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As Mueller closes in, Trump deflects to memo Transcript 1/31/18 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Betsy Woodruff, Jonathan Chait, Nick Confessore, George Lakoff, Joyce Vance

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 31, 2018 Guest: Betsy Woodruff, Jonathan Chait, Nick Confessore, George Lakoff, Joyce Vance

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, MTP DAILY: Please. Please. Please, clap.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I saw you clapping. I was happy to clap. You get our claps. You get our daps. And if we make it through 2018, Chuck, maybe we can do an all Arsenio at the end of the year.

TODD: Ari, I want to end every show with a dab.

MELBER: Every show with a dab.

Chuck Todd, thank you as always.

We begin our broadcast with some breaking tonight in this Russia probe. And questions about Donald Trump again in a new report putting very implore pressure allegedly on the person overseeing the Russia probe.

This is a new report and credit where it`s due. It is from CNN, that President Trump asked deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein if he was quote "on my team." This is brand-new. And that is not all. This new CNN report also says Trump wanted to ghost write congressional Republicans questions and pressure on to Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller. This reportedly came recently in a December meeting at the White House, as Rosenstein was preparing to testify before Congress.

Trump also wanted to know where the special counsel`s Russia investigation was heading. That is obviously a no-no. The report says that Rosenstein answered, well, of course we are all on your team, Mr. President. And sources say Trump suggested those questions to the members of Congress, specifically t the upcoming hearing which was in the House Judiciary Committee. Rosenstein ultimately was asked this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it ever appropriate for the President of the United States to demand the department of justice official or FBI director take a loyalty pledge.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don`t know anything about that, congressman. Nobody has asked me to take a loyalty pledge other than the oath of office.


MELBER: Nobody has asked me to take a loyalty pledge, a statement made under oath and one I can tell you will be hearing more about.

Tonight`s news is clearly a new example of CC. Don`t get tired of these stories, the fact that they`re repeating makes them worse, not a subject for fatigue.

We can add to that other accounts from NBC News as well as "the Washington Post" about Trump asking deputy FBI director Andy McCabe who he voted for plus, of course, FBI director Jim Comey saying Trump asked him for a loyalty pledge.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He asked specifically for loyalty in the context of asking me to stay.


MELBER: Tonight`s new reports suggest that Donald Trump kept doing that, kept asking everyone who touched this investigation for loyalty.

Now let`s look at what happened. The FBI director fired. His deputy Andy McCabe attacked by Trump, this week out. Bob Mueller, we learned last week Trump attempted to fire him earlier this year, Trump also attacked top Comey aid Jim Baker, he has been reassigned.

Now the news Rod Rosenstein is facing these attacks including the memo reports, he is literally the target of this memo fight tonight, that Republicans want released. And then there is Jeff Sessions, we know he wasn`t exactly quote-unquote "say Trump blasted him for recusing, yes, from the Russia probe."

It`s quite a crackdown and a lot of news tonight.

Betsy Woodruff joins me. She covers the Russia probe for "the Daily Beast" and former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance.

Joyce, is this reported loyalty request by Trump of Rosenstein inappropriate?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, this is a continuation of the disturbing trend that we have seen, Ari, where this President completely fails to understand that the loyalty and the obligation of justice department employees is to the constitution and the country, and not to the President personally.

So Rod Rosenstein answered questions on the Capitol Hill apparently shortly after this meeting, and said he had never been asked for a loyalty pledge. Perhaps he interpreted this differently. But given the entire course of conduct, it looks inappropriate, it looks like a President who should have known better, but couldn`t help himself from trying to run the country like a business and not like a democratic form of government.

MELBER: And Betsy, I want to get to some of your reporting on the memo as well. But first your reaction to this report breaking tonight that even after all was said and done and exposed, which we know has been rolled into the Mueller probe itself or potential elements of obstruction, this report tonight breaking that the President then pushed and prodded the man overseeing Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, to find out if he was quote "on his team."

BETSY WOODRUFF, REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: It certainly seems significant and it shows that the President`s actions toward federal law enforcement are pretty much continuing without interruption. He is very comfortable asking people to sort of swear their loyalty to them.

One new thing I can tell you specifically about Wray based on the conversation I had earlier today with the person familiar is that he himself as an individual has a lot of deep concerns about this memo, that Trump said yesterday evening he is 100 percent certain he was going to release. There was a letter hat Steven Boyd, the justice department`s top liaison to Capitol Hill sent last week. Steven Boyd wrote in a letter that it would be extraordinarily reckless for Nunes to release this memo. He also said that he has seen no evidence thus far of FBI wrong doing.

