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Trump fires Tillerson, picks Pompeo for State. TRANSCRIPT. 03/13/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Bill Kristol, Mike Lupica, Morgan Pehme, Nick Akerman, Xavier Becerra

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: March 13, 2018 Guest: Bill Kristol, Mike Lupica, Morgan Pehme, Nick Akerman, Xavier Becerra

ARI MELBER, THE BEAT SHOW HOST, MSNBC: Good evening, Chuck. Now, do I owe you twenty five seconds, somehow, someday?

TODD: No, take it.


TODD: Take it. You`ll need it.

MELBER: Take it, need it, use it. Thank you, Chuck Todd. Tonight, Rex Tillerson got canned after his famous moron critique of Donald Trump, returning the favor here and firing him via tweet. But this is not all personal drama tonight. Rex Tillerson leaving with a Russia warning today. And all eyes on this incoming secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. What will he do on some of these big issues that will affect all of our national security, North Korea, Russia and these increasing diplomatic strains over Donald Trump`s tariff policy?

I can tell you Tillerson`s ousting begin today with something that has been kicking around, and this is kind of funny, chief of staff John Kelly, basically gave a warning that there was a tweet coming. Now the state department then thought reportedly that this meant there was some kind of Donald Trump attack, but not in a pending firing.

Here is how "New York Times" reporter Gardiner Harris recounted this odd bit of presidential stage craft and a message that was lost in translation.


GARDINER HARRIS, STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The White House people are sort of telling us, look, Kelly called him. Kelly gave him a heads up. The state department people are telling us, Tillerson didn`t really get that message. So I think what we are hearing Kelly told him is, you are going to get a tweet. Tillerson sort of felt like he, I think, he didn`t hear before that he would weather this storm.


MELBER: You are going to get a tweeted. I guess it is part of the job duties of the chief staff now. And that wasn`t all. A Tillerson aide then today pushed back on the White House spin and found himself fired, too. But Tillerson chose today to speak up on substance as well and on how the Trump administration must counter what he calls Russia`s troubling behavior.


REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Much work remains to respond to the troubling behavior and actions on the part of the Russian government. Russia must assess carefully as to how its actions are in the best interests of the Russian people and of the world more broadly. Continuing on their current trajectory is likely to lead to greater isolation on their part.


MELBER: That was big today. And it comes a day after Tillerson took a harder line than Trump, saying the poison that was used on this former spy on the UK came from Russia and should trigger a response.

As for the replacement, it is CIA director Mike Pompeo, he is also been a subject in this Russia probe. In January, we learned that Mueller`s team interviewed him. He had been in a meeting where Trump reportedly asked for help pressuring, yes, Jim Comey to drop the Russia investigation. He was also described as a peripheral witness to then the very firing of Jim Comey.

Pompeo has warned that the Russians will likely target the U.S. again. But his own agency had to correct him after he was perceived as downplaying the entire impact of Russian meddling.


MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: The intelligence community`s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.


MELBER: That wasn`t quite right. They didn`t say that if the Russians had an impact on the outcome of the election would go one way or the other, the CIA famously clarified their owned director`s remarks.

Now the Mueller probe also moving forward tonight. I want to read you something pretty unusual. The judge in the case overseeing charges against Paul Manafort says he is now a flight risk because he faces quote "the very real possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison."

All of this unusual staffing is coming at a time where you have one situation that is more normal. This would happen, I think, probably at most workplaces, if you let it be known in public, you think your boss is a quote "moron," you are not going to have a lot of job security.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you address the main headline of this story that you called the President a moron and if not, where do you think these reports are --

TILLERSON: I`m not going to deal with petty stuff like that.


MELBER: I`m joined for this conversation by Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, and Evelyn Farkas, former deputy assistant defense secretary, and Katty Kay, anchor for BBC World News America.

It is a big night. And we have the kind of titles I could only dream of in global diplomacy.

What I want to do with each of you is basically go around the horn. I don`t always do it this way. But let me ask one big question and go in order, starting with Katty Kay.

What is important about both how these staffing changes came about and what they will do to U.S. policy in the world?

KATTY KAY, ANCHOR, BBC WORLD NEWS AMERICA: I think what`s important in terms of America`s relationships with both its allies and its adversaries, is that this sense of chaos in the White House, throws relationships off balance. We have diplomats time and again telling us they don`t know how to deal with this White House and this kind of chaos is just a part of that.

The thing that will change now is whether Mike Pompeo in lock step in a way that Rex Tillerson simply wasn`t, makes American foreign policy more hawkish on the key issue of Iran, notably, potentially on North Korea. And it does seem that Mike Pompeo is more hawkish on Russia than Rex Tillerson had been recently than the President has been recently. And so we will see if that changes too.

