Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 10, 2018 Guest: Nick Penzenstadler, William Cohan, Ben Smith, Elizabeth Lee Beck
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, MEET THE PRESS: But folks, it is not every day you get Louie Gomer and Sherrod Brown to agree on something. So for that, I don't think it is a sign of something negative. We don't want to say it is a sign of the apocalypse, Louie Gomer and Sherrod Brown. Maybe it is a sign of good things to come.
Anyway, that is all we have for tonight. We will be back tomorrow more of "MTP Daily."
"The Beat with Ari Melber," a lot Russia update starts right now.
Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. And thank you very much.
We begin tonight with breaking news on the Russia probe developing now. President Trump has just come out and denied collusion with Russia claiming incorrectly that his view has been determined by everyone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians. No collusion. When I watch you interviewing all the people leaving their committees, I mean, the Democrats are all running for office and they are trying to say this. But bottom line, they all say there's no collusion. And there is no collusion. Absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it.
It has been determined that there is no collusion and by virtually everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: By virtually everybody he meant of course not everybody.
Now Trump in this press conference, he didn't just repeat this defense. He also did something notable. He back tracked from past claims that he would be happy to talk to Bob Mueller's investigators. Now he just says we will see.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, again, John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians. No collusion. When I watch you interviewing all the people leaving their committees, I mean, the Democrats are all running for office and they're trying to say this. But bottom line, they all say there is no collusion and there is no collusion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you object open to --?
TRUMP: We will see what happens. I mean, certainly I will see what happens. But when they have no collusion and nobody has found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you would even have an interview.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Of course, Trump had previously made a big deal in that Rose Garden address that tonight that you see, that he would speak. So does Trump now know something that made him change his tune? Or is he being just disciplined and following his lawyers' strategy, maybe avoiding just giving away and interview. And instead, why to make the interview some kind of point strategizing making it a point of leverage?
To be clear and fair, that is how Bill Clinton initially responded to his grand jury interview request. So there is some president there. Either way, tonight we know Trump has fallen back a step. He also defensively called for a partisan take over in the Russian probe this morning, saying Republicans should quote "take control."
And let's be clear. That is not a confident position. Just a few moments ago, the White House lawyers were saying, well, they would welcome the Mueller probe because they expected a fact-based exoneration. They said that, of course, before the New Year and said this would all be wrapped up, remember, by now.
A fact-based exoneration, folks, let's be clear. That's lawyer speak for a result where the prosecutor doesn't find any facts supporting a crime. That is not what the President just said there. Now he is saying, Republicans should take control to ensure he wins.
And spoiler alert, that's not how criminal investigations work in America.
I'm joined now by the assistant director for counter intel, Frank Figliuzzi, former U.S. attorney Karen Leoffler, a longtime federal prosecutor, including under the Obama administration and Betsy Woodruff who covers the Russia probe doggedly for "the Daily Beast."
I could start anywhere but on the news, Betsy, I will start with your latest view of what your latest view of what we are getting here.
BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: It is interesting the President said Republicans should take over the Russia probe given Mueller himself is a registered Republican.
That said, another piece that is really important. As you mentioned earlier, it is a fact that there is absolutely precedent for someone in Mueller's shoes to interview the President of the United States. John Danforth who was special counsel investigating the Waco situation under the exact same authority that Mueller is currently working under -- told me when I spoke to him a few months back when Mueller was impaneled that he himself called Bill Clinton during the investigation and they had a conversation, not a particularly amicable one, a serious one where Danforth was trying to move his investigation forward. And that Danforth said he didn't think it would have been a complete and thorough investigation if he hadn't talks to them private on Bill Clinton. So I'm confident Mueller is aware of that and very much aware that history would potentially be on his side if he decided to use his special counsel authority to press for a sit down with President Trump.
MELBER: And all this is happening as there is continued scrutiny how we got here.
Frank, I want to read to you from something that addressed a lot of your colleagues which came out today as well. This is what FBI leadership was saying in the wake of the Comey firing.
The line that jumped out to me was basically deputy director Andrew McCabe saying quote "we will get through this together." That was an internal message. And while that may sound kind of basic, I want to make a point and get your analysis of it.
At that time the leadership of the DOJ which oversee FBI was making a claim that this was a typical routine personnel decision that it was all about handling the Clinton email case. That is to say not a calamity. Of course, we all know what happens since then. But I wonder what it says to you that Andrew McCabe and wide message to all FBI agents was immediately seeming to undercut the Rod Rosenstein-Sessions cover story.