What I can tell you tonight is that Rod Rosenstein was deeply involved in putting together that letter. And that letter directly results Rod`s concerns about this particular memo. Additionally, there`s no reason to believe that Rod`s mind has been changed whatsoever based on the fact that Chris Wray, the FBI director was able to view the memo. It`s just one more piece of evidence of the friction and the very different views between Rod Rosenstein and President Donald Trump.

MELBER: Very different views is one way to put it. And another is that Rod Rosenstein at this point has a clear understanding that there is a thin line between his current role as Mueller`s boss and occasional witness to the extent that he was involve in the sessions removal which is a part of the potential obstruction case.

But also, that if Rod Rosenstein gets canned over Russia, he will then be like McCabe and Comey, another part of this group of people dealing with this President`s very unusual and often times reckless approach to an open criminal probe. I mean, that`s Rod and Don McGahn obviously understand you can be out real quick.

Turning to the other big story on the memo and your reporting, Betsy, in "the Daily Beast." You have Devin Nunes won`t say if he worked with the White House on the anti-FBI memo. Congressman Quigley, a Democrat, asking him point blank, this just came out tonight, its staffer that he had been talking with the White House when they compile this now. Very big deal. Very controversial memo about this misdeeds and it links to Rod by targeting him. Nunez made a few comments that did not answer before finally responding, I`m not answering.

Quite a story you`ve got here, Betsy. And NBC News reporters are also zeroing in on that passage and agreement with your point. Walk us through why that exchange is significant.

WOODRUFF: So we released that story yesterday before the transcripts came out. Our sources described this particular exchanged to us. Now that the transcript is released, we have a lot more details. The specific comment that Nunes made was he says the chairman will not entertain this question. The question, of course, came from Ron Quigley, an Illinois Democrat.

Quigley first asked Nunes if he and his team had worked with the White House on putting together this very controversial memo. Nunes replied, not to my knowledge. Quigley did not take that as an answer. We know in politicians say not that I know, it often mean there`s a lot more to the story. That they are potentially avoiding discussing.

So after Quigley pressed Nunes additionally and said are you really saying that your staff didn`t talk to the White House? Can you say with confidence that none of your people talked to non of the White House`s people? As Quigley pressed him for a fuller answer, Nunes cut him off and said the chairman will not entertain that question.

It is really interesting that Nunes wasn`t willing to definitively say what his staff did and did not do vis-a-vis this memo.

MELBER: I mean honestly, sometimes my job is to use simple words, not the fancy ones. It sounds like he was busted. It sounds like he was busted during his own proceeding in this committee that he is very controversially stepped back from in not a full recusal and now he is back involved, because if the answer was simple and it was a direct no, he could say, we would report it. Instead we have to report that he looks very shady about whether he is secretly working on Donald Trump`s defense team.

And by the way, if you want to work on that team, you can go get that job. You can go and meet up with John Dowd and resign from Congress. But trying to play both roles at once and potentially misleading the public about it is a big story indeed.

I want you both to stay with me. I want to add to our panel with some other news.

The larger memo battle is tonight, news that the FBI is fighting as hard as we have seen to keep this classified information from being released which of course Trump could order this week. The bureau releasing a public statement today that says we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally affect the memo`s accuracy. Republicans are still pushing to get this memo out.

I want to bring in a former Republican congressman Tom Davis on. And I`m joined for more reporting by Robert Costa from the "Washington Post" and the larger panel stays with me.

Congressman, are Republicans wrong to push for the release of this information in this way?

TOM DAVIS (R), FORMER VIRGINIA REPRESENTATIVE: Well, they are putting a lot of reliance on basically a majority staff memorandum. We don`t know what all the underlying evidence is on this. Democrats women have their minority staff memorandum that will contradict it. And the FBI is obviously going to protect the nature of the bureau, because the memo appears to be very critical of the bureau.

This isn`t the first time we have seen this kind of thing in Washington. But it is clearly a majority staff opinion. It`s not evidence per se. And it will rise or fall I think at the end of the debate on its own merits.

MELBER: I`m not sure respectfully what you just said. I mean, I know it`s a majority staff opinion, you are referring to the fact that it was gathered by Republican staff. But for our viewers who are trying to understand, are you saying that that makes it perhaps less strong evidence?

DAVIS: Absolutely. I mean, it is a narrative of what happened. And from what I gather from the narrative, the narrative is very critical of the way the FBI handled things.

MELBER: Go ahead.

DAVIS: No. This isn`t the first time. This shouldn`t surprise anybody. This is the way things work in Washington. I was on the major investigative committee this Congress that I chaired with. And to see this back and forth where members tend to protect their quarterback, the President, when they are under assault and create the appropriate narratives. The public is going to have to judge. And these are going to have to judge. You know, point is the accuracy of this. But my point is it`s not evidence per se.

