Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: December 15, 2017 Guest: Eugene Scott, Jill Wine-Banks, Seth Waxman, James Melendres, Frank Figliuzzi, Todd Carmichael, Nick Hanauer, Al Sharpton, Howard Fineman, Baratunde Thurston
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: A little extra. Is there a good IM screenname for "Meet the Press"? That`s the obvious question.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": Yes, MTP, baby.
MELBER: MTP, baby. Thank you for the memories, as they say. I remember.
TODD: There you go.
MELBER: Have a good weekend, Chuck. We begin with breaking news. Republicans say their tax bill is now ready to go. Paul Ryan says the House will vote as soon as Tuesday and we`re going to get to that later this hour. I have a CEO who is saying there`s still time to stop this bill.
That news comes as the top Democrat on the House Intel Committee warns Republicans may try to shut down that panel`s bipartisan Russia probe. He says within days. That`s breaking tonight. Sounding an alarm on Friday night.
House Republicans also calling on the party to unify around trying to get Bob Mueller fired, which comes as we are learning of new reports about just how early Vladimir Putin tried to cultivate Donald Trump`s campaign, which is, of course, coming at a bad time for the president. The very day, today, that he was addressing the FBI.
We`re also seeing a little more of what`s happening in Bob Mueller`s investigation tonight. We know he`s been probing evidence and testimony here all around Russia. But there is a new report, he is getting new e- mails from Trump`s vaunted digital operation and plowing through so many White House staff interviews that the White House lawyer claims they`re all done. That is TBD.
So, there`s the evidence, there`s the testimony in those interviews. But, tonight, we begin with a third lens that investigators use. The calendar.
When you walk in on a crime scene, that`s very different than if you plot a crime scene. So, let`s walk through what these new reports show about Bob Mueller and how he`s digging into when the Russian operation first began.
Because when it made contact with the Trump campaign, that was a key moment. And how did they react? Well, the man behind the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, it turns out, first suggested a Trump-Putin meeting a year before that.
"The Washington Post" reporting that man, Rob Goldstone, sent an e-mail back on July 24th, 2015, arguing that maybe Trump would welcome a meeting with Putin.
Now, there`s no sign that meeting occurred. But this was all the way back in 2015. Consider the timing. Just a month into Trump going down that escalator and launching this long shot campaign. And while he was initially surging with his name ID in the polls, many thought he wouldn`t last.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Trump toast? Donald Trump feeling the heat from fellow Republicans after he slammed former Vietnam POW Sen. John McCain.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Republicans feel that the quicker he gets out of the race, the better it is for the party.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He needs to be out of the race.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST, "MORNING JOE": If he wants to play for the long run, he`s got to stop making these type of mistakes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think I`ll stay up on the polls.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some now predicting, Martha, this could be the beginning of the end for Trump`s candidacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The beginning of the end. You`ve heard that before. But if Donald Trump`s team was getting these offers to meet with Vladimir Putin in 2015, it does raise questions about what the Russians were thinking.
As Rachel Maddow has reported, the Trump-Russia dossier, which has not been fully verified by NBC News, did allege that Russians had been eyeing Trump for years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": Steele wrote on that first page, "Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years. Aim, endorsed by Putin, has been to encourage splits and divisions in Western alliance."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Five years cultivating Donald Trump for those Russian political ends.
Another "Washington Post" report this week also key here. It suggests the White House is softening the current Russia threat that was shaking D.C. at the end of this week because it shows people close to Trump spinning his bizarre Russia behavior by saying, well, it`s all ego, and he refuses to address the Russian interference because "the idea he`s been put into office by Vladimir Putin is pretty insulting."
But let`s pause on how all these threads are coming together. I`m indebted for this point to Heather Digby Parton who writes quite interestingly in "Salon" that that explanation there in that article from the Trump administration suggests that he`s just a juvenile egomaniac who won`t confront the Russians because suggesting he didn`t win on the election on its own merits hurts his feelings.
That explanation about feelings, but she writes, "It fails to account for all the sucking up Trump did towards Putin during the campaign and his continued inability to say a bad word about him ever since."
This is the important point we begin on tonight. Trump`s legal defense has to account for what is otherwise bizarre behavior towards Putin.
Maybe ego becomes a way to draw a line and point to November. But Bob Mueller is investigating how we got to November and why so many people around Donald Trump appeared committed to appeasing Russia.
