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Bannon to meet with Mueller next week. TRANSCRIPT: 2/6/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Leah Wright Rigueur, David Hoppe

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: February 6, 2018 Guest: Leah Wright Rigueur, David Hoppe

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, MTP DAILY: And here`s another live pic here of that roadster, in space, dummy in hand. I will bet you from behind that wheels, the stars look very different today. Anyway, ground control to major musk (ph).

That`s all we have for tonight. We will be back tomorrow with more of MTP Daily.

"The Beat" with Ari Melber starts right now.

Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck.

We have more on that as well. It`s quite a day for science, so appreciate it.

A day of pyrotechnics, you might even say, as Chuck was mentioning this rocket launched by the company SpaceX hurtling in the space.

Also, a roller coaster for the markets. The Dow closing now up more that 550 points after all those swings.

Paul Ryan also is facing growing criticism over the idea that he enables Trump over memo gate. I have his former top aide on this show tonight.

Also some advice coming for Donald Trump from, guess who, Joe Biden.

So there is a lot going on that we are going to get to.

We begin with our top story. Two major developments involve Mueller`s probe right now, news breaking. Steve Bannon will meet with Mueller. He was initially subpoena to testify before the grand jury. That was the first time Mueller ever used a subpoena like that on a member of Trump`s inner circle. Now today, if you are keeping track, Bannon was also supposed to testify or at least talk to the House Intel committee. That`s been delayed now for a third time.

My colleague, Rachel Maddow, has shown that Bannon apparently is getting different treatment than other witnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: There is something strange and interesting going on about Steve Bannon. He is being treated differently by the special counsel`s office compared to other campaign administration officials. He is being treated differently by the Republican leadership of your committee. Then they have treated other senior campaign and administration officials and he is being treated different by the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Is that true and what does it mean? And I`m going to ask congresswoman Terri Sewell from the intel committee in a moment.

More on what is happening right now, though. The other big development in the Russia probe is this report that President Trump lawyers are now walking back his famous loud televised promise to do that Bob Mueller interview. Reports that Trump`s lawyers are afraid he could be charged with lying to investigators. Trump`s attorneys also tell us here on NBC, discussions with Mueller are of course understandably private.

And as promised, former vice President Joe Biden giving Trump some advice on this very subject.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think he should sit down with the special counsel?

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I were the President`s lawyer, I probably tell him not to sit down with the special counsel. And one of the things that I would worry about if I were his lawyer is him saying something that was simply not true without even planning to be disingenuous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I turn now to former New Jersey senator Robert Torricelli who also serve on the foreign relations and judiciary committees which makes it pretty on point for this discussion, sir. And back with me, Nick Ackerman, former Watergate special prosecutor. And I should mentioned, basically a co-host of several MSNBC programs.

(LAUGHTER)

NICK ACKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: I have been around.

MELBER: I start with you. The torch, long time watchers of politics know your nickname. When you look at this, when you look at Joe Biden with this advice, when you look at the obvious wrangling that`s going on about the interview, what is your take away about what`s really happening beyond the --?

ROBERT TORRICELLI (D), FORMER NEW JERSEY SENATOR: Of course Joe is answering as a lawyer, as I would, to allow Donald Trump to go into a free wheeling interview is to commit malpractice. Any observer of American politics in the last year has noted his inability to stay on script, stay on message and stay on the facts. He would be a walking perjury case. So I understand the advise of this lawyers.

The fascinating is going to be here. If he does do an interview and he does something inaccurate, which is almost inevitable. Forgive me, generationally, but this will bring us all back to Bill Clinton. When they rushed to impeach Bill Clinton for saying something allegedly inaccurate that was a nonmaterial fact. Watch how quickly people in Washington switch positions if that happens with Donald Trump.

MELBER: Nick?

ACKERMAN: Well, I think if I was advising him as his counsel, I certainly would tell him to take the fifth amendment. I mean, that`s the only option he has got. He can`t refuse, just to refuse to testify because he is prone to perjury. That is not a valid basis upon which not to testify. If Bob Mueller wants, he can serve him with a subpoena, and under U.S. v. Nixon, that subpoena could go right up to the Supreme Court and he is going to have to testify at the end of the day. He will have to go in to a federal grand jury with 23 citizens in the District of Columbia.

MELBER: That it can backfire.

As promise, stay with me. I want to bring in Congresswoman Terri Sewell here from House intel.

I showed Rachel`s reporting about why Bannon looks to be so different. Is that right? It there something different going on with him? What`s important in your view?

