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Mueller hits Manafort and Gates with new charges. TRANSCRIPT: 2/22/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Michael Burgess, Sophia Nelson, Jess McIntosh, Philippe Reines, John Mattes, Ben Howe

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: February 22, 2018 Guest: Michael Burgess, Sophia Nelson, Jess McIntosh, Philippe Reines, John Mattes, Ben Howe

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, MEET THE PRESS DAILY: So in all seriousness, good luck Alex. Even though, a, you are kind of horning in on our turf over here. I suppose it`s only fair since you left me and plan your trip. But hey, in all seriousness, (INAUDIBLE) call me.

That`s all we have for tonight. "The Beat" with Ari Melber starts right now.

Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. And thank you, Chuck.

We start tonight with breaking news. We are holding yet again new charges, this time coming out within just the last two hours in the Mueller probe.

Special counsel Bob Mueller is dialling up the pressure on two former Trump aides, clearly, squeezing Paul Manafort tighter and tighter. And here is what is brand new. Manafort and Gates hit with 32 new counts just now. Now, things for things like false tax returns, for bank fraud, for bank fraud, conspiracy.

And here I can show you some brand new footage. This is the Paul Manafort, of course, the former Trump campaign chair leaving today. And I can tell you, we have a pretty good idea where he was heading after course, back home because he is under house arrest. And there is more on that.

Bob Mueller using these new charges that just came out tonight to argue that the judge should keep Paul Manafort under house arrest. And these charges of course they come amidst that news that Mueller is also probing whether Manafort was trying to sell a banker a job in the Donald Trump`s White House in exchange for millions of dollars that were funnelled allegedly through home loans. And that is not all tonight.

Another big implication this new filing which as I tell you we are just going through it. And I have got a great panel of experts to get through with us.

Former Trump aide Rick Gates, he hasn`t flipped yet. In fact 23 of these new charges are against him. Now Gates has also fired his lawyer and replaced him, Betsy Woodruff, reports which means there`s a clear suggestion he`s not looking for a deal right now.

Let`s get right to it. Maya Wiley is the former council to the mayor of New York City, Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who is with us every night because these stories keep breaking and Shelby Holliday, a reporter for "the Wall Street Journal" who also has new (INAUDIBLE) reporting on Facebook which I want to get to in a second.

But Daniel, starting with the big news, a filing like this on the one hand, technically called a superseding indictment is in a very big sense more of what we have heard. And yet it`s clearly important, it is clearly bad news for these former Trump aides. What do you see it?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I see a couple of things. First of all, it is more of the same, it`s not any new type of charge. The tax fraud charges are essentially for the same conduct that they had been charged with already in their money laundering scheme.

What is interesting is a couple of things that I noted in reading it over the last hour. One is Manafort in particular is charged with additional bank fraud, well, they are both charged with it. But it`s for Manafort`s bank fraud charges that continued up and through last year. You referenced those loans.

MELBER: Let`s put that on the screen so folks digest that. Because the Trump White House had been saying, a lot of this is old stock. Here you have April 2016 to January 2017 when Manafort worked on the Trump campaign. That`s the key dates there you are mentioning and Gates on the transition.

GOLDMAN: Right. So there are a couple of things to me that are interesting. I think this is turning these screws on Manafort perhaps more than Gates because there`s no additional money that`s going to Gates that is alleged in this indictment. There is a lot more money that was funnelled through Manafort. Gates is really viewed here as his assistant. And is helping him do this.

So I wouldn`t rule out the possibility that Gates is cooperating. It may be a situation that he was closed to a deal then it didn`t happen. It also may be just a situation that they are going to play this out a little bit longer until -- and they know that Gates is going to cooperate, but they are not going to reveal that at that time.

MELBER: Right. You are making a very important point about trying to over interpret what Bob Mueller is doing which had many has spare - has brought down many as smart legal analyst, right?

GOLDMAN: Including us earlier this week. So we would not have expected that this would have happen. But the interplay between this indictment and the Vanderswan plea also has some interest because --.

MELBER: What do you see there?

GOLDMAN: Well, in that plea, there is information in his guilty plea. Vanderswan, by the way, is the only one that has pled guilty not pursuant to a cooperation agreement. Papadopoulos pled guilty pursuant to a cooperation agreement. And Flynn pleaded guilty pursuant to a cooperation agreement. And that doesn`t necessarily a cooperation in the technical term, in the legal term it`s just cooperating with the probe. But Vanderswan may have been forced to admit additional conduct even though he is not going to testify to that conduct. So whereas we may have thought that conversations between Gates and Vanderswan where a result of Gates cooperating it simply could have been that Vanderswan just admitted to the prosecutors because he was forced to admit all these conduct to them in order to get a favourable guilty plea that that was what happened. On the flip side, Gates really could be providing information to Mueller --

MELBER: Right. And that could be part of it.

