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Trump takes credit for Obama-era economic progress Transcript 12/28/17 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Jameel Jaffer; Mercedes Proefrock; Craig Floyd, John Harwood; Jennifer Rubin; Maya Wiley; Christina Greer; Katon Dawson; Howard Gutman

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: December 28, 2017 Guest: Jameel Jaffer; Mercedes Proefrock; Craig Floyd, John Harwood; Jennifer Rubin; Maya Wiley; Christina Greer; Katon Dawson; Howard Gutman


Mike Flynn flipped on Trump. Then there were leaks Trump would flip on Mike Flynn with the strategy to impugn his credibility. You may remember that story.

Well, tonight, Trump`s lawyer, John Dowd, denying it all with a pretty big statement On the Record saying this is complete nonsense and more fake news. That`s as a response that, of course, echoes President Trump`s rejection of the whole Mueller probe.

Now this is public positioning we are getting from the White House tonight. But we are going to bring you more than that.

Tonight is December 28th. And that`s not just any night in the Flynn saga. In fact it was one year ago today that the Obama administration announced it was punishing Russia for that election interference that the intelligence services has determined and slapping serious sanctions on Russia. So it is pretty interesting here, exactly one year later tonight, to take a look back which is what we are going to do right now.

President-elect Donald Trump at the time was on holiday at his Florida resort just like he is right now and this is how he reacted that very night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think generally about sanctions against Russia?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think the computers have complicated a lot very greatly. And the whole, you know, age of computers has made it where nobody knows what`s going on.


MELBER: You can see the cameras sort of pulling away from Don King holding the American flag.

A year later we know the public nonchalance you saw there, the President- elect saying it is time to move forward and move past this which was a reasonable thing to say, I will note that. It actually concealed these very busy efforts inside the transition team which are now under criminal investigation. Mike Flynn rushing to contact the Russian ambassador asking him not to escalate the sanctions situation.

If Mike Flynn hadn`t made that call and then if he hadn`t lied about it to the vice President and the FBI, consider that the entire Russia probe that is consuming the Trump administration and has major criminal exposure, the whole thing might not exist.

Sally Yates might not have going to the White House to warn about Mike Flynn. Trump presumably, unless something else happened, probably wouldn`t have fired Mike Flynn. And Donald Trump then wouldn`t have asked Jim Comey to quote "let the Flynn investigation go." A matter now under criminal obstruction inquiry. All that news broke on May 16th. And then a day later this happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breaking news tonight, the justice department is appointing a special counsel to take over the Trump campaign/Russia investigation. The department naming former FBI chief Robert Mueller as special counsel.


MELBER: That was big and Trump didn`t like it. If he or Mike Flynn could all just go back to exactly one year ago today, you could imagine them not making that phone call to rush or delaying it and avoiding a whole lot of 2017.

So where is the investigation going now? For that, I bring in Maya Wiley, a lawyer and former council to the mayor of New York City and Jennifer Rubin, a conservative opinion writer with the "Washington Post" has written that Flynn could implicate any number of Trump officials but ultimately quote "it is Trump himself who may have the most to lose from Flynn`s cooperation with Mueller.

On that point, I begin with you, Jennifer. How do you reach that analysis? And how does that dove tail with the new denials we are hearing tonight from Donald Trump`s criminal defense attorney saying, no, they are not going to go after Flynn.

JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, just like in Watergate, it is the cover-up, not the crime. And in this case the cover- up assumes that Michael Flynn did something wrong or at least Donald Trump thought he did something wrong. Or Michael Flynn thought he did something wrong. Because then events played out. He decided that in fact he had to fire him. He decided as you said, that he then had to put some leverage, put some weight on then FBI director Jim Comey. Then he decided he had to fire James Comey. He then decided that he had to threaten James Comey and on and on and on it went.

So it is not so much what in any given instance in any particular conversation Flynn is going to say it is Flynn`s existence. It is the fact that he and Donald Trump had their relationship. And strangely, since Donald Trump cares about nobody other than Donald Trump, that he felt so compelled to rush to Flynn`s assistance.

Now what we don`t know is the conversation between the two of them. What we don`t know is that Michael Flynn was wired, for example, whether there are conversations. So there might be something that is truly constitute the smoking gun.

