Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 3, 2018 Guest: P.J. Crowley, Steve Clemons, Simon Rosenberg, Josh Dawsey, Lis Smith, Dana Milbank
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, MEET THE PRESS: Anyway, that`s all for tonight. We will back tomorrow for more of MTP Daily.
"The Beat" with Ari Melber start right now.
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: I`m Ayman Mohyeldin in for Ari Melber who has the day off.
And we start with the bombshells that have shaken the White House and enraged Donald Trump.
Steve Bannon quoted in a new book, ripping Trump aides, exposing a culture of backstabbing and paranoia, and calling the Trump tower meeting with Russians quote "treasonous." A furious Trump hitting back in the statement saying Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job. He lost his mind.
But the White House is said to be reeling from the revelations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does he feel betrayed by Steve Bannon? Does he regret hiring him?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the President`s statement is extremely clear what his position on Mr. Bannon is. I know that the book has a lot of things so far of what we have seen that are completely untrue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: The author of that book, "fire and fury," Michael Wolff is standing by his reporting. One person who probably knows the truth about all of this is Bob Mueller. And in the book, Steve Bannon identifies where he thinks the Trump team is vulnerable in the Russia probe. Starting with the Trump tower meeting quote "even if you thought that this was not treasonous or unpatriotic or bad expletive, and I happen to think it is all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately. Bannon also predicting how he thinks Mueller will corner Trump in his Russia investigation saying quote "this is all about money laundering. Their path to expletive, Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner. It is as plain as a hair on your face."
Bannon also said it goes through Deutsche bank and all the Kushner expletive. They are going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me."
A lot of expletive there. Joining me now Democratic congressman from California Eric Swalwell, member of the House intelligence committee.
Congressman, it is great to have you with us this evening. Let me first get your reaction to these excerpts that we just listed for you. Do you think the meeting at Trump tower was as Steve Bannon described it, treasonous?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I believe that it was un-American. You know, treason is a legal definition. So locally (ph), yes. But you know, legally, you know, probably not. But it is certainly a betrayal of your country if you are taking a meeting with Russian nationals on behalf of the Russian government who are offering you, you know, illicitly gotten information on your political opponent when your candidate is sitting just a floor above.
And so I think, you know, it should be a wake-up call for house Republicans. And you have to wonder this part for House Republicans, you know, how far off course has your moral compass taken you? If Steve Bannon is plainly identifying those as un-American and you are still telling yourself that there`s nothing to see here.
MOHYELDIN: Congressman, as Steve Bannon, as we said earlier, according to the book. He says that investigators should focus money laundering. He is quoted to have referenced Deutsche bank. I`m curious to get your thoughts, should the investigation focusing on money laundering? And I`m talking about here your investigation, the House investigation. Should it focus on money laundering and the aspect and the connection of Deutsche banks to all of this?
SWALWELL: We want to see the bank records. We want to understand the financial transactions. A number of witnesses have testified openly in our public hearings that the Russians, for decades, have used financial entanglements as a way to draw themselves closer to their targets. And we know from Donald Trump Jr.`s own mouth, that the Russians were heavily investing in the Trump organization. Eric Trump is recently has 24 teams said that primarily their investments were coming from Russia. And so, we need to understand just what were those investments and you know, why has the President so personally, politically and financially drawn himself so close to Russia?
MOHYELDIN: Are you aware of any in Congress that have subpoena? They were trying to subpoena those bank records that you are asking for?
SWALWELL: You know, what is such a shame is that in our investigation, the only bank records that have been subpoenaed have been those of Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that conservatives and Democrats hired to go at and understand Donald Trump`s relationship with Russia. So that is very misguided. And we should do all we can to understand what financial entanglements candidate Trump have to find out just what do the Russians have on him.
MOHYELDIN: Steve Bannon was obviously the important figure in the Trump campaign at one point, certainly in the White House in the early minds. Do you want to see him interviewed by the House intelligence committee, either privately or publicly?
[18:05:02] SWALWELL: Absolutely. And I hope that the American people would be able to review his transcript and the transcript of every witnesses come before us. There are still a number, dozens actually of relevant witnesses we should be able to hear from before we make any conclusions of this investigation. I hope my colleagues now are awaken to just the gravity of this that even Steve Bannon has identified how serious it is for individuals, on presidential campaign, to remit with the foreign adversary to receive information about their opponent. That is concerning. They didn`t go anywhere with it as far as law enforcement. And we know that it was followed by multiple contacts that Donald Trump Jr. had with the WikiLeaks. So it was also used as a cut-out for Russia. So there is still a lot to understand.