MELBER: Right. When you say - I would like to make sure I understand. When you say it is not evidence, what you mean is the narrative, a.k.a. the story that Republicans want to tell from the committee may have it`s own agenda, but it`s not actually itself smoking gun evidence.


MELBER: When you say it`s not --.

DAVIS: It is a narrative. It`s an interpretive narrative that they are going out. You can go to your partisan. You can say this is the way we see things. Democrats have a memorandum that`s not being released that will say the opposite. And ultimately the public gets confused by this.

MELBER: Let me pin you on that. When you say, though, that it is not unprecedented and then the public gets confused, what about the fact that this obscure rule acts which Paul Ryan is backing Trump on here, has never publicly been used to release this kind of material related to a foreign intelligence surveillance act request before?

DAVIS: Well, we haven`t had that many FISA issues come before the House. But, you know, I think it`s unprecedented to that extent. But this whole argument is unprecedented when you get into what`s going on between the President and the attorney general and the investigation.


Let me kick is around a little bit.

Bob Costa, when Republicans and you are reporting today, what does it tell us when the Republicans find out that the FBI director says this is bad. Does that change your mind at all?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: There are concerns that there`s an institutional battle right now between the institution of the Republican Party versus the institution the Republican Party has long venerated, the justice department, the FBI. And I know there could be a cause for the whole country as governing the civic fabric if these institutions continue to be questioned but they want to move forward with this scrutiny, though they cautioned me today, that if this memo is released, they don`t think it`s going to have that significant of an impact in the public consciousness just because it goes after the surveillance warrants but it`s not as explosive as it seems to be portrayed by some of its proponents.

MELBER: Joyce Vance, what do you think?

VANCE: So it is really interesting. You know, Nunes obviously has some history with the White House in doing their bidding. If he is not their water boy in this instance explicitly, he is doing an awfully good job of carrying their water, destructing the public from the conversation about the Trump-Russia investigation. All eyes have been focus on this memo for days. And at the same time, at least apparently, derailing further investigation within the House subcommittee, this looking to the Russia affair.

So at the end of the day, this memo and its release appears to be very critically viewed by those current and former DOJ leaders. We are talking about the 702 or FISA material and the concern is that that could release into the public and make our enemies aware of both sources and methods used in intelligence gathering. That could be very damaging to our country in ways that perhaps a House intel committee might not appreciate but that a foreign intelligence gathering service might be able to take advantage of.

MELBER: Right. And congressman, isn`t there that concern that the criminal probe remains open when it is closed and there`s a result. People will have a better vantage point to understand this. But trying to release piecemeal information about who was under surveillance under what probable cause standard, via carter page or whoever else under these rumors is not exactly helpful?

DAVIS: Well, it depends on what your point is. If your point is to give a narrative to the partisans to try to undermine whatever the special prosecutor comes up with, this is, I think intended to help that (INAUDIBLE). Again, I think the Republicans have put too much reliance on what this memorandum says. I haven`t seen it, but my understanding of it is it`s not evidence of a smoking gun per se, it`s just a conclusion based on some facts. I don`t know.

And institutionally, it`s going to be damaging and critical to the justice department and the FBI. So you can understand their role. I don`t know what secret information is being released or not released at this point. But institutionally, you can understand where the opposition will be. Again, from a political point of view, and I chaired the campaign committee couple of cycles. There is so much hype over this thing. I`m afraid there might be a lot of disappointment when it comes out that it is not a smoking gun that some commentators, you know, have anticipated.

MELBER: And so Bob Costa, on that point, final word to you. The congressman raise the idea that there is a lot of hype and this may ultimately be he dog catches the car and doesn`t know what to do with it?

COSTA: That can certainly be the case, but the Republican Party pretty broadly speaking has become critical of the justice department, of the FBI, of the entire Russia probe. Many of these lawmakers I spoke to in the last 24 hours are hoping that it ends sometime soon. And they see this memo as part of that whole effort. It`s a battle. They feel engaged in a political war. It`s not just about a memorandum.

MELBER: Betsy Woodruff, Robert Costa, Congressman Tom Davis, thank you to each of you. Joyce, I have more to ask you later in the show.

Coming up, a different story, this focus on whether Stormy Daniels really did sign a deal to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Donald Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a nondisclosure agreement.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you had a nondisclosure agreement, you could most certainly could say I have a nondisclosure agreement. Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are so smart, Jimmy.


MELBER: And later, a tale of And two Russia`s stories. My special report on the one that Donald Trump wants everyone see and the one that he doesn`t. Looking at the substance of this memo fight tonight.