REP. TERRI SEWELL (D-AL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: What`s important is that Steve Bannon come before our committee. You know, I think it`s really unprecedented that he has now cancelled for the third time. And I also think it`s really important to remember that we had to subpoena him in order to testify.

So I think it`s really important for him to actually come back before our committee. I think it is really odd that the White House is asserting a privilege about information that Steve Bannon may have during the transition.

As you and I both know, there`s only one President at a time. And during the transition, it was President Obama who had that privilege. So for Trump`s administration to now be asserting that privilege, I think is unprecedented.

MELBER: So I mean, does that tell you as an investigator that you may be on the right track? I mean, if they, as you say, overreaching into the privilege in the transition period, and doing all of this scheduling and this bobbing and weaving, does that mean, in your view as investigator, Bannon may know more than some of the other people you have heard from?

SEWELL: Well, I think that it does mean that this White House is asserting a privilege for this particular witness that they are not doing for other witnesses. And so, it does cause me to pause and be concerned. I, obviously, we are going to follow the facts where they lead us. But I think it`s really important that he come back before our committee and finish his interview.

MELBER: Let me also read more from the Times reports. That`s the other big discussion here. Donald Trump`s potential interview with Mueller. It says refusing to sit for it, would open up the possibility Mueller would subpoena the President before grand juries. Setting up a court fight would escalate the probe could b e decided by the Supreme Court as Nick Ackerman was just mentioning. Lawyers and aides believe Mueller might be unwilling to subpoena the President set off a showdown with the White House that Mr. Mueller could lose in court.

Given your role in a parallel investigation, how do you view that? Do you have to just stay out of the way and see what happens? Do you think Mueller would go that far based on your knowledge or would he ultimately blink in this standoff?

SEWELL: I`m not really sure. Look. I think that it`s really important that we make sure that the Mueller investigation goes forward. I think that that`s what makes this whole memo -- release the memo fight that`s going on such a distraction. I think it`s really important that we get to the bottom of how Russia interfered with our elections, because we have heard now from all 17 agencies, including the current CIA director, Pompeo, that they are going to try it again. And so we as a member of the House ways and means - I mean, the House intel committee should be about the business of finding out and getting to bottom of the facts and following the facts where they lead us. I think it`s paramount that we make sure that the Mueller investigation goes forward unimpeded by this President.

MELBER: Congresswoman Terri Sewell, thank you for joining us here at the top of our show.

I want to bring back the panel, Robert Torricelli and Nick Ackerman as well as bringing in Julia Ainsley, our national security reporter in Washington for NBC News.

Julia, you heard the congresswoman there, you probably heard our panelists, there is kind of a consensus about some of these issues regarding what happens legally. I wonder if you could draw out for us the larger national security implications here, particularly if there is a months long battle between Mueller and Trump over an interview that Donald Trump recently claimed he was all about?

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Right, Ari.

I think what`s really important here is to look at the timeline that we have seen so far. When NBC News reported just a few weeks ago that Bannon was giving -- had been given the option of talking to the special counsel`s team, he was choosing that because at first he had been subpoenaed and he was subpoenaed to go before the grand jury at the same time that the House intelligence committee was about to hear from Bannon the first time. That was before he invoked that executive privilege.

Now it seems that Mueller may have done that because he wanted to protect what Bannon could say. And maybe that from everyone who they have talk to, especially Michael Flynn, they know exactly what Bannon knows and what they can ask about. And they don`t want him to go say this at a setting, even if it is closed door on Capitol Hill, because as we have seen, a lot of that can leak out.

MELBER: It isn`t that close.

AINSLEY: So there`s something I think Rachel is tapping on, that they want to keep it really secure. Right, exactly, it is not that close. And what he has to say seems to be something really sensitive and paramount to this investigation.

MELBER: Yes. I think Julia makes an important point Nick Ackerman.

Look. The intel committee may be close the way dog owners close the front door, but there`s a big doggie down there on the bottom of the door. And the doggie runs in - and both parties do it, although the Republicans obviously have gone to far greater lengths with rule ten and the sort of the memo done on Friday. But both parties have been leaking out. So she makes the point, I think, fairly about whatever Bannon tells, leaks.

But of course, some of these has already leaked. Look at Reince Priebus here according to the "Washington Post" report. Trump`s ire at Mueller rose to such a level that Bannon, hello, and Priebus grew quote "incredibly concerned he was going to fire Mueller and sought enlist others to intervene with the President."

Why would that matter if you believe the Post reporting that not only there was a credible effort to oust Mueller, but that Bannon knew something or decided something that was so bad that he had to intervene?