MOHYELDIN: Congressman, before I let you go and we are going to talk about this a little bit later on the program. But you brought up Fusion GPS. The founders of Fusion GPS, the firm that help assembled the Trump dossier, they are out with an op-ed in which they write, we suggested investigators looking to the bank records of Deutsche bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump`s businesses. And Congress appears uninterested in that tip reportedly as you just mentioned, sir. Their bank accounts are the only ones the House intelligence committee has actually subpoenaed. Are investigators missing the point of the Fusion GPS testimony here?
SWALWELL: I believe we should follow bank records. I think they would be illuminating for us to understand, for the American people to understand what investments were being made in Donald trump, as well as what investments Donald Trump had made in the Russians.
For decades, he had tried to do business in Russia. He has sought and would precede trademarks in Russia. He has sold multiple real estate properties in the United States to Russian. Even in Florida, he riffed a 129 percent profit in 2008 when the real estate market was crashing from a Russian oligarch. So there is a lot to understand that in bank records would be the most helpful for us to see. He can show us his bank records. He can show us his tax returns if he wanted to cooperate, but he doesn`t and he won`t.
MOHYELDIN: Very interesting to see how this all plays out.
Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much, sir, for joining us this evening.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
MOHYELDIN: All right. So this new book also reveals that paranoia and backstabbing ignited by the Russia probe including leaks of that infamous Trump tower meeting. Quote "the best guess by many in the west wing was that the details of the meeting had been leaked by the Kushner side, thus sacrificing Don Jr. in an attempt to deflect responsibility away from themselves."
And Steve Bannon predicting Trump`s son will take the fault in the Russia probe. Quote "they are going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on TV." Comments like that are part of what led Trump to furiously respond today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What led to this (INAUDIBLE) falling out or is this a direct respond to Steve Bannon calling the President`s son unpatriotic and saying that he committed treason?
SANDERS: I would certainly think that going after the President`s son in an absolutely outrageous and unprecedented way is probably not the best way to curry favor with anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: All right. So joining me now is the reporter who asked that question from the very same room where she did ask that question, Francesca Chambers, White House correspondent for "the Daily Mail" and Kurt Bardella, former spokesperson for Breitbart News. Great to have both of you with us this evening.
Francesca, let me begin with you. The mood there in Washington, D.C. at the White House tonight following this day that has been described by many is just absolutely chaotic.
FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY MAIL: Well, you heard it. There are a full scale assault on Steve Bannon from this White House after the details in this explosive book came out in excerpts today. And I had asked as well today whether or not the White House felt that this was a betrayal of President Donald Trump from someone who was so close to him.
You remember that Steve Bannon was on his campaign as a top adviser and then he came to work with him at the White House. And he was there for the first six months of the administration in the first year. And I ran into Newt Gingrich who was here at the White House today during his wife works at the administration as a U.S. ambassador. And first told us that both the President, is he really bothered by this? He has other things to do. And he also said that this is a Steve Bannon`s party. This is a Steve Bannon wing of the party. This is Donald Trump`s wing of the party and that this will do nothing to the base. And that is something that we also heard Sarah Huckabee Sanders say in today`s briefing. So a full scale assault on Steve Bannon. I think it is fair to say at this point as Sarah pushed in the briefing that he has no access at this point and they are definitely not friends anymore.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. We have seen this tactic a lot by the White House, their close confidantes. Once they fall out of favors, somewhat dismissed or marginalized.
Kurt, I want to ask you specifically about that. Because this is what President Trump previously claimed to say about his good relationship with Steve Bannon. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look. I like Mr. Bannon. He is a friend of mine. And I like him. He is a good man. We will gave a very good relationship as you know with Steve Bannon. Steve have been a friend of mine for a long time. I like Steve a lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:10:02] MOHYELDIN: We haven`t heard from Steve Bannon today. But my question to you, Kurt, is why do you think Steve Bannon decide to go with this scorched earth policy with some of the comments that are now attributed to him in this book?
KURT BARDELLA, FORMER BREITBART SPOKESPERSON: Anyone who has followed Steve Bannon knows that is exactly his style, scorch to earth. He doesn`t have nuance. He has bluntness. Well, he has bluntness.
And remember when Steve left the White House last August, remember this quote that he gave. I think it was the "Weekly Standard" where he said where he said, the Trump presidency that we fought for and won is over. It is going to be a different presidency. It`s over. And I think that foreshadowed a lot of where we are now. And even the way that Steve lost his job at the White House. He lost it because, as they say, he flew close to the sun.
He was on the cover of "Time" magazine last February. Trump clearly hated that. He got co-billing and co-credit in this book that Joshua Green did last year called "the Devil`s bargain." That drove Trump crazy that he was hitting that kind of credit. And he spent, the better part of the summer trying to diminish Steve`s role much like he is doing right now. And then sure enough, here we are again in a situation where Steve is getting all this attention, taking a lot of credit, getting a lot of praise for the role he played certainly in this presidency and this presidency. And it drives Trump crazy. It says so much that in the scathing statement that Donald Trump put out, he addressed the credit issue of Steve Bannon. Not the actual comments about him saying the meeting that Donald Jr. and Kushner was treasonous.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. He focus his comments purely on Steve Bannon and his character or personality.