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: I think Andy McCabe knew exactly what this was about. Because I think Jim Comey as we know was sharing details of what was transpiring with his top management. They knew what was happening. And I think the rank and file in the FBI now realizes what this was really about. The removal of Jim Comey was actually a form of obstruction.
MELBER: Karen, your view?
KAREN LEOFFLER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think the same thing. Having worked the FBI for 30 years, I also think that the acting director was trying to tell his people to do their jobs. And that he was behind them and that they he should continue to do their jobs.
And also, because Mr. Comey was so well respected by the vast majority of the agents, you know, I sort of switching to a little bit more of he knew what was going on. They knew what was going on and he was saying, you know, you have an important mission, the public safety of the United States and continue to do it.
MELBER: Right. Which again is different from what was playing out in public in the sense that that was right when there was still the claim that this was a personnel decision and not as you both put it quite simply, at least the elements of a potential he obstruction case would be a bad thing.
Frank, on the defenses that we have, we talked a lot over the last day about a fissure that I don't think is going to be reversed which is Senator Dianne Feinstein being pushed to the max, to the limit, and to find the Republicans and putting out this dossier testimony. That is on the investigator side.
Then there is security side. How are we doing as a country? Are they going to come after us again? Are we prepared electorally? Senator Ben Cardin putting out his own report again on a partisan basis because he is saying the Republicans won't come with him, finding comprehensive and coordinated approach to the Kremlin's blind (ph) influence operations not ready. President Trump, he says, negligent in response to the threat and here was senator Cardin expressing this new report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Today current President of the United States still barely acknowledges the threat posed by Mr. Putin's repeated tasked on Democratic governments and institutions. Let alone exercises the kind of leadership, history has shown, is necessary to effectively counter this kind aggression. Never before has a U.S. President so clearly ignored such a grave and growing threat to U.S. national security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Frank, is that fair to the President to say that never has anyone ignored a threat this much?
FIGLIUZZI: I think it is extremely fair. Look, this gets to the heart of what the special counsel inquiry is all about and why it actually started. So the President can continue to call this a witch hunt. But what it is, is an essentially vital investigation to get to the answer of one question, to what extent did a foreign government attempt to meddle with our last Presidential election and what are we going to do about it? And up until now, we have done nothing about it. We have midterm elections coming and there is no plan coming out of the White House to deal with foreign governments influencing and shaping our next election.
WOODRUFF: I think it is important to remember with the context that Cardin is giving us is that these investigations have the potentials to actually have a deterrent effect. We know that Mueller's investigation is not just criminal, but also a counterintelligence probe. And the goal of counterintelligence probes is simply - to essentially name and shame foreign bad actors who try to meddle in elections to the extent that the House and Senate intelligence committees and Mueller's investigators themselves are able to identify individuals with in the Kremlin who held and encouraged these essential attacks on the American electoral system. That is something that could be a deterrent going forward. And the opposite of that, of course, the inverse is that it is really striking that the President himself is at odds with what the intelligence committee has concluded and we are already hearing from these investigators which is that the Russians worked overtime to try to influence the American election.
MELBER: And Karen, on this point, Betsy was just speaking to how the investigations went done well, not only on accountability or attempted justice, it is called the justice department but also playing to our protections and what prosecutors and cops often talk about as a potential deterrent effect.
With that in mind, Karen, can you walk us through how Mueller would look at foreign nationals in this? Because we are so fixated on the American part of what happened and how could it affect our politics. But he has purview right to try to indict anyone who he finds was involve in any of this meddling regardless of where they are, right?
LEOFFLER: Yes, absolutely. Now that doesn't mean it's easy to get ahold of him. But one of the things that went on, one of the big pushes that our last two attorney generals talked about was need to say we are going to indict anyway when we find foreign nationals violating our laws. And then we will deal with whether we can get them back and whether we can get them through their travel somewhere or working with other countries.
But, I mean, protection of the United States and using the laws and the prosecutorial authority to protect something as important as the underpinnings of democracy, out voting system, should be an absolute, you know, staring in your face number one priority of the country. And so you, you know, not only do we have to deal with the domestic people involve but you absolutely focus on going where the crime led you and trying to do what to stop it from happening again and use every tool that you have.
MELBER: And Karen, finally, because you prosecuted so many different types of cases. What are the unique challenges as Mueller approaches of potential presidential interview and doing it in a way that is valuable to what he wants to learn but I imagine a different than just any other FBI sit down.
LEOFFLER: Well, you have to be, of course, respectful of the job which is President of the United States. And so you have to treat that differently and with respect. And you know, while the President has the fit amendment, of course, he has the issue of not wanting to take Fifth Amendment on something.
