seeing some quaking. Here was Rubio.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I'm reasonable about it. And I recognize that with only two of us really pushing forward hard in the Senate, the leverage is lessened. Unless they can figure out a way to add to the 1,100 figure, I won't support the bill.


JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, "THE NATION": I think it's a great position for Marco Rubio to be staking out. It is what he should be doing. Being in Florida, trying to style himself as an independent.

But, look, those of us who oppose the tax bill are sitting here remembering that Marco Rubio eventually caved and turned against the Senate immigration reform bill that he himself helped write.

So, it is very hard to think that, OK, our hopes have to lie with Marco Rubio because I think he had a slinky implanted where his spine was.

Now, maybe he had it taken out and he's got his spine back. It's going to be fascinating to watch. But when I heard it was Marco Rubio, I was like, mmm, I don't know.

MELBER: You're questioning the calcium content of the Rubio spine.

WALSH: Yes. I would like him to have some warm milk tonight and toughen up.

MELBER: Now, Dana, you are one of the candidates we hear so much about. And as you know, Diddy said, "I ain't got to talk it because I live it."

You are out there living it in this environment. So, maybe you can give us your view from the ground on all of these issues and whether the Alabama result, the tax push, the Obamacare gutting, is any of that playing out in Michigan where you are seeking to win a statewide race yourself?

DANA NESSEL, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR MICHIGAN: Well, Ari, I can tell you that all of it is playing out in Michigan.

And I live in a state where, honestly, the population is primarily Democratic. But, unfortunately, right now, the Republicans have taken over all of our state offices including the state legislature.

And for the first time in decades, we had a Republican win the White House in our state. And I think there's a lot of regret here in this state.

And all of the various things that you mentioned, whether it's Obamacare, whether it has to do with this new tax proposal, there's a lot of regret.

And I think we're going to see - when you talk about the tsunami that we expect to see in 2018, I think we're going to see that nowhere in a greater capacity than here in the State of Michigan. And I see our entire state going blue again. And I, for one, welcome it.

MELBER: Michigan, though, a blue-collar state where Donald Trump did much better than was expected. As for the taxes, and whether this is going to drive his numbers further down, the overall Quinnipiac poll here for December, 55 percent disapproval.

Only a quarter of voters, that means way fewer people than Donald Trump's even approval rating against this tax bill. Are you finding that? Do you see people who in Michigan did vote for Donald Trump or have an open mind about him in general, but still actually oppose this bill that they're trying to jam through tonight?

NESSEL: Yes. I'm seeing a lot of buyers' remorse in the state for certain. And I think this tax bill - I hate to say this is going to be the thing that's the death knell in terms of support for Trump because there are so many different things.

But I think that he's going to have a very difficult time convincing people in this state that this is in any way good for middle class individuals.

MELBER: So, look, Joan, this is a lot of the politics. And sometimes when people see Donald Trump again in trouble on the Hill where he doesn't seem to be very proficient at stringing together legislative majorities - I say that as a factual observation -

WALSH: Absolutely.

MELBER: Some people figure that's good news. Let's talk about what's actually in this bill, though, right? because there is a sort of a fake news agenda with this president that we all know about.

And so, the question is, do you think these numbers, which again are pretty low, do they reflect the fact that people found out, if you don't make a lot of money, this bill is bad for you. If you live in a lot of different states where you currently get to deduct state taxes, which is something conservatives always like, they said you shouldn't be double taxed, now all of a sudden you're going to be paying more taxes.

Meaning, I don't care what you make in a lot of states in this country, Washington State, California, New York, you're just going to be paying more taxes, Trump voters.

Do you think it's the ingredients that are making this recipe look worse?

WALSH: I don't know how much people can drill down on what's in the bill because I'm having a hard time because they're changing it every day, right?

There's a House bill. There's a Senate bill. And now, supposedly, there's a compromise that they all agree on. But they're not - one reason that you know that they know it's not popular is they're really not trumpeting what's in it from the roof tops.

