Trump makes first public attack on Russia probe. TRANSCRIPT: 03/19/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber.

Guests: Bill Kristol; Frank Figliuzzi; Mimi Rocah; Lawrence Tribe

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: March 19, 2018 Guest: Bill Kristol; Frank Figliuzzi; Mimi Rocah; Lawrence Tribe

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We begin with news out of the Mueller probe. New fallout tonight over Donald Trump doing something that I will tell you he has never done before in public. He is now directly attacking Bob Mueller by name. And this escalation comes amidst an unusual late-night Friday firing of a key witness in the obstruction case that could be built against the White House.

The former deputy to James Comey, FBI official Andrew McCabe is out. And tonight members of Congress calling for an investigation of that very firing and many even in both parties warning Trump against moving on Mueller.

This is not a drill right now. He says the Trump administration singled him out and treated him this way because of his role in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. He also alleges On the Record this was part of an effort to discredit him as a witness.

Now let's stop right there. There is a lot going on. But there's a reason this is our top story, because it is the biggest story in the country right now. You are witnessing a 20-year FBI veteran, a registered Republican who rose to the very top of that agency, acting FBI director, and he is saying under his own name On the Record, not a leak, that he was fired by the Trump administration, not over his conduct, which would be fine. But he is saying it was over his role in an open criminal probe into your White House. It's a big deal.

Now Jeff Sessions, I should mention, didn't take this whole action in the daylight, literally. You are looking at the file footage we have of what it looked like at the White House Friday night. That was the time when Jeff Sessions announced this firing, when most federal employees were home for the week. When most reporters were gone. Now cable news does run pretty late, but honestly, most of us were out of the office by then. Eventually we do go home.

McCabe argues that was the point. I want to read more from this because it is important. He says nothing about this was a normal personnel decision. But a process he argues that was accelerated only after he testified he would corroborate James Comey's accounts of discussions with the President. And even still, that late Friday night news, it hit like a bombshell and kept playing out on the Sunday shows, as most Democrats and some Republicans warned this President against taking this firing campaign, that's what it is now, a campaign of firing. They warned him not to take it against Mueller.

Now the Trump administration already in this briefed few days since Friday have been inconsistent about the core question and it is a question with criminal implications. The question tonight in where we are about to explore with some experts here, why was McCabe really fired?

Jeff sessions says it's because McCabe misled an interior review regarding the Hillary Clinton case. Can't make it up. But Donald Trump, he doesn't agree. He couldn't let that sit. He was already tweeting that McCabe's wife was a Democrat in his memos about being a witness to Trump interactions are quote "maybe fake memos."

Now Trump sharing his view of why this matters and it's revealing. He is talking about McCabe as a witness. And while all of this could add to an obstruction case against the White House, and by that I mean against people who work at or with the White House or potentially the President himself, there are clear signs that this has been in the works for a while.

Take a look at the foreign policy report here. The Trump's aim was to discredit several top FBI official, including specifically McCabe, because he would back up Comey. That report from months ago is context for McCabe's firing on that late Friday night. You might say this idea was written into the plans a long time ago. And it shows something else I think gets lost a lot and that we in the media sometimes get wrong.

Consider how Trump methodically, insistently keeps moving the pieces on the board. Things actually looked pretty bad for him when Comey was first fired and McCabe was his remember acting FBI director, and he had been in the room when Comey was recounting Trump's actions, including things that are now under criminal investigation. And at that time we all remember that dramatic testimony, and Comey, the President faced this life-long public servant going out under oath, detailing things that sounded, I will say it, they sounded like evidence obstruction while hid deputy was still in power at the FBI. But tonight, both men fired. And they are subject to a massive public discrediting campaign.

So who's next? Well, in the past ten months, note that Trump never took on Mueller directly. He praised him. He said he thought he would be fair. He was looking forward to the interview with him. He even called him in June, an honorable man. And while Mueller was running that Russia probe, Trump didn't tweet about him that whole time, even once until this weekend after the late night firing where he is mentioned him twice.

You know, many call Donald Trump impulsive. I hear that even from many of his critics. It's not always the case. When it comes to Donald Trump's criminal defense strategy, note the discipline here. I don't see impulse. We see cunning. We see planning. We see premeditation.

Tonight's news is now breaking, because it doesn't stop, that Donald Trump is hiring a new lawyer who is pushing a very particular conspiracy theory, which obviously, I'm about to show you, has Bob Mueller as the target and the FBI as the co-conspirators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.

