Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: December 18, 2017 Guest: Chris Van Hollen, Siobhan Hughes, Shelby Holliday, Seth Waxman
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": Ari, it's Elvis' face on the potato chip, but I will take it.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: I'll tell you what? It's really interesting that all the UFO stuff is coming out right now.
TUR: Why do you think that?
MELBER: I mean, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but why right now, Katy?
TUR: I have that same question. What do you think they trying to bury, Ari?
MELBER: I don't know. We just ask the questions. Katy Tur, thank you very much.
TUR: See you later.
MELBER: As for our stories tonight, the Trump administration under severe strain. This is, of course, thanks to a new controversy whether tens of thousands of e-mails written by Trump aides could be helping Bob Mueller's Russia probe. That's my top story.
Plus, developing news on this growing conservative effort to undermine or sideline Special Counsel Mueller.
And a new NBC report that the FBI personally warned Donald Trump about Russian plots to infiltrate his campaigns. When? Just weeks after he won the GOP nomination. That's a new report tonight.
But I begin with the e-mails. Now for many commentator, the 2016 campaign boiled down to, but her e-mails. A sardonic take on the obsession with Clinton's emails, which one reviewed actually yielded very few major scandals.
But, tonight, the refrain may be turning to, but their e-mails, tens of thousands of them, Trump transition emails that Mueller obtained.
Now, a Trump lawyer alleges this was all unlawfully obtained. And that letter to Congress has a lot of people talking today, including President Trump.
But before I even report what he said about this and what you may have heard because a lot of people are talking about it tonight, let me start by presenting you with the facts.
Number one, this statement From Trump's lawyer is unusual, because it's not directed to a judge at all. If a lawyer does catch a prosecutor breaking the law, you take that right to a judge. The judge is the one who can fix the problem, reprimand the prosecutor.
And in this case, you can imagine if Trump's lawyers won that kind of victory, it would be a big messaging win as well. But Trump's transition lawyer didn't do that. He took his beef to Congress.
And number two, prosecutors do have a lot of power to get e-mails and evidence. They can get it by asking for it, and many people comply, or they can get it by going to a judge and getting a warrant, which then means, as you've seen in the movies, people with guns show up and they make you comply.
Now, Mueller's office does not respond to most public attacks. His aides tend to say they limit their messages to what they file in court under oath. When we call the special counsel's office to check various facts, we usually get some version of that, no comment.
Peter Carr, who was a nonpartisan DOJ employee, who was once press secretary for Republican Judiciary Chairman Orin Hatch, he'll say something to us like, hey, our position will be clear in court or no comment, check the filings.
But you see where I'm going with this. We now have a dilemma because Trump's lawyers aren't even going to court on this one. They're doing more of this PR pen pal thing. So, there may never be a court proceeding to test whether these e-mails that everyone's talking about tonight were lawfully obtained.
So, that is the context for this. Peter Carr went beyond that typical response I just mentioned and issued a rare on-the-record statement, asserting that whenever Mueller gets e-mails, they're obtained with the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process.
So, those are the facts. And now, let me show you how President Trump weighed in on this today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, do you believe your transition team e- mails were improperly taken?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not looking good. Not looking good. It's quite sad to see that. There's no collusion whatsoever, but a lot of lawyers thought that was pretty sad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The president speaking there last night. Trump, also asked about firing Bob Mueller, something he does not personally have the legal power to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?
TRUMP: No, I'm not. No. What else?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
TRUMP: What, are you surprised?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: These questions, though, aren't coming out of nowhere. The attacks on Bob Mueller have migrated from conservative media to actual Republican officials in Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: So, I have confidence in Director Mueller, I would just think he would be concerned about the appearance of conflicts of interest that would undermine the integrity of the investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is scary. Now, this comes out about what Mueller was doing with the transition team.
REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: This bias is like an infection. It's like an incurable cancer that's inoperable. And we've got to end this Mueller probe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That last speaker was Congressman Matt Gaetz who is calling for Mueller's firing. He will be on this show later this week to make his case.
Now, nobody really knows where Mueller's probe leads and whether it will be good for bad or Donald Trump. As I have stressed in my reporting, on this show and as someone who talks about the law on MSNBC, an exhaustive independent probe that ends with indictments of aides, but clears the president, that's generally considered good news for any White House. That could happen here.
But on a week when Republicans are on the verge of passing their first big bill all year after a bruising defeat in red Alabama, you would think the party's leaders would be talking about that or at least avoiding Russia for a minute.