The more Mueller finds efforts at cooperation that do go back one year, or this new "Washington Post" report that goes back two years, or years more than that, the more he finds that the harder it becomes to claim this was all a one-sided Russian cultivation.
For more, I`m joined by Eugene Scott, political reporter from "The Washington Post" which was breaking some of those stories I mentioned; former Watergate prosecutor, Jill Wine-Banks; and former federal prosecutor, Seth Waxman.
Welcome to you all. Jill, do those dots connect in a way that Mueller would be probing?
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: They definitely connect. I see a long trail of evidence that points to the Trump campaign and Trump himself and Trump`s family. His son and son-in-law working with the Russians and then concealing it.
The failure to disclose all of the meetings from his cabinet members, from his son and son-in-law, are all very suspicious, and make me want to know more. It doesn`t make me think that there is no collusion. It makes me think there is support for concluding that there is collusion.
MELBER: Seth, you have been a federal prosecutor for many years in the D.C. US attorney`s office. You`ve also, as I understand, done some criminal defense. A classic criminal defense technique is to say, well, here`s a bad thing about the defendant and it sounds bad, but actually helps explain why he didn`t commit a crime.
How much of that do you see here? And why if you called this defense of, oh, yes, the only reason he doesn`t want to talk about Russia or hear it at the intel briefings is that it insults him and not that there`s anything else to it?
SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. I think Bob Mueller and his team will see right through that. I mean, Donald Trump refusing to hear intel about the Russians, as a citizen of this country, is concerning, obviously, without getting into the national security implications.
But more to the reasons why he may not want to hear that evidence or that information from his intelligence community is that he may be required to do something about it.
And if, essentially, he is going to send his intel community off to investigate those things, that investigation may turn up evidence against Donald Trump. In other words, he could be handing the axe to the executioner.
And so, it`s very disconcerting to me as a former federal prosecutor when the president of the United States essentially abdicates his responsibility to look into these kinds of activities.
MELBER: Yes. And, Eugene, then that connects with Donald Trump describing his recent phone call with Vladimir Putin. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: - call with Vladimir Putin.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was great. He said very nice things about what I`ve done for this country in terms of the economy. But he said also some negative things in terms of what`s going on elsewhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump, good; other things, bad.
EUGENE SCOTT, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, indeed. I mean, the president has a history of speaking favorably about Putin, but this is problematic for this country, according to our intelligence agencies, because Russian officials do not see the US as favorably as Trump sees Russia.
And this could have serious national security implications because this is not something that our intelligence agencies think will end with the 2016 presidential election.
MELBER: I want you all to stay with me and to pull on the larger legal thread here. I also want to bring in a former federal prosecutor, James Melendres. He was counsel to the assistant attorney general.
Good to see you, sir. On this conversation and the legal thread, what does it mean when "The Washington Post" reporting puts the first Russian contact here potentially a full year earlier than was previously known?
JAMES MELENDRES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, Ari, I think you`re right that it`s clear that Mueller and his team are investigating what led to the election this November.
And that includes this earlier than reported first effort to initiate a meeting between the president and Vladimir Putin by Rob Goldstone.
But what strikes me as a former federal prosecutor is what Mueller is investigating that occurred after November. And that is, many of the individuals, or at least two, namely Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, who either were involved in setting up or trying to broker meetings between the campaign and the Russians, or who had contacts with the Russians, lied about it to the FBI.
And both those men, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, have now been charged and pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI.
People make false statements to the FBI for one or two reasons. To protect themselves or to protect someone else. And so, I think what remains to be seen is which of those two options was at play.
MELBER: And that`s all happening, Jill, at the same time that Adam Schiff, who folks recognize as the top Dem on the Russia probe in the House, really waving the flag today.
I`ll read what he said. "I`m increasingly worried Republicans will shut down the House Intel investigation at the end of the month. They`ve scheduled no witnesses after next Friday. None in 2017. Next week, they`ve scheduled critical witness interviews out of state when we`re voting. And no members will be able to ask questions. These witnesses are willing to come to D.C."
As you know, Jill, and as our viewers know from following Washington controversies, when it comes out like this in public, it means they`ve already fought it out in private, with him saying, well, why don`t we have the folks come down from New York to D.C, and the Republicans apparently saying no. And so, it`s spilling out in public.
Do you see that - is it all related to what are escalating attacks on Mueller and this wider feeling that, hard to know exactly why, but over the last two weeks, with the Flynn guilty plea coming out, there has been a much more vociferous Republican set of counterattacks?