They were going to exonerate Hillary and they were going to frame Donald Trump.

James Comey threw the case against Hillary Clinton in conjunction with senior FBI officials. Comey sold his soul to the devil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Comey sold his soul to the devil was the charge there. Were you listening to a pundit? Were you listening to a commentator? Were you listening to political spokesman?

Well, as of tonight, I can report here on THE BEAT, what you are listening to when you hear that is Joe Digenova (ph). You are listening to a new member of Donald Trump, your president's legal team.

Let me turn now to former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah, Frank Figliuzzi a former assistant FBI director who has done work on a disciplinary process within the FBI and brings that expertise and Bill Kristol, founder and editor-at-large for "the Weekly Standard."

Bill, your view of this theory that we are seeing a very methodical, non- impulsive strategy that appears to be circling in closer now in public on Bob Mueller.

BILL KRISTOL, FOUNDER/EDITOR-AT-LARGE, WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes. You and I have discussed this before. And I'm very much with you.

I mean, Trump is impetuous in some ways, and on discipline in some ways, but he is pretty determined when it's his own interests that are at stake and he is pretty cunning I think in a sort of low but sometimes effective way. And I think he took in the beginning, he understood that he needs to take the O.J. Simpson defense strategy, discredit the investigators. He wasn't going to win this on the merits. It wasn't going to be a clear defense where he would prove that there are nothing untrue or happened. But if you confuse things, if you make the investigators look, some of them corrupt, some of them incompetent, some of them conflicted. All the things Trump has been saying exactly.

If you raise enough doubts, just as with the O.J. jury, which some of whom might have been inclined to what believe O.J. anyway so with Republican congressmen and senators and Republican voters who would like to believe Trump, it gives them enough to hang onto to say that the whole investigation is discredited. That is his strategy.

MELBER: Bill, you brought it out. You went there. I'm going to go there with you, all right. You are making the argument that this is Johnnie Cochranesque (ph), because faced with a difficult fact pattern for the defendant, the potential defendant in this case, the only legal path left an is to try to put the system on trial.

KRISTOL: Yes. I mean, at the very beginning he wanted to see Comey over his first week in the White House, one-on-one dinner to see how much Comey knew. He tried to work Comey a bit. He decided that wasn't going to work, fired Comey.

From that point on, I think - and then once Mueller gets appointed. He has wanted to curb the investigation, limit the investigation, discredit the investigation, end the investigation. I'm not sure he has decided. President Trump has decided exactly what he will do when. He probably hasn't, but I think that's his steady goal.

MELBER: Amy?

MIRIAM ROCAH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, this is a classic put the government on trial. If you can't beat the facts, then go after the fact finders. Because here, you know, the facts are not good for President Trump from what little we know. And we don't know everything. So I think, you know, Bill is exactly right. You are exactly right, that this is a classic defense smear tactic.

MELBER: Based on what we have seen, does it look like a legitimate firing of McCabe or not?

ROCAH: I think we don't know yet, honestly. You know, the IG is a neutral, non-partisan entity and fact finder. And normally, I would have confidence in what the IG, the inspector general, the FBI does.

MELBER: Well, as you may have gleaned from some of the reporting I did at the top of the show, I hear you on that. And I don't have beef with Michael Horowitz. But this doesn't look normal.

ROCAH: No. I agree. I said in normal times. And we are not in normal times. So think that, you know, when you look at what happened here and the FBI has been noticeably silent since McCabe was fired. And that is telling us, well, the only one talking about this is Trump.

MELBER: Very telling.

Frank, let me read to you what McCabe's lawyer saying, and I spoke to his folks today and they are not adding tonight but they say this is their key focus. He notes as a veteran of the DOJ as well, he has been involved in DOJ and FBI. This plays matter since '94, I have never before seen the type of rush to judgment and summary punishment we witnessed in the case of Andy McCabe. Fair, Frank?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Yes. Look, I served as a chief in the office of professional responsibility in the FBI. I became the chief inspector of the FBI. I also sat on the senior executive disciplinary board in the FBI. I was involved in hundreds of internal FBI inquiries. And I can tell you, never once did we fire somebody at 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night, 26 hours before they were eligible for retirement.

There is lots of unanswered questions here. We keep hearing that it was the FBI's OPR that came up with this recommendation. There is some answered questions there.

