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Mueller indicts 13 Russians. TRANSCRIPT: 2/16/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Seth Waxman; Richard Painter, Richard Blumenthal, Neera Tanden, Natasha Bertrand

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: February 16, 2018 Guest: Seth Waxman; Richard Painter, Richard Blumenthal, Neera Tanden, Natasha Bertrand

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, MTP DAILY: Quite a week. It began with the security press shooting, Mueller indictments, just another week it seems like someday. But quite a long ones. This is what we have for "MTP" to night.

"The Beat" with Ari Melber starts no now. Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Chuck, I have to ask you before you go. Have you ever had a newsroom day like this?

TODD: I don`t know anymore. It feels like they are every day. Today`s day ended a why.

MELBER: I mean, I feel it is different because we have been talking about the election meddling for well over a year.

TODD: True.

MELBER: And now you have the case laid out, announced by a Trump DOJ official. I mean, it is something. It is really something.

TODD: It is something. No, there`s no doubt about it. And to think that this is only a smaller slice of this probe.

MELBER: Exactly.

TODD: No WikiLeaks yet. We don`t know anything about that yet. That`s a separate part of the investigation.

MELBER: Yes. There`s a lot of other potential criminal liability and I think about "Meet the Press" this Sunday where I`m sure you are going to be balancing this story as well as well as your special coverage on the school shooting, Chuck. We will be watching. And otherwise I would say have a good weekend.

Thank you, sir.

We begin with breaking news, Bob Mueller issuing the first indictments of the Russians interfering in the 2016 elections. We have them all. We will be going through it.

Other breaking news, right on in relation, Donald Trump responded tonight by admitting Russians meddled. That response from the President shows just how much Bob Mueller has ended any debate over the fact of Russian interference, how Bob Mueller`s probe not only indicted people today, but how he indicted a conspiracy theory that this President has been peddling throughout his presidency.

This is the first time the U.S. has indicted foreigners for a major election meddling plot. This is the first time a DOJ official has formally announced the charges, that`s unlike, say, Mike Flynn or Paul Manafort, and those cases, where we only heard from Mueller`s documents. They did the talking, not Trump`s appointees.

Tonight`s development is so big though that you see it there, Donald Trump`s own appointee to the justice department, Rod Rosenstein, addressing the nation after personally briefing the President. But no worries here about overstating. You can`t overstate what is happening right now. And what you see on your screen there, you were looking at a Trump official announcing charges against Russians for helping the Trump campaign.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system including the 2016 Presidential election.


MELBER: We are in new territory right now. A lot of talk about what it all means. We are dividing our special edition of "the Beat" tonight into pieces to explore each part of the case.

But right now, let`s begin with the core of what Mueller alleges, first. That Russians wage a secret propaganda war online, operating social media to distort the election debate, posing as U.S. persons and to trick voters to involve them in a conspiracy committing identity fraud, stealing real Americans` identities.

And then the second new revelation, in this new set of indictment here is that they weren`t just working online, Russians abusing computer technology within the U.S., using it to buy political ads, and some of them came here traveling to states like Nevada, Michigan and Texas, corrupting grass roots politics, by Mueller says, staging these political rallies in America. They talked to people about focusing on so-called purple states to help Trump, like Colorado, Virginia and Florida. Or remember this from the campaign, you remember these costumes of Hillary Clinton, and these dummies, there she was as a kind of prisoner. That was at real Republican event. Think of that context now for what is new tonight, the revelation that Russians paid someone to build a cage in a flatbed truck at a rally and then paid so they would wear a costume of Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform.

And then let me show you one of the most significant revelations of all, Bob Mueller stating that Russians were communicating with people associated with the Trump campaign. I repeat from the new Mueller indictment, these Russians now indicted were communicating with people associated with the Trump campaign.

To begin with our special coverage here on what`s in the indictment, I turn to former Watergate special prosecutor Nick Ackerman and former White House ethics chief Richard Painter.

Richard, I e begin with Rod Rosenstein coming out for the first time ever as I mentioned to announce this. Your view of what he did, why that was important and how that correlates with him briefing the President himself on a probe on how this work benefitted the Donald Trump campaign?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CHIEF FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, this part of the case, this indictment concerns the media activities and other political activities by Russian agents, its grassroots political activities inside the United States, in order to swing the 2016 Presidential election. This is separate from the computer hacking of the DNC computer and other aspects of the Russia investigation that we have yet to hear about.