And let me bring in Maya on the information. Another that comes through here is just how much Mueller has. I mean, he is vacuuming stuff up from everywhere. They are reporting Garrett Graff looking at this in the context of all of the private communications and says the detail in this new Manafort filing is stunning, Manafort`s private communications with his family, tax advisors. Mueller sending a strong signal he knows all.

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNCIL TO THE NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Yes. And we still don`t know what Donald Trump`s tax returns say. So, I mean, obviously Mueller has been following the money, that`s really the story here. There is nothing surprising about that. We saw that when we saw how he staffed his team. This does not implicate Donald Trump directly obviously. The big question is whether or not this will help Mueller get closer to Donald Trump or not. But I think at the end of the day, what we know is that there are many people in the Trump camp who are either seriously implicated in federal crimes or who may soon be implicated in federal crimes.

MELBER: Well, and that goes to a larger political context, Shelby. I mean it is easy to let the abnormal become normal.

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes.

MELBER: People may look up on the screen and say new Mueller charges, OK. Well, there was some earlier this week, there was some last week, I guess this is just a thing now.

HOLLIDAY: Right.

MELBER: But if you just imagine that right now the former top aides to, say, Barack Obama were being indicted.

HOLLIDAY: Members of the Presidential campaign.

MELBER: If that happened in the first year, and you said, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs are indicted and these other people that under he - I mean, how can you put the political context on this when is this massive.

HOLLIDAY: I mean, I think people had been explode but we have been hearing about this charges and this investigation day after day. We also have a President who like to try to deflect it and try to spend false narrative surrounding it. So I think people do listen. I mean, ultimately, when he tweets it over and over and over you hear it in the news. You see it on TV. People do start to believe him when he says Manafort is a guy, you know, he used to work for me, barely knew him, and his crimes had nothing with my campaign.

Well now, we are starting to see evidence that that may not be true. However, I think because it`s such a complicated investigation, there are so many legs there. So many people. It`s such a big web. I`m not sure people are following it and understanding all the twists and turns.

MELBER: Well, you say it is complicated.

And Daniel, I want to go back to how much they have gotten just from people talking. Because when you read this brand-new indictment, you see Paul Manafort who is a strategist. He is known for being savvy. He has done all these things. And you see him continuing along with Gates to have communications that are literally as they say can be used against you in a court of law, they are. And I`m reminded of something that a legal mentor of mine told me once. I wonder what - who you think as someone who used to put people away. I asked a very simple question that I can`t understand why this, in this case an accused criminal returned to the scene of the crime. I said I`m not a very experienced lawyer, but I have heard don`t do that. And this person said to me, you would be amazed how many crimes are caught because of the sheer stupidity of people who know better. Do you see any of that? And how many people are getting busted for talking as if Mueller is not listening?

GOLDMAN: I do. I mean, I think particularly with Manafort, I mean, greed is addictive. And I saw that in my ten years of doing this over and over. It was shocking. It`s amazing how many people would do something that would they thought was a one off and then it became their career.

MELBER: Did you see people like him who had a lot of money and seem to be willing to risk their lives in jail just to get more money?

GOLDMAN: Always. Nothing is ever enough. And particularly if you feel like you are getting away with it. You are incentivized in a sort of twisted criminal mind to getting away with it. You are getting away with it. He is getting away with --.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Over in Russia.

GOLDMAN: Perhaps. I mean, I don`t know how much he is indebted to them as much as he got a lot of money from them. But then what this indictment reveals is, and it says it a couple of times, when the Ukrainian money started drying up, then he had to lever down on his homes.

MELBER: Right. They he would serve as a mortgage --. First it was greed, then it was desperation. I mean speak to that point, Maya, that Daniel is raising which is sort of the low end principle, too much money, it isn`t enough money.

WILEY: It wouldn`t have happened and what conduct, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Right? I mean, this is a theory of the case that Daniel who has, as I said, has done this work and you are a lawyer yourself, that this was really, first and foremost, about Paul Manafort`s stupid greed.

WILEY: And arrogance.

MELBER: Which then -- and arrogance, which created a contagion that may have, as we know, Russian-Ukrainian political implications but that some of it started before he even met Donald Trump on the campaign with greed.

WILEY: Absolutely. I mean, we know this started at least in 2006, right, and that he really changed his business model, so to speak to apparently a criminal enterprise in a pretty substantial way and that grew.

I think when we talk about indebtedness, this is why I kept coming back to Donald Trump even if this particular indictments do not relate to Donald Trump, which is that he is clearly financially indebted himself to Russian banks and his business, as Eric Trump bragged in 2014, that they get all their money and financing from Russians. So I think that`s why, which is not a legal theory of the case, it`s why politically, and certainly in terms we think Mueller may go in following the money and the fact that these indictments are about following the money is something that we are going to continue to see.

