Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: March 2, 2018 Guest: Olivia Nuzzi, Ron Nehring, Bobby Chacon, Max Boot, Michael Conway, Jay Smooth, Ron Nehring, Jesse Holland, Alicia Quarles, Natalie Morales
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT with Ari Melber starts right now. Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: You know, Chuck, you don`t look 70.
TODD: Well, thanks. I appreciate that. Have a great weekend.
MELBER: The breaking news tonight, Donald Trump`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, facing very big new questions about whether he tried to misuse the power he has in that nepotismic White House job to punish other people who might not do business with his family. That sounds like a harsh thing to say, but all of that is just what is in the reporting, as well as more big news this Friday night.
Questions coming now from Bob Mueller, take a look at this from NBC News, Mueller`s team analyzing Kushner`s business meetings during that pivotal and volatile transition period to see, did he try to shape U.S. government policy to benefit or retaliate, as I mentioned, against people he met with. Mueller asking about meetings Kushner held with individuals from Qatar, from Turkey, from Russia, from China and the UAE. Kushner`s team now says he never mixes his government work with his family business interests.
All of this though turning up the heat on the west wing that is cracking right now under this pressure. Reports that the President is quote "unglued right now." And it adds for all the other recent reports, you see them there about Kushner`s tricky, problematic business deals and overwhelming debt. This is a lot of attention on a man who had claimed he doesn`t seek the spotlight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: I have not sought the spotlight, first in business, and now in public service, I have always focused on setting an achieving goals and I have left it to others to work on media and public perception.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s not true. You are listening to someone there who literally bought a newspaper and read it in New York who also retained his own publicist at the White House. That person recently left and I have more on that later. It`s also interesting because you have an unpaid family advisor who then has his own publicist, so you are paying for that.
And more broadly, Jared Kushner has aggressively courted media attention along with his wife of course in Washington. And yet, none of that has prevented what I can report for you tonight, courtesy of the "Washington Post." Some of Kushner`s colleagues now reluctant to even have conversations with him or in his company. That means talking around him, in front of him, because they are not sure if he is a witness or worse, a criminal target of the Bob Mueller investigation.
Shelby Holliday is a reporter for "the Wall Street Journal," Ron Nehring was a spokesman for Ted Cruz`s 2016 presidential campaign. He is also joined us before with his analysis and revelations about Russian interference against your side in the primary which I want to get to.
But let`s start with Shelby, with Jared Kushner. Let me put it like this. Does he have a problem?
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: He has a lot of problems. And the big question is, will he will able to keep his job? I mean, we know his security clearance was downgraded. There are major concerns about whether or not he could be blackmailed by a foreign country. And we are now learning about more meetings that he had during the transition which, by the way, he didn`t -- he wasn`t forthright about them on all of his forms. In fact, he has update them three times revealing 100 contacts from 20 countries.
We know that Mueller has been looking at the transition period for a while. But the fact that the reporting from NBC tonight, if foreign countries are actually cooperating with Mueller, that is a significant turn in this investigation and it would be huge. If there was wrong doing for these foreign countries to come out and reveal information that`s harmful to Kushner and possibly his father-in-law.
I mean, Ron, you are a traditional conservative. And there is a concern among traditional conservatives about how the government is used, whether it`s too big, whether it is used for self-dealing, I think is something you`re against. Does this concern you, the allegation that Jared Kushner here, who doesn`t have to be, can I be nice? How do I say it? Doesn`t have a ton of qualifications for the giant portfolio he has. And yet now we are learning that he is under criminal investigation for potentially trying to do side deals.
RON NEHRING, SPOKESPERSON FOR CRUZ 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: So the number one qualification he has is he has the confidence of the President who wants him in that position and actually sought interpretation of anti- nepotism rules in order to be able to bring his daughter and son-in-law into that role. What comes with that, of course, is a new level of scrutiny than is unprecedented in anything which either these two individuals, which is Jared and Ivanka, have done in their lives before.
And so, even if there is not a thing in the world that is improper about any meeting at such, the level of scrutiny and the level of questions that are going to come about is something which may prove to be a distraction both in terms of doing --.
MELBER: Well, but I`m pressing you. Is it a distraction or is it a substantive problem? Let me read you here in our NBC reporting. Top Qatari government officials saying a White House`s position on a blockade may have been, they believe a form of retaliation driven by Kushner who was sour about a failed business deals. That`s according to multiple sources.
NEHRING: So I read this report NBC News report earlier. And I was stunned at the level of detail concerning what the Qatari officials had allegedly brought with him when they visited Washington in late January and early February.
Qatar was involved in a very, very intense conflict right now with Saudi Arabia and there`s a tremendous amount of lobbying taking place in Washington to try to earn the support of the United States, which by the way, has a huge military presence, as large as air base in the Middle East is there and ahead of the headquarters of U.S. central command. So at the very least it`s distraction in this regard, but it is part of what comes with the job.
MELBER: If he did these things because of his business deals, should he be in or out of the White House?
NEHRING: Well, certainly, you can`t use a government position in order to advance on your business interests. There has to be transparency.
