Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: February 26, 2018 Guest: Barbara McQuade; Richard Painter; Matt Miller; Blake Hounshell; David Corn
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Did you have a good weekend?
KATY TUR, MSNBC REPORTER: I did. I did have a long weekend.
MELBER: Good. Well, I`m glad we had this talk.
TUR: Me, too.
MELBER: Kay Tur.
TUR: Let me go. Have a long Monday night.
MELBER: Good. Thank you very much.
Tonight, we begin with this news. The Trump White House playing defense on two fronts on this special counsel probe. First, they are trying to limit Donald Trump`s personal exposure in any interview with Bob Mueller and trying as well to distance the White House from the top Trump campaign officials here who are under fire, like Rick Gates who of course pled guilty to two felonies Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Given the guilty plea from Rick Gates on Friday, I wonder what it says in your view about the President`s judgment that three people linked to his campaign has now turned out to be criminals.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look. I think that those are issues that took place long before they were involved with the President and anything beyond that, because those are active investigations. I`m not going to go further with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Fact check, false. Friday`s guilty plea by Rick Gates, deputy campaign manager for Donald Trump is damning precisely, because it was about things that took place while he was involved with Trump, Gate toward for the Trump campaign, the Trump transition, the RNC. One of the felonies occurred just this month when he lied to Bob Mueller`s team while trying to cut that deal with him.
Now another witness in the Russia probe, Reince Priebus, also trying another version of this distancing, which is what we are seeing under fire from the Trump White House. Tonight, here Rience was claiming that Gates, again as I mentioned, the number two in command, was actually only involved in busywork.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: More logistics, event planning, things that were going on behind the scenes, a lot of the busywork was what Rick, I saw, did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is, of course, a far cry from the general election when Trump`s top advisers were touting how Gates was in the campaign`s top four.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELLOR TO THE PRESIDENT: In Trump tower today, the core four, Manafort and Gates, who has been on for a while, Bannon and myself, we met on any number of issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is the person who says he is guilty, Rick Gates and who says he is cooperating with Bob Mueller. So keep that in mind on this Monday night as the context for the White House is a defense maneuver. Lawyers floating a new bid on a fairly old story. They have an idea that Trump could maybe only speak to Bob Mueller in a limited scope so that he won`t have to test his recollections which could trap him into, yes, perjury.
I`m joined by Richard Painter, a White House ethic chief to President George W., as well as former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade.
Richard, I start with you. When you hear that type of distancing, right, we are out of court. The guy has pled guilty. But we are in of course says it is the court of public opinion. Is it fair? Is it effective for them to try to reduce his role like that?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: I think we have run out of coffee boys here. Every time they get indicted, they just say that`s the coffee boy. And it`s quite clear that these are people who are very high up in the Trump campaign. And very much involved in what was going on. And these guilty pleas are to, you know, the serious charges, but nowhere near as serious, particularly in the case of Gates, what he could have been charged with. And that means that he is very likely providing valuable information to Bob Mueller about Manafort and or about the President or somebody else in the White House. And this is going to be a very serious situation.
MELBER: Yes. And you talk about information, Barbara, I want to play a former colleague of yours, a fellow federal prosecutor who has come to some repute pause o repute because of the way he left from the Obama to the Trump administration, that Preet Bharara. Here was his view on all of these leading to Manafort flip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PTREET BHARARA, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I don`t see how Manafort goes to trial credibly, based on what I have seen on the indictment and the straightforwardness of the charges. So if Manafort has something to give up, it can happen on the eve of trial even. I don`t see how he defends these charges well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. I think one of the things that Preet is looking at is the indictment is so specific on financial charges, which is objective evidence. And so, when you don`t have to rely on the potentially biased testimony of witnesses but instead can make the case based on documents, it is almost bulletproof. And now in addition to that, you have Rick Gates who has agreed to cooperate. And so to the extent there is any necessity to provide a narrative or to connect the dots you have that. It seems to be an incredibly strong case against Paul Manafort.
And so, I`m sure the pressure is great on him to consider cooperation and he potentially might have very valuable information about links to the Russian government and the Trump campaign, in light of his position as campaign manager.
MELBER: And what if he doesn`t? I mean, this is something where at times it almost seems there`s an assumption that he can provide information on other people. What if Paul Manafort only has bad news about himself?