MELBER: Evelyn?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT, DEFENSE SECRETARY: So I would say the first thing, Ari, is that the way this happened is highly unconstructive. And it didn`t need to come down this way. You know, just suddenly firing Tillerson out of the blue means a lot of people around the world are trying to figure out what to do.

I spoke to a Japanese diplomat today who said his foreign minister is coming to town on Friday. So, you know, if you had a normal process, you would have a phase in, phase out, and you could deal with problems like that much more quickly and rationally.

And the other thing, of course, is for the Japanese, they are right in the middle of trying to figure out how they fit into this U.S.-North Korea bilateral negotiation which may or may not occur in May.

MELBER: Michael?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: So on the style, this is incredibly undignified, of course, to be fired by a tweet. And just to remind everybody, secretary Tillerson is not on twitter. He was just here at Stanford a couple of weeks ago and told us all he does not have a twitter account.

MELBER: Well, now you are making me jealous there. I can`t tell you how much time I waste on twitter, ambassador.

MCFAUL: You and me both. On the substance, I would say two things. One is secretary Tillerson and secretary Mattis did a lot of business together in checking some of the more impulsive ideas that came from the President. How does that balance of power within the administration now change? We will have to wait and see, but I think it will change.

On the big substantive thing, let`s just all remember the policy that we were just talking about five days ago, President Trump has just launched the most important diplomatic initiative maybe in decades with the North Koreans. And in midstream, he is now changing his team, his lead diplomatic person, he just changed. And Mr. Pompeo may have a lot of experience with the substance, he has almost zero experience with diplomacy. And he goes into the super bowl, he just changes the quarterback.

MELBER: Right. And a quarterback who has more experience than almost anybody in dealing with North Korean diplomatic negotiations at a high level is Bill Richardson.

So Bill, speak to the ambassador`s point. I will put out of course what the White House has argued in rebuttal, which is that is precisely because you are heading towards high level goals in North Korea and elsewhere, that you need a secretary of state who has the confidence of the President and the relationship it degraded. Your view of that? And what`s on the horizon in North Korea, generally, sir?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Well, my concern is the unceremonious way the secretary of state was ousted. Not just on policy, but it was obvious that they didn`t have a personal chemistry.

My concern is North Korea and Iran. The President has to decide May 12th, whether he keeps the Iran nuclear deal. I hope he does because it is related to North Korea. I think if he cancelled the Iran nuclear deal, the North Koreans are going to say, what are we going to do? Can we trust the President if policy changes with new administrations?

But with North Korea, I would hope the administration considers delaying the summit a month or so. Because Pompeo, the secretary of state to be, he needs to be confirmed, he needs to be gotten up to speed. He knows intelligence. He is a smart man if you are number one at West Point. But he doesn`t know Asia. He doesn`t know diplomacy. He doesn`t know the foreign service, foreign policy, diplomacy.

I hope that he does change secretary Tillerson`s policies so that our ambassadors come back, our foreign service people come back, people like ambassador McFaul. I`m not that I`m saying he should come back, it`s up to him. But, you know, they have been on comfortable, the career people that are essential in this new policy towards North Korea, to prepare a coherent strategy that we don`t have North Korea. So those are my worries.

MELBER: I don`t want to make light. But I will, ambassador McFaul now has one of the key variables for getting a Trump administration job which is being on TV a lot. You know, we didn`t write these rules, but they do exist.

On a more serious note, ambassador, I will show you a side by side that producers at THE BEAT here put together that is fairly devastating about how the way the Trump administration is dealing with the accumulating evidence about this hit, this potential assassination regarding Russia. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to be speaking with the British today. We are speaking with Teresa May today. And as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible. Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophic nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.


MELBER: Michael McFaul, what do you see in that contrast?

MCFAUL: Well, even the prime minister I think was offering up some wiggle room. They lost control of their nerve agents? That`s inconceivable to me, but she at least had some wiggle room. But she was pretty defiant and obvious that this was the Russian government that carried out this assassination attempt, if we are being generous, terrorist attack if we are not. President Trump was not quite ready to go that far.

MELBER: Evelyn, there is so much news coming out here, I want to bounce over to the CIA issues, because of the vacancy there from the way that Donald Trump did this. And I want to put up on the screen, Gina Haskell here who would be the new CIA leader. She famously ran this black site in Thailand, the waterboarding that occurred 83 times against one person. And also reportedly worked with the plot, the plan to destroy the videos that were made of that plot.

In a lot of discussion about obstruction in the Trump era, there are people who look back at that history as potential obstruction for getting to the bottom of who did what and why, regarding those detainees in the Bush era. And so, I wonder your analysis of something that I think many people who said is a good thing. So for the first time, a woman running the CIA, that`s great. And she is clearly done her service, but also what many see as a blot on that record.