But we do know it seems like what's in the compromise is again - it's designed to punish blue states and it's also, though, designed I think to give the Democrats back the house because there are, I believe, nine Republicans in New York, there are 13 - I don't know. I'm going out on a limb. I don't remember in my old home state of California. There are a bunch of vulnerable Republicans if they vote for this bill which makes me think maybe they won't vote for it.

MELBER: So, Katty, speak to Joan's point about marketing. I always know if I'm in a strange town or travelling and the restaurant has the menu out front, I always feel like it's a good sign. I can see the prices, I can see what they have, I can make a decision from there.

Whereas if you have to go into the restaurant - also, it's awkward. You're talking to the hostess, you look at the hostess. You know, the whole thing. Is it a bad sign to Joan's point that they're not exactly putting this tax bill menu out in front of the restaurant?

KAY: I think that's partly because they keep changing the tax bill menu because some of them don't know what's in it until the very last minute either.

But, look, you've got two conflicting sets of messages. You've got the Republican message which is, this will be classic stimulus, it will boost growth, all the ships will rise and everybody will benefit in the end from this bill. Let's forget about the fact that it's going to increase the deficit, which is so much yesterday's story for the Republican Party.

Then you've got the Democrats who are going out and saying, hold on a second, this is actually not going to boost growth enough to provide some kind of benefit to middle class and working-class families in the country.

And that seems to be, just judging by the poll numbers of approval on this bill, that seems to be the message that is winning.

The vast majority of people, myself included, do not really totally understand the mechanics, the nitty gritty, the sort of fine details of a big tax reform bill like this. But they are getting the message.

And the message that they're getting is the Democratic message. The Democrats have been more successful on this messaging than the Republicans have been, just judging by the polling numbers.

MELBER: Interesting. And finally, Dana, you have taken on the argument, and I've seen this in coverage out of Michigan that you say there are people in Michigan who are not comfortable with the Democrats running an all women ticket. Can you walk us through that and what your counterargument has been on that?

NESSEL: Well, obviously, given what we've seen recently with all the sexual harassment scandals, I've been pushing back hard on that notion. And we have potentially an all-female ticket, whether you go right down from the United States Senate, governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and we do have what I think is the likelihood, at least for the Democrats, of having an all-female slate.

And I think given the circumstances, what we're seeing right now in the nation, and given the fact that we have so few women legislators at this time, I think it's a great thing and I think it's going to assist in terms of the Democrats bringing back elected office holders to this state.

And in terms of the tsunami that you previously described, I think that's why we're going to see that here in Michigan and across the country with lots of new women that are promoted, that are elected into political office.

MELBER: Well, it's fascinating. And we showed the data earlier on THE BEAT this week. More women candidates than we've seen in many, many cycles.

I have to be clear, though, not my tsunami. David Jolly's tsunami. He owns the analogy and he will keep the copyright.

Dana Nessel, Katty Kay and Joan Walsh, thank you each.

Coming up, news coming in here on Donald Trump and Putin speaking by phone today. Putin also speaking publicly about collusion. The former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul is here live.

And the conservative attack machine going in on Bob Mueller. But is it all aimed at an audience of one? We've got some experts on that.

And the stealth repeal of Obamacare. This could be the most important story tonight. We have a special report on it.

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


MELBER: Bob Mueller's Russia probe, as we know, is basically about what the Russians did and how Trump responded. And we've learned that is a lot right there.

But tonight, what about what the Russians are still doing? And will do next? We are now learning that Donald Trump and Putin spoke by phone today and their conversation comes right after a new report detailing how trump's denial of Russian interference may be exposing the United States to new threats.

Because even in private, Donald Trump refusing to face facts about Russian election meddling. This, according to a "Washington Post" account. Apparently, he's so touchy that aides tiptoe around mentioning Russia. The reporting puts his public statements in a new light.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.