MELBER: I got to bet Shelby in because she has got a big report on Facebook here. You said they have a discrepancy or a hole that Russia was able to exploit. This is new in "the Wall Street Journal." Tell us about it.

HOLLIDAY: Right. My colleagues and I reported on the loophole essentially that Russian trolls exploited. There have been narratives about these trolls have -- they weren`t that sophisticated, there were just a few dozen trolls, you know, trying to meddle in the election, but that`s not the case.

We uncovered multiple examples of photos, disinformation embedded into photos, be it in means, be it in text that is embedded as well. These Russian trolls found a photo of a college student that was writing on a blog post. They hijacked her photo. They Photoshop it within 24 hours, cropped it, darkened it, put a logo on it, completely spanned the contact of the photo and put it in the block of his Facebook page. Twenty-four hours later, they did this extremely quickly. They did it to exploit divisions in the U.S., to basically create emotional distress for people who are following the account and they did it because Facebook promotes posts that have visuals and videos and because Facebook cannot find disinformation that`s embedded in photos and visuals.

So that`s the story that we have. It`s online right now, wallstreetjournal.com, goes into detail about how difficult it is for these types of platforms.

And we all use twitter, we all use Facebook, you know when you post a photo, it`s getting to a lot better than if you just write something in text. Photos are very powerful tools but they can also be incredible weapons using our free speech against others.

MELBER: What so important, when you think about that in the Russia context or you think about some of these horrific conspiracy theories that are being deployed online, particularly among students speaking about gun violence is this something that is here to stay. And this kind of reporting I think helps shine a light so people are vulnerable to it.

We are out of time Daniel, so I want to get you back again and you can explain what you were going to tell us and I know what a big (INAUDIBLE) fan you have, so I`m glad we had time to touch on that.

Maya, Shelby, thank you all.

A lot more ahead. Coming up, I want to go through the indictment might tell us about Mueller`s focus on the Russian goals. And to do that I have the CIA`s former top spy stationed from Moscow joining me tonight.

Later, the new uproar over Bernie Sanders initially denying that Russians might have even helped his campaign very much. He actually said it was a question for Hillary Clinton. Well, I have a key Clinton aide who actually played Donald Trump in their debate prep as well as key volunteer for Bernie Sanders. We are going to get to the heart of what matters about this.

Also, Donald Trump says he won`t go up against the NRA on these gun laws and repeats some gun lobby talking points.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We must immediately harden our schools.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to harden our schools.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I will be joined tonight by a very important voice on this issue for a very important discussion. That`s also ahead.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: More on this breaking news, Bob Mueller ramping up the pressure on Paul Manafort and his partner Rick Gates with more criminal charges for bank fraud, for tax evasion or for funnelling millions of dollars of foreign money. Many charges surrounding their work with the Ukrainian government. And I am joined now, as I mentioned, by a very special guest, the former CIA Moscow station chief Daniel Hoffman.

Thanks for being with here.

DANIEL HOFFMAN, FORMER CIA MOSCOW CHIEF: Thank you.

MELBER: I want to dig in with you on what all this means because there`s a narrative in this brand new filing and we are all just digesting it. It really goes back to Paul Manafort and Rick Gates` work on behalf of Russian-Putin backed individuals.

So let me read and this is from the brand new filing. Manafort and Gates generating tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their Ukraine work. And since 2006, then engaged in scheme to hide the income from the U.S. authorities and of course it says enjoyed using the money.

Just from a basic level, what does Russia get out of the kind of advocacy and work they were doing in Ukraine?

HOFFMAN: Well, first of all what I would highlight for the viewers is that Russia has kind of their own version of the special counsel, it`s the secret police, the FSB. And so, whatever Paul Manafort was doing that was illegal, and it might even be more than our own special counsel was able to collect on then the Russians had intelligence on that and they would have fed it right to the Kremlin. And Vladimir Putin would have been very pleased when Manafort was named as campaign chairman because that would have given a chance to swell the Trump campaign and our democratic process writ-large (ph).

MELBER: And you make that point, and that is what I would call as a lawyer the theory of the case that does not presume anything about Donald Trump knew or (INAUDIBLE).

The collusion question, you were just talking about just the very union of someone who is literally a lobbyist for Russian interests getting behind the campaign?

HOFFMAN: Yes, I mean I would say it demonstrates some questionable judgment of the part of the campaign and hiring him in the first place, because they swallowed a poisoned pill which the Russians have exploited. And really, the timing right now is so important. Vladimir Putin is going to win the Presidential elect ion on March 18th. And he will never hesitate to use this allegation of corruption against us, when his own people complain about Putin`s fraud and corruption, He will say, well, look at, you know, the United States, you think that they are an inspiration for you, look what they are doing.

MELBER: Right. Then there is this narrative about what change in Ukraine which, of course, was an issue because the Obama administration was engaged on the issue and then there was, as I`m going to get to, the platform fight in the United States.

