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Pruitt roasted for possible ethics violations. TRANSCRIPT: 04/04/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Jack Quinn; David Priess; Renato Mariotti; Barbara Boxer; Rob Reiner

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: April 4, 2018 Guest: Jack Quinn; David Priess; Renato Mariotti; Barbara Boxer; Rob Reiner

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Congratulations to Jesse. The entire Bergman family were excite. And Jonah, let us know when you are ready to pitch in around here when your dad's got other work to do.

That's all we have for tonight. We will be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.

THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. Thank you, Chuck.

The legal and political world process saying a rarity right now in the Mueller probe reporting on how it might end. "The Washington Post" leaning on sources close to the White House. The report that Bob Mueller views Trump has a subject, not currently the target of his criminal probe. And this could all end with Mueller releasing more than one report on Trump by topic addressing evidence about obstruction and collusion. Trump reportedly relieved that he is not a target right now. And thus might be more open to an interview with the special counsel.

Now, let's just pause and take that in. The President of the United States, thinks it's positive that in his second year on the job, he is considered the subject of an open criminal probe, meaning he is intimately tied to potential crimes because it's not as bad as if he were the person about to be indicted.

Now by contrast, in the rest of the world if your lawyer calls and says you are the subject of a criminal probe, it's very bad news. And also in other Presidential administrations, when there were criminal probes, they never began this early. Bill Clinton, you can see here in office over 1,800 days, Nixon 1,500 days before theirs began, Trump it was just, well, it is just a few months in.

So that's the context on just how odd it is that Trump has this relief about this. Then let's move to the legal hole in this premise, that being a subject implies that Trump won't later become a target.

Here is former prosecutor and Republican politician, I should say, on that point.


REP. TRY GOWDY (R), TEXAS: You generally don't tell people that you are not under investigation, because you don't know what the next witness is going to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if you were his attorney, you wouldn't have a sigh of relief?

GOWDY: Heavens no, I would have a sigh of relief when the investigation is over, but heavens not.


MELBER: Heavens, no.

Now when this investigation is over, it will be all eyes on Rod as we reported on THE BEAT when we first were interviewing the man who literally wrote the rules that Rod Rosenstein applies to govern Mueller. When Mueller is done, he will hand his evidence and his report to Rod Rosenstein who decides whether there is any reporter information that goes public or to Congress.

Now, those are big questions. What the Mueller reports stay secret when it go down the hill to the Congress. And what about any extra evidence? Does that also go in some kind of congressional vault? These are all issues that, of course, were addressed the last time a President was in a criminal probe in the second term of the Clinton administration.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, the future of the Bill Clinton presidency is in a locked vault in the congressional office building. The voluminous report of independent counsel Ken Starr --.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Capitol Hill, the independent council report arrived this afternoon. Thirty six boxes, two copies of each piece of evidence that could ultimately lead to impeachment hearings against the President.


MELBER: Those boxes, that evidence, it all led to a House impeachment and then a Senate acquittal, it worth remembering that most experts and participants at the time could not predict at all where things were headed. Clinton's team first fought against him testifying as Trump aides are doing today. But it was that video testimony that ultimately helped Clinton. Many saw it making him sympathetic and leaving the prosecutors looking in spite of his lawyers. Many saw it making him sympathetic and leaving the prosecutors looking petty, even tawdry.

Today, though, many Democrats are pushing hard on a road to impeachment, of course they lived through a push by House Republicans that ultimately backfired legally and politically. Cases are very different, of course, the Clinton impeachment boiled down to, well, lies about sex and there were no other convictions in that case. This Trump probe already includes foreign crimes to impact an election and several guilty pleas. But the case has though on what Rod does, that is an unpredictable path.

Also, unpredictable but new tonight, I want to credit our competitor, CNN. They have a report implying Mueller not only slowing down, but he is now moving to question Russian oligarchs, as many as three to track the money trail.

Now, let's right to it with former federal prosecutor Renato Marriotti, David Priess, a former CIA intelligence officer. He used to give Bob Mueller a morning intelligence briefing. And Jack Quinn who served as White House council to President Clinton and took the position at the time that maybe Bill Clinton should not give testimony, as I just mentioned.

Jack, you have a new article acknowledging that history but saying ultimately it is better when Presidents do give testimony as Clinton did and Trump should do the same. Why do you say that?