MCQUADE: Well, that probably isn`t going to be enough to get a substantial assistance reduction. You can always plead guilty and do a little better for accepting responsibility typically would get you a lower sentence than you would get by going to trial. But in order to get that kind of cooperation agreement in the kind of deal we are seeing with some of these other defendants, you typically have to have some information about someone else who is higher up in the organization.
So he could have information about others, like Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. or others, maybe about the trump campaign. But you are right. In the end it may be that he only has information about himself. But he could do better for himself by pleading guilty.
Richard, the President got on the phone with FOX News this weekend and did what presidents do, which is say, you know, you know who and coy references to recused attorney generals, it was, at bizarre, a minimum and maybe concern at a maximum.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: A lot of bad things happened on the other side, not on this side, but on the other side.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what`s interesting --
TRUMP: Should look into it, because what they did is really fraudulent. And somebody should be looking into that. And by somebody, I`m talking about you know who.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAINTER: Well, presidents don`t do that. They don`t call in to FOX News and start accusing people of crimes. You know, the political party, he won an election with some help from Vladimir Putin, but he won the election. He`s president, and he`s been doing nothing but spending his time talking about so-called crimes committed by the Democrats, that`s just to deflect attention from the fact that there was collaboration with Russians. We don`t know whether it was criminal or not, but a lot of people are lying about their contacts with the Russians.
This Russia investigation is very serious. And all he is doing is attacking the FBI, bringing up the FBI in the context of the Florida school shooting and now in the context of the Democrats. I mean, this has absolutely nothing do with what`s going on the Mueller investigation and this is not presidential at all.
MELBER: Not presidential. No appropriate. And you may feel that it`s, to some degree, just the heat. He doesn`t know how to deal with the heat, so he is calling people that are taking the call and making him comfortable to say these things. It doesn`t change the fact that there are these guilty pleas and that these people are cooperating.
Richard Painter, lovely to have you here.
On separate change of pace, and Bara McQuade from Michigan, thank you both.
We have more in this segment. And I want to turn to a different expert. Now this weekend, House Democrats as we were just mentioning did release their rebuttal to that famed Russia memo, and it dealt with some of the original accusations in the Republican memo.
Republicans have been claiming that Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was somehow improperly under surveillance. And this relates, of course, to information from Christopher Steele. He is the British spy who wrote the Trump-Russia dossier.
Now the Democrats` new memo says that by the time Steele was getting in touch with the FBI in September 2016, FBI was already investigating several different people in and around the Trump campaign. That includes Page as well as others who are, you see it there, not named.
Now the reason the FBI took Steele seriously was among other things that he had given them quote "credible reporting for years," and this includes and this is very interesting information that the justice department used in quote "criminal proceedings."
I`m joined by Matt Miller. She is spokesperson for the justice department.
You had flagged - hi. You flagged that this weekend as significant language that can only mean a certain thing. Explain.
MATT MILLER, FORMER CHIEF SPOKESMAN, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Yes, so it`s interesting. If they used that term correctly, you know, we have known for a long time that Christopher Steele had provided information to the department of justice going back years. Reuters reported that he provided information related to the justice department`s take down of FIFA, but - as governing body for an international soccer.
But it is one thing to provide information that leads to investigations to provide tips. It`s another to give information that`s used in criminal proceedings. Because that typically, if they are using that term correctly, criminal proceedings would mean an indictment. It would mean using it at trial. And the government doesn`t use gossip. They don`t use hearsay in indictments or trial. They use information that they can verify.
So I think that, you know, to find out that they have been using his information going back years in criminal proceedings, adds a level to Christopher Steele`s credibility that we didn`t know before this memo`s release on Saturday.
MELBER: It is basically the idea that long before this became politically, hot he was in the eyes of these prosecutors credible to help them catch and prosecute crime.
MILLER: Yes. That is exactly right. You know, sometimes if you kind of step back from this, I sometimes think that Devin Nunez might be kind of a secret agent for the resistance. Because the end result of this entire escapade, when you look at both memos, is that Chris Steele comes out of this looking more credible, based on the fact that we now know he was a reliable source for the justice department for years. The Trump campaign looks more culpable because we now know multiple people were under investigation by the FBI during the campaign. We didn`t know that before these memos were released. And the FBI looks more responsible because we now know officially, not just from news reports, but officially that they began their investigation, not because of Chris Steele and his dossier, but because of information that came to him about George Papadopoulos dragging to an Australian ambassador about having received secret emails from the Russians.
MELBER: Yes. You laid out there so well. And it is - it is extraordinary sometimes in the news, it helps to take a minute to step back and look at how far it has gone. I don`t know if you ever, when you were a kid, Matt, if you ever read "the little engine that could," do you remember that one?
