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White House Lawyer overrides POTUS Transcript 1/25/18 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Leon Wolf, Nick Akerman, Paul Butler, Matthew Rhys

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 25, 2018 Guest: Leon Wolf, Nick Akerman, Paul Butler, Matthew Rhys

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want a toilet made out of solid gold, but that`s not in the cards, is it?

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, MEET THE PRESS DAILY: But it could be, Austin, if the price is right since even the stuffy Guggenheim museum is not above a little toilet humor.

That`s all for tonight. We will back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily." "The Beat" with Ari Melber starts right now - Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Chuck, now I have to ask, is there a theory that the shared humanity resides in our common love of art or just in the use of toilets?

TODD: I think it in our common need, how`s that?


TODD: Our common necessity for what the toilet represents.

MELBER: You know, your show is unpredictable. You are unpredictable that I feel enrich by it. That news story from the Guggenheim was unpredictable. But I feel enriched by it.

Chuck Todd --.

TODD: You need to be rich to buy it. So there you go.

MELBER: Thank you, sir. Chuck Todd with "Meet the Press Daily."

This is "the Beat." And we are now as you may know exactly 24 hours out from the President`s unusual and sweeping promise to testify under oath to Bob Mueller. And now I can report 24 hours later, two major reactions tonight. One, Donald Trump`s own lawyers trying to walk that promise back in a hurry. And two, Donald Trump`s conservative partisan allies telling him if he is confident that he can go into this interview with Bob Mueller and come out ahead, he is wrong. Take a listen to long-time Trump aide Roger Stone.


ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISOR: Under no circumstances should he grant Mr. Mueller an interview, it`s a suicide mission. It`s a very clear perjury trap.


MELBER: Another warning from talk show host Rush Limbaugh.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK RADIO HOST: There are conflicting opinions on whether or not Trump has to talk to Mueller, whether he should or he shouldn`t. If you ask me, don`t do it. I don`t care what format, I don`t care what circumstances, don`t do it. There`s nothing to gain.


MELBER: Nothing to gain according to Limbaugh. And this coming in right now. Donald Trump`s criminal defense lawyer John Dowd is telling NBC News, forget what you have heard over the last 24 hours. He is the one who will decide if Donald Trump sits down for an interview or not. And Dowd says he apparently hasn`t made up his mind.

All of this after another Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb had said the interview would be, of course, subject to terms negotiated by personal counsel. As for Donald Trump himself, he has started to preview his own defense. And this is interesting. Hasn`t got quite enough attention, but listen to his argument here, one man`s obstruction is another man`s fight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Robert Mueller will be fair to you in this larger investigation?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned about that?

TRUMP: Because here is what we would say, and everybody says, no collusion. There`s no collusion. Now they are saying, well, he didn`t fight back. Fight back. It`s obstruction.


MELBER: If you fight back, it`s obstruction. Interesting. Now will Trump`s lawyers let this interview happen? They will if it`s up to the client.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

TRUMP: I`m looking forward to it actually.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have a date set?

TRUMP: Here`s the story. There has been no collusion whatsoever. There`s no obstruction whatsoever. And I`m looking forward to it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have a date set yet?

TRUMP: I don`t know. No. I guess they are talking about two or three weeks, but I would love to do it.


MELBER: I`m joined by former Watergate special prosecutor Nick Ackerman, now a partner of "Dorsey and Whitney," Sophia Nelson, former house counsel there to the GOP and Jamil Smith, a columnist for "Huff Post."

I start with you, Nick. You know the old saying, one man`s obstruction is another man`s fight. Is this helpful to Donald Trump, to say, well, I fight back and they call it obstruction?

NICK ACKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Of course, not. Fighting back, it depends how you fight back. If you fight back with a corrupt intent, which is the critical element of obstruction, that only means if you are trying to stop the investigation, just like he told Comey to stop the investigation into Flynn, that`s obstruction of justice. If you are trying to get rid of the Russian investigation, that`s obstruction of justice. You know, this is not a choice that Donald Trump has. It`s not a choice that the lawyers have.

MELBER: Well, they think it is. And let me go back to you, that`s the other breaking news tonight. John Dowd basically coming out tonight, right now and saying more or less, I`m the one who knocks, I will decide whether this interview happens.

ACKERMAN: That`s not who is going to decide. Robert Mueller can give him a grand jury subpoena. If he is subpoenaed, he is going to have to testify. And he is going to have to appear before a grand jury of 23 people in the District of Columbia. There is not going to be any choices to that. If there`s going to be any kind of deal, it is going to be they are going to allow this to happen in the White House somewhere in a conference room. There`s no choice here. He has to provide testimony.

