Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 2, 2018 Time: 18:00 Guest: Nick Akerman, Ken Vogel, Yamiche Alcindor, Michael Isikoff, Richard Painter
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: I`m Ayman Mohyeldin in tonight for Ari Melber who has the day off.
And tonight as we go on the air, the Trump White House is in open confrontation with three countries either warmed nuclear weapons or at least in the case of Iran, has nuclear ambitions. That`s how 2018 begins.
Donald Trump firing off tweets, a series of not just targeting hotspot at the most delicate moments. One, Iran which froze its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions, now facing its largest protests in eight years. A broad uprising in its sixth day focused on the economy and other issues. Trump used using the opportunity to blast Iran`s leaders and at the same time, President Obama`s work curving Iran`s nuclear program.
Two, North Korea. Trump antagonizing the country`s leader calling him rocket man on the same day that we U.S. officials tell NBC News a ballistic missile test is possible in the coming days. This just the month before the winter Olympics gets underway in South Korea. And a day after Kim Jong-un claimed he had the power to strike the U.S. with nuclear women.
And the third nuclear power in Donald Trump`s crosshairs today, Pakistan. That country furious today Trump accused it of lies and deceit. In fact ambassador to the U.S. Nikki Haley saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan has played a double game for years. They work with us at times and they also harbor the terrorists that attack our troops in Afghanistan. That game is not acceptable to this administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Now, Trump`s tweet following support for Pakistan this past October, highlighting a quote "better relationship and thanking them for their cooperation on many fronts." The timing of the attack raising questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Pakistan, what precipitated the President`s tweet about threatening to withhold future USA --?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President is simply following through on a commitment that he made because this is a President who does what he says he is going to do. We know that Pakistan can do more to fight terrorism and we want them to step up and do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Now all of this as Trump pushed a rhetorical line about putting America first, pulling out of the court and boycotting international talks. He is angered allies while provoking enemies as (INAUDIBLE) puts it in a piece for the "New Yorker" that is getting a lot of attentions.
Obama`s foreign policy was characterized as leading from behind. Trump`s doctrine may come to be understood as retreating from the front. And just moments ago before we went on the air, another message from President Trump, this time directed towards the Palestinians twitting quote "we pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect. With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these future payments to them?"
All right. Here with me now here in set, Amir Handjani, senior fellow at the Atlantic council and who is giving his take recently on Iranian protest today for Reuters, "Washington Post" correspondent Anne Gearan and ambassador Nicholas Burns, the former undersecretary of state for political affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who is now at Harvard`s Kennedy school of government.
Ambassador, let me begin with you, if I may. In particular to the United Nations, Nikki Haley praised the Iranian protesters today. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY: We must not be silent. The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. All freedom loving people must stand with their cause. The international community made the mistake of failing to do that in 2009. We must not make that mistake again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: So you are hearing there the United States saying they want an emergency Security Council meeting in New York regarding Iran. I want you to give us a sense, if you can, ambassador the chances of that happening given the fact that after so many months of alienating our allies, that they are now going to stand with us on this critical issue.
AMB. NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well first, I think that President Trump and Ambassador Haley are right to speak out in support protesters just as in a way President Obama did back in June of 2009. And to say that these people have a right to freedom of expression. They certainly have the right in an authoritarian society to object to conditions in which they live. I think most Americans would agree that.
The danger here, and the real balancing act of the administration is not making the United States the issue because this regime in Tehran is fully capable of pointing the finger at the United States. If our President puts himself in the center of the ring and insinuating that the United States is directing the protesters. That won`t go down well in Iran with the Iranian people.
And so I think there is a balance here at the administration. I thought they were in balance a couple of days ago. I think the combination of President Trump`s tweets today and Ambassador Haley`s statement puts them out of balance.
And frankly, I think the key question I got to answer here is, are they more interested in posturing in the Trump administration publicly or being effective? If you call a Security Council meeting, you know, the United States puts forward a draft resolution to condemn the Iranian government, you can be sure the Russians and Chinese will veto that. Does that leave us better off or worse off? And actually would that help the government in Tehran if the Chinese and the Russians stock up for it? So I worry about us not being effective and spending too much in front of the cameras.
[18:05:34] MOHYELDIN: Ambassador, really quickly, how does internationalizing this, by taking it to the U.N. security council actually work against the stated objective perhaps of helping the protests inside Iran?