But if anything, the attacks on Mueller have been dialed up even more this month than ever before, which does make you wonder, is there something they know, is there something they're afraid of?
I'm joined now Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent at "The Nation" and Shelby Holliday covering politics and business for "The Wall Street Journal". And I'm going to add some prosecutors in a minute. Just so everyone knows where we're going.
But, Joan, I start on the news here. Is it just my imagination or is it getting louder?
JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, "THE NATION": I think it's definitely getting louder. And I think - but the president, it was interesting this morning. He didn't say anything wrong this - he didn't lie this morning. Doesn't look good, that is true. It really doesn't look good.
But it's obvious that this was just political theater, that his people did not go to a judge, that they went to Congress. And their audience right now, Ari, is Congress.
They are really trying to move from the Fox empire, the Fox News watchers to Congress, and to make their case that they've been treated wrongly and that there's something - that something stinks here.
But it was amazing to hear the voice of the investigation today actually come out and answer a question and say, no, we either got it with consent or we got it through criminal proceedings, which is an interesting - it's always interesting to hear the word criminal here.
So, this is political theater. It's not going to change anything, but it does seem like they're getting a little bit more of a hearing, not just among the crazies in Congress.
MELBER: Right. They're trying to migrate this argument, as you say, out beyond Fox News. And, Shelby, the other side, on "The Washington Post" here is these reports about Trump on Attorney General Sessions, calling him weak, looking at Rosenstein and saying he was unable to answer questions and then calling him, get this, "a Democrat." Not something you want Donald Trump to call you.
These are the people that he put in the DOJ.
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Right. And this perfectly shows you this giant (INAUDIBLE) crying wolf that we're seeing play out right now because the president loves to criticize the Justice Department, the FBI, his own cabinet. He does this on a regular basis on Twitter, out loud, in public.
Bob Mueller's team never comment. So, when they come out with a comment, as you noted at the beginning of the show, people certainly listen. I'm sure they would not be coming out with that comment if they didn't have proof to back it up.
But it also looks like the Trump team got caught off-guard by these emails that Mueller has obtained. And so, therefore, we're seeing a little bit of a freak out in the letter.
Everyone should want this investigation to be done fairly. But, of course, they want to know what happened during the transition when you have Jared Kushner meeting with head of a sanctioned Russian bank, trying to establish back channels, when you have Mike Flynn talking to Kislyak about sanctions, and sanctions from Russia are not retaliated again.
Of course, the special counsel would want to know what was going on. And so, therefore, it is a little strange that they seem to be caught off-guard by this new revelation.
MELBER: Right. It's also one of those questions of like, knowing what you're interested in versus what everyone else is interested in. You know, it's like, if I find out, oh, my God, this Cinnabon's got a new bon and it's only 500 calories -
HOLLIDAY: Do you like Cinnabon?
MELBER: I'm a big Cinnabon person. Always at the airport. And to me, that's very interesting, so everyone else is like, I don't care. So, like, to me, it's very interesting that you're claiming something's unlawful when you don't want to go to a judge, like that's a huge - I don't know if in the rest of the country, everyone is like, OK, that's boring, but it's a huge reveal.
Go ahead and then I'm going to bring -
HOLLIDAY: And his audience is also the American people. I mean, Trump, from day one, has been on a mission to try to prove that his election was legitimate and he continues to say no collusion, no collusion despite the fact that there is evidence pointing toward collusion.
MELBER: Well, at least evidence of the Russia side and in the question of what did you do about it.
HOLLIDAY: And reaching out to WikiLeaks. Right, exactly.
MELBER: So, on this point, on the Cinnabon point, I want to bring in former federal prosecutor Paul Butler and former Governor Howard Dean.
Paul, were you as interested as I was in the fact that you're making a sweeping legal claim here, but not to a judge, I just thought that kind of gave the whole game away.
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. So, Ari, everybody who has an employee email account knows you get a notice, this email does not belong to you. So, the relevant emails here ended with .gov, meaning they belong to the United States.
So, it can't possibly be a surprise to the Trump administration that these emails are now in the hands of the special counsel.
So, I think the larger picture here is that often there's a tension, when there's a high level public official being investigated between the advice that he gets from his legal advisor - his political advisers and the advice he gets from his defense attorneys.
And thus far, the political advisors seemed to have had the upper hand. So, they've been saying, we trust Mueller, it's a fair investigation. Now, it seems like the criminal defense lawyers are ramping up and they're doing what defense attorneys do, which is to fight every stage of the process against the prosecutor even when you have arguments that you can't win, like these spurious attacks on how the special counsel got the emails.