But really, the issues that we know about, we already know that. And that is that he went to the FBI to try to get them to ease up and then he ultimately fired the head of the FBI to try in some ways stop or block or impede this investigation. And that`s the makings of an obstruction claim and that`s where the greatest liability lies.

MELBER: Right. And you put your fingers on it. A, there`s all these activity which may or may not be criminal that circling around Mike Flynn. And b, why go to those lengths? Why make the risks? Why lead to a special counsel? Why look like you might even be taking a step towards obstruction unless there was something there that was so hot that you wanted to hide. I mean, that`s how they look at it.

So I`m going to go to our little lawyer, Maya Wiley. But I also want to point out, who is doing these denials? John Dowd is a very experienced lawyer. He has worked on the other side of Mueller before he has handled big investigations. He has my professional respect.

But as a journalist, I`m duty bound to point out that the person making this claim tonight, oh, no, we would never go after Mike Flynn is also the lawyer who claimed the free styling authorship of one of the most infamous tweets of all time, a tweet that was so bad, Donald Trump doesn`t apologize for a lot of tweets. Not only did they apologize. They retracted this thing. I`m going to put it up so people remember.

This was written by Donald Trump @realDonaldTrump. I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice President and the FBI. He pled guilty to those lies. It`s a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. That was nothing to hide.

Maya, as you know, that would look like the admission of knowledge that Flynn committed a crime and that`s why he was fired. And asking someone to stop an investigation that is about as textbook for obstruction you can get which brings us back to John Dowd who then said he authored this in writing, the way lawyers know writing. He just - he came up within his mind and then said it over the phone to someone. That`s the context for who is issuing us denial tonight.

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Yes. I mean, it is a little astounding so it is very hard to comment from a legal perspective. If you are representing a client who is facing potential criminal charges, and has a penchant for tweeting and has a number of what can only be called grossly inconsistent tweets already on a variety of issues including why he fired Comey in the first place. And of course, what he thinks about Flynn. He has a number of very, very positive tweets about Flynn himself in terms of what a lovely, wonderful guy he is.


WILEY: So it is a little strange that we would both have a tweet from the President admitting that he had knowledge that there was a lie to the FBI by a very high ranking official and his administration that also found out on January 26th from Sally Yates, had in fact appeared to have given essentially -- let`s say he lied.



WILEY: And that he was compromised and yet it took 18 days for Donald Trump to take action on Michael Flynn.

MELBER: So I want both of you to you stay with me because we are driving toward the other big question which is how will Congress pick up these threads when they come back to work on their investigation.

CNBC John Harwood reporting on that angle for us tonight.

John, your view on what you have heard from our esteemed panelists as well as where Congress will fit in the New Year.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC EDITOR AT-LARGE: Well, first of all on John Dowd, his denial actually makes zero sense. To say we won`t impugn the integrity of Michael Flynn. Whether Donald Trump or John Dowd wrote that tweet that you read, they impugn his integrity right there. They said we fired him because he lied. They called him a liar.


HARWOOD: And so the story is a little odd in the first instance in the "Washington Post" talking about plans to, you know, go after Flynn`s credibility. It is perfectly obvious they are already doing that. So I would set that aside. Even if John Dowd`s credibility is higher than it is for the reasons that you mentioned.

The second issue is I do think the Senate is going to continue its investigation. It is going to follow through to its conclusion. That is the body. Unlike the House which is working pretty hard in a cooperative way. Mark Warner, Richard Burr of North Carolina, are trying to get to a consensus report. They are working well together. They are talking about issues like, for example, is Donald Trump Jr. going to testify publicly having met with committee staff?

I don`t think anybody invests much hope in the house investigation because that has gone so far off the rails with Devin Nunez, with his -- the way he has handled this in such an embarrassing fashion. He was forced to side -- . He has taken over. And I`m just not sure whether the house is capable of reaching any kind of conclusion that will have bipartisan credibility.

MELBER: Well, John, did you ever see the movie, Inception?

HARWOOD: I didn`t.

MELBER: OK. Well, there is a concept in the movie where there`s a dream state and then a second dream inside the dream. And that`s sort of where I think Devin Nunez is taking it. Where he wants an investigation of the investigation in that proverbial second dream state. But he doesn`t seem the actually want to do underlying investigation.

And I will tell you, if you saw the movie, it wouldn`t help. The movie is as confusing as my description of it.