JACK QUINN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL UNDER PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, because I litigated this. We went through this with, as you said, President Clinton. And look, at the end of the day, we lost. And I don't -- I can't imagine any circumstance in which the case law that applied first to President Nixon and then to President Clinton is going to be reversed, or for that matter even qualified.

President Trump is going to be required at the end of the day to give testimony to special counsel Mueller. I have little doubt. I have no doubt about that. And I think that in the meantime, the efforts on the part of at least some of his lawyers to hide him from the truth or from a day of reckoning, only makes him look like he has something to hide. It's impossible I think for him to maintain. He has got nothing to hide. He is perfectly innocent.

MELBER: Does that apply to President Clinton? Were you trying to hide the truth then?

QUINN: Well, no. We were not trying to hide the truth. But we were trying to make --.

MELBER: Is it one of those things where it's different -- Jack, is it one of those things that's different when you do it?

QUINN: Yes, sure. And it's different now. But look, the law has changed. We didn't face a situation in which the law was clear on whether or not President Clinton would be required for example to testify in the Paula Jones trial. That happened after my time with President Clinton. He was in fact required to testify in a civil suit involving sexual harassment. It's inconceivable that President Clinton could be required to give testimony in a civil suit involving sexual harassment and yet President Trump would not be required to give testimony in a criminal proceeding where the stakes and the public interest issues are so much greater.

MELBER: No. You make a fair point.

QUINN: So I think --

MELBER: Let me get Renato in. Jack, let me get to Renato. You make a fair point. And if you have to do the little thing, the civil case, you probably have to do the big thing.

QUINN: Absolutely.

MELBER: Renato, your view with this?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, first of all, I mean, one way that Trump could get out of testifying is by taking the fifth. So if we are talking about that question, I will tell you, if I represented Donald Trump, I would be telling him to take the fifth. My understanding is that what's Dowd told him to do. And he subsequently quit the team. And I imagine that that's because the President wasn't following his advice.

One issue for the Trump camp is Donald Trump doesn't seem to be following sound legal advice. And I think regardless, you can say, well, you have something to hide, look. He is the subject of a federal criminal investigation. Of course, he has got some very serious concerns and keeping his mouth shut is probably his best move going forward.

MELBER: David, you spent time, as we mentioned, time with Mueller. I want to read these rules because that is the "Washington Post" reporters it out, remind people that it's got a lot of attention that, of course, Mueller will put this together. Rod will make the call. The conclusion of the work, Mueller will provide the attorney general, in this case, Rod with a confidential report. Rod then can determine public release of these reports whether they are in the public interest. Meaning that's up to Rod Rosenstein.

Do you think Bob Mueller, based on what you know, will leave that up in the air or will he create a report, as lawyers can do, in a way that it really puts the heat of Rosenstein to pass it all.

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: I don't envision it being putting the heat on Rosenstein. I see it doing a meticulous complete job which allows Rosenstein to do that if he judges that it should be done.

And frankly, politically, it would hard not to. I can't imagine a scenario in which there's any kind of report that goes to Rosenstein, and whether the decision is to pursue further measures are not that there isn't pressure to put that out there.

Listen. This investigation has so many different parts that are touching so many parts different aspects of the campaign and things around it. That the public interest and the congressional interest is so high enough they are going to want to know the details in one way or another.

MELBER: Right.

And Jack, on that point, I mean, what David is referring to, is that if this is done the right way, there shouldn't be a ton of daylight between Rosenstein and Mueller because their interested in getting to the facts within the rules, right.

On that point, I'm holding the new memo here that came out, you know, this week in the Manafort case where Paul Manafort's lawyers were arguing, hey, maybe Mueller overstepped his authority. And Mueller was like, yes. Sorry, dude, I have all the authority written in advance from Rod Rosenstein.

Jack, as an experienced White House litigator, I wonder did you take from that? Does that show that these two are really in lock step in a way that wasn't previously confirmed with internal DOJ memoranda?

QUINN: I think everything we have seen about the dealings between Mueller and Rosenstein suggests that they are totally in lock step. And you know, but look, to the greater point, it's absolutely the case that the public interest in seeing this report, whatever it may say, is going to be enormous.

We have elections coming up, by the way, in the event that Democrats took one House, you can be sure that there would be processes under way to compel the disclosure of the report to the Hill. But I think that even Rosenstein he would, I believe, very much want at a minimum to transmit the report to the committee chairs and ranking members of the relevant affected committees on the hill. But one way or another, I think this report will become public.