So you have to schedule it. But you also, I would say with this President, have to have a document and a pretty much solid corroborated objective fact for anything that you ask him.
And the other thing is when you are going to look - I mean, in a situation like this where the President is clearly part of the circle, you want to give him an opportunity on answer it before indictments come out. But, you know, it is going to be up to the President and his lawyers, how he decides to deal with the request.
MELBER: Karen Leoffler, Frank Figliuzzi and Betsy Woodruff, thank you all for being part of our coverage.
Coming up is a brand new report developing out here today about secret buyers who are now snapping up Trump real estate and they only start hiding their identities after he became the nominee. The reporter who broke the story is on "the Beat" tonight.
And Rush Limbaugh firing a warning shot at Trump with a lot of implications about that big meeting he did yesterday. And what will Mueller do when he wants to question Trump under oath? Tonight, I'm very excited to tell you this lawyer did just that in a very big lawsuit earning the raft of Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: She is a terrible attorney. She is a vicious, horrible person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That lawyer is on "the Beat" exclusively. Tonight, we will reveal and talk to me about what it was like to get Trump in a corner under oath.
I'm Ari Melber. You are watching "the Beat" on MSNBC.
MELBER: Donald Trump's photo op negotiations with Democrats was supposed to give him a kind of a lift to show him in presidential command. And this is classic Trump. The medium is the message. He aims to look good negotiating without caring what he is even negotiating about and betting on other people won't care either.
But that strategy now running into a wall and I don't mean a border wall. Trump gave Democrats so much rhetorically in the meeting on tape that is bases again rebelling that's led to that now infamous White House transcript claiming Trump did not fall on the wall. The White House we should has Trans corrected it. Conservatives blasting this meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Donald Trump could not possibly believe that he could abandon his three-year position on immigration and still maintain the support of his base. Donald Trump just could not be that obtuse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: He could not be that obtuse or, then again, Limbaugh says maybe he only cares about the media and not the substance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIMBAUGH: Take two is that Trump was on the verge of getting rolled yesterday because he really doesn't care about immigration or anything else. All he cares about is being loved and being liked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Just like us. We all want to be loved.
But there is something going on here. You know, in every other week of the Trump presidency, this is the kind of fight that Steve Bannon would relish. He position himself between Trump and the base. He would tell both sides that Bannon, he is the key to saving Trumpism.
But why is this night different from all other nights? I suspect you already know. Trump's billionaire has ally and basically now ousted the one time ally Bannon from Breitbart News where he had a megaphone. Trump world also enraged with Bannon for likening Donald Trump Jr. to a snowflake egg waiting for a Mueller cracking. Now we don't have a rebuttal for Bannon tonight because that street fighter is unusually silent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a street fighter. That's what I am.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're more than that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I think I'm a street fighter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Let's get into it. I'm joined by Tom Steyer, a democratic heavy hitter and political donor who has pledged to spend $30 million in the midterms. And Max Boot, a foreign policy analyst, former advisor to Mitt Romney. His new book is the "road not taken."
We start with conservative infighting so I begin with you, Mr. Boot. Is this about something or is this about nothing?
MAX BOOT, FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: Well, first off, I would not characterized this, Ari, as conservative infighting. I would not call Steve Bannon a conservative. I would not call Donald Trump a conservative. Now, I think in the case of Bannon, he does have some kind of crack potted ideology that you can call populism, nationalism. What have you?
BOOT: In the case of Donald Trump, I wouldn't even go that far. I mean, his ideology is basically Donald Trump (INAUDIBLE). I mean, that is what he is about. It is about getting as much power as possible. Getting as much steam as possible. Getting the love with the crowds, being in the center of the spotlight. That is what he is about.
He has some other impulses to be sure which are largely I would say racist, protectionist, xenophobic, nativist, et cetera. But those are just impulses. It is not like a well thought out philosophy for Donald Trump. It is all about Donald Trump. And you saw that in the immigration meeting where one minute he is saying, we can basically deliver the democratic agenda on immigration that he doesn't realize what he is saying and then walks it back and they take it out of the transcript. But that's a sign that, you know, Donald Trump is just a bundle of competing impulses and the only consistent threat is really self-promotion.
MELBER: Well, as is often the case, Max Boot puts it all in one big strong paragraph.