And do you remember Paul Ryan? He used to be a Republican leader who was tough on Donald Trump?


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I disavow these comments. I regret those comments that he made. Find me a person can`t do the job because of their races sort of like the text book definition of a racists comment.


MELBER: Where did that guys go? There is a journalist with the story about how Ryan has become Trump`s quote "silent partner in undermining the rule of law."

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


MELBER: Another potential scandal for the Trump administration that in any other presidency would be the top story for months, adult film star Stormy Daniels continuing to speak out about her romantic affair with Trump. Her team releasing another signed statement this week denying a past relationship with him. The White House and Trump`s lawyer denied any allegations here.

And last night on Jimmy Kimmel, she seemed to imply that she may have a nondisclosure agreement with Trump. And that of course matches the recent report that Trump`s lawyer got her $130,000 to stay quiet before the election.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You either do or don`t have a nondisclosure agreement. Which if you didn`t have a nondisclosure agreement -- do you have a nondisclosure agreement?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can`t say whether you have a nondisclosure agreement. But if you didn`t have a nondisclosure agreement, you most certainly could say I don`t have a nondisclosure agreement, right?

DANIELS: You`re so smart, Jimmy.


MELBER: I`m joined by Liz Plank, senior producer and video correspondent for Vox media.

Liz, is this an important story at this point?

LIZ PLANK, SENIOR PRODUCER/VIDEO CORRESPONDENT, VOX MEDIA: Absolutely. And this should actually be a story that`s on the front page of every newspaper, right. If this ere any other President, if this was Barack Obama and she had cheated on his wife with a porn star and then paid her to keep quiet, we obviously -- there would be a million committees about it and there will be million stories about it. And I think there are actually two reasons why this isn`t as much of a big a story as it should be.

The first one is that this is a story concerning a woman with Donald Trump that is consensual. Once, there are obviously 19 other women who have stories that are not consensual. So it makes it feel in a certain way less important.

And secondly, you know, the lies portion of it which is obviously, you know, if it is true, he is paying someone to shut them up. If you compare it to other things that he lied about, and other things he is being accused of, the Russia probe is much worse again.

So if you compare it to the sort of context, that is pretty much wise not getting as much coverage as it should be.

MELBER: And there she is, doing media talking about this. She might be the loudest person with an NDA in recent public history, which is certainly her right. I mean the President talks a lot. People who say they have links or history to him are certainly able to come out in the public square.

If she violates this NDA which reportedly exists, then she would be in breach of a contract for silence. You can contract to do things. You can contract not to do things. When, as you know, there`s a breach, the only civil remedy is to sue the person. Which means if Donald Trump, if she did breach this thing would end up suing her, proving the underlying question of whether he already paid her to keep quiet. If she makes enough money, do you think that should be her next move?

PLANK: Absolutely. Look, I think that the first person to have outplayed Donald Trump, I cant believe this is coming out of my mouth, but I think that first person to have outplayed Donald Trump is a porn star. At the same time, I believe what`s coming out of my mouth because nothing is shocking anymore with this President. But, you know, I think if you look at last night`s interview, I think that a lot of people are underestimating how smart she is. A lot of people think it was sort of a nothing burger, she was really saying anything. It was almost awkward. But she actually said a lot.

She basically by now saying that she doesn`t have an NDA, is admitting that she probably does have an NDA. And it puts Donald Trump in this bind that you just referenced that if he goes a off and sues her for that for violating the terms of this NDA, he is basically admitting that it exist.

MELBER: Right. And you would have to go to court, that is the thing. Who wants this in court? He pay to keep it out of court. If she violates and he sues then back in court is, what happened? And also his role as a public official may cut against what is essentially at least a potential first amendment argument that this is something that she may have a right to talk about in a political context.

It is fascinating. We know he uses NDAs a lot.

Liz Plank, thanks for break it down in "the Beat."

PLANK: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Up next, as promise, my "Beat" Special Report on this breaking story tonight, the Russia probe, the new report that Donald Trump wanted another loyalty oath this time from Rod Rosenstein, overseeing Mueller, echoes of course of the Comey loyalty out. And it comes as we learn Mueller tonight wants to question a former Trump advisor, about, guess what? Obstruction.


MELBER: The other top story tonight, breaking news.

CNN reporting President Trump asked the man overseeing the Mueller probe for loyalty. That`s Rod Rosenstein. A big development since the alleged target of the secret Republican memo everyone is fighting about.

SO let`s be clear tonight. We are seeing two major Russia stories unfolding side by side. One that Trump wants you to see, release the memo. And one he doesn`t, Bob Mueller tightening his grip.

On the first story, Trump`s own FBI director making waves tonight with his rare public rebuke slamming this GOP memo is inaccurate, misleading, even dangerous. No, he privately made that case to Trump.