Let`s go back to the book for a moment because there was something that jumped out at me. Because in it Bannon talked about Trump potentially firing Mueller. That seems to have been a talking point picked up by a lot of Republicans in the last couple of weeks as they tried to discredit the investigation. Here`s what he said.
He wrote or he said. He said if he fires Mueller, it just brings the impeachment quicker. Why not? Let`s do it. Let`s get it on. Why not? What am I going to do? Am I going to go in and save him? He is Donald Trump.
So Francesca, if Trump decided to try and fire Bob Mueller which somehow suggest it, could anyone in the White House feasibly stop him? Is there anyone there that could walk into the office and say no, don`t do this?
CHAMBERS: Well, something also that`s talked about in the book. And if you are following this White House drama, you well know that Ivanka Trump is someone who has her father`s ear. And another revelation or allegation in this book was that she potentially would be thinking about on day running for office herself. So she is someone who has a lot to gain from this White House and from making sure that her father didn`t do anything to jeopardize this administration or the presidency. But look, the White House is said repeatedly that President Trump could fire Bob Mueller but he has no interest in doing that and nothing seems to have change on that front at this point.
MOHYELDIN: Kurt, very quickly. This is obviously a full blown war now within the Republican Party, at least within the White House between the establishments Republican, even Mitch McConnell weighed on it today with the that there was a sarcastic tweet about all the news today. And then you have the Steve Bannon and his wing and his base of the party.
Who wins here? What`s Bannon`s next move?
BARDELLA: Well, what Bannon is showing is that he has sort of the Breitbart platform. And entire audience that is devoutly conservative alt- right die hard Trump supporters. And as Trump presidency has gone forward and he has lost support from independents from the establishment people, he has to cling to that right wing support because that`s the only thing keeping him viable. If he loses it, it`s over for him.
So I think that`s why Steve has certain amount of influence and relevance still is because through that platform, that`s the place that every day, these conservatives congregate around and rally around President Trump and his agenda. And despite what Trump says about Steve, Bannon is not using the pages of Breitbart to go after Trump directly. He is not using it to torpedo his presidency. He is not saying he needs to go. He needs to be impeach. Until that happens, he still going to be very important to Trump.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. That has not yet happen. We should emphasize the word yet. But interestingly enough, we also know that Steve Bannon once predicted that Donald Trump would win reelection with 400 electoral votes. So a lot of prediction there.
Francesca Chambers, Kurt Bardella, great to have both of you with us this evening.
MOHYELDIN: Coming up, Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit against Bob Mueller in the Russia probe. We are going to talk to a former federal prosecutor about that.
Also, more bombshells from the Trump book including which a team called weak, stupid and cry baby. Is this kind of dysfunction actually dangerous?
Plus, Joe Biden takes aim at Trump`s tweet about having a bigger nuclear Biden (ph) and the mystery of a Trump`s McDonald`s obsession. Folks, they may have finally been solve.
I`m Ayman Mohyeldin in for Air Melber. You are watching "the Beat" on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[18:17:41] STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: They are trying to nullify the 2016 election and they are doing it with every under- headed thing they have. That`s why this - the entire Russia collusion things a joke.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: That was Steve Bannon calling the Russian collusion a joke back in November.
But in an explosive new book, it is clear Bannon doesn`t think the Russian investigation is a joke any longer and believes the White House isn`t doing enough to contain it. Bannon telling Michael Wolff for his book, "Fire and Fury," they are sitting on a beach trying to stop a category five. For months, the Trump White House and family have insisted that the entire Russia investigation is really a hoax.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch hunt.
SANDERS: This is a witch hunt and a hoax.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is the greatest hoax of all time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without a question, you know, reads and smells like a witch hunt.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is just a witch hunt. It is all a hoax.
TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia. Everybody knows it. That was a Democrat hoax.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: And while the Bannon attacks are dominating headlines, there is also big news about another former Trump aide. Paul Manafort is now fighting back against his indictment in the Russia probe by suing Bob Mueller, alleging Mueller`s investigation went beyond his mandate to investigate any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individual associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.
Barbara McQuade is a former U.S. attorney and Ken Dilanian is NBC`s intelligence and national security reporter. Great to have both of you with us.
Ken, let me begin with you. I want to you reconcile this for us. What is it that Paul Manafort is arguing that doesn`t jive with what he is being charged with by Bob Mueller?