WINE-BANKS: I think the closer that Mueller gets to the president and the more he shows that there is crimes that are worth pursuing, the more the Republicans are trying shut it down.
They are trying to divert attention, following the Trump model, by saying let`s investigate Hillary Clinton, and let`s not investigate this. That`s typical of the Trump tactics, and the Republicans are falling for it.
They`re going to suffer in the same way that happened during the Anita Hill hearings when witnesses who were available and ready to testify weren`t allowed to testify. And we know now that there was a lot of truth that could have been brought forth.
The public should be demanding public hearings. A public outcry is what we need here to get the evidence and the facts out. And investigating the Russia collusion, skipping the word collusion with Trump, just what they did to our elections is essential for our democracy. So, we have to be looking at that.
And along the way, we should be finding out whether anyone in the Trump team was involved. And there`s evidence aplenty of that. We have people who have hidden meetings and have been cooperating with the Russians for a long time.
And as Rachel Maddow showed in her special on the dossier, this new evidence that there was an attempt to reach Trump earlier is only proof that the dossier may be correct when it said that they`ve been trying to reach Trump for many years. So, I think it all fits together.
MELBER: And parts of it have been verified through public accounts and parts of it remain unverified or strenuously denied. And we always try to be careful about that because it is a long, unfiltered document that`s sort of floating on the Internet.
And, Seth, we don`t just report anything on the Internet. Also, it would take too long because it`s big. There`s so much on the Internet. Internet joke, quiet panel.
Seth, last question to you. When you look at how Bob Mueller approaches this, on the one hand, he is trying to lead everyone to do their job and stay focused and they`ve got a lot of interviews. They`ve had quite a lot of fast work done.
On the other hand, since you`ve been in the federal office in Washington and done some of this work, you can`t ignore everything, right? He`s got to be somewhat aware about the calls to oust him growing louder. How politically, legally or otherwise do prosecutors deal with that?
WAXMAN: Well, prosecutors, just like everyone else are human beings. And, certainly, Bob Mueller and his team are watching the news and hearing the rumors and the things that are being reported.
But I will tell you that prosecutors like Bob Mueller, they stay steadfast, they focus on their goal, which is to determine whether there was a crime prior to the election, and whether that crime was - there was an attempt to cover up that crime after the election.
And so, I think Bob Mueller will continue on his path unabated and follow his mandate to determine whether and to what extent there was any conspiracy or any federal laws violated and eventually either submit a report to Congress or charge one or more individuals over and above those who have already been charged.
MELBER: Right. Above the four, which is a lot already. Yes, you can feel the heat a little bit even though it`s winter.
Seth Waxman, James Melendres, Jill Wine-Banks, Eugene Scott, thanks for being on our power panel.
Coming up, Donald Trump`s odd comment today about a potential pardon for Mike Flynn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don`t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We`ll see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I have a special legal report for you tonight on why that deal wouldn`t be easy to break. And Donald Trump likes to trash the FBI on Twitter. So, what did he do when he saw the agents today in person?
And later, Republicans making some large claims about what corporations will do if they get this tax cut next week. I have an exclusive interview with a top CEO who argues the bill is bad for America.
All that. And Rev. Al Sharpton and, yes, A$AP Ferg join me tonight to talk about the Meek Mill case and a whole lot more.
I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Now, we turn to some real talk. Trump and the FBI. Not turned out to be a great relationship. Donald Trump has been attacking that institution, claiming its reputation is in tatters and the worst in history. And he`s talked a lot about what`s wrong with the FBI.
Today though, Donald Trump decided to go speak to the FBI. There was a graduation ceremony. And suddenly, his tune changed to all praise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Being a police officer is not just a career. It`s a calling. And I`ve seen it. I have so many friends that are police officers. So many people in the FBI. These are great, great people. These are really heroes for all of us. So, thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Great people, heroes, this year. The whole thing was like that. This is classic Donald Trump fronting. Plays tough on Twitter, but then he doesn`t back it up in person.
There is a saying for this. It`s called Twitter fingers. And it`s when you type tougher than you are. Ladies and gentlemen, that`s your president before the FBI today.
This isn`t just about optics or whatever political words people use. Donald Trump also doubted the intelligence today. The intelligence gathered by those people he was praising. The people doing this work. He`s undermining them on Russia.
I`m joined now by Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director for counterintel at the FBI.
What did you make of this person, this president, talking about service and heroism today to their face which contradicted the attacks he made to a very large forum, to all of his core supporters, tens of millions of them on Twitter.