These people have been indicted. The President for the first time today has acknowledged that there was Russian interference in the election. The Russia investigation is not a hoax. Anybody who said it is a hoax is a fool and doesn`t belong in our government, whether Democrat or a Republican. We have known that for a long time that there`s been Russian interference in our election. The CIA and the FBI told us that over a year ago and this indictment is the first step toward legal action being taken.

But I have to say, this is in part our own fault. If Americans can be so easily duped into believing Hillary Clinton ought to be in jail because some idiot dresses up in a jail bird costume looking like Hillary Clinton, when there`s just zero evidence that Hillary Clinton did anything criminal, and people want to believe that the "lock her up" chants at the Republican national convention, which were chanted by Americans, you know, we are sitting ducks for the Russians. We are going to get taken over by the Russians.

MELBER: I hear you, sir. I hear you. But let me - I want to build on the point and bringing Nick.

Nick, fraud is illegal because it can work and it`s important. And this is a conspiracy now alleged to defraud the United States. Up until today, there was an intelligence discussion, there was a political discussion, there was a Donald Trump conspiracy theory, now tonight February 16th, it changes. Those discussions end and we are sitting on an international criminal conspiracy indictment for this fraud?

NICK ACKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: That`s right. I mean this is right out of a James Bond novel. They bring in a SWAT team of Russians into the United States.

MELBER: Inside the United States.

ACKERMAN: Inside the United States. People posing as tourists, coming into the United States who are basically their one job and only job is to interfere with our election, try and throw the election to Donald Trump and then to try and get Americans to basically divide against each other.

I mean what I found most amazing in this indictment was even after Donald Trump was elected and they basically reached the goal of their conspiracy, they were still funding and trying to incorporate rallies in favor and opposed to Trump.

MELBER: False flag rallies, fraud rallies, political interference.

Richard, let me introduce to you what David Corn who help break the dossier story, who was that cited the GOP memo who has been in central investigative reporter on this. His view of this and all of this is breaking tonight. People are digesting. And he says special counsel Mueller has officially confirmed that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russians while Moscow was assaulting the election.

Richard, your view pinpointing that part of the indictment that I flag that is so significant that directly states there was contact with Trump campaign associates.

PAINTER: Well, and this part of the indictment, those contacts concerning social media, at this point, apparently are with people who did not know they were dealing with Russian agents. But we got to understand that there are other people in the Trump campaign including Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner who met with other Russian agents in the Trump tower to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. So there was definitely willing collaboration with the Russians with respect to the other parts of the Russian operation.

This part of the Russian operation thus far with respect to social media, the context may very well have been unwitting contact with Trump campaign people didn`t know who they were communicating with.

But bottom line as the Trump campaign wanted this to happen. This is details we have learned today. But isn`t really breaking news. We have known what has been going on here for well over a year. What is shocking is that it took the President of the United States until today to acknowledge that the Russians interfered with our election criminally.

MELBER: Well, and I would put it differently. It is breaking news that the United States is indicting these Russians for meddling in our election. Not only is a breaking news, it is literally never happened before.

And I take your factual point, Richard, which is much of this was out in the open and it was known. But many crimes are out in the open, the question of justice is always is a question of what will be done about the crimes.

Stay with me. As promised, we have many pieces to get to. For our next legal experts that I`m going to be add in, we dig into another key part of this indictment.

The timeline, Bob Mueller telling a story that begin as far back as 2014, with Russians researching and plotting how they might corrupt the election. Now that starts slow. But when does the heat up? Take a look. That comes when the indictment outlines the most serious alleged actions, which are called overt acts.

And that began in June 2016, a key period in the general elections, Mueller says the Russians spent money buying ads to that, putting out a press release for rallies in the U.S., pushing propaganda, ordering posters, that`s a lot of overt acts.

That`s the key window on the political calendar, but that is not all. Take a look at this. Those overt acts in June 2016, that`s the same month, of course, that the Trump family members and top campaign officials welcomed the written offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russians. Trump, Jr. saying he would love to get that Russian assistance.