BURNS: I agree with the Trump administration. We should want to shine a bright light on this. Sometimes it is not best for Americans to take the lead. The countries that I think would be most effective here are the European countries. They have far greater trading relationships. They are critical to the nuclear deal. And we have seen very muted and frankly not very courageous statements out of Europe. I think it would be better for the U.S. government to be working behind the scenes to try to push the Europeans forward. That would be, I think, that would constitute much greater pressure on the Iranian government.
MOHYELDIN: We know that Senator Lindsey Graham often times considered a bit of a hawk in the Senate this week said that President Trump needs to do more than just tweet about the ongoing protests. We are seeing some movement diplomatically with the U.N. ambassador.
But take a listen to this sound bite from Lindsey Graham.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You just can`t tweet here. You have to lay out a plan. And if I were President Trump, I would lay out a plan as to how would engage the regime. I would tell the Europeans and the Congress and the world that America is going to withdraw from this agreement unless there`s a better deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Anne, give as a sense in terms of the White House whether or not Lindsey Graham represents a sentiment within the White House and the foreign policy establishment that can actually translated into policy.
ANNE GEARAN, CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Well, certainly on the second part of what Senator Graham said there, he is very much speaking for the administration that the Trump administration will come into the next certification deadline on the Iran nuclear deal in a couple of week with a very strong statement to those European allies and certainly to Iran as well, that President Trump is not going to certify this deal again which puts it in limbo.
The Europeans were opposed to that. They are oppose to when he did it the first time in October. That hasn`t changed. Graham is a supporter of the Trump administration approach to the nuclear deal.
Now, what we don`t know is the degree to which Graham speaks for the administration on the nexus between nuclear deal and the reaction to the protests here. He used an interesting turn of phrase where he said engage the regime.
The Trump administration has advanced no interest whatsoever in engaging the regime except to say - except to condemn it. That was the problem with the Obama administration`s initial reaction in 2009. They were trying to engage the regime and they didn`t want to screw it up by coming down especially hard on the regime in the early days of that protest.
They turned that around eventually. And they didn`t eventually also ended engaging the regime. But the hesitancy (ph) was based on, you know, not wanting to spoil what at that time were very initial tentative contact. We know of no such program that the Trump administration is engaging in or interested in so they probably won`t have the same problem.
MOHYELDIN: Amir, I know you are in touch with folks inside of Iran. I know that you recently interviewed the Iranian foreign minister back during the U.N. general assembly here in New York. And I`m interest to get your thoughts when the -- from your perspective, when the Iranian government hears these types of comments coming out of Nikki Haley from the White House, from even Senator Lindsey Graham and you see the language coming out of Tehran begin to kind of use terminology like foreign agents, infiltrators, is the White House indirectly giving them a life line that now the government in Tehran could use this as an excuse to use more blunt force in suppressing the protests?
AMIR HANDJANI, SENIOR FELLOW, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Well, not to make a joke out of it. They don`t celebrate Christmas but they are giving him a late Christmas present.
HANDJANI: Anytime -- it`s not really common knowledge here but in Iran, it is deeply seared in the consciousness of all Iranians what happened during the 1950s with the prime minister and British and American security forces overthrowing him, democratically elected prime minister.
During the 1979 revolution, the calls that Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers were making was that Bashar was illegitimate because he was place in Iran by the Americans.
HANDJANI: So this notion of Americans and the west influencing Iran`s domestic policy is something that resonates with Iranians. Now, the President of the United States has the moral authority and we all should speak out and support the protesters as a universal right. Every human being should be able to speak out against their government. This president though, his words in support of protesters and support Iranians bring hollow because of the travel ban, because of the Muslim ban.
[18:10:32] MOHYELDIN: It is genuine. It is not seen as though --.
HANDJANI: It is not sincere because he decertified the nuclear deal. He is not someone that these protesters are looking to for moral authority.
MOHYELDIN: Ambassador, I want to ask you quickly about some the other issues in particular with the way this administration has been carrying out foreign policy in particular with tweets. We cited some of them for you just before we went on the air.
And here are some ways that the Trump administration has angered our allies, by pulling out of the Paris climate accord, boycotting U.N. migration talks, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and this public feuds with U.S. allies including Germany, the U.K., and what have you?
What is the fallout, of flipping off many of our allies and that in turn, turn around and ask them to support us at a moment like this at the United Nations on Iran?
BURNS: Well, Secretary George (INAUDIBLE) used to say, you need a tentative (INAUDIBLE) garden and build up capital so when the crisis comes, countries will be with you. And I think it`s a very good question you have asked. The Trump administration has now spent 12 months backing away from traditional American leadership commitments.