FARKAS: Yes, Ari. I was working up in the Senate during that time period. I think there are a couple of additional data points that have come out. Apparently according to one of the papers, Dianne Feinstein had blocked Gina Haskell, her promotion earlier at some point during the Trump tenure or maybe before that but she was supposed to be promoted to the head of the clandestine service I believe, and she was blocked in the Senate. And then today, senator McCain tweeted out, saying I hope she gets a close look.

And I do think, I mean, that is an era, that is a time period where there were a lot of mixed feelings, because, of course, there were lying agents in the CIA who were told to do things that were later found to be illegal. Now whether she was considered a line agent or not, is obviously up to your perspective on it. But certainly she should answer questions in closed and then in open hearings.

MELBER: And I think that goes to what the hearings have to accomplish which is important. I want all of you to stay with me.

Joining THE BEAT tonight, a very special guest, NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw who has been following this news.

Mr. Brokaw, your view of what this means and why several diplomatic guests have mentioned tonight it seems so unusual and unceremonious.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Well, I may have what may be a contrary point of view. There may be some coherence now to what passes for foreign policy in this administration, because for some time, dating back to the secretary of state called the President a moron, there is obviously not been a relationship there.

The secretary of state the other day was talking about how we were going to try to work out a relationship and an approach to North Korea. At the same time the President was talking about, yes, I`m ready to go.

I have been talking to folks who know Mike Pompeo well, and with all due respect to ambassador Richardson, I think he is up to speed more than a lot of people realize be at three terms in Congress. He has been keeping track of what`s going on. I heard him in a conference last summer. He seems to be at that time to be well-read in on the condition of the world. And he shares a lot of the President`s views about Iran, for example. He is very (INAUDIBLE) on that. He is very tough on terrorism as well. I think most of all, we just have to wait and see how this is going to play out.

It could not be more chaotic, I don`t think, that it has been. Rex Tillerson was, to many of his friends and admirers a disappointment because he did not really go in and organize the White House and take full advantage of it. He was going off in one direction, and the President in another.

MELBER: Well, Tom, you raise such an important point about this role, the secretary of state and the White House spokesperson are two jobs that have a lot more to do with your ongoing relationship with the President than with anything you may know or be good at. Because either you credibly speak for the President or you don`t. And so, you know, does this, in your view give a chance for at least a fresh start or a type of synergy around America`s message in the world, even if it`s one that remains controversial?

BROKAW: Well, you got to remember, he is the President of the United States, he is the bicker of our foreign policy, and he wants somebody at his side who shares his view.

Mike Pompeo does have a pretty strong record, not just that he was number one in his class at West Point, but he had three terms in the Congress of the United States. He was a member of the tea party, he was a gregarious figure who has a lot of friends who are on the conservative side and he is obviously ambitious. So we may have overly more coherence, whether you like coherence or not as a result of this appointment. I think we all have to wait and see.

There was a much higher expectation for, as you will remember, for the secretary of state who is now on his way back to Texas, no question about that, than what he was able to deliver. Because he didn`t seem to have much high regard for the foreign policy establishment in the United States over (INAUDIBLE) at the state department.

The question is what happens next? What happens with the national security advisor, for example? What kind of a system do we have in place for making these big decisions?

MELBER: Tom Brokaw, urging a little patience and a little context, thank you. As always, sir.

Panel, my thanks to you as well.

Adam Schiff speaking live right now about the conclusion of the House`s Russia probe. Let`s listen in.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (R-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: -- to continue our work. There are individuals who want to cooperate with our committee and share information and will continue to do so. We will be putting together a report that will set out for the country what evidence we have seen to date, what evidence we have seen in terms of the Russian hacking and dumping operation, what evidence we have seen in terms of the Russian social media campaign, their paid media campaign. And yes, the issue of collusion with the Trump campaign.

There is significant evidence, much of it in the public domain on the issue of collusion. Of the secret meetings with George Papadopoulos, the secret meeting at Trump tower with the President`s son and son-in-law and campaign chairman. The lies and de-assembling (ph) about that meeting, the promises by Russia that were communicated to the highest levels of the campaign in the preview, in the run-up to that meeting that this was part of the Russian government`s effort to help Donald Trump by providing derogatory information on Hillary Clinton. And of course, the secret conversations that then acting national security advisor or incoming national security advisor Mike Flynn had with the Russian ambassador to undermine the bipartisan policy of the United States. Conversations that he lied about that other transition officials were evidently aware of. That the vice president misrepresented unknowingly to the country.

All of that bears on the issue of collusion. There are other facts outside of the public domain, and of course one of the most important parts of an investigation is putting the pieces together.