So, I think, Ari, you're right. This is a new stage in the investigation and Trump's defense attorneys are responding accordingly. They're running a little bit scared.
MELBER: Yes. It does feel different. Governor Dean?
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: I think that's right. and I think the problem is that a lot of these people, I suspect, have lied to the FBI. And we've already seen three or four indictments because of lying to the FBI.
Now, a lot of people in the White House are aware that the FBI has 10,000, or whatever it is, emails that can prove that some of them lied. That means they're going to get indicted. And that's a real problem for them.
So, they do what attorneys often do, which is almost never works, which is to try the case in the press. In this case, it particularly isn't going to work because most of the people in America think that Donald Trump is a liar.
MELBER: That's a drop-the-mic point you ended on. Let me play Donald Trump approaching the email issue from a very different angle, doing what legally would be called a criminal solicitation, except they later said it was a joke, but here he was looking for help finding emails during the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I will tell you this. Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And so, Paul, that kind of goes full-circle to the but-her-emails point I opened with, which is, I guess, if you are a citizen in 2017, we're rounding out the year, maybe you're tired of talking about emails on behalf of everyone, I'm sorry, but they don't go away because they are the contemporaneous record.
So, stitch together what we just heard from candidate Trump to the point Governor Dean makes, which is that if Mueller has a better contemporaneous record of transition contact than people realize, that could actually trip them up in what they may have already told FBI agents.
BUTLER: Yes. That's right. And again, Trump's defense team knows that if they had an actual legal claim, the process is to file a motion under seal with the judge, saying that the emails were obtained illegally and they have to be excluded as they built their case against Trump.
But they have not done that. They've gone to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is a public relations move, it's a political move. I don't blame them, but it's not going to make a dent with regard to Special Counsel Mueller's investigation.
MELBER: And then, Joan, we're getting into this difficult place about what happens if the unthinkable happens. And folks who watch the show know we don't spend a lot of time in predictive hypotheticals, at least not of our own choosing -
MELBER: But we do cover what's going on out there. And we are hearing from more and more credible people with relationships with DOJ and the White House, people in the know that there is a growing concern about the potential unlawful removal of the special counsel. I don't know how else to say it.
Here's former attorney general Eric Holder who felt the need to post this yesterday. The firing of Bob Mueller or crippling the office, if removed or meaningfully tampered with, there must be mass popular peaceful support. The American people must be seen and heard. They will ultimately be determinative.
MoveOn.org has taken to putting into place a public plan they say they hope is not necessary, but, literally, has the scheduled times of when protests would be -
WALSH: And where and where you should go, put in your ZIP Code.
MELBER: Walk us through this.
WALSH: Well, I think a lot of people are concerned about it. And all most of us can do would possibly be take to the streets, and so people are interested in finding out how to do that.
But I am also interested in trying to call the bluff of senators who have said in the past that Mueller's firing or Rod Rosenstein's firing, whatever, Saturday Night Massacre, would be a disaster and even have talked about somehow writing legislation to protect him.
Where did Lindsey Graham go on this? A few months ago, Thom Tillis, Republican from North Carolina, a few months ago, very concerned about this. Why isn't there legislation? Why aren't they talking?
HOLLIDAY: Also, now that four people have been charged and two have taken plea deals and Rod Rosenstein has said he's happy with the way things are going. I wonder if those members of Congress don't need to be that vocal because the investigation is sort of speaking for itself, in that (INAUDIBLE).
MELBER: Right. And that's the big question is, why are some being more vocal and is it a precaution or do they know something.
I want to thank Joan, Paul and Governor Dean. Shelby, stay with me. I want to ask you why Trump is always lying. That's a real segment later based on the fact checking and the false rhetoric of coup from "Fox News." I want to show you what real coups look like and why this is important.
Also, the White House is not a boardroom, Bob Mueller is not on "The Apprentice." I have a special report tonight with a federal prosecutor about why Donald Trump doesn't actually have the legal power to remove Mueller. That's important.
And, remember when Trump said this about the tax bill?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing. Believe me. Believe me. This is not good for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Tonight, new reports about why it is actually the opposite. And I'm going to speak with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. I'm looking forward to that.
I'm Ari Melber and you're watch THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: We always try to stick to the facts, but right now I'm about to air something false, something incendiary, and not to reward it with attention, but to expose it and perhaps ensure that it's not normalized.
A major TV channel, "Fox News" broke out a smear that is unusual even in our intensely polarized politics. This weekend, questioning whether the non-partisan rule of law in America is itself a coup against Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS HOST, "WATTERS' WORLD": The investigation was weaponized to destroy his presidency for partisan political purposes. Now, if that's true, we have a coup on our hands in America.