MILLER: I did. And I read it to my toddler now.
MELBER: There you go. I didn`t know it was still in vogue, but this was the little memo that couldn`t. And Nunes just humiliated himself once before he released it promising a lot. Then the night he released it when it didn`t work out. And he was telling FOX News, don`t worry, there will be other memos. Well, there`s one other memo, it is the rebuttal memo to him. And he is a mad at men that should do a sort of little engine who couldn`t hat trick, because he has embarrassed himself a third time this weekend.
Matt Miller, thank you for your eagle eyes on that filing.
MILLER: Thank you.
MELBER: Coming up, debating how high collusion goes. We are going to bring on a self-described Russia-Gates sceptic as well as the journalist who broke the Trump dossier story for an important and factual debate.
Also, shock waves in California. Have you heard about this? Iconic Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein is getting heat at home from progressives. I`m going to show you what happened this weekend and have a live interview with the challenger trying to stop Feinstein.
Plus, later tonight, my legal fact check on what the second amendment actually says about the AR-15s.
All that, plus, I should mention our former colleague Dylan Ratigan is here in person tonight on why he is running for Congress.
I`m Ari Melber. You are watching "the Beat" on MSNBC.
MELBER: Welcome back.
There`s no question Bob Mueller`s Russia probe is escalating, closing in on some of Trump`s inner circle. Friday we saw some of the most high-level breakthroughs, undercutting Trump in this investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly between myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself.
There is collusion, but it`s really with the Democrats and the Russians far more than it is with the Republicans and the Russians, so the witch hunt continues. But it is really unfair, because it`s like a witch hunt. It`s like a witch hunt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The facts lay it out pretty clearly.
Friday showed this is not a witch hunt. It`s a felony hunt. Trump`s national security advisor and deputy campaign manager had pled guilty to those felonies, you see, plus, three other pleas plus a campaign chief indicted, charged on 32 counts, plus those 13 Russians charged as well. So there is a real criminal scandal.
But is it a Donald Trump scandal? There are sceptics arguing now that over a year later there is still no public evidence of fully-executed collusion and no smoking gun against Trump himself.
Now in a moment, we will from a journalist who has argued this story was big from the start, David Corn. But we begin with an account of scepticism about how high this Russia problem goes. A (INAUDIBLE) makes the case for more scepticism. And he argues in a new pace which has made some waves that the Trump campaign was really a viper`s nest of incompetence which makes it unlikely it can coordinate a high level conspiracy. He adds there`s no smoking gun for collusion by Trump.
And there`s also the argument that if Michael Wolff`s fire and fury and others are right, who would cheat for a game they didn`t want to win.
With me now to get this debate started this conversation started the author of that provocative piece, Blake Hounshell." Thanks for being here.
BLAKE HOUNSHELL, DEPUTY EDITOR, POLITICO MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me, Ari.
MELBER: You are exploring scepticism, I want to be clear, because you think this is an important thing to probe, not because you have it in for one side or the other. Why do you see this argument for scepticism now even as the guilty pleas pile up?
HOUNSHELL: Well, you know, keep in mind that the guilty pleas are not pointing in any particular direction yet. They might well, and I have no doubt that the Mueller team is carrying out its responsibility with great seriousness. As you noted, there`s really no argument that the Russians meddled in the election.
But what we don`t know yet, Air, is whether the Trump campaign and high levels was part of a conspiracy to do that. And I think given the stakes involved, given that we are talking about the presidency, people need to wait until the evidence comes in before they become the judge, jury and executioner here.
MELBER: And appreciate you saying that. I thought your piece laid that out in an important way. Take a listen to some of the incompetence arguments made by none other than Jared Kushner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARED KUSHNER, SON-IN-LAW OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: They thought we colluded, but we couldn`t even collude with our local offices in different states. That was hard enough for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Also hard for him to get near the microphone, so, you know, collusion and amplification. But we wanted to play it in his own words because that was something he did say in a public setting where there happened to be a recording device. Does it make you more or less inclined to believe the incompetence defense when they are making it?
HOUNSHELL: Well, that was one of the points that I laid out. They having covered the campaign and having seen just what a mess the Trump campaign was on the inside, that`s one of the things that gives me pause about the theory that Trump was somehow able to collude with the Russians and keep it secret. This campaign leaked like a sieve. People were leaking to reporters damaging information about each other all the time. I tend to think that something like this would have come out during the campaign if it had been going on.