Who did the interviews of Andy McCabe? Was it the DOJ, IG alone? Did they allow FBI to sit in on that which is very rare if that even happen? Or did they, as I suspect, simply hand the FBI OPR their findings which used the deadly phrase "lack of candor" and ask FBI OPR, what is your precedent for lack of candor fighting in which case they would have to say termination?. We need some questions answered tonight.

MELBER: Right.

Look, Frank and Mimi are both doing, Bill, what public servants often do, which is give a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. And I'm going to call a little bit of (INAUDIBLE) to what's going on.

I will put out what is going on as well, Bill, for the benefit of the viewers, with no disrespect to Mr. Horowitz and the career folks over there.

The President personally targeted Andrew McCabe in public, in writing repeatedly for a range of reasons. Called for his ousting. Refer to the timeline that is adhere in this Clinton review and saying let's get him before the pension.

This report's not done, Bill. I have covered IG reports as well. And we can get as in the weeds and as boring as we want for anyone watching. There is an IG report process. And the report is finished and it is complete. And that legal process, if it matters anywhere, it matters at the FBI and DOJ where people specialize in due process.

This was not due process. This was rushed out in this timeline that the President explicitly called for it, and done, Bill, by an attorney general which I haven't gotten this yet because we are still getting started, attorney general who explicitly said under oath to the Congress he would recuse from matters involving the Clinton foundation, and this is a firing regarding Andy McCabe's discussions with "the Wall Street Journal" about the Clinton foundation.

KRISTOL: And that you want get Jeff Sessions the benefit of the doubt which he shouldn't but let's just do this stark experiment for 20 seconds.

He might have been told by Trump, you fire McCabe or I fire you, and Sessions and then Rosenstein and then Mueller and get someone in there to fire Mueller. And Sessions may have thought, look, McCabe may have made some mistakes anyway. You know, if you want to use the DOJ analogy, the LAPD did do some things wrong. It wasn't entirely candid about them.

MELBER: Bill Kristol going full O.J. tonight.

KRISTOL: Whatever the case. I mean, I think we shouldn't --.

MELBER: It is not the attorney general's job --

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: I will give you time to respond. But I have to tell viewers, it is not the attorney general's job to make firing decisions at the FBI based on threats from the President, if that was the motivation.

KRISTOL: Well, that's an interesting -- I agree with that. (INAUDIBLE) to know, this is a very simple factual question. Did Sessions discuss this with the President?

MELBER: Great question.

KRISTOL: I mean, that's a question we just could ask the justice department's public affairs office and the White House press office.

MELBER: Great question. And it comes in the background, Frank, of the House closing up the Russia probe and the Mueller probe reaching the Trump organization, not with a request but with a subpoena. We have to keep our eye on what's going on with the hate because we are in a moment of testing, I think is what it looks like.

Take a listen to Chris Wallace who works at FOX News, criticizing the House approach to their conclusions in the Russia matter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The President is using the House intelligence committee's findings in effect as, as grist, as a defense to say that there was no collusion, and what you are admitting is that there were a lot of key members to this investigation who you've never talked to, so your conclusion is not conclusive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Frank?

FIGLIUZZI: Look, we are headed down a path that I have thought has been coming for a while. But the pieces are falling into place. So I really fear for Mueller's longevity. I think that what's going to happen is that Rosenstein will be replaced and/or sessions replaced first. I think that we will see someone put into the dag or AG position that will constrain Mueller and then ultimately, we may see Mueller go.

That is what is being put into place here. With regard to McCabe, there's clear anomalies on how this was handled. How can you even adjudicate a finding against the deputy director of the FBI in an environment where the President of the United States, the executive branch head is actually tainting the jury pool? He has sending messages publicly to his DOJ and FBI officials, this is what needs to happen.

MELBER: Right. And how many federal officials and law enforcement does he need to fire after making queries about the criminal probe that touches him and his aide until you have something wider. And I think the undercurrent of the conversation tonight, I'm hearing from you, Frank and Bill, and Mimi, I don't want to put any words in your mouth, but is everyone close to law enforcement and journalism right now is picking up that the escalation towards Mueller is real and it is designed to constrain or remove him, not to let this probe end the way it's supposed to work in a lawful democracy.

Mimi Rocah, Frank Figliuzzi and Bill Kristol, thanks to each of you.

Coming up, I have a new interview with the lawyer for Stormy Daniels. That is new tonight. On the Record, I'm going to ask him about this explosive allegations of physical threat as well as the FOX news card.