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AT THE FBI: The president speaks with forked tongue when he praises law enforcement in the afternoon and bashes them in the morning.
Look, we need to understand that what the president was doing today was tantamount to driving a wedge between the police and the FBI. Understand the graduation ceremony that he chose to attend today was not an FBI agent`s - new agent`s graduation ceremony.
It was a ceremony for graduates of the FBI`s national academy. Those are senior police officers who go through the academy and learn how to be executives in police departments.
He chose that graduation ceremony to praise the police, when minutes before, on the lawn of the White House, he called the FBI sad and disgraceful. This is really - the sad part about this is that our nation`s security, the communities we live in, the safety of those towns and cities depends on a working relationship between the police and the FBI.
And he`s going to drive a wedge and distinguish between one faction that he likes and one that he can`t stand, he is completely undermining the security of our communities.
MELBER: Do you think that his campaign pledges for law and order look hollow now?
FIGLIUZZI: I think he`s appealing to his base. Look, everyone wants law and order. It`s as about as popular a stance as you can take.
But what he can`t do is have it both ways. He can`t say the FBI is a sad disgrace in the morning and then praise law enforcement and support it in the afternoon. It`s one wholistic law enforcement community. He needs to understand that.
And I think we now understand that this is a strategy, a defense strategy to lash out at whoever it is that`s investigating him, in his mind, it`s all about the FBI and Bob Mueller, and that`s the defense. To plant the seed in people`s minds that this is a flawed investigation.
Look what happened on Tuesday. His defense attorney Ty Cobb pronounced that White House interviews are done. Well, when I first heard that, I laughed at it because, of course, we know the special counsel is the one who decides when the White House interviews are over.
But now, I`m not laughing because now it`s clear that that`s all part of a larger strategy to plant a seed in Trump`s base that if indeed further White House interviews take place, and by the way, they will, because it`s likely that the vice president and the president himself will need to be interviewed -
MELBER: You think Mueller will interview Donald Trump before this is all over?
FIGLIUZZI: I don`t see how he can`t interview the president and the vice president. I don`t see how you get away with not doing that.
MELBER: And that would be big. And as you say, that cuts again into the grain of Donald Trump having so many issues with the FBI. Interestingly, not name-checking yet, although we`ve been reporting on how a lot of other people are.
Frank Figliuzzi, thank you for your service and thank you for your analysis tonight.
FIGLIUZZI: Thank you.
MELBER: Still ahead, I have a breakdown on Donald Trump`s new comments about, oh, maybe we`ll see about a Mike Flynn pardon and why it may be too late.
And a special on THE BEAT, a top CEO speaking out on the tax plan as Republicans rush to pass it.
MELBER: Breaking news on the Hill. Republicans are moving this tax bill and this is going to be scheduled for a vote in the House Tuesday.
Marco Rubio, who was making all that noise this week, he`s now in the yes column. Republicans expect it to pass the Senate too. Some say that could be bad, though, for their political future.
The bill does appear unpopular both in protests and polling. Many saying it will raise taxes on the middle and low-income families that are key to a lot of voting blocs.
But that`s what the markets think. Wall Street up. Corporate tax breaks expected.
But that doesn`t mean all CEOs agree. Mike Bloomberg, whose personal fortune is upwards of $50 billion, says this plan is a trillion-dollar blunder. CEOs aren`t waiting on a tax cut to jumpstart the economy.
He`s basically fact-checking Donald Trump`s argument that these corporate tax cuts will trickle down to you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And our plan also cuts taxes on businesses, which is expected to raise income by an average of more than $4,000. So, your income goes up. It`s like having a $4,000 increase which isn`t bad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I am joined by this business leader who says Donald Trump`s wrong. Todd Carmichael is co-founder and CEO of the massive coffee company, La Colombe. They have $100 million in revenue a year, give or take, which is technically speaking, a lot of coffee.
Good evening, Todd.
TODD CARMICHAEL, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, LA COLOMBE: A lot of coffee. How are you doing, Ari?
MELBER: I`m doing great. Nothing is monolithic. I was discussing earlier this week how the African-American vote is not monolithic despite what we`ve been told.
The CEO vote also not monolithic. Walk us through your analysis as a business leader of this plan.
CARMICHAEL: First, I should say that I don`t think I`m the only CEO who thinks this way. I have conversations with dozens and dozens of other CEOs who are completely on par with what Mr. Bloomberg was saying.
