Trump's top aides worked with ex-Russian spy. TRANSCRIPT: 03/28/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Liz Plank, Adrienne Elrod, Neal Katyal, Sandra Bernhard

THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER March 28, 2018 Guest: Liz Plank, Adrienne Elrod, Neal Katyal, Sandra Bernhard

KATY TUR, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: That`s all for tonight. We will be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.

THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Ari, do you know what party the dog is in?

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: No.

TUR: He is dogglecrats (ph).

MELBER: I wish I have more time to do legal funds and jokes with you. But with the breaking news coming in, we are going, as we say in the news, leave it there.

TUR: Bye.

MELBER: Breaking news in a tweet from the President moments ago, Donald Trump replacing his VA secretary with his personal physician. The question though tonight, is whether this is also an attempt to destruct from the day`s top story. And we won`t be distracted. It`s where we begin tonight, a way that Trump`s legal team is trying to potentially evade Bob Mueller.

This is breaking right now from the "New York Times." The lawyer who just left Donald Trump`s team, John Dowd, you heard all about him, reportedly explored trying to get Mike Flynn a pardon before he flipped on Trump.

And that`s not all tonight. The report is that Dowd also talked to Paul Manafort`s lawyers about the same idea. And the President does have broad pardon power under the constitution. But this report is raising profound questions about whether this was any type of potential effort to use an otherwise lawful power to commit the crime of obstruction, to actually derail an open criminal probe. Now experts are divided on whether any of this would be obstruction. And we are going to get to that with our experts.

But let me walk you through this news. It suggests that Trump`s attorneys were so worried about what Flynn or Manafort might actually tell Mueller, might actually drop a dime on the sitting President. That they were exploring all avenues of cutting deals. Look at this. Three people with knowledge of the discussions saying that.

Now John Dowd himself who, of course, just quit the Trump team, is publicly denying conversations about pardons. And the White House today said no pardons are under discussion or consideration.

But the report is that back in July, all of this was percolating. Remember, there were the reports that Trump himself was asking advisors about, yes, his power to pardon aides, family members and could he pardon himself.

Now Trump also pushed back calling that fake news, but he did tweet, saying that he has quote "complete power to pardon." And then since Manafort`s indictment and Flynn`s guilty plea, Trump publicly hasn`t rule the pardon is out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to pardon Manafort?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all. Pleasure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you consider a pardon for Michael Flynn.

TRUMP: I don`t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We`ll see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We will see what happens, obviously not a no. Now a lawyer at the center of this story has been in the news for leaving Trump`s team, John Dowd. And I want to bring you more context tonight you might have not have seen anywhere else. He has a specialization legally in pardons and even preemptive pardons. Before he joined Trump`s team, one of his most famous cases was defending Arizona governor Fife Symington back in the 1990s over fraud. Now here is how that case ended.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just before leaving office today, Bill Clinton made dramatic use of his power to pardon. Some surprising pardons today too, for Patty Hearst, the San Francisco newspaper heiress kidnapped by a radical group in the 1970s, and for Fife Symington, a former Arizona Republican governor charged with bank fraud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You see him right there. That`s John Dowd on that picture right there, the man who just left Trump`s team and the man on the crosshair of "the New York Times" report tonight that he was working on the idea of preemptive pardons.

And in that Special Report, we just showed you from back in the day, it was a preemptive pardon he secured in a politically hot case, a rare case of a President pardoning someone before any conviction.

Now tonight I can tell you that lawyer is off Trump`s team and his conversations about potential pardons, that`s what`s leaking tonight.

I`m joined by former federal prosecutor Seth Waxman, Renato Mariotti, as well as Joyce Vance, that`s three former federal prosecutors and Margaret Love who was the former DOJ pardoned attorney under George H. W. Bush and the Clinton administration. She specializes an executive clemency cases and presidential pardon. So we are indebted to what looks like an all-star panel. I mean this would shock any law school, quite frankly.

Renato, first and for most, what does it tell you what does it mean that John Dowd was reportedly talking pardons before people flipped?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it suggests to me that he was trying to dissuade them from flipping. And I think they did it in a clever way. They had Dowd be the one to communicate with them, so that this way Trump`s fingerprints are not on it. I mean, you played the tapes just a minute ago, Ari. And you saw how Trump himself is very tight lipped about it. This way the words are coming out of Dowd`s mouth not his. It`s going to be harder for Mueller to peer behind the curtain and see if Trump himself was the one behind the efforts to dissuade those witnesses from flipping.

MELBER: Joyce, what do you see here?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, I agree with Renato to a certain extent but I`m really troubled by the fact that it`s John Dowd`s, the President`s personal lawyer who is involved in offering these pardons.

MELBER: The criminal defense lawyer, yes. Go ahead.

