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Mueller eyes Flynn's Turkey links Transcript 12/21/2017 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Jay Inslee, Jennifer Rodgers, Nick Ackerman, David Frum, Betsy Woodruff

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: December 21, 2017 Guest: Jay Inslee, Jennifer Rodgers, Nick Ackerman, David Frum, Betsy Woodruff

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We begin with breaking news right now. Details emerging on why some Democrats think Donald Trump may still try to oust Bob Mueller and many vowing that they are ready if it happens.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I catch the first plane smoking. I would be here with one minute's notice if I could get here.


MELBER: We are just one night away from what we were reporting on last night. The unusual scene when Senator Mark Warner marched down to the Senate floor to give his red line speech. And many were wondering immediately if Warner knew something he didn't. He is a normally careful senator. But he turned strident. Was it on more than a hunch?

Well today, Senator Warner spoke again, not in the same setting. But he outlined the chain of events that he thinks could set off Trump that more indictments of people who are closed to the President. People he cares about could it trigger an attack on the special counsel.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We don't even have near the tools that Robert Mueller has in his investigation where he is already had two indictments and two guilty pleas and I believe more to come.


MELBER: I believe more to come. That is the ranking member on the Senate intelligence committee. Someone who we do know knows a lot more than anybody else would about this probe. He was also asked about specific names.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jared Kushner has come and talked on your staff. Will you call him back to talk to the full committee?

WARNER: Most members, Democrats and Republicans, it will be hard to reach any final conclusions without being able to see some of the principals and obviously Mr. Kushner will fall into that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Donald Trump Jr. In that category?

WARNER: Absolutely.


MELBER: That is about what could be next when you think about any kind of public backlash.

As for what Bob Mueller is gathering about what has already happened, very new interesting report tonight adding details about how the White House reacted to that troubling account it first got from Sally Yates.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: The first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying contact that, you know, Flynn had engaged in was problematic in of itself. I remember that Mr. McGahn asked me whether or not General Flynn should be fired and I told him that really wasn't our call. That was up to them but we were giving them this information so that they could take action.


MELBER: That was attorney general Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration when she briefed Congress about all of that intrigue about Mike Flynn. And that was she said she did.

Tonight, many dissecting a new foreign policy magazine report about Mueller obtaining evidence about how the White House responded to that warning she just described there. Trump's top lawyer researching federal law dealing both with lying to federal investigators and with violations of the Logan act. That is the (INAUDIBLE) law which bars citizens from undermining U.S. policy, undercutting the U.S. reform governments.

The then article cites sources who think this evidence shows concerns McGahn had that Flynn had possibly violated one or both laws at the time. And that's one way to read it. And to be fair, another way to read it is that the White House lawyer was doing what any competent lawyer does. You research the law that could impact your client. And that happens even if your client is ultimately innocent. But that's just the lawyer part.

Then there's Trump part. The same report says McGahn voiced concerns about Flynn's conduct to Trump. Do you know what that sound is? It is the echo from Trump's infamous tweet. The one he sent from his account, fast it is from him, complaining that he had long known Flynn committed that line of lying to the FBI which was immediately so controversial that they walked away from it and had Trump's lawyer claim he actually sent out that tweet and they claimed it was one and only tweet ever ghost written for Donald Trump by his lawyer John Dowd.

Now that tweet, you may remember was bad then because if President Trump knew four months a warning from his own White House counsel that Mike Flynn committed that crime and then Trump went ahead pushed James Comey to drop the investigation to Flynn, well, that is bad. That builds elements towards an obstruction case.

And on top of all that, when you think about what we are learning from his foreign policy magazine report, it is also different from what Trump originally claimed in his public defense in that now infamous Lester Holt interview which was chock full of admissions against interest.


[18:05:09] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My White House counsel, Dan McGahn, came back to me and didn't sound like an emergency of it. It didn't make it sound like he was, you know. And she actually didn't make it sound that way either, in the hearings the other day like it had to be done immediately.


MELBER: I'm joined by Nick Ackerman, former Watergate special prosecutor, Betsy Woodruff who is covering every angle of the Russia probe for "the Daily Beast" and David Frum, a former agent of George W. Bush.

I want to go around the horn quickly first on reaction to these stories starting with Nick. The fortune policy magazine story sounds worth for Donald Trump the client than it sounds for Dan McGahn, the lawyer.

