Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 23, 2018 Guest: Dorian Warren, Nick Akerman, Joyce Vance, Michelle Goldberg
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, MEET THE PRESS DAILY: That documentary took a twist. It was about one thing and it ended up being about elder rights. A fascinating documentary there. You can find out more about all that, of course, in NBCNews.com/MTP films. I can tell you all of them are definitely worth seeing. And we want one of you to bring home that Oscar. I hope they can give you all three, but at least one here, will you?
That`s all we have for now. We are back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily." "The Beat" with Ari Melber starts right now.
And if there`s any day to be watching Ari, it is today. Russia! Russia! Russia!
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: A lot going on. Chuck Todd, thank you as always for your coverage.
We do begin with breaking news in the Russia probe.
Tonight I can report that this Tuesday January 23rd clearly marks an inflection point in Bob Mueller`s Russia investigation. We don`t know why so many Russian stories are leaking out right now, but here`s what we do know.
Four big stories and they all interlock because each story implicate the question of whether the President has obstructed justice and whether President Trump is still trying to obstruct justice in an ongoing way.
First, Bob Mueller just interviewed Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, we know this because Sessions` team is confirming it to the "New York Times."
Second, Bob Mueller has completed his interview of Jim Comey, the former FBI director, we know that because the Comey interview then leaked to the same times reporter. That`s not all. The times report that the interview focused on Trump and the alleged request to drop the investigation of mike Flynn, a key topic because Trump went on to fire Comey and Flynn went on plead guilty anyway and cooperate fully with Bob Mueller. So those are two big stories right now about Mueller working his way up the org chart in this probe.
Of all the interviews today, tonight`s news on Jeff Sessions in the first report of a Trump cabinet official getting grilled. The interviews important, but none of this means that anyone did anything wrong. Mueller could interview Jeff Sessions and clear him and the Trump administration for any wrong doing.
Now the third story I have for you right now is different. A report that even after Trump fired Jim Comey, Trump then kept trying to do a partisan purge and clean house at the FBI that was so extreme, his own replacement for Jim Comey, Chris Wray, reportedly threaten to resign. This news broke late last night. Here`s my colleague, Rachel Maddow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: Reporter Jonathan Swan at axios.com has just reported within the last hour, some dramatic news about the FBI. He is reporting that FBI director Chris Wray is threatening to resign from the FBI or at least has threatened to resign from the FBI because of pressure being put on him by attorney general Jeff Sessions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is huge. And that news continues to reverberate today. Donald Trump denying it On the Record.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Did Christopher Wray threaten to resign, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, he didn`t at all. He did not even a little bit. No. And he is going to do a good job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That denial by the way is directly at odds with something the White House just put out. And I have that break down later in the show.
But I have to bring you another Russia story at the top of our hour, the fourth major development breaking. Late today "the Washington Post" reporting that Bob Mueller is looking to question Donald Trump himself in person in the coming weeks about his decisions at least to oust Mike Flynn and Jim Comey.
With me to break all of this down, former Watergate prosecutor Nick Ackerman and Maya Wiley, a lawyer and former council to mayor of New York City. And I will be joined by some other specialist in a moment.
But I start with you, Nick. Four big stories, the one that has the most potential malfeasance would appear to be this highly unusual report of a new FBI director threatening to resign?
NICK ACKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: I think that`s right. I mean, again, it shows that Trump has no regard for the rule of law. That he thinks he can run the FBI. He thinks that there should not be independence between criminal investigations, the department of justice and the President of the United States, which is counter to our entire history of the President dealing with the FBI. Trump still thinks that we are living in a pre-1776 world where there is a king and not a President and a constitution and laws that constrain the President from doing precisely what he is trying to do.
MELBER: The idea that the FBI director would resign over this, for you as a lawyer but a critic of the administration, does this ranks where in what`s happened in the last year plus?
ACKERMAN: I put it right up there as a 10 from one-to-ten. I mean, this is absolutely outrageous. The FBI is not a political party. Despite what Trump and his compatriots have said, the FBI investigates crimes for the department of justice.
I worked with hundreds of FBI agents, lots of investigations. We never once talked politics. The FBI is not a political organization. There are a bunch of well trained professionals that do their jobs properly. The notion that is trying to be spread that somehow they are favoring one side or the other for politics is absolute nonsense. And if Christopher Wray didn`t stand up to the President, you would have such a demoralized FBI. And I say three cheers for Christopher Wray for sticking up for the bureau.