If you have these people plotting what appears to be some sort of subversion campaign against the president or the president-elect, how dangerous is that?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Jesse, it's toxic, it's lethal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: How dangerous? A "Fox News" program is raising the specter of a coup. And your White House aide there, who is paid with your tax dollars, is embracing this approach.
And this was not just a poorly chosen word in the heat of an interview which can happen. The headline banner there on your screen shows this preplanned deliberate frame, "A Coup in America."
Brian Stelter, a former "New York Times" journalist, who now works at "CNN" notes that cable news banners don't just appear out of thin air. Producers brainstorm, fact check, proofread them. Mistakes do slip through occasionally, but this - referring to that coup - he said doesn't look like a mistake.
Words matter. Words have meaning. A coup is the violent overthrow of an existing government which involves seizing control of the armed forces.
If you watch the news, and I bet you do because you're doing it right now, you have probably seen actual coups, like the attempted coup in Turkey last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Troops seen closing off a main bridge in Istanbul. Then it escalated fast as reports came pouring in of army soldiers taking command of government buildings, a presidential office and TV stations. The prime minister announced that a coup was underway.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Or take Chile, where a democracy gave way to a military coup in 1973.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The country began to pull itself together after a violent coup d'etat. The tanks, along with air force planes, set afire the presidential palace, which is where Allende died.
Nobody knows how many people were killed or injured in the fighting, but Santiago is full of bullet holes. And some estimates of the casualties range as high as 1,000 people dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Those are coups. When they work, brute force is used to crush the rule of law. And it's the rule of law that Trump's allies are undermining by attacking this lawful Russia probe.
You might think it's ironic that the forces undermining the rule of law are also the forces questioning whether other people are behind a coup. But it's not ironic at all. This follows a long pattern of abuse.
And if a cable news banner ever called out for Orwell, it is this one. Remember, in his famous essay on language and politics, he wrote the political language is designed to make lies sounds truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
This is all maddeningly hypocritical because it's supposed to be. The ultimate goal is to achieve, through hyperbole and through this nonsense, what cynics have not yet achieved through typical public debate.
They want to make you lose face that we can get through this as a republic.
I'm joined now by Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, and Malcolm Nance, US intelligence and terrorism expert and author of "The Plot to Hack America."
Malcolm, are you concerned about this? And given your national security background, do you see a coup in America?
MALCOLM NANCE, US INTELLIGENCE AND TERRORISM EXPERT: Well, I'm very concerned about the use of the rhetoric around this.
This is almost psychological warfare preparation of the battlefield - that's what we would say - where they are trying to frame a narrative around the nation now that has a lot more to do with the Mueller investigation.
I mean, if the Mueller investigation comes through, it will have been done in the Department of Justice. They're trying to say that the entire framework of the United States government's system of removing a president or finding out dirt about a president, that in itself is tantamount to a military force or force removing people in power.
We just saw a coup in Zimbabwe recently where the first thing that happened was the army hits the streets, they seize all the radio and TV stations. I'm sure that's Fox's worst nightmare, but this is not a coup.
And this language is dangerous. It is - they have a right to free speech. But you know what they don't have a right to? Sedition. They don't have a right to undermine the Constitution of the United States.
MELBER: Richard Painter, I want to read some of the reaction because it has been swift and it has been across the spectrum. "Defense One" writer Kevin Baron, "Coup? I cover wars, militaries, actual coups, citizens violently rise up and kill. This is alarmingly irresponsible language," he wrote, "even for Fox."
A Ted Cruz official said the "Fox News'" use of the word coup was destabilizing US democracy, should be roundly condemned.
Former CIA director John McLaughlin who you know, "Clearest example of collusion is among GOP and "Fox News" to delegitimize Bob Mueller's inquiry."
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, I think we are in danger. Our democracy is in danger. But there's one person in control of the military right now. The commander-in-chief is Donald Trump and there is a risk of him using that power to destroy our democracy when you call it a coup or anything else.
But it's not from the critics of Donald Trump that the danger is posed. It's the fact that the man who is commander-in-chief of our military is engaged in obstruction of justice and other crimes has also psychologically deranged and I think we are in very, very serious trouble.
And the next two weeks ago are going to be critical to make sure that Robert Mueller stays in place.
MELBER: You say the next two weeks, Richard, and we were discussing this at the top of the broadcast. What is it about the next two weeks specifically that concern you?