VANCE: Right. The criminal lawyer, typically and Margaret I know will confirm this. For instance, as the U.S. attorney, I handled a number of situations where a defendant saw the pardon. These were initiated inside of the justice department, the pardon attorney`s office, evaluated those cases often in consultation with my U.S. attorney`s office for an opinion. Ultimately, it would go over to the White House, to the White House counsel who would personally then discuss the pardon with the President. Nowhere in that scenario is there room for an attorney privately hired by the President to represent him in connection with criminal charges. And so, what Dowd engagement --.

MELBER: You are saying he was - you ticked off so much, I want to be clear. You are saying he was out of his lane in a way that might have been inappropriate?

VANCE: He wasn`t just out of his lane, what he was doing was, he was a criminal attorney trying to obtain or trying to prevent witnesses against his client from being available to testify at trial. You know, if you get a witness a job out of the country so that they can`t be subpoenaed to trial. As a criminal defense attorney, that is not something that is (INAUDIBLE) to do. And the government will take action against you for that.

Here, this is essentially what Dowd was trying to do. He was trying to make witnesses against his presumably against his clients unavailable at trial.

MELBER: So Margaret, if you take the "New York Times" report on its face, is this how the pardon power is supposed to be considered and exercised or not?

MARGARET LOVE, FORMER U.S. PARDON ATTORNEY: Well, I would say that there is an ordinary kind of pardon procedure as Joyce has mentioned. But that doesn`t mean that that`s the only kind of pardon that is possible or indeed proper. And some cases do go through the justice department and some cases are handled by the President directly. So there are a lot of different ways that the President can get advice about pardoning.

MELBER: Meaning you are OK with this on its face or it`s problematic on its face? I couldn`t quite follow where you come down.

LOVE: Well, it I wasn`t commenting on the present situation.

MELBER: I know. But I`m going to go ahead and lawyer you here. We got so many lawyers. I`m going to lawyer you and say my question is if you treat "the New York Times" story on its face, does it seem like a problematic approach to pardon or does it seem OK?

LOVE: Well, I think it seems to me a bit problematic, to tell you the truth.

MELBER: Yes. Seth?

SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, I mean, it`s always been a question to me. This has been the x-factor in this whole scenario with Paul Manafort especially, why hasn`t he flipped? I mean, the case against him seems to be fairly strong. I mean, a money laundering case, having prosecuted a lot of those, you know, they been a money trail there, there are bank records, there are emails, there are text messages. And then you Rick Gates flipping, a person who can breathe life in to those documents and has known Paul Manafort for the better part of ten years or more. In the face of all that evidence and we see all the others flipping and dropping, why is Paul Manafort standing tall and it`s always been my kind of supposition that it maybe because in words or substance President Trump has communicated to Mr. Manafort that I will take care of you.

MELBER: Do you think this is all about the potential to avoid Manafort flipping?

WAXMAN: I mean, it sure could be that way. I mean, if you are President Trump and you knew Paul Manafort was in that key Trump tower meeting with your son and son-in-law and if that was a quid pro quo where the Russians were offering dirt on Hillary Clinton and exchange for some kind of benefits, and you are worried about that, you want to make sure that Manafort doesn`t get into the Mueller camp. I guess one way of doing that is to offer a pardon.

MELBER: Right. Which is what makes it such an explosive potential situation for them in rallying the White House.

Now Joyce, people probably wondering, what`s the silver lining in here for Donald Trump, right? I have one. I have one. I will read you for your analysis.

VANCE: OK.

MELBER: The "New York Times" story, I just want to be fair to the White House, says, well, it`s unclear whether Dowd who resigned last week discussed the pardons with Mr. Trump before bringing them up with the other lawyers.

And Joyce, this goes to a defense we have seen in the Stormy Daniels case, in the case of silencing women and now we are seeing the same implied defense here tonight, which is Donald Trump must have the most rogue lawyers in the world. They are paying people without checking with him. They are facilitating payments out of their own pocket in their home equity line. Now they are thinking about exercising the constitutional pardons power without talking to him. I mean, for a guy who is pretty hands-on, who ran a lean organization at Trump org, he seems to have a lot of people doing whatever they feel like.

VANCE: Yes. You seem to have answered the question brilliantly. It`s not much of a defense. And the closer folks, you know, for instance, Dowd may find himself in the uncomfortable position of being interrogated by Mueller and under some criminal suspicion. Whether he would decide to flip and turn on Trump, and whether he could do so without violating the attorney client-privilege is of course open the question that at the end of the day, there will be a variety of different ways of proving whether the President was part of these conversations. We have seen some indication that he was researching early on the extent of his pardon power. How that matches up on the timelines where these conversations happened will be interesting. Don`t see a whole lot of silver lining for the White House, it`s damaging.

MELBER: Right. More than a touch of gray.