And the other story, Mueller arrowing forth with key interviews, including that man, his former Trump advisor.


Good afternoon, everyone. I`m Mark Corolla and this is Mark Kasowitz, President Donald Trump`s personal attorney. He will make a short stamen. We will not be taking questions.


MELBER: Mark Corolla, you can see right there when he worked for Republican AG Askroft (ph). Corolla was going to be the Sean Spicer of Trump`s criminal defense team. And then he quit. Now news breaking Trump will interview him and he is a man who saw inside Donald Trump`s legal defense strategy and he left at the time that the elements of the obstruction case were taking shape. That`s the Mueller story.

Now back to the story that Republicans want to focus on tonight, Trump could just be heard on a hot mike talking about, yes, the memo while leaving the state of the union.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to release the memo?



MELBER: A 100 percent, the memo coming out. But the other story is right there, Mueller closing in on the White House and now Trump`s lawyer balking at the Presidential interview, that`s John Dowd, and now he says he will make the call.

And that all brings us back to the Republican story tonight. Trump`s team putting this heat on Rod Rosenstein, Mueller`s boss. Chief of staff John Kelly now arguing that this secret memo will come out quote "pretty quickly," showing Kelly is all in on this strategy.

Meanwhile news that Jeff Sessions who was looking to get out, even sending a resignation letter, news tonight you might not have heard, because as you say, it`s the part of the story we hear less about.

Bob Mueller reportedly has obtained evidence about Sessions` specifics offer to quit, documents and emails. And we know already what Trump was mad at him for choosing from the Russia probe and handing those keys to Rod Rosenstein.

I want to turn now to Matt Miller who worked of course at the Justice Department with Eric Holder and back with me Betsy Woodruff who`s been all over these stories. Matt, your views of why these two stories both seem to be escalating at once.

MATT MILLER, MSNBC JUSTICE & SECURITY ANALYST: You know, I don`t think it`s a coincidence that the assault on the FBI, the assault on the Justice Department, the assault on Bob Mueller happens at the same time that Bob Mueller is getting very close to interviewing the President. Look, it`s clear that the President`s attorneys are worried about this -- the possibility of this interview. The President came out last week and said that you know, of course, he would be happy to do it. And you saw Ty Cobb and John Dowd in the next 24 hours trying very much to walk it back. I mean, this statement from John Dowd, is absurd. Client -- lawyers work for clients, not the other way around. It is the President`s call whether he`ll do the interview, not John Dowd. John Dowd is clearly just trying to take some heat off the President. So I think the reason you see this attacks on the investigation really heating up and President pressuring people privately and pressure -- and pressuring the Justice Department publicly is you know, there is a long-term strategy here to try to undermine Bob Mueller so he can either fire him or his results can be ignored if he finds wrongdoing. But I think it is a clear strategy on the part of the White House that looks, they have to find a way to back out of this interview and one of the ways to back out of it is to claim Bob Mueller is biased. He doesn`t want to give us a fair shake, this investigation has been biased from the beginning. This Nunes memo proves that it`s been biased. There`s no reason the President should sit down with him.

MELBER: Right, I think that`s exactly the issue Besty, and there`s so much deconstruction of distraction in the Trump era that that frame or that point itself can be exhausting. And yet what the Republican House officials want is to focus on the memo and it`s unseen, unverified rumored attacks on the person who, oh, guess what is overseeing Bob Mueller. There are times in history where we`ve seen people hold up documents and say that their secret evidence proves terrible things about other people in government without giving them the benefit of actual process or cross- examination. It`s not a pretty picture and that comes of course amidst the other story as we`re emphasizing in our reporting tonight, Betsy, Mark Corallo was not a household name but remember, in Fire and Fury we see "Corallo seeing no good outcome" after that infamous Donald Trump intervention and writing the defense to Don Junior`s Russia meeting privately confiding "he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice and Corallo quit. Betsy?

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: I can`t confirm Wolff`s characterization of why Corallo quits. What I can tell you based on having a number conversation --

MELBER: To be fair, I don`t want to make light of anything. I don`t know if Wolf can confirm it, but go ahead.

WOODRUFF: Exactly, yes. To be fair, what I can tell you based on conversations as some mood music to this Corallo situation, is that he was sort of locked in a significant feud with Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Hope Hicks. There was significant amount of back biting, a significant amount of internal sniping Corallo and Marc Kasowitz took one view of the correct way that they thought the President should be defended. Hope, Ivanka, and Jared took a very different view. They kind of took this big picture perspective that defending President Trump also meant defending the three of them while Corallo and Kasowitz were a bit more single-minded in their approach to this. Now another thing that Mueller could potentially run into as he`s interviewing Corallo is remember, Corallo was part of the President`s outside legal team. He works for Marc Kasowitz. And no, he`s not a lawyer, it`s possible that some of the information that he has from his time at the White House could, we don`t know if it will, but could be covered under attorney-client privilege. Just another hiccup as all this unfolding.