The issues -- this is not Bill Clinton, this is not tawdry sex stories, this is about Russian interference in our electoral process, at the very heart of our democracy. That is not going to be kept under wraps, you know, for the -- for any period of time, I don't think, once the investigation is completed.

MELBER: And Renato, take a listen to Jim Comey explaining why you don't get into too much detail about witness v. subject v. target.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: For you to make a public statement that he was not under investigation, would not have been illegal, but you felt that made no sense because it could potentially create a duty to correct the circumstances changed?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Yes, sir. We wrestled with it before my testimony where I confirmed that there was an investigation. And there were two primary concerns. One was it creates a duty to correct, which I have lived before, and you want to be very careful about doing that. And second, it's a slippery slope.


MELBER: Renato, as you know, there's the way that lawyers and politicians use all those words and you don't know what they are saying. But duty to correct and slippery soap as I understand it means, you say someone is a subject one day because they are intimately bound up in these alleged crimes. You learn more information even potentially from their testimony. And the next day, they become a target. They are about to be indicted, in a normal case. Is that your view of this?

MARIOTTI: Well, I would tell you, Ari. When you are investigating crime, you don't have, like, a little chalk board in your office that where you write subject or target or an alarm bell goes off. These are judgments you make. Usually you don't even wrestle with those questions unless or until you were asked by their lawyer and there are some reason to come up with that determination. And it's not always a simple, easy question to answer. Because, for example, determining whether someone is a target, means you have decided that you are going to pursue charges against them. That's what it means. And that sort of decision is not something or you are likely to make that determination or that it was likely --.

MELBER: Are you raising a legal prospect that because this particular individual, the President of the United States, has extra reasons that any indictment, potential indictment is very different that the bar from subject to target would be any higher in this case? Meaning it is worse that he's a subject in this case?

MARIOTTI: Well, what I mean it that -- I guess what I'm trying to say, Ari, is it's something you generally do toward the end of your investigation period. I think certainly he is going to be very careful about it when you are dealing with a case of this magnitude, but you would be careful of anyone. I would typically - I was very careful about saying that somebody was a target of the investigation in any case.

MELBER: Right. That comes at the end of the investigation.

And you know, Renato, it comes at the end of the A block, a brief commercial break.

Renato Mariotti, David Priess and Jack Quinn, thanks to each of you for your expertise.

I got to tell you why you should stick around. A federal judge rejecting that effort to rein in Mueller. I'm going to explain more on that.

Rob Reiner is here with me in studio tonight to talk about his project to investigate Russia.

Also, more scandal Trump's embattled FBI chief confronted on FOX News. We will show you it went down.

And then later tonight, something I'm very excited about, our Beat Special Report, 50 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, we welcome three generations of activists and leaders to talk about this record on civil rights.


TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides. They are trying to take away our history and our heritage.

You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs. Look at my African-American over here. Look at him.


MELBER: I will be joined by Reverend Al Sharpton, leaders from Black Lives Matter, the Little Rock 9, all in one place for this special conversation.

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


MELBER: New developments in this growing ethics scandal involving the Trump White House. His environmental czar under fire for this sweetheart housing deal from a D.C. lobbyist who won a project from Scott Pruitt's agency. This is the definition of a conflict.

Now, news tonight, Trump's telling Scott Pruitt to keep fighting and he says this is more of a non-troversy than a controversy.


SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: This is another example in my view of folks trying to take, you know, adversaries and those that seek to get us off the agenda but we are focused upon and create a controversy when none exists.


MELBER: The problem looks broader than the EPA. Critics note that the Trump administration now has four separate cabinet secretaries or senior officials facing complex or lavish spending critiques.

I'm joined now by former Democratic senator from California, Barbara Boxer. Also host of the weekly podcast "Fight Back."

Thank you for joining me. Why does a story like this, which in some sense can seem petty to people, why does it matter?

BARBARA BOXER, FORMER CALIFORNIA SENATOR: This is not a petty story. This is a full blown scandal.

Ari, I lived in that very building which is prime real estate, steps from the Senate buildings, it costs $5,000 a month, if you want to rent the place. And if you have a room reserved for you any time you want it, you are essentially, you know, living rent free. I'm sure he had all his clothes there.