And Tom, I want to give you response but to Max's point, I want to play another moment from there. Because there is the argument that even the people who are allied with Trump when you get him to the negotiating table. It is like keeping water in a backpack. I mean, no matter how good you are, you can't do it. And I want to play what we rarely do around here. This is a double clip. This is clip you may have seen the beginning, which is the exchange with Kevin McCarthy and then my colleague Bryan Williams giving his view of what is going on. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you need to be clear. I think what Senator Feinstein is asking here, when we talk about just DACE, we don't want to be back here two years later. You have to have security as the secretary would tell you.
TRUMP: But I think that was you saying.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think to be concerned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you are saying DACA without security.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Love the effort to DACA explain things on senator Feinstein.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Tom. I don't know if you know the term DACA-explaining. But what did you as a business man and a sometime political activist make of this meeting? What matters here?
TOM STEYER, DEMOCRATIC DONOR/FOUNDER, NEXTGEN AMERICA: Look. From our standpoint, we want a clean DACA, period. And what we can see the President doing is he is confused in this negotiating about exactly what he is giving away and what he stands for.
But that doesn't matter to us because what we have seen in the first year of the Trump administration is a hard right agenda. He said a lot of things in meetings that he has walked away from. You cannot take this man's word as his bond because it is very far from his bond.
The fact of the matter is if you look through the, Mr. Trump's first year, he has walked away from everything except a hard right healthcare plan, a hard right tax plan, a hard right immigration plan. Everything when you really get to cutting the mustard, he is always on the hard right.
So whatever he says in the interim, I think should be ignored. The fact of the matter is, this is a President who has determined that his interest, his allies, his constituencies, are on the radical right end of the spectrum and that is where he has inevitably gone right up to this Monday when he said the people from El Salvador who have been here so long are going to have to leave.
MELBER: Right. I mean, what -- you are making is a kind of an analysis that you can't look at the top of the wave of the surfboard. Because there is always this undertow. And so while Donald Trump may move in and move around, he is always talk back because as you said he has made common ground to these allies.
Contrast (INAUDIBLE) with the other big event that has been going on now all week, with "Fire and Fury." Because your tweet, you said it has required reading for every member of Congress. We are delivering a copy to each and every one of them. I don't know if you got a thank you bouquet from Michael Wolff yet or not. That is a lot of book, Tom. But one could argue that the thesis of that book is a little different from the piece you just saw. That he always land hard right. Because that book lands more on what Max is just saying that it is all nothing this.
STEYER: Let's draw distinction between man and his personality issues and the agenda that he is pursued. What I was describing was the agenda that he has pursued, regardless of what he said. I'm saying, ignore the verbiage. When push comes to shove, he has gone hard right.
Michael, it is the book "Fire and Fury" is all about whether or not he is fit for office as a person, about whether he is trustworthy, whether he is dependable, whether he is capable of making these judgments in this distinctions.
So I would say, you know, when we talk about the need to impeach, we are saying he is unfit for office, was that he is dangerous to the American people. That has a lot to do with his actions. The fact of the matter is he has met the criteria for impeachment in many ways. And in addition, but I say separately, he has pursued this hard right agenda consistently.
MELBER: Max, response.
BOOT: Well, I would say is I'm not sure that he has pursued and consistent hard right agenda. He has certainly done a lot of hard right things that I think are very objectionable but often not play well thought out like, you know, saying that the White supremacist protesters in Charlottesville are, you know, very fine people, and you know, pardoning sheriff Arpaio or now talking about deporting these 200,000 to El Salvadorans.
He is certainly not as hard right impulse. So he is not very consistent though because he also has a lot of people in the administration are pushing the other way. And for example now are trying to push him not to blow up the Iran nuclear deal which I think would be an irresponsible thing to do. And he is thinking about doing that but he is also to some extent contained.
But, you know, I think that the point that Tom was just making was a good one about how I think at the end of the day, the case against Trump is not that he is this hard right reactionary, although he has elements of that. I think the case against him is that he is unfit to be resident. And he is day to meeting the presidency. He is dividing the country. He is subverting the rule of law. That's already the case against Trump. It is not so much on ideological grounds. It is that by character and by temperament, he is just not fit to occupy the highest office.
MELBER: And that is where you and Tom clearly agree.
We are out of time but Tom, I want to ask you while I have you. The other thing that was revealed this week is that Steve Bannon is not that tough. He was just loaded up with this m money. And as soon as they pulled the money, he has gone quiet.
You have different ideologies than say, the Mercers. And you are very involve. But what makes that you that different if you are spending tens of millions of dollars and then presumably a lot of Democrats are going owe you. My question to you is, aren't people like you part of problem if you have too much power over our democracy?