HOFFMAN: Right.

MELBER: But look at this again from the new filing tonight. It says that basically their Ukraine income started dwindling after (INAUDIBLE) this Putin backed banker fled to Russia and then Manafort engaged fraudulently secured more than $20 million in loans.

Walk us through what happened there because they basically have this very wealthy client, who is allegedly partly corrupt but who lost power.

HOFFMAN: Right. During the protests in Ukraine, Yanukovych fled to Russia and Paul Manafort lost his client and as we are seeing, he lost an income stream. And again I would highlight that Putin was tracking that with great interest. It led to his intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. And also, he would have been tracking on Paul Manafort`s involvement for all that that entails.

MELBER: And then this is the final one and this is a biggy. And my colleague Chuck Todd said in no uncertain terms last hour, you don`t have to be a rocket scientist to see the linkage, at the very time, and I will put it up on the screen, the Republicans were negotiating their platform, you have between July 2016 and January 2017, a new filing talks about this criminal conduct.

July 2017, Daniel, was the month they fixed the platform and changed it in this positive way for the Russia-Ukrainian perspective. What does this tell you?

HOFFMAN: It could tell you a lot. You know, I`m an expert on the Kremlin and how they view the world. What I would like really like to know if I were investigating this is who specifically was responsible for changing the platform? And what were the discussions that went into it? And that`s open for a lot of investigation and discussion, for sure.

But I would also argue that the policy that we have not pursued against Russia is evidence of itself. We haven`t pursued the sanctions --

MELBER: By we, you mean the Donald Trump administration?

HOFFMAN: This administration, yes. I mean, I believe that the numbers are too expansive and we ought to scrub the list, take Hippocratic Oath and not include Russians that don`t deserve to be on it. But we haven`t done anything about the sanctions. We haven`t held Russia accountable at all in the war of ideas which is always been our strongest query against Russian autocracy.

MELBER: Yes.

HOFFMAN: I would like to see us do that in anticipation of the election. We are kind of, you know, falling way behind on this one.

MELBER: We are falling behind. And as you say, a lot of questions still under very serious investigation, which is why we wanted to get your view. I know, as a CIA person, you are talking about what you think is in the U.S. interest, not any particular political party.

Daniel Hoffman, thank you.

HOFFMAN: Thank you.

MELBER: Still ahead, Donald Trump`s NRA playbook in the wide open and it doesn`t look that good. I`m going to speak to a lawmaker with an A-rating from the NRA as well as the Republican gun owner who is quitting the NRA.

Also, Bernie Sanders, under fire for that initial suggestion that maybe it`s Clinton who should take all questions on Russian hacking. I have a new reporting on the shift in the Sanders campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: The other top story tonight, of course this new pressure to change the gun debate in America. Survivors from the Parkland shooting pressing politicians regardless of party, Donald Trump feeling the need to hold another gun event today this time with local officials.

Trump under pressured for worrying more about what the NRA thinks than these families. And he already note yesterday that told him to remind him to say I hear you. The President`s comment and his aides suggested that the NRA that is in-charged.

Now, this is one debate that actually doesn`t have a lot to do with Donald Trump or actually with most gun owners. This is we know about the NRA and gun manufacturers who have been dominating Washington for years, honestly no matter which party ran Congress.

Now I turn to Congressman Michael Burgess. He is a Republican from Texas with an NRA A-rating. Thanks for coming on the show tonight.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: Thanks, Ari, for having me on.

MELBER: When I look at your record and you support these measures to make sure that people can get assault style weapons and AR-15s. There`s no constitutional right to have those guns like an AR-15. So why is it so important to you to make sure people can get them?

BURGESS: Well, look. There is a second amendment and it is reasonable to protect the second amendment just as it is reasonable to --

MELBER: But this is not about the second amendment, sir. And that`s why I want to make sure to get your answer, but to start, it is not a second amendment right.

BURGESS: You would be distressed if we were talking about the first amendment. So look, the NRA stands for gun safety, responsible gun ownership, every interaction I have had with the NRA, that has been what has been stressed. It`s not generally NRA members who are committing the problems. It is people from outside.

MELBER: I want to have a real debate with you, but I want to have a real dialogue with you. The question to you and I`ll read from the court rulings, as you know, because I know you know this. There is no second amendment protection for weapons of war. The Supreme Court does not say the AR-15s are a second amendment issue.

And so, since you and I know that my question to you tonight, for people who are wondering at home why you have made it easier for people to get an AR-15 is why?

BURGESS: No, no. That`s in effect. That`s not the debate at all. But the issue is there are certain rights that are guaranteed to us in the constitution. It may be a discussion that part of those rights are going to be changed. If that`s so, that needs to be a national conversation and likely that will involve legislation and will likely involve the courts and might even involve a constitutional amendment. But we are far from that point right now.