We are the strongest country in the world with the most significant power. And yet in all the examples that you just cited, the United States is backing away and it is hurting our credibility. I just published an article on "USA Today" based on the trip I made to Europe. And the Europeans don`t feel that Donald Trump, he is the first leader since Truman who does American leader, who doesn`t feel that he is the leader of the west. And he is not there for them on the issues like climate change that are very important in European public opinion.
So to go to Europe and make this argument on Iran is doubly difficult. And I think that is failed, in my view, the failed leadership of President Trump over the last 12 months.
MOHYELDIN: And Amir, very quickly. How do you see the situation in Iran playing out? What are you looking for?
HANDJANI: (INAUDIBLE) and it is so fluid. The protests by dispersed. They are coming in rural areas right now. Some gatherings in major cities. What is noteworthy is this regime support base coming from these rural areas, from these poorer areas in poor communities. These are the people that are protesting. (INAUDIBLE) leaders haven`t spoken out. There`s no leader that has really emerged indigenous. Your guess is as good as mine right now.
MOHYELDIN: All right. Amir Handjani, thank you very much. Ambassador Burns, great to have you with us as well. And Anne, I`m going to ask to you stick around for us and we are going to talk a lot more to you later on in the program.
Ahead, new year, same relentless attacks. Trump hits the quote "deep state," that includes the department of justice according to him, and calls to jail a Clinton aide and James Comey. Is Mueller`s Russia probe sparking all this?
And a Senate shake up developing now fresh off his Trump praise. Utah Republican Orrin Hatch is retiring and now Mitt Romney might be stepping in. What Senator Romney could mean for President Trump.
Also today, a key Watergate figure has a message that could rally the Trump legal team and a leading Russia investigator says to expect more serious convictions and indictments early in 2018.
I`m Ayman Mohyeldin for Ari Melber. You are watching "the Beat" on MSNBC.
[18:16:43] MOHYELDIN: Welcome back, everyone. We got some breaking political news.
Donald Trump is losing one of his most vocal Senate loyalists. The longest serving Republican in the Senate, Utah`s Orrin Hatch, just announced he is retiring less than two weeks ago. Hatch had this to say about a Trump presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: We are going to keep fighting and we are going to make this the greatest presidency that we have seen, not only on generations, maybe ever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Serious loyalty. Days after those comments, the Salt Lake Tribune issued a blistering editorial calling for Hatch to step down due to quote "his utter lack of integrity that rise from his unquenchable thirst for power."
Now hatch is stepping down and this man could be stepping forward. Mitt Romney appears all but certain to run for this seat. He has had a tumultuous relationship with Trump. Rumored as Trump`s possible secretary of state pick after slamming Trump during the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Think of Donald Trump`s personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third great theatrics. You know, we have long referred to him as the Donald. He is the only person in the entire country to whom we have added an article before his name and it wasn`t because he had attributes we admired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: So even before this news, the 2018 landscape was looking tough for President Trump with Democrats hoping to win big in the midterm election, even picking up that seat in Alabama. Axios reporting that Trump now realizes, if Republicans lose the House in 2018, it will pose an existential threat to his presidency.
Joining me now Cristina Beltran, associate professor at New York University. Mark Murray, NBC News senior political editor. And back with us again is the Post Anne Gearan.
Great to have you all with us.
Mark, let me begin with you, if I may. This breaking news that Senator Orrin Hatch is retiring. What is a possible Mitt Romney run mean in Utah for that state and for the Republican Party and the presidency?
MARK MURRAY, SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR, NBC NEWS: Yes. Ayman, it is a potential wild card for the Trump presidency. And I stressed the word potential because we really don`t know how a Mitt Romney would vote. We have actually seen the Jeff Flakes and the Bob Corkers of the world criticism on personal points always been reliable votes on policy.
It is possible that Mitt Romney would continue that kind of tradition speaking out against President Trump when it comes to his character sometimes. His temperament, but still being a reliable vote. On the other hand, he could end up being a John McCain where he does take on President Trump when it comes to policy. So I think it is a very big wild card.
But as a practical matter and looking ahead to the midterms. I do think this helps solidify Utah for the Republican Party and it is crazy that we are talking about solidifying that, given that Utah is one of the reddest states in the country. But after we saw what happened in Alabama with some instability with Orrin Hatch and his run for reelection, Mitt Romney who got 73 percent of the vote in Utah in the 2012 Presidential race I think would be the odds on big time favorite to hold that in the Republican column.