NICK ACKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTION: Well, there is no question about it. I mean, he was on notice that Flynn may have violated two criminal laws and he waited 18 days to finally take action against Flynn after also being warned by the assistant attorney general. So you have to ask, you know, what was going on there? Why was he holding on to Flynn for so long knowing that he was under investigation for possibly two federal felonies? And then you have to ask yourself, why was it that he was pushing James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn?

I mean, I think all of this comes back to what occurred during campaign. I mean, this is an obstruction of justice in order to cover up what he did during the campaign. Because we know that Flynn's allocution was material - he say he admitted that his lies were material to the FBI's investigation into the coordination and conspiracy with the campaign and the Russians. So what is it about Flynn's lies with respect to Kislyak that relate back to the campaign? And what is it that Donald Trump knows that he doesn't want anybody else to know?

MELBER: And David Frum, you have worked in a White House. It may not sound good to claim that you are really ignorant of everything going on even with the top aide like the national security advisor. But as you know in fairness to everyone involved, ignorance can be a decent legal defense. The problem with this report is it adds to the amount of evidence that suggests Donald Trump was not just ignorantly running around saying, Flynn is a nice guy we have known. I don't know what happened but I like him. I just wish this would all kind of go away which will perhaps inappropriate, I would say theory of the case is not an automatic crime. This though looks potentially worse than that. Your take.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH 43 ECONOMIC SPEECHWRITER: Can we talk for a minute about the underlying events, alleged defense, the Logan act?

Look. The day after an election, of course the national security advisor and other transition officials get on the phone to their counter parts around the world and introduce themselves. And it happens all the time. They indicate in a tone of voice and an emphasis places where the new administration will depart from the old. And they reassure friends who may have afraid dispute with United States, they perhaps may have a different view on that. And nobody thinks there's anything improper and certainly not illegal about that.

It is not merely talking to foreign parties that is the question here. It is what they were talking about. And when we talk about the Logan act in this case, that we are trying to get, it is not just that Flynn jumped the gun and it was a little premature in his timing, in this conversation with the Russian. That the conversations looked like they were about delivering the Russian (INAUDIBLE) of election interference what it was alleged that he was talking about was remitting sanctions and other penalties that had been imposed for actions by the Russian, the reason Flynn was on the first place in the first place.

So I just say we need to be careful because the Logan act is such, you know, unenforced law because it is so irrelevant to the way modern government works in the transition. It is not a technical -it is not a technicality that is being looked at here.

MELBER: It is a great point. And again, it goes, you know, what Nick called the materiality because Nick is more of a lawyer than you which makes you easier to listen to. Just kidding, Nick. We love you.

But the materiality language is what goes to why it is problematic if you are undermining what were Obama-era sanctions and why were you doing that? Why was that the urgent, as you put it, a payback, David?

Betsy, you have been working the story. What are you hearing this week? And weigh in on this constant discussion about will he or won't he, which again, may not be anywhere near that, the White House denying it and yet we hear more and more as I mentioned for Senator Warner and others.


Look. Democrats are never going to rule out the possibility that Trump could just decide on a whim to fire Mueller. The reality is one of the defenses the White House has been pushing to try put this potential Mueller firing rumors to bed. They have been saying Trump currently has no plans to fire Mueller. Of course, we know about lacking plans has rarely if ever kept the President from making any sort of major policy decision. So that's an important piece to bear it in mind with all this.

Additionally that what really struck me as important about this foreign policy story that came out is that it highlights a central question about White House conversation. The question is what exactly did Dan McGahn tell Donald Trump after speaking with Sally Yates? Did Dan MacGahn go to Donald Trump's office and say things are bad. We have a big problem. Or did he say Flynn made a little mistake. And he misspoke and maybe it is going to be an issue.

The line of the White House is that it is the latter. That McGahn told Trump, everything is basically OK. And I can tell you in conversations that I have had with sources, with people close to the President, people familiar with the White House is thinking that's also the line that they push behind on scenes. That is the line they push on background. That this was the nature of McGahn's conversation with Trump.

But this new foreign policy reporting suggests that if it is correct, no reason to (INAUDIBLE) that is not, that McGahn actually told Trump that things were bad. That Flynn had significant legal jeopardy. And that he was in trouble. And that means, that casts a new light. All the things happened in the lead-up to Flynn's firing.

[18:11:13] MELBER: Right. It also cast in a different light whether these people at the top of the national security apparatus has a reason to know why there was a Russia placate, Russia or not.