MELBER: Here's what's important. This goes beyond messaging. Officials telling "The Post", the most vital national security briefing in the nation, the president's daily brief, can be routinely structured to avoid upsetting him on the issue, Russia-related intel that might draw Trump's ire, included only in the written assessment and not raised orally.

What? Think about that. It means that Trump doesn't stop and read this separately. It's as if it isn't there. Trump telling "The Washington Post" last year, he actually doesn't need to read much because he reaches the right decisions with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I already had. Which is fine. He got this far that way.

The problem is if our Russia intel and threats aren't meeting him there. They're being put in writings that's he has told intel briefers he doesn't read.

So, the White House is pushing back on this report tonight. But even if you put aside any theory you have about what the Trump campaign did or didn't do with Russia in 2016, it is chilling to think of any president of the United States going in daily and being potentially ignorant of what Russia is up to now.

This is the United States adversary with, of course, the most nuclear weapons and a history of meddling, apparently now getting to be seen, but not heard.

Today, the dance appears to work with Vladimir Putin himself who personally shot down collusion allegations.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): You know, all of this has been invented, made up by people who are in opposition to President Trump, with a view to shedding a negative light on what President Trump is doing. And for me, it is very bizarre.


MELBER: Is this bizarre? I'm joined by David Priess, a former CIA intel officer and daily briefer at the CIA. In fact, Bob Mueller, among the people he briefed daily. He's the author of "The President's Book of Secrets" and a perfect guest for this important discussion. As well as his counterpart in our panel tonight. Former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul.

David, it is definitely a coin toss as to which expert I get to learn from and our viewers get to learn from right now. But I'm going to start with you, David, because you've been involved in this intelligence.

Is this a problem?

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER DAILY INTELLIGENCE BRIEFER AT THE CIA: Yes. There are many parts of this report in "The Washington Post" today that are disturbing about the way the president is dealing with the implications of this major national security threat.

The part about the briefings actually reflected a bit of a misunderstanding about what the briefer's job is. The fact that something is included in the written version of the president's daily brief, but not called out orally, well, we've had more presidents than not in the last 50 plus years who didn't take an oral briefing of the PDB at all. They simply read the content.

MELBER: But I'm going to hang you up there. I completely understand the historical point you're making. But I wonder, giving "The Washington Post" account I just gave of Donald Trump's own words, whether in this instance, that is problematic because he's not reading.

PRIESS: Yes. We don't know how much he's reading the book itself. What we've heard from intelligence community leaders who have spoken about what happens inside that briefing is that it's a very interactive event that they move from topic to topic, he engages on the material, especially maps and graphics and other visualizations.

But what we haven't heard is how much he's reading the parts that aren't focused on in that briefing. The implication is that at least the discussion leads to the most interesting parts to him, but we don't have the answer to that question.

We do have the experience -

MELBER: I'm not trying to over-interject -

PRIESS: -- of knowing that he does pay attention to some of it.

MELBER: Yes. I've got to interject. Here's what Trump also said about this in January. "I don't need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you."

Ambassador McFaul, your view here on this and where Russia fits in.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, a couple of things. Before I went to Moscow, I worked for three years at the National Security Council. I've been in the PDBs. And my job was Russia there.

And it is incumbent upon the national security team, not just the briefer, but H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, to make sure the president is briefed on all national security threats. Of course, Russia is at the top of the list.

And the very fact that the president continues to deny facts - they're facts that the intelligence community gathered, most experts agree that Russia interfered, violated our sovereignty in 2016, suggests that he's not been properly briefed on that particular set of facts.

MELBER: And so, ambassador, that goes again to the future part of this. Let's give - in law, we say, arguendo, for the benefit of the doubt and for argument, let's give the president and his team full benefit of the doubt that they didn't know about any of this, they didn't do any of this during the election -

MCFAUL: And yet, here we are reading a very detailed account about their complete avoidance of dealing with the threat now. I mean, again, I try not to be melodramatic as we report these stories, but I'm reading this going, what is going on?