I do think what the President is doing is correct. I think he is being reasonable. He is listening to people and the President has a unique way of kind of cutting through what are all the standard positions that people hold and he says he is willing to listen. OK, let`s take him at his word. And I think for right now, where I live, the -- I know the governor just put out a call to school districts to make certain that your school district, your school is secure, certainly the schools that I have interacted with in the last couple of weeks back home, they are sir.

MELBER: You`re not going to answer the question at all, I take it.

BURGESS: I don`t know how I can --

MELBER: I mean, the question is, and again, I will put it back up on the screen just so the viewers --.

BURGESS: I don`t know how I can --

MELBER: Well, I want the viewers to be clear.

BURGESS: I want to use the language that we both speak.

MELBER: I want the viewers to be clear. There is not a second amendment right to AR-15s, you have voted against the measure, so I what want to know is why?

BURGESS: Well, there is a second amendment right to keep and bear arms. And if that discussion then is to a particular type of weapon, you know, so be it. But right now, I don`t think that is -- I don`t think that issue is demonstrably proven.

MELBER: OK. Well, I will move on to another topic. As you know, the United States Supreme Court has held in the Heller decision in the federal appeals court has held that there is no second amendment right to the AR- 15. And so, that`s part of where the debate is. It seems as if people want the AR-15 to represent all guns when it doesn`t.

BURGESS: I don`t think that`s true.

MELBER: I do want to know from you sir, the immunity that the gun manufacturers have which you also supported, and again, is not an issue for gun owners. I mean, I grew up in a house with guns, a lot of Americans did. But why do you vote to immunize these gun manufacturers from being taking into court for the use of their weapons.

BURGESS: Well, liability protection is something that I support across the board, whether it be in medical practice, whether it be in other areas. The ability to simply can the business because it can be -- it can be tied up in civil court, I don`t think that serves any particular useful purpose. So that is -- I don`t even actually remember that being a recent discussion, to be perfectly honest with you.

MELBER: Well, you voted for the lawful Congress in Arms Act so that recent in the sense that that remains the law on the books. But the other thing I want to ask you about is the empirical facts on this debate. When you look across the world, when you see that you have this comparison where 64 percent of homicide in our country are gun related and it`s only, say, four percent in England, or 13 percent in Australia, even if people disagree about as we did earlier to some degree what the Constitution says, do you think this is a price worth paying to have such a higher rate of gun homicide in this country?

BURGESS: No, look, this is why I believe the NRA is important because I believe they teach and preach gun safety. And that really should be the central thesis to which all of us ascribe. We want people -- yes, we want people to have their rights and be protected, at the same time we want them to exercise those rights safely.

MELBER: So those numbers don`t concern you? Because a lot of people look at that and they say, gosh, even if you support guns as you do, and a lot of people do. Wouldn`t we want to bring that number down and if there were fewer of the assault-style weapons of war, that that percentage would come down? Are you comfortable with that 64 percent, I guess is the question?

BURGESS: No, I don` -- I don`t think that -- I don`t think that needle would move with the type of legislation that you`re talking about. But, look, gun safety, gun education, yes, those things are critically important. And again, that`s what the NRA stands for.

MELBER: Congressman, Burgess, who made time for us, I believe out there from CPAC, thank you very much.

BURGESS: Thank you.

MELBER: I want to turn now to Sophia Nelson who`s a former Counsel to the Republican House Oversight Committee and was at one point an NRA member. Jess McIntosh, a former Senior Advisor to the Hillary Clinton Campaign. Sophia, I mean, I`ll just tell you straight up, we always try to hear from everyone on the show. We prepare for the interview and I want to respect the Congressman, I want to respect his views. To me, what`s frustrating about conducting an interview like that is how some of it is counterfactual. So if we can`t acknowledge the fact that there`s not a constitutional right according to the Supreme Court on AR-15 and that`s half of the discussion, then that`s a problem. And I imagine that many viewers, if they haven`t already changed the channel, may have already felt that that wasn`t the greatest exchange and my fault if it wasn`t. I wonder for you, what you thought watching that Congressman and you`re a Republican and why you left the NRA?

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER COUNSEL, HOUSE GOP OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Well, one, I recently decided not to renew my membership, so we`re talking like 2017, they sent it and then when the church shooting happened, I was shaken and this last thing here, I can`t in good conscious do it the way that people like him was representing and the way like Dana Lash was last night on CNN. Let me just say that to start. Secondly, I wanted to jump into your discussion with the Congressman and say, dude, Scalia, Antonin Scalia said there was not a protected right for assault weapons. The Supreme Court has held this. We`re lawyers so we`re going to look at this a little bit differently, but we need to have the right discussion. Let me say this to the American people and to you. When the founders framed the Constitution, the first Ten Amendments, the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment is no more important than the first, the third, the fifth or the eighth. That`s premise number one, we all need to embrace this entire Bill of Rights, and the fact that these young people, the babies that got killed in Connecticut, the young people in Florida, they have the right to be secure in their person, they have the right to unalienable rights granted by God.