Also, an update on this stunning report that Trump's digital operation has worked with an entity, Cambridge Analytica that is selling entrapment services abroad. This new undercover video you are looking at here, I'm going to show it to you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Facebook or You Tube or something like this?

(INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I'll show you the context for that and why Facebook is in even more hot water tonight.

And the Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe is my special guest next.

You are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Breaking news tonight. Donald Trump hauling out law enforcement leadership wall under investigation. Four Trump officials have been charged or pled guilty now. So at what point do any of these acts contribute to potential obstruction of justice?

I'm joined now by one of the four most legal experts in the United States Lawrence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard who has argued dozens of cases at the Supreme Court, advised President Obama and has a forthcoming book "To End a Presidency, the power of impeachment" which is a historical analysis.

First of all, thank you for joining me on this big news night, professor.

LAWRENCE TRIBE, LAW PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Thank you for having me, Ari.

MELBER: Let me start with a narrow question. Are the allegations about the firing of Andy McCabe potentially relevant to evidence of obstruction by the Trump White House?

TRIBE: I think there is a clear answer. The answer is yes. Not because one might not have some basis to fire him, maybe the IG's report can provide such a basis, but that wasn't the basis on which there's every reason to believe he was fired. When he was fired, in what looked like a Friday night massacre, he was fired, specifically, because the President, who named Mueller for the first time in this entire process made clear that he did not want to have a credible corroborating witness for Comey's account of why he was fired.

MELBER: That was illicit intent, you think?

TRIBE: I think it was corrupt intent. And that's word that the federal statute dealing with criminal obstruction of justice uses. The President has come up with shifting explanations for every one of these remarkable firings of FBI officials. First the director, then the deputy director. He says it was because of the way Hillary's stuff was handled. He says it was in the case of McCabe because of his wife, whom he called a loser. Then he said, no, it was because he wasn't candid. And then he says it's because he is a corroborating witness. The President is his own worst enemy in all of this. And he's really sewed up a strong case for obstruction of justice.

TRIBE: Wow. So you think this adds to the obstruction case.

I want to show a list we made earlier on THE BEAT that we are updating tonight. These are always individuals involved in the probe that Trump has done a crackdown on. And tonight you add attacked to fire in the upper right hand corner. Before it was Trump tweets against McCabe, not it is fired. Next to him, you have Rosenstein who he publicly said he does not have confidence in anymore. That is a big deal when it comes to the presidency.

Mueller, attempted firing, according to "the New York Times" which is now an issue in the probe and attacked for the first time this week and as I reported at the top of the show by name. Comey fired. You have Comey's counsel below, reassigned. You have Sessions' attack for recusal which may have contributed to his decision to not follow the recusal he promised here. And you have Adam Schiff tacked on the congressional side.

The question, professor, that I think people at home watching is, is this a version of a Saturday night massacre, except it's happening in public instead of initially more secretively and it is happening slowly instead of all at once.

TRIBE: I think it is very much that. It's a strangulation rather than a kneecapping. I don't really think that the President in his likely to fire Mueller. I think he is much too sneaky for that. What I think he will do is find excuses to replace Rosenstein who now supervises Mueller, with somebody who will clip Mueller's wings, cut his budget, say you can't go there, you can't look at the President's motives in terms of his loans from Russia and the money laundering. Gradually constraining the investigation, impeding it, obstructing it, but not quite crossing the red line. And for this Congress, there is almost no imaginable red line.

So I think we really have a meltdown of extreme proportion here. Sort of slow-motion constitutional crisis. And people who believe that obstruction of justice is just some technical thing and that until we get evidence of direct collusion with Russia, and I think that might be coming. People who think it is a minor matter have really lost sight of the rule of law.

The federal law in this area talks about endeavors to impede the due administration of law. Either by a federal agency or by a congressional committee. The running back and north by Devon Nunez is also part of the obstruction scheme. He, too, could be prosecuted but for the speech and debate floss.

What we have here is a White House that is orchestrating a massive cover- up, more serious than that of Richard Nixon. And covering something that goes to the national security of the United States. An attack by a hostile, foreign power on our democracy, on our power grid and the administration is doing nothing about it. So this is the most serious possible kind of obstruction of justice.

The Is still need to be dotted, the Ts still need to be crossed. But I very much agree with bill's notion that this is something that only an O.J. Simpson defense is beginning to make sense. Yes, I may be a criminal, but the whole system is corrupt. And that was the real them.

MELBER: Yes.