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, essentially, he is arguing that Mueller`s mandate is too broad. And that the order that Rob Rosenstein wrote, you know, sort of instructing Mueller how to proceed violates the special counsel rules. But as the legal scholar Kathleen Clark has pointed out, Rosenstein`s order actually went -- did not cite the special counsel statute. That came too far in the week here. It cited some other laws and appeared to give Mueller very broad authority to investigate essentially whatever he deems necessary. And Rosenstein testified on the Hill recently that Mueller was well within his mandate.
The other point Manafort is making that truly is interesting is that he was already investigated back in 2014 for his work, consulting in Ukraine and for his offshore banking. He was interviewed by the FBI and no charges resulted. And he is sort of saying, hey, it`s unfair that Mueller came in here and indicted me on this stuff (INAUDIBLE) Russia investigation.
But we know from the indictment, Ayman, that Mueller`s team learned a lot of new information from the searches of Paul Manafort`s apartment and from other subpoenas and other various ways to gather information. That prosecute back in 2014 did not have. So most legal experts think that this is not going anywhere.
[18:20:22] MOHYELDIN: Barbara, does Manafort`s lawsuit here have any merit to it? Or is this some kind of legal tactic to somehow try throw up road blocks in the Mueller investigation at large?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. I don`t think it has any merit to it. It seems frivolous to me. If you think about what Robert Mueller is doing, he is only doing what any U.S. attorney anywhere where there`s venue could do. He was appointed solely to satisfy concerns about having a conflict of interest by anyone who was a direct report to the President. So I don`t think there is any merit to it.
It is a really interesting strategy I think to file this as a separate civil case. Ordinarily, if you have some reason to attack an indictment, you file a motion with the judge who is presiding over the criminal case. Instead, what he has chosen to do is to file this independent civil case. That says to me that he doesn`t believe it is a serious challenge. That he`s doing it more for PR reasons. And also gives him an opportunity when there is a gag order in the criminal case, to allege in a court proceeding about how he participated in this interview with the FBI and maybe suggest to the public that there is something unfair about the FBI and the prosecutor charging him now.
MOHYELDIN: Barbara, let me ask you a two part in here. One, does anything that comes out of this book today or maybe even tomorrow in the weeks ahead, does that at all impact the Mueller investigation? Does it give him some insight that he could ultimately use in his investigation? Because I want to go back to the book for a moment because the spokesperson for the Trump legal team believed the discussion of the Trump tower meeting on air force one represented quote "represented a likely obstruction of justice." And ultimately he quit. So that`s my second part which is how significant is that kind of tidbit of information?
MCQUADE: Well, I don`t think Robert Mueller would accept anything in the book as necessarily true or that it reaches any legal conclusions. But I think it could absolutely give him potential leads. You know, the statements by Steve Bannon and others certainly would rise to the level I would think of Robert Mueller wanting to look through it, signing it to somebody. Read through it and find out if there is anybody in there that we might want to interview.
And then the part about the spokesperson who quit after the air force one incident, I think, again, it`s not a legal conclusion. He is not a lawyer. Nobody would be bound by those opinions. But I would think Robert Mueller and his team would want to interview him and anyone else who was on that plane or who was participated in those conversations by phone or otherwise to get to the bottom of why he reached that conclusion.
MOHYELDIN: And we also heard from Eric Swalwell, Congressman Eric Swalwell earlier saying he want to hear - he want to her from Steve Bannon in congressional testimonies as well.
Ken, let me ask you really quickly. Because Wolff writes in a book that Trump believed that firing Comey would actually make him a hero. It was simple. He had stood up to the FBI. At least that`s what Bannon told the President this. The Russian story is a third-tier story. But you fire Comey and it will be the biggest story in the world. So did Trump just not get the gravity of what it means to fire the director of the FBI?
DILANIAN: He clearly didn`t. And this is an example, I mean, where Bannon`s political instincts turned out to much better than his boss is. It was true of the Trump tower meeting where he, you know, where Don Jr. was willing to accept the meeting with a Russian lawyer and Bannon is saying this was unpatriotic and it showed really bad judgment.
And it is true here, Bannon knew that firing Comey was the worst mistake Donald Trump could make. And I think it`s been pointed out elsewhere that Jared Kushner was actually urging his father-in-law to fire Comey. And that Trump thought that Democrats would be happy because they were angry that Comey had mistreated Hillary Clinton with his handling (INAUDIBLE). But of course, that was incredibly naive and a terrible misjudgment and arguably has brought all kinds of misfortune on Donald Trump`s head.
MOHYELDIN: Yes, to say the least.
All right. Barbara McQuade and Ken Dilanian, great to have both of you and essentially joining us this evening.
DILANIAN: You bet.
MOHYELDIN: Up next, new reports about how Trump insiders are worried by those tweets about the nuclear button.