MCFAUL: Two things. Number one, I've never understood the president's strategy of denying those facts because, to me, it would have been very simple to say, just as you just did, I had nothing to do with it, that's what the Russians do, but it didn't affect the outcome of the election and everybody would be on the same page.

There would be no relitigation. Let's have another election because of what the Russians did. There's no empirical basis for that second claim and it would have been over. So that he continues to deny it I think creates his own problem.

But the second point is also true. And we can judge them by their actions. Not just their intentions. As far as I can tell, there's been nothing done to prevent this kind of attack from happening in 2018.

There's been no new laws. There's been no new cybersecurity doctrine to help secure and protect and to create greater resilience to our systems. There's been no new laws with respect to in any way trying to influence or shape the way that Russia can behave on different social media platforms. That suggests they're not taking this threat very seriously.

MELBER: David?

PRIESS: Yes. Let me revisit something Ambassador McFaul said. There are two parts here. One is whether the president is getting the intelligence information and assessments that he would need to make decisions.

And that is in question. Whether the briefer is getting it across or not, it appears from the reporting today that they are not taking out the Russian assessments. They're just changing the order of the briefing to make sure that he actually listens to it in the right frame of mind.

But even if the intelligence briefer isn't getting that information to him, you expect the national security adviser and others to make sure they bring it up with the president. But that's just the first part.

The second part is, well, then what do you do about it? And if they're receiving this intelligence information, and either denying it or ignoring it, that is not a well-functioning national security system and it is not going to end well.

MELBER: You both put it so well. And it is an important story. And this is not a drill. Before we leave, David, I did notice your tweet today and I want to share it with the viewers of THE BEAT when you said you'd offer "context and perspective on this #WashPo reporting about adjustments to POTUS intel briefings. You down with PDB? (Yeah, you know me)." David, is this the first time that Naughty by Nature has been invoked in the context of the daily brief?

PRIESS: It's certainly the first time on this program, but I can't speak to what happens in private conversations among briefers.

MELBER: Do we have that? Do we have any visual of that?

PRIESS: We're down with PDB. There it is. There's Naughty by Nature for folks who really want to get deep into the intel reference.

Ambassador McFaul, you are spared from David and I's music nerdiness. You don't have to participate. Thank you both, Ambassador Michael McFaul and David Priess.

Up next, the GOP versus Bob Mueller. Eric Holder weighing in unusually blunt. I'm going to explain.

And Donald Trump's eroding political power in the wake of Alabama, a new foe in the Senate. We'll explain.


MELBER: - but the right wing calls to fire Bob Mueller might be a blazing inferno. Sean Hannity says Republicans are following his lead.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST, HANNITY: There's a mountain of evidence now showing this bias among Mueller's investigators.

Shut down Mueller's corrupt witch hunt immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bias and political corruption has infested Mueller's investigation.

MIKE HUCKABEE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ARKANSAS: This is an intent to stage what especially amounts of coup d'etat of the highest elected office in the United States of America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This stuff smells worse than a seed lot at a hog farm. There's something rotten at the head of this fish.

HANNITY: All of this sound familiar? It should. You've heard it here first.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: You heard it there first. That's actually true. Although apparently, Sean Hannity doesn't realize it actually undercuts his larger argument. After all, everyone knows the only basis publicly offered for Mueller's alleged bias is attacks from a highly partisan organ there and not any other independent evidence that would undercut the biased attack. Now as we've reported here, this is also a different tact than Donald Trump's handpicked lawyers to be fair, who stress they're being cooperative and have a quiet back and forth Mueller that been on for months. Others though are concerned about this.

Take the former Attorney General Eric Holder who's jumping into this fight. He does not tweet as often as the President but he bluntly writes on Twitter, "Any attempt to remove Mueller will not be tolerated. These are B.S. attacks on him, his staff that are blatantly politically designed to hide the real wrongdoing." That was part of what he wrote there. Lifelong Republican Max Boot went even further on the Beat last night.


MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Speaks offensive charges against Robert Mueller to essentially justify the firing of the Special Counsel by Donald Trump. This assault on the rule of law which they are engaging in now by raising one ridiculous charge after another against Robert Mueller. This is -- there is something deeply wrong with this party. And you know, I was a Republican for my entire adult life until last November. But now I have to say, I devoutly hope that every single Republican running for election next November loses.


MELBER: Strong words. Nick Akerman, a Watergate Special Prosecutor joins me as well as Elise Jordan a former Adviser to Senator Rand Paul, a Republican and an MSNBC Analyst as well. Nick, you don't hear former McCain-Romney advisers saying every Republican should lose. A lot of them, even if they're Trump critics should say, well, elect Republicans, disagree with the President. Max Boot drew a line happened to be on the show last night but he's well known regardless of where he said it. He drew a line last night and said this is how bad the attacks on the rule of law are.

NICK AKERMAN, WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: And it really is on the rule of law. I was a Federal Prosecutor for approximately ten years. I mean, this is not -- politics is not something that prosecutors deal with. They deal with the rule of law. I couldn't even tell you the dozens of FBI agents I worked over the years and supervised. Politics never came into it whatsoever. I never knew what people's political affiliations were. I didn't who know they voted for. I mean, the mission of the Department of Justice is to investigate fairly and thoroughly violations of federal criminal law and to prosecute those violation. Politics has nothing to do with it. I mean, even people who later went into politics, I didn't even know they had the politics they had when they were there.

I mean, what you have here in this situation is a couple of situations where Mueller is trying to make sure that this investigation and this prosecution is above reproach and is absolutely squeaky clean in terms of the public view. You have one FBI agent who did some bad texts and Mueller was absolutely right to remove him from the prosecution team. I mean, if he hadn't removed him, that might be another story. But the fact of the matter is this agent had nothing to do with the guilty plea of Papadopoulos. He didn't make up the evidence that Papadopoulos certainly plead. He didn't make up the evidence that Flynn suddenly plead. And he certainly didn't create all the documents that buried Manafort in that indictment.

MELBER: Right, and the wider -- and the wider thing we're seeing the least is a real rampant bout of what about-ism. Jay Sekulow, one of the President's attorney is calling for a special counsel and we reported on that and we accurately reported on his words about that, but then we also dug into the history. And Jay Sekulow sort oh has mayonnaise view of special counsels. By which I mean, the more the better. And as you know, a little extra mayonnaise is great. This is not the first time that Jay Sekulow has suddenly said, you know, what, never mind about this, there should be a special counsel for some Democrat or some other thing. Here he was in the past on this issue.


JAY SEKULOW, LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: Why do we have a special counsel dealing with the Russia hacking when they had that evidence and did nothing? Why don't we have a special counsel reviewing why President Trump did nothing after he assured the American people -- he gets intelligence briefings but then assures the American people Russia did not interfere with the election? He does that in October. Why isn't there a special counsel trying to figure out why President Obama did nothing when this happened?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need -- that is special counsel on the special counsel at this point.


MELBER: I'll just give the answer. The reason is that even if that was a huge mistake and you wish President Obama did more against Russia, as many people do, that is not a felony. And so there this criminalization of politics issue as well because he keeps calling for a special counsel as some kind of something.

ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, that has been the disturbing trend of how President Trump has addressed his law enforcement agencies, his intelligence agencies, since even before he's come -- he came into office. He has been attempting to cast doubt upon the veracity -- upon the integrity about the A-political nature of the work. And you look at the Special Counsel and the investigation that's happening right now. It would not have happened if Donald Trump had not fired the FBI Direct Or Jim Comey.

MEMBER: Do you think he knows that deep down?