Nick, another story that has been below the radar but you flagged and I want to give you a chance to explain here in business insider. High level officials submitting a brief in this suit against both Trump and Roger Stone. It includes heavy hitters like John Brennan, James Clapper, Michael Hayden, with the message that he Kremlin was using these local actors to amplify influence in the U.S. The why could this matter?

ACKERMAN: Well, this could matter a lot. Because if something happened where Mueller was fired, this civil lawsuit actually would go forward against the Trump campaign and Roger Stone, who are both named as defendants in this case. And the plaintiffs in the case are two individuals that worked at the Democratic National Committee whose emails were released by WikiLeaks and by the Russians and hacked by the Russians.

So what you have right now, which is very unusual, is an amicus brief which is a friend of the court brief which normally you see it in the circuit courts or the Supreme Court but it is pretty rare to see this kind of a brief submitted it in the district court and even rarer to see a lineup of 14 national, former national security officials getting together in giving the informator (ph) of this case.

I mean, they are not saying that all the allegations are true but in a sense they are saying they are saying the allegations are true. Because they can't come out and say that because they are under the restrictions of confidentiality and national security. But the fact that they are doing this and allowing this case, putting their name to this case in order that it go forward, and that discovery take place, and all of this is going to be an opposition to the defendant's motion to dismiss.

The fact that there is going to be depositions taken, under oath, testimony, documents, this could turn out to be an extremely significant case.

MELBER: Nick Ackerman, Betsy Woodruff, and David Frum, thank you very much on a busy evening.

Coming up, we have here at "the Beat," an exclusive Special Report on another part of Mike Flynn's legal problems and why Bob Mueller is looking at Turkey.

Also, Trump's allies now going on offense again the Mueller probe. This is different than what we have seen before. And I will explain why it is so troubling.

And how will Democrats go after Republicans for what some are calling the most unpopular tax bill ever? Steve Kornacki on "the Beat" tonight to break it down.

Plus, we have a surprise visit from a very familiar Santa.

Ari Melber. You are watching "the Beat" on MSNBC.


[18:17:02] MELBER: As the Mueller probe intensifies, Trump allies has, of course, been ratcheting up attacks impugning whether some DOJ officials are bias. And of course that unhinged complaint to the Russia probe itself is some kind of coup. These attacks are loud and they can sound imposing. But most of those involve playing defense.

Their efforts to muddy or blood where prosecutors do. But alone, this type of defense obviously doesn't stop Mueller. It doesn't undo indictments. It doesn't change what is happening in court.

But tonight there are reports of Trump's allies going on offense. A respond to Trump's public demand that his enemies.

Now before I report on the details, let me be crystal clear about what these new accounts point to. They suggest that some people inside the U.S. government are seeking two target Americans based on their political beliefs. Based on their opposition to the President.

Now, if that happens, it would be an abuse of power. If that is the explicit goal of DOJ leadership or the White House, it could in itself be a crime. That is the context of the report I'm about to show you tonight.

Number one, NBC reporting that at the request of Jeff Sessions, DOJ prosecutors are now asking FBI agents to explain the evidence they found in the probe in to that much talked about uranium one deal. This amounts to the exact targeting of Hillary Clinton that Trump called for.


TRUMP: You want to look at Hillary Clinton? I'm really not involved with the justice department. I would like to let it run itself. But they should be looking at the Democrats. They should be looking at a lot of things.


MELBER: That was a marker. And on the night that Trump said that, when we showed that in the White House lawn, we reported on the stakes.


MELBER: Breaking news right now is not a drill.

What he is doing in public what Richard Nixon would only do in secret. He is openly musing about pushing the DOJ to investigate or prosecute political opponents.


MELBER: Now, how bad is this? If Trump already publicly suggested it, is the White House now just trying to defend and it normalize it? No. That would be too much for even this Trump White House. So instead today the message is that the targeting Trump asked for which now appears to be in the works -- is not what Trump asked for.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Jeff Sessions encourage him in any way?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President wouldn't have directed that. That I'm sure of. Whether or not they talked about it, I'm not sure.


MELBER: That is all on the DOJ side.

Then there is the rank partisan fresher from some House Republicans including the former Trump transition member who recuse himself after allegation he violated house rules by making disclosures. He is leading a secret group of house Republican, according to "Politico'" who are investigating, they say, the DOJ and the FBI over the improper handling of that famous dossier which of course is important because it showed a lot of problems with Donald Trump.