MELBER: Shelby, same question.
HOLLIDAY: Well, it is also pretty hard to justify why Jared Kushner has a job he has if he didn`t do anything wrong. Because he did a lot of things wrong, with or without the self-dealing, he clearly is unqualified for the job and not very competent to even have the job he has, given the fact that he had all these meetings. He didn`t reveal them.
MELBER: And a security clearance thing is one of those big things. Like I can`t --.
MELBER: It`s a big, big deal. And their new defense this week has been well, he can do some of these -- basically, some of these tasks without that other security clearance level and that is an admission that they had him at a higher level than he should have been. Because as you know, given your experience and you know from reporting on it. You don`t get the top PDB level unless it`s essential to your job. That is one of the ways you get it. Now they are saying it is not. Go ahead.
HOLLIDAY: And by the way, his job includes overseeing the Middle East, China, Canada. He has this mass sufficient purview, and not surprisingly, a lot of the countries he could be in trouble to reaching out to and negotiating with are countries in his purview.
MELBER: So both of you -- exactly. Stay with me. I want to add one more reporter voice to this. Mueller`s scrutiny and Kushner has, of course, taken a toll on the entire west wing. And Trump now is reportedly defensive and upset about all the heat around Kushner. He has told some people reportedly that Kushner and Ivanka should never come to the White House, according to "the New York Times." And that they should leave. But apparently he is also personally telling them to stay. And then privately asking John Kelly to help them get them out.
Drama not limited to Kushner, either. NBC reporting that Trump is quote "very upset and down about Hope Hicks leaving, the Russia probe could be getting closer to her, there`s reporting noting that she`s racked up substantial legal fees, a source telling (INAUDIBLE) his closest to Trump family has actually put her at immense personal jeopardy. That means criminal exposure.
I have special report on that, I should mention later tonight.
But for more on the intrigue, I go to Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for New York magazine.
Look. We are in a reality show world. It is like this. I can`t. It is the box I made with her, whether I like it or not. It feels like a bachelor episode to have the President saying one thing to Jared and Ivanka, that he wants them to stay and then asking another contestant to get them to go? Your analysis.
OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well, I have never seen the bachelor, so I can`t speak about that. But look. I mean, you said earlier that the President seems to be coming unglued according to this reporting that we have seen this week. I don`t know if we have been seeing the President glued, I think that`s a very alarming development.
But the west wing is in a chaotic state and it`s different than the chaos that defined the earliest months of this administration, where you had Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus and Sean Spice fighting with each other. This chaos I think is some ways even less superficial than that chaos was. It really is deeply rooted.
MELBER: Less superficial means more important?
NUZZI: Yes. I think, you know, that played out a lot in the press with a lot of fact-fighting anonymous officials saying stuff about each other. You would get calls late at night.
MELBER: As far as this is about real things, yes.
MELBER: Exactly. This is not real stuff. This is about security clearances and potential corruption at the highest levels of our government. And I think, you know, even the silly stories at first turn into very serious matters. Remember this all kind of got into motion when it was revealed that Hope Hicks was dating a fellow staffer in the White House, Rob Porter. And ultimately this led with the revelations about security clearances.
But I want to point out, Hope Hicks as you said is leaving the White House. That was announced on Wednesday. Josh Raffel left on Tuesday. He announced his resignation. He was a personal spokesperson for Jared Kushner and for Ivanka Trump.
MELBER: Right. So the first, Jared will never seeks media attention. You are talking about the publicist.
NUZZI: Right. It will be interesting to see if there are less stories citing a source close to Ivanka Trump and for Jared Kushner.
MELBER: A source previously close.
NUZZI: That will be very interesting to see. But, look, I think it`s very difficult to look at these two pieces of news, about Hope Hicks and Josh Raffel. They are best friend in Washington. They worked together in New York at a firm called (INAUDIBLE) strategies. And it is how Hope Hicks met Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump. It is how Josh Raffel met Jared Kushner with family`s company was also wrap by that firm. It`s very difficult to look at the timing of their departures and not speculate that perhaps they know something that the rest of us don`t or they can see what`s coming on the horizon.
MELBER: Right. You are saying it very carefully which I appreciate because that`s how you write and that`s how you speak. But what you are alluding to is the circumstantial evidence that suggests Russian problems potential, criminal exposure or pressure from the Mueller probe could be a contributing factor to the very hasty departure of these two insiders, which is something Bill Kristol spoke to on our show last night.
NUZZI: Well, I think that is definitely part of it. But I think it is tempting to look at the events of this week, right? Like Hope Hicks testified on Tuesday in House intel committee. It is tempting to look at that and say, well, that must be why she left. Maybe Trump was mad about the white lies comment that was reported. But these things have been in motion for a long time.
MELBER: Well, no. But -- now let me be precise in our precise (INAUDIBLE). I`m not saying Donald Trump was mad about what she said. I`m saying the circumstantial evidence, the theory of the case, we are not issuing any conclusions, suggest that it is possible that the exposure that either of these individuals have because they were involved in crafting statements that have been proven false which could be part of obstruction, that could a precipitating factor.