ACKERMAN: I mean, the reason being, that this could be the basis for obstructing justice, other arguments of other evidence on this.

MELBER: That alone. I mean Bannon saying don`t do this.

ACKERMAN: Well, yes. In the context of everything else, of course.

MELBER: Right.

ACKERMAN: Certainly from the standpoint of Mueller`s office, they don`t want Bannon. If he is really going to be a witness for the government going into a congressional committee and providing other testimony that can be used as prior inconsistent statements that could be inconsistent, even in a minor way with what he tells the Mueller group.

So if I were the prosecutor, I wouldn`t want him talking to any of these committees. I would want to keep his testimony to myself. I want to know what he says and be very careful about how he developed it, what I showed him to refresh his recollection and do it in a way that would make him a first rate witness if it comes to that.

MELBER: Senator, listen to Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus talking about this whole question about the potential removal - potential unlawful removal even of Bob Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe Mr. Mueller should be fired?

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: No, I do not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has there been discussions in the White House about firing him?

BANNON: I would not tell you about discussions in the White House, but I will tell you nothing I ever heard like that.

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I never felt of all the things that we went through in the west wing, I never felt that the President was going to fire the special counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Is he putting a lot of weight on the word feeling there?

TORRICELLI: I want to turn this on you for a second. We talk a lot about constitutional crises. The fact of the matter, America really has not had many constitutional crises. In Watergate, the Supreme Court did a ruling and Nixon complied. George Wallace stood in the courthouse, on the schoolhouse steps got a court order and allowed federal troops in.

If I were Robert Mueller, here is my nightmare. This is a different American with a very different President. He goes to subpoena of the grand jury, Donald Trump, he doesn`t go. They go to court. They get a court order and he doesn`t go. American democracy and these institutions of law depend upon respect for the institutions. What if he doesn`t?

MELBER: Are you saying, sir --

TORRICELLI: That`s a real constitutional crisis.

MELBER: But are you saying that Bob Mueller for an instant should change his strategy based on that potential law?

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: I mean, is that a fairway to approach this?

TORRICELLI: I don`t think he should pull a punch. He should go straight ahead. But any responsible person right now, that does not include Robert Mueller. That includes you, me, everyone in this process has to think about the consequences of Donald Trump not obeying a subpoena, getting a court order, and you have to serve him in the White House and get him to go.

This is a President uniquely, uniquely, not like Richard Nixon, not like George Wallace as governor, who just might not do it. That is a real problem for American democracy. And while we are all debating these other issues tonight, keep your eye on that, not next week, not next month, but down the road, this country faces that threat.

MELBER: Right. I mean, that`s a version, Julia, the senator outlines of basically what was at stake with Nixon and I wasn`t there, but from what I have read and what I studied in law school, there were people very concerned at the time about where that would end and whether that scenario would go there.

Nixon, Julia, I think it is fair to say was different in that the evidence seemed to show that he was a crook, that he was involved in a conspiracy, but he was also an institutionalist, who seemed in the end to follow institutional rules, the senator arguing, Julia, in this case, this President may not.

AINSLEY: That`s right. I also was not around for Nixon, but I studied him as well.

The piece of this to remember is that Nixon was complying with the court order. And a lot of the things that we are talking about before we get to the Supreme Court phase, would be a President relying on tradition. Everyone who -- when we were talking about the very early stages of whether or not the President would sit down with Robert Mueller`s team, and we heard well, he might go to the grand jury and he might invoke the fifth amend. We all heard what President would ever invoke the fifth amendment, that`s political suicide.

But now we are in a place where tradition does not dictate what this President will do. So it may come to a place where it goes beyond tradition. And it comes out to just like how the former scenario laid out. It comes out to a sort of defiance of an institution. We have seen him defy the FBI. He is defying the justice department. He is releasing classified information. There are other things that are unprecedented about all of this. So it`s important to follow the path that the senator lays out.

MELBER: And Julia, you laid out well. You also mentioned full disclosure. You weren`t there for Watergate. I mentioned that I wasn`t.

Nick, I`m trying to think is there somebody here --?

ACKERMAN: I was there. I was there. And with those same issues came up. People kept thinking, the Supreme Court, I think, they really going to order Nixon to produce those tapes? Is he going to really producing the Supreme Court going to order it? Or it turns out it was a zip justice Rehnquist had to recuse himself. But every single justice joined basically saying that no person is above the law and that the people have the right to everyone`s evidence.

