Comey blasts GOP leaders in new book. TRANSCRIPT: 04/12/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Jerry Nadler, Clarence Page, Andrew Cohen, Jim Rutenberg, Randy Bryce

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: April 12, 2018 Guest: Jerry Nadler, Clarence Page, Andrew Cohen, Jim Rutenberg, Randy Bryce

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, I`m Ali Velshi in tonight for Ari.

We have breaking news. In a moment, I will take to a reporter who has read James Comey`s entire tell-all book, not due to be published until Tuesday. The details are scathing and they are sure to anger Donald Trump.

According to the "Associated Press," the former FBI director says Trump was unethical and untethered to the truth. It also appears that Trump`s effort to secure Comey`s loyalty began before the inauguration when he and other top intelligence officials visited Trump tower. Comey reportedly writes that to him the demand was like Sammy the bull`s Cosa Nuestra induction ceremony and refers to the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.

I`m joined now by Phil Rucker from "the Washington Post" who has read the book, as well as former Watergate prosecutor Nick Ackerman and Natasha Bertrand, the staff writer for "the Atlantic."

Phil, let`s start with you. You`ve been burning the midnight oil, reading this book. What stood out to you?

PHIL RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, WASHINGTON POST: Well, it`s a really stunning tell-all. More than 300 pages. And in it, James Comey, the fired FBI director, details in really vivid scenes all of his conversations with President Trump beginning during the transmission phase before he became President. It was Comey who traveled to Trump tower in New York and briefed the President elect one-on-one about the most lewd allegations in that dossier, the infamous intelligence dossier by Mr. Steele that we have been talking so much about.

And Trump took it very -- in a very difficult way. He became fixated on this subject and would repeatedly try to prove to Comey that these allegations were not true. He did so in that Trump tower briefing. He did so again in a phone call a week or so later, and again and again. And Comey details all of it in his book. This is according to his account.

And the big picture, Ali, about the portrait that Comey paints of the President is about as scathing as it gets. He describes the President as a congenital liar, as somebody who is unethical and unfit for this office and someone who is really blurring what should be traditional boundaries between the White House, the politics in the White House and the more independent FBI and department of justice. Comey was very alarmed and described it as a forest fire of a presidency.

VELSHI: Phil, let`s talk about the lewd allegations that the President seemed to be obsessed with. Did he ask Comey to do anything about it? Does Comey right about whether he believes those allegations to be true or what he was asked about them?

RUCKER: He did. So Comey, the allegation is that during a trip to Moscow in 2013, then private citizen Donald Trump was in a hotel room in the Ritz- Carlton and was taped by the Russians interacting with prostitutes in that hotel room. These are not confirmed allegations. Comey made that clear in his conversations to Trump, that this was part of the intelligence dossier, but there was no independent confirmation of them. But Trump told Comey they were not true. And he then told Comey he wanted the FBI to fully investigate the allegation because it had been so painful for the first lady, for Melania Trump. Comey said that the FBI would investigate that and did.

But the President was really fixated on it and came back to it again and again and again, including at that loyalty dinner, the one-on-one dinner that Comey and Trump had at the White House, in the green room of the White House, where the President asked the FBI director for his personal loyalty. One of the subjects they talked about was the incident with the prostitutes, the alleged incident with the prostitutes in Moscow.

VELSHI: So James Comey did not put anything forward in his book about the veracity of the allegation?

RUCKER: That`s right. That`s right. Although, he does have a section in the book where he describes some of the reasons President Trump gave to him for why these allegations could not be true. And Comey sort of narrates in his voice that he was thinking of all the reasons why they in fact could be true, despite what the President was saying. But Comey does not render any judgment about the allegations. And again, just so all the viewers understand, these are unconfirmed allegations that were part of that dossier by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

VELSHI: Phil, let`s talk a little bit about John Kelly, who apparently spoke to Jim Comey right after he was fired, or soon after he was fired.

RUCKER: That`s right. So this is on May 9th, 2017, the day Comey was fired. And John Kelly at the time was the homeland security secretary. He had developed a relationship with Comey. He called Comey on the phone. Comey was out in Los Angeles that day, you will recall, and Kelly told Comey that he was really taken aback by the firing, by the officer. He thought it was sad. He was sick about it. That`s the word that Comey used to describe how Kelly was.