MELBER: Jamil?

JAMIL SMITH, COLUMNIST, HUFF POST: I think it`s a lot of empty bravado which we were used to seeing from the President. But here is the thing. He thinks that he can talk his way out of pretty much any situation, just like he thinks he can govern the nation like he runs his businesses.

But, you know, as Nick pointed out, this is a different set of rules here. And you know, his attempt to twist everything in our reality, including the rule of law, to what he sees in his own mind, to some degree has worked but I don`t think it`s going to work here.

MELBER: Sophia, let me read to you from the report about how these interviews go, and why it might not be to Jamil`s point something you can just bluster through. People who have appeared before Mueller`s team spoke to the "Washington Post" say the prosecutors have detailed accounts of events, sometimes up to the minute and have surprised witnesses showing them emails or documents they were unaware the team have or that their colleagues had written.

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER HOUSE GOP COMMITTEE COUNCIL: That`s absolutely true. Look, when I worked on the House government reform and oversight committee back in the late 1990s, we were investigating the Clinton money scandal, whatever, web hub, all this stuff. And there`s very big similarities between the independent counsel and what you do on the hill.

You are absolutely right, if they subpoena you or you get a grand jury summons to come, you got to show up. You can`t not do it. You determine where. But here`s the thing that matters, they do surprise you. And that`s the goal to surprise you in these interviews. And so if I`m Ty Cobb, I`m ripping my hair out right now, because Donald Trump is a horrible client. He doesn`t stop. I think he wants to testify,

MELBER: You are not making a comment about Ty Cobb`s mustache, are you?

NELSON: NO. I`m not making any comments about his mustache. I`m just simply saying that --

MELBER: Because Jamil has a facial hair too.

NELSON: Yes, but on a serious note, Air. The President wants to do this because he`s ego driven. It`s all about a fight with this guy. And his base would love it, actually. Think of it. They will have him in a cape as super President taking on the bad FBI and the bad Robert Mueller. That`s kind of the scenario that`s been painted over the last few weeks that you can`t trust these people. They are corrupt. They are out to get the President. So if he takes on, he looks like a winner.

MELBER: So Sophia makes a very adept legal point that you can get sometimes a witness to incriminate himself by appealing to or taking advantage of their weaknesses. Ego can be a witness. Speak is to that as well as the context of that, which is something we don`t always see. Lawyers and their clients basically shadow boxing over who gets to make this call.

ACKERMAN: Well, first of all, the real lawyers here is not the lawyers, it is Donald Trump. Just as you saw with his son and the statement that his son made, the statement that Kushner made, this is all being orchestrated by Donald Trump. He is calling the shots.

But it`s absolutely true, if he goes into a grand jury, he is going to be questioned in minute detail about conversations with Michael Flynn. That is going to be the biggest down side for him. Because Flynn has detailed for Mueller`s people all the conversations, all of the things --

MELBER: All the meetings, all the sanctions discussions and if there was a problem there.

NELSON: And Ari, their files, when you go into these things, the committee staff has everything on a timeline. And as you know well, they have got it. So if you slip, you set yourself up. I think (INAUDIBLE) is actually giving him good advice.

MELBER: Well, Jamil, take a listen here to the man we mentioned, Ty Cobb, discussing this potential interview.


TY COBB, TRUMP`S LAWYER: The President`s very eager to sit down and explain whatever is responsive to the questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any fear of a perjury trap?

COBB: No, but I think it would be foolish to not proceed without considering that possibility.


MELBER: Jamil, there seems to be some daylight between Donald Trump saying I welcome and I talk to my lawyers, two to three weeks scheduled. And John Dowd saying, no, I`m going to make that call. And again, something I say and people don`t like this sometimes, but in fairness to the Trump`s White House, Bill Clinton`s lawyers did take the position that it was negotiable. Lawyers do fight things out. And so it seems to me that at a minimum part of what we are observing, which is familiar in law and politics, is Ty Cobb, John Dowd, these lawyers tonight trying to get back the leverage that the great deal maker seems to give away with these grand promises last night.

SMITH: Right. There`s two things I think they are trying to accomplish here. One is to signify resistance to this entire probe and also potentially to re-legitimize it.

And also I think, you know, what the President did yesterday, I don`t know if it`s necessarily about trying to, you know, make any kind of agreements or set himself to a higher standard than Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton, really, he is just trying to, you know, exhibit that he is in-charge. That he will make a decision. That he is, you know, the one who is deciding what`s going to happen and what`s not going to happen.

