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Trump tells reporters, "I'm not a racist" Transcript 1/15/18 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Amy Dubois Barnett; Rich Benjamin; Bill Kristol; James Peterson; Paul Butler; Joyce Vance, Neera Tanden, Kurt Bardella

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 15, 2018 Guest: Amy Dubois Barnett; Rich Benjamin; Bill Kristol; James Peterson; Paul Butler; Joyce Vance, Neera Tanden, Kurt Bardella

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I don`t use either. I think that`s just signing up for surveillance, right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it is. I mean, it just seems completely wacky and crazy to me.

MELBER: But new things always in crazy at first. Thank you, Katy Tur.

I wish you good evning here on the "the Beat." It is Martin Luther King Day and the President says he is not a racist.

Our lead story is not about that unusual statement on its own, but about the widening fallout for the President`s attack on those countries and how the number two Democrat in the senate Dick Durbin is now suggesting the President is lying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I know what happened. I stand behind every word that I said. What the President said in that meeting was so awful and so impactful on so many people that when he denied saying it I felt duty-bound to clarify what actually happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The bottom line here, a President who prides himself on never apologizing has found himself in so much trouble over these comments, including a cartoon depicting him stuck in his own hole there on the cover of "the New Yorker" magazine, that the White House and Republicans have settled on the next best tactic after apologizing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying the President did not use the word that has been so widely reported?

SEN. DAVID PERDUE (R), GEORGIA: I`m telling you he did not use that word, George. And I`m telling you it is gross misrepresentation.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: I didn`t hear that word either. I certainly didn`t hear what senator Durbin has said repeatedly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Note that of course "I didn`t hear" is not a full denial. It is more of a perception dodge.

Another Republican at the meeting Lindsey Graham rebutting that denial defense today. This is new. He says, my memory hasn`t evolve. I know what was said. I know what I said. This coming after another Republican confirmed the media reports that the meeting and the use of the term "s- hole" was all quote "basically accurate."

So that`s the backdrop for Donald Trump`s claim that he is the least racist person on the public stage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say to all the people who think you are a racist?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no, I`m not a racist. I am the least-racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m joined by political analyst Rich Benjamin, author of the book "Whitopia," James Peterson, host of the ReMix podcast under the WHYY, Bill Kristol, editor-at-large for "the Weekly Standard" and Amy Dubois Barnett, chief content officer for thegrio.com.

I will start with Professor Peterson. Your view of what to make of all of this tonight here on this Martin Luther King celebration day.

JAMES PETERSON, HOST, REMIX, WHYY: Well, obviously, Ari, it`s quite side that we are having this conversation about the leader of the free world on this day, a day committed to one of the greatest Americans who committed his life to anti-black racism and ending global poverty. So I think that in of itself is a shame.

But the back and forth that has been going, the denials and dodges just don`t make any sense. This is widely reported. The White House didn`t initially even originally deny it. There`s reports now that Trump brags some of his friends via phone about having made this claim and having - want this sort of stop the base through this language.

But let`s look at the policy too, Ari. Look at this administration`s policy. Look at the Muslim ban, look at the wall, look at the rhetoric, look at the claims after Charlottesville. Just look at the policy of the administration to understand how race operates in terms of what Trump does inasmuch as what he says.

MELBER: Right. And to your point, there is a report about the bragging here, basically, here you see Eric Erickson, I spoke to one of that`s friends of Trump allegedly called. The President thought this would quote "play well with the base."

Bill Kristol, you are a card-carrying Republican who served in administrations. Your view of that, a very sad part of the analysis.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It is sad, it might play well with some of his base, I suppose, but I think he is rationalizing something he did say, I`m quite certain.

Look. I think he is who he is, you know. Some of us think he shouldn`t be President. We still think he should be and there he is, he`s President. The best thing I think all this can do other elected officials, honestly, is to pass a compromise that legalizes the Dreamers in return for border security, even a quote "wall" if you want to call it that. That is the simplest thing to do. It would be the right thing to do. People are being deported now in ways that I think are shocking to lots of Americans, the dreamers, the hero, (INAUDIBLE).

There`s a 70 percent (INAUDIBLE) agreement that they should be legalize and be put on a path to citizenship. It makes a sense to tighten border enforcement, border security in some. So it is not provide in the Senate for more illegals to come in until we sort out the broader immigration issue just do a simple deal. And I think this is something, don`t negotiate with Trump.

These are people are elected officials, Democrat and Republican senators, Democratic and Republican members of Congress. They can get to it an 18 votes in the House and 16 in the Senate I would say for a very simple deal. Pass it, pass it and pass it now. That would be the single best thing I think for the country because I think would go part of the way, not all the way, but part of the way towards Lansing the boil at that`s really been created here by what the President did.