HARWOOD: He is acting as a fog machine, you know, blocking back for the President. The serious investigations in the Senate with Richard Burr and Mark Warner. Mark Warner told me that they will conclude their investigation this calendar year. I don`t know exactly when that is going to be. He also said, for what it is worth, that he thinks Bob Mueller will conclude his investigation in this calendar year which suggest that we are not all that far from finding out exactly what Bob Mueller has got.

MELBER: Right, which will be fascinating.

Finally, to you, Jennifer Rubin, your final thought on where this goes. And if you have seen Inception, you can tell us but it is totally up to you.

RUBIN: I have not seen it but your description gives me everything I need to know, I think.

Listen. I think no matter what we say no, matter what Donald Trump says, there is Bob Mueller grinding away. He has go this indictments. He has got witnesses who have flipped. He is going to find whatever he is going to find. And he is going to either issue more indictments perhaps for even more senior people. He may issue a recommendation for the House to proceed.

And I think most of 2018 and in fact election of 2018 is what should the American people do about that? The Congress is not going to be anxious to take any real measure against Donald Trump. But guess what? It is an election year in 2018. The voters ultimately will get to decide.

MELBER: Shout out to the voters to round it out.

Maya Wiley, Jennifer Rubin and John Harwood on this Flynn anniversary night. Thank you for being part of our coverage.

Now, we have a very big show. We are one year in and there is new details on Donald Trump`s claims about the record and how reality might catch up with him in the midterms of backlash that could go beyond Obama ad Doug Jones gets certified today.


TRUMP: They left me with a mess. But we are cleaning up the mess. We are cleaning it up. And with time, we will have it spinning like a top.


MELBER: And if you watched our show last night, you know that I`m talk Humphrey Bogart tonight and the story of Donald Trump`s travel ban. What happened this year and where it is headed, potentially the Supreme Court next year. My Casablanca report later tonight.

And a very important story. We look back at police killed in the line of duty this year. A sibling of a fallen officer joins me. And that is an important discussion.

I`m Ari Melber. You are watching "the Beat" on MSNBC.


MELBER: Today Alabama formally certifies their new Democratic senator. You can see it right there. The first Democrat who represents that stat in 23 years. A reminder that in the top seat and Trump era, things cut both ways. Trump`s path through the White House caught a lot of people by surprise but so has the Democratic resurgence.

As the year comes to a close, though, who can forget one of the media low points of this political era when people were literally laughing at the prospect of Trump winning? This is the moment from 2015 that turned stale by 2016 but is now a reality in 2017.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody from the Democratic side of the fence who thinks that, who is terrified of the possibility of President Trump better vote, better get active, better get involved because this man has some momentum. And we better be ready for the fact that he might be leading the Republican ticket.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know you don`t believe that but he want to go on.


MELBER: Laugh all you want. But underestimate the voters` desire for change. All kinds of change at your peril. From Alabama out to blue states, we are seeing demand for blue change which may be why today, President Trump is saying the economy is doing great. He cites retail sales. Economists say that trend begin in 2009 with Obama.

He also touts rising stocks. By that measure, though, financial analysts say the Dow rose more in Obama`s first year than Trump`s. And Trump cites jobs although people note they were stronger in the last year under Obama than under Trump.

Of course, no single comparison as apples to apples. And most politician do take credit for a good economy. Here is how Bill Clinton put in it 2012.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We Democrats, we think that country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to boring their way into it. Who is right? Well, since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats, 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private sector jobs. So what is the job score? Republicans, 24 million, Democrats, 42.


MELBER: That is the argument for Democrats on the economy. But Donald Trump suggests today the argument is over. He won and it is now time to thank him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for fixing our economy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for keeping my family safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for putting America first.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for supporting Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As veterans, thank you for reminding to us stand for the national anthem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, President Trump. (INAUDIBLE) say Merry Christmas again.


MELBER: Merry Christmas.

I want to bring in for this conversation, Christina Greer, professor at NYU, Katon Dawson, former chair of the South Carolina Republican Party and Howard Gutman who served as ambassador to Belgium under Democratic president Barack Obama.

Christina, who is right?

CHRISTINA GREER, PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: So clearly, Donald Trump is not responsible for any of this job growth. And he will never say thank you to Barack Obama. He is inheriting really positive things and he will ultimately destroy it because we know he doesn`t understand money and he lies and he is sort of the king of bankruptcy. So this new tax policy and all the subsequent policy will just drag down not only the American economy but the American people as well.