But still, there is work to be done on that issue and others, work we have not been allowed to do. Our committee for example has not even interviewed George Papadopoulos. But there were witnesses that were involved or knowledgeable about the Trump tower meeting that have not been brought before our committee. There are text messages we have not sought to subpoena.

We are releasing this evening a 22-page status report on the investigation that sets out some of the key witnesses that the majority has been unwilling to bring in, the key documents that have been unwilling to ask for, the witnesses who have come before our committee in stone walled on key questions so that the public can see just how incomplete this effort was.

Sadly, from a very early point in the investigation, the chairman made the decision that his mission was not to find out what Russia did, not to determine the world view as persons, but rather to endeavor, to destruct the public, to put the government on trial. That problem persisted throughout our investigation. And has led to its premature conclusion last night.

But the work is too important to leave undone. In particular, the American people need to know whether the Russians still have something they can hold over the President`s head, the President of the United States.

So our work is far from done. And we will be submitting to the public a detailed account of what we have learned to date and the work that has to be done if not by us then by others so that the country can be sure that it`s administration is acting in the best interests of the country and not because of leverage the Russians may have over the President of the United States. And I would invite my colleagues to share their thoughts as well.

MELBER: We have been listening to Congressman Adam Schiff. That`s Congressman Adam Schiff who just made news, making it official, criticizing his Republican colleagues but going further to say that the House Democrats will put out their own house intelligence report on the Russian probe. Some have expected that, given all the partisan rancor on the committee. But this is the first time and it comes directly after House Republicans announced formally yesterday, they are done interviewing witnesses and they have their own findings of no collusion.

I want to bring back Ambassador Michael McFaul who is a close students of all these issues.

Your view of the news that Congressman Schiff just made. MCFAUL: Well, I applaud that they are going to do that so that the rest of us, including academics like myself can use the material to write our own reports. But this is a tragedy. This is a real tragedy that we did not have a bipartisan independent commission to explore everything that happened in 2016, not just collusion, of what the Russians did, of what the internet companies did in relation to the Russians, what the Russian media companies did and then provide policy prescriptions. That`s what we need. That`s what we didn`t get from this committee.

And I want to remind your listeners and your viewers, Ari, that`s not Bob Mueller`s assignment either.

MELBER: Right.

MCFAUL: So we are not going to have the policy response to how do we defend our elections and that to me is a real tragedy.

MELBER: Well, you make such an important because Mueller has a much narrower scope of the crimes committed. You are putting your finger on the work you used to do which is where is the Congress on a nonpartisan or a bipartisan basis, figuring out where we go ahead. And the Democrat on the committee telling us, breaking news a moment ago, they are going ahead separately, two different reports.

Thank you, as always, ambassador for being on THE BEAT.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: We have a lot more coming up, including a big question today, does Donald Trump have twitter fingers? Why doesn`t he unable fire people in person?

Also, new reporting tonight on Roger Stone and new claims about his contacts with WikiLeaks, including a filmmaker who joins me who made a documentary about his whole life.

And tonight, my legal breakdown on the case against Donald Trump`s lawyer Michael Cohen.

Plus, new reaction of Donald Trump looking at prototypes for the wall. California attorney general Xavier Becerra also on the show.

I`m Ari Melber and you are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.



RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: We keep putting up this list and it`s getting longer and longer and longer and more ridiculous. I mean, literally at this point, we have to like do fancy camera work where I turn so you can have the bigger wall behind me, so we can make the list this big. This is nuts.


MELBER: Rachel will need that extra real estate tonight. Rex Tillerson out. And this is a big one. Tillerson essentially the most senior cabinet member that Trump has ousted. He got his pink slip on twitter this morning. Tillerson is fourth in line for succession to the presidency, and yet he still was fired by tweet, similar to past aggressive firing of James Comey.

So we are back to a point that honestly, yes, is being made many times. But sometimes the truth is worth repeating. The man famous for pretending to fire people in dramatic boardroom meetings appears incapable of actually doing it in person while serving as the most powerful leader in the world.


TRUMP: Latoya, you are fired.

You are fired.

Cindy, you are fired.

(INAUDIBLE), you are fired. Go.


MELBER: Let`s bring in two friends of THE BEAT. "New York Daily News" columnist Nike Lupica, and founder and editor-at-large of the "Weekly Standard" Bill Kristol.

Mike Lupica, does it matter that this President can`t have a face-to-face with these people that he praised, recruited, used and is now removing?

MIKE LUPICA, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: It`s odd what a tough confrontational guy he is on social media and not in person.