MOHYELDIN: Anne, give us a sense of what you think the White House is thinking tonight. Because when you look back at the President`s trip last months to Utah, he really pushed Orrin Hatch for run for reelection.
So is there a sense you think this evening that the White House is going to be a little bit disappointed with this announcement? What can we expect, do you think, in terms of a response?
[18:20:16] GEARAN: Yes. Disappointed for sure. Surprised, no, not really. I mean, Hatch really has not wavered. Remember when he was reelected six years ago, he said this would be his last term. And he has been polite in response to the Trump administration entreaties and the direct entreaties from the President himself to remain. But he has never really suggested strongly that he would run again. So no, not surprised.
And clearly, there is a fair amount of worry and concern, yes. What would have seemed like a crazy statement a few weeks ago, the idea that a Utah Senate seat could turn over, that clearly is of concern to the White House. And the, I think the wild card is the right word to use with Romney.
We don`t know how he would vote. We do know certainly that he has a history of being an outspoken critic of the President. And he would not say the kinds of overwhelmingly nice things that Orrin Hatch has said. And he probably would not have the same pull in the Senate that Orrin Hatch had. I mean, you know, Orrin Hatch has really hoped on this tax bill a big deal.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. I don`t think Mitt Romney would say this is perhaps going to be one of the greatest Presidencies ever.
GEARAN: Yes. I don`t think so.
MOHYELDIN: Cristina, let me ask you in terms of the big picture here for a moment because we know that like in the second term of presidency, poll numbers are generally down. But President Trump has actually had historically low approval numbers, you see there on the screen, compared to other Presidents. Democrats may be looking at this as an opportunity for them even though Mitt Romney would be a shoe-in to win and we don`t know how he would vote. He is a bit of a wild card as we just heard there. But is there anything Democrats can do to capitalize on Orrin Hatch retiring and Mitt Romney running as a senator?
CRISTINA BELTRAN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Right. I mean, I think one of the things that is going to be really interesting is that the fact that what you are going to have in Utah that is you are going to have two anti-Trump candidates. I mean, you have two, you are going to be able quotes from both Romney, the Republican and from the Democratic candidate running, talking about all the failures of Trump. So it is going to be just a really interesting kind of bubble of speech going on in that (INAUDIBLE).
MOHYELDIN: But do you think he would run on that? That would be his MO there?
BELTRAN: I think - I mean, I think one thing you are going to see is that when you saw, when he became an anti-Trumper was that he wanted to -- he saw himself as being a sort of kind of steward to the constitution, just wanted to be something protected institutions in the United States.
I mean, Romney is much more of an institutionalist. Whereas we know that Trump doesn`t care about these larger institutions. He wants to protect himself and he will de-legitimate any kind of institutions. So - and I think what is interesting is that Orrin Hatch has been around for so long. And I think it also tells us something about the lack of political health in the Republican Party for a long time. That`s have been a party that has been kind of rotting from the inside. And Hatch`s history that in the party is reflective of that.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. I would love to know what Steve Bannon is thinking about a potential Mitt Romney run.
Mark, let me ask you really quickly, the importance of 2018. Because it seems that it is starting to dawn on the President in terms of what a midterm election might look like. And we have been talking there. I just referenced Steve Bannon. He is apparently calling this a make or break moment in reference to 2018. Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, he also weighed in on it telling "Politico" that Republicans should absolutely worry about 2018. And that Democrats are highly motivated to vote against Trump and all Republicans.
So what are we looking at here, Mark, in terms of a wave of blue in 2018?
MURRAY: Yes. What we are looking at is 11 more months to go that actually see how big this wave might in that being. History is against the president right now. Going back to World War II, a president (INAUDIBLE) holding the White House ends up losing on average about 28 House seats. And Democrats just need to be able to win 24 to pick up the House of Representatives.
But a President below 50 percent of the approval rating and Donald Trump right now is in the 30s or 40s. But a President below 50 percent ends up losing more than 40 House seats. And so looking at those kind of numbers, looking at the President`s standing is very, very instructive. But at the end of the day, these waves are determined but how big and how well run the campaigns are. And again, look, if the elections were held tomorrow, I think Democrats would be poised for a very, very big election night, but we still have 11 months to go.
MOHYELDIN: All right. Cristina Beltran, Mark Murray and Ann Gearan. Thanks for doing double duty for us, Anne. Thank you very much for joining us.
Next, a leading Democratic senator warning more Russia probe indictments could be coming in 2018. What does he know?
And the Trump hotel executive revealing details of a meeting with President Trump and suggesting he may still be playing a business role.