KATON DAWSON, FORMER COUTH CAROLINA CHAIR FOR REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, Donald Trump is a master of taking credit for what he want to take credit for and giving blame of where he wants to blame and the voters put him in there so he has got some truth to it. The thank you ad is cute and speaks to the base. But I`m not sure what we are getting for it as Republicans.

GREER: Well, I mean, the ads are essentially part of his branding, right. And that`s pretty much all Donald trump has, his branding. He says he is doing a great job and he thinks that he says it long enough, and as many times as possible, people will ultimately believe it. He said that he signed the most legislation. We can read and we have the internet. And we know that`s not true. He says that he has created the greatest economy. Again, we can read and we have the internet and we know that`s not true.

So the fact that he consistently says things that are lives, not false truths, then that`s part of the problem. We have actually never had a President who lies at this level that is so outlandish and we can actually fact check these things.

MELBER: You are speaking not only truth to power, you are speaking truth to math.

GREER: You know I like math and I`m good at it.

MELBER: And so Katon, that is the issue I want to play some Donald Trump for your reaction as a Republican operative and party chair. Donald Trump seems to want and he seems to be on this early before he won, to just have doubt about all numbers, about all (INAUDIBLE) and about how it works. Take a listen.


TRUMP: So many people can`t get jobs. The unemployment number as you know is totally fiction. Don`t worry about it because it is going to take care of itself pretty quickly.


DAWSON: Donald Trump is the master of delivering a message and people believing it. He delivered a message of change. He delivered a message of Washington stinks and he got elected president of the United States. So I`m going to give him some credit here. When he says it, the base beliefs it. Right now they are going to believe that tax cuts are going to help. And I believe that myself. I believe the tax package will help us some litigate the damage in 2018 that is coming.

MELBER: Let me bring in ambassador Gutman who was served a Democratic administration. Your take on whether reality does have an undertow here.

HOWARD GUTMAN, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO BELGIUM: We know what the truth is. We know what Donald Trump`s truth is. But remember, these ads, these numbers are for an audience of one, is for an audience by his administration to Donald Trump who mainly sits in the office or down at Mar-a-Lago saying doesn`t anyone realize how great a President I am? And the administration is forced to say, Mr. President, you are doing a great job.

The problem will come next year in the midterms and in 2020 when credibility will matter. And who would rather take the truth to Toledo, Ohio or to Allentown, Pennsylvania? Would you rather be with Joe Biden or on Donald Trump when you are called to ban? And it is not just numbers said for you, for your entertainment and to make you feel better.

MELBER: Well, and I think the ambassador raises a point that we have heard from the Philadelphia rapper, Beanie Seagall (ph) who always said the truth every time I come in the booth, the truth. And the idea that your word is your bond and you have to be believed.

Katon is saying something very different which is that Republicans think if Donald Trump`s message excites people emotionally in the base, the truth maybe doesn`t matter as much.

GREER: But see, this is the genius of Donald Trump. He has already called facts in to question, right.

The issue is we know that most president lose seats during their first midterm election, right. So we know that Donald Trump is going to lose some. But when the rubber hits the road and his base realizes that the schools are crumbling and there is no money there, right, due to these amazing tax cuts that will not trickle down (INAUDIBLE), right. So the social safety net is being ripped out from underneath them, compliments of Paul Ryan and all of his silk (ph), right. So all these things are being taken away.

The only thing they have left is their whiteness, right. And that is not going to feed their bellies or education their children or keep a roof over their heads.


DAWSON: When it comes to the tax package, here is what is going to happen politically, what is going to help us is 72 percent of people do not itemize their deductions now. They are going to realize an increase in their paychecks. Now, they are also going to realize a decrease in their tax refunds when that comes which is a double sword and the Reagan administration. But the tax package is what he had to have and Republicans had to have going into the midterms to be able to make an argument.

GREER: That they have done something in the past year. Because the only thing they had was Gorsuch. But we do know, as student of history, that trickledown economics did not help the American people.

MELBER: Final word.

DAWSON: Well, it depends on what you to find trickledown economics.

GREER: Well, in my tax bracket, it didn`t help the American people.