So, we need have a conversation here where we can be adults, like the kids say, Ari. And there`s a middle ground here. I don`t want to take away the Second Amendment. I`ve got guns in my home, military family, I`m always going to have guns, period. But I`m responsible, I go to the shooting range, there`s a shotgun, I`m not going to get into what I have, but I don`t have AR-15s, I don`t have weapons of mass destruction in my house because they`re not necessary. And I think that if we can raise the age limit if we can get rid of these weapons -- did you read the article in the Atlantic about the doctor? That article breaks your heart, because when she`s talking about the wounds that these kids sustained, Mr. Jamie Guttenberg`s dad was on this morning with Joe and Mika and I was in tears because at the end of the day, he`s talking about his daughter`s spine was served with a bullet. I mean, that`s horrible.

JESS MCINTOSH, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN: So I think that we -- and Republicans like the Congressman that you had on before, they tried to do a really good job of convincing America that guns are somehow a controversial issue, that this is somehow a divisive issue. It is not a divisive issue. 97 percent of Republicans favor stricter gun control laws. Most NRA members, like Sophia here, favor stricter gun control laws. It is literally the NRA leadership and the politicians that they have purchased that are saying no, that are stopping the will of the people. There is no reasonable rational argument for it. There`s no Constitutional argument for it. There`s no empirical data that says we`re safer because of the gun laws we have. In fact, everything goes the opposite way and the people don`t want it. So at this point, they are down in this defensive huddle with just the politicians and just Wayne La Pierre and whoever he can find to shell for him --

NELSON: Did you see his speech today?

MCINTOSH: I did. I mean, blaming Democrats, blaming the media. It`s getting really, really absurd.

MELBER: Do you think the heat -- do you think the heart is changing anything?

MCINTOSH: I do. I mean, I do. I think that this -- so we`re already seeing usually the news cycle after a shooting and we can study so many that we know what`s normal now. Usually, by this point, it`s fallen off. Google Searches for gun control have fallen off. You are no longer seeing the hashtags that spring up. That hasn`t happened this time. It`s still growing. And it`s because of these kids and it`s because of this absolutely ham-fisted response by Donald Trump and the NRA.

MELBER: Well, and it`s -- and I have to say this. It`s also because of lies. In other words, there is a debate about how to do public safety and I don`t think that people are evil or wrong or either side of the public safety debate but people who come out and say and suggest that there`s a Second Amendment right that the court hasn`t held are lying and honestly no different that if someone said I really support free college for everyone, and actually the Supreme Court gives you that right and you`d go, the difference between what you like and what you claim, right, is massive and silly. And so briefly, that`s the lie that is also circular.

NELSON: Well, yes. I mean, we were fighting at the CNN town hall. I mean, they were talking about muskets and rifles, they`re arguing about the weapons, that`s not the issue, a well-regulated militia. That`s it.

MELBER: Right. Sophia Nelson and Jess McIntosh, thanks for being part of this discussion and my thanks as well to Congressman. Up next, Russian election interference hitting the Democratic primary.

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MELBER: Bob Mueller`s Friday indictment of Russians for election interference is reverberating even on a night when there are new Mueller charges against Paul Manafort as well us this roiling gun debate. But Mueller`s charges Friday didn`t only upset Donald Trump, they`re also stoking an important conversation among Democrats, some say it`s long overdue and there`s new words from Bernie Sanders tonight, who`s striking a different tone than he did in his very first interviews after Mueller indicted the Russians last week. When Sanders said this was basically old news, and the real question was what Clinton did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Mueller mentioned me twice, our campaign twice in his report. And I think what he was talking about is kind of old news, it`s what most Americans know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you and your campaign knew that there was Russian meddling and that it was trying to sew divisions, why not take that directly to your supporters.

SANDERS: I would say that the real question to be asked is what was the Clinton campaign, they had more information about this than we did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Sanders initially deflecting the Clinton campaign which is absurd. These reports are about interference that hurt Clinton and of course boosted the other candidate, Sanders, and Trump. Now, there is more. Sanders is revising his stance. He issued a fairly unusual 370-word statement to the media and he said that Russians deserve unconditional condemnation, whether it was the active support of any candidate or active opposition to any candidate, and he adds, this is true of any of the 2016 campaigns, including my own. That was new last night, that`s because he came under fire for the initial response, along with Sanders former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver who said that the factual underpinning of Mueller`s indictment was what? Zero.