And Kelly said he thought about quitting. He threatened to resign because he didn`t want to work for dishonest people, which is -- assumes to be a reference to the President. Of course Kelly did not resign. Comey writes in his book that he convinced Kelly to stay in the job, because this President especially needs to have principled people with integrity around him.

VELSHI: And I want to talk about John Kelly for a moment. Because obviously John Kelly will be asked about this, or Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be asked about this. John Kelly is On the Record now, the nation knows he is a liar about certain things. He lied about Congressman Frederica Wilson. John Kelly apparently told Comey, according to Comey`s recollection, that he would resign over this.

RUCKER: That`s right. He told Comey, and according to Comey`s account, that he wanted to quit his job as the homeland security secretary because he couldn`t handle working anymore for people that Comey said were - that Comey described Kelly as describing them as being dishonest people. And Kelly told Comey he wanted to resign over that. Comey convinced Kelly to stay in the job. This is all according to Comey`s account. And of course, Kelly did stay in the job and two months later, he was appointed White House chief of staff.

VELSHI: All right. Just important to know that because tomorrow, of course, these questions will be asked. I expect John Kelly will deny it. I just think it`s important to remind the nation that John Kelly has lied On the Record.

RUCKER: And Ali, one other thing that`s important to point out so viewers understand, this whole memoir, the accounts of his interaction with Trump, that conversation with Kelly, it`s all based on contemporaneous notes that Jim Comey took as the FBI director. After every call with Trump, after every meeting with Trump, he would go basically write a diary entry detailing all of what happened, the dialogue, the body language, what he saw in the room at the time, how he felt at the time. So this is not a memoir he is writing a year after the fact. It`s based on his notes in real-time.

VELSHI: Why did he do - why does he say that he did that? Did he do that in every meeting he ever had as FBI director or was this a Trump-specific thing?

RUCKER: Well, he did it in a lot of meetings. And as an FBI director and as a prosecutor and in his line of work, he was trained to take detailed notes to rely on those notes, to observe things and remember things. But he felt as he began to interact with Trump, their first meeting was in that transition period, that briefing at Trump tower, he felt that these were such odd interactions, that he wanted to have a record of it. So he would take those notes, write those memos, diary entries, and then he actually shared them with some of the other senior officials at the department of justice or rather at the FBI, so that there would be witnesses, as it were, to what happened.

VELSHI: Let me bring in Natasha and Nick.

Natasha, I want to ask you about this because Comey, in the book, according to Phil, writes about Jeff Sessions, that he is overwhelmed and overmatched by the job. But what`s important here is that Comey said to Sessions after Trump had asked him to leave the room, he said Comey says to Sessions, you have to be between me and the President. Obviously, that didn`t happen in the end. Is that material, is that relevant?

NATASHA BERTRAND, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC: It is. Because as we have seen, the President was absolutely furious with Jeff Sessions for ultimately recusing himself from the Russia investigation. So the fact that Sessions did not kind of heed that call to place himself between the President and James Comey kind of adds to this idea that perhaps he helped the President obstruct justice. Because of course he did write that letter that supported the President`s decision to fire James Comey in May.

And when he did decide to recuse himself from the investigation earlier on, he really drew the ire of the President and the President obviously then moved to fire him, wanted to fire him, asked him for his resignation over the summer of that year. So this is definitely something that can be looked at as well, why did Sessions not go along with this.

VELSHI: Nick Ackerman, the interesting -- the most interesting thing about Donald Trump is that, I don`t think he is going to wait until Sunday now or Monday or Tuesday to start tweeting about this book. He will react to Phil Ricker`s comments and other comments from people who have read the book. And that could imperil him with respect to this investigation. Because the President will now try to diminish Jim Comey`s standing in the public.

NICK ACKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: And I think he will give more publicity to the book. He will wind up selling more copies of the book for Jim Comey than any PR person could do. So it`s just going to take more interest in the book. It`s going to put a bigger spotlight on Comey`s side of the story. All of which we heard, has all been documented with notes and contemporaneous memos.

I mean, the things that he is saying aren`t extraordinary up to this point. I mean, we all know that Donald Trump is unethical. We know he can`t be trusted. He is probably lied more than any President that we have ever had. What I did find interesting, though, was about this incident in 2013, in Moscow at the time of the Miss Universe pageant.