The whole thing is outrageous that it would be outrageous even if the person had nothing to do with the business of the day that Scott Pruitt deals with all the time. But this is a lobbyist with a lot of ties to the energy department, to the EPA, which I should be renamed the environmental pollution agency. This isn't just scandalous, this is a scandal. You know, I think you know that I was either the chair or the vice chair of the ethics committee in the Senate for many years.


BOXER: If any senator did this, bye-bye. Truly.


Well, and you make the point, given your residential expertise, in addition to your other expertise, that this is a very fancy place. So it is basically like if we heard that he was being handed $5,000 in cash every month, to your point about the value, that would really raise eyebrows and yet they seem to try to find a loophole.

I want to play for you FOX News where Ed Henry really pushed through to it on another issue about whether he was in the loop about this especial deal for some of his aides. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you go around the President and the White House and give pay raises to two staffer?

PRUITT: I did not. My staff did. And I found out about that yesterday and I changed it. There will be some accountability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Career person or political person?

PRUITT: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know. You are the head of the agency. You don't know who did this?

PRUITT: I found out about it yesterday and I corrected the action.


MELBER: The idea there that he is claiming he just doesn't know what's going on?

BOXER: Well, first of all, I don't believe him for two seconds.

Look, you have to realize, this is a man who built his career by suing the environmental protection agency when he was attorney general of Oklahoma. He was picked for this job because Trump has no interest in protecting our air, our water. Ari, we got to get back to the basics here.

This man, the first thing he did is to put a pesticide back on the market that has been proven to cause nerve damage in children. I mean that's the first thing he did. Now he's trying to dirty and filthy up our air by going after California and other states that want to have high emission - excuse me, not high emission, just lower emission standards for automobiles to protect our lungs.

The highest rate of school absences is due to asthma. So this guy is a danger. He is a danger to the community. He needs to go. He is unethical. I don't understand this Congress. If any of this ever happened, you know, when Obama was President, you would have had, you know, hearings like they had for Benghazi -- yes. I mean it would be eight, ten hours of hearings, they would call Obama's EPA person, Gina, before the committee. It's a double standard and it's scandalous truly.

MELBER: Senator Barbara Boxer, thank you as always for your wisdom tonight. Appreciate it.

Up ahead, a leading warning on a blue wave coming. Hollywood legend Rob Reiner also here with his new Russia project. Stay with us.


MELBER: Donald Trump's new claim this he is tougher on Russia than anyone is not true. But it does show him on defense in one of the strangest plots in public life. The story of how Russia interfere in a close American election and join a public alliance with the beneficiary of that interference. And now, well, this has been providing a cast of characters in an open criminal probe.

When you look at Russia's interference in an American election, it is clearly a plot worthy of a Hollywood screen play as my next guest, Rob Reiner, can certainly attest. He has an aggressive record in film and television including directing the courtroom classic "a few good men." Where a general takes the law into his own hands. Who could forget when colonel Jesse tells the court that his existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible, to the prosecutor, it saves lives.


MELBER: Right?

REINER: Yes. You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.

MELBER: To him straight.


MELBER: And it kind of speaks to a mentality of being above the law, power above the law, that the - well, that the plot I think ultimately shows you why that's bankrupt. It's a warning that we argue could inform your new work, which is of course a work of nonfiction. The committee to investigate Russia, former Pentagon and intelligence chiefs are involve, the idea is to both expose Russian interference and also provide what they call nonpartisan information about this Mueller probe.

Rob Reiner, back on THE BEAT. Thanks for being here.

REINER: Thanks for having me, Ari.

MELBER: Where is this plot headed?

REINER: Well, that's the question. That's the big question. And we are not talking about just what happens to Donald Trump. I mean, whatever happens to Donald Trump is going to be determined by Robert Mueller.

What we are talking about is trying to get the public to understand the gravity of what has happened. This is not just about meddling in an election. This is about Russia's desire to destroy not only our democracy, but democracies around the world. And they have not only disrupted our elections, but they have invaded electrical grids, water supplies, atomic energy plants and they are poised to do a lot more damage than we can possibly imagine.

And the only way that we are going to protect ourselves hand save our democracy is if we have a leader in the White House who is willing to acknowledge all this and do what's necessary to get the right kind of safeguards and the right protocols to push back.