Meanwhile, George Papadopoulos also is emailing with Russians about possible meetings and telling campaign staff about all of it. You see it there. That record combined with June being the key in this new news tonight on the overt act.

I want to bring in federal prosecutor Seth Waxman, as well as "Washington Post" conservative writer, Jennifer Rubin.

Seth, when you look at that and look at the story that Mueller is telling, and then, you, of course. have what we call around here prosecutorial spidey sense. What is your spidey sense to tell you about that key month?

SET WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think you hit it right on the head. I think that June 2016 month was incredibly telling. And I think Mr. Mueller was entirely focused on it. You know, when you look at what was going on in Trump tower at that time, a Russian operatives meeting in secret with senior Trump operatives, Mr. Kushner and Trump Jr., Paul Manafort. And at the very same time, you see this widespread conspiracy, which by all accounts at least as we are reading the indictment, rises up to senior Russian oligarchs who have close ties to Putin, you can start to see the overlap between the two. And you have to ask the question, if both are going on at the same time, who in the Trump campaign knew about it? And the point you raised earlier at the beginning of this indictment talks about communications with the Trump campaign.

It just continues to beg the question is this indictment what we are seeing today part of the bigger picture that Mr. Mueller is seeing? And of course, if we don`t get the full view or transparency into that, but it sure looks like that and the dates are telling.

MELBER: Jennifer?


First of all, there were two Trump campaigns that were going on. There was the actual Trump campaign that was run by Trump and his associates and then there was the Russian campaign on his behalf. And his defenders have always said that it was merely to create confusion. It was both to undermine the election and to make us disrespect our electoral system.

Yes, but it was clearly, and it says this in the indictment. This is the other part that is new. That it was done for the express purpose of helping Donald Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton.

There is no doubt now who they wanted to win and who they wanted to lose. And when you look at this overlap between the two campaigns, the Russian campaign and the official Trump campaign, you also have to add in the money part of this, and that`s what you alluded to, Ari, which is it went all the way up to the Russian oligarchs, the same Russian oligarchs who are involved in funding Trump projects, the same Russian oligarchs who are buying apartments and other properties in the United States. The same Russian oligarchs who are investigating in (INAUDIBLE) company which helped financed, for example, Trump so-host project. There is an overlap. It is so well integrated. You really couldn`t male this up, except in a spy novel.

I will also point to another date, and that is 2013. That`s when Trump went to Russia. He met with oligarchs, the dossier talks about this, he went there, and he had meetings with some of the same characters who appear later in that Trump tower meeting, that was in connection with the Miss Universe pageant, but these people come back around and around again. It`s the same cast of characters. And you would really have to be awfully naive to think that there wasn`t a clear signal on the Russians part. This is our guy. This is the one we want to help. And then when they did, that they reached out and the Trump campaign was stupid enough to help.

MELBER: That comes through in the indictment which I spent a lot of time with today. It doesn`t just say they wanted to support Trump, it says they also wanted to take out other candidates any way they could with derogatory information, so it`s not just Trump versus Clinton. They went after Rubio. They went after Cruz. We had (INAUDIBLE) Ted Cruz`s strategist on our show previously and he talked about his view of that. Now it`s in an indictment. It`s a lot more serious. And so it`s like you were saying, a real Russian interest in not just with interference and meddling in general, but in supporting Trump and taking other people out. And your draw in connection this to why that would be.

Jennifer, listen to something Rod Rosenstein said that it was the only part of his rather bombshell press conference, the kind of news no White House wants to get, but there`s one sliver here that Donald Trump seized on, take a listen.


ROSENSTEIN: Now there is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.


MELBER: What`s the significance of that, Jennifer?

RUBIN: He says there is no charge in the indictment. He didn`t say it never existed. He doesn`t say it can`t be shown. First of all, you can never show to a beyond a reasonable doubt whether some of this information influenced people that would have otherwise stayed home or would have otherwise voted for Hillary Clinton.

But the operative word is it`s not alleged in the allegation. It`s not alleged in the indictment. There may well be information. There may well be lots of evidence that there was not only unwitting, but witting assistance from the Trump campaign.