DAWSON: What I can tell you is, the definition of insanity is keeping doing it the same way. Government has gotten too big. It has gotten too large. Trump base is solid, is not big enough.

MELBER: Let me tell you this. At the family holiday tables, we could seat you together with different perspective and still have a nice conversation. I appreciate that.

As the ambassador, we are keeping you in the box, OK? You are not at the family table yet, but we love you. We appreciate your diplomacy ambassador Howard Gutman. Katon Dawson and Christina Greer. Appreciate all of you.

Now, how does the fallout from Donald Trump`s travel ban fit into this 1942 classic, Casablanca?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fill the room at once.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can you close me up? On what ground?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m shocked, shocked to find out gambling is going on in here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your wins, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much. Everybody out at once.


MELBER: I`m going to explain, that is straight ahead.


MELBER: Now to my closing comment on 2017.

The most consequential legal test to 2017 was not resolved in 2017. It`s an important test of how far the President`s powers go, a test of who gets to be in America, a test of what discrimination means.

Many of the controversies in this Trump era are about what Trump said or what he did, what he can get away with. But this test is broader than Trump and the precedent it sets will almost certainly outlive Trump. The tests began with a rhetorical shock wave, a candidate openly advocating something that is barred by the constitution, advocating religious discrimination.


TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country`s representatives can figure out what the health is going on.


MELBER: At the time, many doubted Trump meant the words coming out of his own mouth. But a week into his presidency, the nation witnessed this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Airports across the country crowded with demonstrators Saturday night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of people who just feel very upset about this order that has been issued. There are all kinds of signs here. Some say deport Trump. Some say we HAVE been here before. Refugees welcome. No ban, no wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This place is almost filled to capacity. Easily more than 500 people right now making their voices heard.


MELBER: Many were upset. And within just about 48 hours, Trump failed that very first test, a judge blocking part of his travel ban.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The energy has not stopped. The big success that they are celebrating is that a federal judge saying that those who have already received legal papers to enter the United States, the documents required legally to come to the U.S., can indeed still come to the United States and will not be sent back to their country of origin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Legal challenges came swiftly over the weekend. More were filed today and still others who are in the pipeline. They all say President Trump doesn`t have the power to do this on his own.


MELBER: That was important. That the first of several rebukes in the courts. Reminders that the vast powers of presidency are not unilateral. They are subject to court supervision.. Every federal employee, every border agent with a gun serves not at the will of any one man or woman, but serves under the limits of our Constitution interpreted by independent judges. That is the law.

The battle that Trump began in 2017 may be resolved in 2018 because a Supreme Court may decide whether his revised travel ban is legal.

Now whether people like it or not, immigrations action in an area where the law a president great power, as I reported that first weekend as the travel ban news was breaking. Under the president at the time, Supreme Court justices may uphold most of the travel ban if they don`t find it`s discriminatory.


MELBER: Is it likely to be upheld? Probably. We can say that there is great executive authority in the area of immigration.


MELBER: It depends on whether the courts decide the ban is a valid security measure or whether it`s illegal religious discrimination. That`s the law.

As we take stock of this unusual year, there is more than the law at stake. What about our values? When we debate immigration, we`re debating America, who we are, where we came from and who we want to be. And this year`s immigration debate falls squarely on the 75th anniversary of what`s widely considered one of the greatest American films of all time. "Casablanca," a love story, a war story, and at its core, an immigration story. The plot turns on the scramble to move migrants and refugees from war torn areas to get to safety in America. It introduces audiences to Humphrey Bogart`s depiction of Rick Blaine, a hardened American who wants to be an island. He won`t take sides. He rejects any moral obligation to help those desperate migrants trying to get from danger in Morocco to safety. In fact when Ingrid Bergman famously asked him to consider the humanitarian cause, he replies --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not fighting for anything anymore except myself. I`m the only cause I`m interested in.


MELBER: That wasn`t just a character`s selfishness. Rick obviously embodied something we`ve been thinking about this year. That recurring strand of American isolationism, a kind of an amoral detachment which presumes maybe it`s better to leave the world`s problems alone.

The film presents that view sympathetically at first. And look, plenty of people go through life with the idea that tackling their own daily problems is enough work. But Rick only becomes the hero when he gets beyond that. And he decides love and duty require more. He takes a side. He had argued the choices he faces were inconsequential. He told his former lover this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where I`m going, you can`t follow. What I`ve got to do, you can`t be any part of. Ilsa, I`m no good at being noble but it doesn`t take much to see that the problems of three little people don`t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.