MELBER: I don't want to overdo our Hollywood plot format, but I will, because that's what I do.


MELBER: OK? In overdoing it, let me say that when you watch a movie and you know who you are rooting for and against, a lot of the information you take into that prism and it is clarified, right?

REINER: Right.

MELBER: In your work now, and try to do this. And you are a master storyteller. How problematic is it that for a large part of the country, the truth of what Vladimir Putin is doing is politically uncomfortable because of their support for Donald Trump?

REINER: Well, it's incredibly difficult. I mean normally under any normal circumstances, every single administration puts out propaganda. That's always the case, whether it's to promote a war that we shouldn't be getting into, like Iraq or Vietnam, or just to sell policy, to sell the, you know, the wonderfulness of a new policy.

But when you have an administration, that is backed up by essentially state run television, with FOX, with now Sinclair, Info wars, it's incredibly difficult to push the truth out. You are really finding it and I feel bad.

MELBER: You mentioned the Iraq war. You actually have a movie coming out about in journalism in that sphere, let's look at this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't write for people who send other people's kids to war. We write for people whose kids get sent to war. So when the government says something, you only have one question to ask, is it true?


REINER: That's really the ultimate question. That is what the Forth Estate is supposed to do. It's supposed to try to get to the truth, hold the administration accountable, and it is getting more and more difficult, not only are mainstream media invade. Listen, mainstream media, what is mainstream media anymore? When you talk about Fox or Sinclair, that's main stream media too. So what is the truth and how do you get to the truth when you're fighting not only propaganda and tweets from a president who says fake news, but also these alternative universes that we all are wrestling with.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: What is the truth? We started with A Few Good Men, we ended with Socrates, what is truth and beauty? We'll come back for your (INAUDIBLE) anytime. I hope you'll join us again, Rob Reiner. We'll check out the new film. Coming up next, there's a another Democrat winning in a state that Donald Trump took. A leading Republican is saying watch out for this blue wave. I'm going to break that down. And later, on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination, our special discussion with three generations of civil rights leaders.


MELBER: As the old saying goes, watch out now. A prominent Republican warning his own party about what could be a blue wave. Democrats last took control of the House in 2006 and held it for four years but haven't gotten it back since. New political signs that change is coming. Since Donald Trump was elected, Democrats have gained on average of 14 points in their 2016 presidential margins against Republicans in the special elections we've been tracking. Some of the wins have made headlines because they occurred in those red states like Alabama or Pennsylvania, which was, of course, red for Trump. Then turn to Wisconsin, a Democrat winning by nearly 12 points, that was a 13 point swing from statewide victory for Trump.


JUSTICE REBECCA, JUSTICE-ELECT, WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT: Tonight we prove that when the people rise up and stand together, we can beat the special interests. We beat the NRA.


MELBER: That was a victory speech last night and it comes as Wisconsin's Republican Governor who fought to try to prevent some of these elections, now warning of a "blue wave" #BlueWave in Wisconsin. Republicans clearly concerned. Now up next, something very special we've been working on here for a long time on THE BEAT. Donald Trump's agenda and issues of race 50 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, we brought together three generations of civil rights leaders and activist from a member of the Little Rock 9 to the Rev. Al Sharpton to founder Black Lives Matter. All of this about how their confronting a president who's been talking about good people on both sides, our special when we're back in 90 seconds.


MELBER: A special on THE BEAT. Civil rights in the Trump era. This week marks 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. He was shot and killed on a hotel balcony in Memphis in April 4, 1968. It was one day after his speech to striking sanitation workers in Memphis where he advocated better working conditions. King also spoke about the obstacles ahead and the battles left to fight.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., ACTIVIST: I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know the names, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.


MELBER: Now 50 years later, we gathered three generations of civil rights leaders at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem to ask about that road to the Promised Land.


MELBER: Welcome, I'm here at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. And tonight, we're asking an important question. How are Black Americans advocating civil rights under a president who's defended white supremacy? I'm joined tonight by a very special panel. Dr. Melba Beals, who at the age of 15 stared down threats and hatred to help integrate Little Rock Central High School, my colleague Rev. Al Sharpton who headed up Dr. King's Operation Breadbasket right here at the age of 13, Marc Morial, a long time civil rights leader and former Mayor of New Orleans, he now heads the National Urban League, Patrisse Cullors, Co- Founder of Black Lives Matter, which she started in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, DeRay Mckesson, an organizer who lead protest in Fergusson and Baltimore and ran for mayor there, and Beverly Bond, of Black Girls Rock. Thank you to all of you. Rev. Sharpton, I begin with that question advocating civil rights under Donald Trump

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: You know, the irony to me is 50 years ago, I was 13 when Dr. King was killed and everybody was fighting each other. You know, we were too main stream, somebody was too revolutionary and the result was, the November Dr. King was killed, Richard Nixon was elected. The danger is that we can't let Trump play us off against each other.