MELBER: I want to bring in David Corn while you stay with me.
David, you have also been on this story a long time. Your response?
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU, MOTHER JONES: Well, I think, you got to be careful not to set up a straw man here. I don`t know of anyone who says that Donald Trump sat down with ambassador Sergey Kislyak and decided what precinct in Michigan (INAUDIBLE) likely Trump voters. That is not the type of collusion that I think happened or that we would even talking about.
To me, collusion has been in some ways miscast as the either/or standard that has to be met here. We do know that the Trump campaign, you know, signalled to Moscow again and again and again. It had no problem with the Russian meddling in the election. That starts with the June 9th meeting in Trump tower between Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr and the Russian emissary who they told was bringing them dirt from the Russian government. And it continues to July and August when George Papadopoulos is trying to set up meeting with Putin`s own office. And then it start - it continues after August after Donald Trump gets an intelligence briefing saying that the Russians indeed are meddling, that the stories out there about this are correct, he continues to deny this, giving the Russians cover --
MELBER: Well, David - yes, David, I think you lay it out well. And I think, you know, our viewers are familiar with some of that. I think part of Blake`s point to you and then I will go back to Blake, would be that might be really bad for U.S. national security, might be really gross, and it might even be attempted collusion. But what do you make of his argument that there`s got to be more scepticism for a kind of a pre-indictment aura around Donald Trump for collusion itself?
CORN: Well, I think the key thing is not whether they sat down and planned details together, I want to know what Sessions, Jeff Sessions, was saying to Kislyak before the election, and Kislyak says that he was talking to Mike Flynn too.
To me, collusion could mean, this theoretically, that they were telling the Russians, we want to work with you afterwards while they knew, had reason to believe the Russians were intervening in the election, thus incentivizing the Russians and certainly helping them cover-up what they were doing. To me, that`s more important as where they actually sat down and planned anything together.
MELBER: Right. And that is important. That is potentially legally important. Blake?
HOUNSHELL: Yes. I mean, I think the key question is going to be not these indictments related to the Facebook activities but whether Mueller comes out with indictments related to the DNC hacks and the hacks of John Podesta`s emails. Because that really get into a situation where we already know Trump said publicly at a rally, Russia, if you`re listening, please hack Hillary Clinton`s emails. So we know that he was publicly politically interested in doing this. But we don`t know was whether the Trump campaign somehow assisted or worked with the Russian to facilitate the release of those emails, which would be a crime.
MELBER: And David, final question. What about the victim defense, that many parts of the Trump campaign, a lawyer could argue, were victims, not only of a Russian operation, but also a Paul Manafort operation. And so you had highly-placed people doing bad stuff, but you had a lot of other people who had no idea. Some volunteer in Ohio and maybe some high-placed person in Washington confused, not understanding why all this stuff was coming at them.
CORN: Well, one thing is, to get an idea of what Paul Manafort was telling other people in the campaign, whether he was saying anything at all about his connections with Russians and with the oligarch, (INAUDIBLE). I mean, this to me, Ari, not all collusion is necessarily even a criminal matter. I think if you have a situation when Trump or his surrogates are basically giving a nod and a wink to an information warfare campaign against American democracy, that`s a big deal, and that`s something that perhaps Congress should look at more than Mueller and I`m afraid we may not get to that.
MELBER: Right. And we have to wrap here. It`s an important discussion to have. Who won? Blake, David, who won?
CORN: I think it was a tie.
MELBER: A tie for now. I will have you both back because I think we may learn more. And Blake put his finger on the other piece which is the hackings were felonious. We know that. Will there be charges? And will there be any Americans in those charges? That`s a very big question.
Interesting conversation. Blake and David, thank you both.
Up ahead, something else totally different. A political earthquake in California. There are state Democrats there who just snubbed senator Feinstein, refusing to endorse her for partly what they say is insufficient aggression toward Donald Trump.
Feinstein`s Democratic challenger, state senator Kevin De Leon joins me live. And I`ll have more on both sides of that.
Also later tonight, my Special Report on what people are getting wrong about the second amendment and why there`s no right to an assault rifle.
And also, my former colleague turn House candidate Dylan Ratigan is here. He is throwing political bombs and he will explain why he` is running for Congress.
MELBER: The other top story tonight, a political brawl. One of the country`s best-known Democrats now under fire from progressives in her own state who want a tougher stance against Trump. It all came to a head this weekend. Did you see this? California senator Dianne Feinstein did not win the endorsement one would expect her to get at her own Democratic state party convention, a rare review for an incumbent senator.