You know, Ari, I have been thinking all day that we are talking about Tillerson, who probably never should have been secretary of state in the first place. Only Trump saw a future John Foster Dulles there. But we are talking about this and we are not talking about porn stars today. We are not talking about the way he got rolled by the NRA, after all the big talk about what he was going to do about guns.

But this, you are right, this absolutely runs to form. And the only thing missing with this, it was kind of like a teenager breaking up with his girlfriend in a text message, the only thing missing is the video of Tillerson going into the elevator and going down to the street and getting into the limo to riding away from the "Apprentice."

MELBER: As Bill, you know, there is a saying online about twitter fingers. It refers to being tougher on twitter than you are in real life. Does that, in your view, matter here? Does it gives us insight into as Tom Brokaw was reminding everyone earlier in the show into what is a very personal relationship and whether you click and have the trust of your diplomat.

BILL KRISTOL, FOUNDER/EDITOR-AT-LARGE, WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes. Well, Trump is a bully. And bullies I think are also notoriously also cowards. And I think that`s true of President Trump honestly.

I mean, Comey, he had inherited so you could say he was - it is a little different relationships perhaps, of course he had him over to dinner one weekend to his presidency, Trump`s presidency to try to get him to be loyal.

Rex Tillerson is in that job because Donald Trump asked him to take it. It is a little bit unbelievable just from a shoe man (ph) point of view. Think about this that a year later, you decided to fire him.

But here is what gather happened. I guess there are slightly conflicting reports on the tic-tac of the last few days. But Trump wanted to fire Tillerson at the end of the week. Kelly said, well, you have to hold off. He is in the middle of the foreign trip. Let him get back here.

I gathered that (INAUDIBLE), I gathered Tillerson accelerated his return by about a day. He cancelled a couple of little things at the end of his Africa trip. He got back I think -- the secretary of state`s plane landed a 4:00 p.m. today, and Trump fired him and tweeted that he had fired him early in the morning.

Tillerson was in town, you understand. He could have asked Tillerson to come to the White House.

MELBER: Yes. No, I will do it.

KRISTOL: So it is really -- I mean, did you think about that, just as a kind of human things, we have all worked in organizations. I have had to fire people. I have been told that my services are no longer needed once or twice. I mean, the idea that the guy is in town, you appointed him, he is one of the most senior members of your cabinet and you fire him by twitter. It is very revealing about Trump.

MELBER: It is revealing. And again, it goes to when he is hands on or not. You mentioned the Comey example which is under investigative review. There`s a candle light dinner. There is a lot of charm offensive or whatever you want to call, what it is that he does when he needs something. And then when he is done, it is just - it is just, it is he cannot bear to talk to the person. It seems that the public pressure, again, the fact that he was effectively criticized on shows like this one today led to him making at least a personal phone call, which he had not made reportedly before the tweet.

Let me also read to you, Bill Kristol, as someone who served in Republican politics and in the White House, it`s not that these are -- we just -- look, we just lost Mike Lupica, I hope he`s OK. We lost his camera. Bill Kristol, look at this turnover and the turn rate, it is high compared to normal jobs, in both Bush and Obama White Houses in those first years. People leave. It`s not that that never happens but here we see 43 percent. It`s much higher Bill. And that goes to the question, it`s not just Trump criticism, but my question to you, does this mean it`s harder to get new people, including people outside of government?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, totally. It`s hard to get through if they think they might be fired. It`s hard to get through if they think they`ll be fired in a sort of humiliating and embarrassing way. Again, just to finish the sort of tick-tock, I mean, there was no -- there was no urgency in him being fired. That is to say, they could have -- Trump went to California, he can -- I guess he`s coming back tomorrow or something. They could have arranged a meeting like this week. They could have -- they could have had a ceremonious so to speak you know, resignation, that they come parting ways at the beginning of next week. They could have had a transition. They could have had everything lined up.

Instead, Trump goes, his one of the undersecretaries in the State Department gives a sort of truthful account I think of what had happened, that Tillerson did not realize he`s being fired. I think he was asked to back early to talk to Trump. He thought he would make -- have a chance to make an appeal to Trump. Trump I think was scared honestly of Tillerson coming to the Oval and saying Mr. President don`t do this. This is a bad time. Give me three months or six months. Trump doesn`t like to look at someone in the eye and say no, I`m sorry Rex, you`ve got to go. So he fires him before he can see Tillerson, and now we have this appearance of chaos, which again is not the end of the world but it`s not very helpful if you`ve got complicated diplomacy going on with respect to North Korea, Iran, and other places.

MELBER: Yes, it`s -- and you speak to again how these things actually work and what it reveals. I got to fit in a break. Mike Lupica, don`t count you out even with satellite poblems. We lost you for a second but I see you pop back in. Can you hear me OK?


MELBER: I`m out of time, one or two final sentences in your view.