So this notion that somehow he is cleared. He put out a statement, the RNC, put out any stupider statement, saying we are exonerated which been showing that there is no collusion. That`s not what it says. And that is not what Rod Rosenstein said. So they are now grasping at straws, because the plot has been revealed. The overlap is established and now it`s just a matter of knitting those two campaigns, the Trump campaign and the Russian campaign together. So that`s why he seized upon this. It`s just a flat out lie. But needless to say, that`s what he is going with. That he has not been indicted for collusion. He has not been identified as someone who was colluding. Wait a little while. We are getting there. We are getting there.

MELBER: Right. And you are speaking also to what we learned in the politics to this. We talked a lot that politics, are first they said, well, Papadopoulos, who is this guy, right? Then they said, well, Manafort and Gates,, well, this was pre-election staff. They had their own dirty problems, it is not us. Then Flynn, your own national security advisors, sanctions related, OK, but that`s not really election meddling and interference per se.

Now that falls apart. And that`s why the President has to grudgingly change his message because now you have Russians indicted for interference who has a Californian on the hook as I mentioned. And we have a lot more to break down.

I want to thank Richard Painter for joining us. Nick, Seth and Jennifer will be part of some of our panels coming up.

Bob Mueller has haunted the Russian spies though, were working out of this very office building, we can show it there in St. Petersburg. We are going to see how he is using the American legal power and intel to go after these foreigners.


ROSENSTEIN: Quote "we had a slight crisis here at work, the FBI busted our activity."


MELBER: Busted. And what does this indictment mean for the liability at risk facing Donald Trump himself and his denials about Russia?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election.


MELBER: Blumenthal joins me from the judiciary committee.

And later in the hour, I will offer you my special report on why Mueller released this indictment with these details and why now.

I`m Ari Melber. And you are watching a special edition of "the Beat" on MSNBC.


MELBER: Bob Mueller indicted one Californian and 13 Russians today. It`s a break through in this special counsel probe that shows this focus on foreigner. And our special coverage right now turns to that key lens, Mueller using U.S. legal power to go after foreigners, working out of this office building. That`s one of the few questions Rod Rosenstein addressed in his unusual appearance today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you had any assurances from Russians that they will provide these individuals for prosecution?

ROSENSTEIN: No communications with the Russians about this. We will follow the ordinary process of seeking cooperation and extradition.


MELBER: Rosenstein using that word ordinary. We all know when it comes to Putin`s Russia, no cooperation is expected. That`s why Russia did not get the benefit of a U.S. heads up today. They were surprised by these indictments. They also called them absurd.

And while the U.S. has not ever indicted people abroad for this kind of election conspiracy, this is a legal tool that prosecutors have used before, including against Russia. In fact the Obama-Holder justice department did this. Back in 2015, there were charges against a Russian spy ring in New York City for attempting to information including about sanctions against Russia.

So what does it mean to go after foreigners like this? Why these particular people? What will happen to them? And could any of them be caught or end up under pressure to cooperate with Mueller`s probe?

I turn again to Nick Ackerman who is through all of these issues.

Eric Holder was tough on Russian spies and used these indictments when people are abroad, they are fugitives in that situation, they can be hard to get. Explain to us why the U.S. government has done this before? And why we see tonight them doing it again?

ACKERMAN: Well, for the simple reason, if people commit crimes in this country or against this country, they can be indicted and brought to justice. Now it isn`t always simple to do that, to bring people to justice. But it doesn`t mean at some point we won`t get them. It doesn`t meant if they go to another country where we have got an extradition treaty with that they won`t be arrested the moment they walked in to some other place. They are certainly not going to be tourists in the United States again. I mean, if there`s one thing, it`s a guarantee is we are going to be on the lookout for these people.

MELBER: Right. You just said something so important, very straight forward. Some of these people indicted here today, were in the United States doing this election interference. And you are pointing out that those very people, as a matter of law, if they tried to come back here, they would be only here in jail. They can`t just walk through here again.

ACKERMAN: Right. The minute they walk in, customs has a red flag on them. They would be arrested and taken away instantly and arraigned. I mean, that is just the way the system works. So it is very important. I mean, that fact that they may never comeback here, is extremely important. That the American people know exactly that we know who it was that interfered with our election, that it was done by Russians and it was done at the behest with lots of money from the Russian government.