TRIBE: Yes. That was the theme of his whole election.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: He lays that ground work, and you saying it's more serious than Nixon, given your experience and your rendition, I think it's something else that I'm thinking about and having read you, all the way through law school.

I always appreciate you coming on the show.

TRIBE: Thank you.

MELBER: Professor Lawrence Tribe, thank you so much.

TRIBE: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Ahead, we are going to show you this video, undercover, sting video, that is now rocking Washington. An executive from Trump's digital firm touting entrapment and misinformation of win campaign.

And a bombshell admission for Trump on his fight to keep Stormy Daniels silent. Her attorney joins me. Plus, he has an observation about FOX News.

And the link between Trump's new attorney and a Facebook billionaire who bankrupted a news organization and represented Hulk Hogan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: For the very first time, President Donald Trump is now admitting that that alias used in the now infamous Stormy Daniels case was actually for him. This revelation came in a Friday night legal counter punch from Trump. They are now seeking $20 million from Daniels for breaking they say her agreement to be silent.

Now, here is that legal filing and you see Trump put his name on it right there, Donald J. Trump, aka David Dennison. This unusual admission from a sitting President comes after the explosive allegation that Miss Daniels was physically threatened, that allegation lodged by her attorney who joins me now, Michael Avenatti. How are you?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER OF STORMY DANIELS: Ari, thanks for having me.

MELBER: Let me ask you this. Does this vindicate your legal strategy that the President is now admitting he is this pseudonym, David Dennison?

AVENATTI: Well, Ari, I don't know that it vindicates our legal strategy but I think finally, the President has had to come to grips with the fact that he knew about this agreement.

MELBER: Lawyer to lawyer, it seems to me that he had never admitted he was David Dennison until he had to enter this lawsuit on Friday.

AVENATTI: Well, I would agree with that.

MELBER: And so, does that mean then that he has more or less exposure now? He seems to feel it's necessary to win apparently.

AVENATTI: I don't know, Ari, that this has a bearing on his exposure. Our position's always been the same. Namely, we don't think the agreement is valid.

MELBER: You alleged that there was a physical threat made against your client Stormy Daniels. Why didn't you include that in your legal filings thus far?

AVENATTI: Ari, I didn't alleged that. I stated it as a fact and I'm going to state it again today as a fact. It is not an allegation. Ari, you know as a good lawyer yourself, that good lawyers don't play their entire hand on the first go around. We have a lot of information, a lot of evidence, a lot of documents that haven't come to light yet. Numerous pieces of evidence, numerous facts, and we're not going to show hour hand in the beginning weeks of any case. No good lawyer would do that and we're certainly not going to do it here.

MELBER: Let me play some of the criticism of both your arguments and the attention they're getting, and as you know, they're certainly getting attention on Fox News. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's tabloid fodder. I've never seen so many reporters find such a thin hook to attend a strip club and then write about it. I've seen story after story after story of what's that's like and meanwhile, she's benefitting big time off of all of the coverage they're providing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Your response, Michael?

AVENATTI: Well, Ari, you know, I've been invited to give interviews to literally hundreds of media outlets around the world, television stations, radio stations, print journalist, what is shocking to me is, I haven't received a single request, not one, from Fox News. They've reached out to me for copies of documents and things of that nature, and I've cooperated with them just like I have with other networks and I've been prompt in attending to their request but I haven't received a single interview request, not one from Fox News.

MELBER: So there's -- you're telling me there's not a single anchor on Fox News that could go toe to toe and wants to talk to you? You think they're afraid of this story?

AVENATTI: Well, I don't know what it is, I'm just -- I'm a little -- my feelings are hurt they don't want to hear from me.

MELBER: That's well put. I want to ask you about another aspect of this that is in your paper, so it's something that you already have put out. I'll read to the viewers here that they talk about in here, Mr. Trump aware of these tactics at all times. Mr. Trump has been fully aware, you alleged. Does that mean you have evidence or reason to believe he was aware of the threat against Ms. Daniels?

AVENATTI: Yes.

MELBER: And what does that say to you?

AVENATTI: Well, I think it's serious. I mean, there's no question that it's serious in my view.

MELBER: You think this threat to her was made on Donald Trump's authority?

AVENATTI: Again, I don't want to get to the details and my opinion of this threat, we're going to let the American people judge for themselves as to what happened and judge for themselves as to what my client says and her credibility. Ari, we've been consistent from day one and you know this and your viewers know this. Our position is as follows. My client should be permitted to tell her story to the extent that Mr. Cohen and President Trump have an alternative narrative or a different version of the facts. They should come forward, they should tell their version of those facts and we should let the American people decide on who is shooting straight.