He just seems not to realize what kind of trouble he is actually in, you know. He thinks he can repeat that there`s no collusion and all this other stuff and have people believe it. Yes, maybe 30 percent, 40 percent of the country does.

But this is not about whether or not, you know, just not a polling question. This is about wanting to ensure that, you know, justice is done. This is a complete, you know, completely different arena than I think he is used to. And I think it`s going to serve him badly once he in fact does have to testify.

MELBER: Well, he is used to, Nick, civil lawsuits and civil depositions. And that`s a long ways from criminal probes, right? That`s the difference between the people`s court and law and order.

ACKERMAN: I mean, look, it`s a deposition that he is used to. But the grand jury in some ways is very much like a deposition. It`s just that the stakes are just so much higher. I mean he looks forward to this just like someone would look forward to going for a root canal at the dentist`s office. There`s no way he looks forward to this. This is not a good thing for him. They are going to have him going and coming every which way on a whole series of events and he doesn`t even know what they are going to be asking him.

MELBER: Nick Ackerman, Sophia Nelson and Jamil Smith, thank you each for your coverage tonight.

Coming up, breaking her silence, Stormy Daniels is tonight speaking out in her first TV interview since the explosive allegations of this consensual relationship with Donald Trump and taking money to keep quiet.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have a sexual relationship with Donald Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one ever looked twice at me before, now suddenly everyone`s looking at me.


MELBER: Also a Special Report on this public servant on attack by the President. Who is Andrew McCabe and what does this all mean?

And the Trump effect in popular culture. I`m joined tonight by Matthew Rhys, one of the stars of the now Oscar nominated film "the Post" in the starkly Americans, a show about Russians trying to meddle in our democracy. That`s tonight.

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


MELBER: Tonight, an adult film star who previously said she had a consensual relationship with Donald Trump is speaking out. This is her first TV interview since the news broke that she received this $130,000 hush money payment from Trump`s lawyer. And the first clips from "Inside Edition" don`t directly answer the big questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have a sexual relationship with Donald Trump? Did you ever think you would be able to turn on CNN or FOX News or MSNBC and your name and the President`s name together in the same sentence over and over and over?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Does anyone? No one ever looked twice at me before, and now suddenly everyone`s looking at me.


MELBER: I`m joined by Leah Wright Rigueur, historian and assistant professor of public policy and to Harvard University School of government and Margaret Carlson, a columnist for "the Daily Beast." You know, Margaret lives up a busy life. They are still fixing up your mic.

I was on time, Ari.

MELBER: I`m late to all kinds of things. I`m definitely not blowing you up. But you can take whatever moment you need. We go to Leah and then you.

My question to you, does this matter, this story, that Leah, many people have observed would be wall to wall for weeks or months if this happened in the presidency of, you name it, a Bush or an Obama? Does this story, does this person speaking out tonight matter?

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, Ari, I think a famous philosopher said a couple of years back, it`s funny how money changes situations. And I think that`s the case here, which means that it does matter because it`s about money and it`s about power.

MELBER: Well, if you are going to quote Lauren Hill, the next line is, miscommunications lead to complications, does that also apply here?

RIGUEUR: It always applies, particularly when it comes to the Trump administration. I think what`s going on here, one of the things that we have to pay attention to is one, following the money, right? So where did the money come from? Why was this covered up?

And then what maybe might have become kind of a discretion of -- what could have been a discretion of the Trump campaign or Trump himself the man, in previous presidents have had indiscretions has quickly snowballed into something much, much bigger, particular because of the campaign`s response. But also based on how evangelical leaders are responding to it. So it`s now taking on a new element and becoming something much bigger and much more indicative of big and troubling problems in the administration.

MELBER: You mentioned evangelicals. MSNBC`s Alex Witt was interviewing Franklin Graham, Margaret. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that 70 years of age, the President is a much different person today than he was four years ago, five years ago, ten years ago, whatever.


MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: I don`t know what to say to that.

MELBER: Me either.


MELBER: Sixty-five is different than 70, sure.

CARLSON: Yes, it is. That`s a fact. But we don`t know if it really applies or it`s an operative fact in this situation.

The evangelicals have generally just decided to give Donald Trump a pass on all of the accusations against him. Not that Stormy Daniels is accusing him, but all of the sexual activity that has come up with him since he has been a candidate.

They are just giving him a pass. I don`t if they care so much about tax cuts that they are giving him a pass. I think Tony Perkins said called it a mulligan which I think - Ari, I know you are a lawyer, enough you are a golf player. But is (INAUDIBLE), you just get one extra shot when you are playing? Do you get like a dozen as he has for the various accusers that came forward?