Also dysfunction and paranoia inside the White House. What that bombshell book reveals about how Trump use his aides and what they say about him behind his back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[18:27:42] BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the cold war. So today, I state clearly and with conviction, America`s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: All right. So that`s how Trump`s predecessor talked about nuclear weapons. By comparison, President Trump goes to twitter to brag about having a bigger nuclear button than North Korea. That tweet reportedly even has some inside the White House worried about an accidental war. Axios reports that one way House insider says, you just don`t know what is going to send him over the edge. And outside Trump advisor say we are in a hair-trigger environment and this is potentially a shooting war with nuclear risk.
And today, former vice President Joe Biden also weighed in on the tweet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It shows really poor judgment for the President to perform the way he does. The only war that`s worse than one that is intended is one that`s unintended. This is not a game. It is not Presidential.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: It is not presidential. With me now is P.J. Crowley, former assistant secretary of state and author of "Red Line, American foreign policy and a time of fractured politics in failing states." And editor Steve Clements, Washington editor at-large for the "Atlantic."
Great to have you both with us.
P.J., let me begin with you. If you`re sitting in London, Berlin, Paris, you are probably watching this thinking, hard to imagine that the President of the United States is actually getting into this kind of rhetoric about the size of a nuclear button with the leader of North Korea. How should the world respond to Trump bragging about his nuclear arsenal?
P.J., CROWLEY, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, it is very worrisome. You know, presidential rhetoric is a tremendous as set and it is a strategic asset for the United States and what we are seeing over the past year and into 2018 is the steady, almost systematic decline of presidential rhetoric. The President makes these crises too personal and that obviously is a very significant problem.
And the danger here is that he backs himself into a situation with the credibility of the United States is at stake and he`s forced to do something that you know, will not be strategic, it will be very impulsive.
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Steve, I wanted to ask but the fears that are growing inside the White House about an unintended war or an accidental war as it was put. How does the government -- how can the government stop a tweet like this from turning into something much more dangerous?
STEVE CLEMONS, WASHINGTON EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE ATLANTIC: It can`t. I mean, right now you have people like H.R. McMaster, James Mattis, I`m sure Rex Tillerson if has any contact at all, freaking out about what`s happening. They`re trying in their own way I believe, to try to create guide rails for this White House and this administration which I don`t agree with but at least are sensible and trying to create openness. These kinds of tweets, they are not controlling. You know, there`s something I always say. This is -- you know, the President`s behavior is on the edge of a kind of global criminality in my view in the sense that if you`re in a nuclear state called during the world today, if you`re China, you`re Russia, you`re the United States, you`re France, you`re Great Britain, you have a responsibility that is a quid pro quo with the rest of the world to behave responsibly and not recklessly.
Because not only is Trump gut-punching not North Korea, but he`s got punching our allies in South Korea and creating tremors there, but he`s also creating incentives for future bad thugs in the world who are going to say we need nukes because that gives you power. Donald Trump is doing everything wrong in the nuclear playbook. Everything that is wrong that the big nuclear powers agreed not to do so they don`t create incentives for other countries to climb the nuclear ladder.
MOHYELDIN: And I know some on Twitter have actually highlighted the fact that they want to see Twitter actually suspend his account for that threat with the nuclear arsenal. P.J. the White House was asked about the difference between Trump and Kim Jong-un from a mental perspective. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the President and the people of this country should be concerned about the mental fitness of the Leader of North Korea.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just said people should question the mental fitness of Kim Jong-un. Isn`t it dangerous for the President to be taunting him on Twitter?
SANDERS: I don`t think that it`s taunting to stand up for the people of this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: I mean, first of all, we can break that sentence down in so many ways. But talking about not taunting the leader of North Korea by constantly referring to him as little rocketman, saying my button is bigger than your button. My arsenal is bigger than your arsenal. What`s the danger P.J. in trading insults with a North Korean leader who at times has been characterized as being mentally unstable?
CROWLEY: Well, I mean, let`s be clear. The North Korean regime is odious. You know, they`re guilty of enormous human rights violations. But that said, you know, as far as we know, there`s only one American who`s ever met with Kim Jong-un, that`s Dennis Rodman. Dennis says he`s a hell of a guy, you know. But you know, the -- if you`re going -- you know, our policy is rooted in trying to getting Kim Jong-un to do something he doesn`t want to do. You know, on the current trajectory, he`s going to try to push North Korea into the nuclear club. We`re trying to convince him that that`s not good for North Korea and not good for him, you know. But taunting him this way almost baits him to continue on the current path.