MELBER: Amy, as we basically try to fold this sad conversation about the President`s leadership and lack thereof with some of our reporting and reflecting on Martin Luther King day, which is why it`s a federal holiday which is why it is a time to reflect. Of course, we know that the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was a religious leader, was a church leader, was someone who spoke from the pulpit in that way.

And it is with that context, though, I think about another piece of news I want to share tonight which is a Maryland TV station, this is WUSA reporting that vice president Pence was at a church service yesterday morning. And the pastor there made a point to say, I don`t think this is left, right, political, but a point about what in their view was a religious point, that it was dehumanizing the way the President spoke about these people. And quote "the vice president then reportedly became visibly red-faced throughout the speech.

Your analysis tonight, Amy?

AMY DUBOIS BARNETT, CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER, THEGRIO.COM: You know, we have a white supremacist in the White House. We have a neo-Nazi in the White House. So is it dehumanizing the way he speaks about black and brown people? Absolutely. But that is a hallmark of the underscoring philosophy of Nazism. So this is a President who believes that people have various genetic capabilities. And he is a person who believes that white people are inherently superior to brown people. He said it multiple times. He has talked about his own German heritage.

MELBER: So Amy, speak to that because as you say that and you use the terminology, the lexicon, that there is some sort of, in the President`s mind, genetic path to what he would call greatness, speak to how that goes to him trying to turn that into some sort of, I would say, very half-baked, not-thought-through policy, because he is literally tweeting about what he calls merit versus lottery about his notion of - and he hasn`t done the research. I mean, he hasn`t work on it. I think that is fair. I can report that as a journalists is a factual man. But walk us through what he has then, in your view, trying to do with that genetic view.

BARNETT: Well, it`s terrifying, because what we are seeing right now is the actualization of his view. So this is a person who has the power to create policy that reflects his, his racism, that reflects his white supremacy. So yes, everything that we`re seeing right now as it relates to his hardline stance on immigration, which is really a hardline stance on the wall. And everything that we have seen so far about his, his inability to appreciate the positive impact that people of color have on this country in general

All of this is a reflection of these policies. So we are now in a position where he is going to continue to push for a border wall. He`s going to continue to push for, you know, a tougher immigration stance or a merit- based immigration stance that`s going to favor people from, you know, white countries. He is going to -- predominantly white countries - he is going to dismiss the concerns of 800,000 people who are going to be affected by DACA. I mean, DACA for him is a negotiating chip. But had nothing to do - - he doesn`t care about the moral implications of it. He only cares about is DACA is a negotiating chip. So we are going so see him put in place policies that reflect his core white supremacist (INAUDIBLE) that have been passed down to him from his KKK family, his KKK father who we know was arrested at a KKK brawl in the 1920s and `30s.

MELBER: Well, and I have to say, you know, they would put that quite differently and they have been denying that he is a racist.

And Rich Benjamin, I turn to you because you have really, before the Trump era, done some really deep reporting on this. And one of the complaints and concerns from other parts of the country, and there are parts of the country that have more and less geographic diversity, which doesn`t make them more or less interesting places necessarily. It is just where people live. You wrote a book called "Whitopia" where you spent time in those communities talking to those people. And one of the things I was struck by in our past conversation is how you pointed out how many great people you found, even in places that were getting quote-unquote "whiter or less diverse." And then you also found other things. Walk us through that prism that you had because that was pre-Trump election.

RICH BENJAMIN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, Ari, pre-Trump election. I did a two-year, 27,000 mile journey through widest parts of this country. And it really was a prelude to the issues that Trump would use how he uses race as a proxy for immigration, for so-called voter fraud, as a pretext to repeal public services like ACA.

And so you can have this dynamic where you have perfectly nice people, but you had a broiling resentment that also has to do with demographic and white panic that Trump really saw and he has maximized.

MELBER: And what do they hear when the President says quote "I`m not a racist?" What do you think people are taking from that?

BENJAMIN: They personalize it. He must not be a racist because we see what`s in his heart. But as your other panelists were saying, racism is about power. Now that he has the means and the will to institute these policies, whether we are talking about a wall, whether we are talking about the DACA, that we are talking about voter suppression, that`s the real crux of the matter.

Personally, I don`t really care what`s in Donald Trump`s heart, I don`t care about the statement he made today. The question becomes we have a man in power who can give a green light to people who otherwise might not be racist to have these views. And when we really look at king`s words, when we look at a letter from a Birmingham jail, he really took to task moderates and said its one thing for obvious racists. We can dismiss them. But the rubber hits the road when moderates do not stick up for racist viewpoints and what we could achieve in this country, like a beloved community.