Renato, let me read more from the report about the alleged Dowd view. Because again, this is a significant report, when you are talking about people who know things about Donald Trump who flipped and cooperated with Mueller and a way to potentially evade that. It says Dowd privately said he didn`t know why Flynn had accepted a plea. He said he told the lawyer for Michael Flynn, the President had long believed, note of the reference, to the President, had long believe the case against Flynn was flimsy and was prepared to pardon him.

Can you parse that pardon reference to the President, a PPP, Renato?

MARIOTTI: Well, I will tell you. I was just as surprised as Dowd when Flynn flipped, because I assumed, you know, we know that Comey asked what was asked by Trump to let Flynn go, so we know that Trump felt strongly about Flynn.

But I will tell you what that really means is that Flynn was probably concerned about his son being prosecuted or concerned about state charges or there was some other reason why Flynn flipped. And we won`t know now. We don`t know now, but eventually I`m sure we will learn what that is.

MELBER: Right.

And Margaret, again, you are here joining us because of your extensive experiencing in a nonpartisan capacity dealing with these complex pardon and clemency issues. And so you know as well as I do how often tweets are a core part of that process. JK (ph), they usually are.

But look at what Flynn`s son tweeted in the middle of all this. Excuse me, Flynn`s brother. About time you pardoned general Flynn, who has taken the biggest fall for all of you given the illegitimacy of this confessed crime in the wake of corruption. That is a family member.

What do you make of what we can glean from that, which is for some reason, we have this new report from the "New York Times" and we also have what lawyers would call a contemporaneous account in history that suggest people around Flynn were talking about pardon. This was somehow in the water.

LOVE: Let me make one comment to add to this.

MELBER: Sure.

LOVE: The question of whether the President`s pardon power is unlimited has two aspects, one is, is it unlimited in terms of what it can do for people. And the other one is, is it unlimited in terms of the consequences for the President himself. And I think in the first instance, yes, the pardon power is unlimited. But that does not mean that there may not be consequences if the President gets involved in some sort of improper behavior, when he is pardoning. So I think that I would simply add to what Joyce mentioned about the limits of the President`s pardon power.

MELBER: Yes. You are saying something really important and potentially bad for a White House, any White House that would misuse the pardoning power, which is the fact that its execution is unlimited doesn`t mean there are consequences. The power to appoint a senator by a sitting governor, is fairly standard and unlimited in our constitution and state rules and yet when governor Blagojevich tried to auction off that appointment, he wound up in federal prison. It doesn`t mean governors can`t appoint. It just means other stuff, as we say in court, other stuff can happen.

Margaret Love, your expertise as a first-time member of our guest on "THE BEAT." We appreciate it.

Renato, Joyce and Seth, thank you all.

I want to turn to another breaking story. We have more on this right now. A White House shake-up at a very tough time. David Shulkin out as Veteran secretary. He is going to be replaced naturally, of course, this would make sense. He is going to be replaced by Donald Trump`s personal physician. He is the sixth Trump cabinet official to be pushed out and moved to a new job. As of late, the timing very notable, announced right now basically within the last hour and right in the context to "the New York Times" breaking what we have said is an explosive story.

For both angels, the Mueller side of this and what is happening at the White House, I am thrilled to have NBC`s Peter Alexander who has been all over this story since the moment it broke as well as Betsy Woodruff of "the Daily Beast."

Peter, what happened?

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the bottom line is the President made his own news on this, announcing as you saw that he would pushing out David Shulkin, who was obviously an Obama holdover. He was summoned of the President only a matter of months ago, was heavy in terms of his praise of. That quickly changed over the course of the last several months with an inspector general report focusing on some misuse of money, expensive travel, specifically focusing on Shulkin and his wife. Their travel last year to Wimbledon.

The President, as you know, doesn`t like unforced errors. That didn`t sit well with this White House nor did some of infighting that we have reported on in recent weeks at the VA as well.

What is striking is the President`s announcement that he will be replacing Shulkin with his personal doctor, Ronny Jackson, just two months after Jackson made news standing in front of us at the podium, based that we have given the President the claim bill of health. Jackson who has no real experience heading up a sprawling and problem to bureaucracy like the VA. Will take over the helm is he is to be confirmed by Congress.

The VA is the second largest government bureaucracy, nine million veterans it supports, 1,700 facilities around the country, that still have many problems yet to be resolved.

Obviously, Ari, you can`t look at this in a vacuum. You have to consider the massive changes the President has now made this month, changing his top diplomat, changing his national security adviser, changing -- well, now changing as you just saw today his head of the VA and changing his economic advisor as well, Larry Kudlow coming in in that position.

The President recently said he thought he was getting to that place finally where he had all the right people in place. We don`t know if anybody else is next. But Shulkin, we should say, this is the name it was certainly on the top of the list based on my private conversations around the west wing over the course of last several weeks.