And of, you know, on the Stormy Daniels, it may come down to a technicality. You know, it`s not going to be on the sexual aspect, but was the money legitimate paid during the campaign? Did she perform, you know, some service that, you know, fits what you get paid for during a campaign? Otherwise, that could be what makes this a lasting story.

Or Ari, I was just thinking, you know, she gave that enigmatic smile in that clip that you showed at the beginning. And which would be worse for Trump if, he have sex with her or didn`t have sex with her? It is like, remember, he sued over not being said to have enough money. He wasn`t considered wealthy in one of the books written about him, Tim O`Brien`s book, so he sued to prove that he was wealthy. So his ego gets in the way sometimes.

MELBER: Right. I appreciate you raising the larger point of how he will react to all of this. You mentioned the money trail, I`m going to turn to that with someone, you know, basically trying to get that investigated next.

But Leah, just briefly, your view of whether this story dies like so many other Trump alleged scandals?

RIGUEUR: I mean, it`s the era of scandals. He is the reality TV President and he knows how to put on a show. You know, if I`m him right now, particularly going into this kind of big Mueller investigation and this big probe, I would want this Stormy Daniels thing to just go away. And yet, it`s still going. It`s becoming something much bigger than it initially was.

MELBER: Right.

RIGUEUR: And two, I think it exposes, you know, the hypocrisy of evangelical leaders in this country right now.

MELBER: Leah and Margaret, thank you both.

I`m going to turn exactly to that now. These questions on the money trail and where those funds came from and whether that implicates finance campaign laws. I turn to Paul Ryan. He leads common cause. They filed these complaints with the DOJ and the SEC about the $130,000 payment.


MELBER: If you put aside the ethical debate, is there a legal problem potentially here?

PAUL RYAN, VICE PRESIDENT, POLICY AND LITIGATION, COMMON CAUSE: There certainly is a legal problem here. And it stems from the fact that this appears to have been a payment to influence the election. And that is defined under federal campaign finance law as a political expenditure.

The timing here matters. This payment to Stormy Daniels came about three weeks before the general election. It came about a week after the expose of very important tape revealing Donald Trump engaged in some banter, some locker room banter as he called it, the "Access Hollywood" tape. And it comes at a time when Stormy Daniels was reportedly talking to some major news outlets, "Good Morning, America," "Slate," maybe other about going public with her story.

All of those facts together this look like a payment to influence the election. That means it was an expenditure by team Trump. They didn`t report it to the SEC. That`s violation number one. Violation number two, is if this payment came from anyone other than President Trump`s pocket, his own pockets, then that`s looking like an illegal campaign contribution in kind of the committee. Either an illegal corporate contribution, if it came from the Trump organization or an illegally excessively large contributions because it exceeds the $2700 contribution limit if it came from an individual.

MELBER: And Paul, what do you say to the John Edwards history, where a jury looked at it, they didn`t like his behavior, but on a similar - at the same similar theory, they said, no, this was private stuff, not campaign stuff.

RYAN: Well, the jury didn`t quite say that in the John Edwards matter. Edwards was indicted for six counts. He was prosecuted for six counts. The jury acquitted him on one. And the jury deadlocked on five others and then a mistrial was declared.

MELBER: I got to hang you up there. I`m referring to the mistrial. They didn`t land it.

RYAN: They didn`t convict him. And the facts are much stronger there. For example, in the trial, John Edwards` lawyer made a big deal of the fact that there was no evidence whatsoever that Miss Hunter, John Edwards girlfriend that she was about to talk to the press, that she was going to go public. So that severely weakened the case by the department of justice, that was saying, this was all about the election, this was hush money to keep her quiet in the election context.

By contrast here, with respect to Mr. Trump and Stormy Daniels, again, three weeks before the election. She was about to go to the press. This came a week after "Access Hollywood," facts matter in the law and here are the facts that this was a political expenditure by Mr. Trump are much stronger than they were in the John Edwards case.

MELBER: Your argument is basically the other one looked like a child support. This looked like a very explicit free campaign messaging effort. But I think you are still stretching to get this into the campaign box. But we`ll be covering your story and covering your case.

Paul S. Ryan, thank you.


MELBER: Again, thank to Paul S. Ryan.

Ahead our Special Report on the FBI official Trump trying to push out. It might explain more about the purge. I have a special breakdown on that.

And why a Trump appointee at DOJ is putting Devin Nunes on blast and calling him extraordinarily reckless. It`s an important story and it relates to the secret society. I have the facts to go against the conspiracy theories on all of this attack on Mueller. That`s tonight.