MELBER: Wow. I mean, I want to play also the Jeff Sessions` part of this. Donald Trump today playing down that interview and there is a lot here, Maya. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Thank you all very much. Very proud of you.
WELKER: Mr. President, are you concerned about what the attorney general told the special counsel?
TRUMP: No. I`m not at all concerned.
WELKER: Did you talk to him about it? Did you talk to the attorney?
TRUMP: No. I didn`t but I`m not at all concerned. Thank you all very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The President saying he is not concerned, Maya. And the report was that he was outraged that he couldn`t get Jeff Sessions to stay on the case. He thought his recusal was bad because he wanted Jeff Sessions to be his protector. Now put that in a context his own FBI director pushing back against what, sounds like purge.
MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNCIL TO NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Absolutely. So remember that Jeff Sessions actually had to be pushed by the career attorneys in the department of justice to recuse himself. When Jeff Sessions actually called for a special prosecutor when the Hillary Clinton email investigation was going on and then U.S. attorney general had the meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac.
So what we really have here, similar to what Nick said is that the rules don`t apply to them that they have insisted apply to the investigations that related to Hillary Clinton. And the notion that the President of the United States would insist that the department essentially protect him as opposed to protecting the country by protecting our laws and ensuring that there is compliance with our laws is absolutely outrageous.
MELBER: Stay with me for our special coverage. I also have Rod Hosko, former assistant FBI director, as well as Ned Price, former spokesman of the national security council. He resigned from the CIA when President Trump was coming into office.
Ron, your view on the FBI story?
RON HOSKO, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR: Well look, I think there are four big pieces, actually I think there`s a fifth and there is the news about the missing FBI text messages, hundreds maybe tens of thousands of them between a couple of key players. You know, I think it is troubling when the President, assuming this is true, tries to press the director of the FBI to start replacing staff. That is typically the province of the director himself. He has great latitude in promoting people from within the organization, bringing in some outsiders and you don`t see the President of the United States looking to reach inside the FBI, certainly for political purposes --
MELBER: Which is what we know was the public criticism Donald Trump`s own words, that he thought the deputy director, which is what this issue boiled down to was somehow against Trump, was a Comey ally, was a Democrat.
Listen to Christopher Wray here when he was asked about President Trump which now I think is in a new light.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has President Trump ever asked you for loyalty?
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I never been asked by the President to take any kind of loyalty oath. My loyalty is to the constitution, to the laws of this country and to the good men and people of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s what he said then. What we are learning now, according to Axios` three sources is that he was threatening to resign over the same ballpark, political loyalty pressures.
HOSKO: Yes. And I think that the workforce, again, if this is true, will be, you know, very appreciative of the fact that they have a director who is willing to back the words that, you know, of his testimony in his confirmation that if he was asked to do something inappropriate or out of bounds that he would push back or resign and maybe that`s come to pass. That is what the FBI needs, that sort of independence, frankly that`s what the country needs.
MELBER: Ned Price, this all comes amidst Jeff Sessions sitting down with Bob Mueller. Take a listen to how he was previously addressing the prospect of that interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you been interviewed or been requested to be interviewed by the special counsel either in connection with director Comey`s firing, the Russia investigation or your own contact with Russian officials?
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I would be pleased to answer that. I`m not sure I should without clearing that with the special counsel. What do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m just -- have you been interviewed by them?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Weird. But moves from a no to a yes now, confirmed by Sessions` own spokesperson, Ned. What do you read into this tells us about where the investigation is going?
NED PRICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESMAN: Well, Ari, I think it clearly suggests that Bob Mueller`s team is climbing up the totem pole. I think we all knew this was coming, both the Sessions interview and the Comey interview. It was just a matter of when.
I think the most important revelation we learned today is not that these two interviews had taken place, but the one of the focuses of Donald Trump`s interview, forthcoming interview with Bob Mueller, will be Michael Flynn. And there is a key question, Ari, that remains unanswered there and that is why did Michael Flynn lie to the FBI? We know from his statement of defense, that the Mueller team released that he was directed to have those conversations with the Russians, which raises the question, was he similarly directed to lie to the FBI on January 24th, when he sat down with them for a voluntary interview.
One quick to add a point here, Ari. Just a couple of days after Michael Flynn signed that plea agreement with the Mueller team, two sources told NBC News that Bob Mueller`s team was now investigating the possibility that Michel Flynn had been directed by President Trump to lie to the FBI which I think certainly at least raises the possibility that there could be some fire where there`s smoke here.
Nick, you have spoken to a lot about that. Put that into context.