JORDAN: I think deep down he knows it. But this is a strategy to politicize what's happening at the FBI the same way he wants to cast doubt on what media is reporting that goes against what his narrative is.

MELBER: Right. And the other interesting part -- we report on the facts. We don't do predictions. But the fact is that people like Eric Holder, and a lot of other serious analysts, Bill Kristol also out there today with this, seem to be drawing a line like they're worried about something. We don't know what they're worried about because we don't have that yet. But we're out of time, but briefly --

AKERMAN: I think they're worried about the rule of law, that what they're doing is undermining our basic judicial and legal system that has always been fair and thorough. And that's what the Department of Justice has always been about. That's why it has this independence.

MELBER: Nick Akerman and Elise Jordan, thank you both. I have to fit in a break. Coming up, the latest Republican efforts to go after ObamaCare. It is a technically unrelated bill but it could be a big change. And after Trump backs two losing candidates in Alabama, is he losing his hold in the Republican Party? An important step on judges, later.


MELBER: The other story developing tonight, this legislative sleight of hand to gut ObamaCare but may be in plain sight. Republicans attaching yet another repeal of the individual mandate to the larger tax cut bill which is being hammered out in Conference and as I reported at the top of the hour hangs by just a few votes. The focus has been on taxes, virtually all on taxes and there's plenty to cover, but what about ObamaCare? This is a huge deal. This same idea, scrapping the mandate one way or another was part of that so-called skinny repeal which went down with that dramatic thumbs down from Senator McCain last summer. But now it's back. Republicans basically hoping to ram another version of this while everyone is talking about taxes and even talking about their loss in Alabama.

Let's give you some facts. The nonpartisan office of the budget for Congress says you'd lose up to 13 million people's insurance this way and increase premiums by 10 percent. This new repeal effort comes near the end of ObamaCare's most successful enrollment period ever. And as some are saying to Republicans, I know what you did last summer. Joining me now is Democratic Strategist Jamal Simmons and Lori Lodes, a former Senior Counsel to Department of Health and Human Services under Barack Obama, also Co- Founder of Get America Covered. Jamal, if at first, you don't succeed --is this going to work?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't think that it will work with the economy, although it may be that the Republicans are able to pull it off. I'll let Lori weigh in on all the facts with how this thing is supposed to come together. But here's the problem. We as a society are having trouble with getting people who are moving in and out of jobs as companies become more international. They move back and forth, capital is going across borders. Americans are being left on their own. We need a health care system that allows them to make economic choices and doesn't penalize them. When a company lets them go, they still need to be able to get a job and keep their health care.

MELBER: Lori, you worked this. You know it inside and out. Why do you think the enrollment numbers are up, more people getting covered even in the Trump era as they badmouth ObamaCare? And how crucial is this? I mean, do you view what is currently in the tax bill as effectively gutting ObamaCare? Do you view it as equal to skinny repeal?

LORI LODES, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Well, there's no doubt that it's another version of repeal. It's going to mean 13 million fewer people have health care. It's going to mean double- digit increases in premiums and it's going to price out a lot of people so they can't afford to get health coverage. What we're seeing with open enrollment where we have a deadline, that's tomorrow, December 15th, if you want coverage for 2018 at is that people value having health coverage. That's why to your point that more people have signed up this year than any year in the past under a similar time frame. And so it doesn't matter -- the politics are getting in the way of people's health. And that's what people -- they just want to get health care. They do not care about the political gamesmanship that the Republicans are playing right now.

SIMMONS: And Ari, I've got a friend who lives in Los Angeles, 32 years old, wasn't feeling well, went to the doctor. 32 years old, found out he had leukemia and the only reason he's not going to go broke is because they signed him up for ObamaCare while he was in the emergency room. That's the kind of thing that the Republicans are trying to stop letting happen for Americans.

MELBER: So Lori, how does this work though? I mean, do you expect the Republicans --if the tax bill does move forward and we've reported that in the act, do you expect them to somehow soften or strip this out or you think this is what they want in there?