MELBER: Sure. But Matt, you and Corallo are part of the same band of brothers or legion of aides, you guys have held similar post, but he knows what obligation he has when he sits down with Mueller?

MILLER: Yes, that`s right. And look, it wouldn`t surprise me at all if the President`s legal team tries to argue that the information Corallo has is covered by attorney-client privilege. But we have already seen Mueller reject that argument once before and get a judge reject that argument. That`s right. He subpoenaed Manafort`s spokesman who was also hired by a legal team to the grand jury and made him testify. So I would expect he would do so here if he wasn`t forthcoming in an interview. Let`s be clear about what Mark Corallo can testify about. We know of course in the book he was reported to believe that The president`s statement constituted obstruction of justice. But there`s something else that happen that I think is key during that timeframe that he works there. He was only there for a short time, from May through July of 2017. It was June of 2017 when the President instructed the White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Bob Mueller. Mark Corallo worked at the Ashcroft Justice Department when Bob Mueller was helping lead the investigation into the 9/11 attack. He would have worked closely with Bob Mueller. I have to think he knew that these attacks were inappropriate. If he heard about these firings, he would have known that it was inappropriate. And not just inappropriate but potentially illegal, I have to think those are the kind of questions -- those are the kind of serious events Mueller is going to want to ask about it.

MELBER: That`s what`s so fascinating. It also goes to the report. Again, just last week, that Trump`s own White House lawyer resigned -- was threatening to resign over the attempt to remove Mueller. We are talking about the people who more so than say, I don`t know, Ivanka Trump knows a lot about the law and when you have criminal liability. And now, tonight they`re the ones Mueller is focusing in on while there`s a lot of noise about the memo which is a point where it`s stressing. Matt Miller and Betsy Woodruff, thank you. All this, of course, happening in plain sight and some Gop leaders who you might not expect from last year or two, they`re in on the game. Speaker Paul Ryan for example, well, New York Magazine`s Jonathan Chait reporting, he`s become something of Trump`s "silent partner" in a war on the rule of law. Of course, Ryan once pushed back when Trump was a candidate.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: I regret those comments that he made. It`s sort of like the textbook definition of racist comments.

These comments are not anywhere in keeping with our party`s principles and values. I am not going to defend Donald Trump, not now, not in the future.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: House Speaker Paul Ryan tonight essentially disinviting Donald Trump from what had been a plan Paul Ryan-Donald Trump event.


MELBER: Not now and not in the future, unless the future is now. Look at the headlines, Ryan folding to Trump on countless issues from law and order to immigration to yes, the memo tonight. Ryan backing the use of this obscure Rule X to support releasing classified information allegedly to impugn Rod Rosenstein. Now, we go to the man behind the story. Jonathan Chait wrote that piece and it`s an important one, John, because in Washington, you and I both know one of the key ways to stay out of the story is just to work in secret. And you argue more or less Paul Ryan has been doing that, but you say it`s time for more exposure, what do you mean?

JONATHAN CHAIT, WRITER, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: So the frame that people have had for Paul Ryan`s involvement with Trump has been based on the questions that you just showed in that segment, will you speak up, will you condemn, and will you say anything. And sometimes you get to ask that and his answers always well, that`s his business. I`m just worried about my thing. Reporters usually just ask him about what he calls his things, like taxes and the budget. But the truth is that Paul Ryan is intimately involved in the obstruction of justice and it started right at the beginning of 2017. The House could vote to release Donald Trump`s tax returns. And those tax returns have a very important role in his violations of norms and keeping his business interest secret. But they blocked those votes. That`s Paul Ryan`s decisions. If Paul Ryan wanted those tax returns out, they would be out and they would have been out for a year. No one -- no one really asks him about that decision. Then, the second thing that`s been happening much more recently is Devin Nunez who`s really Paul Ryan`s attack dog. And this came out a little bit. Paul Ryan is the Speaker of the House, Devin Nunez works for Paul Ryan. The Department of Justice knows this. Rod Rosenstein went to Paul Ryan and said call this guy off. You know, what he`s doing is really dangerous. And Paul Ryan told him to go pound sand, forget it. You know, Paul Ryan is with Donald Trump. But again, Paul Ryan is not being splashed on the front pages in the screens of these stories. I mean, his decision is a key.