NUZZI: I agree with that. I think it`s probably a combination of many different things and that certainly looks like it must be part of it.
MELBER: Yes. Let me -- go ahead.
HOLLIDAY: To Ari`s point, they may not want to be -- right, they may be worried about being around these people. They are not sure if they are targets. They are not sure if they are cooperating. It`s better to just not be involved if you talk to prosecutors and defense attorneys.
And Ron, I`m not going to ask you about the bachelorette, but we`ll get to that, but you`re becoming a fall back Friday.
NUZZI: That`s very offensive that you`re not asking him about the bachelor.
MELBER: No, I said not yet, because he is in fall back Friday. So you will get your bachelor questions at some point tonight.
MELBER: Everybody has to wait until the end of the hour to get to you on that. Everyone gets a turn eventually.
But what I do want you get on because it is Cruz and because you broke some of this on our air which is fascinating before the Mueller indictment came down. You described on this show what you saw in the primary that you believed there was actual foreign meddling and social media tricks going on when you were running against Donald Trump as a Republican.
Let me read to you now that we have it back from the Mueller indictment. Russian engaged in operations quote "to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio."
What do you think when you saw your theory from months ago, we talked about some legal theories tonight in Mueller`s charges. That this was something used against your guy Ted Cruz.
NEHRING: Well, it was fascinating because until we came on the show and talked about what happened in the primaries, all the discussion was on what happened in general election, Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. Whereas we saw evidence of some type of, you know, unconventional activities back in the primaries. At the time, we didn`t know that it was Russia. Now, it`s been established that that is the case. And so, who would have thought that back then in early 2016, we are looking at these tweets, looking at things in our twitter feed, looking all the bot activity and so on.
MELBER: Do you think Ted Cruz could have finished stronger if he didn`t have that extra headwind coming from Russia?
NEHRING: Sure. And whenever you have over a million dollars a month which is the budget of this troll farm to beat up on other candidates, including yourself, sure, it would have been great have, you know, less --
MELBER: So you think whether Trump knew it or not, not prejudging that part, which is a legal question, you think the political fact is, that Donald Trump did benefit from this kind of foreign boost during your primary campaign against him?
NEHRING: Sure. Look.
MELBER: You are saying sure like it is (INAUDIBLE). It makes sense. But you know, there is a lot of Republicans who are (INAUDIBLE) resist that take.
NEHRING: Yes. I think there`s a difference between saying this determined the outcome of the election primarily general versus whether it benefitted someone, sure, you spend a million dollars a month in support of a candidate, you are going to have an impact.
HOLLIDAY: What is interesting is a lot of people think that Putin just hates Hillary. And when we saw the indictment, when we hear from people like you, we realize it wasn`t just to defeat Hillary.
MELBER: Right. Maybe like Lindsey Graham, Putin also hates Ted Cruz, your guy.
HOLLIDAY: And Rubio.
MELBER: That`s just a people hate Ted Cruz joke. It just a joke. We like you.
We thank you and we appreciate you being here and we`ll talk bachelor by the end of the hour.
Shelby, thank you. Olivia, thank you for joining us on Friday night.
Coming up, a Russian banker alleging an unknown meeting with Trump, previously unknown at the NRA conventional focus on changing stories about the Russians and Putin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vladimir Putin, have you ever met this guy?
TRUMP: He is a tough guy. I met him once.
I have nothing to do with Russia. Nothing. I never met Putin.
I never met Putin. I don`t know who Putin is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Which is it?
Also, my special report, as I mentioned, on the White House not asserting executive privilege and yet stating that Hope Hicks and Steve Bannon can`t talk. Why is that a problem? I will show you later tonight.
And we will preview what might be one of the most political Oscars ever. Natalee Morales joins me from Hollywood.
All that plus, as I mentioned, fall back Friday.
I`m Ari Melber. You are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Turning to another key question tonight. What did the Russians do that Trump knew about? Look at this new NPR report that says the Russians used the NRA for example to access American politics or the report I mentioned that Mueller`s investigators are asking whether Trump specifically knew about not only the Putin hack, but what was the nature of their meetings, a relationship that Trump once bragged about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever met the guy?
TRUMP: he is a tough guy. I met him once.
I do have a relationship. And can tell you that he is very interest in what we are doing here today.
When I went to Russia with the Miss Universe pageant, he contacted me. And he was nice.
And on the Miss Universe pageant, we just left Moscow. He could not have been nicer. He was so nice and so everything.
I was in Moscow recently and I spoke indirectly and directly with President Putin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I met him. He was nice. He contacted me. We spoke, directly, indirectly. I`m running out of fingers. Now look at what Trump says.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing. I never met Putin.
I never met Putin. I don`t know who Putin is.
I don`t know Putin. I think it would be great if we get along with Russia, because we could fight ISIS together, as an example. But I don`t know Putin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And that is not all. There`s a key Russian lawmaker saying that he met with Trump as well, thanks to the NRA. This is Alexander Torsion (ph). He is a Putin ally with the government post there. That meeting with Trump apparently in 2015 at the NRA convention.