[18:28:06] MOHYELDIN: Back to slamming law enforcement. In an early morning tweet, Trump suggesting former Hillary Clinton`s aide, Huma Abedin, should be in jail for using an unsecured email account, claiming there is deep state working against him at the justice department and pushing for action on the FBI director he fired James Comey. Reporters later pushed White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on the deep state line.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did the President mean when he said the deep state justice department? And does this administration believe that the deep state is a real thing? That there is this shadow government out there actively plotting to sabotage him?
SANDERS: Look, the President finds some of those actions very disturbing. And he think that we need to make sure if there is an issue, that it is looked at.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does he believe the entire justice department and its more than 100,000 employees are part of this deep state?
SANDERS: Obviously, he doesn`t believe the entire justice department is part of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Now, Trump`s comments coming after weeks of attacks on the law enforcement community. And his new claim that he has quote "absolute right to do what I want to do with the justice department."
The top House Democrat investigating Russia fired back. You can do what you want with your golf courses but the country and its justice department belong to the American people.
But as the Russia investigation shows no signs of ending, the President`s allies ramping up the attacks on Mueller and his team.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why were some of the very people involved in clearing Hillary Clinton, then drafted on to the Mueller probe to go and persecute the President. It seems very suspect that people who were already engaging in nefarious activity to clear Hillary Clinton even though there was evidence of a crime, end up being the very same people that Bob Mueller goes infuriates to join his team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: So what is behind these criticisms? Democrat senator Richard Blumenthal who serves on the Judiciary Committee out with this warning.
Expect more serious conditions and indictments early in 2018. Special counsel climbs ladder of criminal culpability and more panicky preemptive attacks from Republicans.
Nick Ackerman is a former Watergate Prosecutor and Yamiche Alcindor and Ken Vogel are both Reporters for the New York Times, all of them joining us now. It`s great to have you with us. Nick, let me begin with you. The President claiming as we saw there, he has the absolute right to do what he wants the DOJ then singling out now private citizen Huma Abedin, former FBI Director James Comey, what kind of message does that send, you think?
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: He`s sending a message that his whole mentality is pre-1776 when we had a king that ruled the 13 colonies. We made a decision back then. It was a pretty radical decision.
MOHYELDIN: You don`t think he got the memo?
AKERMAN: I don`t think he got the memo. I don`t think he read the memo. We made a decision to be governed by a constitution, to be governed by laws. We got rid of the king. We put in a President with checks and balances, that is not above the law, that is subject to the law just like every other citizen in this country. And the problem with what he is doing directly undermines what has been over 250 years of American history, which he doesn`t understand.
MOHYELDIN: I`m sure you`ve seen the counter argument though made by folks like Alan Dershowitz and others that the President has the legal authority as the top law enforcement official in the country, that he can do that with the Department of Justice. He can direct the investigation or order the investigation. Is that not correct legally speaking?
AKERMAN: Legally speaking, he could set a priority to the Department of Justice. But when he is directly a subject of the investigation, when he is one of the people being investigated, and his campaign is being investigated, for him to be putting his two cents into this whole thing, I mean, he didn`t have the right to tell Jim Comey to stop the investigation into Mike Flynn. That is an obstruction of justice. He cannot obstruct justice and be above the law. That`s what it means to not have a king and instead, a president of the United States.
MOHYELDIN: Ken, we were talking about Senator Blumenthal talking about possible indictments in 2018, do you think we`re going to see more indictments or guilty pleas throughout this investigation in the year ahead?
KEN VOGEL, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, I think it`s certainly possible and I do think that the President`s lawyers are bracing him for that potential. And that may be what`s behind his preemptive attacks. And do I agree that they are preemptive attacks against the Justice Department as an effort, part of an effort, a really multipronged effort, frankly, to undermine the Justice Department and particularly the Special Counsel`s investigation? We see it not just in the calls for investigations of Comey and claims that he`s been treated unfairly because Hillary Clinton wasn`t prosecuted.
But also on his focus the dossier, in suggestions that the dossier was a democratic piece of opposition research that somehow shaped or colored the investigation of him. We see it in his going after these individual members of Mueller`s team and we see it in these claims that there is a deep state that is somehow working to undermine him. And Republicans are picking up that line of attack in a way that is pretty concerted and it is effective if you look at polls. Republican voters say that they distrust the way that Bob Mueller is handling this investigation.
MOHYELDIN: But Ken, to the President`s statements that he gave to your publication, the New York Times, he said that he thinks Mueller will be fair to him. Do you think or have you seen from that reporting, your reporting that perhaps he`s doing that as a front while his surrogates are striking that more aggressive tone about Mueller and their credibility in the investigators? Or does he genuinely believe that?