PAINTER: First of all, we're on a holiday. So, we have a lot of the members of the House and Senate are away. And if Robert Mueller were to get fired, the only responsible thing to do would be to convene both the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee immediately.
And I don't care if that has to happen on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or New Year's or whatever. We'd have to swing into action in 24 hours. And they're off on holiday.
And the second thing is the Democrats have had the lack of wisdom of forcing out Sen. Al Franken who was probably the most articulate member, certainly one of the most articulate members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He caught the attorney general in a perjury trap and those are exactly the senators we need and we need congressmen ready to step to the plate within 24 hours if Robert Mueller is fired.
And now we have one of our leading members of Senate Judiciary Committee who apparently is going to resign.
So, this is a very vulnerable situation over the next few weeks and we need to get through it. So, Robert Mueller can finish his job.
MELBER: Malcolm, listen again to Congressman Gaetz, who I mentioned in the broadcast, because he has been leading this charge against Mueller. And our producers were researching this, and it turns out, he was actually using the same word - it didn't get quite as much attention, but he was using the same word last month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: We are at risk of a coup d'etat in this country if we allow an unaccountable person with no oversight to undermine the duly elected president of the United States. And I would offer that is precisely what is happening right now with the indisputable conflicts of interest that are present with Mr. Mueller.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You look at that and then, Malcolm, you look at the playbook - and I know you're both a student and an author of history, but this was one of the themes in the last days of Nixon. There was even a private eye guy who covered this book, "Silent Coup", and it tried to argue Nixon was forced out of office because of a national security party opposed to foreign policy, as "The Washington Post" points out.
The roots of this aren't pretty, Malcolm.
NANCE: No. The roots of it aren't pretty at all. and I just find it just disturbing that elected officials in the United States are using this type of rhetoric.
My problem with regard to what's being said these days is far more fundamental. It's not that they're just saying it, that "Fox News" is broadcasting this. It's that we have a president who is very susceptible to believing every word that they say.
NANCE: And he may get it into his mind that there actually are nefarious plans that equate to a coup. And God knows what he'll do. He may not get the cooperation of the armed forces, but, I mean, the way that he calls favor with the police forces and Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol, who knows what can happen here.
This is dangerous. It needs to stop. It's unconstitutional and is unconscionable. And I wish that as patriots to this nation, they would, A, get a dictionary, look up the definition of coup; and, B, stop talking about this in the way that they are because it could manifest itself either through some small rebellion of guys with guns or people who think they're going to come to the White House and protect it with semiautomatic weapons. I don't know. It just needs to stop.
MELBER: Malcolm Nance and Richard Painter, I thank you both for your clarity this evening.
Up ahead. Why Donald Trump can't actually legally fire Bob Mueller himself even if he tries. I have a very special guest to explain.
And later, this last-minute change to the Republican tax plan that could actually save Trump millions. A Democratic senator joins me tonight.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Republicans now gearing up to vote on this big tax bill tomorrow and today Forbes Magazine reports this tax bill could give $11 million a year in savings to Donald Trump himself and other real estate moguls. I'm joined by Maryland Chris Van Hollen, a leading member of the Budget Committee. Senator, are these last-minute additions to just helpful to very rich people or do they reflect potentially some kind of sweetener or corruption in your view?
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD), BUDGET COMMITTEE: Well, what I do know Ari is that this bill -- this tax bill gets worse the longer it stays in the Conference Committee surrounded by lobbyists. It was rotten to its core to begin with. As you said, the longer it's in Conference behind closed doors, the more you have special interest giveaways. They're going to help Donald Trump and others. Look, the American people are on to this, they know it's a huge tax giveaway to big corporations, it's going to be paid for by increasing taxes on millions of middle-class families. And we're going to fight this to the end but if this passes at the end of the day, we're going to take this around the country because this is not what the people of this country bargained for.
MELBER: I got to ask you kind of a funny question, I'm sure you respect your colleague Senator Corker, but is it bad sign if his best defense of his vote for the bill is that he didn't read it?
VAN HOLLEN: Hey, look, I think that in this case and after all the many years where Republicans said that we need to go through the regular order in order to have people have input through hearings and have a chance to read the bill, to see not just Senator Corker but all these Republicans in House and Senate just jam this thing through with no hearings. We've already heard that technical corrections bill -- to this bill is likely to be hundreds and hundreds of pages long. Let's just take a deep breath and let's try to get something right in a bipartisan manner. I will tell you - -
MELBER: And what will this do to ObamaCare?