I think the fact that we`re talking about you know, comparisons of whose nuclear button is bigger, you know, takes away from the fact that you know, actually his New Year`s message provides an interesting diplomatic opportunity. We should be talking about what do we want a prospective conversation you know, between North Korea and South Korea to try to achieve? Could we achieve a kind of a potential cause during the Olympics that creates an opportunity for diplomacy? Sadly because of the President`s lack of strategic rhetoric, you know, we`re talking about this nonsensical tweet and not a sensible strategy behind how you try to convince North Korea to do something it`s currently not prepared to do.
MOHYELDIN: Yes, and it seems the South Korean leadership took your advice as they jumped on the opportunity and set in motion the meeting that is going to take place next week with their North Korean counterparts. Steve Clemons, let me ask you really quickly the counter-argument about this that the one -- the President has made also on Twitter saying that you know, it was the sanctions and his tough talk and his policy that has effectively allowed for this window or diplomatic window between the North and the South for this meeting next week that`s going to take place, to actually happen. Is there any validity in the way the President is conducting his North Korea policy on Twitter that is leading to this result?
CLEMONS: I don`t see it but you know, to -- let`s take that just for a quick moment. If pressure that Donald Trump is been saying that he`s been bringing from various quarters has led to capitulation by North Korea in foregoing, as Nikki Haley said, any nuclear weapons and United States not being interested at least from the White House perspective at any talks, then that`s absolutely untrue what Donald Trump has said. He`s undercut his own Secretary of State who is trying to engineer some of these talks. Donald Trump is constantly disavowed Tillerson, those efforts.
And Nikki Haley`s own comments at the U.N. made it seem that North Korea can talk to anyone, we don`t care unless there is capitulation, total capitulation on giving up all of its nuclear weapons. So I don`t see this is a win, I don`t see this as successful. I do see this as an effort by North Korea to figure out the scene but we have a very unpredictable -- right now the world is seeing you know, Donald Trump as the unpredictable guy more than Kim Jong-un who I agree with P.J. is completely odious, completely difficult. But there`s a predictability in his behavior that Donald Trump does not have right now.
MOHYELDIN: All right, P.J. Crowley and Steve Clemons, it`s great to have both of you with us. Thank you very much.
CLEMONS: Thank you.
MOHYELDIN: All right, coming up, new details about why Trump thinks he`s surrounded by rats in the West Wing and what his closest aides really think about working there. Plus, we know Trump never won an Emmy for The Apprentice but why is he promising to give out awards to the media now? That`s ahead.
MOHYELDIN: Welcome back, everyone. Tonight, we`re learning that Donald Trump`s own campaign staff didn`t think he would be president. He didn`t really want to be President. And once he actually became president, he saw his own team as rats. Indeed, he thought "there were rats all around." Now, that`s according to Michael Wolff`s new book which reports the distrust and dislike was at times mutual. Before the election, Kellyanne Conway was apparently sure Trump would lose and would roll her eyes whenever Trump`s name was mentioned. Trump`s budget director says his too scattershot to ever be of much help.
And his former Deputy Chief of Staff said working with him "was like trying to figure out what a child wants." And it cut both ways, Trump describing Bannon as disloyal, and that`s even before this new book came out believe it or not. He called Reince Priebus weak and short, his own son in law Jared Kushner a suck-up. He Sean Spicer was stupid and looked terrible and he called Conway a crybaby while praising those very people in public.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like Mr. Bannon. He`s a friend of mine. And I like him, he`s a good man.
Come here, Kellyanne. She`s been so great. Wow!
Reince has done such an amazing job and they portrayed him slightly inaccurately.
I have a feeling that Jared is going to do a great job. I have a feeling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: All right, joining me now is Simon Rosenberg, veteran of two presidential campaigns and Founder of the New Democrat Network and Josh Dawsey, White House Reporter for the Washington Post. It`s great to have both of you guys with us this evening. Simon, your political history is a lot better than mine. You`ve worked on political campaigns. Have you ever seen anything like what we`re talking about today out in the open in public like this?
SIMON ROSENBERG, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER, NEW DEMOCRATIC NETWORK: No. And I think -- listen, these excerpts make two big points. First, it reinforces the extraordinary dysfunction of this man and his entire presidency. And second, it also raises -- reminds us of the gravity of the investigation that Mueller is doing into Russia. And Bannon said in one of the interviews that he believes what Trump did and his family did was treasonous. He used the word treasonous. So this is a major event. I think in the early parts of 2018 and certainly, I don`t think we`ve ever seen anything like this in the modern era of American politics.
MOHYELDIN: Josh, I know that you`re plugged into the White House, what are you hearing inside to all of this dirty laundering being aired out in the open? It`s one thing for it to happen behind closed doors, that certainly goes on in Washington, but now this is out in the open and what are you hearing?
JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: White House Aides have been prepping for several weeks about this book. There was growing frustration about Bannon. People knew that Bannon worked on it. But they were blindsided by it this morning. I talked to officials this afternoon who said they still have not seen a full copy of the book and have not been able to hook through all of it. I just spent most of the day, the President Trump was very frustrated with its release. As you just saw on the statement calling friends, advisers, talking to Hope Hicks, Sarah Sanders, a number of his -- Kellyanne Conway, a number of his top people in the Oval Office. He was really frustrated by it.
I think the President over the Christmas holidays, New Year`s was in a pretty good mood at Mar-a-Lago, was golfing. He was talking about his tax bill, came back second day from break and was really blindsided by this book. And it depicted him in a pretty elementary way, let`s say. I think some of it is maybe a little overwrought. I mean, I haven`t been able to obviously independently verify everything in the reporting. Some of them maybe a little overwrought but the picture that`s painted in that book is not pretty even if only 50 percent of it is true. But I have no reason to believe any of it should have been a mistake. Even if only 50 percent of it was true, it would not be a good look for him.
MOHYELDIN: Josh, really quickly, do you get a sense from this sentiment of this book that that is an accurate portrayal of what the White House is from the context and the sources that you are constantly in touch with?
DAWSEY: Early in the administration, the White House was certainly driven by chaos and warring bands of aides, select the people competing for the President`s attention, backstabbing, lack of clear priorities, a President who was still adjusting and settling into Washington and was struggling with that transition. It certainly was not pretty early on. We reported that and so did others. There were daily episodes that were kind of wilder than the last. In some ways, we think the White House has settled down a little bit since John Kelly was installed as Chief of Staff this summer. You have a President who obviously still tweets, who can still be erratic, who can still make decisions based on gut and instinct but more discipline on the staff level with the departures Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon and Sean Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci and some of these more volatile characters that`s played to the President`s instincts but also (INAUDIBLE) at each other`s throats.
MOHYELDIN: Simon, I know that Mitch McConnell has had a very public feud going on with Steve Bannon. In fact, he tweeted out this video and I think we have it and we`ll put it out in the screen. He tweeted out this video earlier today with a slow smile. What`s the political fallout of today`s news for the Republican Party between the establishment folks like Mitch McConnell and the Bannon supporters across the country?
ROSENBERG: Well, it still remains to be seen as complicated. You know, you have Donald Jr. today attacking Breitbart, right? It`s sort of an unimaginable event given how close Breitbart and Bannon had been to the core of Trumpism. I mean, it is really hard for me to believe as somebody who`s been doing this a long time that there could have been this dramatic break between Bannon and Trump given how central Bannon was to sow the ideology of Trumpism itself, right? It wasn`t just he was a loyal aide who was there biding his time. He was a believer, a true believer.
And so I think this is a major moment in the evolution of the early Trump Presidency. It certainly -- it reinforces again how wild, erratic, whatever words are that you want to use. And I think that just to build on something Josh said is that look, the White House may have settled down, Donald Trump hasn`t. I mean, he had one of the craziest days on Twitter that he`s ever had just yesterday, right? So we`re still dealing with this wild ride of early Trumpism here.
MOHYELDIN: All right, Simon Rosenberg and Josh Dawsey, it`s great to have both of your perspective about this things.
ROSENBERG: Sure. Thanks for having me.
DAWSEY: Thank you.
MOHYELDIN: All right, still ahead, Trump`s promising to hand out awards for fake news. We`re going to look at some candidates from within the administration that should be nominated. Plus, why we may finally have an explanation for Trump`s passion for McDonald`s.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President tweeted that he`ll be announcing "the most dishonest and corrupt media" award of the year Monday at 5:00 p.m. Can we get some details on that?
SANDERS: I certainly don`t want to spoil anything but my guess is that there are quite a few individuals that could be up for those awards.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: So the White House Press Secretary today on Donald Trump`s new attack on the media. Trump promising that next week he`ll hand out the most dishonest and corrupt media awards of the year. And just last week, the RNC and the Trump campaign announcing a contest for the 2017 king of fake news. Michael Wolff`s new book with the context for all of this. In fact, he writes that in Trump`s view, all news was manipulated ad designed, planned and planted. All news was to some extent fake. Now, the irony is Trump`s own relationship to the facts. The Washington Post reports Trump has made almost 2,000 false or misleading claims since taking office, folks, 2,000. And in case President Trump asks us, here are our submissions for some of the biggest fake news items of 2017.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You look at what`s happening last night in Sweden --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Swedish embassy in the U.S. asked for an explanation. There have been no terror attacks there this week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump stands by his claim that President Obama wiretapped him during the campaign last year.
TRUMP: We have signed more legislation than anybody, we broke the record of Harry Truman.