And part of it was just the public opinion that came out after that Supreme Court decision and people realized that there was a rule of law. I couldn`t imagine that Nixon at that point couldn`t have turned over those tapes. And I think if the same thing happens here, I think a Supreme Court is going to do the same thing.

MELBER: And that`s the big question. I think all three have raised that. I`m reminded of Yogi bear have said predictions are hard to make especially about the future. And we will have to see what happens if we get there.

Senator Robert Torricelli and Nick Ackerman and Julia Ainsley, thank you to each of you.

Coming up, I have a Special Report, my breakdown tonight on Trump`s legal strategy to evade this interview and why it echoes Bill Clinton.

Also, Trump`s chief of staff John Kelly just made some news with some remarkably raw comments about young immigrants. I will play them. You can judge them for yourselves.

Also, some news coming out about one of the women accusing Donald Trump of past sexual misconduct. We will tell you how she is getting involve.

And Donald Trump Jr. giving his response, this response when asked about accusations of racism against his father.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON: All the rappers, all the list, all his African-American friends from Jesse Jackson to Al Sharpton, you know, I have pictures with him the whole life. We say hi. I was their friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: He has pictures. They are all friends. This is what we re going to do tonight. My colleague and my friend, Reverend Al Sharpton is going to give his response to Don Jr., on this show later.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Here is something I didn`t know we would be reporting tonight. Trump`s chief of staff, John Kelly, calling Donald Trump`s plan to legalize the status of nearly two million dreamers is stunning, unexpected and then he said this,

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There are 690,000 official DACA registrants and the President sent over what amounts to be two-and-a-half times a number to 1.8 million. The difference between 690,000 and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, other would say were too lazy to get off their asses but they didn`t sign up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Too lazy. That is general Kelly`s contribution to this debate. This is of course the same general who used to argue that political rhetoric has ruined things that used to be sacred.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY: You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred. You look upon its great honor. Life, the dignity of life was sacred.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m joined now by Victoria Defrancesco, professor at the University of Texas, LBJ school of public affairs and center for Mexican- American studies.

I don`t know where to begin, so where should we begin?

VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Ari, I have gotten to a point where few things shock me in politics. But when I heard those words come out of Kelly`s mouth, my jaw drops. He is calling these children, lazy. What he doesn`t understand is the paralyzing fear that has gripped the immigrant community as of Trump`s presidency.

So these are kids who not only fear for themselves. If I go and sign up for DACA, well, what if something happens? They do away with these program. They have my information. Not only are they going to come and get me, but they are going to come and get my parents and all of my family. And so -- I mean, the notion that it`s laziness, aside from all of the stats about how immigrants contribute to the economy, is just something I cannot understand, Ari. I am beside myself with these comments.

MELBER: Well, you put it very well. Because number one, it traffics in a very obvious long standing smear about immigrants, which is not backed up in any way. And then two, he knows exactly what he is talking about because he was homeland security director. And the entire debate around this issue, and I have long said on air, there are legitimate sides to this issue, if once policy position is that long-term they want less rather than more immigration coming in to the country. That is a policy debate.

But it is certainly wrong of him to suggest that the main reason someone wouldn`t self-report is quote-unquote "laziness" when what is happening in this year, as we see the threat in the last year of families being broken part is precisely why a rational self-interested person might not self- report because they don`t think this program is going to last.

DEFRANCESCO: Right. And there is another interesting piece of it that`s floating in the background. So we know we are coming up on our 2020 census. And we have seen a push among the department of justice to include a citizenship question on this, so the Latino community is feeling very scared that there are all of these government entities inquiring about their citizenship status and personal information. They feel that they are just accumulating files on them so when the time comes they can just get ready and go and get them. And these are very real fears. I mean, this is something that people just cannot sleep anymore because (INAUDIBLE).

MELBER: Right. This is real, obviously, as you emphasize.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders did a sort of doubling down, saying maybe it`s not the undocumented who don`t self-report, who are quote-unquote "lazy." Maybe it`s just Democrats. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chief of staff John Kelly said today that some dreamers were quote "too lazy to get off their asses to register for DACA protection." Is that the position of this White House that Dreamers are lazy?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The position of the White House is that we want to fix a problem that was created by the previous administration. If anybody is lazy, it is probably Democrats who are not showing up to work and are actually getting to the table to make a deal on this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Final thought.