Since - I mean, to really dig into that, I mean, why he would be so focused on that and keep asking about it. I find it actually sort of interesting, almost like if it really was nothing, then why wouldn`t you let him do it? And we know that Christopher Steele had seven independent sources basically saying the same thing.

I mean, based on that information, if he were not President of the United States, he wouldn`t qualify for a national security pass. I mean, he wouldn`t be able to get a clearance. And certainly from the standpoint of probable cause, just based on those seven people, you have enough for a search warrant, enough for a wiretap. And he also had to know as President, asking Comey to investigate that. There`s no way the FBI can go to Moscow and start talking to the same sources that Christopher Steele did. That`s impossible. It`s almost like he`s asking for something that could not possibly be done.

We are never going to really know the truth on this matter until there`s a regime change in Moscow. Just like there was, you know, a number of years ago and we learned a lot of the things that were in the KGB files. This is the kind of thing we are only going to get to the truth on about 30 or 40 years now when there`s a complete change in Russia.

VELSHI: So what was the implication, Phil Rucker, that Donald Trump wanted James Comey to investigate the lewd allegations there? Or he wanted James Comey to come out and say that they are untrue, from your reading of the book?

RUCKER: It`s actually both, Ali. It`s that Donald Trump wanted James Comey as the FBI director to conduct an investigation into these allegations in order to prove that they were not true. So he wanted the FBI to look into it, and then he wanted the FBI to be able to report based on an investigation that the allegations were not true. It was very important to him that the FBI look into it, and that the FBI come publicly and make it clear that they are not true.

VELSHI: Natasha Bertrand, does this do anything at all to where we are right now, in the Russia investigation with the President`s standing, with the fact that there`s been endless reporting, including from Phil`s colleagues, that the President is lived, he is off balance this week because of raiding of his lawyer Michael Cohen`s office. At this point, the President who was probably going to be this angry on Monday night or Tuesday, we are going to get an advanced taste of it.

BERTRAND: Yes, I think that more than anything, what struck me about Phil`s reporting about this book is the fact that after Trump received this intelligence briefing from his -- from the FBI director, from top national security officials, the thing that he fixated on the most was this dossier. The thing after receiving all this information about how Russia interfered in our election, about how they had essentially compromised our entire democratic process, how they had attacked the country basically, what he fixated on was allegations that he had prostitutes pee on a bed in Moscow in order to soil President Obama`s bed. So that speaks to a broader point that Jim Comey made later on when he testified before the Senate intelligence committee about his firing, which is that the President never seemed interested in the substance and the meat of Russia`s election interference. He never seemed interested in, OK, how can we counter this? How can we punish Russia for this? How can we prevent it from ever happening again? Instead, what this book shows, is that he from the beginning has been fixated on how this affects him? How it reflects on him, rather than how it affected the country.

VELSHI: And Phil, to that point, Jim Kelly talks a lot about loyalty oath. He sort of, according to your reporting, he relies a lot on this discussion that Donald Trump wanted loyalty. He wanted loyalty oaths.

RUCKER: That`s exactly right. He wanted loyalty from Comey, from his FBI director. And Comey was not prepared to give it. He said he would be loyal to the truth. He would not be loyal personally to President Trump. And it wasn`t just Trump who was fixated on sort of blurring these lines between the FBI and the White House. The whole administration, or the whole White House, rather, seemed to not really understand the difference between what the FBI does and what the White House does. And Comey describes a scene where he went over to the west wing to have a meeting with Reince Priebus, then the chief of staff with the White House and spent 20 minutes explaining to Priebus how the White House should operate with the FBI and with the department of justice, what`s appropriate, what`s not appropriate, to maintain the independence of the bureau.

And at the end of that meeting, Priebus told Comey, hey, come on down the hallway. I want you to come say hello to the President. He wants to see you in the oval office. And Comey writes that he thought to himself, this is so ironic. I just spent 20 minutes explaining how we need to be independent and here you are trying to bring me in to see the President. And indeed he did and they had a conversation there.

VELSHI: Nick Ackerman, does any of this have an impact on the Mueller investigation? It will obviously going to have an impact public opinion and people can decide whether they like Jim Comey or not. Whether they trust him. But does it have any standing or influence on the investigation?