VAN HOLLEN: What this does is pays for tax breaks for big corporations with increased premiums for people who are in the ObamaCare exchanges. So they're going to have to pay more for health care premiums so that big corporations can get tax breaks, middle-class Americans, families, millions of them will also be paying more. And Ari, I think people have not focused on fact that in 2019, foreign stockholders -- foreign stockholders who represent 35 percent of stock holdings in U.S. corporations are getting a $48 billion tax cut windfall while millions of American middle-class are going to pay more. Money out of the pockets of American middle-class families into the pockets of foreign shareholders. That is not going to be a winner around the country.
MELBER: And Senator, while I have you, a lot of reporting and discussion about the Russian probe. What we're picking up is more public angst about a potential move by the White House. Are you hearing that or is this a rumor mill that has just gotten out of control?
VAN HOLLEN: I haven't heard it but I do think, as you were discussing on the previous segment that this is outrageous, very reckless rhetoric, trying to undermine the rule of law, trying to undermine the independent investigation by Bob Mueller. It's important to remind people that he's a former FBI Director, first appointed by Republican president, is a Republican himself, and the question for the Trump administration and all these people who are engaging in this rhetoric is what are they afraid of? What are they afraid at the end of the day? That he's going to get to the bottom of this and get to the facts? We're hearing from the alternative facts crew right now. Bob Mueller is interested in trying to get to the facts.
MELBER: Well, and Senator, I don't know if I'm going to see you before the New Year, do you have to share any New Year's resolutions with us here?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I wish at least here in Congress we would have a process where there's bipartisan input for the good of the country. As for my New Year's resolution, I have to say, unfortunately, it's the same as my last one which is to try to lose a few pounds. Haven't done this year, I'll try and get it next year.
VAN HOLLEN: My other New Year's resolution, of course, is to try -- is to try to make the outcome in Alabama, this outcome we see in 2018 around the country.
MELBER: OK, so I heard a policy one, I heard a political one and I heard a health one. I think these are good. These are -- we can all think along these lines. Senator Van Hollen, thanks for spending some time with us.
VAN HOLLEN: Thanks, Ari, you too.
MELBER: As we heard just there, Democrats are in attack mode over this plan right now. Think about -- as I go to my next guest, this fiery moment when Senator McCaskill went after the Republican Chief Orrin Hatch during a big debate on this very bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: I beg your pardon. This is the CBO score, Mr. Chairman. I'm reading right off the CBO score, $179 billion in reduced Medicaid subsidies.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, there are no cuts.
MCCASKILL: I beg your pardon. That's where the money is coming from. Where do you think the $300 billion is coming from? Is there a fairy that's dropping it on the Senate? The money you're spending is coming out of Medicaid and subsidies to people who make less than $50,00. So you're trying shop this baby while you're giving a $43 billion saving to people who make $40,000 a year?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was one of the more fiery exchanges. And you could see the echoes of that debate continued today, not only with Senator Van Hollen was just saying, but these larger questions about who pays for this bill and why a party that has obviously run on being deficit neutral for so long suddenly appears to be unveiling a plan that in a lot of different ways would grow the deficit over the next decade. Before I get to my next guest, who's a Wall Street Journal reporter that is going to break a lot of this down, I want to play another moment that if you are loyal Beatnik, you might have seen this on the show last week. It was pretty interesting a CEO with a different view about why no more stimulus would be need for upper ends of the economy. This is a --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD CARMICHAEL, CEO, LA COLOMBE: This is a stimulation package that will be stimulating the stimulated. It's almost like giving CPR to Lebron James right now.
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MELBER: One CEO (INAUDIBLE) Siobhan Hughes, a Reporter for the Wall Street Journal. This is a busy time for you and a busy night for the Tax Bill. A kind of a Christmas eve for those who are excited about it. So thank you for hustling to join us. Your views on what we're hearing. Is this a violation of deficit-neutral planning and does it give a lot away to sort of real estate moguls?
SIOBHAN HUGHES, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: It is very, very hard to argue that this tax bill would be good for the deficit. Any analysis that I have seen suggests that even accounting for effects of economic growth, you are going to end up with deficit. That includes the conservative- leaning tax foundation which said today you will end up just less than $500 billion worth of deficit. So by all accounts, that's going to be a problem.
MELBER: And the real estate stuff. I mean, this is one where you can't make it up. I mean, if this were the movie, and at the last minute they write it in by hand and it benefits the industry of the President and one of the key swing votes. And as I mentioned with the Senator, you know, the Senator, his -- you know, Corker's defense is well, I didn't read the bill anyway. I guess that's a type of defense though. Is this somehow a sweetheart deal for real estate or is there some good economic argument for those provisions?