STEYER: Let me say this. We agree that there should be a reform of money in government for sure in the United States. We consider it a huge problem. We try to be responsible in the context of the system that we have that we believe is the best system in the world but it is surely imperfect.
But let me say this too, Ari. What we do in every single thing we do is promote a broader democracy. That is what we spent our money on. We actually spend our money trying to register, engage and involve the citizens. Everything we do is about the answer to our problems is more democracy. Even the need to impeach campaign is an attempt to empower American citizens so their voice organized together and put together is more like direct democracy so elected officials have to listen to them.
It is not that it goes to me. It is not about me. None of this is about me. This is all about can we involve and engage the American people so their voice is heard more loudly in the halls of power. So the elected officials can't ignore the actual people who run our country which is the people of the United States.
MELBER: Tom Steyer, Max Boot, a lively discussion. Thank you both.
Still ahead, Trump's lawyer suing over the Russian dossier. We have an interview with the journalist who first published that dossier in "the Beat." And my exclusive sit down with one of the very few lawyers in America who has deposed Trump (INAUDIBLE).
And first, who are the secret buyers snapping up Trump real estate? The breaking report on that, a reporter who broke the story next.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: -- tweets and the leaks. What it now turning to an investigative report about Trump's business that he may not want you to see. USA Today Reporter Nick Penzenstadler has a new article rocking the White House tonight. It shows rich people using a secretive way to buy into Trump's business and adding more risk than it might be able to handle. Suddenly the majority people buying property from a Trump company are using secret shell companies to hide their identity. That had been about five percent sales, then when Trump won the nomination, it jumped to 70 percent.
That means all of a sudden, most of the revenue flowing to these companies went dark which raises the question, why these buyers want to hide and whether they have foreign links that pose legal or even national security risk to the Trump administration. Joining me now is the Reporter who broke this story Nick Penzenstadler as well as William Cohan, a Special Correspondent for the Vanity Fair and the AUthor of Why Wall Street Matters. Nick, you have quite a story here and quite a top line takeaway. Why does it matter?
NICK PENZENSTADLER, REPORTER, USA TODAY: Well, I think the important thing is what we don't know. We don't know who a lot of these buyers are and who's the actual beneficial owner they that behind the LLC. We don't know who's putting the money into these companies.
MELBER: And yet you discovered that all of a sudden, a lot of people wanted to be secret. Why would they want that?
PENZENSTADLER: Well, we did reach a lot of these people and we were able to talk to them and asked them that question and a few of them have really a legitimate reasons. They said, you know, my financial adviser says this is the routine way to buy this luxury real estate and I should you know, go through an LLC, other people, either they're doctors, lawyers, people who didn't really want their names to be associated with the Trump brand or didn't want people to know where they live. And then there were some people who we could not reach and we don't know why they wanted to go with an LLL instead of putting their name on something.
MELBER: Yes, and William, there's nothing legal or security oriented about someone saying, you know, I really want live in a building linked to Trump. I don't want any of my friends to know about it. I guess sort of if you live there, some people are going to know about it. But that's not why this is a big story. It's a big story because this is a President who broken with president and insisted on doing these business deals but claim to be no more foreign deals and claimed there'll be no foreign government money. This makes it harder to determine doesn't it?
WILLIAM COHAN, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR: Oh, that's why it makes this story so interesting because we don't who know is behind buying -- we don't know in many cases who's behind buying these condos that he's selling. Look, he said he's not going to divest himself on these businesses. He's going to put it into -- I'm not going to put it into a blind trust. He's going to continue to run his business through his children. They're going there in the business of selling these properties off. They got a lot of condos. They're obviously trying to sell them.
If I were buying one of these things, I wouldn't want anybody to know I was buying it either. I wouldn't want anything to do with the Trump name. And just like the buildings on the West Side Highway here in Manhattan that people took Trump name off so that they could live in there hassle-free. I think that this makes total sense. But it does raises the question if you're foreign buyer, if it's somebody trying to buy influence without letting anybody know.
MELBER: Yes, I mean, and look, we're a long ways from where we started, Nick which is the whole point of the Trump brand was that a lot of different kinds of people thought there was a premium and they wanted to brag that they were on Trump property. Let me play for you though the famous press conference where Donald Trump did talk about all this and explain how they were going on prevent any kinds of problems.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don and Eric are going to be running the company. They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They're not going to discuss it with me.
SHERI DILLON, TAX COUNSEL, TRUMP ORG.: New domestic deals will be allowed but they will go through a vigorous vetting process. New deals must be vetted with the ethics adviser.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is actually exactly one year ago tomorrow. Does your reporting suggest that that's happening that there is vigorous vetting process to avoid the foreign entanglements, et cetera?