ACKERMAN: Well, I think it`s going to certainly impact the investigation to the importance of it and that people realize that it is important that Mueller continue doing it. What`s really unusual here that Jim Comey is a star witness in any obstruction of justice prosecution. He`s a star witness in a whole series of items that relate to Trump and people around him. And it`s very unusual to have your star witness go out and do a best- seller book that can then be used to cross-examine him. So he had to do what the prosecutor would want him to do, which is to make sure that he has put in there everything that is material, that he will testify to. Because the last thing he wants to do is get on the witness stand and suddenly come up with additional testimony that he hadn`t put in this book, because they are going to ask him why he didn`t do that.

VELSHI: So in other words, one can trust or one should assume that the stuff that Jim Comey has written in this book is better vetted or more accurate than necessarily if I wrote a book, because he knows that Mueller`s people are going to go through this thing?

ACKERMAN: That`s right. And that`s what he is going to testify to. And he is going to have to stick to what he is saying in that book. So he had to be very careful. On the other hand, if he has contemporaneous memos and notes upon which this book was written, that makes it pretty easy.

VELSHI: Phil Rucker, any sense whether those contemporaneous notes have been subpoenaed?

RUCKER: That`s a good question. I`m not sure. I know Comey has been cooperating with Mueller as the special counsel.

VELSHI: So it may not have been subpoenaed. They may have been volunteer?

RUCKER: I don`t know. And I imagine that the accounts that Comey has given to Mueller and his investigators are more detailed than what he has written in this book.

VELSHI: Is Comey self-critical in the book at all?

RUCKER: He is. You know, he talks a little bit about how he knows over his years, he has had a reputation for having a healthy ego, for sometimes being a little sanctimonious. He acknowledges that. And he also talks about his own sort of experiences. Remember, it`s a memoir, so he talks about through his entire life. But as you read it, you can`t help but think about Trump. There`s a whole chapter about how Comey was bullied as an elementary school student, as a high school student, slammed against the lockers, teased and ridiculed by his classmates, and he sort of ruminates on the psychology of bullies and then the psychology of liars, and he seems to be writing that in sort of a thinly veiled assessment of the occupant of the oval office.

VELSHI: Natasha, this all comes within the context of reporting by NBC that the Mueller probe could ramp up now that they are coming to terms with the fact that Donald Trump, in his anger this week, has soured on the idea of sitting down with Robert Mueller, something he thought he would do. The Mueller investigation can ramp up without that. Where do you think this sort of places the investigation and Donald Trump?

BERTRAND: Well, my reaction when I read that was that Mueller has enough to finish his obstruction report without actually having to interview the President. There is -- there`s reason to believe that they would be able to subpoena the President to be interviewed if they felt like that was absolutely necessary. But the fact now they have written essentially four different points at which they believe the President tried to obstruct justice, tried to end this investigation or impede it, really says a lot. And one of the most striking things about it is that they apparently have evidence that he was dangling bribes to grand jury witnesses and that is huge if it`s true.

And if they don`t have the opportunity to sit down with the President because the President is kind of throwing a temper tantrum about the raid on his lawyer`s home, which of course there was a warrant for and it was perfectly lawful, then that`s really going to damage him. Because he won`t be able to have the opportunity to tell his side of the story.

Now, of course, his allies have really strongly urged him against sitting down with Mueller because they feel it could be a perjury trap. But there is something to be said about, well, if you think that you are telling the truth and you really, really believe you have nothing to hide, then why not just sit down with Mueller and get this over with?

VELSHI: And Nick, to that point, Comey, who again is going to know that more than most people, more than "Fire and Fury," there are going to be lawyers and investigators going through this book with a fine-tooth comb. So Comey`s credibility here is at stake in a way that most authors` credibility is not. And according to what he said to Phil Rucker or what Phil Rucker read in the book, Comey says about Trump that he built a cocoon of alternative reality, that he was busily wrapping around all of us, that he lies about all things large and small. Comey is setting himself up as something opposite to Trump. That Comey must be telling the truth and Trump must be lying.

ACKERMAN: That`s what we have seen anyway. I mean, Comey is not giving away the story here. I mean, that`s what we have seen with this individual during the campaign, after the campaign. I mean, a number of times he has lied about even inconsequential things is staggering, so. And he is not telling us anything new from that standpoint.

But again, Comey is the kind of person who puts himself up as somebody who is a little bit holier than now, which led to that statement he made in ending the Clinton email investigation, which he had no business making, when he got up there and criticized her for being careless.