MELBER: That is of course the language of rationalization. But Rick`s character decides the problems are worth fighting for.

And while "Casablanca" is considered a war movie, when Rick intervenes note that it`s not through military valor or violence. He intervenes with compassion for a refugee. His former lover Ilsa wants to rekindle their bond but she`s married to a leader in the Czech resistance, fleeing the Nazis, and when Rick puts a hold of two passes for travel he puts his compassion first and imparts a message to Ilsa telling her she must leave Casablanca with her husband to go to America or she will regret it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That plane leaves the ground and you`re not with him, you`ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon for the rest of your life.


MELBER: Rick was speaking there to Ilsa. But you don`t need to be a film buff to know he also was addressing himself. Declaring his motivation for taking that ethical action rather than muddling through with inaction.

The parallels echo today. The number of people living as refugees worldwide today is the highest since the time of that movie, since World War II. And these issues of course aren`t limited by time. I think they`re about human nature, about ethics, about politics, too. And that makes them timeless.

There is of course always a superficial appeal to imagining a world where we can just close our doors and only look after ourselves. And Donald Trump is not the first leader to tap into that fantasy. He won`t be the last. But if our society demagogues even anyone who looks into -- identify with that fantasy or attacks everyone who thinks it might be appealing, it actually will probably reinforce and heighten these divisive dynamics.

Humphrey Bogart`s character endures 75 years later because so many people can relate exactly to where he started. As that American isolationist who wanted to be left alone in this dangerous world. And people can also relate to where he ultimately landed, as an American who sacrificed himself to help others, to help refugees. Because we really are all on one planet together.

And Donald Trump may hope people wrongly think it`s partisan, this debate, but it`s not. Leaders in both parties have advocated immigration protections. Reagan, Bush and Obama all backed asylum for immigrants facing religious persecution at home. It was Reagan who first asked us to make America great again and it`s no shock that Donald Trump stole that line while draining it of Reagan`s immigration substance.

Reagan had his controversies, he never advocated a travel ban like this. The con there is simply. Steal Reagan`s appeal, ignore his policy. In the end, though, the only question is whether people on the losing side of the con decide they`ve had enough.

In "Casablanca," Rick Blaine risked his life to get the refugees on the plane. And he`s every reason to believe he will pay the price with his freedom. When the authorities arrived, though, it`s Captain Louis Renault who`s so moved by Rick`s courage that he protects him. An unexpected bout of compassion that undergirds the film`s classic closing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With that 10,000 francs should pay out expenses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our expenses. I think this is beginning of a beautiful friendship.


MELBER: 2017 was hard in many ways. We know that. It`s even harder to keep an open mind to friendship and compassion. And we know that compassion means recognizing the humanity of people we like and people we disagree with. We could use a little more of that in 2018.


MELBER: A lot changed this year leaving many people asking if the Trump era is as extreme as it sometimes appears. Is the rule of law really in doubt? Is free speech really in danger? Or are we overreacting to drama and hyperbole?

The Trump administration not the first to tangle with the press. But in year one alone it has been led by a president censoring and banning citizens from his official Twitter page. A Trump administration taking up the Orwellian ban on words themselves like diversity and fetus at the Centers for Disease Control. And White House staff proclaiming citizens should not question the authority of Trump or his aides.


STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: One of the things we are doing is reviewing policies for affecting media subpoenas. We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: If you want to go after General Kelly, that`s up to you. But I think that -- if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that`s something highly inappropriate.


MELBER: So how does this record compare to history? On THE BEAT this year, one First Amendment expert said Trump was the worst president for free speech since Adams, which is saying something.

My next guest literally runs a First Amendment institute at Columbia. It launched a lawsuit to stop Trump from blocking people on Twitter. They`re telling a federal court because of the way the president uses that account, the public is basically being denied its right to speak in a public forum.

Jameel Jaffer is a veteran of the ACLU and now at Columbia.

Thanks for being here.


MELBER: Is this president worse than most that you`ve encountered on free speech?

JAFFER: I don`t think there`s any question that this administration is more hostile to free speech than any in recent memory. You know, I think we see this in the administration`s focus on leak investigations, you see it in the president`s willingness to block people from his Twitter page for criticizing him on his policies.