And later, how does this help explain the memos? I`ll explain that tonight on "the Beat."


MELBER: A top story tonight, the stark escalation in partisan efforts to impugn the FBI Russia probe. Some congressional Republicans have gone so far in attacking the FBI that the news tonight is the push back they are getting now from Trump`s own appointees, a Trump DOJ official rebutting Devin Nunes who recently claimed the secret memo he has could undermine Mueller`s probe.

A Trump DOJ appointees sending a major signal though calling this Nunes campaign extraordinary reckless and implying it could involve even a criminal leak if the unseen memo did reveal classified source materials.

This is not normal. This is a Republican DOJ rebuking a Republican house committee for playing with fire, even though the fire was allegedly supposed to help the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, top Democrats defending the FBI`s legal status as, yes, our federal law enforcement that led to this in the "Washington Post" saying Democrats feel compelled to defend the integrity of our government against Republican efforts to pervert of the goal of shielding Trump from accountability. `

Also tonight reports that the FBI told Nunez they needs to see this memo to determine a safe way to declassify it. No indication that Nunes is turning the memo over or even sharing it with his Republican counterpart in the senate.

Many have observed the hypocrisy here, Republicans who were attacking Hillary Clinton over a risk that classified material could be breached on her email. These are now the Republicans refusing to cooperate with the agencies that do classification while promoting the release of this memo.

And while this memo remain secret, it has achieved a kind of magical status from many conservatives that these were the movie, Dumbo." The memo is now the magic feather helping high flying conspiracies take flight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me make it clear that the entire Mueller investigation is a lie built on a foundation of corruption. The key reason that all Americans need to see this memo is that it names names. It says who was involved with who.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m here to tell all of America tonight that I am shocked to read exactly what has taken place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I read today in that classified briefing room is as bad as I thought it was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this will not end just with firings, I believe there are people who will go to jail.


MELBER: People who will go to jail. Hold up. Bob Mueller has already secured two guilty pleas. But right there you have a current congressman, darkly suggesting it would be people in the FBI that could go to jail. He says that without any evidence. And that`s not all. There are some conservatives using the leaked private text between these two FBI agents to intimate without further evidence or any kind of investigation that a two- word reference to a secret society could be a formal anti-Trump plot involving people who aren`t even mentioned in that text.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Who`s in the secret society? Let`s see, it could it be Page and Strzok and McCabe and Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I`m going to want to know what secret society are you talking about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not surprised there`s a secret society within the establishment that was designed to get rid of Trump.


MELBER: This is a top story and this is not a joke. Amidst all this news right now, it`s actually easy to forget what is missing in this supposed scandal. There`s no public evidence that these FBI agents altered their work or a criminal probe because of their political views. And political views, having them isn`t a crime, in fact it`s a right under the U.S. Constitution. And if you release the text or e-mails or, I don`t know, dinner conversations of most people in government, yes, you`d find personal views, some of them probably strongly held. If the facts change on this story, the results could change, and I will always bring you the facts here. But let`s be clear, right now these attacks on the FBI appear to violate the rule of law in two ways. They undermine the independence of an open criminal probe and they appear to be retaliating against people for holding views which is their First Amendment Right. Let me go to Nick Akerman, former Watergate Prosecutor, and I`m joined by the Managing Editor of The Blaze, the conservative publication, Leon Wolf. Leon, I know that traditional conservatives as well as libertarians care a lot about First Amendment Rights, it`s an area where there`s often some overlap. Putting aside policy views, I wonder your view of the core of this set of allegations, whether it`s valid or whether it concerns you.

LEON WOLF, MANAGING EDITOR, THE BLAZE: With respect to Strzok and Page?


WOLF: No, I`m not overly concerned about that. And the reason for that is if it`s true that Strzok was talking about an actual secret society, which was my first impression was that this was an obvious joke between himself and Page. But if it were true that he was seeing to form or belong to some secret society with the goal of taking down Trump, why would he have turned down assignment to Mueller`s team which is another thing that he discussed in the text? I mean, if you wanted to take down Trump, and you were that committed to this to you know, just destroy President Trump, wouldn`t going with Mueller be the number one easiest way to do that?

MELBER: Sure. And your sort of -- I guess what I`m asking you is, given that that hasn`t been proven, that there`s nothing like that the Republican members of Congress that I just said have offered that, does it concern you that they seem to be attacking and retaliating against public servants by name for what looks like their private political views?