HUGHES: You know, the argument that Republicans have made and it's worth mentioning, this is going to pass in less than eight weeks from introduction to final passage and signing. So Republicans never really made the argument for that provision. I have tried asking a lot of them about that. And the argument is well, you have to encourage people to take risks with their investments. The problem I'm told by tax lawyers is that the way this bill is structured, a lot of the rewards would be a windfall to people who have already made their real estate investments. So it does nothing to encourage any new investment.
MELBER: You put it very clearly. Final question, I was reading the New York Times today, this bill is likely to increase inequality in America. Does that track with your reporting?
HUGHES: It's true that every single income group would get a tax cut and on a percentage basis, at least in that first year, the lower income households would get a greater percentage increase. But the problem is on a dollar basis, so much more goes to the wealthier households. And on that basis, you could make an argument that this increases income inequality. Now, Republicans fire back and say hey, wait a second, by cutting corporate taxes, businesses will have an incentive to raise wages but so far, a lot of businesses are saying what they are going to do is give out dividends instead of pay increases.
MELBER: Siobhan, I feel like you put math into English and it's very helpful. I could have used you in school when I was doing poorly in math. Siobhan Hughes from the Wall Street Journal, Thank you so much.
HUGHES: Thank you.
MELBER: There's a new report on Donald Trump's lies. It says he lies all the time. I have the numbers and some journalist on how to deal with this new type of government situation. Also, you've heard the question, can Donald Trump fire Mueller and will he do it? But the answer legally is no. I have a prosecutor here to explain later in the show.
MELBER: Welcome back. A new report shows Donald Trump lies constantly. So far according to a New York Times analysis here this year, Trump has lied 100-plus times. This is far more than any other president. Take a look at the comparison to Obama, who in the same period told about 1/20th as many lies. And then over Obama's whole first term, the New York Times said, take a look at that. Well, the record is pretty flat. And his second term, the Times caught just six more lies. When you look at that chart, what you see is something that is a total historical aberration and doesn't show any signs of letting up.
Now, think about the picture this paints from the New York Times today, this very stark. The level of lying appears to now be a test for journalists and citizens alike. What happens when lies that used to be news risk becoming normalized background noise? I'm joined by CNBC Editor at Large John Harwood, a veteran at the New York Times as well as the Wall Street Journal Shelby Holliday, two journalists struggling their way through. John, how do you as a journalist and how as a society deal with this when clearly the idea is so many lies you can barely keep up?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC EDITOR AT LARGE: Look, I think we have to be as aggressive as possible at identifying things that the President says which are not true. And the best example that I can think of at the moment is the one you were just discussing with Siobhan a few moments ago. And that is this is a President who ran on the idea of helping the forgotten people, the blue-collar, the working-class people, making their life better and in an economic sense, he's gone in the opposite direction. Tax Policy said who came out with a report today said by 2027, 83 percent of all the dollars given out in tax cuts under this Republican bill go to the top one percent. That is completely inconsistent with the tenor of the President's campaign and we've got to keep pointing it out over and over and over again.
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, POLITICAL AND BUSINESS REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, what's challenging is you have -- I wrote down some alliteration. You have a number of different ways Trump I guess you could say creates his own reality. He has flat-out falsehood, strange suggestions, wrong retweets, blurry blanket statements. He recently said Doug Jones wants to raise taxes, well, that's not entirely true, but he'll issue the blanket statements. He talks a lot about Russia and some of those lies could actually get him in some legal trouble. But he uses these lies, he weaponizes them. Because when the media is so aggressive in calling him out and the media makes a mistake, as we saw over the past couple of weeks, boom, he uses that, he blows that up. All of his followers loves when the media makes mistakes, because then they can say the press is against you. The press is tainted.
MELBER: And John --
HOLLIDAY: So he does sucks you into a war of lies.
MELBER: John, do you think it's a deliberate political thing or he just comes out of a world where like that's what he always did.
HARWOOD: Well, he comes out of a world where that's what he always did. He wrote in his book that hyperbole, exaggeration was part of his tools in the real estate business. But I think it's obvious that words don't mean very much to this President. He's impulsive, he comes out and says things in the moment which he thinks will get the reaction he wants at that time. And then you know, an hour later, a day, a week later, he could say something completely different and reconciling those two things of zero consequence to him.