PENZENSTADLER: Well, it kind of depends on who you ask. I mean, we did an interview Bobby Richfield and more recently (INAUDIBLE) a little bit more about what goes into those reviews. He told us about those and I mean, it was basically, will this embarrass the President? Is this someone who's trying to curry favor with the President? But the ultimate test is has he turned anybody down? Has the Trump Organization done a review and say no, this isn't appropriate buyer and we're not going to do this deal. And we don't know that answer.
MELBER: Do they -- do they -- but isn't that something they'd want to prove to you if they could?
PENZENSTADLER: Yes, I mean, presumably, that would be something they could tell us but obviously, you know, their response is that it's a private business deal and they're not under obligation to tell us.
MELBER: Yes, I mean, again, William, it gets to knowing at a certain point right? It's like, yes, OK, you're not obligated but you were elected. You held your big fancy press conference and claimed were going to deal with this in a serious way. And there is -- there is a bit of a kind of a whiff of arrogance about the lack of compliance.
COHAN: Well, and it's a question of are you going to act ethically or not? Are you going to act in the right way or not? And part of acting in the right way, you may have an ethics lawyer to show that you're trying to act in the right way, but if you're not disclosing who some of these buyers are and if they're foreign buyers trying to buy influence, then you're not acting ethically and probably not legally either. And so they should air on the side of disclosing more rather than less especially with this President.
MELBER: Well, Nick, it's a fantastic story and you know, on THE BEAT sometimes we understand the world through music and culture. It's not only that people loved to say they were staying at Trump properties, that that was some certain part of the country or only certain people or even political Trump supporters. I don't know how much they played Jay-Z at USA Today but you know, he famously said, blast for me, I'm at the Trump International. Ask for me. Because a lot of people were proud about it. I don't know that he or some of these other folks who used to love Donald Trump's bands looks like from the buying data you found are as proud. But Nick, again, an interesting story. William, thanks for being here as always.
Next, we are as I mentioned exactly a year from the publication of the dossier, and new political firestorm is breaking tonight that journalist who first decided to publish it, BuzzFeed's Ben Smith is here on our big show tonight on THE BEAT. And what about Trump going under oath? Well, I also have later an exclusive interview with the lawyer who called he called "disgusting" while she was deposing him. And what is going on right here? Take a look. Barack Obama, brand new, David Letterman, we're going to show you dads who dance.
MELBER: The infamous Trump-Russia Dossier is back in the news at a whole new level right now. Democrat Dianne Feinstein defied Republicans in order to release key testimony about it. And the move comes exactly one year after the news Web site BuzzFeed made the controversial decision to be the first outlet to publish it. Right here, the man who stuck his neck out with that controversial decision BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith is going to join me in a moment. As for the latest, well, the man who runs the firm behind the dossier is telling Congress the FBI believed the dossier matched the agency's own intelligence gathered from inside the Trump Organization.
That's a big claim. It means they're saying people in Trumpland were doing things that at least made some of the dossier look credible. Also tonight, news that Trump's personal lawyer who's accused on the dossier issuing that firm and BuzzFeed. As for the Editor-in-Chief, Ben Smith, he's responding in the New York Times saying that the publishing -- the publishing of the dossier helped Americans understand the actions of their elected representatives. Ben Smith is here now. Does all of this prove you right or mean you should have waited until this other confirmation emerged?
BEN SMITH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: I mean, I think that we felt confident at the time you know, for reasons that were true at that time that it was the right thing to publish this document. You know, the President of the United States had been briefed on this. The President-Elect had been briefed on it. The senior most members of Congress were engaged in this very high level of tug-of-war of the FBI over it. And so, it was obviously a document of massive public importance at the time. I think, you know, you look a year later and everything you just said to your audience would have been totally incomprehensible if you hadn't seen the dossier. That Diane Feinstein is interrogating --
MELBER: Actually the story is still a little confusing.
SMITH: It's still hard to understand. But you know, you have a story about Grassley and Feinstein, you know, battling over testimony from someone who, it's impossible to understand why that person is important without the dossier. I mean, this -- the -- both the allegations made in the dossier, some of which are borne out, some of which are not corroborated and the high stakes political battle over the dossier. It was impossible to imagine in January, that that was last January, that that was something that was a minor -- that you know, that was going to go away. The Russian investigation obviously has obviously not going away.
MELBER: If you had the same type of material, some of it very much uncorroborated about Barack Obama, would you have published it?
SMITH: In the same situation, absolutely.