ACKERMAN: Well, I think what it really relates to, there are three big issues that are going on here. One is Michael Flynn, the fact that he is testifying and he is revealing all to the Mueller team. That`s one piece of this, in terms of the Sessions and the Trump interviews.
Secondly, there is this whole business about sanctions because sanctions is really what Michael Flynn lied about. And he lied about sanctions relating to what occurred during the campaign, which leads me to believe that there was some kind of quid pro quo relating to sanction. And the third sort of theme that runs through all of this is the obstruction of justice.
So if you take those three things and you look at everything that`s happened in the news today, they all kind of tie together.
MELBER: You say having the news.
Maya, we have basically gone through all of this here and barely talked about a "Washington Post" report about the interview of the President of the United States by Bob Mueller and his lawyers working that process, a former longtime Trump advisor telling the Post in this new piece tonight, that he still opposes the interview, that it would be like a death wish or a suicide operation, I think he means legally, for the President.
As someone who has been a lawyer to an executive, you can`t just duck the interview, but what about this heat that we are feeling and the Post reporting that the Mueller-Trump face-off is coming?
WILEY: I think Donald Trump is doing an excellent job creating the appearance that he is the criminal in-chief. Because if you have an executive that`s saying that they did nothing wrong and that there has been a law violation, and then you balk at having a discussion with the investigator, you are essentially suggesting you have something to hide.
MELBER: Maya Wiley, Ron Hosko and Ned Price, thank you all for being part of our special coverage.
Nick, I have another question for you. Stay with me.
This is a special night of breaking coverage on "the Beat." And we have other avenues, a deeper look at Trump`s apparent attempt to purge the FBI. Is this actually something that could come up in the new obstruction case?
Later, the path to Jeff Sessions in to Trump`s inner circle. New reporting on what it means and when the how would Donald Trump testify? I have the latest on these negotiations leaking out in "the Washington Post" and why that is happening.
And a special guest and my colleague tonight, Chris Hayes is here live to break it all down.
It is special edition of "the Beat." I`m Ari Melber. We will be right back.
MELBER: Reporting on several breaking stories in the Russia probe tonight.
The one that looks worst for Donald Trump may have least intentions partly because several leaks today could overshadow it. And partly because it is a new one story about the rule of law and the FBI. That story is Donald Trump versus the FBI director, in this case, both of them.
Late today, NBC News reporting Mueller has interviewed former FBI director Comey focusing on if Trump interfered in the Flynn investigation which Comey says he documented in real-time. And those memos he kept them because he said he thought Trump might lie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting and so I thought it really important to document it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump firing Comey is at the heart of everything. It led to Mueller`s appointment. It remains under investigation. And the reason tonight`s news is this battle with two FBI directors is because of what I was just discussing before the break. Axios reporting that Trump kept meddling at the FBI even after the Comey debacle attempting another partisan purge are so over the line, his own replacement for Comey threatened to resign.
Three sources telling Axios, Trump was improperly demanding the new FBI director fire deputy director Andrew McCabe. It got so heated that Wray threatened to resign over it. And that Trump`s White House lawyer said it was not worth losing another FBI director over Trump`s desire to get McCabe fire.
This is an explosive account. It matches Donald Trump`s own public attacks on McCabe, a 22-year FBI veteran who Trump has criticized for illegal activities like being married to a Democrat. And while Trump denied today that Wray threatened to resign, the White House put out this unusual statement confirming basically aspects of this story.
It says Trump believes that FBI leadership is politically motivated including those who Comey in power and have allegedly tainted the agency`s reputation.
It is not hard to connect these dots because there are two of them. Jim Comey empowered McCabe by giving him the number two job at the FBI in 2016. Trump is saying that link to Comey makes McCabe suspect. So while the White House here is basically leaning into this report, they are attempting, according to their statement kind of trying to purge that the FBI in broad daylight and getting this resignation threat from their own FBI director and showing the President is not backing off despite this blow back.
Axios reports quote "this much meddling with the FBI for this long is not normal."
No, it`s not. Investigators are probing whether it`s even legal.
I`m joined by "the Washington Post" Devlin Barrett, reporting on a lot of the turmoil related to the story. A law professor and former legal advisor to President George W. Bush and the department of justice Jamil Jaffer and former U.S. attorney Karen Leoffler.
Devlin Barrett, having been all over this story and there being several aspects late breaking tonight, your view on the White House`s unusual statement about people that Comey empowered being political?