We also know, of course, this gentleman was at the Republican convention 2016. And Donald Trump Jr. admits the two of them met there.
A lot to get to and we have a foreign policy scholar Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. His "Washington Post" piece declares a Trump administration is in an unethical league all its own, as well as Bobby Chacon, a retired FBI special agent and attorney.
Thank you both.
Max, you look at that all laid out. What does it mean to you?
MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: It means to me that I can`t wait for Robert Mueller to get Donald Trump under oath and to ask him the very questions that you are asking. I mean, this is part of the reason why his lawyers are so resistant to that idea, of course, because they don`t know what the heck Trump is going to say, because he has contradicted himself so many times. He can`t keep his lies straight.
BOBBY CHACON, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Yes. Well, I mean, Mr. Torsion, his activity on behalf of whoever, on behalf of his own government, and presumably, really puts the first foot soldier of the Russian government into our election process, right? And it goes far back, I mean, he was an election observer in 2012. So he has been hanging around our political election process for a number of years.
So now, you combine that with everything else we know about Russia`s attempts to influence our election in 2016. And it really shows you, I mean, this is the first time we are getting a name and a face of, you know, potentially, and like I said, a foot soldier on the ground in the U.S. to facilitate some of these activities.
MELBER: Right. It is like sometimes it looks even more developed than previously thought.
Bobby, just from your view as an investigator, I wonder what you think of the footage I`m about to play, where our famously loquacious President suddenly has a no comment answer for the thing that we were just discussing with Max which is that he has completely flip-flopped of his prior bragging about meeting Putin. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About Russia. You were asked yesterday if you had ever spoken to Vladimir Putin. And you said I don`t want to say.
TRUMP: Yes. I have no comment on that. No comment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People thinks people like about you is that answer any question.
TRUMP: Let`s assume I did, perhaps, it was (INAUDIBLE). You know, I don`t want to hurt his confidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Let`s assume I did.
Bobby, he almost is getting into Carter Page sentence structure territory there. What does it say to you as an investigator who is used to spot lies for a living?
CHACON: Well, I mean, clearly, he is being deceptive. He is not -- he doesn`t want to answer the question. And he almost admitted that. So, you know, his stated reason that he doesn`t want to hurt Mr. Putin`s confidence, or whatever he said, clearly is, you know, is a way to obfuscate the fact that he doesn`t want to answer those question. The question that he has answered before. So it becomes even more problematic that he is on the record answering this before. And now he doesn`t want to answer it directly when he has already answered it before.
If it was a question that`s never come up, it is different. But it`s a question that`s come up numerous times previously and he has issue a pretty consistent answer and now of a sudden he doesn`t want to answer that question. So to me, if I was questioning him, I would really go hard at that.
MELBER: That`s a big difference as you are tougher than us, reporters.
CHACON: No, sometimes we have a little bit more at our disposal to, you know, to put pressure on people to answer questions.
MELBER: Yes. I know what you mean. I think we have nailed it, Max. I think it`s clear that he is lying about past meetings with Putin that he used to claim. And why is he lying is the big question. But rarely, you see him like that, say, well, you know, no comment.
Sam Nunberg worked for Donald Trump. He just got out of his meetings with Mueller, which makes him a very interesting person to hear from. And I can say from working our sources, we rarely get witnesses who sit with Mueller and then come out and talk directly about it. He did on this show. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: I think if Vladimir Putin had a plot like this, he would have told Donald Trump because Donald Trump would not be able to keep his mouth shut about it.
MELBER: You are saying he would be --
NUNBERG: I would say it would Vladimir Putin.
MELBER: You are saying he was Donald Trump in your view is innocent because he would be such a sloppy co-conspirator?
NUNBERG: You said it like that. I`ll say it this way. That I think that Vladimir Putin would be too careful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHACON: I don`t buy it because I don`t think that Putin is that concerned about hiding his tracks. And the very fact that his intervention has become known is actually rebounding to Russia`s benefit in some ways because it is throwing all these extra chaos into the American political system. And it is enhancing his reputation as this king maker. This guys who determined that that`s the new American politics. So it`s not going to too long I think before Putin starts bragging about his intervention rather than denying it.
MELBER: And that`s interesting, especially coming from you as a student of how foreign policy evolves.
Max Boot, Bobby Chacon, thank you both.
Up ahead, as promised, my Special Report, I have been working on this week, revealing Donald Trump`s new Nixon problem. Why abusing executive privilege can actually inform an obstruction of justice case. And lordly, there are tapes.
Later, political heat expected on Oscar night, with Jimmy Kimmel, my colleague, Natalee Morales joins us from Hollywood. And yes, we have a super special edition of fallback Friday night with a special guest, and here`s a hint, it involves "Black Panther."