MELBER: Well, that`s a perfect slingshot to the last question to Bill Kristol, who is a political moderate within the Republican party, but not a moderate in the historical sense of the term as offered in the letter, because you, early and often decided to maybe a partisan break over what you said was unacceptable about Donald Trump and Trumpism.

Where do you see this going, given that there is no real end game, there is more than likely the four years or three years now. Where do we go and what`s your final haute he thought here tonight is this.

KRISTOL: We are not a dictatorship. We have a Congress. Congress can legislate if Donald Trump was to try to beat us, they can overwrite to beat us. So I don`t think - I don`t agree with everything your panelist has said, and there has been analysis perhaps of Trump or certainly of the country, but that is not the point. The point is people shouldn`t despair. They should put pressure on their members of Congress to do the right thing, regardless of what President Trump wants.

MELBER: Bill Kristol, Rich Benjamin, and Amy Dubois Barnett, thank you all.

James Peterson, stay with me, I have another question for you.

Coming up. How did past presidents in both parties observe Martin Luther King Day tonight. And how is Donald Trump violating that president?

Also, we have a look at Donald Trump`s language. This is my take on why social conservatives are now accepting vulgarities being used to criticize anywhere they could find them.

Also new reporting on a story we broke for you Friday night along with some reporters who did the digging. These NDAs, these gag orders on women who had contact with Donald Trump.

And later, what the Russian investigators want to know that Steve Bannon already knows. He testifies tomorrow.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Now we turn to a report on Donald Trump`s comments being a flash point on this MLK day. They are bigger than Donald Trump. There is a larger transformation and it is post-Bush, anti-Obama backlash with race at the center, a transformation where we think Donald Trump isn`t just doing all of this and riling everybody up. He is also building on things. He is a symptom.

Consider in 2006, give credit where it`s due. It was a Republican President at the time, George W. Bush who signed the reauthorization of the voting rights act, the sign that parties could still come together on civil rights. But by the Barack Obama era, Republicans in Congress were now fighting that same bill when it needed an adjustment after a Supreme Court ruling. It was also Bush who held that prime time address to the nation that among other things called for, yes, remember it? A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Consider that on MLK day Presidents in both parties have traditionally taken action to mark it. President Reagan who did initially oppose the creation of this holiday, important to remember, but he did sign a law under pressure and the first MLK day was in 1986.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And on this day, the United States of America celebrates for the very first time, a federal holiday honoring Dr. King today, January 20th, 1986.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And more incremental credit where it might be due, then vice President George H. W. Bush was standing with at the Ebony (ph) and Baptist church with archbishop Desmond Tutu another way to mark today.

We have seen president after president stand in front of the nation and at least make an effort to reflect in different ways on Dr. King`s legacy. They have addressed the role of King`s message and how it plays around the world. President Obama went beyond delivering a speech and did service, words into action. You can see it right there.

Compare all of that in those different ways to what we see today, Donald Trump`s first MLK day. He tweeted out a link of his weekly radio address about the legacy. And then he went golfing.

So perhaps we will reflect on Dr. King`s words, not our own. It may well be that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition is not the glaring noisiness of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. There`s been a lot of silence to consider.

Neera Tanden, senior adviser to President Obama as well as Hillary Clinton, Paul Butler, a law professor at George, the author of "chokehold, policing black men", nominated for a NAACP image award and professor James Peterson back with me.

Neera, I begin with you. Your thoughts on the collage I just showed which doesn`t suggest everyone did the same things or at the same policies but did reflect a lot of presence in both parties. Even Reagan under pressure, ultimately found a way to try to mark this holiday when it existed. It doesn`t appear that is happening much today.

NEERA TANDEN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: No. I mean obviously, it`s extraordinary that you have a President who plays golf on Martin Luther King Day instead of doing really anything, any kind of act or statement, other than a tweet. But obviously, I don`t think we can separate that President`s actions today and his actions last week and his basically racist statements he made. And you know, just the entire administration, which started with the Muslim ban and then went through to Charlottesville and attacking NFL players through obviously last week.

And so I think that the reality is that there has been a consensus. Obviously, the parties have not been equal, but there has been some consensus that we cannot just openly flame racial hostilities in our country. There have obviously been dog whistles, et cetera, but that has been broken by a president who feels perfectly comfortable basically pitting American against American.