MELBER: Take a listen to Donald Trump, a year -- basically almost a year ago, because it's tomorrow, a year ago tomorrow. You guys published this a year ago, and the next day you have the President responding like this.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies, who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies. A thing like that should have never been written, it should never been had and it should certainly never have been released. It's all fake news. It's phony stuff. It didn't happen.
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MELBER: Walk us through what that was like in your newsroom, the day before, the day of the President, and how do you know for viewers at home who look at someone like you and they think, wow, you have a lot of power. You made that decision. How did you reach that decision and know that hopefully, you made the right decision?
SMITH: I mean, I guess that we think of ourselves and I think, you know, we are a new institution that grew both out of the kind of traditional principal journalism values that a lot of us come from and really out of this new age where you have a very direct connection with your audience. And I think we felt a very strong obligation to our audience to let them in on this essentially secret that everyone in Washington knew about that was affecting the actions of people that they were observing without really understanding what was happening behind the scene.
MELBER: Well, then that's interesting because you're kind of referring to something that journalist sometimes talking to each about but is not something that's easy to talk about in public. Which is you're saying there's smacks of a little bit leadism that insiders get to look at all these primary material and the public, you're saying is sort of they don't get to feel? Is that what you think?
SMITH: It's a great tradition of journalism from the era when the only way you could distribute news was if you had a printing press or a broadcast pipe. And that was the only makes the people to get information. In that world, you have to -- you know, there's an argument for keeping things from your audience. I'm not sure it's a good argument but it is the tradition. I think you know, both in this -- in a world where you know, for better or for worse, the gatekeepers can no longer maintain these gates. That you have -- you have a different relationship if you have to have a more transparent one. That's a -- this was also a really extraordinary situation in which I think other institution should have made the same decision in which (INAUDIBLE) have been debriefed to the President but the President-Elect. Like that's not -- that's not something that --
MELBER: Right, that shows -- that shows that some other verification had gone on. You write in your new piece that the dossier noted that there was an attempt by Russia to get dirt on Hillary Clinton and that was submitted just 11 days after we now know a Russian lawyer promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. What does that mean to you?
SMITH: There -- you know, there are -- there are a handful of elements that have been confirmed. There were also really notably some stuff in the dossier that concealed payments to Paul Manafort who has, you know, since been indicted, I'm not sure exactly for that. But some of those payments have come out.
SMITH: And broadly as you know, former CIA Analyst John Sipher recently, the -- you know, it was -- it is now obvious and widely, you know, assumed that Russia conducted a campaign to influence the 2016 election. When he was writing this in the summer of 2016, that was news. And a lot of what you read -- some of the broad characterizations you read now of the Russian plan now feel obvious but at the time, you know, he obviously had real insight.
MELBER: Yes, it was news although it sounded like novel. Now we have history being written that's more interesting than a lot of novels. Ben Smith, thanks for letting us into your thinking.
SMITH: Yes, thank you for having me out, Ari.
MELBER: I appreciate it. Donald Trump now seems to be backtracking from those promises to speak to Bob Mueller but what would an interview with a lawyer look like when he's under oath. As promised, I'm very excited to say we have a lawyer on the show next to actually question Trump twice under oath.
MELBER: -- investigators question Donald Trump on the Russia probe, Trump will be facing someone who is very familiar with investigations but so is he. In fact, USA Today reports Trump has been involved in over 4,000 of them. And for a tiny fraction of those, it gotten to the point where Trump himself has deposed under oath, sometimes displaying a very different side from his public persona.
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TRUMP: I don't have my glasses. I mean, I am at a disadvantage because I didn't bring my glasses. This is such a small writing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Well, if the witness can't actually physically read the language --
TRUMP: I mean, it's very small writing. I can make it out. Do you want me to try?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: In other depositions, Trump reportedly has also been fiery and aggressive. What we don't know is what potentially he would do showing up to a Bob Mueller interview? Which Trump would we see? What strategies could he use? And out of this tiny group of lawyers in the whole country who have questioned Trump under oath. Joining me is Attorney Elizabeth Lee Beck, one of the few lawyers in the nation who has personally deposed Donald Trump. Thanks for being here.
ELIZABETH LEE BECK, ATTORNEY: Thanks for having me. Thanks for making the time.
MELBER: What did you learn about Donald Trump out of the public spotlight when you deposed him?
BECK: Having deposed him twice and crossed examined him in a trial, in front of a jury, each time he behaved very, very drastically different.