MELBER: You're nodding.

PATRISSE CULLORS, CO-FOUNDER, BLACK LIVES MATTER: I just -- the lessons from that time I think are so pertinent to this moment right now. We are in a moment where there's Black Lives Matter, there's the Women's March, there's MeToo, there's Time's Up, there's all these movements in which we are trying to grapple with a president whose denounced so many of us. And I think now is the time where actually hav to join together. There's so much at stake and so I just -- I think that's a profound lesson to learn from Dr. King.

DERAY MCKESSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: The war we're fighting for is the same. We often differ by how we can get there and that we want to sit at the table and say how do we get there, like what does that actually looks like and I'm hopeful about that.

BEVERLY BOND, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BLACK GIRLS ROCK: We don't just have a president that supports these very racist ideas, he's unearthed something about our community, about our America that we kind of let go, we kind of act as if it wasn't still here.

MELBER: Do you think Donald Trump's election expose a hate that people wanted to believe was not as prevalent as it is?

BOND: Absolutely, and it absolutely expose a hate.

MELBER: Dr. Beale, what did you just say?

MELBA BEALS, MEMBER, THE LITTLE ROCK NINE: Who let the dogs out? We did. Because I believe even those leaders and fighters who are my age, for not realizing, that although we got fairly comfortable with our (INAUDIBLE), we did not understand that desegregation is not integration. I want you to see me as equal. And so if you don't get (INAUDIBLE), you have nothing.

MELBER: Did you say-- did you say Jimmy Choos?

BEALS: I did. I said we got comfy womfy woo.

MELBER: So when you talk about comfort, are you directing that at both white and black American?

BEALS: I'm directing it at everybody because we're not really talking about civil rights anymore. We're talking about human rights. Trump is a great gift to us all because he woke us up.

MELBER: You use the word gift. I want to go around and take one word for what Trump has done to the civil rights movement.


SHARPTON: Backlash.

CULLORS: Defamation.

MCKESSON: Nightmare.

MELBER: Beverly, Donald Trump in a word.

BOND: Agitator.

MELBER: I want play Donald Trump's approach to racial strife which we have had since the founding of this nation. But this was his approach in his first year.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's blame on both sides. You look at -- you look at both sides, I think there's blame on both sides and I don't have any doubt about it and you don't have any doubt about it either.


MELBER: That was a response to white supremacist violence. Now I want to play another president who also had a questionable racial record but how he responded in a moment of a national test, after violence in Selma.


LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: There is no Negro problem, there is only an American problem. It's all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice and we shall overcome.


MORIAL: Johnson, King, Whitney Young, the 1960s bore a great movement and a great progress, then there was Nixon and Wallace. Don't forget 1968 was Nixon and Wallace. Between them, they got 55 percent of the vote and they engineered a backlash to the movement. We have to learn that progress will beget a backlash.

MCKESSON: We saw that white evangelicals actually support him in historically high numbers, almost 80 percent which is sort of wild. And I worry about the way that he is sort of offering language that suggests that these are equally legitimate, right? That the belief in justice and freedom is the same -- has the same legitimacy as the belief that like as that people shouldn't even exist.

SHARPTON: Did you think that we were going to have eight years of a black president and we weren't going to have a backlash? They're going to try and pick off and do what Nixon and them dead. They will call her a terrorist. They will call him a radical and (INAUDIBLE) and we don't say anything. When Mohammed Ali stood up and said I'm a Muslim, I don't believe in Christianity but I'm not going to fight a war. Dr. King went in and stood with Ali. And we must have the moral courage to say we may have different tactics, we may have different ways, she may call me O.G. but she's not a terrorist and he's not an extremist. That's where we got to go because he wants to pick us all up.

MELBER: So the Rev is talking about your work?