This is a tax cut that typically you would see if you`re trying to stimulate an economy, one where you`re running low on investment cash or the market is in a tumble form or interest rates were not where you wanted to be. So, you`d use this to stimulate the economy.
This is a stimulation package that will be stimulating the stimulated. It`s almost like giving CPR to Lebron James right now. So, it`s effectively a package that resembles that, but package is one that will be a cut for the working man or the working woman or the middle-class people. And it is not ever going to be something that will affect their incomes.
MELBER: You put it quite clearly. I mean, the stimulation argument is one that, oh, if do you these things and make it basically easier on companies, they will now spend or invest in ways they otherwise wouldn`t. Just in your own company, is that true for you?
CARMICHAEL: No, it`s not true for any company. The tax break will inevitably end up in the hands of the CEOs. Those are the people who control this amount of money. This trillion dollars.
And these CEOs are guided by a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, and not to suppliers, not to their employers, not to their communities or their cities. It`s to their shareholders. And that`s going to be seen as a windfall or some sort of gain and they need to pass that off to the shareholders. The shareholders are stockholders.
So, ultimately, what this is a dividend to the stockholders of United States of America and does absolutely nothing whatsoever for the people whom we have named this bill after.
MELBER: Todd, stay with me. I want to bring in Howard Fineman, global editorial director for "HuffPost", as well as Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist who has managed, financed or founded 37 companies, an estimated net worth of around $1 billion.
You`re way behind Bloomberg, Nick!
NICK HANAUER, VENTURE CAPITALIST: Sad, but true, Ari.
MELBER: So, sad but true. So, looking at all of you guys, I starting with -- I starting with Nick here, in this situation, you just heard that argument. Why is this even still a big debate if this CEO and you as an entrepreneur continue to tell us it`s not how it works?
HANAUER: Well, because the Republican Party is a, you know, essentially a trial run by they`re very wealthy donors and this is just a grab by a bunch of rich people for more money from poor people. But, you know, the previous analysis is absolutely correct. There is no plausible economic mechanism or any evidence in history to suggest that tax cuts for rich people turn into either job for working people or increased wages.
And in fact, May (INAUDIBLE) even go back and check over the last 75 years and what you find is there is zero correlation between the top marginal tax rate and, you know, per capita income growth, productivity growth, investment growth, per capita GDP growth, anything. The only thing that grows when you cut taxes for rich people, the bank accounts of very rich people and of course government deficits.
MELBER: Well, to that point, Howard looking at this, in addition to size in a corporate tax rate, this tax bill that quote, "Temporary tax breaks for individuals, the biggest gains concentrated at the top. More modest benefits for lower incomes." Howard, you`ve covered a lot of economic debates in Washington but it must be pretty easy if this is what the Republican plan basically always is.
HOWARD FINEMAN, GLOBAL EDITORIAL EDITOR, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP: Well, it is what the plan always is and it periodically gets them in trouble. Why I came into this movie when Ronald Reagan was cutting taxes to benefit rich people in 1981 and the Republican got slammed for it in the midterm elections in 1982. I think something similar could happen this time around.
The Republicans are like a bunch of people at their own office party and they`re getting drunk on the eggnog and having a great time doing it but they`re going to people with political consequences. They think they`ll worry about that tomorrow, they`ll give the corporate interests, they`ll give their big donors, they`ll give Donald Trump the victory now, don`t worry about the political consequences. But there are going to be a lot because you put this together with the cuts in Obamacare that going to result from this bill. And I was just looking at the conference report about this.
And the end of regulation of the internet could well result in higher prices in terms of internet access. This could easily be argued to be an all-out war on the same kind of middle and lower-middle-class voters who put Donald Trump in office. And those independent swing voters could react badly to this bill but the Republicans were going to count on the Trump` sales ability. They`ll going to count on the donors` cash to buy ads to try to cram this down the throats of people on social media and television. That`s where we`re headed as a result of this bill.
MELBER: Well, so, Todd, how was -- how was this analysis raises? Two questions for you, number one, does this look more like politics and then pro-growth economics? And number two, this eggnog office party, does lock alone have an eggnog latte?
CARMICHAEL: You know, it`s funny he uses eggnog. You know, mine was -- OK, first, I do think obviously that there is the fingerprints of politics all over this because it doesn`t -- it doesn`t make any other -- you can`t rationalize it any other way. It`s a most kind of a donor payback program.