DEFRANCESCO: That`s an interesting way to turn the table. The truth of the matter is that the Democrats have put forth a number of proposition on how to resolve this. And every time they do, President Trump turns around and say, no, no, this is isn`t good enough. If we want this then we want a whole immigration reform. For right now we want a solution for DACA. If that means a wall, so be it. But he is poisoning the wealth by trying to include a whole comprehensive immigration reform that is completely, completely (INAUDIBLE) to what we want in this country which is a country of immigrants.

MELBER: And given the frequency and repetitiveness of which DACA and related to base are leaked said and reversed by this administration, you almost wonder whether there`s a deliberate political strategy to get this in the water and get it debated and get these slurs out there without actually doing policy making, I wouldn`t call that lazy. I would just say, we observe it.

Victoria Defrancesco, thank you very much.

DEFRANCESCO: Thanks, Ari,

MELBER: Ahead, right after this break, I will do what I promised, my special legal breakdown on Trump`s strategy, how it relates to Bill Clinton and the question, can Bob Mueller actually make Trump testify.

Later, we go inside Trump`s chaotic misdirection to distract from the adult film star`s Stormy Daniels` story. And is that story still alive?

Also Donald Trump, Jr. says basically his father can`t be a racist when you look at all of the photo ops he has done. We have our exclusive response from our own Reverend Al Sharpton tonight on "the Beat."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Now the other top story tonight, can Bob Mueller make Donald Trump testify? The answer to that question could impact the entire Russia probe, even the rest of the Trump presidency. But unlike some Trump stories, this is not one where he is defying all norms or where his approach to the DOJ is plain wrong. There is press definite running both for and against Trump here. So if you hear somebody say that this is like a slam dunk case that Mueller can make, and that Trump will have to testify about every topic under the sun, that`s just not legally true. And if you hear someone on the other side say Trump can refuse any and all testimony request, and there`s nothing that government can do about it, that`s not true either. So tonight, I bring you the special report on the actual facts and legal foundation here whether people like the partisan implications or not.

And you can actually understand this showdown between Mueller and Trump, as a fight over a few classic rules or commandments if you will, and the first of those is, never let them know your next move. Trump`s lawyers are applying that commandment in this new gambit reported in the New York Times, that some Trump lawyers oppose Trump doing this Mueller interview. This is the same opening position Bill Clinton`s lawyers took when he was facing pressure to do his own interview and it is a prudent, and let`s be fair and clear a perfectly lawful negotiating position for lawyers to take. Trump`s lawyers are deliberately holding out a carrot of a potential interview. Right now these reports are that the two men on your screen, both Trump`s lawyers disagree about whether to do one or not. It`s a classic lawyer leverage tactic, it adds a kind of uncertainty because Mueller doesn`t know how far they will push this move and it is based on a non-(INAUDIBLE) legal argument that maybe the President isn`t a normal witness and doesn`t have to sit for just any wide-ranging interview.

Clinton`s lawyers used this exact same strategy. They rebuffed the prosecutor`s voluntary interview request as many as six times. They cited Clinton`s busy schedule, they slammed the prosecutor as unfair and politically motivated. But that gambit brings us to the next commandment. Never let anyone know how much power you hold. Ken Starr didn`t begin with his most powerful move, a grand jury subpoena on the President, he played out this fight with Clinton, which I`m about to show you. And then ultimately revealed how much power he was willing to use, going nuclear with a grand jury subpoena on a sitting president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has four options, none of them appealing, testify before the grand jury, invoke the Fifth Amendment and be in contempt of court, ignore the subpoena and provoke a constitutional crisis or he could fire Starr which would set off a political firestorm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s how the news put it when the subpoena dropped, Clinton in a tough spot. Trump could be in exact same spot if he resists this Mueller interview entirely and Mueller goes nuclear and Trump would then face those same four choices you just heard. Now, what happened? Clinton in his case replied by trying to get the questions in writing, the prosecutor wouldn`t even accept that, and then they landed on that now-famous televised White House interview with a lawyer present. Here`s how NBC reported the solution to that standoff in 1998.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The simple and most straight forward would be for Mr. Starr to submit his questions and those of the grand jury in writing and let the President answer them under oath.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President`s legal advisers are attempting to negotiate his way out of an appearance before the federal grand jury. Here`s the deal the White House would like to cut, an interview at the White House with the President`s lawyer present.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: So while the Clinton`s team began with the position that Trump is holding right now, the Clinton`s team ended on the position that Bob Mueller has right now, do an interview. Now for Clinton, we just counted; it took 176 days of negotiation to get to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President will voluntarily provide his testimony on August 17, 1998, to the office of independent counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There it was. And that led to this sight that Americans had never seen before. You`re looking at a sitting president, testifying to a prosecutor about a criminal probe into his own White House. This is footage they didn`t want seen. Now Bill Clinton was the nation`s first chief executive to face questioning under oath in a grand jury probe. It was, as the Post reported at the time, Clinton`s decision overruling the advice of some lawyers and political advisors who worried about the risks of being under oath.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you understand that your testimony here today is under oath?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And do you understand that because you have sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that if you were to lie or intentionally mislead the grand jury, you could be prosecuted for perjury and/or obstruction of justice?