MELBER: Pete Alexander, all over the story. And I know you got to run to keep reporting. So thank you for making time for us on THE BEAT.

Briefly, I want to return to you, Betsy. The best people is who the President had said as a candidate he would hire or is it just the people that are nearby like in a room down the hall? Because you have got millions of veterans, health care on the line and you are going to your own doctor who doesn`t have this experience and then put that in the context briefly of the other Mueller news today and why this is coming out in a tweet right now.

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: What is unusual about Shulkin`s firing is that he wasn`t a Trump person. He had served in the prior administration. He was somebody who has viewed as very neutral, not as a political hack. You know, he didn`t have any FOX News experience.

The fact that his tenure as VA secretary was so troubled surprised many. And another piece of as important is that he seemed to go through almost a slow motion version of what happened to Sam Nunberg. That one unforgettable day.

Shulkin did a series of interviews which is a variety of different publications that appeared to be self-sabotaging. He would say White House had told him one thing when White House sources would tell reporters that they hadn`t told him that. He was constantly putting out materials that seem to be damaging himself. So the fact that he is now leaving is the culmination of what essentially was weeks of him being - of him behaving in a really aberrant way, is this to distract from the Mueller news that came out today. I can`t speak to the President`s state of mind when he released that tweet. But the timing is certainly convenient.

MELBER: Right. It`s certainly something they are putting out that way on twitter.

Betsy Woodruff, I want you to stay with me because I want to ask you a lot more about another piece of the story we haven`t hit yet.

New revelations from Bob Mueller himself about Paul Manafort`s alleged ties to Russia. It`s brand-new and I will explain where it comes from, a key filing.

Also a push to have Donald Trump deposed in the Stormy case.

And later tonight, the Roseanne reboot tackling the Trump era head on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What`s up, adorable?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There it is, and a lot of people were watching. My special guest tonight Sandra Bernhard is here fresh off the debut of the reboot of "Roseann."

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Another big story right now, new reports on a Russian link that goes allegedly to the top of the Trump campaign. This all began exactly two years ago today, in fact. We looked this up, when Donald Trump made a fateful hiring decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We saw today that Donald Trump had hired a very old school Republican operative named Paul Manafort, I think is his name, to lead his delegate efforts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Paul Manafort, I think was his name, when it was breaking news to all of us, because he had been out of politics for decades effectively, U.S. politics.

What we all know is now, two years later, today, the White House on edge, because Mueller is revealing in court filings a potential direct link between the Trump campaign and Putin`s Russian intelligence service.

Let me show you this, because it is explosive. There are new court documents where Mueller states that a lawyer who worked for Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates, knew that both of them had this alleged connection to the Kremlin, ID`ed as person A in these documents.

So let`s go through them. The FBI says person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. And goes on to say that Gates told their lawyer person A was a former Russian intelligence officer with the GRU. Now the GRU of course is the same agency linked to the entity blamed for hacking the DNC emails, Guccifer 2.0.

So let`s review what you have here. The guy in-charge of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort, and his longtime deputy, Rick Gates, talking to the man who had links to the very agency that at the time is alleged to have been hacking their rivals, the Democrats in the U.S. This is, of course, the kind of link Manafort publicly denied at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any ties between you and Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?

PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: No, there are not. At hat is absurd. And you know, there`s no basis to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There is a lot in here. And if you haven`t heard about it yet, that might be because it is complicated. But this is Bob Mueller filing in court what looks to be the biggest piece of direct evidence for any potential case of collusion.

I say what it looks to be, because I say that every time we cover cases, that`s the prosecutor`s side of the story. I have spoken to a source today who throws a lot of shade on it and says when all the facts come out, this person may not be linked at all as a pure Russian spy.

We don`t know the whole situation yet. But let`s get into it. And I`m joined by Betsy Woodruff of "the Daily Beast" as well as the "Washington Post" Rosalind Helderman who was one of the and the first reporter to write about the significance of what we are getting out of this new filing. And she dug into specifically to who person A might be.

Given both the potential stakes of this, Rosalind, as well as the caveats that we use in journalism in the law, walk us through what`s most important in your eyes.

ROSALIND HELDERMAN, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think that the phrase and had ties in 2016, which you read out of the court document is especially important.

We do believe we know what they are talking about. It`s a man who Paul Manafort worked with in Kiev. We have communicated with that man. His name is Konstantin Kilimnik. And he has vigorously denied ever having been part of Russian intelligence, in every way possible denied that fact. And it`s important to say that.

But what they are indicating there, and this man had quite a bit of extensive contact with Paul Manafort and certainly some contact with Rick Gates during the campaign. And so they are essentially alleging that they were in communication with a man who had ties to a Russian intelligence service at the time of the campaign, while this communication was going on which is pretty astounding, a pretty astounding allegation.