Adding, I have not seen any evidence of support from the Russians for Bernie Sanders. Now, think about it, that`s not a Kellyanne Conway quote, it`s a Sanders strategist refuting the evidence that Bob Mueller just offered. And there`s more. On THE BEAT, we have invited Sanders and Weaver on the show, now they`re not here tonight, but Weaver did give us a new statement tonight saying "it`s important that we fully understand how we can stop Russian meddling from happening again and he add, and this is important, I`m thankful for the work Robert Mueller is doing to accomplish just that. Now, we also had a former Sanders campaign staffer in the middle of this week, a Digital Director who condemned Russia and said that the Sanders still had this legitimate right to respond to the DNC e-mails even if they came from Russia`s criminals hacking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNETH PENNINGTON, FORMER DIGITAL DIRECTOR, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN: There`s no doubt that what Russia did in terms of meddling with our election is you know, totally horrible. I do think there are legitimate frustrations that Bernie supporters had with the way that the primary was handled. I don`t think those become illegitimate because the source of the leaks was Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And let`s be clear, that`s a reasonable view. A lot of people support important information being used regardless of where it came from. Journalists certainly think that. But the civic question here is is broader than re-litigating any primary. Imagine a key moment and say, a future campaign, a big convention or right before Election Day. Imagine Russia unleashes an even larger set of hacks and information warfare, and what do we do about it? That`s reportedly what happened right before the May 2017 French election. The leaders there across the spectrum vowed not to fall into another trap of letting Russian material dominate their democracy.

The media didn`t even report on it, it`s part of that country`s somewhat odd blackout rules. You know, Donald Trump recently suggested America should copy France`s approach to military parades. Tonight some Americans concerned about Russian interference are questioning whether we should copy France`s approach to combating Russian hacks. I`m joined now by Philippe Reines, a long-time adviser to Hillary Clinton as well as John Mattes, he worked as a volunteer in California for Bernie Sanders campaign and was one of the first people to both suspect and flag this foreign interference. John, tell us briefly what you found and what you did?

JOHN MATTES, FORMER VOLUNTEER ORGANIZER, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN: Well, starting in August 2016, I saw suspicious people joining the Sanders campaign after it was over. So people were flocking to Facebook pages from Eastern Europe and it made no sense, why would you join a campaign that was fully over? So I began looking into those people, that turned out to be ghosts, bots or trolls and then I started looking where that information was coming from and it was from a number of Eastern European news sites that had all popped up at the same time. We`re not talking one or two sites, we`re talking 50, 60 sites that out of the blue start broadcasting incredible amount of disinformation --

MELBER: And what did you do?

MATTES: -- 24/7. What I did is I started looking at it to see if it was a phenomena that was just in Southern California, just in our region --

MELBER: No, what I mean -- I`m trying to drive you forward, you contacted the Clinton campaign?

MATTES: Oh, yes, in September and October, I contacted the Clinton campaign, I shared my investigation with them on a daily basis up through the election.

MELBER: Which is an important point. Philippe, you were very high up in the Clinton campaign, I want to stipulate for the sake of accuracy and fairness. A lot of people contact presidential campaigns, I`m not reporting this Philippe to suggesting that everything that came in should have been immediately dealt with. And the Obama administration had trouble dealing with this as well. But I want to know what you think Philippe about what we heard at least initially and over the course of this week from Bernie Sanders?

PHILIPPE REINES, SENIOR ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: Well, just listening to John, I think you know, John had all this information, and I don`t know why Bernie Sanders doesn`t blame John, apparently he didn`t do enough. But what`s preposterous about what Senator Sanders has said is that it acts like we were too lazy to do something, or we didn`t care. I mean, you`re predicating that accusation on the idea that Hillary Clinton just didn`t feel like being president as supposed to being accused every other day of wanting nothing more than being single -- you know -- minded about being president. So I think the problem is you hit the nail on the head. It`s if you close your eyes and you listen or to read -- it`s hard to read while your eyes closed -- but if you look at what they`re saying, it is not good for to be indistinguishable between what Donald Trump said and what Bernie Sanders said about Russia.

MELBER: You think -- hold on, you think that what Bernie said after the Friday indictment is equal to what Donald Trump has done?

REINES: I think you know, you can fill in the blanks. X, benefitted from Vladimir Putin`s meddling, X calls the election rigged, X resists sanctions, X hedges on what happened.

MELBER: Are you alleging -- are you alleging, hold on. You know this is part of my job. Are you alleging, yes or no, that Bernie Sanders sanction position is because he was helped by Russia?

REINES: I`m not, but I want to know why he is being so wishy-washy about what`s going on. And I can answer the question. That he -- it`s the same thing as Donald Trump. It`s that it puts their own accomplishments in doubt. I don`t blame them. But the problem is, when Hillary Clinton says Russia meddled and might have cost her 70,000 votes out of 130 million cast, the Bernie people say, oh, that`s crazy, she`s a terrible candidate. He lost by nearly 4 million votes out of 29 million cast. And you know what they blame? Oh, rigged, George is rigged, the DNC stole our homework.

MELBER: Let me get John in. John, response?