MELBER: And you -- and you`re putting your finger on it when it comes to this memo fight. Devin Nunes can do what he wants within the Committee. The Speaker of the House, though, has a constitutional role, second in line to the President, on the gang of eight for intelligence, and he could have -- you`re saying -- taken the position that while Nunez can say what he wants, Paul Ryan as Speaker is not going to back this obscurious unprecedented use of this rule to release the classified information. You`re saying, by doing that, he is in a sense a more powerful version of Nunez?

CHAIT: Absolutely right. He`s Nunez`s boss. I mean, Paul -- you know, he serves at Ryan`s pleasure. Ryan is in charge of the House. The Speaker of the House has almost unlimited power as to what the committees do and what steps they`ve taken, who`s in charge of them. you know, there`s an old saying in Russia under the -- under the Czar`s era, that they would have these compliant parties that would say, if only the Czar -- if the Czar only knew what the Cossacks were doing, then you know, people would say well, the Cossacks work for the Czar. That`s what`s going on here. Devin Nunez works for Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan is really making these decisions.

MELBER: You know, I`m not joking, that is the second time someone has mentioned that Cossack story on air in the last week. I`d never really heard it. So --

CHAIT: You`re leading in Cossack coverage here on MSNBC.

MELBER: I mean, somebody count it up. Jon, you`ve written a smart piece, it`s a tough piece, but it probes deeper into what seems to be a strategy to both help Nunes and these other people while staying back in the shadows. And I close on the point where we quoted Paul Ryan in the campaign when he said, "I`m not going to defend Donald Trump, not now, not in the future." Jon Chait, thanks for your reporting.

CHAIT: Thank you.

MELBER: Up ahead, Russia linked accounts and bots interfering with our politics right now. We have new details and a new report from the major New York Times investigation about people behind fraudulent accounts online and using them to distort our democracy including selling something you may have heard of, called #ReleaseTheMemo.


MELBER: Before House Republicans achieve that big vote to release the secret memo to discredit the Russia probe, well, Russian linked actors were pushing a propaganda campaign for, yes, #ReleaseTheMemo. Another example of how Russian meddling isn`t really a story written in the past tense. Fake Russian accounts did spread Trump messages back in the day in 2015 almost half a million times. But the Russian-backed online fraud is a story we are learning best understood in the present tense. Take this new expose by New York Times Reporter Nick Confessore, sophisticated online propaganda, adopting identities of real people. One company selling 200 million of fake followers to customers that ranged from athletes and celebrities to political figures. Now the New York Attorney General launching an investigation in response and many journalists got caught up in 2016 unknowingly spreading this false propaganda. In fact, in 2017, 3,000 news outlets around the world share tweets that originated from Russian bots, even marked key publications like the Washington Post and our own NBC News. Russians at first seen Americans online not just a campaign tactic, it is happening right now, again as Nick Confessore wrote, in the present tense. I`m happy to say, my guest tonight on this story is Nick Confessore, the New York Times Reporter who broke this story wide open leading directly to that new attorney general investigation and for the special discussion George Lakoff, a Professor of Emeritus and Cognitive Science at U.C. Berkley, the author of the all-new Don`t Think Of An Elephant and an expert on how Donald Trump and others use and sometimes abuse Twitter. Nick, part of this story is fraud works best when it`s not caught. How did that play under your analysis?

NICK CONFESSORE, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, this story that we did is a keyhole into a broader world of influence and identity theft that stretches around the world and involves governments, politicians, criminal syndicates and intelligence operatives. What you are seeing online in your Twitter feed and your Facebook feed is constructed reality and there are actors out there who have learned how to manipulate that reality.

MELBER: Right. And it`s so funny because a lot of people style themselves, I think, I`ll admit I do, it`s -- well, maybe advertising doesn`t work on me. These frauds don`t work on me. I think that`s a place we start. And yet, Professor, your research, and your writing goes to really the opposite point. How profoundly impactful frames are before we even process cognitively the world around us. What is your view of Nick`s reporting here?

GEOGE LAKOFF, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKLEY: This is crucial for democracy. the way that dictators work is this, they frame first. They get their narrative out there first, and then they repeat it and the repetition strengthens the synapses in those neural circuits so the more you hear something, the stronger it gets. Even if you don`t believe it, it`s going to get stronger in your brain no matter what.

MELBER: Wow. You know, I lean from both of you. Let me play, Nick, the rebuttal we have covered the politics of tech a lot on this show. Here was the former CEO of Twitter saying it`s really hard to catch this stuff.


DICK COSTOLO, FORMER CEO, TWITTER: When you bring in state actors by which I mean, nation-states, Russia, China, and to a lesser extent, Iran and North Korea, you`re talking about organizations, countries with almost unlimited resources and sophistication that they can bring to bear in their attacks factors, and so trying to keep up with them and in fact get ahead of them inside these companies is going -- continue to be a challenge.