That is what the offense looks like. Now, if it sounds scary, that's because it is.

I'm joined by Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor and NBC reporter Ken Dalinian.

Jennifer, based on those reports. Number one, do they seem to you to be a direct response to Trump's public call to go after Democrats ad Hillary? And number two, if so, is that a potential abuse of power?

[18:20:37] JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, you know, look. We don't know exactly it is what. It is clearly at least some sort of distraction from what else is going on.

You know, Congress does have oversight of the FBI so in and of itself, it is not necessarily an abuse of power. They might just want to be poking around and making sure the investigation was thorough. That of course would be for political purposes but not necessarily a criminal matter.

You know, I think what it maybe --.

MELBER: What about Jeff Sessions though who said he would be recused from all this stuff in the first place, reportedly being involved in going back in to uranium one. I mean, in theory, they could reopen anything for the right reason. But if he is doing it in response to Trump's call, could that be the wrong reason?

RODGERS: Well, again, it's not entirely clear. I mean, read some reporting today that he was doing it in response to questions from congress which again they do have an oversight role. And his recusal was from the Russian investigation and the Trump transition. So I'm not entirely convince yet that had what we are seeing here --

MELBER: Well, I don't mean to keep hammering, but I got to stay on the details. He said he would recuse from anything related to the campaigns. Donald Trump views this as related to the campaigns in the sense that it is about Hillary. I mean, it could be about uranium security. And if it were only about that, I think that would be perfectly fine. But you would have to have not followed American politics last two years to think this is only about uranium.

RODGERS: Well, you know, look. It is about the campaign in a very, very broad sense. I'm going to try to stay a little more grounded in the law and think that it is more about oversight at this point until we know more. I think that maybe the more interesting thing here is that if you really have a concern about how anything at the FBI, or DOJ for that matter is handled, the place to go is either the office of professional responsibility or the office of the inspector general. That's how you do it if you are concern about that and you are operating under the rule of law.

MELBER: Right.

RODGERS: So the fact --.

MELBER: Let me play for Ken. This was Jeff Sessions in his own words saying, he didn't want to be, if he was confirmed, he would recuse from investigations of Hillary Clinton.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I believe the proper thing for me to do would be for me to recuse myself from any questions involving those kinds of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: You intend to recuse yourself from both the Clinton e-mail investigation and any matters involving the Clinton foundation, if there are any.



MELBER: Ken, your take?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS REPORTER: I think the issue here, Ari, is that this is not an investigation yet, thankfully. And you are raising some very good questions. But I don't think we are there yet, at least on the stuff we reported on today.

Because what this is, we are being told is, justice department prosecutors going back and educating themselves. The political team now in-charge of the justice department. Going back and getting to speed on what happened in this old uranium one case. Why are they doing that? Because members of Congress have been urging them to appoint a special counsel. And Sessions was actually resistant to that the last time he was on the hill in conversations with Representative Jim Jordan if you recall. You know, he said look, we are going to appoint a special counsel if and when we see a need to do that and we don't see one yet.

MELBER: I get that. I'm going to jump in. I'm interrupting more than unusual, so. Blame it on me being in Seattle and being so talking to be happy at home.

But Ken, we have all lived through this movie. And it doesn't end well. When the FBI, would it be with under Jim Comey or under new leadership, over responds to the political partisan demands of Congress. Because they don't really want to just get briefed on uranium one. They made it very clear, I'm just reporting the fact. What they want as you just allege, is a special counsel to go after Hillary Clinton. And what Donald Trump said was he wants that. And what Sarah Huckabee Sanders says todays is, well, maybe this isn't that. But that is what they want.

DALINIAN: It isn't that.


MELBER: Ken, and Jennifer, you both get final words.

DALINIAN: You are absolutely right. And if we take justice at their word that this is more of a defensive measure to get up to speed on the case, that would be one situation. If in fact this moves into a reexamination of uranium one matter which by the way, we have seen no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever both on the national security question and on the Hillary Clinton influence peddling question. If that becomes a political investigation from Hillary Clinton, it is a huge problem, Ari, I agree with you.

MELBER: Jennifer, last word.

RODGERS: I mean, this may be the attorney general's bid to stay in the loop. I mean, attorneys general don't like special council. That takes them out of it. That takes their power away from them. So this may be his way to say look, we will just look into this. Let you know that everything was done properly. We don't need a special counsel. It would not be within the statute, by the way. There should be no special council here. So maybe this will be the end of it.