MELBER: You know, the old saying is if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

We are learning Bob Mueller is using all kinds of tools. Let me read here from this indictment.

Russian defendants and their co-conspirators did not report their expenditures to the FEC or register, he says, as foreign agents with the DOJ.

And I want to answer that is, of course they didn`t. Putin`s henchmen aren`t good at complying with our paper work law. But the other answer is interesting because that means that Bob Mueller right here is laying out a case that he is willing to use, even these obscure paper work rules to go after election violations. How could that affect anyone who worked in American with these Russians?

ACKERMAN: Well, I think they can be indicted for the exact same thing. They would be indicted for conspiring with these Russians. I mean, the fact that there was only one American today indicted, doesn`t mean that there aren`t going to be more Americans indicted. You have got this microtargeting that was done by these Russians, to twitter, Facebook, to suppress the Clinton vote. How did they know who to target? I don`t believe for a second that this SWAT team that came in were necessarily experts in American politics. They had to have somebody here helping them.

MELBER: How did they know what to do and do it?

Nick Ackerman, thanks for being a part of our special coverage.

Coming up, why now? Mueller has had one of these indictments for two weeks, so what message was he sending by doing it this way?

And what Republican leaders are now saying about this? Is it driving a wedge within the Party?

And later, as promised, my Special Report tonight on Mueller`s theory of the case and where we are headed.


MELBER: Washington is roiling tonight over these new Bob Mueller indictments of one Californian and 13 Russians. Now part of the news has been in Bob Mueller`s hands for two weeks. You can see it right there when he got Richard Pinedo to plead guilty to identity fraud. That was two weeks ago. This is breaking news tonight because that`s what Mueller wanted. So while Washington was debating the Nunez memo or Carter Page surveillance or last week, the departure of a DOJ official who was actually in line to potentially be Mueller`s boss, during that whole time Bob Mueller was sitting on this until he dropped it today.

Now, tonight, we have covered what`s in the indictment and how prosecutions of foreigners work. Now we turn to what does this all mean for Donald Trump himself? Well, I think three things. First Mueller has done what no media fact checker, what no critic, what no rival candidate has done. He`s forced Trump to eat his own words and give up on the conspiracy theory that Trump had been saying.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It could be Russia but it could also be China, it could be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you once and for all, yes or no definitively say that Russia interfered in the 2016 election?

TRUMP: Well, I think it was Russia and I think it could have been other people in other countries, it could have been a lot of people interfered.

TRUMP: What I said -- I`m surprised that there is any conflict on this. What I said there is that I believe he believes that and that`s very important for somebody to believe. I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election.


MELBER: That`s over, today Donald Trump tweeting Russia started their campaign in 2014, saying it`s before he announced, but that`s also him admitting he was wrong this whole time. Second, all of this means there`s more heat on Trump because for the first time there`s an indictment that says Trump`s campaign team was in contact with Russians. That`s different than the Trump Tower meeting because these are the Kremlin-linked operatives with their hands on the interference. Mueller saying they communicated with at least unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign and three officials in the campaign. Who are those people? We don`t know exactly, Mueller does.

Third and finally, what this means for Trump could boil down to this ominous passage as well today, "Russian defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other and with persons known and unknown to the grand jury to defraud the U.S. Who are those unknown individuals? Well, for more on all of the fallout including the politics, we turn to a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat, Richard Blumenthal. Senator, when you digest this entire indictment, many people observe that it relates to facts that were in public view, but had not previously been charged. It`s the first charge -- set of charges for election interference. Is this in your view likely the end of where Mueller`s headed or the beginning?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It is by no means the end. It`s not even the beginning of the end. It is very much a staged investigation for anybody who has any doubt. There are real facts here about real people, committing real crimes and doing real harm to our country. The Russians themselves called it informational warfare. And not only is it a sign to Donald Trump that there is more to come, more indictments and more guilty pleas, but also to the American people, that the Russians are going to continue with this attack on our democracy, unless we make them pay a price, in sanctions and in criminal indictments and in prosecutions and anybody who colluded with them. So I think that --

MELBER: And let me ask you this, Sir, let me ask you this about the candidates who benefitted because much of this is new. It says now, in here, that Donald Trump was the main intended beneficiary and that Bernie Sanders was the other major party candidate who was a beneficiary. Neither of them have clearly stood up today and said, I don`t want that help from the Russians, please don`t do that kind of thing for me, and anything that did happen, I disclaim. We hear a lot of criticism about the President and he has a bigger job, but do you call on both Donald Trump and your colleague Senator Sanders to do that because neither has done so?