LUPICA: No, I just worry that the bar got lowered a little more and then this cabinet, Ari, has become a cabinet of sycophancy and bobble head dolls and flattery. And I don`t think that`s good for the country.

MELBER: Yes, and the idea that it`s only people were coming from inside government because this bill was explaining the pipeline from outside is narrowing. That has national security implications apart from what one thing to the President either way. Mike Lupica, Bill Kristol, thank you, both. Up ahead, Donald Trump`s pick for Secretary of State, once attacking WikiLeaks as hostile and doing the bidding of Russia, with the new report revealing tonight, Roger Stone told people that he was in contact with Julian Assange during the campaign. I have a special interview with the filmmaker who spent five years with Roger.


ROGER STONE, FORMER CAMPAIGN ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: One man`s dirty trick is another man`s political civic action. Everything I do, everything I`ve ever done has been legal. Politics isn`t beanbag and losers don`t legislate.


MELBER: And Stormy Daniels` attorney told THE BEAT, they`re not going home. What happens next? I have for you, tonight, my special legal breakdown on the case, against Donald Trump`s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, that`s ahead.


MELBER: Breaking news this hour on the Russian probe. Congressman Adam Schiff saying the Dems will write their own report after what he called the GOP`s decision to conclude the investigation in a way that did a disservice to the nation. Meanwhile, incoming Secretary of State holding this position on an organization at the center of the Russia probe.


MIKE POMPEO, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: It`s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service often embedded by state actors like Russia.


MELBER: That`s a different tone from what we`ve heard from Trump`s long- time adviser Roger Stone. He`s been championing Julian Assange.

STONE: He`s a courageous journalist who has an incredible track record for accuracy and authenticity.


MELBER: What`s new is we know Bob Mueller is looking for answers about Stone and his relationship with Assange because Sam Nunberg told us right here on THE BEAT.


MELBER: Did they ask you about his dealings with Julian Assange?

SAM NUNBERG, FORMER AIDE, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Yes, they did. They asked what did Roger tell me about his dealings Julian Assange or his communications with Julian Assange during the election.


MELBER: And breaking today, Nunberg is one of two sources telling the Washington Post that Roger Stone was talking with Assange in the spring of 2016. That timing matters because that would mean Stone was telling people about those hacked e-mails two months before anyone would know about it from public accounts. Now Stone has long delighted in baiting his critics.


STONE: For those who say I have no soul, for those who say I have no principles, are losers. Those are bitter losers. I revel in your hatred because if I were ineffective, you wouldn`t hate me.


MELBER: I`m joined by Nick Akerman, a former Watergate Special Prosecutor who first interviewed Roger Stone when you were on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and Morgan Pehme, he is the Director of what I just showed, a Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone which he spent more than five years working on. Morgan, the big question with Stone, if you want to be focused on the facts and not the spectacle is does he brag about things he didn`t do in order to get attention, or does he overshare about potential conspiracies that he may be involved in?

MORGAN PEHME, DIRECTOR, GET ME ROGER STONE: He does both. So in July and in June of 2016, we -- he told us that he was trying to meet with Julian Assange, we spoke with him about the possibility of bringing our crew to London to film that meeting. As far as we know --

MELBER: Hold up -- hold up. When you were making this documentary, he was telling you as a documentary journalist that he was trying to do contact with Assange?

PEHME: Absolutely.

MELBER: And that was successful contact?

PEHME: We do not know if it was successful.

MELBER: And I don`t generally ask people if their sources -- you have the right to say no but this Washington Post report has one named source Nunberg and one anonymous source. Are you the anonymous source in the Post article?

PEHME: I`m not the anonymous source.

MELBER: So you tonight on the beat are the third source confirming that Roger Stone`s during the campaign was talking about this contact with Assange?

PEHME: Well, the Washington Post story say that he did meet with Assange, I am telling you that he was seeking to meet with Assange, we`ve discussed it many times.

MELBER: That he told you that.

PEHME: Absolutely.

MELBER: Do you have extra footage of that?

PEHME: We have a lot of footage of him talking about Julian Assange, talking about all of these subjects. In fact, one of his tweets was "Wednesday Hillary is done." That was in October of 2016. That day, our film crew went and we spent the day with Roger trying to see how he would react, once Hillary was allegedly done. That day nothing did come to pass. So --

MELBER: I don`t mean -- I didn`t know that your interview tonight was going to be this newsworthy. Is your view then that your understanding is that Roger Stone, when you were spending that time shadowing him, had advance knowledge the e-mail hack was coming?