MATTES: First off, this is not a blame game. We were all victims of a Russian attack. It was an attack on our democracy. So to blame Bernie Sanders or he or she, again, it`s not about the blame game. It`s about what happened and how we were to respond, none of us in the fall of 2016 knew what a cyber-attack really was. None of us knew how to deal with cyber-terrorism and that`s exactly what was happening to us.

MELBER: Philippe, what is your final thought then on what happens next time. Because the convention was as we have reported and people can now see clearly in hindsight, not maybe as clear at the time, it was exactly what Vladimir Putin wanted, was Democrats fighting Democrats at the most high profile moment of the general election.

REINES: Well, there are two people who can`t see that clearly, even in hindsight. What Sanders and his campaign manager Jeff Weaver said were in light of the Mueller indictment. In terms of looking forward, I think it starts with everyone admitting this happened. Everyone has to say, I could be next time. I wasn`t last time but I might be the next time and we have to stop this. And that starts with cutting out this nonsense about, you know, oh, they didn`t hurt me, they didn`t help me, they are facts -- they are facts, accept them. Until we all do --

MELBER: Yes, it`s fascinating. I got to fit in a break. As I mentioned, and I want to be clear, and I appreciate both of you having the conversation. We invited Senator Sanders, Jeff Weaver (INAUDIBLE). Some of them had been in touch. The invite remains open because --

REINES: I`m sure they`ll issue seven more statements before we get off the air.

MELBER: Philippe Reines and John Mattes, thank you both. Coming up from the birther king to the king of the GOP. How did CPAC turn into TPAC?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: A gathering of conservatives known as CPAC kicked off today, a love fest for Trump -- excuse me -- for Trumpism. Here`s what you need to know about this party. Trump and Romney have rejoined forces after once claiming they would never support each other. Seven years ago, Trump made his CPAC debut as a rookie, the king of the birther movement, it was his first big political speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are my people. This is beautiful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Today, he`s obviously taken over this party and GOP leaders were nowhere to be found and pretty silent when standing up to a lot of Trumpism. Take a look at this, 13 Trump administration officials are speaking at this three-day event. And the headliners today included Mike Pence, a very rare public interview from the man in the middle of everything, White House Council Don McGahn, tonight Eric Trump took the stage after a day of tossing out red meat to the base.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONA LOESCH, SPOKESWOMAN, NRA: Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. Crying white mothers are ratings gold.

MARION MARECHAL-LE PEN, FRENCH POLITICIAN: France is in the process of passing from the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church to the niece of Islam.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s really nice to be in a place where I`m not getting protested.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I think the Democrats are the Party of Lisa Simpson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Ouch, sick Simpson`s burn. You never know when it might hit you. That last speaker, of course, was Ted Cruz, and he was the only Senator who was at CPAC today which shows how this year`s gathering reveals at least three things about the state of so-called conservatism. Trump is in, Congressional leaders are out and for now, you`re witnessing a conservative party that has surrendered to the entertainment wing. The reality show has become reality. My next guest spent the whole day there at CPAC, Ben Howe, a Senior Contributing Editor for Conservative RedState.com. What are we learning?

BEN HOWE, SENIOR CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, REDSTATE.COM: People are very, very pleased with Donald Trump. Everybody I spoke to and you know, I`ve been in conservative politics for years. I still have plenty of friends when I go to CPAC and I talk to all of them. They know where I stand on Trump. I`ve been critical of him for a long time. They couldn`t be happier. I think Pence called it the most consequential year of the history of the conservative movement. But it all does kind of center around one man, and I feel --

MELBER: So let`s take Pence seriously. When he says that, does he mean that the conservative movement is about content, that Trump is the chief content officer who certainly gets attention for all the things he says and not about public policy?

HOWE: I think a lot of it is that -- I think a lot of it is the first thing you said that. I think liberal tears drives a lot of the movement. Getting, you know, I say that word -- that phrase very easily but liberal tears is the idea that whatever harms Democrats or makes them upset is a conservative win, whether or not there`s a policy win that goes with it is sometimes less relevant. And I think that`s taken over a lot of people`s minds even at CPAC. They just love seeing what they view as fighting back. They feel like they`ve been maligned for years. They felt like they were maligned under Obama and this is like revenge time. Policy is great, as well but mostly it`s about seeing him punch the media in the jaw.

MELBER: And is there anyone issue real quick that could undercut Trump`s standing with the people you saw today?

HOWE: Yes, I heard some people talking about his agreement with the idea of raising the age for gun ownership. And I don`t think that would go -- he says they`ll do what he wants and I don`t think he`s right at all, not with what I spoke toing.

MELBER: Right, there -- with that base, there are red lines. As we -- as we said in our thesis, it may be more TPAC than CPAC at this point because Trump is doing well and as you know, TPAC very different than Tupac but sounds similar. Ben Howe, thanks for the bird`s eye view. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: "HARDBALL" starts now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END