[18:25:18] MELBER: Maybe it will. You have both given us reason for some shades of optimism which I always welcome.

Two experts, Ken Dalinian and Jennifer Rodgers. Appreciate both of your time.

Coming up, I have that Special Report I mentioned. Why Turkey could be key the Mueller's leverage over Flynn.

And as mentioned, my home state of Washington is where much of this resistance we have been started earlier this year. The governor of the state joins me tonight.


[18:28:48] MELBER: "The Beat" is live from my home city of Seattle tonight. And I want to show you some footage here of what Washington State looked like after Donald Trump signed one of his first executive orders, the travel ban, a week into the presidency. You remember the protest. And it was a big movement right here in Washington.

Here's the scene at the SeaTac airport. Crowds of protesters marched to the terminal. Many voices were heard including Governor Jay Inslee. He is known by many as somewhat moderate left Democrat when he was in Congress. He became governor in 2013 and he made it clear Donald Trump's approach required a more strident response.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: I have to say they couldn't run a two- car funeral. And it is very disappointing to see our government create chaos in our nation. We are drawing the line right here at SeaTac.


MELBER: Inslee and the state attorney general moved fast. Washington was actually the first state to take Trump to court over that ban and that led to one of the many rulings that narrowed or blocked Trump's attempt at the travel ban. It is a message that has continued to build over the last year. And the Supreme Court may ultimately hear the case next year.

I'm happy to say Washington governor Jay Inslee joins me right now live from Washington State.

Governor, thank you very much for making the time.

[18:30:01] INSLEE: Thank you.

MELBER: When we look back at this year, what inspired you to take such a leadership role in the travel ban? And what have you learned about how state should operate in this Trump era?

INSLEE: Well, we are very proud of our state for many reasons. For one reason is that we have played a central role in standing up against the cruelty and chaos of Donald Trump on multiple occasions, on the many times he has attempted to damage our health and our sense of stability and our sense of justice and our sense of fiscal responsibility and we are not going to be daunted. And the one thing I guess I've learned from the last year is in a large sense, Donald Trump cannot stop us. He cannot stop us from, for instance, recently, we're going to fight to preserve net neutrality here in the state of Washington by our state actions. He can't stop us from defeating climate change by embracing clean energy policies like we're doing here in the State of Washington. And he can't stop us from having the ability to have his unconstitutional behavior judged by the judicial system of the United States and our own court system.

So, I guess the lesson from the last year would be, A, we all need to stand up to control our own destinies and B, we can be successful when we do that. And we should not let the madness going on in Congress right now dissuade us from taking individual municipal and state actions to protect our own destiny from the multiple depredations of Donald Trump. And like I said, we are proud of the progress we made in Washington State and you know, we don't -- we're not really patient. So when they tried to repeal the net neutrality bills, we announced actually the day before that that the State of Washington will be embracing multiple state actions that will protect net neutrality for our consumers. So don't wait, stand up and we can win.

MELBER: You say -- you say the madness -- you say the madness in Congress. Let me play for you Ivanka Trump on the tax bill today.


IVANKA TRUMP, ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm really looking forward to doing a lot of traveling in April when people realize the effect that this has. But on the process of filling out their taxes, the vast majority will be doing so in a single postcard but also having experienced the relief that will be starting as early as February.


MELBER: Will most people be doing their taxes on a postcard and how are you going to prepare Washington State for the healthcare and tax impacts of this bill?

INSLEE: There are many reasons that Americans already reviled and repulsed by this abomination. And that's what it is. To our health, it's debilitating in my state. 260,000 people are going to lose insurance because this is going to be ripped away from with this subterfuge by Donald Trump and his (INAUDIBLE) Congress. To our -- to our pocketbooks, it's going to be injurious because hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians will get a tax increase now and all of them to some degree ultimately in a combination of this debt, that means fiscally ruin his plans of the Trump administration. And third, as far as our future and our grandchildren, the fact that they would lump $1.5 trillion on the backs of our children and load that debt on them when they're already struggling with college debt is just reprehensible.