PEHME: I do not know if he had advance knowledge. He has said consistently that he could have extracted this idea that John Podesta could be in trouble from published news reports. That`s what he contends. He certainly was extremely close with Paul Manafort. We know that Paul Manafort was working with the Podesta group. He may have had some sort of foreknowledge through that relationship. I do not know for certain if he met with WikiLeaks in advance of the election but he was certainly attempting to do so.

MELBER: Nick, is Morgan saying something that`s legally important?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: It`s extremely important. I mean, if you put this is the context of what we know and what Mueller knows, we know that on April 29th, Papadopoulos was told about the dirt, the e-mails, the thousands of e-mails that the Russians had. We know that on June 3rd, that the Trump campaign was notified, Don Junior was notified about the dirt that was coming to Trump Tower. We know on 9th that they met there. And then within a week -- two days after before though, two days before the meeting in June 7th, Donald Trump is saying that the next week and next Monday he`s going to do explain to people all the dirt on the Clintons.

MELBER: Does this mean that Roger Stone has potential exposure as an accessory?

AKERMAN: As a -- as a conspirator. In a conspiracy to steal the DNC e- mails and to use them to help Donald Trump get elected. That was the object to the conspiracy and Roger Stone appears to be right in the middle of this.

MELBER: Morgan, would you be willing to come back on THE BEAT tomorrow to discuss this a little more?

PEHME: Absolutely.

MELBER: Thank you for being here and Nick Akerman, thank you for the legal vantage point. And that`s fascinating. Up ahead, I have as promised my legal breakdown on the case against Donald Trump`s lawyer Michael Cohen.


MELBER: New developments in the Stormy Daniels story putting more heat on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Daniels is about to speak on 60 Minutes which has Trump advisers so nervous they might try to block it from airing. Cohen now in a behind the scenes battle with Daniels, obtaining a new arbitration order against her and a public battle with her lawyer Michael Avenatti who`s dialing up the pressure and Cohen facing legal filings arguing he violated election law by facilitating that $130,000 payment. He`s also one of the names on mother`s grand jury subpoena. And to top it all of, news broke on THE BEAT just last night that Mueller`s investigators now asking witnesses about Trump lawyers paying women.


MELBER: Did Mueller`s folks ask anything that related to these issues around payments to people or women?

NUNBERG: Well, look, they asked if I had ever heard anything about that, and my answer is, I never have.

MELBER: I`ve never heard you say that publicly before. In your FBI interview with Mueller`s team, they were asking about payments to women?

NUNBERG: They were asking if I knew anything about it.


MELBER: So that`s a lot. And there`s plenty that people can criticize Cohen for. Commentator have called him everything from mysterious, and brash, to a shady liar. Now people can make up their own minds about Cohen`s actions but is if this story escalates, there is a focus on the law. And it`s important to be accurate about the law in question. Cohen may have done a shady thing, even a dumb thing, but based on the legal history, this $130,000 payment itself was probably not a crime. And there are two reasons why. The first reason is something called the irrespective test and the second reason is John Edwards. So let`s start with a legal rule that goes by this ungainly name, irrespective test. Here`s how the Federal Election Commission decides if a candidate is paying for a personal or a campaign item. Under the law, you cannot use campaign funds for personal cause like vacations or student loans.

Using campaign funds for personal use is prohibited. If the expense would exist even in the absence of the candidacy, then the personal use ban applies. So the law says that if this is an expense candidate`s pay irrespective of them running for office, then look, the personal expense and the campaign can pay for it. So even though Cohen arranges this payment during the campaign, this rule gives him a legal defense that Trump was making hush payments irrespective of being a candidate. And of course, the New Yorker`s Ronan Farrow and the author Michael Wolfe have reported on many other Trump hush payments throughout his life. So the good news here for Trump and Cohen is they can prevail by publicizing how Trump pays hush money to women all the time.

The bad news is they`d have to publicize how Trump pays hush money to women all the time. But if the payment was personal, then think about it, this entire complaint against Cohen does fall apart legally. The group Common Cause have been arguing that the payment was a campaign donation and then the Trump campaign broke the law by not reporting it and they say if it was Cohen`s money, he broke the law by giving more than the $2,700 limit or if he just facilitated money from the Trump organization, then that broke the law because such corporate donations are themselves illegal. You can see how that would be a big deal. But if the original payment was personal, not a donation, every one of those claims comes crashing down.

Now, even if people don`t like that outcome, it has logic, because if the FEC can just decide after an election, personal spending should be re- categorized as a campaign donation, then think about it. It can turn basically any candidate into a lawbreaker. And since the FEC bans campaigns from using their funds for this personal expenses, that would become kind of like a -- well, a catch-22. And that brings us to John Edwards. In 2011, prosecutors charged him on a similar theory. They argue the payments he made to a mistress should have been campaign donations. The trial showed Edwards was not a sympathetic defendant. Evidence about him cheating on his while she had terminal cancer emerged but Edwards insists he was a sinner, not a criminal.


JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER SENATOR, NORTH CAROLINA: While I do believe I did anything illegal, or eve thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong. And there is no one else responsible for my sins.


MELBER: The jury agreed. They acquitted him on the charge for a $200,000 payment from a donor for his mistress. Sound familiar? They did not convict him on any other charges. Conservative and legal experts agreed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of conservatives who don`t even like John Edwards thought this case was to use their words appalling. They just think -- thought it was without merit and that it was the government trying to regulate personal conduct.


MELBER: We looked this up at the time leading legal groups like crew and ethics organizations started by some Democrats also opposed the Edwards prosecution saying the entire case rests on finding that the payments to Edward`s mistress were in fact campaign contributions but no court has ever interpreted the definition of campaign contribution this broad. That was true then about Edwards regardless of what you think of him, and it looks to be the case for Michael Cohen today. The law doesn`t change based on who`s sitting at the defendant`s table. The payment to Stormy Daniels doesn`t look like an illegal campaign donation and that`s based on the FEC rule on the history.

Now, let`s be clear, many questionable things have emerged about Michael Cohen during this whole story and now as I just explained, his legal defense may require him to prove these hush payments were common for Trump and thus something they were doing irrespective of being a candidate. So Cohn`s legal defense is not about denying material that seems incriminating, it`s actually about publicizing that material himself. So legally, he may have to take a page from the playbook of another strategist skilled in battle. Eminem who famously won a rap battle by listing off all the negative information about himself saying it proudly and handing the mic to an opponent and saying here, tell this people something they don`t know about me. That can make for an embarrassing mic drop but it is still a mic drop.


MELBER: Donald Trump is visiting what might be his most politically hostile state in the nation, California, there are protests breaking out as well as counter-protests. Trump is touring prototypes of the proposed border wall. Now, California sued to stop construction of the wall, a judge sided with Trump. His administration thought is also suing California back over its immigration laws and the DOJ naming Governor Brown and Attorney General Xavier Becerra in the suit. The lawsuit says California sanctuary city laws violate federal power and the constitution.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Governor Brown has done a very poor job running California. They have the highest taxes in the United States. The place is totally out of control. You have sanctuary cities where you have criminal living in the sanctuary cities. The drugs are pouring through in California. When we put up the real wall, we`re going to stop 99 percent, maybe more than that.


MELBER: Joining me now is California Attorney General Becerra. Thank you for being on the program. Why is California fighting with Donald Trump so much?

XAVIER BECERRA, ATTORNEY GENERAL, CALIFORNIA: Ari, thanks for having me. And we`re only fighting Donald Trump because Donald Trump is trying to stop us from doing everything that`s made us the number one economy for the country. In fact, the sixth largest economy in the world.

MELBER: His ideas on the wall, though, your view is they are illegal or just bad ideas?

BECERRA: It`s ancient. It`s a medieval wall. Even a thousand years ago, they stopped relying solely on walls to defend themselves and why should we do that in the 21st century? We`re beyond that. Plus, he`s trying to do that it in a way that`s unlawful. He didn`t -- he didn`t obey federal law, he`s disrespecting state law and we have a right to make sure that the law is enforced. He`s not above the law.

MELBER: Let me tick off some of what we have here on these fights, immigration, you have the sanctuary cities as mentioned, the border wall, of course, the travel ban. The California also suing this administration over transgender issues, birth control, ObamaCare, natural gas rules, clean air act, water protection, fracking rules. There are some people who welcome that. They see you and governor brown as a bulwark. There are others who say are you picking your battles or does it seem at a certain point like virtually anything he does, you guys go to court?

BECERRA: Ari, name one of those that you would want to see anybody, a community, a city, a state go backwards on, fracking, clean energy, treating immigrants with less respect. We`re interested in growing, we`re interested in building, we`re interested in showing people that California is a destination. That`s why we`re 40 million strong and we become the bulwark of our national economy.

MELBER: I also want to ask you before you go about this ICE official who said that his concern was bearing a burden knowing that some of the information they`re putting out was false. Your response?

BECERRA: Are we surprised? We`ve known that from Washington, D.C. and the White House. We`ve not been receiving accurate information for quite some time. I think Robert Mueller and now we see this ICE representative, spokesperson giving us a clear signal that oftentimes what we hear from the Trump administration is not true. (AUDIO GAP) surprise.

MELBER: Attorney General Xavier Becerra, thank you for coming on THE BEAT.

BECERRA: Thank you.

MELBER: And that does it for our show tonight. I will be live in Washington tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern with a lot of guests. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Don`t call me a moron. Let`s play HARDBALL.



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