DEVLIN BARRETT, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it`s really an amazing situation because you have got a dynamic where they are basically denying the notion that they would, you know, engage in something too crass. And at the same time, basically confirming that the entire premise of this conflict which is that they want a bunch of people moved out of their jobs at senior positions in the FBI. It`s a very tense thing and it shows you frankly how far apart that the White House and the FBI and the DOJ are all from each other. And that in itself is a very unusual circumstance.
MELBER: Jameal, can a President appropriately remove FBI officials because of their political views?
JAMIL JAFFER, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: Well, the President certainly can remove the FBI director for any reason.
MELBER: Not what I asked you.
MELBER: Go ahead and answer the question.
JAFFER: Well, look. For the political view is absolutely now. You can`t remove people for their political views. That`s not appropriate.
MELBER: Right. And this report, which they are not fully denying, I just want to be clear because it is so important. The FBI deputy director who is appointed by the FBI director, that is the chain there, and you as a person who cares about the process and the law here, the report on its face seems to be concerning.
JAFFER: No. It`s obviously very troubling. And the concern here is, you know, the President already fired one FBI director and what we saw was the appointment of a special prosecutor that he doesn`t like. So, you know, it doesn`t make sense to continue down this road. I mean, you know, in some ways the President is his own worst enemy when it comes to these issues, you know, getting into these troubles. And so, you know, the better play here is to let Bob Mueller do his investigation. It`s going to be what it is. And the results will come out when they do.
In the meantime, the President should focus on his agenda, tax cuts, you know, regulatory reform and the like, instead of getting the middle of this back and forth which is not worth for him thus far.
MELBER: Karen, your view of this account of Chris Wray basically saying this was something he is willing to resign over.
KAREN LEOFFLER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think it is a view represent exactly what the FBI does stand for, which is - I mean, former director Comey, Mr. Wray, they are saying, you know, we stand and we take the oath of loyalty, it`s to the constitution, it`s to the country. And I think that if you are the head of an agency and you are asked to do something that`s wrong, then you have an obligation having taken the head saying, you know, I`m going to resign, because this goes over the line of what`s ethical and appropriate.
And the view of the executive and the President seems to be, I expect everybody to be part of a custom personality. And we don`t do that in this country. And I would - I mean, good for director Wray but I would expect the director of the FBI to have that type of integrity and stand up for the rule of law.
Well, it is interesting hearing widespread support for what is in this account, that he did, as you say, stand up, and that`s what he should do.
There`s so much here, I want to turn to another aspect of this story with Sessions and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein who oversees Mueller because of all the interview news tonight. Now when Sessions recused himself, Rosenstein tapped Mueller to lead the investigation. I was doing it at the time my colleague Rachel Maddow and we were discussing the fact that Rosenstein was very likely a witness to the Comey firing so he might also have to recuse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If there so -- I`m sorry to interrupt you there with my exclamation of surprise. But you are saying that if Mueller is investigating Trump for potential obstruction of justice in his firing of Comey, if Rosenstein reasonably should expected to be called as a witness for that part of the investigation, he can`t oversee the Mueller investigation at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was our point. And after that we learned that special counsel interviewed Rosenstein weeks after appointing Mueller. The question is whether that is any kind of possible conflict given that Rosenstein, as you see right there, was on the now infamous memo claiming that they were firing, Karen, they were firing Comey over his handling of the Clinton email case. Donald Trump famously eradicated that defense by saying Russia was on his mind in his Lester Holt interview.
And so, Karen, when you look at people like Sessions and Rosenstein being witnesses to some of this conduct, how do you analyze the work Mueller`s doing now that we learned he just interviewed Sessions last week and that Rosenstein has also provided this information?
LEOFFLER: Well, I mean if you are asking if there`s a potential conflict of interest, I mean there could be. I know that -- if I recall Mr. Rod Rosenstein, who of course I know because we were U.S. attorneys together, but I think he told Congress when he was interviewed that if the issue came up and let the ethics rules, if he would follow the ethics rules then I do think that it happened, I mean, could it potentially happened, yes. I don`t know that whether were there yet.
For Mr. Sessions, I mean, he was in on these meetings. And I mean, he was really required to recuse himself under the ethics rules of the department of justice. At the time that ethics rules were still an existing, when they seem to have, you know, strong ethics department, I`m sure Mr. Rosenstein was getting advice on that. I don`t know where we are right now. I mean the facts of the case could turn to that. I`m not sure where we are now. But I do know that - I do recall, if I`m right, that when he testified to Congress, Mr. Rosenstein said that he would follow those rules.