Now here is the response from her opponent supporter as she was wrapping up her speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I guess my time is up. Let me just say, I ask for your endorsement. I hope I will have it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And it wasn`t just a few voices in the crowd as I will explain. The context as you probably know from watching the news, Dianne Feinstein has a long record. It was back in 1978 as the first female chair of the San Francisco board of supervisors that she came out and told the public about the shooting of gay rights leader Harvey Milk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEINSTEIN: Both (INAUDIBLE) and supervisor Harvey Milk has been shot and killed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: She moved on to the U.S. Senate and quite relevant to right now, she was the leader who got the assault weapons ban passed in 1994. More recently, she has tangled with Republicans on their role in the Russia probe. She has also rankled some on the left like many Democrats. She did vote for the Iraq war. She has largely supported the NSA surveillance programs and at one point was suggesting patience with the new President Donald Trump.
Now let`s be clear about the facts. The polls in California show senator Feinstein is very popular. But it`s also unusual for an incumbent senator not to get the endorsement of her own party. And it suggests that there are people in California and maybe other parts of the country that want a larger debate about Democratic policy in the age of Trump.
So for this important discussion, I want to tell you, we have many sides represented. There is billionaire activist Tom Steyer, a political ally of Feinstein`s opponent although he has not yet endorsed anyone in the race. There is former San Francisco mayor, Willie Brown who backs Feinstein and if I may say, sir, is a friend of the show.
But we begin tonight with Feinstein`s new opponent in the party, California state senator, Kevin de Leon. Now he won 54% percent. That would be a majority thereof the votes at this state party convention, Feinstein took 37 percent. Senator, I suppose the question on a lot of Democrats` minds, and this is a Democratic primary, is whether this is the right time for you to try to take out Senator Dianne Feinstein.
SEN. KEVIN DE LEON (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, Ari, let me say the following, that first and foremost, I have a lot of respect for Senator Feinstein. I have a lot of respect for her service to commitment. But the national headlines would have you to believe that this is personal and that`s missing the point because this is about working men and women, this is about young college students, this is about farm workers, this is about housekeepers. This is about labor unions who want a different voice, who want a change and who want to challenge the status quo in Washington, D.C. because they believe that Washington simply is not working for them. So I always believe that regardless if you`re a Democrat or Republican, it`s always a good thing to have different choices, obviously, ultimately the people choose.
MELBER: And you`re not -- you`re not running against -- sir, you`re not running against Washington, you`re running in a primary against Senator Feinstein and there is a question here of what is the biggest difference that you see between you and her?
DE LEON: Well, Ari, I see that there is a lot of differences. I think that California has changed quite dramatically in the past 25 years. It`s a much more diverse, vibrant state than it was a quarter of a century ago. And I would say that this is an issue about values, this is about those who would champion these values for working people up and down the state of California in Washington, D.C. I don`t think folks want complacency. I don`t think folks want patience. I don`t think folks want a voice on the sidelines but rather on the front lines dealing with a president that clearly has California in its crosshairs.
MELBER: What do you think is the biggest mistake she`s made in the Senate in your view?
DE LEON: Well, I can say this, Ari. This is not a time to plead patience and to think and hope perhaps one day in the near future that President Trump could be "a good president." There`s a whole variety of issues, and you just mentioned a few earlier today. But the question of war whether voting for Iraq, whether voting for the Afghanistan war. These are two wars on-going 17 years at the cost of $5 trillion. It`s longer than the Vietnam war. These are $5 trillion we should have spent -- we should have spent on health care, on college debt, education, on the issue of clean energy, the issue of criminal justice, reforms, which are very critical. I would never vote to allow 13-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults without mercy.
And lastly, another point that you had mentioned a few moments ago, the issue of federal agents eavesdropping and spying on American citizens without a judicial warrant. That`s un-American. If there are some bad folks out there, by all means, present the evidence to a federal judge. And if he or she says that you can move forward with a judicial warrant, do so. But spying on American citizens, U.S. citizens without a warrant, quite frankly in my opinion regardless of who`s in the White House, Democrat or Republican, is un-American.
MELBER: Well, you mentioned several explicit policy issues that relate to her record. And it`s very interesting. State Senator Kevin De Leon, thank you for telling us a little bit about your view here. Now we turn to bring back Tom Steyer. As I mention, a political ally of Kevin De Leon although he has not endorsed in this race and he has a lot of, let`s be honest, money and power in California and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, a supporter of Senator Feinstein. Mayor Brown, your reaction?