LODES: I think it's what they want in. They have been wanting to repeal this law and take away coverage for people for the past year. Well, for the -- sense it passed, but they have been focused on this day in and day out. The problem is what is Senator Collins is going to do? She has said that she needs Alexander-Murray to pass which stabilizes the marketplace and makes it even stronger. She has said that Collins-Nelson needs to pass. This gives more money to make sure that people who are sick do not cause a big strain on this system. What we know is neither of these are really up for consideration. So it's hard to see how she's going to vote for it under the current circumstances. But it seems like people just have on blinders and they're just moving forward with taking away coverage from people.

MELBER: And Jamal, do you view this as getting on thing done this year which is kind of more important than anything or does Alabama and the larger anxiety actually make some of these republicans more wobbly?

SIMMONS: For the life of me, Ari, I can't understand what these people are up to. They haven't gotten anything done all year. The thing that they decided after they lost in Virginia, they lost in a red state like Alabama and the one thing they're going to do is take away people's health care and give tax cuts to the wealthy. Now, let me tell you this. If people find out that the insurance premiums are going up on them because Donald Trump took away this mandate, they'll be more upset than Q-Tip when he found out Tribe didn't make the Grammys. It's going to be a problem for the Republican Party.

MELBER: Lori, do you want to weigh in the Tribe?

LODES: (INAUDIBLE). But I will say, I think the one thing that -- the lesson they he should learn also not just from the election in Alabama is what is happening right now with open enrollment?


LODES: We are seeing the biggest demand ever.

MELBER: Yes -- five --yes.

LODES: Yes. And we have over 1.4 million new people have come into the marketplace. That is growing right now as we speak. And the surge is real. And it is hard to see, how do you look at that? And this -- you know what, we should actually make it so people don't get health coverage.

MELBER: Right. The struggle is real as they say but the surge is also real.

LODES: The surge is real.

MELBER: And we live -- we line in a world where there's a lot of predictions, people make them. I don't think anyone could have predicted that year one of Donald Trump, despite him talking down on ObamaCare so much would have this surge. And yet -- and yet the other takeaway tonight, the Republican said it, very close to doing what he couldn't do last summer and trying to gut a part of ObamaCare which is why we stay on the story. Jamal Simmons, Lori Lodes thank you both.

SIMMONS: Thank you.

LODES: Thank you.

MELBER: New evidence tonight, Donald Trump's political power in trouble. We'll explain. And this is fun, live from New York, a big sign of progress. Some news was made on "SNL," perhaps long overdue. We'll get into it later in the show.


MELBER: -- scrutiny from the Trump administration, sometimes under the radar. After Alabama, new signs about Trump's eroding political power and couple that with the ways the journalistic reporting and his political scrutiny are actually dealing Donald Trump some new losses. Take Trump's EPA nominee. He is now withdrawing his nomination over ties to the chemical industry, or this, the powerful Republican Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Charles Grassley rejecting two of Trump's federal bench nominees as Rachel Maddow has reported.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Republicans announced coincidently that they are rejecting, they're pulling the plug on two of Trump's most -- forgive me -- most embarrassing judicial nominees. When you have no fear of any political consequences that your president can rain down on you, you are less willing to do something embarrassing on his behalf.


MELBER: Those two nominees deemed unqualified by the nonpartisan American Bar Association. One of them said transgender children were part of "Satan's plan," the other was actually flagged by the NAACP's Sherrilyn Ifill in November on THE BEAT.


SHERRILYN IFILL, PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR-COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: You just mentioned Brett Talley, someone who has never tried a case, never even argued a motion in court has been nominated to sit on a trial court in the middle district of Alabama. Yes, he may have blogged about paranormal activity, but he also wrote a blog praising what he called the first KKK before the KKK went bad and writing an encomium to Nathan Bedford Forrest.