Jamil, listen to Jim Comey`s public assessment, which we now know he has given to Mueller, that`s new tonight, about why he was fired.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you believe you were fired?
COMEY: I guess I don`t know for sure. I believe -- I think the President at his word that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. It`s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation is being conducted. That is a very big deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Jamil, how does that view, that testimony, come up in the way Mueller is interviewing Comey?
JAFFER: Yes. Well, look. I mean, if Mueller`s concern that Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation, that, you know, is very problematic. And that`s clearly going to be the basis for some investigation by Mueller. We always know it is going to be the case. The President has known that going in.
And look, the President has legitimate reason to be upset and concerned with the FBI, these texts between Strzok (ph) and Page are very troubling, very political and concerning. At the same time, look. I don`t think he is getting the result he wants, right. The firing of the FBI director led to the appointment of special prosecutor. It is now on the potential obstruction analysis. That`s a problem, you know. And nobody wants that. And it is not beneficial to President`s agenda. And so, sort of getting into this middle of this whole Wray and McCabe thing. Again, not beneficial. The tweets, they are not helping move the ball down the road. And if the President`s goal is to get his agenda moving, what he had to do is stop tweeting, stop trying to get the Mueller and FBI investigation. Just let Bob Mueller who is a professional as Rob Rosenstein, as Jeff Sessions and as (INAUDIBLE) and as Andrew McCabe and let them just do their jobs.
MELBER: And Devlin, final question to you. It might be harder or easy, probably a short answer. Any idea why so much on this story is breaking right now?
BARRETT: I just think that things are heating up and I think things are intensifying. And I think an interview of Jeff Sessions shows you that they are really in the inner circle now and they are really looking hard at senior officials in government. And you know, I think it`s going to get busier. And you know, we reported tonight that, you know, they are talking about a Trump interview in a matter of weeks. I just think it is going to be an intense time here to his entire investigation.
MELBER: Yes. And I mentioned that huge report at the top of the hour. And I have more on that after the break.
Devlin Barrett, Jamil Jaffer, and Karen Leoffler, thank you each for your expertise.
Ahead, how is the White House prepping for what we just mentioned, a face- to-face sit down with Mueller which could be presented and negotiated terms next week?
Also, the first leaks about Mueller`s interview with Comey. But I want to dig deeper into why now and why does it appear that some sources are talking more this week.
Also, my friend and the host of "All In" Chris Hayes is here on an extraordinary news night live up ahead on "the Beat."
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Breaking news from The Washington Post right now. The White House bracing for Donald Trump to submit to a face-to-face grilling with Bob Mueller`s Russia probe. Topics include Jim Comey and Mike Flynn which are story lines in any potential obstruction case. The Post reporting Trump`s lawyers have negotiated terms that they have not presented to Mueller yet. So this story could be news to Mueller and it could be news to Trump himself. He said just this month an interview is unlikely.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ll see what happens. I mean, certainly, I`ll see what happens. But when they have no collusion and nobody`s found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you`d even have an interview.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A couple of thoughts. This Washington Post scoop is fascinating. It adds possible clues for why tonight all of a sudden there are leaks about big-ticket items in the Russia probe, the Sessions interview, the Comey interview, an FBI Director threatening to resign, White House denials, all of this happening. But if you pause on this as a legal and journalistic matter, if this story is a big bone for the press to chew on tonight, it also has some pretty big paw prints on it. Consider the stories based on how Trump`s attorneys have their own ideas for Trump`s interview with Mueller, ideas that could be presented to Mueller, "as soon as next week." Could be presented next week.
So these ideas, Trump`s lawyers have not presented them to Mueller yet. If that is true, this leak doesn`t sound like it comes from DOJ and The Washington Post doesn`t just announce White House legal strategies without a solid confirmation from or near the White House, which means today of all days, is the day it looks like maybe the White House wants this story out there. I`m joined now by Dorian Warren and Nick Akerman is back, two friends of the show. Dorian, this does seem to be a curious time for those sources to put this out.
DORIAN WARREN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR COMMUNITY CHANGE ACTION: It`s very curious, Ari, and it reminds me of this line from All the President`s Men, the great movie about Watergate where deep throat says to Bob Woodward, forget everything the media has created about the White House, the truth is these are not very bright guys and things got out of hand. Things got out of hand. And if you compare Nixon`s henchmen to Trump and his cronies, Trump`s lawyers know things got out of hand. In fact, if you`re a staffer right now trying to prepare him to testify before Mueller, you must be terrified because you know he`s not very detail oriented. You know, he can`t stay on script. And so there is I think probably a strategy to leak this story now in preparation of the attempts to prepare the President for what will be no doubt damaging testimony where Mueller is definitely looking intent around obstruction of justice.