But then, when you the started looking at the other side of it, the eggnog analogy minus like having a half pound of -- in a processed sugar for dinner, and when you get an amazing high. But then there is this downside and I think that ultimately when this thing rolls out you`re going to see the stock market, kind of balloon even more than it is. But, you know, stock market is a bit like Tarzan, you know, it goes kind of like vine to vine to vine. And this is a really big artificial vine. Later on when that swings its arc, where`s that going to go from there? And my fear is it`s going to go down.
MELBER: Big baggage here is swing it all alive.
CARMICHAEL: I fear that it will go down.
FINEMAN: I`m envisioning Tarzan with some eggnog there.
MELBER: Yes, and what we need is this --
HANAUER: what could go wrong?
MELBER: I think everyone is having too much fun, I don`t know why. Friday night on THE BEAT, but important perspective from some very interesting entrepreneurial voices and as always, friend of the show Howard Fineman. Thank you all.
FINEMAN: Thank you.
CARMICHAEL: Thank you. I appreciate it.
HANAUER: Thank you.
MELBER: Up ahead, Donald Trump said today, he doesn`t want to yet talk about pardoning Mike Flynn. Raising the question, could he still do it? I have a special legal breakdown for you. And later, the Reverend Al Sharpton and the musician, ASAP Ferg on "CRIMINAL JUSTICE" tonight on THE BEAT. And later, happy Friday everybody. Who needs to fall back as always fallback Friday, later on the hour?
MELBER: Today, Donald Trump left the door open to pardoning Michael Flynn which is notable because he had been carefully avoiding that exact topic. Even ducking the question when it was raised last week.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, thank you, thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any plans to pardon General Flynn, Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any plans to pardon General Flynn, Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thank you.
MELBER: A, thank you. But on his way to the FBI speech today, Donald Trump used one of his favorite verbal ticks, we`ll see, while suggesting they`re problems at the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMPP: I don`t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We`ll see what happens, let`s see. I can say this, when you look at what`s going on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Donald Trump used the pardon power once this year and that high profile intervention in the case of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had, of course, endorsed his candidacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUM: Sheriff Joe protected our borders. And Sheriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration. I stand by my pardon of Sheriff Joe and I think the people of Arizona who really know him best would agree with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump has also noticeably said, Mike Flynn was treated unfairly. His statement today, though it did props that immediate damage control, White House lawyers saying there is currently no Flynn pardon plan under consideration. That Ty Cobb statement is both true and probably worthless because any time from now to eternity, a pardon could be put under consideration. And Donald Trump has certainly stirred the pot before about the pardon power, he likes to emphasize its broad and unilateral.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We now know that Donald Trump is talking to his lawyers about pardons but the big question is, could Donald Trump pardon himself?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: I have a tree falls in the forest question for you. If the President issues a pardon, do we have to know about it?
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST, HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS: Last week, like Washington Post reported that President Trump`s legal team was exploring whether or not he had the power to pardon aides, family members or potentially even himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So by now, we are all accustomed to President Trump riling people up about pardons, those moments were from the summer. Today, the difference is that Trump is now so late to the game, it doesn`t matter that much. If there were going to be a surgical strike with this power in the Russia probe, if this President wanted to pardon Flynn on the theory that he merits a pardon and probably would be more helpful to Trump as the quiet colleague rather than talkative witness, well, then the time to pardon him was before Mike Flynn flipped. Like maybe nine months ago when he first said, he had a story to tell.
Or maybe two weeks ago when he pled guilty to lying to the FBI. Because while Trump is flirting today with the prospect of pardons with his very dramatic, "we`ll see", Mike Flynn has already spent weeks talking to Mueller`s team. Legally you don`t get a cooperation agreement without a proffer, where your lawyer outlines what you will tell. And then you tell it, which Flynn is now doing, cooperating fully with Mueller over this past weeks. A dynamic captured in this week`s iconic New Yorker, that`s Flynn in the background, singing.
So, what does this all mean? What is the point of my breakdown for you tonight? This is where we land, there are two possibilities about Trump`s claim today. Either he knows it`s too late for a Flynn pardon to help him which his lawyers have probably tried to explain and that would mean Trump is disingenuously storing this pot for some other reason. It`s either, distraction or an innate desire to appear and control even when he knows this option is no longer on the table.
The second option or possibility here is that Trump does not understand, right now is too late for a Flynn pardon to help him much. And he`s publicly dangling this plan that he`s actually mulling privately. The first option would reveal guile, the second would reveal ignorance.