VOGEL: You know, it`s tough to tell. He`s vacillated. He`s gone back and forth and said things that he -- that suggests he doesn`t believe that he`s being treated fairly. I mean, the whole idea this is a witch hunt and a hoax for one. But then, he did say most recently to us and our partner Michael Schmidt down in Mar-a-Lago that he thought that Mueller would treat him fairly. You have to think that some of this is being shaped by what his lawyers are telling him is going on in the investigation on any given day, as to whether he`s going to lash out or sit back as they are advising him to do and sort of let the investigation run its course.
MOHYELDIN: Yamiche, I know that the former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates who Trump also fired wrote today on Twitter that "Trump slanders career DOJ professionals as deep state, calls for prison for a political opponent and tries to save DOJ on a potential witness against him. Beyond abnormal, dangerous." Walk us through on what might be dangerous here.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: What might be dangerous is that this is the same Department of Justice and the same criminal agencies that essentially keep Americans safe. So if you have people that are working for these agencies who now feel as though the person that they are serving either one, does not believe in their work or two, actually gets people to leave those jobs and then leaves America open to whatever could be going on in the world, that his idea that if we don`t have the Department of Justice, if we don`t have these agencies in the FBI that feels as though the President actually believes in their work, that hurts morale. And I think it`s not like a regular agency or a regular job where people do some more route, doesn`t affect the actual security of the United States.
The Department of Justice actually needs to go out there and keep Americans safe. You think about their work in Police Departments, you think about their works in other areas. So we need depend on these people to make the rules that America actually stick. One thing that I think is really important here is that we see President Trump essentially doubling down on who he`s always been which is someone who really does deeply believe in conspiracy theories. And when you have this idea, you have someone from the podium of the United States saying that the President doesn`t think that all the DOJ is part of the deep state. But it obviously means that some people might be part of that deep state. That`s a pretty remarkable statement coming from Sarah Sanders.
MOHYELDIN: And Nick, let me ask you about Congressman Jim Himes who serves on the House Intel Committee because he told the Washington Post -- we have this -- the Democrats are seriously exploring the possibility of issuing a minority report that details the degree to which Republicans tried to impede a full investigation. Should that end up happening, what impact do you think something like that could have?
AKERMAN: Well, look, it`s going to counteract to whatever the Republicans say. For them, at this point in time, to issue a report giving a clean bill of health to anybody in this thing is absolutely crazy. They don`t have access to Mike Flynn, they don`t have access to Papadopoulos, they don`t have access to all of the evidence that the Mueller group has. So -- I mean, in a way, this is sort of a bit player and it`s a bit of nothingness really because you don`t have a real investigation here. It wasn`t like the Watergate Senate Select Committee where the Democrats were in control. You had a real investigation. They really dug in and tried to uncover the facts. I mean, there was no question that that was an investigation that was going to do whatever it took to find out what happened.
MOHYELDIN: Congressman Mark Meadows told Chuck Todd earlier tonight that the FBI is engaged in activities it shouldn`t have. Take a listen to this sound.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: If there`s nothing wrong that happened, why is everybody so worried about the investigators?
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Here`s why they`re worried about the investigators and why I believe that we need to investigate the investigators with a special prosecutor. When you have FBI agents the -- when you have -- when you have FBI agents sharing with the media internal documents and internal conversations with the media on an ongoing investigation, that is not supposed to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Investigate the investigators, Nick. What do you think of that?
AKERMAN: I think it`s absolutely absurd. I mean, this is a joke. They weren`t -- there`s no evidence that anybody shared information with the media. There`s no evidence that there was any leaks. And just to step back a minute, we`re talking about the FBI. The FBI is the investigative arm of the Department of Justice. They don`t decide who gets prosecuted, they don`t decide what charges are brought, they don`t decide what`s brought before a grand jury. This whole thing is a big red herring. I mean, even the evidence that they came up with on this one agent, I think the worst thing he did was to call Trump an idiot. Trump`s own Secretary of State called him a moron. Now, I don`t know, to me, a moron is probably worse than an idiot. But giving that the benefit of the doubt that an idiot is worse -- is worse than a moron, I mean, who cares? It doesn`t make any difference.
MOHYELDIN: Let me add the caveat that the Secretary of State denied, I think dismissed as nonsense that report but --
AKERMAN: No, he didn`t deny it though.