MELBER: Michael Avenatti, thank you as always for joining.

AVENATTI: Thank you, Ari. I appreciate it.

MELBER: The Wall Street Journal's Shelby Holliday and Ryan Holiday, who no relation literally wrote a book about Trump's new lawyer. Shelby, your view of what I will still call an allegation but that lawyer saying Donald Trump was personally aware of this threat.

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: That's a big deal because we have heard over the past few days that there was a threat but there was confusion about who made it. Could it have been a Twitter troll, could it have been some sort of a whack job? I actually spoke with Avenatti yesterday and he said it wasn't a whack job, this was a serious threat. He also said we'd have to wait for the 60 Minutes interview to figure out who it actually came from. But if the President was aware of it, that's significant legally and also politically. I think once the American people start hearing this, that will obviously be a big issue for voters.

MELBER: Ryan, before we turn to your expertise, any reaction to the interview?

RYAN HOLIDAY, MEDIA COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK OBSERVER: Yes, I think it's interesting that this case is -- that Trump would want to draw more attention to this case. It strikes me, whether he was in on these various threats or --

MELBER: When you say Trump, are you referring to Dennison?

HOLIDAY: Yes, yes, of course, which ironically is sort of the M.O. of the -- of the lawyer that originally represented Stormy Daniels. He does these pseudonym -- pseudonymous contracts that are supposed to hide the identity of the person --

MELBER: Right, I mean, this whole thing -- this whole thing began as signing something to be secret and if not for everything else happening in the world, the fact that the President of the United States just entered a lawsuit as AKA Donald Trump is incredible. There's also more news which is why you're here. Trump adding as well a new lawyer to this Stormy fight, Charles Harder. This is a hard-ball litigator who represents Jared Kushner and Trump Media -- a big media and mega-donor, named Peter Thiel. Now, they used this unrelated Hulk Hogan lawsuit to literally bankrupt a news organization that Theil was mad at, a controversial case that was profiled in a documentary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He emerged as somebody who wanted to play incredibly hard-ball legal tactics against media outlets. The game he has played legally has taken aback a lot of the first amendment and a lot of the media company lawyers I've talked to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Ryan, I'm going to repeat that because it's something that's just really wild and this was all pre-election. You have a guy who's a big Trump donor and a big conservative Peter Thiel, and he was mad at the news organization so he funded all these extra lawsuits as you documented in your book to try to take out the entire news organization, and the Hulk Hogan suit did that. It was successful. What does it say to you as an expert on that very controversial strategy that Donald Trump just hired this person?

HOLIDAY: Well, it's a sort of a meteoric rise for Charles Harder. Peter Thiel essentially plucks him out of obscurity in 2011 as his attorney. He -- Harder does not know that Thiel is representing him, only that a wealthy businessman --

MELBER: I'm going to restate my question just because you might not be used to this show, I'm asking you what does it say to you that the President is hiring this guy?

HOLIDAY: It's showing that he's in it to win. Harder is on quite a hot streak and has already won another case for the first lady. So he's in this to win.

MELBER: Shelby, what do you think, particularly, of these tactics?

HOLLIDAY: I think it's a big statement and I think as we've seen over the past few weeks, the Stormy Daniels' side of this fight, this beef if you will, is sucking up all the airtime, and there's a vacuum. Avenatti actually said they can't get mad at us for filling the vacuum that they themselves have created. They haven't commented, they haven't done anything, well, now they're doing something. Now they're making this massive statement hiring Harder, moving this case to federal court. I mean, the point of it will likely be to settle this in arbitration and the public won't hear all the juicy details. But regardless, just the fact that they hired this man is a massive statement and here we are talking about it.

MELBER: Or maybe not juicy details, right? Because it's always --

HOLLIDAY: Maybe not juicy details.

MELBER: No, it's always -- as someone who's covering this, the main point has been the desire to put it in hiding --

HOLLIDAY: Yes.

MELBER: -- which does raise the inference that there's something they want to hide, but ultimately, we don't know.

HOLLIDAY: Which is what (INAUDIBLE) about this whole thing because if they had just admitted this weeks ago when my colleagues broke this story at the Wall Street Journal, perhaps apologized and moved on, this would not even be a problem for them. Given everything else going on in the world, I don't think we'd be talking about this.