MELBER: Yes. That`s -- I`m putting up your reporting on the screen. Kilimnik is the Russian manager of Manafort`s lobbying office over there in Ukraine. So that is obviously quite a connection. You say he denies, but you believe it`s him. Does that mean that you think Mueller is putting out kind of a crumb of potential collusion evidence?

HELDERMAN: So it`s an interesting thing, because, you know, this came out in a document, a sentencing memo, for another person entirely, this London lawyer who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI recently. You know, so he hasn`t made the allegation in the course of making any charges against Paul Manafort, or against this Ukrainian, or Ukrainian-Russian man. And so it`s a little hard to know what they are doing here. Are they trying to tell the public they know this as a way to tell us that they are really asking the right questions in the investigation? Is it a message to Paul Manafort, you know, in their ongoing effort to try to persuade him to cooperate, we just don`t know.

MELBER: Let me pick it up for Betsy, because what are they doing, Mueller is clearly doing something putting this out there right now. There`s a former prosecutor from the Ken Starr probe, Betsy, who says Mueller`s risk is being fired. The more they put Russia into the equation, the harder it is for Trump to fire him. That was his view of why this is out now, Betsy.

WOODRUFF: There is also a simple reason this is coming out now. And that is because Alexander Van Der Zwaan, the British lawyer who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI is currently being sentenced. That`s the document in which Mueller and his team make these explosive allegations against Konstantin Kilimnik.

MELBER: Legally, they don`t need to put all this in there for his sentencing, so why do you think it is in?

WOODRUFF: I think part of the reason they put it in, I would push back, is because they are trying to create a picture of the significance of Van Der Zwaan`s crime. One of the things that Van Der Zwaan lied to the FBI about, was a conversation that involves Konstantin Kilimnik Mueller`s team included, not necessarily Konstantin Kilimnik, that person A who we believed to be Konstantin Kilimnik. Mueller`s team is including this detail about person A, about the lie regarding person A to highlight the significance of the crime that alexander Van Der Zwaan is currently in the process of being sentenced for.

They think Van Der Zwaan`s lie, as it relates to Kilimnik is itself significant. And that is why - or again, person A, and that is why person A who we believe to be Kilimnik, is so important than this. That`s why the details about person A are so important.

We know now that Mueller is interested specifically in person A. That he is looking for new details about person A, about person A`s relationship to Manafort and person A`s relationship to Russian intelligence. We also know the FBI believes person A has that Russian intelligence connection. That is why this is coming out the way, and at the time that it`s coming out, it shows that Mueller is casting a wide net.

MELBER: And briefly, Betsy, do you think that is their sign of where they could go on showing Manafort being a part of knowingly talking to what they might view as Russian agent.

WOODRUFF: Certainly, for sure. And additionally, sometimes, although not always, I don`t want to say this is always the case, but sometimes in these documents that Mueller releases, referring to someone as person A or company A, could, though it doesn`t necessarily mean that that person is an unindicted co-conspirator. It`s possible that person A is of special interest.

MELBER: Right. And we are not there yet.

WOODRUFF: We are not there yet, but we could be.

MELBER: We are not there but it is. For a sentencing document of a lawyer nobody`s heard of, it`s got a lot in it.

Which both of you had been helping excavate. Rosalind and Betsy, thank you both.

Up ahead, Stormy Daniels lawyer wants Trump under oath. More on that. And a rare look at Trump in past depositions.

Plus, the developing story of a White House rattled about pardoning guilty Michael Flynn. I have an exclusive with a top DOJ official who says these pardons, if they happen, could backfire.

Plus "Roseanne" re-launched. The Connor family is back. Sandra Bernhard is my special guest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How could you have voted for him, Roseanne?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He talked about jobs, Jackie. We almost lost our house the way things are going.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you looked at the news because now things are worst.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not on the real news.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: The other developing story right now. Stormy Daniels` lawyer says it`s time for Trump and his lawyer Cohen to go under oath.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER OF STORMY DANIELS: We want the truth. I mean, we want to know the truth about what the President knew, when he knew it and what he did about it. As it relates to this agreement, we`re going to test the veracity or the truthfulness of Mr. Cohen`s, his attorney`s statements. When we get to the bottom of this, we`re going to prove to the American people that they have been told a bucket of lies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: This is not just T.V. interviews, this is the motion we`re showing in excerpt asking for the deposition. Avenatti says he expects Trump and his "fixer" to go under oath. Now, past depositions do show that Trump knows his way around this process and he gives little difference to factual details. In fact, I`m about to show some pretty rare footage of Trump deposed, one in 2013, and one during the campaign. This 2013 case was a real estate associate`s alleged ties to the Mafia but you can see calmly deflects any suggestion that he personally knew him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About how many times have you -- have you conversed with Mr. Sater?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the years?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over the years if you could --

TRUMP: Not many.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not many?