CLINTON: I believe that`s correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Obstruction of justice. There`s that term again. You may have heard lately President Trump claiming obstruction is just fighting back and that`s not true. This legal history on Bill Clinton shows it is, of course, the president who decides if the president testifies. Lately, sometimes my job involves saying very simple things, so I`ll just say it, these lawyers work for him. He doesn`t work for these lawyers. Bill Clinton, with the same hand and the same kind of negotiated debate, after all that time, in the end, Clinton decided to do it. Trump says he already decided to do it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m looking forward to it, actually. You know, again, I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all of that, but I would love to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Subject to my lawyers. Spoken like a man who seemed to know this week`s news was coming, underestimate his rhetorical planning at your peril. If Donald Trump does rebuff Mueller and then Mueller does subpoena him, we will be right back in Nixon`s legal territory, a president who gambled big and lost big with the unanimous Supreme Court ruling that no presidential power means in any sense -- read it there -- that a president is above the law and that he had to comply, consistent with the fair administration of justice. What is fair? What is justice? We`ve heard a lot about what Donald Trump says and thinks but this is a constitutional democracy. Those terms, those words, are not ultimately up to what the president or his lawyers decide, it is up to our courts. Now I`ll tell you in 90 seconds, I have some big news tonight about one of the women who`s accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. She went public to make her point. Now she says she`s going to make a difference in Congress. That story when we`re back in 90seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We are back and our next story would be the top controversy in any normal presidency. We`re just one month into that news that Donald Trump`s lawyer arranged for an adult film star to get over $100,000 in hush money. One reason this hasn`t been a bigger story is Trump`s ability to misdirect. That is kind of a magic trick that goes beyond simple distraction. It`s using a jujitsu of attention to redirect attention without even realizing. Take this video of a legendary magician and pickpocket Apollo Robbins as he uses misdirection to swipe a watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

APOLLO ROBBINS, AMERICAN ARTIST: Yours doesn`t come over the end of the wrist, but if you close your hand tight, it creates a bit attention to your wrist gets warm, at the same time while you focus on your watch, you lost the cellphone that`s on your front pocket. Check your front pocket, see if it`s still there. It is. So that`s what it looks like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: He took the watch and the cell phone. You got to watch that one more than once. Now, most politicians do use a kind of denial and distraction. Trump though goes a bit further. He uses so much chaotic misdirection, that many people literally don`t even realize what he`s distracting from. Like this week, we had antiques and the memo distracting from yes, the Mueller probe but also from the ongoing large controversy over Stormy Daniels which relates to the 19 women who have accused Donald Trump of non-consensual sexual misconduct. That includes Rachel Crooks. She first spoke out in October 2016, and now, she`s running for office as a Democrat in Ohio, in a district that went red for Trump in the last election. I`m joined by Leah Wright Rigueur, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University. Nice to see you tonight.

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, always good to see you, Ari.

MELBER: When you look at this story, I`m curious as a political scientist, your view of A, why it`s important potentially, and B, why it does seem crowded out by so many other things?

RIGUEUR: Well, I got to tell you, Ari, Trump has 99 problems and a porn star and a gender problem are definitely part of that. The GOP has a woman problem. The Stormy Daniels story keeps coming back to that. It keeps hammering it home, because it`s not just about a porn star being paid off, it`s also about a relationship with women, this idea of morals, and also brings up all of these ghosts of trump`s sexual assault charges. So, of course, you want that to go away, of course, you want to misdirect and it`s very easy for Trump to point in other directions and say this is not the focus of the -- this is not the focus right now. But at the same time, it should really be on everyone`s radar and it really should be our focus.

MELBER: And this candidate is backed by the Ohio Democratic Party, Rachel Crooks. She runs in this district I mentioned that did go for Trump. She`s got a two-term Republican incumbent she`s running against. Can you think of any other time in history where a political opposition party would try to seize on accusers, not just as a story, which we have seen since the beginning, but as candidates?