MELBER: Right, which is a great point given the way it is going which is a high escalation as we go towards the 60 Minutes interview. Shelby Holliday and Ryan Holiday, I hope you guys enjoy Christmas together. Happy family.

HOLLIDAY: Easter.

MELBER: You're right, better reference. Thank you both. Now up next, something I told you we were going to get to, and this is wild news. The digital firm that worked for the Trump campaign and had been subpoenaed by Mueller is now at the center of an undercover video rocking Washington. I'm going to show it to you in 90 seconds.

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MELBER: Bob Mueller is not only subpoenaing the Trump Organization. He also turned heads by requesting internal documents from the Trump Campaign's digital firm Cambridge Analytica. Tonight we have new original reporting on the problem hitting Cambridge and potentially the Trump Campaign. This breaking news is a new undercover sting video that actually exposes top leaders for Cambridge. People who advised the Trump Campaign and who spoke to the House Russia probe, admitting to their approach to dirty tricks and getting lies and misinformation to go viral. Now, the video you're about to see is fairly politically shocking. It was obtained undercover by our partner ITN Channel 4 News in the U.K. and in the rare irony of a dirty trickster talking about using video to catch people, here is that Trump Adviser, Nix, caught on video, talking about how to use video to catch other people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what we want to know is what is the expertise of the deep digging that you can do to make sure that the people know the true identity and secrets of these people.

ALEXANDER NIX, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: We do a lot more than that. I mean, deep digging is interesting but you know, equally effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that's too good to be true and make sure that's video recorded. You know, these sorts of tactics are very effective instantly having video evidence of corruption putting it on the internet, these sorts of thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the operative you will use for this is who?

NIX: Well, someone known to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, so it is somebody. You won't use a Sri Lankan person, no because --

NIX: No, no, we'll have a wealthy developer come in, somebody posing as a wealthy developer.

MARK TURNBULL, MANAGING DIRECTOR, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: I'm a master of disguise.

NIX: Yes, they will offer a large amount of money to the candidate to finance his campaign in exchange for land, for instance. We'll have the whole thing recorded on cameras, we'll black out the face of our guy and then pose it on the internet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So on Facebook, Youtube, or something like this?

NIX: Send some girls around to the candidate's house. We have lots of history of things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For example, you're saying when you were using the girls to introduce to the local fellow and you're using the girls for this, like the seduction, they're not local girls? Not Sri Lankan girls?

NIX: I wouldn't have thought so, no. We'll bring some -- I mean that was just an idea, just saying. We could bring some Ukrainians in on holidays with us, you know. You know what I'm saying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. They are very beautiful, Ukrainian girls.

NIX: They are very beautiful. I find that works very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You hear that Trump consultant there saying everything recorded on camera and that it works very well. Keep that in mind as I read you his denial which insists, "They don't use entrapment bribes or so-called honey traps for any purpose and they don't use untrue material." These reports are causing an immediate firestorm. Facebook saying Cambridge did basically did not use the platform effectively, that it was inappropriately sharing information, and now they're suspended from there. Also, members of our own Congress calling on Google, Facebook, and Twitter to combat and deal with all of this. And that's not all, more undercover video which I'm about to show you has Cambridge touting an approach to their digital campaigning that echoes some of the boasts we've heard from Trump allies. The facts don't have to matter and it's more effective to use alternative facts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TURNBULL: The two fundamental human driver when it comes to taking information on board effectively are hopes and fears, and many of those are unspoken and the even unconscious, you didn't know that was a fear until you saw something that just evoked that reaction from you

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, right.

TURNBULL: And our job is to get -- is to drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else to understand what are those really deep-seated underlying fears, concerns. There is no good fighting an election campaign on the facts because actually, it's all about emotion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Cambridge was paid over $6 million as a digital consultant for Trump. Leaked e-mails show they also discussed contacting WikiLeaks with Trump mega-donor Rebekah Mercer. Her father has a $10 million stake in that firm, Steve Bannon also on their board. Cambridge hired in June of 2016 by Jared Kushner and the man who's at the helm of Trump's re-election campaign, Brad Parscale. I'm joined now by Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley who's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Do you see anything wrong in these videos?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Is that a trick question? Look, this is why you don't shutdown the investigation. We have seen revelations since the committee shut down, the Republicans shut down our work that make you wonder, what happened and why? Clearly, the work that we've seen done by these investigative reporters make me wish that we have the CEO of Cambridge Analytica right back with us because if any of this was true, he was not truthful to us.