WILLIE BROWN, FORMER MAYOR, SAN FRANCISCO: My reaction is a very simple one. Dianne Feinstein has been in the U.S. Senate since 1992. She has been consistently reelected, and it is because she produces results. She produces the results that come from working within the system, within this democracy, building a consensus over a series of things, including the assault weapon ban, and she`s the only person who`s ever been able to do that. There isn`t any reason why Dianne Feinstein should be terminated.
TOM STEYER, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, NEXTGEN AMERICA: Well, I think that there is a conversation going on in California right now, and I think it`s coming out in this race between Senator Feinstein and Kevin De Leon about incrementalism versus visionary thinking in the Democratic Party, particularly as it pertains to Washington, D.C. And I think what you`re seeing is two very different styles from two very different places. Because in Sacramento, the Democrats have a super majority and we`re very used to winning and we are very used to big ideas and the ideas that we can really make change. And I think in Washington, D.C., the result of being a minority party and so much dysfunction is that to be realistic, people are very incremental.
And so, I think the people in California are having a very positive and important conversation within the Democratic Party and outside the Democratic Party about how we want to go forward. Do we want to take a real shot at some visionary ideas and start to think about how to make real change or do we try and work within the system that has so far, honestly, failed us for the last few years and where we see a very dysfunctional, infective failing in Washington, D.C.
MELBER: And Tom, is the idea in your view then to move Washington, move Senator Feinstein to some degree, Republicans more so than Democrats have had a lot of success in their view, at least, in mobilizing, energizing their party around primaries and around you know, changing some of the you know, the incentives. Is that what this is about or do you actually think Senator Feinstein is vulnerable?
STEYER: I think that if you look at what Senator Feinstein has done, she has listened to this debate. She`s participated in the debate, but you can see her reacting, listening to her constituents, listening to what Senator De Leon is saying and actually changing. But I think there`s a bigger question here, and it`s in front of the whole Democratic Party. And that is, are we, in fact, going to lead with bold ideas and confidence that we can win? We have to show in 2018 that we can win.
MELBER: Right. So, Mayor Brown, you know what Tom`s doing, that thing people do in politics where they ask a question with an implied answer and I think if I`m hearing right is he`s sending the idea out there that Senator Feinstein is not bold or not bold enough. Is that fair and is she evolving over time with along with her constituency which I suppose is the job of a politician?
BROWN: Whenever you challenge an incumbent, you really do have to have an agenda. You have to have that incumbent engaged in some conduct which is inconsistent with good judgment, which is inconsistent with good character, which is inconsistent with great values, which is also in many cases displeasing to a certain segment. Bernie Sanders` group did exactly that when they challenged Hillary Clinton. The end result, Democrats went with Clinton and we lost the election. There`s always an opportunity for everybody on the Democratic side of the aisle to make a recommendation, to make an argument and legitimately, they should. But they should also know you don`t ultimately win unless you are able to build a consensus, period. And that`s what Dianne Feinstein has been so effective at doing.
MELBER: And Tom, final question to you. I think the critiques on Senator Feinstein at least being out of step on national security issues, on surveillance and oversight and on foreign policy, I think are well founded. Wouldn`t it be I guess just really weird timing though for the party to go after her right now when she is I think it`s fair to say one of the longest, most effective gun control advocates the party has?
STEYER: Well, I don`t think it`s a question about the party, to be honest, Ari. I think that the real question here is what the people of California want. And so to a very large extent, I think Senator Feinstein is well served by her long history to put in, you know, sensible, important gun control legislation. So, in that case, yes, but I think we should not be looking at the party or at elected officials. Really, it`s the people of California, broadly speaking, who get to make this choice and get to think about how they want their future to go. Not anybody gets to speak for them.
MELBER: Right. Tom Steyer, in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, Willie Brown, not as good of a background, although I believe you`re in the same city, so the magic of television. Gentleman, thank you for the -- and thank you, everyone, for the civility. We also invited Senator Feinstein and she remains welcome to join us. Now, up ahead, I have a legal breakdown on one of the largest misconceptions in the country about the second amendment. Why the right to bear arms does not legally apply to assault rifles. That will be back with us in 90 seconds.