MELBER: Now to our Special Report tonight. When can White House aides` refusal to answer questions become obstruction of justice? It`s a big question, as two White House message gurus are out, Hope Hicks and Josh Raffel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Communications director Hope Hicks is resigning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She told the committee that her work for the President required her to tell white lies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you find her to be forthcoming?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, she was not forthcoming.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Republicans insisting that Hope Hicks faced an unfair line of questioning, Democrats say she was playing the same card as Steve Bannon, ducking key questions about her time in the executive branch without actually saying she was invoking executive privilege.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (R-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Initially it was made clear to us that the White House had given Ms. Hicks the same instructions that were given to Steve Bannon. And that is not to answer any questions pertaining to the transition or to her time in the administration and only to answer questions up until the end of the campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The Trump White House says Hope Hicks` departure had been planned for a while. But it came a day after that interview with Russia investigators and it appeared rushed, the point Republican Bill Kristol made about Hicks and Raffel last night on this show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, WEEKLY STANDARD: Josh Raffel, I think that`s how his name is pronounced, who was the kind of communications person for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump basically. And then Hope Hicks, obviously. Who were the two people involved by all accounts in the July 8th, 2017 air force one statement that misleadingly falsely said that the meeting with Don Jr. was just about his options.
That was two. I think all the press accounts have those two working on the statement and phone calls on the statement. Hope Hicks apparently telling Corallo later, the e-mails will never come out. I really wonder if Mueller has those two in the position where they can`t stay in the White House But is interesting that no one expect either of them I think particularly to leave at this point and suddenly they`re both out within the last week.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s the theory. Maybe they are leaving because of exposure in the Mueller probe. Whatever the reason Hick is leaving, Kristol is right, she was Trump`s key confidant and communicator in the room when that false misleading statement was written. And now she`s the one other key aide trying to halfway invoke executive privilege. The legal history is instructed because playing games with aides invoking executive privilege was part of Nixon`s undoing in Watergate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While the idea that the President has the right to keep some of his documents to himself is an old idea, the claim of executive privilege is relatively new in our history and President Nixon has pushed it to its limits.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the President of the United States directed a person on his staff who was accused of a crime to appear before a Senate Committee with respect to an examination of that criminal conduct, that person, in my opinion, should not appear and could not appear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was bad for Nixon, a trusted journal John Chancellor giving Americans the legal facts about this broad use of executive privilege. Nixon knew it was bad. We know he knew because Lorde, there were tapes.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
H.R. HALDEMAN, AIDE, NIXON WHITE HOUSE: To the guy sitting at home who watches John Chancellor say that the President is covering this up. This historic review blankets the widest exercise of Executive Privilege in American history, and all that. He say, what the hell is he covering up?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: Nixon knew he was covering up his aides` knowledge of Watergate, and that aide John Ehrlichman who would later go to jail for obstruction, was plotting with others on a new term for pushing for a cover-up while trying to make it seem like they were letting some details out. They called it a "modified limited hangout."
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You think --- you think we want to -- want to go this route now? And the -- let it hang out there the so to speak? Well, it`s a modified limited hangout.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, it`s -- it isn`t really that- -
HALDEMAN: It`s a limited hangout.
DEAN: It`s a limited hangout.
JOHN EHRLICHMAN, COUNSEL AND ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT NIXON FOR DOMESTIC AFFAIRS: It`s a modified limited hang out.
NIXON: Well, it`s only the questions of the thing hanging out publicly or privately.
(END AUDIO CLIP)`
MELBER: It`s a modified limited hangout. But here is where that Nixon White House strategy has echoes for Trump. Nixon telling his aides to do a kind of limited hangout with investigators while using executive privilege to duck questions that could expose his crimes.
And here`s how the congressional Watergate report expose that very trick, alleging Nixon used a new strategy to keep criminal liability from Nixon`s aides to use executive privilege in a cover-up. And that same report, House Investigators busted Nixon for it noting, the President worked with Ehrlichman on a revised strategy called a Modified Limited Hangout including a limited waver of executive privilege for White House aides. Does that sound familiar?
Right now when these key Trump aides face the Russia investigators on the Hill, they say they can`t talk about Trump`s executive White House tenure, while also saying, hey, we`re not formally invoking executive privilege. It`s become fashionable when people analyze this stuff to kind of dismiss Trump as thoughtless or impulsive, but don`t rule out other options because it could be a canny strategy that having watched Nixon fall, White House lawyers don`t ever want to admit they are pushing executive privileges, let alone a modified limited hangout.
And here`s why. What Trump`s lawyers certainly know and what the investigators who drafted Nixon`s articles of impeachment know, is that yes, the abuse of executive privilege was literally part of the basis for the obstruction articles against Nixon in his impeachment. Again, let me show you that report because it includes that Nixon tried to "cover up the facts of Watergate and attempted to extend executive privilege to former aides and invoke the doctrine to prevent their testimony.
Just let that sink in. Nixon`s abuse of executive privilege for aides was itself key to the obstruction and impeachment case against him. It`s worth bearing in mind as the Trump White House now stonewalls investigators but insist it`s not really invoking executive privilege or it`s trying some kind of a modified halfway executive privilege. But there`s no such thing as halfway privilege, just as there`s no such thing as halfway crooks.