MELBER: Black Lives Matter came partly out of other things not working enough. Eric Holder has spoken about it as you know. Here was he in 2009, but I wonder if it looks more pressing today.


ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and we -- I believe we continue to be in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards, average Americans simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial.


CULLORS: I'm just having a moment because I'm like this was our country at one point. That was the attorney general.

MELBER: That was the attorney general.

CULLORS: Many of us weren't asleep. We spent the last five years, under a Barack Obama presidency, under Eric Holder as Attorney General, fighting in the streets, protesting, trying to stop the state-sanctioned murders, black people. And now we can't even get that on main street media.

MELBER: It was, of course, the famous civil rights song about the revolution not being televised.

MORIAL: You know that song.

MELBER: I know a few songs. But the Gil Scott-Heron critique was of a corporate media that would never show black activism, no matter how large the march was.

MORIAL: Or show it only in a negative light.

MELBER: Or show it very negatively as violence not as protest. I want to take that point and go fit in a break before our final discussion about what the areas of agreement and collaboration and constructive disagreement are here with three generations in this room when we come back.



MELBER: We're back with our BEAT special, civil rights in the Trump era, 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King. These civil rights leaders were just speaking about organizing in the Trump era, a time where the President has been a unifying force for many activists. Our next question cuts to what can be a deeper challenge. How do the Black Lives Matter Movement and other young activist today address potential differences with these legacy civil rights leaders?


MELBER: And welcome back to our discussion marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination gathering civil rights leaders from literally three generations. And our final topic is the most difficult, but I hope and I think we come to it constructively. There are disagreements in this community. DeRay, did you get involved in part because you felt other things weren't working?

MCKESSON: Well, I definitely grew up in a world where like those people marched and that they fought for it and we wouldn't have to do the same thing, right? Like that was the narrative that I had gotten and I'll never forget the first time I was tear gassed and I was like I just stood and think if this would be something I would have to do, right? That there was -- there seems like something didn't work out in a way that it was supposed to. I don't know if the disagreements are like they were three years ago. I think that there are -- there were a generation of people who wanted to be our parents more than they wanted to be our peers in this work. I think that that has changed. I think that people are more willing to sit at the table and --

MELBER: Isn't Rev old enough to be your parent?

MCKESSON: But I think that he -- you know, we consider the table and like disagree about ideas or agree about ideas in a way that isn't paternalistic and that isn't like you know, because you did it longer that you have all the answers. And I think that actually comes along --

SHARPTON: Let me respond to that though and muster. See, I think it is a mature thing. Let's not act like they didn't have the same disagreements in '60s. And we had to expand. What are the things that I had to struggle with were the people older than me, John Lewis, Jesse generation what I worked under is that we had to embrace LGBTQ, women. Women couldn't speak at the march on Washington. When I came out for same-sex marriage, I had a preacher tell me I can't preach at their church anymore. So I think that all of these we had to deal with these contradictions and we are dealing with it.

BEALS: Yes, forever. At little rock, for example, we were at a place where we were totally being let go of. We had no friends. People were very angry at us because all of the African-American schools went dead that year we were out of school. Not only that, the more we went to central high school, the more they lost their jobs, they lost their holiday contributions. And some people just said, you do (INAUDIBLE). Things were getting better, you ought to take them like they are.

MORIAL: I think it's important to remember, we were young activists. We were there, right? Many of us started when we were teenagers as young adults. What I saw when Black Lives Matter sort of emerged was I said good, young people reorganizing themselves and collectively voicing concerns.

MELBER: But I have to push. There is more than that. There are leaders in civil rights and black leaders who the said Black Lives Matter was not well thought out. Eric Holder has said it should have had a different name, as you know.

CULLORS: Yes, I think -- I think there was -- I agree with you and this and that. Three years ago we were in a different place at how we related to each other. There was a lot of disagreements. There was a lot of -- I think people were like are we going to last or I we just going to just be like occupy. You know, where is our policies? You know, what are -- Black Lives Matter is just a protest movement and I think in some ways we asserted our leadership and said we're staying here. We're not going anywhere.

BOND: And I think that when you start -- when you start your activism, your activism comes from a place of passion. It comes from a place that I want to do something to make change so you don't have policy, you don't necessarily even have structure, you just want to make change.

MELBER: Mayor Morial, what about when some of today's activists say they're a leaderless movement and they don't need an organization or a brick building, indeed they say that might make it worse? What do you say to them?