MELBER: And Nick, if you want to make a good deal with Bob Mueller, you usually want to present it to him first, not have him read about it in the paper.
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Yes, and he`s presenting a deal that`s in the paper that I think is just a nonstarter. There`s no way they`re going to allow President Trump to just show up and answer a couple of questions without a court stenographer and without a videographer. I mean, they`re no way they`re going to do that without a normal grand jury process. The bottom line is they can give him a grand jury subpoena and force him to testify. Every court is going to uphold that and you don`t want this, if you`re going to make any concession, it`s going to be OK, we`ll do it in the conference room in the White House, but there`s going to be an insistence of a videographer. This is a guy who even when you have him on videotape says it didn`t happen. For example with the Access Hollywood, even though that`s him -- that`s him talking, he says, no, not me. It didn`t happen.
MELBER: You`re speaking to the part of Donald Trump that is so unusual for someone in public life, the total willingness to not just lie, but to lie about things that are clearly demonstrably proven, which is sort of insulting to any listener, although some liken it to sort of a cultive personality, that`s how you know you`re a true believer, but then also, to admit things because he`s not always lying. I think you as a Trump critique have to concede that here he was with Lester Holt in what might be the most famous presidential admissions in the television in the modern era and something that would come up in this interview. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Dorian, is that the witness that Bob Mueller could get?
WARREN: That is definitely the witness. And let`s remember, let`s put him in context of a witness. Most of his legal troubles throughout his career, he has settled with payments, he has rarely had to testify. And so I think again, his staff is very, very worried right now in terms of the preparation for him because of any possibility for perjury.
MELBER: Yes, and he`s rarely testified under oath in court in an open trial. He has done some depositions. We have one of those lawyers who interviewed him and said just like I think we`ve all come to learn, there are different Trumps. Sometimes he`s very strategic in his own interest and canny, other times he says, oh you`re investigating whether this was obstruction around Russia, by the way, this is about Russia, you do the rest. Dorian Warren, Nick Akerman, on the big stories tonight, thank you. Coming up, inside Jeff Sessions` interview with the Special Counsel`s team, what questions he might have faced last week in his forgetful issues about the Russians and where does Mueller go in here? I can`t tell you this enough. Chris Hayes live on THE BEAT on the future of the Russia probe, that`s ahead.
MELBER: Breaking news tonight about the most senior Trump official to be interviewed in the Russia probe. There`s a reason the big fish are getting their interviews now. And recently Bob Mueller used to run the FBI, so he knows how to run a criminal probe. You don`t start at the top. Mueller started with campaign aides, like George Papadopoulos and Sam Clovis. Then he moved up a little bit up the line to Sean Spicer and then to former Chief of Staff there, Reince Priebus. Mueller started from the bottom and now he`s here. With the news breaking tonight that Mueller just interviewed Sessions, and the big question is what Sessions said about Trump`s alleged FBI meddling. He`d already confirmed Jim Comey was concerned about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: He said something, expressed concern about being left alone with the President. I affirmed his concern that we should be following the proper guidelines of the Department of Justice and basically backed him up in his concerns and that he should not carry on any conversation with the President or anyone else about an investigation in a way that was not proper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was Jeff Sessions backing up part of Comey`s story. But there are more questions. What else did he tell Comey? Does Sessions face any legal liability himself? And of course, the question that always comes up when you started from the bottom, where are your real friends at? I`m joined by Michelle Goldberg, Columnist for the New York Times, and live from Alabama, our friend U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, a former Federal Prosecutor for the Northern District of Alabama. So she knows a thing or two about Jeff Sessions. Joyce, Sessions had those problems remembering contacts with Russians. That`s his exposure. He also as we just saw had a front row seat with this Trump-Comey relationship and breakdown. What do you as a prosecutor think is key that Mueller was questioning him on, Mueller`s team?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Mueller will have three sorts of questions he`ll want to explore with Sessions or that he would have explored with him. And they`ll break down sort of along the same lines of the investigation, did the Russians interfere with the American election, were there Americans involved in that interference, and then was their obstruction, the sort of tact on piece that -- and the Special Counsel grant Rod Rosenstein explicitly out at on, he didn`t do it for no reason. We now know that he did it apparently for good reasons, and there will be questions for Attorney General Sessions, I would think along each of those three threads of the investigation.