So there are multiple reasons that the cat is already out of the bag. Americans know that this has a very foul odor about it. It's not going to change no matter how much the daughter of the President travels in comfort around the United States because she's going to be found by people that know the jig is up. They understand a really terrible deal when they get it. When you give 70 percent of all the benefits to the top fifth, when you get 34 percent to all the benefits to the top one percent and chicken feed to the rest, and you give corporations permanent tax relief but cut it off and cause taxes to go up after I believe it's 2026 to middle-class people, people understand the short end of the stick when they're getting it. And working class, middle-class people are getting the shortened of the stick yet again.

And I got to tell you, Ari, I'm constantly amazed. I don't think the Republicans will stop until the top one percent owns 100 percent of America because that's the path that they intend to insist upon as far as I can tell. So good luck with the travels, it's not going to work.

MELBER: Well, Governor, you're speaking very clearly and we're hearing you loud and clear. Governor Jay Inslee, thank you for being on THE BEAT tonight.

INSLEE: Thank you.

MELBER: I'm joined now by former Obama official Ron Klain and Laura Bassett, Senior Political Reporter for HuffPost. Laura, what did you think of what we heard there? Some of the Democrats out in the states sound even more strident or at least more clear sometimes than Washington?

LAURA BASSETT, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: HUFFPOST: Absolutely. We've been seeing this throughout Trump's administration, an incredible resistance from Democratic Governors and Democratic Mayors. I remember most specifically when Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, ten different governors and 60 mayors said that they were going to continue to uphold it. And I think that that's where the resistance is coming from. It's all up and down the ballot and then, of course, tons of organization on the ground. I just think it's been incredible.


RON KLAIN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Yes. I mean, look, I think obviously state and local leaders are playing a big part of it. But what's been fascinating about 2017 is how much of the energy of the resistance is coming from the men and women in the street. It started with the women's march on the day after Trump's inauguration right through the #MeToo movement this year and mostly through the and the overall resistance movement. And it's been a (INAUDIBLE) movement.

I think we're going to look back at 2017 the way people looked at 1968 as a year of protest, a year -- people getting activated. And those protests have had results. We stopped Trump from building a wall. ObamaCare is still alive, numbers out today show as many people have signed up this year as last year. Some of the worst people have been run out of the Trump White House. We had huge victories in Virginia and then shockingly in Alabama. So I think it's been an incredible year of protest and change from the grassroots through the resistance.

MELBER: Right. And you're making a good point that the governor was just referring to which is how ObamaCare has helped states like Washington. You ask or you mentioned the street protests and the role of that, you know, and it really goes to the two stories I think of 2017. One story is sort of nothing matters and the complaint or the paradigm that it doesn't seem like anything works. And the other is that journalism is back, street protest is back and a lot of people aren't in cabinet seats anymore and aren't in the National Security Office and aren't in any other places because of the facts and the people. Here's an animation Ron of the polling over the course of the year. Donald Trump started historically low and then has gotten lower. How does that look briefly from both of you going into the midterms?

BASSETT: Donald Trump is in a league of his own in terms of approval ratings. He literally has the worst approval rating for December of a first-year president in American history. We haven't had a president dip below 50 percent approval since Ronald Reagan's first year, and that was 49 percent and Donald Trump is in the low 30s. So I think it really -- the Democrats have the wind at their backs and 53 percent of Americans are saying they think Trump should resign. I mean, that's a stunning figure. So I think things are not looking good for Republicans going into 2018.

MELBER: And Ron, in one sentence, what's the Democrat's mid-term message?

KLEIN: You know, I think in one sentence, the one sentence is stop Trump. I mean, we are party of minority in both chambers. The first goal of the party minority is to stop Trump from doing all the horrible things he's tried to do and is continuing to try to do.

MELBER: I'm not sure how good a message that is but we will give you time to come back on THE BEAT and try again. Ron Klain and Laura Bassett, thank you, both. Straight ahead, we are going to turn to the special report I promised, a new angle on Mike Flynn. And where's President Obama these days? Well somebody found him and it's a really nice piece of tape to see.


MELBER: Now to our special report tonight, another source of heat on Mike Flynn. Some of the most controversial things we know about Mike Flynn are not in dispute. He admits to lying to the FBI, a felony. He admits now to cooperating with Bob Mueller which means he's telling on his old colleagues and he admits to putting America second acting as an agent for a foreign power. But while Flynn's lies have gotten a lot of intention, it's that entanglement with other countries that actually could give Bob Mueller extra leverage over Mike Flynn and it's not only about Russia.