MELBER: Right and I think he's mastered what Jeb Bush famously said, the chaos Presidency has sort of started to habituate people to it. And that's something I think we still have to figure out how to deal with because you have a lot of viewers and readers who are understandably exhausted by it. John Harwood and Shelby Holliday, thank you, both and Shelby Holliday, happy holidays. Coming up, why Donald Trump can't actually fire Bob Mueller himself. The special report on something you may not know yet.
MELBER: You know, ever since Bob Mueller became Special Counsel, there's been discussions about his potential removal. Some conservatives say Trump should fire him. Many experts say any effort by a president to remove the prosecutor investigating him could be obstruction or even a constitutional crisis. But this whole debate often misses a key point that protects Mueller. The President cannot unilaterally fire him, which is bad news for any president who might think it's easy to remove a special counsel. Mueller can only be removed by Rod Rosenstein, who appointed him and says there's no reason for removal.
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ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm satisfied, Congressman, because based upon what I know, which is different from what accounts may appear in the media, based on what I know, I believe that Director Mueller is appropriately remaining within his scope and conducting himself appropriately.
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MELBER: But what if Trump demanded that Rosenstein fire Mueller? The rules prevent that too. Unlike say the President's cabinet or every other federal prosecutor the President can fire for no reason, the deal J Rules protect the Special Counsel and say he can only be fired for misconduct, dereliction of duty, or good cause, which has to be stated in writing. That's pretty iron-clad. But what if the DOJ or a president just makes up a claim of misconduct to fire a special counsel? Then what? Well, I think we need to call in a heavy hitter. Seth Waxman was a Federal Prosecutor in one of the most prestigious offices in the country, serving 13 years in the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office. He has been Lead Counsel in over 60 jury trials and is quite the prosecutorial expert to have. Thanks for being here.
SETH WAXMAN, FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Thank you for having me.
MELBER: So, Seth, the rules prevent firing Mueller for no reason. What if the Trump administration tried to do it anyway, then what?
WAXMAN: Well, if he went that route and tried to kind of circumvent or you know, trump the special counsel rules, there could be an action filed in federal court. You know, this is a DOJ regulation. And like all regulations, they are subject to review under an arbitrary and capricious standard and that's under a technical regime called the Administrative Procedures Act. And so, if Trump were to go that route, there potentially could be a lawsuit filed in federal court and litigation over that matter.
MELBER: So you're saying, and we'll put this standard back up here, that these words that have the description of what has to happen, not the president, has to only be the DOJ but also has to be misconduct, dereliction duty or good cause. You're saying if they just made it up and told Mueller not to come into work, what, his own team would then go to a judge and say this isn't true?
WAXMAN: Yes, I think that's one of the groups that could do it. They would have what's called standing under the law to file a lawsuit under the administrative procedures act state that the action taken by Donald Trump or whoever he would have carry out this act, if it's not Rod Rosenstein, someone down the line of succession, and state that that's arbitrary and capricious and have a court review that determination.
MELBER: And then just to be clear, because you know, you've done a lot of cases, how does that work? How long does that take? What if a judge decided that it was made up, that there wasn't good cause? Then what happens?
WAXMAN: So that process can take months, if not longer. So in the meantime, Bob Mueller would continue through with his investigation and that Administrative Procedure Act proceeding really would take so much time that it couldn't -- it could be the case that it could not derail Mueller's work.
MELBER: And this kind of thing that we're talking about here, do you think Bob Mueller, his lawyers have thought about this? Do you think they'd be ready to fight this out if it came to it?
WAXMAN: Well, I have little doubt of that. As we've seen in some of the Michael Flynn pleadings that they've already kind of speculated that if there was such an action taken to try to derail this investigation on the federal level that they could take this into a state proceedings. Bob Mueller and his team are very sophisticated lawyers, at the top of their game and I think they've thought through many of these different avenues. And if it did come to that, I think there would be legal challenges.
MELBER: It's fascinating and all these rules, as you've explained, do kick in a way where other people have the final say, not Rod Rosenstein, certainly not the President, which is -- which is a fascinating part of our system. Seth Waxman, thanks for walking us through it.
WAXMAN: Thank you.
MELBER: All right, one more thing tonight. I get asked one question a lot about this show. Why so many pens? If you've seen our desk before, you may have seen, we have all of these right here. A little bit of notebook swag there, we have a lot of stuff. One answer is that our director Adam really wanted us to get special BEAT hats. And we declined to do that, but we're proud of the pens. We also give them away. If you want to come to our Facebook page, FACEBOOK.COM/THEBEATWITHARI or e-mail if you don't like Facebook, ARI@MSNBC.COM and you want a pen and you tell us we will give it away. We've been doing that some viewers. I'll show you those later in the week.
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