MELBER: Take the Twitter page where you actually are in this fight and your institute is suing. There are people who say, you know, don`t be a snowflake. You know, calm down. You can still write what you want on the Internet. The flipside of that argument that your folks are arguing is that when it comes to your rights, this will be no different than the government kicking you out of a town hall event.

JAFFER: No, that`s exactly right. I mean, if this were an analog era case, it would involve a physical town hall and somebody standing up in front of the room, a government official standing in the front of the room and kicking somebody out physically on the basis of their criticism of government policy.

MELBER: Right. And the legal term for that, as you know, is that`s messed up.

JAFFER: That`s messed up. That`s exactly right. That`s a First Amendment term of art.

MELBER: I want to ask you something else because when we study the amendments, when we study the Bill of Rights, you know, we think about things pretty black and white. The Constitution bans this or it doesn`t. But there`s other free speech problems that we`re observing that may not technically be unconstitutional but are really chilling.

I want to show General Kelly, who obviously people respect for his military service, (INAUDIBLE) military service. But be that as it may, doing something that happened this year that was unlike anything I`ve seen, any another administration ever do in who he thought could in questioning him.

JAFFER: Right.

MELBER: Take a look.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Does anyone here know a Gold Star parent or sibling? OK, you get the question. Any other -- someone who knows -- who knows a Gold Star fallen person. John?


JAFFER: No, I don`t think that this is a legitimate criterion to use in deciding who gets to ask the question or who doesn`t. I think this is part of a larger pattern, though, you do see this administration hostile to questioning, hostile to attempts at holding it accountable.

MELBER: Do you think it`s a mood or a strategy?

JAFFER: It`s part of a strategy to degrade public debate, to corrode public confidence in provable facts. It`s part of the strategy that also involves attacking the media in almost daily basis. I think the media itself will probably survive those attacks and you see many media institutions thriving despite or even because of those attacks. But I think that there will be long term implications for public debate in this country.

MELBER: And then the question becomes, as we`ve seen in other areas, does the thriving that you refer to, civic thriving or journalism thriving is that a reaction to all the action this year?

JAFFER: Right.

MELBER: Because there`s a lot more work to do.

JAFFER: Right.

MELBER: Thank you for telling us something about your work.

JAFFER: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: And ahead, as I mentioned, we have a report on police killed in the line of duty this year. A sister of an NYPD police detective killed this year joins me next.


MELBER: MSNBC legal unit report. Every year we look at each officer killed by gunfire in the line of duty. We speak to their families about their memories. Each picture you see on the screen right now is the face of an officer who lost their life this year protecting their community.

A new data shows that these fatalities are down this year from last year while crime in New York has fallen to a record low. Levels not seen since the 1950s.

In a moment I`m going to speak with the president of the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund, Craig Floyd, who tracks this data. He says the falling crime rate does go hand in hand with this drop in the officer fatalities, saying when it`s safer for the officers, it`s safer for the public.

People see the decline as a potentially promising turn after a spike in 2016 including ambush attacks which had police on edge. Officers killed in ambush attacks peaked at 21 in 2016. That was the highest in two decades. That dropped this year.

The numbers, though, are only a small part of the story. These are real people with of course real families. And as we reflect on those who serve, we think it`s of course important to hear from those closest to them.

Adrienne Middlebrook lost her husband, Corporal Michael Middlebrook, in October when he was responding to a crime scene when an armed gunman was. Now a single parent to their 4-year-old daughter, she told us she still remembers the time his shift would end and says, "I`m waiting on him to return home and he`s not returning."

The families of the eight officers whose lives were stolen this year in those targeted ambush attacks, the pain remains very raw. NYPD officer Miosotis Familia was fatally shot in an ambush attach in July. She`s the first female NYPD officer killed since the 9/11 attacks.

She was sitting in her command vehicle when a gunman approached, who murdered her with a shot to her head. Her sister Mercedes Proefrock who says she hopes the detectives here will be remembered and that her sister be remembered for her spunk and her contagious smile, joins me now.

First of all, thank you for being here for this discussion.


MELBER: What do you remember about your sister? What do you want people to know?

PROEFROCK: Well, I want the people to remember her by her spunk, her personality, the love for life, that contagious, contagious laugh that she had, that smile and those big, brown eyes. She had a heart. She loved everyone.