RIGUEUR: Right, so you know, this is part of history`s narrative. We see it all the time dating back. This is one of those things that you seize on. We see it with Bill Clinton, right? So Republicans in the `90s used Bill Clinton`s you know, indiscretions in order to run for office. We see this as part of the --

MELBER: But did they -- did they ever run a candidate, though? I mean, I wonder, is this an important step as politics changes, this is a way obviously to keep this person in the news. She has a story to tell, other women have basically had leaks, that their story was paid to keep quiet. What do you think of this new twist of actually putting someone forward as the candidate herself?

RIGUEUR: Well, it`s important because one of the things that it shows is that people aren`t just talking. They`re not just actually just speaking out but they`re actually turning those protests into politics. So they`re doing what the democratic system says that we should do, right? So if you have a problem, you go out and you run for office. It also is important for thinking about -- I think one of the things that this woman has pointed out is that this is -- this is in a county that has run -- that has supported Trump in the past, but that is also pretty unhappy with his presidency. So she`s tapping into that. And it`s an important way of kind of manifesting, and at least channeling the frustration that many people in this country have felt. It`s important to keep, I think one of the things that`s coming out is that people are keeping their eyes on the political prize and they are moving forward in thinking about elections, they`re thinking about the democratic process as a way to instill change and to resist Donald Trump.

MELBER: Yes, it is fascinating in that regard and the President has taken a certain approach of total denial of a lot of these allegations. And Stormy Daniels is much more about a payment for by all accounts is an alleged consensual encounter Rachel Crooks who we`re profiling here tonight with you and these other women have alleged nonconsensual encounters but is certainly is worth spotlighting tonight. Something that the Democratic Party of Ohio has decided is not going away, it`s going to be literally on the ballot. Professor Rigueur, thanks as always for joining us.

RIGUEUR: Always a pleasure.

MELBER: Up next, Paul Ryan walking away from questions about Trump and the Russia probe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he vindicated in any way?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Let me go back to what I just said. This is about FISA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was the President vindicated?

RYAN: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Some critics say Paul Ryan has gone beyond silence that is effectively abetting an attack on the rule of law on the FBI issues he used to campaign on. Paul Ryan`s former Chief of Staff joins me next live. And later, Reverend Sharpton responds exclusively to Donald Trump, Jr.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Speaker Paul Ryan is accused today of trying to appease some of the most extreme voices in his party specifically on undermining the Russia probe. Look at this, a former Bush speechwriter says Ryan is either deluded or deceptive or being used as a tool in Trump`s attacks on the Mueller investigation. Back during the campaign when there was the furor over Access Hollywood and other Trump issues, Ryan said he was not defending trump.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

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

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: But just this morning, Ryan not only not defending or criticizing, he stayed quite silent on a range of important issues. Remember, this is the most powerful Republican in Congress. Here is Ryan pressed on Trump`s reaction to that GOP memo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over the weekend, the President claimed total vindication from the Nunez memo. Was he vindicated in any way?

RYAN: Let me go back to what I just said. This is about FISA abuse and this is about holding the our government accountable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was the President vindicated?

RYAN: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m joined now by Speaker Ryan`s former Chief of Staff, number one in the office, Dave Hoppe. Thanks for coming on tonight.

DAVE HOPPE, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO PAUL RYAN: My pleasure.

MELBER: When you look at Paul Ryan completely going back on his pledge to defend Donald Trump, not now, not in the future, why do you think he`s reversed himself?

HOPPE: Well, I think if you look at what the Speaker was saying, the culture have -- was back when the release of the Billy Bush comments and that`s what he was to then. What he is speaking to now is exactly what he said before and he said it again which is this is not an attack on the FBI and it`s not an attack on Mr. Mueller, it is an attack on the abuse of the FISA system. That`s what they think is there. That`s what they`re looking at, that was he`s talking about. He doesn`t see it as a vindication or a condemnation one way or the other of the President. This is once again making sure the FISA systems works as it should.

MELBER: Well, we can -- we can talk FISA. As you know, Paul Ryan voted for the FISA law, and as you know, the law is a secret surveillance court system. And if he doesn`t like it, he is the Speaker of the House and he could change the law. He didn`t to that. He wanted a special cutout for one-off one case and a partisan release. And you and I both know he would never oppose that if the shoe was on the other foot. I want to get lost in the memo rabbit hole though, I want to ask you since you say there`s not attacks on the FBI, take a listen to Paul Ryan calling apparently in the midst of the Mueller probe for the same partisan House cleaning at the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: I think the people at the FBI at the DOJ need to clean their own house if there are problems in their own house, and I think that`s really important. And just -- he came in after this last election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Why does Speaker Ryan feel the need to in your view, as someone who knows him and works for him and I know you believe in him, why does he need to get in there and echo what everybody knows are Donald Trump`s partisan targeting of a whole range of officials from Jeff Sessions to Rod Rosenstein, both his own appointees by the way, to Andy McCabe, to Jim Comey who`s already been fired, to James Baker who was Comey`s general counsel, why is Paul Ryan getting on board with that? Is that good for the rule of law?