MOHYELDIN: Right. He dismissed it I think is a more safer thing. All right, Yamiche Alcindor, Ken Vogel, thank you both very much. Nick Akerman, I`ll ask you to stick for us for a little bit. Ahead, a warning for the Trump White House from the star witness in the Watergate probe. Why he says Michael Flynn may know more than anyone actually expect. And President Trump says he has no involvement in his former businesses, a new report though suggests otherwise. Former White House Ethics chief Richard Painter on that coming up.
MOHYELDIN: Welcome back everyone. Today a figure from Watergate speaking out about the Russia probe with a message might give the Trump legal team chills. John Dean, the former Nixon insider saying the Nixon legal team was actually caught flat-footed when he spilled the beans.
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JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: They didn`t know how much I knew. I knew much more than they thought I did. With Flynn and his proximity, he even had more proximity than did I.
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MOHYELDIN: And it`s not just Michael Flynn who cut a plea deal with Mueller, we`re learning much more about the role former Foreign Policy Adviser George Papadopoulos had in the campaign. The New York Times is reporting on a night of heavy drinking at a London bar back in May of 2016, that Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat, Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. After the DNC hack, Australian officials then tipped off the United States, leading to the FBI investigation and eventually to Mueller being hired. Well, he`s been dismissed as you can imagine by the Trump campaign as "a coffee boy. A low-level nobody."
But the question tonight is John Dean said, does he know more than they actually think? Back with me, Watergate Special Prosecutor Nick Akerman and Yahoo! News Chief Investigative Correspondent, Michael Isikoff. Gentleman, it`s great to have both of you with us. Michael, let me begin with you, if I may. In particular, Trump`s former Campaign Adviser Michael Caputo was on THE BEAT prior to this new report. Ari actually had asked him about calling Papadopoulos a coffee boy. Check this out.
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MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: I might have exaggerated Papadopoulos` role when I called him a coffee boy. He wasn`t really at the level of the campaign staff where we would have trusted him with the coffee machine. This guy is Zelig Ari. He`s an unimportant character who kind of haplessly pops up across the different scenes of this campaign.
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MOHYELDIN: So I don`t know too many coffee boys or whatever he called him, that are meeting with Ambassadors of Australia and having drinks with them at hotels in London, only then to come back to say that he is an insignificant player who just happily bumps around in the campaign.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, if we know that George Papadopoulos was one of the five people who then Candidate Trump himself said was a member of his Foreign Policy Advisory team when he was pressed to name them -- name its members and that we know from the Mueller plea agreement with Papadopoulos that after he had that famous meeting with the -- with the Maltese professor who tell him about having -- the Russians having dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of e-mails, he goes to a meeting of the Trump advisory in which then candidate Trump is there. And he is pitching Trump on having a meeting with Putin.
And we also know that there`s multiple emails he had with Paul Manafort, with Corey Lewandowski, with Sam Clovis, other senior members of the Trump campaign. So he was clearly you know, a little bit more than a coffee boy. Now, was he you know, an intimate adviser who Trump was leaning on for advice on what to do about various foreign policy issues? You know, that`s probably not. He wasn`t a senior member of the team but he clearly had access to and then, and senior members of Trump`s campaign were responding to his e-mails.
MOHYELDIN: Nick, let me ask you two points. One, react to the John Dean comment for us. What do you make of that when he says like, oh, he may actually know more than they actually know he thinks they know.
AKERMAN: Oh, I think that`s right. I mean, John Dean, I spent a lot of time debriefing him after he became a government witness. I mean, he was counsel to the President but he barely met with the President. He may be had at most had a dozen meetings with Nixon. Whereas Flynn was with Trump all the time, he was with Kushner all the time, he was with Don Jr, he was very close to all of the people there.
MOHYELDIN: He`s more likely to know more than what the administration was trying to say that he served briefly and --
AKERMAN: Oh, no question. I mean, particularly in light of his guilty plea where he allocuted to the importance, the materiality of his lie. The lie that took place after the election, according to that allocution that he did before the District Court Judge related to what occurred during the campaign. So his lie about sanctions and talking to Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador about sanctions, somehow related directly to what happened during the campaign. If you take it back to Papadopoulos, I mean, he might be a coffee boy but he`s a coffee boy who is key to this conspiracy because if there was any crime that was committed here, it was the theft of the e- mails from the Democratic National Committee which is a federal -- big federal felony.