MELBER: Yes. I mean, professor Peterson, I think Neera puts it very well and very bluntly, because you have the use of what was out-of-bounds, straight up at the fits, straight up attacks, straight-up vulgarity, straight-up demeaning. Here was Ronald Reagan talking about why that kind of language should be avoided.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If someone, even a friend uses an ugly word referring to another`s race or religion, let`s make it clear we won`t put up with it. Racial, ethnic or religious slurs are vulgar, mean-spirited and there is no place for them in a democratic and free America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: James?

PETERSON: Stunning that we would use Ronald Reagan here to put into bold relief the racism of Donald Trump given former president Reagan`s track record in just how he campaigned and the different sort of tax receipt -- incredible that he can put the racism of this President, but it`s time to conclude that in addition to Donald Trump as sort of administrative leader undermining and degrading the various institutions of the presidency, undermining and degrading the department of justice, department of education, the EPA, all these different ways in which they sort of subverted and reversed progressive policies and institutions he is now also I think responsible for actually downgrading the office of the presidency itself. The Montage that you show at the beginning, Ari, puts that in to bold relief. It reveals for us the ways in which right now on MLK Day, we can look at this presidency and understand very specifically how Donald Trump has degraded the office of the presidency of the United States of America.

PAUL BUTLER, AUTHOR, CHOKEHOLD, POLICING BLACK MEN: Ari, I usually agree with my friends, James and Neera. But I think you guys give way too much credit to ordinary Republicans.

Donald Trump is a difference in degree, but not a difference in kind. Again, President Reagan, he didn`t say the n-word, but he talked big- strapping bucks. So everybody knew what he meant. The reasons that Republicans from Trump on down make all these race-based appeals is because it works. For the majority of white people, no president -- Democratic president has gotten the majority of the white vote since Lyndon Baines Johnson, back in the 1960s, so we can, you know, bemoan all of these race- based appeals, but at the end of the day, for a good 50 percent of white folks, that`s a winning strategy.

MELBER: Neera?

TANDEN: I guess I would just say that I totally take the point that Reagan`s use of the term welfare queen and other language was coded and terrible and demeaning. But I think there is actually a difference between feeling that there`s a need to use code words and not using any code words at all. I mean, I do think the fact that Donald Trump is open in his language, that he basically, you know, he called people from these, he called these countries s-hole and described people from those countries in these terms, that happened, has an incredible impact on people from those countries and for people of color generally.

And so I am not by any stretch of the imagination say Republicans don`t own this. Obviously, they do. And the fact that Republican after Republican took to the air waves yesterday to basically make excuse or perhaps lie on the behalf of the President is a sign of how, just how like the (INAUDIBLE) that has happened to the Republican Party.

BUTLER: Yes. But Paul Ryan is one of those people who will come out against Donald Trump`s most extreme and racist points of views. But at the same time, he is up there cheerleading when the most conservative Supreme Court justice, Gorsuch, is appointed way to the right, even of justice Scalia. He is cheerleading in this plunder, this theft disguised as a tax bill, this wealth transfer from the poor to the rich. So again, I don`t know if it makes --

MELBER: Let me push you on that and say, certainly, there is a big difference between a federal appeals court judge who had been previously supported by people in both parties who rules in a certain way or a tax bill as sort of ideology. And I think what Neera`s getting at, which is the rank, direct, blaring racism or name-calling that is different than a policy debate.

BUTLER: Well, again, if you`re doing what Paul Ryan is doing, which is trying to take healthcare away from poor people, who will die without that kind of assistance, again, I don`t know how different that is from Trump calling somebody a name. What the majority of Republicans are doing, frankly, is destroying the lives. You are (INAUDIBLE).

MELBER: Neera helped write Obamacare. Let me give her the final rebuttal.

TANDEN: Let me just - obviously, I think what they did on the affordable care act are trying to gut people`s healthcare is a brat (ph). I do think the idea that the President says words like this are not just deeply hurting to you and me, but, you know, Haitian-American children have to hear those words and think about whether they belong in a country like that. I think that is a special harm that the president is doing. And it is different than --.

BUTLER: All these things can be true, though.

TANDEN: Yes. All of the above.

MELBER: All the above.

Let me fit in a break. Neera, actually I want you to stay with me because there is something I want to ask you about.

Professor Peterson and former prosecutor Paul Butler, thank you both.

Ahead, there are new details about President Trump`s lawyer giving this payout arrangement to an adult film star and questions about the gag order.

And tonight, Steve Bannon, well, he may have angered Trump with all of his Russia comments, but for tomorrow for the first time, he could make him even angrier, sitting down with Russia investigators.