MELBER: How does that square with what you found?

CONFESSORE: It`s not very real sick, I don`t think. Look, this company can see everything happening in its black box. When 10,000 accounts that were all created within three days of each other are all of a sudden doing the same thing, Twitter can see that.

MELBER: And George, going big picture, what is your advice to the citizenry, and I guess to the press, as we point out in full disclosure, our own news organizations have sometimes erroneously shared this stuff. We have they say, always correct an update, that`s part of verification. But what`s your advise to those worried about A, the framing bots or B, the way Donald Trump continues to use Twitter?

LAKOFF: First, the networks and the media have to not just follow Trump, not just repeat the Twitter. There`s a way to deal with this, which is first, any time you have something like that on Twitter, it`s an attempt to keep a real story that he doesn`t want in the news out there. So get that real story and put that story out first. Then notice that he`s trying to deflect attention from that story with a little Twitter, say very quickly in ten sentences what it is, get it out of the way right away, and then go back to the real story. That is what the media needs to do, but it`s not what it`s doing.

MELBER: Right. It is a fascinating story and George Lakoff, the right analyst on it. And Nick, you get the credit for the scoop, I think the rapper Drake predicted this when he talked about fake people showing fake love, but you did the extra homework. Nick Confessore and George Lakoff, thank you, both.

CONFESSORE: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: And up ahead, we go further inside this fight in the house, the GOP`s Russia memo and some brand-new information breaking tonight about whether Devin Nunez worked with Trump.


MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT. I have former Federal Prosecutor Joyce Vance with me. And Joyce, I want to talk to you about another story that has been breaking tonight. Transcripts have now been released from a period of time when Devin Nunes` controversial leader of the of House Intel Committee, was discussing this vote and releasing this information that they want to do in the secret memo. And Joyce, the news here is that he was confronted about whether he coordinated with Trump, and he would not deny it.

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, and that could end up being incredibly damaging to him in the long run because although he would have immunity for his actions on the floor of the House and his dealings with his colleagues, if this were ultimately deemed to be part of the pattern of obstruction that we seem to be seeing around the Russia investigation, then by cooperating with the White House, which it looks like happened here, he could be exposing himself to liability. Certainly, I think he`ll have an invitation to visit with Bob Mueller`s team.

MELBER: Even though -- even -- I mean, I`m surprised to hear you say that because the speech and debate clause in the constitution gives very wide protections to members of Congress when they`re doing things that relate to their official duties. But you`re saying Mueller could potentially even get past that. Why do you say that?

VANCE: So you`re right it, does give broad protection. But here, if he, in fact, has gone outside of the work of his Congressional subcommittee and is coordinating with the White House to develop a product that is intended either to distract from the Russia investigation or to give the White House a hook for firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, then this could fall outside of the immunity. That`s a legal issue that will have to be investigated and decided, and certainly would be hotly contested. But it gives the appearance of something that may have breached the protection that that immunity provides.

MELBER: What did you think of what we`re learning tonight from these transcripts that in this very hotly contested fight over, "releasing the memo," a Democrat was able to sort of use the process to get on the record that Nunes would not decline, I mean would not deny that there was conversations with Trump staff. And of course, this comes in the backdrop of him being the same person who jumped out of the Uber to go do the meeting with them.

VANCE: You know, this is a very important reminder that our democracy in many ways has some built-in guardrails that still are in place and still are protecting us. Even with the Republicans holding a majority in both houses, the minority party is still appropriately pushing back, is still appropriately engaged and at the end of the day, these small victories like revealing Nunes` motivation and who he may have been involved with when he created this memo these are the kinds of reassurances we get that our democracy is still functioning.

MELBER: Interesting point there from Joyce Vance about something potentially constructive in governance to come out of all this. Thank you for your coverage all through the show tonight. Up next, I`m going to show you something from behind the screens at the State of the Union with Rachel and Brian. That`s next.


MELBER: Have you ever hit like on THE BEAT Facebook page? We post all kinds of stuff behind the scenes pictures and from time to time we go live on Facebook. Last night was one of those times. And Eugene Robinson was kind enough to give us his view behind the scenes. There`s us talking. This was right before he went out to speak with Rachel and Brian. If you go to, you can see this video and some of the other stuff. It goes above and beyond the show if that`s the kind of thing you`re looking for. If you don`t want to relive the State of the Union, you can stay away from our Facebook page. Either way, I thank you for watching. I hope to see you tomorrow night. As for "HARDBALL", it starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: All the President`s men. Let`s play HARDBALL.


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