MELBER: Let's walk through the depositions. There was one in 2011 where he said to you about your questions as an Attorney with obviously a professional role to play, he said, he thought your questions were stupid. I think you're asking very stupid question and then he said at one point, do you even know what you're doing? Let's go. Ask the questions.
BECK: Correct. I remember that deposition very well. The deposition culminated right before lunch break with him storming out of there. He threw a fit. He basically threw a fit and he stormed out of there. I can tell you, I watched people react to him. OK. And they're very, very easily intimidated. I saw lawyers who were unable to ask a question. They got a frog in their throat. They couldn't talk.
MELBER: You're saying that the way he'd lash out at people in a sense worked?
BECK: Oh, it absolutely works. I can tell you though -- I can tell you this, I can tell you that to the extent that you think he's like this all the time, he's not, and then when you're ready, we can talk about the other instances --
MELBER: Yes, so tell me about how he changed in the later deposition.
BECK: Well, the second deposition he was -- he was completely and utterly docile.
MELBER: What do you account for that? Do you think that he's a multi- dimensional person or do you think that he was just trying different strategies?
BECK: I couldn't tell you, but I do know that if he lashed out at people, I can see -- I can --based on my observations from watching people interact with him in the room, I can completely see, yes, even lawyers turn into a puddle.
MELBER: Wow. I mean, that -- and that's so fascinating because we see him in so many other contexts where there are not actual rules, a deposition has rules and those individuals are there but you're saying the brash style can work.
MELBER: Here he was when this all did become public speaking about you in an interview and attacking you. Take a listen.
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TRUMP: She's a terrible attorney. She lost her case to me. In fact, I won legal fees. She's got a terrible reputation in my opinion. She's got a terrible reputation. Other lawyers have called me up and said how bad she was. I beat her so badly. She's a vicious, horrible person.
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MELBER: The case reached a settlement. Is what he said there in that clip accurate?
BECK: What do you think? No.
MELBER: What do I think?
BECK: Do you think I'm a horrible person? Do you think I'm a horrible person?
MELBER: Well, I'm meeting you over the T.V. today. I don't know.
BECK: No. Look, look, you have to understand that when the New York Times contacted me because they combed through the deposition transcript and they wanted to talk about the lawsuit, I didn't run away and hide under the covers like a lot of lawyers do. They don't talk -- they won't talk about it. I talk about everything, OK? You can talk to me about my cat, I'll talk about my cat. But the point was --
MELBER: What's your cat's name?
BECK: It's sugar.
MELBER: Nice. OK. That's a beautiful name for a cat.
BECK: I know. We got him as a kitten. He's really sweet. He's like Spiderman, he climbs. Anyway, sorry --
MELBER: Don't be sorry. I mean you said -- this is what I do. I ask questions. You mentioned the cat, I asked the question. Let me ask you another question which is the President right now has lawyers negotiating if and how he might testify before Bob Mueller's Russia probe. As one of the few lawyers who has questioned him, what did you learn about his responses that you think could be relevant to the way those investigators question him?
BECK: I can tell you that under questioning if he's not pitching a fit, he actually answers questions very directly.
MELBER: I guess one question to end on then is do you think this is a person who has a firm grasp on the difference between exaggeration, puffery, truth, and lies and thus maybe misleads less under an oath setting than other settings because he knows there are consequences?
BECK: I don't -- I don't -- I don't necessarily know if he answers questions differently under oath than in other settings.
MELBER: Well, I'll tell you what --
BECK: I've only questioned him under oath. I've only questioned him under oath.
MELBER: Well, look --
BECK: But I can tell you this --
BECK: When he's not under oath, he's nicer.
MELBER: Interesting. Well, you've been in the room with him and that's why we wanted to hear from you. And I appreciate the care and precision you took in all of your answers here, which we would expect. Elizabeth Beck, thank you for your time.
BECK: Thank you.
MELBER: And our thanks to Sugar as well. Up ahead, he is back. Barack Obama with David Letterman and why you need to stay in the pocket. That might make more sense after the break.
MELBER: Did Barack Obama telling Letterman about the dad dance in his new show?
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BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Joe has my dancing but I have dad moves. And I think the key is what -- is what we call staying in the pocket. \
DAVID LETTERMAN, NBC HOST: Stay in the pocket?
OBAMA: So you guys stay in the pocket because I think everybody here tonight knows, dads who get out of the pocket and they're trying stuff that they can't really get off and you know, they start doing like karate kick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And who can forget Obama dancing on Ellen. Oh, he knows what he's doing. I also want to share a little family news here at MSNBC. Chris Hayes just posted this photo on Instagram with his new baby. Our hearty congratulations to the entire Hayes family.
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