BLUMENTHAL: I would call on anyone who has anything to do with the Russian meddling in our elections to disavow it and disown it and denounce it.

MELBER: When you say anyone, I just have to press you, it`s part of my job, that includes Senator Sanders there as well?

BLUMENTHAL: It would include any of the candidates and any of the individuals who subsequently maybe named as unindicted co-conspirators or unwitting cooperatives.

MELBER: And final -- and final question, sir -- and final question, sir. This debate over whether the President should do the interview that Bob Mueller has reportedly requested, how does today`s indictment affect that? In your view, he should sit for the interview?

BLUMENTHAL: At this point, my view is even more urgently that the President of the United States has an obligation to cooperate with the Special Counsel. If he fails to do so, he ought to be subpoenaed to the grand jury and if he invokes executive privilege, as broadly as Richard Nixon did, he should be similarly challenged in the court. The Supreme Court will decide. In my view, there`s no such broad executive privilege. But there is one more point --

MELBER: You`re saying -- that`s interesting though. You`re saying, sir, as what your knowledge on the Judiciary Committee, you`re saying if Donald Trump picks this fight with Mueller, you think he`ll lose at the Supreme Court?

BLUMENTHAL: I think he will lose at the Supreme Court and I think it`s a fight that has to be waged for the sake of the country and the progress of this investigation, which is very much ongoing. And to your point, and you`ve made it very, very well, every one of these factual allegations is based on real facts and it has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. It`s not just maybe this allegation can be proved, it`s proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And the final point I would make is that the Special Counsel is proceeding on his own timetable and he is refuting and rebutting point by point all these politically motivated charges from the President`s surrogates in Congress.

MELBER: Senator Blumenthal, thank you very much. I want to turn and continue the conversation with a former aide to Hillary Clinton who saw all of this up close, Neera Tanden. Your reaction of the indictment?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: It`s a stunning detailed indictment. I think like everyone in Washington, and in really the country, it`s a firm statement of how what the intelligence agencies have been telling us for a year. But you see it in detail that Russia interfered with this election to help elect Donald Trump and you see it in detail after detail. And I think most importantly, it sets the predicate. You know, we had a long discussion over the last year of collusion. This sets the predicate there was criminality behind what Russia was doing and the next set of questions of Bannon and other people including Donald Trump can answer, is what kind of collusion the Trump campaign was part of.

MELBER: Well, Neera, you so -- you put it so directly, it`s something we have referred to throughout the hour, but I don`t know if anyone`s said what you just said. There is now a position held by the U.S. government overseen by the Trump administration through the special counsel, that there was as you say criminality behind the election. Does that in your view affect the legitimacy of Donald Trump as President?

TANDEN: 71,000 votes really made the difference in these three states. We have no idea what caused that. If you look -- if you look at this indictment, though, the social media apparatus, the actual campaign the Russians put forward to attack Hillary Clinton, it`s hard to say, in my view, that didn`t affect 70,000 votes. We just don`t know. And in my view, that does call into question the legitimacy of this election because how can you say the whole Hillary for President, Twitter attack. Facebook attacks, the entire Russian campaign that spent millions of dollars to take down Hillary Clinton didn`t have an impact in those states? We just don`t know.

MELBER: And I don`t always ask you this because I know it`s a hard question, but what do you think Hillary Clinton is thinking today?

TANDEN: I mean, honestly, I have -- I imagine she`s thinking that she`s happy, I guess, that people, the truth is coming out. The most important thing in a democracy is that the truth comes out, that we know what happened. We can`t make decisions about the future, we can`t protect our elections in 2018 if nothing happens to protect us against what the Russians are doing. This is an ongoing threat, the Russians have against us and I think, I imagine she`s thinking that at least in our democracy, we have a system still where the truth can come out.

MELBER: You know, Neera, you just said something that`s very high-minded, that`s very big picture and is very important, which is not only debating what happened, which is important, there are people who don`t want to have that conversation for all sorts of reasons. But also --

TANDEN: Donald Trump didn`t want to have it for a long time. He called it a hoax and now we know that`s a lie.