MELBER: Civil rights advocates were shining a light on that nominee long before the headlines. That's what we're recovering. He's out tonight. Now, Republicans don't usually block Republican President's judicial picks. Grassley had been zipping through Trump's picks. In fact, he confirmed 12 circuit judges this year which is more than any president has ever gotten confirmed in the first year. But those two judges were apparently too radical even for him. And it shows that Democrats wider focus on Trump's cabinet and on his nominees may be working.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You know, swindlers and crooks are out there doing backflips when they hear an answer like this. You can't commit to use the tools that are already available to you in the Department of Education, then I don't see how you can be the secretary.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: You can't lead if we don't believe you. And when I say we, I mean the American public.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Your states is having a record-breaking number of earthquakes, you acknowledge you are concerned. If that's the kind of EPA administrator you will be, you're not going to get my vote.


MELBER: Notice the thread. That was months ago but it's the same Trump EPA under fire tonight. Meanwhile, who can forget Tom Price's ousted from Health and Human Services for private jet abuse, also calls for an investigation into reports that Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was up to similar antics of using helicopter rides. Trump's Drug Czar also out. And keeping Trump's nominations accountable matters. Consider that in every one of these cases, it was a combination of things, investigative reporting, a pressure on whether people were even qualified and scrutiny of what matters for qualifications even in the Trump era. And now you have the political part. Republicans feel like maybe they don't have to have Trump's blessing to do their work or be a rubber strand. A reminder all of this how much Alabama matters, how much investigative reporting matters. Yes, how much truth matters, something to think about here in the wake of that political earthquake.

Up next, we turn the page because "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" has a big move. And I'm going to show you why it is not only funny but important


MELBER: Live from New York, it's Saturday night. Everyone knows the phrase, the iconic opening to "SNL." And for 42 years, that show has made history in our culture and certainly in our politics. People call it groundbreaking. It's launched the careers of many people including many well-known African-American stars like Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, the beloved Tracy Morgan, Maya Rudolph, and still on the show today, Leslie Jones.


EDDIE MURPHY, MEMBER, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: My name is Eddie Murphy, I'm 19 years old and this is my comment. I don't want to be drafted, that I get drafted, who's going to be the talking black on "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE?"

CHRIS ROCK, MEMBER SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: There's so many holidays they celebrate every year that means nothing like Columbus Day. Nobody celebrates Columbus Day. Nobody puts like three ships in their front yard.

TRACY MORGAN, MEMBER, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: Good evening and welcome to Brian Fellows Safari Planet. I'm Brian Fellows.




MELBER: Plenty of talents there want to choose from and yet in 42 years NBC's flagship comedy never tried to promote an African-American to Head Writer until right now. We can update Michael Che was just promoted to Co- Head Writer joining his update partner Colin Jost, the two known for their weekend update collaborations.


MICHAEL CHE, CO-HEAD WRITER, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: Look, here's a list of things that are harder to get than a gun, a driver's license, a purple belt in karate, Kevin Hart tickets, a GED, spray paint.

And you're just admitting that?


CHE: But that's obstruction of justice.


CHE: Wait, so did I get him? Is this all over? Oh, no, I didn't. Nothing matters, absolutely nothing matters anymore.

In one month you've mishandled Puerto Rico, DACA, the NFL. It's like whenever anybody darker than your golf pants has a problem you're thinking how can I make this worse?


MELBER: And Michael Che attracted noticed specifically for this writing, like this black jeopardy sketch with Tom Hanks as a relatable Trump supporter.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Let's go to -- they're out there saying for that A.

CHE: OK, the answer now. They out here saying that every vote counts. Oh, Doug again.

TOM HANKS, ACTOR: What is -- come on, they already decided who wins even before it happens


MELBER: Michael Che has done a lot of good work on the camera and behind it and while overdue, we wish him congratulations. That does it for THE BEAT. I'll see you back here tomorrow 6:00 p.m. Eastern. "HARDBALL" starts now.



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