TRUMP: If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn`t know what he looked like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Wouldn`t know what he looked like. Mr. Sater has been now bound up in the Mueller probe so that deposition of special interest. Now let me show you a campaign deposition 2016 where Trump deploys his personality to deflect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the time period between when you first announced your candidacy in June, middle of June 2016.

TRUMP: 16. June `16.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: June `16, so a year ago today.

TRUMP: Exactly today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly today.

TRUMP: This is the one, they did a big story today in the New York Times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s your year anniversary?

TRUMP: It`s one year anniversary. Big story in the Times today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, good.

TRUMP: It`s not a horrible story. It`s actually great. It`s a pretty good story. I`m not used to that, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: OK, OK. Adrienne Elrod, former Director of Strategic Communications for Hillary Clinton and Liz Plank who writes about feminism and has covered this story extensively for Vox Media. Liz, your view of this attempt to make Donald Trump to talk about his attempts to keep Stormy Daniels from talking?

LIZ PLANK, SENIOR PRODUCER AND POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, VOX: Right, I mean, there used to be a cause to women coming forward and speaking their truth. And now there seems to be a cause for the men who just sort of call them liars, right? You know, it was sort of like the good old days a couple of months ago when we didn`t believe him, right, and men could just call them liars and then it was over with. And now, we`re seeing you know, this deposition that you`re reporting on tonight where also you know, a couple of days ago, Stormy Daniels announced that he was going to you know, sue Michael Cohen for defamation. Summer Zervos is also suing Donald Trump for defamation. And even if we look at someone like Bill O`Reilly who`s not connected to the Trump Administration but you know, I seen them not so far apart, he`s been sued by four women for defamation as well. And what we`re seeing is sort of these men using these pre-MeToo era tactics in opposing MeToo era and sort of that coming in and biting them in the butt.

MELBER: It`s interesting what you say about sort of the -- both the corp side and the public perception of it. Adrianne, I`m going to play for you a lawyer who did depose Donald Trump and observed that although he was difficult, he could also be effective. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH LEE BECK, ATTORNEY: He threw a fit, he basically threw a fit and he stormed out of there. I can tell you, I watched people react to him, OK, and they`re very, very easily intimidated. I saw lawyers who were unable to ask a question. They got a frog in their throat. They couldn`t talk.

MELBER: So you`re saying that the way he would lash out at people in a sense work?

BECK: Oh, it absolutely works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Adrienne, how about that aspect, given that Avanatti is betting on this as a way to get Trump?

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS FOR HILLARY CLINTON: Yes, I mean, look, I guess you know, perhaps he is a little bit intimidating. I think he also tries to be a little bit charming from some of the depositions that we saw. Look, if you are Trump`s attorney, the last thing you want in the world is for your client to be deposed in the situation. You`ve got Robert Mueller, you`ve got you know, who has a potential -- potentially a judge to seek the deposition. So that way it`s a problem, number one. And number two, you`re a sitting President of the United States. No sitting President wants to be deposed. Even if right -- you know, right now this may not be affecting his poll numbers as much as frankly I think it should but being deposed as a sitting president is nothing that you want.

MELBER: And Liz, what do you think of Avenatti`s strategy going forward? It seems that he is moving on to newer things that legally may have lower probability, like this deposition?

PLANK: Right. And he`s using you know, Donald Trump`s playbook to get attention to all of these things and keeping it in the news, which is probably really annoying Donald Trump. And, look, the silver ling here is also that Donald Trump is basically paving the way for more women to possibly come forward as you know, we know, if we are to believe what Stormy Daniels` lawyer is saying, there might be other women who have NDAs and there might be other women who have similar stories. And there was a poll that came out this today, a Politico Morning Consult Poll that shows that most people believe Stormy Daniels over the President. A majority of voters believe that basically Donald Trump is lying and that really blowing out the entire stereotype that again women are just liars, women just want attention and potentially encouraging you know, more women to come forward with their stories because there`s public opinion is sort of on their side.