It's about Flynn's links to Turkey which is the subject of our special report tonight. Consider the home stretch of the 2016 General Election, August, Donald Trump was battling the Gold Star Khan family. He was sinking in the polls, replacing his campaign leadership with Steve Bannon. That was the story in public. But offstage, Mike Flynn was signing a secret contract to get over half a million dollars to advance Turkey's interests. A contract he hid from the Justice Department and which stayed hidden until after the election when the story broke.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An associate of that consulting firm confirming to Politico today that Mike Flynn's firm which is called the Flynn Intel Group, they're being paid to lobby for the nation of Turkey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Flynn Intel Group was paid half a million dollars last year during the campaign for work that benefited the Turkish government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't disclose his work on behalf of the Turkish government to the Justice Department as required by federal law.


MELBER: As required by federal law. That violation hiding foreign lobbying is also, we should note, one of the felonies Paul Manafort is charged with. But so far Flynn's Turkey lobbying has not led to charges though we do know that once he was busted, he filed this federal form admitting that work for Turkey. So Mike Flynn secretly worked for Turkey while serving as the most important National Security Adviser to Candidate Trump. What did turkey get for all that? Well, one way to look at this is to compare Turkey's foreign agenda to Russia's which we know had a very precise plan for getting something out of our politics.

Even if there was no Russia collusion, that country clearly got tangible benefits from team Trump, the positive rhetoric during the campaign, the change of the RNC platform, denials of Russian meddling and the effort to undercut sanctions that Mueller is still probing. That's a lot especially since Russia is not typically friendly with U.S. administrations. And under Turkey's President Erdogan, Turkey hasn't been that friendly either. After an attempted 2016 coup, Erdogan was cracking down not only within his country but he tangled with the U.S. over one of his enemies who was living in Pennsylvania.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After a night of battle between rebellious soldiers and government loyalist in which at least 160 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured, the crackdown is now underway. They are now calling for the death sentence to be reinstated to punish some of them and the extradition of a cleric Fethullah Gulen based out of the U.S. that Erdogan has called the head of terror.


MELBER: You remember that cleric? And during that very crackdown, this was before Turkey ever paid Mike Flynn any money, he was singing a different tune about Erdogan. Flynn giving a public speech saying that Erdogan, this Turkish Leader was actually problematic because he was allegedly moving towards Islamism and was too close to Obama.


MIKE FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The Turkish military, over, you know, anybody that's switched on, has been paying attention, they have just been -- they have been you know, just excised for many years by what really became a secular country. Meaning, like sort of a regular sort of nation-state and then began to move towards Islamism. This is Turkey under Erdogan, who is actually very close to President Obama.

MELBER: Now, that was Flynn before he cut the deal to lobby for Turkey. And look, he's entitled to his views and his speeches. But what Mueller is probing, what could still matter in this Russia probe is how Flynn didn't just go from zero to 80 on Turkey. He went to negative 80. He reversed his criticism of Erdogan. He declared Turkey was a U.S. ally in crisis needing our support. Now, look at that. That's a very unusual Op-Ed right there. Flynn published it on Election Day. And then Op-Ed sat online for months until all this broke and then that same newspaper added this note. Four months after this article was published, General Flynn filed documents indicating he earned half a million for consulting work that might have aided the government of Turkey.

Neither General Flynn nor his representatives disclosed this when the essay was submitted. That's not a normal correction. That's a newspaper basically saying hey, General Flynn, you lied to us about this Turkish essay. You tricked us into being a secret platform for foreign government's views. Not cool. So at some risk, Turkey got all of that from Mike Flynn. That article also advocated Turkey's push for the person I mentioned earlier, that cleric living in Pennsylvania to be extradited. And that's big because later, NBC News reported, a Turkish bribery plot after the election asking Flynn to help kidnap the cleric for $15 million. Flynn denies it. Meanwhile, once in office, Trump was striking a warm note with Erdogan in the Oval Office as Turkish guards were doing this in our nation's capital.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You could you call it a bodyguard riot. Security men guarding Turkish President Erdogan, kicking in and tumbling protesters outside the Turkish Embassy Tuesday in one of Washington's fanciest neighborhoods. 11 people injured, two seriously, two protesters arrested only blocks from former President Obama's house and where Ivanka Trump and Jarred Kushner lives as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Erdogan's men wearing dark suits, stomping on victims in this VOA video.