MELBER: Yes, and also, as you say, if we may be so bold, what the founders had I`m mind when power would check power. So even despite as you say a President defied the intelligence agency, lying to the country. That`s what he did. We know it was a lie because today he`s all but admitted it along with all the facts we know why it`s a lie. He lied to the country about what happened. And today that starts to change through a legal process. It`s actually a fascinating thing, although there`s much, much yet to be done. Neera Tanden, thank you for joining our coverage. Up next, it could make anyone with something to hide quite nervous, witnesses to the crime cooperating with Bob Mueller`s team, which is how he continues to grind forward and now we know another person in the United States -- in the United States I should say pleading guilty and speaking. I`ll be back with that in 90 seconds.


MELBER: Prosecution can also be about cooperation. And the other question in our special coverage tonight, what do these 13 indicted Russians know and would they ever talk to Mueller? We know other witnesses are cooperating. Today we learned about this California man, Richard Pinedo pleading guilty to Mueller`s probe here for identity fraud and the indictment says he`s cooperating, which means he joins Flynn and Papadopoulos who then cooperating. Of course, there`s also Rick Gates, a Paul Manafort associate, and former Trump campaign adviser, a senior one indicted by Mueller and there are reports he could be finalizing a plea deal.

Today`s indictment also highlights three campaign officials who were contacted by fake American-Russian backed accounts. Mueller, of course, is also still grinding through interviews with former aides. Consider this news Steve Bannon spent 20 hours with Mueller`s investigators just this week. I`m joined now by Natasha Bertrand who covers National Security and Intel for the Atlantic. What would it mean for Mueller to get even more cooperation and potentially international cooperation?

NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: It would be extremely helpful. I mean, anything helps, right? But the fact of the matter is that there`s so much signal intelligence here that it may not be necessary for him to get the cooperation of the people who were inside the internet research agency. People that I spoke to today who worked for the CIA, former NSA folks, National Security Agency folks, they said that the level of detail in these indictments is absolutely stunning and it just speaks to the amount of information that Mueller was able to obtain, whether it be by warrants, or subpoenas or you know, just general signal intelligence in an effort to kind of investigate what went on.

And that human sources while there is definitely certain elements of this indictment that may have been aided by for example witness interviews and things like that, the amount that they were able to glean just from you know, hacking into Russians computers, obtaining e-mails of the exchange between them was really helpful in and of itself.

MELBER: Let me show you another piece to this which is the new part and some guests have accurately said, well we knew some of this, but we didn`t know all of it. Here`s something else in the indictment. A co-conspirator traveling to the U.S. in 2014 on what looks like a scouting mission, but then, of course, co-conspirator is not exactly designed and they have their reasons for that. Based on your reporting, you`re on this all the time, how new do those indictments feel to you about the length of Russian on the ground activity here?

BERTRAND: Well, I think this is the first time we`ve actually heard of Russians coming over from Russia to the U.S. to do these kinds of intelligence gathering operations. And the fact that it went back into 2014, of course, we know that Trump was kind of publicly saying that year that he had intended to run for president or that he was thinking about it. So the fact that they were already scouting locations in the U.S., that is extremely new.

Now, it`s unclear who this co-conspirator actually was, whether or not they have cooperated with Mueller`s team and perhaps that`s the reason why they`re not being identified in this report. But it`s definitely a very, very new revelation and it speaks to the extent to which the Russians you know, really -- how sophisticated this entire operation was, that they had people on the ground going state to state. I think it was nine different states that they went to over the course of the summer in 2014 to kind of scope out and figure out what they could -- what they could about the American electorate.

MELBER: Exactly, and it really goes to what I was discussing earlier with another guest which is what are Americans learning about what happened? I mean, some people just don`t like information that disagrees with their understanding of how they want things to be. But for people with an open mind, you could be a Trump supporter and you could believe that he would have won anyway and you could love him but you would still look at all this and go, wow, foreigners on our soil doing this? We got to do something about that. Natasha Bertrand, thanks for your eagle eyes on this indictment and your coverage tonight. Up ahead, as I promised, I turn to my legal break down, what Mueller`s do and why and some of my highlights from the indictment. That`s straight ahead.