Now, if Trump does try door number two, and try a late pardon for Flynn, well, Bob Mueller is plan ahead for that move because he cracked the door open for local prosecutors who can`t be stopped by a presidential pardon. We reported this on THE BEAT this summer, Mueller even made Flynn agree to cooperate with local prosecutors any time they`re identified by the special counsel.
The Presidency is a powerful job, the ability to pardon is powerful under our constitution. But on this earth, there are even more powerful forces, like time. So Mr. President, don`t forget what the rolling stones explained such a long time ago. Time waits for no one and it won`t wait for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: -- years, America has seen a tragic rise in violent crime. In 2015 and 2016, we witnessed the steepest two-year consecutive increase in murders in nearly half a century. And you look at what`s going on, Chicago, what the hell is going on in Chicago? What the hell is happening there?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Donald Trump and his FBI address today, Chicago has had 645 murders this year. Many tragedies, nationally, though, violent crime has roughly been falling overall. Federal prisons are packed, though, because they are filled with nonviolent offenders. Under 5 percent of federal prisoners, most serious convictions were violent offenses. The numbers, of course, tell them part of the story. It`s even clear when you look at real people.
Take the musician and businessman Meek Mill, when he was 19 he served eight months for an illegal weapons charged. Since then now, he`s been quite productive releasing albums, starting a business and he hasn`t been convicted of any new violent offense.
But because of strict parole rules, Meek Mill now faces a jail term longer than the original sentence. Two to four years in prison. Why? Well, allegations that were dropped about a fight and NYPD caught him driving a dirt bike and popping wheelies. Those wheelies may have been dumb but a regular citizen would never get two to four years in prison for them. It`s not about the wheelies, it`s about a very harsh parole system which has followed Mill his whole adult life and it force this some of these harsh sentences.
Now, Meek Mill is famous, so, this is getting extra attention from celebrities in the press. And if that`s what it takes for people to notice these rules, well, so be it. Also, we mention at MSNBC, we have reported on many non-famous black men hurt by the current Justice System. Like Linwood Lambert who died in police custody in Virginia. Jarret Adams who serve 10 years for a conviction that was ultimately overturned. And Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice who were killed by police.
For tonight`s discussion, my guest is ASAP Ferg, a musician and rapper who`s been advocating for Meek Mills release. In fact, his latest music video was a collaborated with Meek Mill, "trapped in a dream". And Reverend Al Sharpton who visited Meek Mill in prison this month. The President national action that were going to of course host a Politics Nation. Rev. this story tracks so many stories in the parole system. Why is it important?
AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST, POLITICS NATION: It`s important because it is representative of so many other cases. When you have a parole system that could put a man in jail, two to four years, that is more than the original term or sentence that he was given when he was 18 years old. And the reason you`ll going to put him there is because he was, you know, dealing with a wheelie, some minor offense. And by a judge who I`ve said should be recused or removed.
I wrote the chief judge this week in Pennsylvania, a judge who has tried to say to him, he ought to go back to his old management. A manager she knows in Philadelphia, a judge who has some questionable disclosures that she did not make. When you combine all of that is a story we and national action network have heard over and over and over. Meek Mill is symbolic of a system that is out of control, particularly when it`s young black men. We have to stand up for Meek Mill to really expose how we`ve got to change this system.
MELBER: I mean, so, important. I -- you know, I just discussed this with ASAP Ferg, his a musician who performed with Mill. He`s on tour in Australia, he wanted to speak out about this. And he tells me Mill has done nothing to justify going to jail with murderers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Jail is where, like, murderers and people who need to do hard time go and sit down for a long time and he does like -- he`s not that. He was outside making art and music and designing clothes with Puma, and you know, doing things for people in his neighborhood. This is a guy that`s not -- he`s not barbaric, he`s not -- he`s not a gargoyle (INAUDIBLE). He`s a human being and a very wholesome human being.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s what in law we call a character witness because they worked together. You were just visiting Mill in prison, what gets me about this, because like you, I have covered and looked at these issues is. Mr. Mill looks like rehab success. There was an original conviction, but he comes out and he gets involved in business and music and fashion and records. This is what you would want someone to do if they come out of a 19 year old -- when they`re19 years old and have a conviction.
SHARPTON: What is the purpose of parole and probation if it is not given someone to redeem and reform them self and establish a track record in doing this. This young man, he said to me in -- when visited him in jail, he said, Reverend, at 18, I was a criminal. But he became an entrepreneur, he became an artist and a successful one. And to be treated in this way is such a -- in my opinion, example of how many young people that may not get to the visibility, the viability of Meek Mill.