MELBER: America is having the gun debate again. This is the debate over who gets access to guns and what type of guns. But there are forces who do not want to allow a gun debate. And so they`re trying yet again to switch this to a debate about the Constitution, about our Founders, about the Second Amendment. This is a pivot. It`s a trick. It is, as one former Supreme Court justice put it, a fraud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN E. BURGER, FORMER CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s former Chief Justice Warren Burger, a Republican appointee famously noting how those groups have defrauded the public`s understanding of the Second Amendment. Here`s why. The Second Amendment does not apply to AR-15s. It doesn`t apply to assault-style weapons. It never has. Congress may legally ban those weapons without touching the Second Amendment. That`s a legal fact. But it`s hard for many politicians to defend AR-15s. It`s hard to explain why as a policy trade-off, it`s more important to make it easy to buy AR-15s than to restrict their use as weapons of mass murder. So politicians talk more about the Second Amendment than these weapons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m a staunch believer in the Second Amendment. I don`t think those rights should be infringed, but how do we keep our children and teachers safe in schools?
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: So they immediately start calling that we`ve got to take away the Second Amendment right of citizens. That`s not the right answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I am not trying to caricature anyone`s position. There are many legitimate reasons to support gun ownership and debate how to regulate guns. You know, I grew up in a house with guns. I get why people use guns and need guns, and love guns. So let`s have that honest debate about guns and the price we want to pay for using them. Let`s not do another fraudulent debate, pretending the Second Amendment prevents us from regulating weapons of war. Now I tried raising this with Texas Republican Congressman Michael Burgess on the show just last week but instead of talking about guns, about AR-15s, he kept returning to the Second Amendment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: For people who are wondering at home why you have made it easier for people to get AR-15s, is why??
REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: 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. If that so, that needs to be a national conversation and likely that will involve legislation and likely it would involve the courts and might even involve a constitutional amendment. But we`re far away from that point right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The Congressman has every right to explain his defense of AR-15s. Apparently, he didn`t really want to. He kept going back to the Second Amendment. So let`s talk for a minute about the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court has never ruled the Second Amendment protects AR-15s or any individual right to weapons of war. And it`s not like the NRA crowd has not tried. The Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected even hearing cases trying to get Second Amendment protections for those kind of guns. In fact, it did so three times in the past three years.
Take just one of those cases an appeals court ruled barring semi-automatic and large-capacity magazines is constitutional and does not violate the Second Amendment. That is the law. The Supreme Court has ruled, what I just read to you, remains the law right now. Or take the key case of the Supreme Court did rule for an individual right to hand guns. Justice Scalia`s famous 2008 opinion, even there, the court notes the Second Amendment does not apply to just any weapon whatsoever and there`s the keywords, it`s not unlimited. That`s Justice Scalia talking, even in the midst of his ruling for handguns. He was clear that other guns can still be banned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONIN SCALIA, FORMER ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will have to be decided in future cases, what limitations upon the right to keep and bear arms are permissible, some undoubtedly are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So here is your Second Amendment scorecard. The Second Amendment does protect handguns under the Supreme Court precedent, it does not protect these AR-15s. Every serious expert on the law and Second Amendment already knows that. Pro-gun legal advocates, they know it too and we know they know because they are the ones who have been trying to file all those cases to get the courts to broaden the Second Amendment to protect AR-15s, which I`ve just showed you the court have declined. The Supreme Court won`t even hear those cases. Those are the facts. So as this debate goes on, if someone tells you, we have to live with these weapons, because of the Second Amendment, either they don`t know what they`re talking about, or they think you don`t.
MELBER: My next guest is familiar to many MSNBC viewers. A man back on the scene because he is running for Congress. Dylan Ratigan was a Financial Anchor at CNBC. He came over here to host the "DYLAN RATIGAN SHOW" where he advocated for reform of the banking system. He left in 2012. He was calling to get money out of politics. Here he is on "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" discussing his book. You see him there. The book was Greedy Bastards, How We Can Stop Corporate Communist Banksters and Other Vampires from Sucking America Dry. Now, Ratigan is running for Congress and he`s challenging a Republican incumbent. I want to note, we have invited that incumbent Elise Stefanik on the show as well and I look forward to having her on for the conversation as well. Joining me right now is Dylan Ratigan, my former colleague, and in full disclosure, a friend of mine. Thanks for being here.
DYLAN RATIGAN (D-NY), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Nice to see you. And to clarify, I`m not running against an extremely impressive field of Democratic primary opponents right now for the opportunity to challenge.