MELBER: Liz Plank and Adrienne Elrod, thank you for covering the latest and greatest with this story. Up next, I have an exclusive on THE BEAT, a Trump lawyer who`s reportedly raising the prospect of pardons in the Russia probe. That`s the big story. Well, I`m going to speak to a top Justice Department official under Obama who`s argued actually dozens of cases before the Supreme Court and he says that Trump has begun acting like a two-bit criminal in this matter. We`re going to be back with that in 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Breaking news tonight, the lawyer who just left Donald Trump`s legal team had raised the idea of pardons with the lawyers for Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. New York Times reporting these discussions came right when Bob Mueller was building cases against those two critical Trump aids and it`s not the first time that Trump has apparently talked with people of special interest to Mueller. Consider the report also in the Times that Trump was talking to witnesses about what they discuss with Mueller and that report as well as the larger questions of whether Trump was playing fast and loose and potentially on obstructing the probe, led to a very memorable response from the normally measured Acting Solicitor General of the United States Neal Katyal. He`s the man who actually wrote the rules for the Special Counsel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEAL KATYAL, ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, UNITED STATES: It looks so bad, and basically you`ve got Donald Trump acting like a two-bit criminal here. I represented Bin Laden`s driver and let me tell you, Bin Laden`s driver acted with far more integrity at every stage in the investigation than Donald Trump has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That top DOJ official Neal Katyal is my exclusive guest on THE BEAT right now. Neal, when the story broke, we reached out and you made time for us, I`m very appreciative of that. Your view, of number one, the significance of this report, as it`s alleged in the New York Times, and number two, whether it is potentially a way that John Dowd was trying to evade where Mueller was headed?

KATYAL: Yeah, it`s significant, both for President Trump, personally, as well as more generally for the investigation. For President Trump, I guess you have to ask, you know, why is it that the President`s lawyer is dangling out pardons last summer to two people, Flynn and Manafort, who aren`t just like any ordinary criminals, these are his you know top advisers, his top National Security official and his top campaign chair and they`re accused of conspiring with the Russians and trump is now offering through his lawyer a set of pardons? Why is he doing that? So that`s the first thing you have to think about. And then the second is does this create additional legal liability both for Trump and now for Trump`s lawyer Dowd because you know, one or the other of them had this kind of nutty idea that they should offer up witnesses in a federal criminal investigation, they should offer up a pardon. You know, that`s mind-blowingly stupid.

MELBER: You say offer that up and of course John Dowd has left, which means there`s no actual criminal defense attorney specialist left on his team. Who is left is Jay Sekulow known for perfectly able lawyering but in other areas. Here he was previously knocking down this kind of question about pardons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)`

JAY SEKULOW, LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: We have not and continue to not have conversations with the President of the United States regarding pardons. Pardons have not been discussed and pardons are not on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That was last summer and the White House reiterating that today. I wonder if you could explain to us and our viewers why is it that the legal team and the White House feel the need to say there aren`t even discussing pardons while at the same time Trump`s most ardent ally say this is a lawful power, he could do it if he want it.

KATYAL: Well, accuracy has not exactly been the strong suit of this White House, so I think this just follows in with so much else. And I think that you know, the President`s defenders are now saying, well, he has the absolute right do pardon someone, so it can`t be a crime, it can`t be obstruction of justice. But I think that really misses the boat. I mean, sure the President has the pardon -- power to pardon, just like I got the right to burn my laptop and set it on fire, but I don`t have the right to set my laptop on fire if I know the cops are coming for it, that`s obstruction, same thing here. You know you don`t go and tell a witness who is possibly going to testify against you, oh, well, I`ll give you a pardon, don`t wore about this. I mean, you know, his criminal defense lawyers, one of the first things any smart lawyer would do to anyone of his client is to say, hey, don`t talk to any witnesses. Don`t even say hello to them on the street. Let alone something like offering up a pardon, a massive get out of jail free card.

MELBER: And so briefly, when you -- when you lay that out, do you think that the White House with John Dowd Out, is concerned about these leaks, any idea why now?

KATYAL: Well, I think they have to be concerned, and you know, it`s unclear exactly what`s going on, but remember Dowd did resign on Thursday and one possibility is that now Dowd himself is part of the criminal investigation. If Dowd did this not at Trump`s behest but on his own, offered up the pardons, that would be a kind of classic obstruction case. You know, if by contrast, Trump -- you know, his acting at Trump`s you know, behest, then both of them may be guilty of conspiracy and the fact that the pardons weren`t actually issued doesn`t actually insulate them from conspiracy because you don`t actually have to issue them.

MELBER: As you often do, you look further on the corner than many of us because you`re spotlighting something we hadn`t discussed yet which is there -- any criminal liability exposure for John Dowd, depending on exactly how these conversations went and we know Bob Mueller no problem going after lawyers. He did it with Manafort`s lawyer, put him in a grand jury box and tonight, earlier, we`re reported on sentencing proceedings for one lawyer. So it`s very interesting that that point you raise with all due caveats, that`s not where the Time`s story was yet. Neal Katyal, I`m very grateful for you joining us.

KATYAL: Thank you.