MELBER: Michelle, your view and the larger part of this is not legal, it`s just that Jeff Sessions has said a lot of stuff along the way that`s gotten him in trouble.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Jeff Sessions has been involved in so many different aspects of the Russia -- of the Russia story, right? I mean Jeff Sessions, although he didn`t remember it when he was questioned by Congress, was at the meeting where George Papadopoulos who`s now cooperating with Mueller brought up you know, his desire to make some of these connections. There was a big story in the (INAUDIBLE) last week that I feel like maybe was a little bit overlooked but it was about the fact that the FBI is now investigating whether any money was channeled through the NRA from Russia to the Trump campaign.
There was an email with the subject head Kremlin connection sent by an NRA fund-raiser and he -- to the trump campaign suggesting that they run this by Jeff Sessions. You know, Jeff Sessions later also said he also doesn`t remember anything about that e-mail. So he pops up you know, and I feel like my senses is that in an interview with Bob Mueller, he would not be able to plead forgetfulness in the way that he`s been able to do before Congress.
MELBER: And, yet, Joyce, to be fair to Jeff Sessions, he, and I say this in a sense that it could help him is not always the clearest speaker, is not always super detail oriented, the SNL joke that he`s sort of the Forest Gump of all this, speaks to a potential defense of his, doesn`t it?
VANCE: You know, we really don`t know what Jeff Sessions status is. Is he a witness? Is he a subject? Is he a target? These are terms of art for prosecutors that distinguish between someone who`s merely present and has information to share with investigators and someone who may well end up being a defendant. And there`s some incidents that we have seen along the way with Senator Sessions that have led people to speculate that perhaps he`s a target.
This lack of memory, although it`s nonspecific, and you`re right, it can be very difficult to indict someone for perjury when their response is I just don`t remember right now, unless you can really prove that they, in fact, did remember and were lying. Those can be difficult charges to bring. So it could be that his carefully worded answers will insulate him. But one thing that`s true is when you`re -- when you`re with investigators, when you`re with the FBI and Bob Mueller`s team, at that point it would be suicide to withhold information. That`s the time when you have to be truthful and frank or risk prosecution.
MELBER: Sure. Right. And that`s why this interview leaking tonight is so big. We`ve got some sound on all of this, and the debate over the firing Jim Comey. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: If as the President said I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the Attorney General involved in that chain? I don`t know.
SESSIONS: I do not believe that it is a sound position to say that if you`re recused for a single case involving any one of the great agencies you can`t make a decision about the leadership in that agency.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In retrospect, do you believe that it would have been better for you to have stayed out of the decision to fire Director Comey?
SESSION: I think it`s my responsibility and I think I had a duty to do so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joyce, if you were betting, do you think that Mueller asked him last week whether he still stands by the discredited claim that they removed Comey over the Clinton e-mail case?
VANCE: This has to have been one of the core issues that there was questioning on. Obviously, there were a lot of people in the Justice Department who believed that Jim Comey Handled the Hillary Clinton announcement in a way that was contrary to department policy. But Jeff Sessions comes into the Attorney General`s office months after that. We know now from the Lester Holt interview that that certainly wasn`t the President`s primary concern, whether in fact, it was Jeff and Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General. And so this has to be something that Mueller is pushing on. What`s the state of mind that the President had when this firing happened?
MELBER: Joyce Vance and Michelle Goldberg, thank you both. Up next, Donald Trump has faced many lawyers but none quite like Mueller. Chris Hayes who has done a few Russian related interviews of his own, is here to talk about potential testimony and cross-examination and what`s next in the probe.
MELBER: -- with more breaking news. The Washington Post reporting as we came out on set that Robert Mueller wants to personally question face-to- face Donald Trump and one of the issues would be Mike Flynn and Jim Comey. Mueller has questions about Trump`s attempts as well to remove Jeff Sessions as Attorney General or pressure him into quitting and determine whether this was a pattern of behavior by the President. For more, I go to my friend and MSNBC HOSt of "ALL IN" Chris Hayes.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: It`s great to be here.
MELBER: Starting with interviewing Donald Trump, one of the many stories tonight. What jumps out to you about it?
HAYES: You know, I think that some sort of face-off between the two of them was inevitable always. It is incredibly dangerous territory for the President of the United States for a lot of reasons. I mean, we remember back when Bill Clinton, they managed to work their way to a deposition for Bill Clinton, which proved to be essentially the proximate cause, the trigger for what would become Monica Lewinsky even though it was unrelated to the direct claim thereby Paula Jones. If you were a lawyer, if you`re an adviser and associate, kin of Donald Trump, you do not want him sitting across the table from FBI investigators talking about a criminal investigation.