We know that truth from the great poet Havoc of Mobb Deep who observed that true criminal minds are always thirsty for recognition. But you don`t see longevity from halfway crooks because they always end up shook. And that`s the big problem facing any White House pursuing a cover-up with halfway privilege. Joining me now for an exclusive interview tonight on THE BEAT, Michael Conway served as Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee.
He literally helped write the articles of impeachment I just quoted there against Nixon, as well as our special friend Howard Fineman, as well as a Contributor for NBCNews.com. Michael when you see it laid out and you think back to the way executive privilege was used in what you and your colleagues wrote, what were the echoes for Trump?
MICHAEL CONWAY, COUNSEL, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It was a huge mistake 45 years ago, it`s a huge mistake today. You can impede an investigation of Congress, and there`s a criminal statute in title 18 USC that says, it`s a crime to impede in any way a Congressional investigation, a committee investigation, refusing to answer questions that are legitimate investigatory questions is impeding an investigation. I think they`re walking the same plank that was walked 45 years ago.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBCNEWS.COM, CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I`ve got to say, Ari, this piece that you just did, which I think is crucial to understanding what`s going on here, reminds me of some conversations I had with Donald Trump himself when he was running for president. He more or less wrapped up the nomination. I was in his office in Trump Tower and Henry Kissinger had just been in, and I said well, that must have been interesting, you can learn about China from Henry Kissinger, right? And Donald Trump said no, I wasn`t interested in that, I was interested in what he had to say about Nixon.
And the fact is that Donald Trump has always been fascinated by everything about Richard Nixon, the whole story. Now whether Donald Trump had his lawyer look into this whole question, I seriously doubt. But if his lawyers came to him and said, look, Mr. President, this kind of thing got Richard Nixon in trouble, don`t tell your people to claim executive privilege, that`s something that would certainly get Donald Trump`s attention. Fully aware of the whole Nixon story in his own Trumpian kind of way.
MELBER: So Michael, the question that anyone would ask thinking through this is do the Trump folks get away with anything more by doing it halfway, by claiming they`re not really doing it?
CONWAY: Well, I guess the one thing is, if they`re not lying, and they`re not committing perjury, but -- and many of the Nixon White House aides actually took the extra step and lied to Congress and committed crimes. But I think they`re still impeding the investigation. I think what the White House is trying to do is have the pretext of cooperation, and yet behind closed doors, and remember these are an executive session for the most part. We don`t know the questions and answers.
They can invoke their privilege without having the political consequences of seeing people stonewall. In the very tape, you referred to -- President Nixon in that March 22 meeting back in the White House said, when people listened to John Chancellor who was then the prominent network newscaster and they hear that I`m invoking executive privilege, they`re going to say, what`s he hiding? And I think that`s what President Trump is trying to avoid, the question, what`s he hiding.
MELBER: Yes, and Howard, that goes to Hope Hicks being so central, she is -- this is the biggest thing for Donald Trump in the sense that she`s the person that no one expected to leave now, and yet she was centrally involved in these false statements and then what she says to Congress appears to be her way in a setting where she would have more punishment for lying to acknowledge that there was previously, "white lies."
FINEMAN: Right. And assuming that there`s no taping system active in the Oval Office and around Donald Trump right now, I think that`s another thing he probably learned from Richard Nixon, don`t do that. Hope Hicks is the closest thing to a taping system. She was around Donald Trump every minute.
FINEMAN: He loved having her around, he relied on her. He was calm in her presence, focused in her presence, a sort of a deputy daughter if you will. She`s as closest thing to a continuous record of everything Donald Trump said and did through the campaign, through the transition and the presidency. No wonder she left.
MELBER: Yes, it`s -- well, you put it well, as you often do, Howard, and Michael Conway, thank you for sharing your experience from you time on that Committee as well. This years Oscars could be the most political ever. There is buzz about Get Out, The Post, and Meryl Streep. Natalie Morales joins me from Hollywood to talk about that tonight. But first, "FALLBACK FRIDAY" is back in just 90 seconds.
MELBER: It`s Friday on THE BEAT and that means it`s time to fall back. We have a very special panel, Jay Smooth is the Founder and Host of New York`s longest running hip-hop radio show, WBAI`s Underground Railroad. He also host Ill Doctrine and Crash Course Media Literacy online. Ron Nehring, a former Ted Cruz Campaign Chair back with us and Jesse Holland, an award- winning journalist who`s the Author of the very topical Black Panther, Who Is The Black Panther, a companion book to that great series. Starting right here at the table, though, Jay, who needs to fall back?
JAY SMOOTH, FOUNDER AND HOST, WBAI`S UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: Everyone who thought it was a good idea in 2018 to remake the movie Death Wish needs to fall back.
MELBER: What does that mean?
SMOOTH: Last night I bought a ticket for Black Panther and snuck into Death Wish because I wanted to be a fully informed hater. And I was hoping they`ve had -- they would have some sense of the times wherein and not just make the exact same vigilante gun fantasy. But this was basically a movie adaptation of Donald Trump`s fantasy that he would run in and into the gunfire mixed with Eli Roth violence porn, mixed with every NRA talking point where they pretend they care about violence in Chicago. I`m just despicable film man just to whack action movies.