WOLF: No, I think Strzok and Page clearly you know, had some personal animus but we haven`t seen any evidence yet. I would agree that it influenced their investigation in any way. I think it`s much more plausible that it might have been influenced the Hillary Clinton server investigation that it did anything connected with Donald Trump. But that`s a completely separate thing. And we just don`t know at this point any of those things. But this is the partisan environment that we live in. People want -- you know if you haven`t voted or thought about --

MELBER: Leon, environment, I want to hang you up on that, an environment is something you walk around in. This isn`t an environment. This is people who take an oath to uphold the Constitution, who are in our Congress, they`re taking actions. And so, I don`t think it`s an environment. I think the question is are they going to be held accountable, is what they`re doing problematic for the rule of law?

WOLF: You know, look, Ari, I`m not telling you how it should be, I`m just telling you how it is. I mean, this is -- this is the way that all of the world works. I mean, any time there`s a judicial decision that comes out now, the first thing that people go and runt to see is who appointed the judge, you know. I mean, is it fair? Is it right? Is it the kind of system we should live in? No, but I mean, that`s the kind of questions that people always ask. And you know, from myself, again, I as a conservative, I can clearly see where their animus is, but I`m kind of like you, I want to see, where`s the evidence that it actually affected their work, I don`t see any. And so, I think, until we find that, that there`s no need to have such a cow about it.

MELBER: Let me go to Nick. And I`m -- you know, we`re not trying to have a cow. You know, Bart Simpson is welcome anytime but I think Leon says, on the one hand, this is problematic, but on the other hand, this is normal politics. It looks worse than the normal fighting. Your view?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: This is not normal politics. This reminds me of what Joseph McCarthy, the Senator from Wisconsin did back in the `50s. He`d hold up a piece of paper and say I`ve got names of 50 communists in the State Department. It was all bogus. It was all designed to destroy people`s reputations and to enhance his own power. That`s what`s going on here. They`ve created a document that they know they can`t release because it has classified information and they`re using it just like Joe McCarthy used his pieces of paper to try and impugn people. This is not normal politics. This is not Democrat, Republican or Conservative, Liberal. I mean, this is just down right nastiness that has no business in our political system.

MELBER: Yes. And I got to say, and I try to report all sides of it, but there`s nothing normal about a member of Congress saying well, maybe people in the FBI are going to wind up in jail or committed a crime without having the evidence. That is more than a reversal and it goes to I think what`s going to be a test for the United States as we move ahead if this continues. Leon Wolf, I really appreciate you joining me. Nick Akerman, as always, it`s good to see you. Up next, as promised, THE BEAT special report, the President versus a public servant you may not know a lot about. Why is Donald Trump singling out that man, Andy McCabe? And later, a change of gears. Pop culture and Trump, Matthew Rhys from the Oscar Nominated movie The Post and Star of The Americans joins us here on THE BEAT.


MELBER: Now we turn to tonight`s special report. There are leaks that after Donald Trump fired Jim Comey, he immediately began questioning Comey`s replacement over political views and what seemed like tests of loyalty. This report adds, of course, detail to Donald Trump`s past attacks on that man, Mr. McCabe, who`s a public servant, not a household name.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President tried to steer attention back to his claims of bias against him at the FBI taunting Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump has accused McCabe of bias after an ally of Hillary Clinton donated to his wife`s political campaign.


MELBER: That was last year. This week, we learned that Trump was so upset about McCabe`s wife being a Democrat that Trump tried to get him fired from the FBI and Trump`s own new FBI Director threatened to resign over it, three people told Axios that. So if Jim Comey is at the man at the center of Trump`s FBI in year one, why is Andrew McCabe at the center as year two begins? In fact, who is Andrew McCabe? Did Trump find a bad record at the top of the FBI?

Well, McCabe has served 22 years. He started in `96 as a Special Agent when Louis Freeh was FBI Director. His team used racketeering laws to go after Russian organized crime and sent six people to prison. McCabe would say that case was a formative experience and the very beginning of his FBI adventure. When Bush came into office and appointed Mueller, a period where Republicans were riding a wave of power in Washington, McCabe kept working his way up the agency with post spanning national security and counter-terror. Then Obama came into office. He was demanding all interrogations be lawful in agenda. McCabe was assigned to carry out.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Policies that I proposed represent a new direction from the last eight years. To protect the American people and our values, we banned enhanced interrogation techniques.