Also with this big show on this Saturday, we want to show you some more words from Dr. King himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. ACTIVIST: Racism is still alive in American society and much more widespread than we realize. And we must see racism for what it is. It is a myth of the superior and the inferior race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Many people hammer the President these days. The President barely goes a week without attacking the media. But here on "the Beat," we try to keep an open mind to valid press criticism. You happens live in our own show. In fact, one of our guests raised a worthwhile question about our lead story Friday night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND CONGRESSWOMAN: Only in Washington and Donald Trump`s Washington can a sex scandal with a former porn star, you know, come in first on this show over a racist rant by the President. And so --

MELBER: Well, and I`m going to let you continue it. I think you raised an important point. We debated which story to lead with, congresswoman.

EDWARDS: Yes, I imagine so. But only in Donald Trump`s Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A fair point in Donald Trump`s Washington here that the attack on African countries have potentially for wider consequences than what was a breaking report about a woman pay for her silence.

And look, we don`t know all the details about the story. I bet more is coming out. We can report the "New York Times" following up on that initial "Wall Street Journal" account that Trump arranged $130,000 hush payment. Now journalist Jacob Weisberg says that woman, Stephanie Clifford, and she performs under the name Stormy Daniels also told him about a contract with Trump and a secret deal. The White House denies this report of any relationship. Trump`s lawyer says he once again vehemently denies this allegation. More news though, breaking this week. Another adult film star who allegedly accused Trump or misconduct also allegedly agreed to a gag order. Jessica Drake, you may recall, she had gone public before the election alleging Trump directly offered to pay her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSICA DRAKE, ACCUSER OF DONALD TRUMP: When we entered the room, he grabbed each of us tightly in a hug and kiss each one of us without asking permission. Donald then asked me, what do you want? How much? After that, I received another call from either Donald or a male calling on his behalf, offering me $10,000.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You may remember some of those press conferences. Here`s what`s new tonight. Drake`s representatives first put out the statement that she signed an NDA agreement after the allegations of misconduct and thus she can`t so much as peep his name publicly. Then -- and this is unusual -- they put out another statement saying I`ve never been told directly or indirectly that Drake signed this NDA or reached any settlement in regards to any interactions with President Trump. Legally, there are gag orders that require people to even deny the existence of a gag order. For more, we turn to former Federal Prosecutor Joyce Vance and Neera Tanden joins me again. Joyce, there`s all sorts of contractual silence -- agreed upon silence in the law which doesn`t always correlate with anything wrong, although it can. Your analysis though of what we`re seeing here, which for Donald Trump, someone who has been pursued in court for the opposite, for not being willing to pay off or (INAUDIBLE) of anything. Here we`re seeing reports of what for most people as a very substantial amount of money being paid, apparently for some sort of silence.

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: These non-disclosure agreements as what they`re called are a pretty standard way of resolving a sexual harassment lawsuit. But in this case, it doesn`t look like a lawsuit or threat of a lawsuit but rather it was an effort to silence these women in at least one case on the eve of an election. Ari, they`re a little bit interesting of creature. These are contracts as you point out, and they`re state law documents, so they`re governed by the law of the state in which they`re entered into. And that raises interesting questions about what would happen if one of the parties breached them and what sort of law governs. So a lot of interesting, outstanding questions here.

MELBER: Well, before we -- I know you want to get into state law, you know, law school exam analysis. Before we even get to that, Joyce, I wonder if just in big picture, you could put it into perspective for our viewers here, on the scale of, this is totally false, I`m going to sue anyone who says it, which is what Donald Trump was saying at the time while running against Hillary Clinton and paying someone off, how close or far are those positions?

VANCE: Right, they`re really far apart, and although the President has said that none of this allegation are true, this is a large type of payout -- too large, really, for us to accept the idea that there`s not some truth or not some story here that he wants to have shelved. And in addition to that, there are, as you pointed out, some other witnesses who heard contemporaneously or who were present, who aren`t bound by the non- disclosure agreements. So ultimately, the truth here will come out one way or the other.

MELBER: And Neera, take a look at this reporting also in The Wall Street Journal about all the different -- I guess one could say creative ways things were made to go away. Tabloid owner American Media, an ally of Donald Trump paid apparently $150,000 for a story from the 1998 playmate of the year but hasn`t published her account. David Pecker there, the owner - - the close friend to Donald Trump the New Yorker did a long expose on that relationship as a-- as a grizzled veteran campaign operative who came up against this machine. What do you think we`re learning, or to put it another way, what is everyone else learning that maybe you had already had some insight into during 2016?