But they get a job, they try to build a family and that for the slightest infraction becomes a person that is caught up in an incarceration system that is built on what is called a prison industrial complex where people are making money out of incarcerating them rather than really trying to nurture and build society by reforming them and giving them the ability to be productive.
MELBER: Yes, and there are cases that are close calls, there are cases that you can look at a couple of ways. I don`t know anyone who looks at the facts or the dirt bike incident, the wheelies and says this should be a four years in jail. What I want you to do if you willing, Rev. is stick around and do fallback with us. Would you stay around?
SHARPTON: I definitely will.
MELBER: OK. We`ll find out who Rev. Sharpton wants to fall back and Baratunde Thurston joins as well, right after the break.
MELBER: What a week, it is Friday on THE BEAT, so you know what that means. It`s time to fall back on FALLBACK FRIDAY. Baratunde Thurston joins, Reverend Al Sharpton still here on THE BEAT. You like the music, you like flow, who needs to fall back?
BARATUNDE THURSTON, CO-FOUNDER, JACK AND JILL POLITICS: Falling back, I think Congress needs to fall back. Very briefly, Dreamers were getting arrested today to fight for their rights to stay in this country as Americans. I just want to promote fight for our Dream.org, it`s a big deal to get that in the budget package. Clean Dream Act. Now for falling back, Bitcoin.
THURSTON: Bitcoin needs to fall back because they`re just rubbing our noses in it now with the $17,700 price tag on a single coin. We get it nerds rule the world, we shouldn`t have mocked you ten years ago but I need the price to fall back so I can buy some, and held you against the collapse of the petrodollar and maybe wasting the money, OK?
SHARPTON: Steve Bannon. I mean, I think Bannon was all in behind this contest in Alabama.
SHARPTON: Despite the fact that the charges of pedophilia came out, despite we found out his candidate was banned from his own local mall. I mean, you`ve got to be bad in Alabama when they tell you, a judge, don`t come to the mall. And we found out that the judge said the last time he just thought America was great with this whole thing, make America great again, was during slavery when we all got along. Oh, yeah, slavery was bad, but we all our families got along. We couldn`t even have family in slavery. He and I, it was against the law for our parents to name us after them. Then you couldn`t have a marriage license, there was no such thing as a family in slavery. Fall back, Bannon. You had the wrong candidate. Oh, I forgot, he was pushed back by the people of Alabama.
MELBER: That`s a -- that`s a double fallback, these are good ones. Mine is pretty basic, you all remember Eminem and the Eight Mile. And we`ve -- we have shouted out Eminem before. He had the great line, palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, this vomit on his sweater already, mom`s spaghetti. But look at this, he`s turning this into a Detroit merchandising opportunity.
Come Detroit, come vomit up some spaghetti with me this weekend at our official #revival pop-up, exclusive merch spaghetti and more. Baratunde, first of all, if your exclusive merch is vomited spaghetti, I`m not interested, I`m telling Eminem to fallback a little bit.
THURSTON: Yes, I cosign the fallback order (INAUDIBLE), absolutely, absolutely.
MELBER: Do you have any other nominees for us?
THURSTON: I do have one other nominee. I was attending a holiday party last night that had a Yule log video, but this one was special because there was an adorable law kitten in a front of a video. It had that`s well blissed out, weeded outlook on his face. High on life. And so I want Yule log videos without law bubbly kitten to fall back. To channel -- to channel my homies apart in America.
MELBER: Oh, that`s traditional.
THURSTON: Where we`re moving away from the catless Yule log videos, we`re all switching to the low above Yule log videos this year, fall back catless videos.
MELBER: Well, we only have 15 seconds left but it makes me wonder Rev. Are you more of a cat person or a dog person?
SHARPTON: I`m more of a -- I like cats, I like dogs, but I have nothing at home.
SHARPTON: You know, I travel a lot, so I`m not home enough. But I will back up -- he says that he will be the -- what did you say, you would give them the co-signing.
THURSTON: Yes, co-signing.
SHARPTON: Well, I`ll collateralize your co-sign.
THURSTON: All right. Oh, my backup over here.
MELBER: It`s got a little heavy, it`s getting heavy
THURSTON: (INAUDIBLE) my fallback.
MELBER: Rev. Sharpton, Baratunde Sharpton, thank you both. That is "FALLBACK FRIDAY", that is THE BEAT mix. Sure you watch Rev. this Sunday, "HARDBALL" starts next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.