MELBER: This was behind the scenes, but at the time, McCabe then oversaw a team of FBI agents who dealt with that new project on questioning suspects. He worked high priority cases, investigating the Boston Marathon Bombing and helping arrest the suspect in the Benghazi attacks. He led strategies for how to catch terrorist radicalized in Syria and then returning to America. And as the FBI adjusted to new threats, McCabe was assigned to crimes that actually didn`t previously exist. Things like getting cyber terrorists and ISIS recruiters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For eight months, Ali Shukri Amin who`s just 17 urged his 4,000 Twitter followers to contribute money to ISIS.

ANDY MCCABE, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FBI: It`s a tragedy for this community as we have now lost yet another young person to the seductive allure to violent online propaganda.

Critics will say as we shutter one site, another site emerges and that may be right. But that is the nature of criminal work, it never goes away.


MELBER: That is part of his record. Those terror cases put McCabe at the center of FBI priorities, focusing on preventive law enforcement, on intel, on cybercrime, and that ultimately led to a promotion when he became Jim Comey`s Deputy. In that role, he got less attention than Comey, who was both respected and criticized for the way he would insert the Bureau and himself into national issues. McCabe was honestly considered less controversial, when he did speak, it was usually about focusing on threats facing the nation.


MCCABE: We hope this investigation will send a message to corrupt officials around the world that no person, no company, no organization is too big, too powerful or too prominent, no one is above or beyond the law.

That is my job right now to ensure that the men and women who work for the FBI stay focused on the threats, stay focused on the issues that are of so much importance to this country and I will ensure that that happens.


MELBER: That`s what a lot of law enforcement leaders look like. Steady, serious, non-partisan, measured to the point of even dry. We don`t know McCabe`s personal political beliefs. He reportedly told the President he didn`t vote in the general election. There`s a new report that he has voted in a Republican primary. But we do know that over two decades at the FBI he did earn the confidence of Jim Comey, Donald Trump`s apparent nemesis, and also earned the confidence of Chris Wray, Donald Trump`s handpicked replacement for Comey.

In fact, of all the things that Donald Trump does in public and private, the news this week is that Chris Wray threatened to resign to defend Andy McCabe and by extension to the independence of the FBI that his position represents. I don`t know how hard it is to earn trust that spans from Comey to Trump`s Comey replacement. I`m betting it`s not easy. It would take an ability to reject politics to tackle law enforcement problems, to rebuff pressure and to stick to law enforcement. Question now is whether leaders will stick up for this law enforcement? Do we have leadership that can be a believer and admirer of that law enforcement?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am the big, big believer and admirer of the people in law enforcement, OK, from day one, from day one.

An attack on law enforcement is an attack on all Americans.


MELBER: Attacks on law enforcement should trouble all Americans. Donald Trump clearly thinks he will write Andy McCabe`s story, one tweet at a time. All these new leaks this week show that just as with the attacks on Jim Comey and other public servants, there are people who are speaking up and perhaps the final history has yet to be fully written. I`m joined now by a former Federal Prosecutor, Paul Butler who`s worked closely with FBI agents over many years. Your view of Andy McCabe and of this kind of attacks on a high ranking FBI official?

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So, Ari, asking the FBI Director who you voted for is not a crime, but it`s more evidence of a corrupt mind state by President Trump. The list of law enforcement agents who the President has tried to pressure is long and distinguished, James Comey, Sally Yates, Preet Bharara, Jeff Sessions, Chris Wray and now Andrew McCabe. So Trump wants their loyalty. He`s trying to rig the system that`s investigating collusion and corruption, obstruction of justice. When you try to derail an investigation so that it`s not objective, there`s a name for that, it`s called obstruction of justice.

MELBER: On that point, in the Washington Post, about all these attacks that McCabe who has I say is not a household name. They say Trump decided to do almost precisely what McCabe -- what Comey said Trump did to him. Hint at the idea that an FBI Director should be loyal to the President. If this was not one, "mistake" in pressuring the FBI, but an ongoing pattern that we see in targeting McCabe, does that make things worse for Trump?

BUTLER: Absolutely, Ari. When you look at the timing here, so on one day, Trump fires the FBI Director, and shortly thereafter, he reaches out to the new FBI Direct to talk about politics to try find out if he`s on Trump`s side. And when that new Director doesn`t give Trump the answer he wants, he doesn`t fire him directly like he did Comey, but he goes on a Twitter war where tries to get McCabe out and guess what, he succeeded.

MELBER: And he apparently tells the new FBI Director that he ultimately appointed he wanted him out and that`s what Wray was threatening to resign over.

BUTLER: Yes, and you know, the news is that McCabe is now resigning in March. And so again, this is a pattern that Special Counsel Mueller is not blind to. Because guess what? Mccabe only didn`t earn the confidence of Comey, he also earned the confidence of Mueller when Mueller was running the FBI. So if there`s any kind of credibility contest between President Trump and Andrew McCabe, McCabe is going to win that contest.