NEERA TANDEN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: I mean, the fact that there`s a media empire that basically seems to be paying out hush money seems to me, to be a scandal in and of itself. I guess I would say the fact that we have a President who is subject to something, whatever it is that requires him to pay or makes him make a decision to pay out $130,000. I don`t know, it seems like that should be a concern for our security forces. I mean, obviously, he`s subject to being blackmailed about something that he does not want to get out. It strikes me as, I mean, obviously we`re living in a bizarre world here every day, but the idea that the President has basically been forced or chosen to spend a lot of money to keep the silence against a variety of women seems to me like he`s making a decision that there`s information out there that would be actually so embarrassing to him he`s willing to pay money for it, which is weird.

MELBER: So Neera, let me ask you -- let me ask you this. Do you think on the -- on the four corners of the public accounts of this story, based on what we publicly know, if this were a story about then President Obama, would this be getting this amount of attention and scrutiny or more?

TANDEN: I mean, almost anything that you`d apply to Barack Obama would be incredible amounts of attention. The fact that we -- that this isn`t wall to wall to wall coverage is a product of the fact that the president has done a variety of incredibly offensive things in the last -- in the last few days. But in and of itself, I mean, the reason why it`s newsworthy is because he`s willing to pay people for silence, which is very unusual behavior by anyone, let alone the President of the United States, or even a presidential candidate just to be clear.

MELBER: Right, and I really -- right, and I really think it underscores the game (AUDIO GAP) and get away with, and as I mentioned at the top of this media partly the media or the journalistic outlet`s fault in following into it was (AUDIO GAP) sue people, which was a stance some sort of asserted innocence while actually as Joyce Vance`s analysis points out, he was essentially doing far from that. And Neera Tanden, thank you as always. Joyce one more question for you so please stick up with me after the break. Coming up, does Steve Bannon know not a lot more than he said about Russia in the famous Michael Wolff book? And later, I have a breakdown for you on why social conservatives sticking by Trump despite his vulgarity is a bigger problem than just Trump itself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: One by one, they`re talking. All the original members of the Trump White House inner circle, Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer already talking to investigators in the Russia probe. Mike Flynn of course, famously reached his plea deal, and tomorrow a previously silent man as far as the investigators are concerned will speak. Steve Bannon going to the House Intel Committee and this could go to all the question about obstruction of justice. We know Bannon has said that the firing of FBI Director Comey was a big mistake.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST, WHITE HOUSE: I don`t think there`s any -- I don`t -- I don`t think there`s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired we would not have a special counsel.

CHARLIE ROSE, AMERICAN TELEVISION JOURNALIST: Someone said to me that you described the firing of James Comey. You`re a student of history, as the biggest mistake in political history.

BANNON: That would be probably -- that probably be too bombastic even for me but maybe modern political history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Too bombastic? Well, Bannon would go on to call that Trump Tower meeting "treasonous" which isn`t even legally true. And after that all came out in Michael Wolff`s book, downplay -- he try to downplay the comment but it didn`t save him. Bannon and Trump have had a bitter and public falling out. Trump saying he`s betrayed. And after tomorrow, consider this count. We looked at this. The only people left in that famous picture who have not confirmed questioning by Russian investigators somewhere in one of the probes would be the VP and the President himself. Joining me now, a former colleague of Steve Bannon, Kurt Bardella, a Breitbart Spokesman and back with me, Joyce Vance, Kurt, Steve Bannon, he gives a good story.

KURT BARDELLA, FORMER SPOKESMAN, BREITBART: He sure does.

MELBER: Sometimes it`s not true and sometimes he takes it back but he does give a good story. What story do you expect him to tell tomorrow given that you know him.?

BARDELLA: I think he`ll recollect a lot of what he said in Fire and Fury which is the scene in which Donald Trump on Air Force One is writing this statement that was initially put out on behalf of Donald Trump Jr. about the Russian meeting, really being about adoption policy. Bannon was in a place to have conversations with people knowing who was in the room, what were people saying. There was a conversation he reportedly had with Hope Hicks right after that meeting with President Trump where he reams her out and says you`re going to have to lawyer up. You know how much trouble you`re in for being in that room? These are all anecdotes that investigators can use to piece together who knew what when, and when they bring this people back and asked them, Hope Hicks is reportedly testifying on Friday in front of the intelligence committee. Believe me, they`re going to use the Bannon -- the Bannon meeting tomorrow to ask hope a lot of questions.

MELBER: Joyce, at the risk of oversimplifying, you can think of witnesses like you think at the newspaper and you have the facts in the front and opinion in the back. And Steve Bannon is way more interesting with the facts he knows, as an observer and a fact witness than his opinions. When he claimed treasonous, it was -- basically that`s a legal conclusion and he was wrong about that. It`s not technically treason even if there was a crime there. Talk to us about how the investigators, particularly if he ever jumps from the House to the Mueller probe are going to focus on his role as a fact witness.