MELBER: You know, when people say it can happen here, that happened here. Now, Donald Trump may have his own feelings about Erdogan apart from Mike Flynn's lobbying and input. It is worth noting though that out of the 190 countries on earth, Trump told the Washington Post through an aid that he puts Erdogan among his three favorites. It's a long ways from Obama who was casting Erdogan as troubling for the freedom of the press and religion.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's no secret that there are some trends within Turkey that I've been troubled with.

MELBER: A troubling path. That's what many U.S. security experts say when they warned about Turkey. It's pretty close to what Mike Flynn himself was saying at that speech about Turkey's road to Islamicism before Flynn started taking Turkish money and lobbying for them. So when you bring it all together, what does it add up to? Was it a bad idea for Flynn to secretly take that money and reverse himself? Yes. But even Flynn admits that now. This is about more than poor judgment. It's about what Mueller is planning next. Because Flynn only pleaded guilty to one felony, but these facts that I just laid out are a product of investigative work by many journalists, plus what we glean from Mueller's probe.

And taken together it shows that Mike Flynn could face legal exposure for other potential crimes, for things that he hasn't pleaded guilty to, like hiding -- like hiding his lobbying money from Turkey, like failing to register as a foreign agent, like listening allegedly to that bribery proposal, and as proven, like undercutting U.S. sanctions which were the law of the land. And all that legal exposure I would argue involves two interlocking mistakes, selling out and putting America second. It may seem hypocritical from the American first crowd but hypocrisy is not against the law. Americans can get paid to work for other countries or Americans can work for this country. But if you secretly try to do both, it's pretty hard to pull off while Bob Mueller is watching.


MELBER: Steve Kornacki is here because a lot of people are wondering how this week's policy changes are going to ricochet in 2018. And Steve, I understand you have reported out an explanation that will make us never have to watch news all of next year. Break it down.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Don't put it that way, Ari. It's bad for business. But here's what we've got. Look, you know the polling number on the tax bill this week. Not good and it's sort of a trend here. There have been three things we've been seeing take shape. Three patterns emerged this year that historically at least have been very telling for what happens in the mid-term election. Number one the generic Congressional battle. Which party would you like to see control Congress in next year's election? Look, the average of all the polls out there right now has the Democrats ahead by double digits.

Historically, if that's where a party is heading into a midterm that's a great place for that party to be. The President's approval rating, Donald Trump's average approval rating now sits at 39. It's basically been in this range all the way. Again, historically this is a number that clearly and overwhelmingly favors the opposition party. And the third trend that we've been seeing is the actual results. This year remember we've had a number of special house elections. Now, look, the Republicans won the first one out in Kansas but the story here, a 20-point swing. It was a Trump plus 27 districts. The Republican candidate only won it by 7.

You saw more Democratic enthusiasm there. You saw some traditional Republican voters who didn't show up. You saw some Republicans defecting. It wasn't enough for Democrats to win but that's a significant swing, and that was the story we saw in Montana, a 15 point swing toward the Democrats. We saw it in South Carolina around Rock Hill, a 15-point swing toward the Democrats. When you see these things all sort of coming together, a low approval rating for a President, big favorability in the generic ballot, plus actual special elections historically, that's been big news for the opposition party. The one good thing that Republicans could point to, this is about the only thing on this map is the special election we had in Georgia back in June.

This was a Trump plus one district. The Republicans did hold the district. What the Republicans will tell you is hey, that race was different, it was nationalized, there were tens of millions of dollars, all sorts of national media cultural forces got involved. Maybe if we could, we Republicans could replicate that across the country in '18 we'd be in good shape. But that's really, Ari, the only thing Republicans have to look at right now. When you look at generic ballot, Trump approval rating, every other special election, you throw in the numbers we've seen in this tax bill, look, we saw Donald Trump sort of blow up all the historical rules in 2016 but historically it's exactly where Democrats want to be heading into 2018. It's exactly where Republicans don't want to be.

MELBER: Fascinating. And it shows how Alabama may be broader than Alabama. Steve Kornacki at the boards, thank you as always. Up ahead on THE BEAT, Santa Obama with a surprise appearance. We'll show you that next.


MELBER: Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! And have you been wondering how President Obama may be celebrating? Well, here he is testing out something of a new career, filling in officially for Santa Claus. There he is being hoisted up at the Washington, D.C. Boys & Girls Club. This was last week and he brought a sack full of presents for the kids.


OBAMA: Because I heard that you guys were good and even the ones who were naughty were just a little naughty, I thought I'd bring by some toys.

AMERICAN KIDS: Merry Christmas!




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