MELBER: Paul Butler, a former Federal Prosecutor, thank you. Ahead, how the Trump White House is leaving a mark on the books we read. Matthew Rhys from the Oscar Nominated movie The Post is here.


MELBER: -- more than a political job. It`s a character in American pop culture, larger than life at least since the era when T.V. put the Kennedys in every living room. Pop culture`s reaction to Donald Trump has made severe. South Park made their school teacher character more Trumpy. Comedy Central`s Broad City bleeped out Trump`s name as if it were some kind of a curse word. But not every reference to Trump says trump. Right now Americans flocking the lesson from pop culture`s view of history a podcast about Nixon`s Watergate scandal is hot, Steven Spielberg`s Oscar Nominated movie The Post is also hot depicting a battle between a lawless President and the press. The parallels from Nixon to Trump are clear. Plot turns on Daniel Ellsberg, a veteran who leaked secret war plans showing why he thought Vietnam was not winnable. Now Ellsberg is played by Matthew Rhys, the Emmy Nominated Actor from the hit show The Americans.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you public ever saw these papers, they would turn against the war. Covert ops, guaranteed debt, rigged elections, it`s all in there. Ike, Kennedy, Johnson, they violated the Geneva Convention, they lied to Congress and they lied to the public. They knew we couldn`t win and still sent boys to die.


MELBER: Matthew Rhys joins me, the actor there from The Post. Thanks for being here on THE BEAT.

MATTHEW RHYS, ACTOR: Thank you for having me. Good to be here.

MELBER: What did you teach yourself about Daniel Ellsberg in order to play him?

RHYS: Where to begin. I think I was more ashamed how little I knew about Daniel Ellsberg and his impact. It was incredible. I was fortunate enough to spend a day, an entire day with him. And for me as an actor to play someone real, to actually meet that person and have this map where you say what were you thinking at this point, doing, wearing, thinking, you know, it was incredible to have that.

MELBER: Do you think this movie is about the truth and if you can reveal the truth, then things happen? There was a belief in the character that Vietnam would end. Or is this a movie ultimately about something important that`s more dry which is process? What are the rights that the press and the public have and what`s the process for defending them?

RHYS: I think this acceptance or their pursuit or this understanding that the American people have a right to the truth. He was the first to kind of go -- no, no, actually the public do need to know what the government is doing. You know, the governments do lie. And he was on the first, the pioneer whistleblower of his time to do that in America. And he wasn`t -- you know, he wasn`t by far a screaming lefty with an agenda. He was a former Marine, a Pentagon employee. You know, he believed, you know, in this country and in his government. And this came about without -- with a great deal of conflict because not only personally because he could easily face espionage or treason and spend a lifetime in prison, but you know, he believed in this country and therefore to take that step and say no, this is wrong from a humanitarian angle saying too many people are dying on every side to let this go on.

MELBER: President Nixon was obsessed as you know, with Daniel Ellsberg. Let`s take a listen to real tapes of Nixon.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ve got to keep our eye on the main ball. The main ball is Ellsberg. We`ve got to get this son of a (BLEEP).

This is treasonable action on the part of the (BLEEP) who put it out. It involves secure information, a lot of other things. What kind -- what kind of people would do such things?


MELBER: Did you get inside Ellsberg`s heart that he might be afraid of that, of that power?

RHYS: It was one of my first questions. And upon reading the script and reading about him, I thought he must have been terrified. You know, he was utterly alone, isolated. Well, apart from his wife, Patricia and few good friends, you know, he went underground in order to orchestrate the distribution of this -- of this report. And I just thought God, you must have been terrified. And he sort of said well, no, I actually wasn`t. I had real -- the clarity of my conviction was actually quite reassuring. The reason -- the reason I was going do this if I were to save lives, then I would happily go to prison.

MELBER: I want to talk a little bit about Steven Spielberg.

RHYS: He was without question a childhood hero and icon to me. To meet him face-to-face was frightening for no reason that anything he did on himself. He`s the most generous, warm, beautiful person you could -- you would wish to meet. But to come face-to-face with your hero, it`s incredibly -- it was incredibly daunting.

MELBER: Thanks for coming by.

RHY: Thank you for having me.

MELBER: A very fascinating film and a fascinating story. Matthew Rhys. Of course, the film is The Post and it is in theaters now.


MELBER: They say the beat goes on but that`s not always true. THE BEAT is over. The good news for you, "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Can Trump handle the truth? Let`s play HARDBALL.


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