MELBER: Roger Stone doesn`t it.
HAYES: No. And you would want to avoid it as much as possible. And the other thing I want to say is we have seen Donald Trump is very experienced. He may be as experienced as anyone in the country, and I honestly mean that in depositions and in answering in sort of (INAUDIBLE) and narrow ways. We`ve seen the deposition footage in which he suddenly leaks all kind of memory holes. So I would not underestimate his ability even under the direct scrutiny and those conditions to acquit himself in a way that manages to give him a sort of enough hedge to not commit any infractions.
MELBER: When you say that Mueller meeting Trump under oath or in an oath- like setting is inevitable, you`re sort of pausing this as like the Plot of Heat, and De Niro and Pacino are circling each other and they have to meet up by the end.
HAYES: Yes, well, yes, narratively and dramaturgically it has to happen. The two men have to face off. But also, look, the thing that I always keep coming back to at the core of this is, only Donald Trump knows what he did. Only Donald Trump knows what he did or didn`t do. When you look at his behavior, when you look at firing Comey, when you look at the way they handled Flynn, there`s different ways to make sense of that behavior based on what the actual underlying fact pattern is. Was it him being panicky, was it him just being reckless, was it him being mad at media coverage, or was he covering up a set of crimes that he knew he committed?
MELBER: So you make such a great point. And this is where lawyers and journalists do a lot of the same thing which is you look at this pile of evidence, if you fair, you try to do it with an open mind. But sometimes it`s overwhelming evidence. Steve Bannon reportedly said that he convinced and cajoled and demanded everyone around Trump understand that removing Comey would be a terrible thing and he said you could do it later or you could have done it day one but to do it now in the middle of this is a terrible thing, right? And so to your theory -- not your theory that you`re endorsing it, but to a theory you`re exploring if Donald Trump and all the people around him hear that but he knows something in his head that makes him so concerned, what is that thing.
HAYES: That -- see that is why it`s impossible to make sense of his behavior in these sort of meta-scandals right in sort of second-order questions, right, which is the firing of Comey, which is the way they dealt with Flynn`s departure. All of that ultimately relates to what the actual set of facts are in the world about what Donald Trump did or did not know, did or did not do with respect to possible collusion with Russia, possible aiding and abetting of actual federal crimes that we know were committed in the breaking into those e-mail servers. And so, analyzing these things that we see on the surface, these big things they did, which was they lied about Flynn and fired him, which is that they fired Comey under obviously false pretenses which they later admitted to, you can`t make sense how deep an infraction that is without getting to the one person in this entire story who actually knows what he did.
MELBER: So then on the other side, the other defense, we`ve heard of the bad apples defense. There`s the rando apples defense. Carter Page --
HAYES: The rando apples.
MELBER: The rando apples. Carter Page and George Papadopoulos and a bunch of people who Republicans sources tell me, hey, we never heard of these guys and they made a bunch of bad decisions and the (INAUDIBLE) head of the campaign, the candidate didn`t know.
HAYES: And again, I think in some ways, the kind of we were too incompetent to collude with Russia which is essentially what that story is, is not a ridiculous story for them to tell. I mean, it is the case that Papadopoulos and Carter Page were fairly marginal figures. It`s more of a problem when you have Paul Manafort under indictment and you`re Michael Flynn who sat in the White House as the National Security Adviser to the President of the United States who is also pleaded guilty to a federal crime and who also lied systematically about what he was up to with respect to Russia. So I agree about -- or I think it`s a plausible defense they`ve mounted for themselves, but the closer you get to people like Manafort and Flynn, the harder it becomes to think it was essentially ancillary.
MELBER: And the names you just named are less rando.
MELBER: Chris Hayes, it`s always interesting to compare notes.
HAYES: Yes, great.
MELBER: And we will be watching "ALL IN" tonight which is of course at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC. Don`t miss that. And we will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here too comment is Robert Mueller.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. How are you? Obviously, I can`t discuss particulars of an ongoing investigation but uh, yes, we`re -- we good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We good. That`s Kate McKinnon revealing her Bob Mueller impersonation on SNL. That`s what the impression looks like if you don`t go at the spotlight. What did you think of her impression? Let us know on our Facebook page FACEBOOK.COM/THEBEATWITHARI. I`ll see you back here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on this busy news nigh. Keep it locked, "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Tipping point. Let`s play HARDBALL.
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