HOPPE: What he`s talking about is were there some people at the FBI who did things in trying to get another -- once again -- a FISA, the ability from the FISA court to go and surveil an American. And was it done right, was it done by the book? Was all the information given to the judge in this case or not? It is not clear that the judge got all the information. That is a legitimate way to talk about specific people in the FBI who may have hidden part of the information on where this dossier came from. And it`s clear that there`s -- or it seems clear from what we`ve seen thus far that all the information on the dossier, who paid for it, what it was being used for, its purpose was not given to the FISA court judge.

MELBER: Number one, you know that even Congressman Nunes and Trey Gowdy acknowledge that the political nature of the dossier was given to the court. Number two, I`m sure you know, I`m going to give you benefit of the doubt, that that`s all legally irrelevant because biased sources are a regular part of Fourth Amendment warrant law. I mean, you know that, right, so it`s irrelevant legally.

HOPPE: There`s a difference. Yes. Were they told it was political? Yes. Were they told who was doing it, where the money had come from, how it was -- what the background on it was? No, the court was not. It does not appear that it was given with evidence and all the information yet. But that`s what Trey Gowdy has said that all this information did not go to the FISA court.

MELBER: But you acknowledge that -- under Fourth Amendment Law would not change the fundamental analysis of whether the source was credible?

HOPPE: It`s not clear whether that would have changed it or not. And that`s one of the questions. And I don`t -- I don`t --

MELBER: It is -- Sir, it is clear -- it is clear because the main -- the main Fourth Amendment process is determining the credibility of the information, not whether there is a, "ulterior" motive on it and that -- and federal appeals courts have ruled up and down on that. Go ahead.

HOPPE: Going to -- going to the credibility of the information. Mr. Steele obviously got some of his information from Russians. I don`t think that the campaign that paid him, the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC was colluding with the Russians anymore more than anybody else because he got --

MELBER: And the Free Beacon -- and the Free Beacon -- if you`re going to talk about selective information, sir, and you`re going to list off who funded the dossier, I`m sorry, I owe it to my viewers it was the Free Beacon, a conservative publication and Perkins Coie law firm retained by the Clinton campaign. I don`t understand -- and I don`t understand this coming from people associated with Paul Ryan why we`re going to talk about selective information and then provide selective information. I give you a final word, sir.

HOPPE: What we`re talking about is whether this was done with all the information the judge needed to make a decision on a document that appears may have very little in it that is actually truthful. And that`s from Comey. Comey said very little and was vetted in the way it should have been that you would expect in a key document to get the power to surveil, one of the most important powers and really sensitive powers is to surveil somebody the way the FISA court allows you to --

MELBER: And I think -- and I think it`s a fascinating -- I think it`s a fascinating engagement of civil liberties. And if they want to change the FISA law, of course, he`s in charge of the House, he could do that. I have to fit in a break. Mr. Hoppe, I really appreciate you coming on taking the question and coming on THE BEAT. I always like talking to you. Thank you, sir.

HOPPE: Happy to be here. Thanks very much.

MELBER: All right, we`re going to fit in a break. Donald Trump Jr. talking about the rapper`s defense. He said it, not me. Reverend Sharpton after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Here`s Donald Trump Jr. addressing a new question about whether liberals accuse his father of being a "racist."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: All the rappers, all this, all his African-American friends, from Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, you know, I have pictures with them the their whole life. We say hi, always been friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There are pictures and it`s true Reverend Sharpton and Trump go back a long ways. As promised earlier in the show, here is Rev. Sharpton`s new and exclusive response to Donald Trump Jr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: I met Donald Trump marching on him about Central Park. Later he tried to turn Democrat and came to a few of our conventions then he went all the way back right with birtherism. We haven`t changed. He changed. And what he`s changed to become is one who has proposed some of the most racist bigoted policies. When he was talking right, we took pictures with him and welcomed to him to our events. When he went left, we stood up for what was right. He is he promoting racism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Two views there of Donald Trump`s history, long history in New York. We wanted to show that to you. That is our show.

"Hardball" with Chris Matthews starts now.

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