We`re the highest taxed nation in the developed world, and I think the undeveloped world, too.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Trump retweeting a series of anti-immigrant videos, these from a foreign politician. One claimed to be the video of a "Muslim migrant beating up a Dutch boy." But that was not the case, Dutch officials saying very clearly today that was false.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: So those were our submissions for those awards. Something tells me we will not see any of those make it into the list. With me now, former Top Aide to Martin O`Malley and President Obama Lis Smith and Syndicated Columnist for the Washington Post Dana Milbank. It`s great to have both of you with us. So, Lis, you saw some of those comments that the President made that have been absolutely refuted as false. What is -- what is it you think -- why is there such a disconnect between the President`s ability to actually get things right when he`s projecting this perception that the media is fake when he himself can`t get facts right.
LIS SMITH, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN AIDE: Well, look, I don`t think he has any desire necessarily to be truthful. I think he`s trying to create an alternate reality for himself and for his supporters. I`m not one of those people that subscribe to the idea that he is some evil media genius and some master at manipulating the media. The only strategy we`ve seen coming out of him and out of his campaign is launching, you know, very negative attacks against the media, you know, in an attempt to discredit their coverage of him and discredit their long-term credibility. But it`s not working for him. And if you look at the coverage of him, it is overwhelmingly negative. And that is because he has problems with the truth, and he oversees a White House that is as chaos filled as anyone in recent memory.
MOHYELDIN: Yes, especially on a day like this. Dana, let`s take a step back for a moment because we make light of this, and we kind of joke around about it. But the President of the United States is awarding the media a dishonesty award. How did we get here? I mean, is this the product of electing a reality television president?
DANA MILBANK, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. Well, I`m not making light of it but I`m gunning very hard for a Trumpy award. I hope you`ll put a nomination in for me. I`m just concerned that the failing New York Times may beat the Amazon Washington Post in the hall of Trumpies. Yes, this is --
MOHYELDIN: Is that what they`re going to be called, Trumpies?
MILBANK: That`s what I`m calling them, I guess. This is -- this is a reality show president. It doesn`t work for him. Nobody believes him. But what it does do is it discredits the media. There was a poll just in the last few weeks saying 46 percent of the public believes that major news organizations like yours and mine, make up stories about Donald Trump. It`s not that they believe Trump as opposed to us. Nobody believes him, only a minority see him as fit to be President. But he is succeeding in discrediting us and every other institution. And that`s serious stuff and this does go another ways towards doing that.
MOHYELDIN: So Lis, when we see things like the President talking about the crowd size of his inauguration, which again when we put those images of the crowds it`s factually wrong. Why is it that things like that do not resonate with his base? Why do they not look at those comments, like the wiretapping and the fact that he lied about that and that the wiretapping was not substantiated by James Comey or anyone else, why do those things not stick, but as Dana was just saying, his charges against the media seem to resonate?
SMITH: Well look, I think it`s all part of the same thing. And I think the claims about the crowd size at inauguration does sort of back up the President`s claims that you know, he`s under siege from this fake news media. And to Dana`s point, it does help undermine the role of the free press, it does undermine the credibility in the press. But you know, for a lot of people who are not in Donald Trump`s, you know, echo chamber, for a lot of people who aren`t addicted to his tweets, his very poor relationship with the media undermines his coverage in the long run and doesn`t serve his best interest or the interest of his agenda.
MOHYELDIN: All right, Lis Smith, Dana Milbank, sorry, guys, we ran out a little bit time. But we`ll catch back with you guys on Monday after the awards are announced. Good luck to -- good luck to you too. All right, ahead, a new explanation for Trump`s passion for McDonald`s.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You see, Obama giving the heads of the Chinese delegation steak dinners in Washington, Steak dinners. We eat McDonald`s until we come to an agreement. Do you agree?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Right, so it`s no secret that Donald Trump loves McDonald`s. Reportedly Trump sometimes orders two Big Macs, Two Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, and a chocolate malted shake. The question tonight, why so much love? We`re going to put that poll up there for you. Is it A, because he`s a man of the people? B, because he likes to eat on a budget? Or C, is it because he has a secret fear of being poisoned? And tonight, we can tell you the answer, folks. It is C, fear of being poisoned. That`s according to Michael Wolff`s new book. Trump had a long-time fear of being poisoned.
Now, one reason why he like to eat at McDonald`s, nobody knew he was coming, and the food was safely remade. And it`s not just food that Trump is worried about. Wolff reports that when Trump took office, he imposed a set of new rules. Nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush. And he would let housekeeping know when he wanted his sheets done and he would strip his own bed. So there you have it, folks. Mystery solved. Donald Trump`s love of the golden arches is not a guilty pleasure, but perhaps an issue of national security. And for that, we are all safer. That does it for me tonight. I`m Ayman Mohyeldin in for Ari Melber. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Fire and Fury rocks the White House. Let`s play HARDBALL.
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