MELBER: So you think a bad message, bad substance, bad timing, bad art?
SMOOTH: Yes, I mean, credit where it`s due. The original film is a classic in the genera of racist fear mongering, but this movie is not even good at being trash, it`s despicable substantively and is not good as the trash --
RON NEHRING, FORMER CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN: Doctor Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development needs to fall back. Somebody needs --
MELBER: A fellow Republican?
NEHRING: A fellow Republican. Because someone needs to get this man an Ikea catalog stat, you know. So, you know, when you`re -- when you`re a Republican leading the Department of Housing and Urban Development and your administration is proposing budget cuts and you`re surrounded literally by thousands and thousands of bureaucrats who really want you to leave and really you know, pine for bringing the Obama team back, you know, every single thing that you do is going to come under scrutiny.
So when you spend $31,000 or so on dining room furniture and you`re in that office because the President won the votes of people you know, who don`t identify with spending $31,000 on two pieces of furniture. You know, $31,000 would buy all the furniture in house and people don`t identify with that. And so, it cause an embarrassment to the President and it undermines the cause of reducing the sizes in the government of government spending.
MELBER: Wow, Jesse, I bet you didn`t expect this Republican on Republican criticism reaching the Ikea. Who do you -- who do you think needs to fall back?
JESSE HOLLAND, AUTHOR, BLACK PANTHER, WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER: Well, the Georgia legislature needs to back up quick, because I`m a southerner, so if you go anywhere in the south, you fly through Atlanta. You don`t mess with the golden goose, you don`t mess with Delta. If Delta wants a tax break, you give them a tax break. You don`t mess with it --
MELBER: And you`re talking debate over guns.
HOLLAND: -- because they mess up and they go somewhere else, Atlanta and even the whole south will be affected. You leave delta alone. With 33,000 people in Atlanta working for Delta in Georgia, leave them alone, people.
MELBER: Do you think they had the wrong idea there, trying to push a country to be more pro-NRA?
HOLLAND: Yes, they sort of had the wrong idea considering only 13 people had used that discount, versus the 33,000 people that Delta is employing in Georgia, leave them alone.
MELBER: There it is. Leave it alone. Sometimes you got to leave it alone, Jay. A thought? I got something better.
SMOOTH: Well, real quick, I want to say, West Virginia also needs to fall back off of those teachers money, shout out to all the teachers. But I`m looking forward to what you have.
MELBER: What I have is, and I am as guilty as anybody, OK, of just trying to experiment with music and I generally welcome that. You know where I`m going. Did you know what my pick was going to be? You know where I`m going.
SMOOTH: I saw it coming. I saw it coming.
MELBER: So I do welcome that and I want to support that and Friday, it`s a -- you know, we want to be nice going into the weekend, but I do have to call on these Utah Republican Legislators who, maybe they`re trying hard and their heart was in the right place, but I got to show their new video using hip-hop to explain how bills become laws.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. GREG HUGHES, (R-UT), SPEAKER: This is a story all about how --
REP. MICHAEL KENNEDY (R), UTAH: Our bills get flipped into law
REP. FRANCIS GIBSON (R), UTAH: I`d like you to take a minute and just sit right there.
REP. KIM COLEMAN: I`ll tell you how a bill becomes law you in this our chamber.
REP. BRAD WILSON (R), UTAH: You thought it was law but it`s just not quite there.
REP. JOHN KNOTWELL (R), UTAH: Sitting as law ready to be declared.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I got nothing but love for you but that really needs to fall back. Jay, you`re the -- you`re the expert. Could it be saved by the remix?
SMOOTH: You know, as a gesture of compassion to the conservatives, I just want to explain. There`s this thing called the beats and you traditionally rhyme in the same rhythm as the beats.
NEHRING: Technicality, technicality.
SMOOTH: If we can master that, I think we can come together a little bit.
NEHRING: That`s the -- you can only do that in a state where you have an overwhelming numerical advantage, right? If that was a competitive state, if that was a purple state, you would never do anything like that --
MELBER: That would hurt you. Yes. Have you ever seen -- have you ever seen your old boss Ted Cruz rap a verse like that?
MELBER: And my final question as promised, have you seen the Bachelor?
NEHRING: I haven`t.
MELBER: So you have no application to that to the Trump White House?
NEHRING: I don`t.
MELBER: Jay, what about you?
SMOOTH: What`s the question?
MELBER: Have you seen the Bachelor, and would it remind you of the Trump White House?
SMOOTH: Oh, I have not watched the Bachelor. That`s something I avoid. That`s studiously as I avoid --
MELBER: There it is. You could see these are not prepped questions because we got two people who haven`t seen it. We`re out of time. Jay Smooth, Ron Nehring, and Jesse Holland thank you all for joining this special edition. We have more show ahead, including the Oscars, our preview of the biggest night for the movies, Natalie Morales and Alicia Name are here next.