MELBER: As you`re speaking, we`re looking at some of the pictures that your family shared to think about her, you know, during her life. How did she come to decide to be an officer?

PROEFROCK: Well, when we were younger, you know, we grew up in Washington Heights, and the streets were always the streets. And she for some reason -- my brother, Franklin Familia, was the one that wanted to become a police officer and because of his asthma he didn`t qualify. But she felt in her heart, she felt that she needed to be out there for the people and she needed to defend the neighborhoods and defend the kids and defend the single moms and it was something that just came from inside of her. It was something that grew from inside of her.

MELBER: How did she like the job?

PROEFROCK: She loved her job. She loved her job. She loved her co- workers. She called them her family. You know, she loved going to -- she worked at the family court at one time and loved working with those ladies there. And then when she felt in her heart that she needed to go back to the 46 precinct, you know, she just kept saying, I need to go back home. I need to go back home.

I always thought it was back home but I didn`t know that it was back to her family, the 46 precinct.

MELBER: We were talking earlier about her shifts. Why was she working at night?

PROEFROCK: Her decision was that she wanted to be there for her kids, the twins, Peter and Delilah. She wanted to be there when they were -- when it was time to take them to school, she wanted to be the one to take them to school. When it was time to pick them up from school, she wanted to be the one to pick them up from school. She just wanted to be there for them, and this is the reason why she chose that time frame.

MELBER: And what do you tell them about their mom?

PROEFROCK: I tell them, when I do speak to them, you know, that she loved them, which they know, all three of them know that, and that, you know, her heart was theirs. And she just -- she just flourished when she saw them progressing and building something with their lives and knowing, you know, and seeing Genesis going away to college in Europe was like her joy and watching, you know, Peter and Delilah growing up to be wonderful, wonderful children.

They never gave her any problems and it was just a joy. And I always, you know, remember that my sister was a reflection of who my mother is. And whenever I would see her struggling to make things better for her kids, it reflected memories to me of how my mother struggled to make our lives better.

MELBER: And, finally, how is the police community NYPD been for you through this?

PROEFROCK: I definitely want to thank the 46 precinct, the 50th precinct, Scott Stein, Jose Puedro, Chief Rivera from the 46, Officer Rivera, all her friends from the courts, the family courts. They`ve all been there for the kids. They`ve been there for us when we were at our -- our lowest point in our lives with this tragedy, but they`re there still for the kids and that`s what`s most important for us.

They`ve been a family to these kids and that`s what we are so appreciative as a family unit. We are so appreciative that they have this support from the NYPD.

MELBER: Mercedes, I only got to meet you from talking about this story, and I really admire the way you`re dealing with something that`s obviously very difficult. I want to thank you.

PROEFROCK: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

MELBER: Thank you very much. Of course.

I want to turn to as promised the president of the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, Craig Floyd.

Craig, you just heard from Mercedes. You lead this work. We`ve reported on this story with your organization`s information before. Walk us through how you view this year.

CRAIG FLOYD, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL LAW ENFORCEMENT MEMORIAL FUND: Well, let me start by saying I`m so glad you had Detective Familia`s sister on because, you know, we must always honor and remember the fallen officers. We must always do everything possible to make it safer for the officers on the street that continue to serve, but we also must never forget the families who have been left behind and I`m afraid too often we take those families, survivors for granted.

MELBER: And briefly, why do you think the crime is down in some cities?

FLOYD: Well, I think we`re all working better together. Law enforcement and the public that they serve. And that`s such an important ingredient of public safety. It`s a partnership. We all have a shared responsibility to help keep our community safe, make them better places to live. That`s what our officers want. That`s why they became law enforcement professionals, but they need the support, the cooperation, the communication of the citizens they serve, and we`re seeing that more and more this year. I believe that`s one of the main reasons crime is down and why fewer officers have lost their lives.

MELBER: My thanks again to Mercedes and to Craig Floyd. I appreciate your time.

We will be right back.


MELBER: I have one more programming note for you as we reflect on this very busy year. We have our full year ender special on THE BEAT tomorrow. It has some of the best moments of the year. A look at what Bob Mueller taught Donald Trump with new analysis and a collection of some of the worst dad jokes I`ve told on air. My producers actually made us make it real -- I`m not joking but it is about jokes --


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