VANCE: That`s the really important distinction here because, in his testimony on the Hill, Bannon can have a little bit of a foray into opinion. They -- we don`t know why they`ve decided to call him, but they may want to know a little bit more of his story. When it comes to testifying for Mueller though, they will be focused on whether or not Bannon has personal knowledge of that. So not enough for him to draw conclusions but they`ll want to know were you in the room, what did people say, how did people respond, and those are very different inquiries. But Ari, I think it`s important for us to note that just because we don`t have any public confirmation that Bannon has spoken with someone on Mueller`s team, that doesn`t mean he has not spoken with Mueller, hasn`t been interviewed, hasn`t been in the grand jury. We know it`s illegal for federal prosecutor or members of the grand jury to disclose those kind of appearances before the grand jury, and it`s only the witness him or herself who would be at liberty to discuss it.

MELBER: Right, and Kurt, if you read Fire and Fury -- have you finished it?

BARDELLA: I have.

MELBER: I read it in part over a burger which felt right.

BARDELLA: I was going to say, a lot of red meat there.

MELBER: A lot of red meat. I didn`t read it in bed.

BARDELLA: Not really the appropriate venue for that.

MELBER: Well, the President eats his burgers in bed. I don`t know if you read that part.

BARDELLA: That`s right. He goes up at 5:30. If he`s not having dinner with someone, he`s in (INAUDIBLE) with his bed watching T.V.

MELBER: Right. And that might be a good way to chill. You know, you need to do self-care of you have a big job like the Presidency.

BARDELLA: Well, he clearly has the mental fitness if you be able to assess himself and evaluate himself and then tell all the medical professional what they should say.

MELBER: Well, look, enough of whatever this -- what do you call whatever we were just doing?

BARDELLA: Banter?

MELBER: I think you do call it banter. Just right in the middle of the interview. This is what I want to ask you. When you read Fire and Fury, you get this voice in the background and it sounds a lot like Steve Bannon because here, let me read to you. It`s got a lot of things of Steve Bannon being really smart and ahead of the curve, like him telling his colleagues in the White House this Russia story is a third tier story, but you fire Comey, it will be the biggest story in the world. Now, I believe that Steve Bannon told the author that he said that. I just don`t know if we`re fair-minded that everybody in the White House is going to agree that Steve Bannon`s account of how great he was and was right about predicting everything is actually true. How do you handicap that given your knowledge of him?

BARDELLA: You know, it was interesting. I read that book, and remember, I talked to this guy every day for the better part of two years. And I came away reading this book going, yes, that sounds just like Steve Bannon.

MELBER: Do you think he called it? Do you think he was the one who knew that Comey was a bad idea?

BARDELLA: Yes. The way that it`s described and just the vocabulary and the language and the bombastic nature of how Steve talks, that was captured very astutely by Mike Wolff. There`s no doubt that Bannon was giving him a verbatim play by play every day.

MELBER: All right, I got another question for you while you`re at it. This is just about the book. There`s a part of the book where they talk about the travel ban, by any account, was going poorly. In other words, even if you are a conservative who wants that kind of policy, it was ruled out so poorly that it was blocked by the courts immediately, it embarrassed the President, et cetera. There`s a quote in there where Bannon says this is how it should go because we want to drive liberal snowflakes to the airport and have them freak out. That sounds like him to you? Is that a real quote?

BARDELLA: That is identical to what he would say particularly -- he loves using the word snowflake. He loves the idea of liberals weak and crying and emotionally distraught and not knowing what to do with themselves. That was vintage Steve Bannon. And I have no doubt actually that Wolff got this accessed from Bannon by playing to his ego by saying, hey, you do this with me, and I`ll make you sound great, I`ll make you look smart and he fall for it.

MELBER: He loves talking about snowflakes, but his decision to talk in that book is what put him on ice.

BARDELLA: The funniest part is there`s a passage where he says, I won`t be testifying. I don`t know anything.