MOHYELDIN: Michael, let me ask you real quickly because you wrote right before the new year that the Mueller probe has outgrown its witch-hunt phase, that Mueller`s prosecutors have even begun questioning Republican National Committee staffers about the party`s digital operation that worked close with the Trump campaign to target voters in key swing states. We knew that Jared Kushner had even -- I believe told Forbes Magazine that he had talked about the operation because at one point he was in charge of it. What else can you tell us about the direction of this probe in 2018?
ISIKOFF: Well, I think, the only point I`m making there is that this -- that Mueller has cast a very wide net and he is looking at everything that has come up which questions have been raised about and certainly, the digital operation and whether there was any coordination or relationship with any of the folks who were posting those Russian ads on Facebook and Twitter is something that he`s got to resolve. Now, this is a very murky area. There`s a lot of data broker who buy and sell data for voter information, and you know, I think my understanding is that`s where Trump is focusing. Where there people in the United States who were buying data for the Russians or selling it to the Russians to help them and was there any relationship with the -- with the Trump campaign. Just one point though -- I just want to correct on Flynn`s lies to the FBI, they involved activity during the transition, not the campaign. So that is an important distinction to make.
MOHYELDIN: A very important distinction and we`re lucky to have you bring that up for us. All right, Michael Isikoff, Nick Akerman, great to have both of you with us. Thank you. Ahead, was Trump`s ethics defense just shattered? A Trump Hotel executive revealing details about his meeting with Trump and you will definitely want to hear this.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- he President`s own companies be getting bonuses as a result of the tax cut bill this year?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: That`s a question you`ll have to ask the Trump organization. The President isn`t involved in that.
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MOHYELDIN: All right, so that was the White House Press Secretary today saying Donald Trump is not involved in the Trump organization`s business affairs. But new reporting indicates Trump may still be in the picture in centers around his D.C. hotel. Now, from the start, the hotel was -- has drawn visiting foreign dignitaries, lobbyists, and political allies, looking to network, if you will. It`s also drawn lawsuits over alleged conflicts of interest, including one from my next guest, Richard Painter. Now the Daily Beast, obtaining a September e-mail from the director of revenue management for the Trump Hotel in D.C., saying that Donald Trump is, "supposed to be out of the business and passed on to his sons but he`s definitely still involved."
In fact, in the e-mail, the director claims he`s met with President Trump and that Trump asked about bankrupt revenues and demographics and also asked if his Presidency, "hurt the businesses." THE BEAT reached out to the director but received no comment. The managing director of the hotel called the claims, "total nonsense." Joining me is Richard Painter, former Ethics Lawyer for President George W. Bush. Richard, it`s great to have you with us. So how concerned are you about this new reporting that suggests that President Trump may still be involved in managing his business affairs to the degree that he`s actually e-mailing employees for updates on the business?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER ETHICS LAWYER FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: This confirms what many of us have believed all along, that President Trump has not separates himself from his businesses. We know he hasn`t separated himself from ownership of the businesses, but we also know that he is involved in the management of the businesses. He`s been visiting Trump properties, very, very frequently during his Presidency, spending, you know, many days on Trump properties, on Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster, or other Trump properties and golf courses. He cannot psychologically separate himself from his businesses and so this confirms what we`ve known all along. It`s a matter of grave concern, though, because he is using the Presidency to enrich his businesses. And that`s a system, an economic system that has been used in other countries. It`s called Kleptocracy where government power is used enrich, specific private companies and it`s very, very dangerous.
MOHYELDIN: So speaking of -- Richard, let me ask you because you brought up that point about Kleptocracy that you`ve seen in other countries. The Washington Post has reported that Trump`s D.C. hotel made nearly $2 million in profits in the first four months of 2017 alone. That is actually like exceeding anybody`s expectations. Does that raise red flags for you, that kind of revenue and that kind of profit?
PAINTER: Well, yes, it does. People are going to that hotel to curry favor with the president, to curry favor with the administration. It is the place to see and be seen in Washington, D.C. if you want to do business with the Trump administration. The President has made it very clear that he feels very emotionally attached to that hotel and he`s certainly financially attached to it. And it`s not just about the hotel and revenue --
MOHYELDIN: Indeed. Especially if -- yes, especially if he sees those kind of -- those number that are exceeding anyone`s expectation. Richard Painter, thank you very much for your insights. We`re definitely going to have you back because this story is not going away anytime soon. And this one is for Ari. As Drake said, I guess you lose some and you win some, long as the outcome is income. We`ll be right back.
MOHYELDIN: All right, guys. That does it for me. I`m Ayman Mohyeldin in tonight for Ari. "HARDBALL" starts right now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: New Year, same president. Let`s play HARDBALL.
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