MELBER: -- special report tonight. There`s never been a day in the newsroom quite like this or a day at the Justice Department like this or obviously, a day for any White House like this ever. Today`s events, the indictment of these 13 Russians and one Californian, for conspiracy to undermine the election, it actually began with just two signatures this morning, one from Bob Mueller, Special Counsel only appointed because of Donald Trump`s reckless self-sabotaging of the FBI Director, that`s that signature there, and then one from an American citizen whose name we don`t know.

This is a regular person under our laws, that person functions as the other important player in this use of power as the grand jury foreperson. And with those two signatures this morning, the wheels of justice started turning fast. We were in the newsroom and we got as journalists this very cryptic bulletin. You can read it right there, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to be hold press conference for law enforcement announcement. Now, we didn`t know what the announcement was. We do know he`s overseeing Russia and the AG usually makes the bigger announcements. Here was what Rosenstein said emphasizing the danger lurking in this case.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed.


MELBER: We also learned today that that same man, Rod Rosenstein had to go brief Donald Trump about all this. He is, of course, the President with two roles. He`s running the federal government and thus should know about a major national security indictment like this, but he`s also implicated in this plot. Today`s indictment states these Russians were trying to support the Trump campaign. Take that in. Even if there are no more indictments and only Mueller knows what comes next, that statement there is the U.S. government, your government, overseen by Trump administration, deploying its power and credibility to say it is now going to try to hunt down, extradite, prosecute and jail these people, these Russians for doing what? For illegally trying to get the current president, Donald Trump elected. Not a usual day.

Now, why do we know this? We know it because our justice system when it works is transparent. So now Americans know, Mueller alleges an international Russian conspiracy to defraud the U.S., to communicate with the Trump campaign, to use propaganda to support Trump and to try to secretly, surreptitiously take out his rivals from Clinton to Cruz. Americans are now getting a preview of some of the evidence that Mueller has like Russians bragging that they tricked us with their online propaganda saying Americans believed it was written by their people. And legally, Mueller doesn`t have to release that stuff. He`s doing it for a reason. He`s showing America what the Russians did and how they did it. I think that alone is a public service. It`s where our legal process and our civic health can meet because by exposing how this foreign propaganda works, we can be better inoculated against its use next time. But that`s clearly not all.

Mueller is also legally putting suspects on notice. He`s probably scaring people who haven`t been indicted but may be involved which is one way to read other details in this filing about the intelligence Mueller has. He quotes a Russian who wrote in an e-mail just last year, the FBI busted our activity, not a joke so I`m covering tracks together with other colleagues. Mueller is saying to the Russians we see you. We see your crimes. We busted you for them and now we see you trying to, in their words cover their tracks. And we`re busting you for that, too. Now, some Russians abroad may still feel protected. They can avoid the U.S. or London or any international airports and hope it all goes away. But Mueller could also be talking to people closer to the U.S. or in the U.S., if those people are covering their tracks, now they`re on notice because this indictment of foreigners is not coming in a vacuum.

It comes with a former Trump aide Rick Gates looking to join Michael Flynn to cooperate with Mueller, it comes after Bob Mueller took Paul Manafort back to court for getting busted for trying to talk to a Ukrainian about a new P.R. campaign, it comes as Mueller releases the guilty plea as I mention of this mysterious Californian for fraud connected to the case and as we emphasized in our reporting, Mueller obtained that plea two weeks ago. Only he knows all the reasons for why he`s releasing it today. And Bob Mueller is releasing all of this to show a timeline from what Russians did early on researching how to do this in 2014 to escalating in June 2016, and then, of course, it was July 2016 the next month when Trump said this - -


TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.


MELBER: That has not aged well. Was it reckless, suspicious hyperbole that could still fall short of legally being part of a conspiracy? Yeah, it could be that. People have opinions about that. But tonight, we are learning Bob Mueller found there was a Russian conspiracy. He says it`s a crime. He says it touched Americans and he says it touched some people in the Trump campaign. If it went any higher, Bob Mueller has the evidence. He has a growing list of witnesses and he`s making it clear today he`s going to keep at it until he finds out.


MELBER: Quite a show, we are done but this is a night to keep watching the news.