MELBER: Yes, right. All right, Kurt Bardella, thanks. Here`s Joyce Vance joining us in multiple segments, we appreciate it. After the break, I have a break down on the social conservatives supporting Trump despite his language and the hypocrisy it reveals. Also, I want to show you what part of THE BEAT interview with Joe Arpaio is getting the most reaction this week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: And now to my breakdown tonight. Donald Trump`s attack on migrants from African and Latin nations was not only vile, it also turns out that it reveals hypocrisy by many of his allies. That`s important because all of this turns out to be much bigger than just Trump. You know, for decades there were right-wing conservatives who spent a lot of time attacking curse words and explicit language as a threat to our national values. Forget words by politicians who actually, of course, do represent the country, there were leaders like Newt Gingrich who tried to use their power to stop musicians from ever swearing. Gingrich even called on corporations to pull their ads from stations playing rap music, arguing nothing else matters if you don`t start with those values.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Some people may tell you that we should stay away from values and stay away from social issues. I`m here to tell you if you don`t start with values if you don`t start by establishing who we are as Americans, the rest of it doesn`t matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That wasn`t some side project either. Gingrich was the most powerful Republican during Clinton`s presidency. Even during Bush`s tenure, conservative media figures were beating the exact same drum. Bill O`Reilly calling for Pepsi to drop the rapper Ludacris because of swearing and the messaging of his lyrics, and Pepsi did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Bill O`Reilly, FORMER HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Because of pressure by Factor viewers, Pepsi-Cola late today capitulated. Ludacris has been fired.

Again, we congratulate Pepsi for its decision. I congratulate you, the Factor viewers for making it happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: By the Trump era though, O`Reilly had dropped that crusade. He looked pretty cozy with Trump when they were on the air. And like many Republicans, Newt Gingrich has gone on to defend Trump`s behavior and language, even defending the man who Trump dismissed over his language, Anthony Scaramucci.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: President Trump is a New Yorker. He and Scaramucci sort of speak the same language. Trump wants somebody willing to mix it up with the news media, get in the middle of the fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The list goes on. Former Governor and Pastor Mike Huckabee claiming he was very offended by the F-word as recently as 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ARKANSAS: In Iowa, you would not have people who would just throw the F-bomb and use gratuitous profanity in a professional setting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

HUCKABEE: In New York, not only do the men do it, but the women do it. As we would say in the south, that`s just trashy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Meanwhile, during the Clinton era, it was Minister Pat Robertson blasting what he called Bill Clinton`s, "sexual freedom."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT ROBERTSON, CEO, REGENT UNIVERSITY: We are watching the office that was ennobled by Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln become the playpen for the sexual freedom of the poster child of the 1960s. After all, not all our elected officials are debauched, debased and defamed, thank God for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now that is a position many people held back then, and that many people legitimately hold today. That`s fine. But apparently not Minister Robertson. He`s discovered a new religion when it comes to Donald Trump. For example, when Trump was openly bragging about unwanted sexual contact, Robertson`s response to the Access Hollywood tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Let`s face it. A guy does something 11 years ago. There`s a conversation in Hollywood where he`s trying to look like he`s macho.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And the dismissals went on from there. Or take Ralph Reed. He literally ran the group called the Christian Coalition and this was his statement. A 10-year-old tape of a private conversation ranks pretty low on his hierarchy of concerns, speaking about evangelical voters that le he leads. During the Clinton impeachment at the Christian Coalition`s road to victory conference back in 1998, he, however, advocated a personal morals test and not just for the president, but for every level of government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RALPH REED, DIRECTOR, CHRISTIAN COALITION: That character matters and the American people are hungering for that message. We care about the character of our leaders, and we will not rest until we have moral leaders at every level of government from the courthouse to the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That is one of the men defending Donald Trump`s character today, defending the way he leads, defending his words. This isn`t a story where the emperor has no clothes. The rest of the royal court has been exposed, and it`s not pretty.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Here on THE BEAT we aim to interview a wide range of guests for actual dialogue, not shouting, not demeaning people, but not softballs either. One guest was controversial. That was Joe Arpaio, the former Sheriff who is now running for Senate. He just joined me last week and he defended his record, but also seemed unaware that accepting that pardon from President Trump was an admission of guilt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: As you know, when you take a pardon, you`re admitting guilt. Why did you take that pardon and admit guilt?

JOE ARPAIO, FORMER MARICOPA COUNTY SHERRIFF: I didn`t admit guilt. I said I was not guilty and I say it today.

MELBER: But you accepted the pardon. And you know under the law that is an admission of guilt.

ARPAIO: No, I don`t know about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We thought it was a point worth making, and many of you did as well. The interview has now been viewed roughly two million times online. On Facebook, Elizabeth Flowers told us hey, if you`ve been tough on crime for 58years and never had any problems, that`s the whole point.

Now what did you think of the Arpaio interview? You can let me know on Facebook and we will share some more comments.

That does it for tonight`s show. I will be back in an hour filing in for Chris Hayes. But right now it`s "Hardball."

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END

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