MELBER: It`s true. You have a lot of primary opponents and the seat here has largely been held by Republicans. As we`ll put up for the benefit of the viewers here, many Democrats in this race. Why do you, after everything you`ve done, want to be in Congress?
RATIGAN: It`s very simple. I`ve been advocating for political reform in jobs as you know for years. When I saw what they did with the tax plan this year, or last year I guess it was, it was sort of the straw that broke the camel`s back. The lack of seriousness, tax policy dictates whether resources go into our communities or leave our communities. New York 21 is a community that historically has had twice the national average unemployment. New York 21 is a district that has benefitted from labor and organized unions protecting firefighters, teachers, the Alcoa plant. They`ve suffered from the manufacturing losses that really drove a lot of the disenfranchisement that we saw both in the Bernie Sanders supporters and the Trump supporters. And I`m running to confront once and for all the political corruption that has created a system of government that doesn`t work for the American people and the greatest symptom of that is the lack of jobs in district like New York 21.
MELBER: You mentioned the tax bill. We`ll put up here. We were looking at if you do run against the incumbent here, Elise Stefanik, she did vote against that tax bill, right? She did vote basically against Trump on Russia sanctions. She voted on some of the energy issues.
RATIGAN: How many jobs has she created? We can play policy games all we want.
MELBER: Well, I guess my question for you is how different are you going to be than her if the argument she`s already standing up to Trump on that issue?
RATIGAN: The issue for New York 21 is not who is standing up for Trump. The issue -- excuse me -- with New York 21 is are there good jobs in the district that allow people like me that grow up in that district the opportunity not to have to leave in order to find that opportunity. We`re lost in an unserious conversation, Ari, with all due respect. We go back and forth around these issues but we`re not actually resolving America`s problems, which is that we are not seeing the protections of our workers and our labor in this country. We are not seeing an investment in districts, rural districts especially like New York 21 and we`re not seeing the creation of jobs in those districts that`s necessary. And the reason for that is because we`re not having the serious conversation about how to reform our government to make it work for the people of districts like New York 21.
MELBER: And is that your view about campaign finance then as well?
RATIGAN: That`s about the primary process. This is a closed primary. This should be an open primary. Everybody should be able to vote in this primary. It`s about gerrymandering. This is a gerrymandered district. In order to win this district, you must capture a significant percentage of Independents and Republicans in order to pull it off. This is about campaign finance as well in terms of distributing the money that gets spent and where that money comes from, in other words, getting money more small dollars, but it`s a combination of those things. Until you create the candidates that can have the serious conversation, you are never going to solve the problems that are taking away the jobs. My number one problem with Representative Stefanik, and then I`ll shut up, is she`s a career politician who`s part of the system and has not done anything to confront that system or create jobs in the district.
MELBER: Now, I got to ask you because we happen to like each other, or at least I like you, but it`s part of my job, knowing you in this race, one of the biggest questions that may come up is temperament. I want to show some of your other life. Here you are on -- including MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATIGAN: It is the reason the financial markets are behaving the way they`re behaving. That is a mathematical fact. This is not some opinion. The $4 trillion plan that kicks the can down the road for the president to 2017 or burn the place to the ground, both of which are reckless, irresponsible and stupid.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That`s what this bill will do.
RATIGAN: Our politicians do not understand that they make laws that create total imbalances.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This bill will make sure that women --
RATIGAN: This is a waste of time.
Everybody is trapped in that marketplace to print that money and still maintain available financing because there`s nowhere else to go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Are you that guy, and they should put that guy in Congress or are you now going to be a different kind of guy if you get to Congress?
RATIGAN: Everybody learns to harness the anger. When you the intimacy of the knowledge of how corrupt our political system is -- excuse me -- how broken it is, and when you see the pain -- again, my mother worked at Essex County Mental Health, this is the other end of the spectrum. When you see the suffering, the real-life consequences that people suffer as a result of the unserious and reckless nature of our government, it can create anger. The reality is you have to learn how to channel that anger into productive solutions, which is what I`ve done in founding Helical with the veterans and what I`m doing right now with the Congressional campaign.
MELBER: Dylan Ratigan, thank you for coming by and taking question.
RATIGAN: My pleasure.
MELBER: I think this will be an interesting race to watch. We will be right back.
Melber: That is our show and I felt like we got through a lot. You can always find us on Facebook and you can see there, we`re going to post the legal report I did on what the Second Amendment does and does not say. You can find that there, or @THEBEATWITHARIMELBER.COM. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Let`s play HARDBALL.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END