MELBER: You're saying when you discussed issues around the campaign with him, you think he was what, misleading about this kind of stuff?

QUIGLEY: What I'm suggesting is that if this reporting is accurate and what we're finding about Cambridge using information they got from Facebook through perhaps illegal methods, that is not -- that is the opposite of what we are hearing from Alexander Nix.

MELBER: Do you think that Nix -- do you think, Congressman, Nix and Facebook leadership including potentially Mark Zuckerberg should testify?

QUIGLEY: I think Mr. Nix needs to come back and tell us the whole truth. I think all the social media platforms need to come back. The public is well aware of the Russian government's weaponization of social media. There's a lot more work they have to inform us on. But we have to ask Facebook for example, how did this happen where this Russian-connected research person was able to get all this information, why didn't they tell us? How was he able to obtain the information of millions of Americans, and how did the Trump campaign use this, this weaponization to help sway the election?

MELBER: Congressman Mike Quigley, I was told you have what they call a heart out in this business, which means you're out to work more so thank you for joining me here on THE BEAT. I turn to Anne Gearan, White House Correspondent for the Washington Post who has had a close eye on many of these stories. I want to play for you Alexander Nix responding the last time he was in hot water which was again, all their foreign dealings with the Trump Campaign and their outreach to WikiLeaks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIX: I asked my office to reach out to -- actually it was a speaking agency that represents Julian Assange to ask if he might share that information with us and we received a message back from them that he didn't want to and wasn't able to, and that was the end of the matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A lot of intrigues here. Do you think this should matter to Americans?

ANNE GEARAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, absolutely. I mean, in that undercover video, I mean, it runs the gamut of political intrigue, right? You have honey pots, girls being sent to candidates' homes, bribery and slander on the internet. I mean, this is, this was not an election involving Americans, but if the same tactics were in any way applied, if the same theory of how to disrupt an election was in any way applied to the American election, people should be concerned and that should be a subject of investigation.

MELBER: And there is a sort of a whistle-blower speaking out, who's talked some about this, Christopher Wylie was talking about the role of Steve Bannon here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did Steve Bannon want?

CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, CO-FOUNDER, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: Steve wanted weapons for his culture war. We offered him a way to accomplish what he wanted to do, which was, which was change the culture of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The most benign view of all of this is that you've got people overhyping and overselling and who knows whether they can deliver, a kind of Madison Avenue defense. The alternative and more negative view is, you have a campaign that's literally under criminal investigation for how it campaigned and now you have these international leaks of the type of people they were doing business with.

GEARAN: Right. And on the benign side, right, this -- you heard their -- the CEO sort of explaining what they think motivates voters. It's fear, it's emotion and they will work to try to manipulate that. There are ways to do that legally. It may be unethical, it may be icky, it may make your skin crawl as a voter, but it's not illegal. And then there are lots of things that would suggest the company at least considered trafficking in illegality. That's a different matter altogether. What -- and Bannon is an interesting figure in the middle here, right? I mean, we know as the whistle-blower says, he does -- he wants a culture war. He has said as much and he saw the 2016 election as a way to stir that pot.

MELBER: Right, and Bannon and the Mercers, which have a money link, a money trail that goes back to Cambridge. So it's more than just one more outsourced entity.

GEARAN: Yes, right.

MELBER: Anne Gearan, thank you for joining me. I'm going to fit in a break, and ahead show a Trump-related warning from James Comey on telling his story. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Tonight we heard from legal experts that the Trump administration's firing of Andrew McCabe is raising big questions about criminal obstruction. Questions that date all the way back to James Comey's first announcement that there was a Russia probe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI as part of our counterintelligence mission is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 Presidential Election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That was the turning point. Soon Trump tried to limit the Russia probe by firing Comey, which expanded the Russia probe leading to Mueller's appointment. Tomorrow we bring you a very special edition of THE BEAT with some of the top legal experts in the nation on these twin firings, the first time a President has ever removed the FBI's top two officials. It's "LAW & ORDERS: TRUMP VERSUS FBI," right here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: That's not all, more news tonight from the Supreme Court. They are leaving in place that new Pennsylvania Congressional map which was addressing gerrymandering. The new map will be on the books for the 2018 midterms. That's one more story we're clocking. I'll see you tomorrow for our special on THE BEAT. I hope you'll tune in for that. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.

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