MORIAL: Well, I say that over time, movements many times turn into institutions. I lead an organization that's a hundred and now eight years old. It didn't start as an institution, it started as a movement.

CULLORS: We're in this moment where we actually need strong black institutions to fight what is white supremacy, what is the rise of white nationalism. And I think it's important but we're always going to see movements then you know, emerge. And sometimes in response to the institutions --

MORIAL: There is a lot of the work out here to be done.

SHARPTON: But I think it's important you understand that they have a lot of elders with black lives matter. We have young people in (INAUDIBLE) action network --

CULLORS: And National Urban League.

SHARPTON: And in National Urban League. My youth reads Patrisse Cullors' book more than they listen to my sermons. They listen to him on live stream more than they watch my television show. So it's not a monolith. And I think that we've grown and have to adjust. Don't forget, we're only the second generation that didn't have to adjust to the fact that most of our leaders Malcolm, Martin, got killed before they were 40. We just learned that our leaders could get old. So we're trying to adjust to that.

MCKESSON: You don't have to be an organization to make an impact, right? One of the most beautiful things about what happened in the street in Ferguson is that like people just came outside, right, and made a commitment that they are going to stay outside today and stay outside the next day. And like, we would have loved -- you couldn't have the told us and NAACP wasn't coming and like save us and help fix it all but it didn't happen. And no knock on them but like what you saw was people just like make a way out of no way in that moment and that was really beautiful.

MORIAL: Keep in mind Ferguson, let's talk about Ferguson for a minute. They're roles that people play.

MCKESSON: Yes, I'm just saying it's not for naught that like people in the street for 400 days without like one leader, without a central organizing, like that is a beautiful thing. And like you think about Baltimore the same day, and like people came out --

MELBER: So let me add another layer. What happens when the issue itself requires a different or more militant approach? Tell me if I'm getting it wrong. You said this is less about filing a really smart NAACP brief and more about putting pressure on who makes those decisions.

CULLORS: That's absolutely right. And I think this is -- this is a conversation around all the approach are necessary in this moment. But I do think the place where organization matters is the long-term building in a community and sustaining that movement inside the community.

SHARPTON: But I think, Ari, also, and I agree with Patrisse, is that don't romanticize the '50s and the '60s. NAACP and the legal strategy didn't always get along with Dr. King and the movement. I mean, this is not new. You had the freedom riders of their time with the young people like them. Dr. King never rode a bus and was a freedom rider. So don't act like (INAUDIBLE) of everybody was together. There were battles back then like there were.

MELBER: Dr. Beals, you're laughing.

BEALS: Well, because we all need everything, people. What's this about. I mean, you're going to need all of what we have. And the way things are going now, people, we need everything you got in the house. I mean going to central high school was in itself a violent and active move on our part. We were where they didn't want us, when they didn't want us. And so there are different kinds of action that one must take. And we have to be prepared to take it all. And yet once were having done that, I now wish there had been some group that had come in and said OK, now you've taken that first step. Let us build a situation in which we have these people work together and learn the philosophical and spiritual (INAUDIBLE) of being together.

MELBER: Before we go, I want to ask everyone in a word or sentence, how are you remerging Dr. King, and how should people apply his legacy today?

SHARPTON: Role model, having the moral courage to stand up even when it's unpopular for what is right.

MORIAL: The greatest American of the 20th century, and we should remember his last fight for economic rights and his fight through the poor people's campaign to bring Black people, White people, and Latinos together.

BEALS: Before anything else, a man of God and a man who backed education to the hilt. Get prepared, don't go out there thinking you deserve anything for nothing.

BOND: His humanitarianism, his courage, he was a hero.

MCKESSON: Focus on systems and structures that we know because people built this, people can build something else.

CULLORS: He was a community organizer through and through and he showed up at the local level even though he received national attention. He was there for the people on the ground every single day.

MELBER: All I will add is that the first step to change is usually listening and it has been a real honor to listen to each of you share your work and experiences today for our special. Thank you.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

MORIAL: Thank you.

BEALS: Thank you.

BOND: Thank you.

MCKESSON: Thank you.

CULLORS: Thank you.


MELBER: I want to express our thanks to the Schomburg Center in Harlem for hosting that special discussion as well thanks to metropolitan interactive for their technical work on the special. That is our show. I'll see you back here live 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.



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