MELBER: Politics are headed for the Oscars on Sunday. Host Jimmy Kimmel will be there. he`s of course been outspoken advocate on health care and the NRA this year. He also says he will bring up #MeToo as an issue. Oprah famously made that a centrepiece of her remarks at the Golden Globes. Meanwhile, some of the biggest movies this year involve politics. The Post has Nixon versus the press with Echoes of Trump Today or Get Out from Jordan Peele, one of the most significant films ever.
Joining me now is Alicia Quarles, Correspondent for the Daily Mail T.V. and Natalie Morales Host of Access and West Coast Today and she will be covering the red carpet for today on Sunday. How are you guys doing?
NATALIE MORALES HOST, ACCESS AND WEST COAST TODAY: Doing well.
ALICIA QUARLES, CORRESPONDENT, DAILY MAIL T.V.: Doing great, excited.
MELBER: Big times. Alicia, what do you expect out of Jimmy Kimmel and any politics this Sunday?
QUARLES: I expect Jimmy to address it right off the back in his monologue at the beginning and then he said himself throughout the night he`s not going to try to hammer it home because he says the Oscars are not just his platform, they`re for everybody that comes on stage. So he wants to give them time and room to also talk about what they want to. They expect him to address it early and quick.
MELBER: Natalie, take a look at something you`ve reported on yourself. We look at these Oscar nominees in the past for directors. When it comes to women, four over that same period of time. Walk us through what you`re looking at on that issue for Sunday.
MORALES: Yes, you know, it`s an interesting time. This is perhaps the most diverse directing category. For the first time you`re seeing again, once again a woman. Greta Gerwig is nominated for Lady Bird, the fifth woman to be nominated. Also, you`re seeing Guillermo del Toro, a Latino man nominated, and also Get Out Director Jordan Peele is nominated. So while it`s a diverse category, I like to wait and see whether or not the honors go to any one of them. Guillermo del Toro seems to be favored in the directing category. But yes, this is a time with the Times Up Movement and Me Too where Hollywood is going to addressing that issue head on. You better believe that`s going to be source of a big topic on Sunday night.
MELBER: Right, and that clearly hangs over the context in Hollywood right now. Alicia, the mention of Get Out, I can fact check up front that Get Out must win Best Picture otherwise that will just be wrong. That`s just because I love the movie. What do you think?
QUARLES: Actually, I agree with you on this. I think Get Out has got to win. And also Jordan Peele is nominated for the (INAUDIBLE) Director, Best Screenplay Writer and also Best Picture and also did well at the box office. It brought in 227 million so it`s second behind the nominees. Dunkirk brought 550 million. But it`s rare that you have a best picture nominee that actually brought in big bucks office numbers and also he`s a black man so the Academy would win, win, win if they let him win.
MELBER: Natalie, who else are you rooting to win or who do you think will win in other categories?
MORALES: Well, you know, I think when it comes to -- it`s been a pretty clear cut award season so far when you`re talking about Best Actor and Actress. It clearly is going to go to Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Such a dramatic performance and you know, the only upset possibly could be Sally Hawkins in the Shape of Water there. I think she and Frances McDormand is so heavily favoured right now. It`s hard to see how it would go against her. And Gary Oldman, brilliant as Winston Churchill in the Darkest Hour. I don`t see how it could be anybody else at this point.
MELBER: Interesting. But Alicia -- g
MORALES: But I do think --
MELBER: Go ahead.
MORALES: I`m with you guys on Get Out. I do want Jordan Peele and I want Get Out to win it as well. Although Shape of Water is you know, heavily favoured again. 13 nominations, the most nominated movie, Dunkirk follows and then Three Billboards.
MELBER: And Alicia, finally, in a line or two, your thoughts of Meryl getting here 21st nomination.
QUARLES: Well, listen, that can be (INAUDIBLE) Meryl will be back for her 22nd, her 23rd, her 24th nomination. They love her. She`s a great actress and that`s why I don`t think she will win this year because they know this is not her last rodeo. And Meryl Streep deserves it. She`s phenomenal. But the movie is not going to win. And also, I think Hollywood right now doesn`t want to give a lot of love to President Trump. They don`t want to make this about him. I think that`s why The Post might suffer.
MELBER: That`s a very interesting point as well. Alicia and Natalie, thank you both and we will be watching.
MELBER: I never like the expression it`s been a week, but it has been a week. Robert Mueller looking collusion closely, Hope Hicks out unexpectedly, Jared Kushner downgraded, Sam Nunberg making his own news right here on this show. And we have all of that in our best moments from the show. You can see it on our Facebook page @THEBEATWITHARI and we go through the stuff you might have missed if you don`t watch every night. That is our show. I appreciate you always tuning in. I will be back Monday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern but if you want to watch more an additional "HARDBALL" which I always recommend, I will tell you as a programing note, I`ll be back at 10:00 p.m. tonight filling in after Rachel for the "LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL" and I`ll be looking forward to that. Otherwise, have a great weekend. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews, of course, starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.