MELBER: Up ahead, the return of Roseanne. How the rebooted show is now tackling the Trump era. Millions are tuning in. Actress Sandra Bernhard joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Washington insiders didn`t see the rise of Trump. Here`s one person who did. Roseanne the character and her Conner family on T.V. have been channeling the middle-class experience for decades. They set the standard for the modern working class sit-com.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her school (INAUDIBLE) food drive for poor people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, tell them to drive some of that food over here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boy, it`s getting rough out here, Mike. My son is going to have to wear my daughter`s hand me downs and for real this time, not just for fun.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have my own system for extra money. First, we send in the phone bill and we forget the check. Then I send the water bill to the electric company and electric bill to the water company.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now you`re cooking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you know that charge card bill, it never even showed up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The show is back and people are into it. 18 million tuning in last night. You can see the same classic cast with one new character. Trump is President in this fictional university. Roseanne and her husband are Trump supporters who fight with their family about politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s up, deplorable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most of all, Lord, thank you for making America great again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How could you have voted for him, Roseanne?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He talked about jobs, Jackie. He said he would shake things up. We almost lost our house the way things are going.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you looked at the news, because now things are worse?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not on the real news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Got to love the real news. The re-launch show takes on the culture wars just like it did 20 years when Roseanne`s friend played memorably by Sandra Bernhard came out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell us about the guy. What`s his name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why don`t you tell us -- we`re just going to bug you till you do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, her name is Marla. I`m seeing a woman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Joining me now is Sandra Bernhard.

SANDRA BERNHARD, ACTRESS: Jaw dropping, wow.

MELBER: What?

BERNHARD: We really turned the world on its ear.

MELBER: Well, it was a big deal then. What`s it like thinking about that now?

BERNHARD: It was funny because originally I was married to Tom Arnold`s character Arnie. So I ran from you know, this sort of like sexist pig into the arms of this woman and so it was -- it was just really sort of a funny like evolution for the character. When Roseanne and I talked about keeping my character on, Nancy Barlett, we said well, what are we going to do? How can we keep her fun and relevant? She said, oh, let`s make her gay. Nobody was thinking we`re really going to shake things up and you know, break all the stereotypes. Because of that, it became something that was very powerful because we didn`t go at it with a sledgehammer.

MELBER: So what window did that give you into this family which we`re seeing in the new -- in the new re-launch here is still going to be conservative or Trump supporters or whatever word you want to use, right?

BERNHARD: Well, I think the great thing about Roseanne and the writers and the way they create the stories, it`s really -- it`s about the family. It`s about the crises and the little moments that everybody goes through day to day. It`s not -- it`s not you know, beating people over the head with the obvious about what`s going on politically. Like all working class people right now, everybody`s trying to survive, struggle, and make ends meet. So I think that`s where the stories come from.

MELBER: White women for Trump.

BERNHARD: I can`t understand it. I don`t know where it comes from. Other than you know, being -- I think it`s a couple of issues. It`s evening either under the thumb of your husband or it`s -- for the election, it was being so offended by Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton`s legacy that you turned on her or feeling inadequate, feeling like how can somebody be so educated? How could somebody have brought themselves up from their own experience and you know, gone to the top, educated herself, fought for you know, for rights, civil rights, and equality? And I think that`s threatening to a lot of women.

MELBER: How do you mean threatening?

(CROSSTALK)

BERNHARD: Yes, a lot of women have compromised, given in, you know, gotten married, raised their kids and not had the luxury of being able to think for themselves. And when you sacrifice that in your life, when you say well, I don`t think -- I`m just going to lean on somebody else financially. That means you`ve got get up every day and go work. I`m not saying none of these women work, of course, they do. But you also, there`s just that those little gradations to how you look at other women and the sort of feeling of inadequacy.

MELBER: Final question, what do you think people will be most surprised about or excited about in this new version of Roseanne?

BERNHARD: I think the energy level. I think the freshness, I think the comedy. The fact that you can come back 21 years later and still be relevant and come up to speed with you know, the bond mots and the -- and the sort of fencing that goes on between her and John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf and the kids.

MELBER: Sandra Bernhard thanks for being here.

BERNHARD: Thank you. Also, I`d like to say that I`ll be out on the road performing doing my own show.

MELBER: I think I have a note.

BERNHARD: You have some dates there, I think April 28th.

MELBER: I believe it`s called Sandemonium.

BERNHARD: Sandemonium, when you`re tired of pandemonium.

MELBER: Sandemonium, American theatre in Hampton, Virginia, April 28th, City Winery in Washington, D.C. May 12th and guild hall in the Home of the Roseanne movement, the Hamptons.

BERNHARD: That`s on June 30th.

MELBER: Come on out and bring the sofa. Sandra --

BERNHARD: Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you for being here.

BERNHARD: My pleasure. Thank you, Ari.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: That`s our show for tonight but I have a programming note. This Friday, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, we have a live BEAT special with a big breakdown of the crisis hitting Donald Trump`s digital firm and a very special guest who hasn`t spoken before this Friday at 6:00.

END

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