I mean, he had no business making any of those statements in the first place. That should have been done by the attorney general or the deputy attorney general, not by the FBI. I mean, this is the first time ever the FBI director has gone out and made a statement about an investigation. That is just not proper.

VELSHI: All right. Nick Ackerman, thank you very much. Natasha Bertrand, staff writer at "the Atlantic," thank you. And Phil Rucker from "the Washington Post." Great job, Phil. I have been talking to you for more man the last 24 hours. Not entirely sure when you read the book, but you appreciate that you did and you brought us a great reporting on it, Phil Rucker.

RUCKER: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: All right. Coming up, we will have much more on this breaking news, fresh revelations from James Comey`s book. So far, no reaction at all from the Trump White House, or more importantly from Donald Trump`s twitter feed. I will talk to the lawmaker leading to push to protect Bob Mueller`s investigation, congressman Jerry Nadler is with me next.

Also, the feds investigating the links between Trump`s lawyer and the top brass at the "National Enquirer." What it has to do the salacious reports of yet another hush-money pay-out.

I`m Ali Velshi in for Ari Melber. You are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.

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VELSHI: Breaking news new, details emerging from James Comey`s bombshell new book, including revelations about Trump`s reaction to the salacious claims in the infamous dossier. So far, no reaction from Trump`s twitter feed. This dropping as the stand-off with Bob Mueller comes to a head.

NBC News reporting that talks for an interview between Trump and Mueller have broken down. The negotiations collapsing after the FBI raided Trump`s long-time lawyer`s office, home, and hotel room on Monday.

Without a Trump interview, Mueller might publish findings on whether Trump tried to obstruct justice by this summer. All this amid growing reports that Trump is looking to remove Mueller`s boss, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, as a way to block the Russia probe.

With me now is the top Democrat on House judiciary Congressman Jerry Nadler who has a new bill to protect Bob Mueller.

Congressman, good to see you. Thank you for joining us. You are the only hope for Americans if Donald Trump decides to fire Rod Rosenstein. The legal options at that point become more limited because the President does by most legal opinion have the right to fire the deputy attorney general. At that point, if Congress doesn`t become involved, the President could get away without an investigation.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, he would -- he can legally fire Mueller -- I mean Rosenstein. And Rosenstein could fire -- Rosenstein`s replacement could fire Mueller. Or could very much constrain the investigation by saying, you can`t look at this, you can`t look at that.

But any such action, given the fact that the President has made very clear the motive for any such action, he`s made very clear that he considers this criminal investigation a witch-hunt, that he wants to put an end to it, that he is personally intolerant of it, would be clear -- that`s a pre- admission that if he fired Mueller or Rosenstein, that would be an obstruction of justice, it would be a crime. He`s already convicted himself out of his own mouth, should he do that.

VELSHI: So here`s the issue. The legislation that created the special prosecutor after Richard Nixon, which is different from the special counsel. But for a lot of reasons that legislation was not renewed and different legislation came in. But it`s very clear and it would be very clear to a lawyer and it would be very clear to a judge that the intent of that legislation would be to prevent the President from being able to influence the investigation, or get rid of the prosecutor without good cause. This is what that legislation initially was written for. It is unbelievable to most Americans that it is possible that the President would be able to get rid of Robert Mueller.

NADLER: Well, no. There`s an ancient maxim in Anglo American law that no man can be his own judge. And President Trump apparently wants to be his own judge in the sense that he decides what`s a fair investigation, what is not a fair investigation. He said that the court-approved -- the execution of a court-approved search warrant on his attorney, Mr. Cohen, was an attack on the country. It was not an attack on the country. He is not the country. It may have been an attack on him in some sense. It was not an attack on the country. He is not the country.

Now, the fact that the special prosecutor, the special counsel, can only be fired for cause is a regulation of the justice department. And the legislation we introduced this morning, the same as the Senate legislation that was introduced, would put that into law, and would also say that the President -- that the special counsel cannot be dismissed except for cause. And that if he were dismissed, he has ten days to appeal to the courts, and the courts would have to find that there was ample grounds, justifiable grounds for dismissing him. And that`s the legislation we put in. Under current law, the President might be able to ignore the regulations or change the regulations.

VELSHI: What`s the chances of your legislation passing?

NADLER: Well, I don`t know. The question is, will the Republicans in the House finally develop a spine and stand up to a President and be willing to defend the liberties of the American people and defend the rule of law?

VELSHI: Well, let`s listen --

NADLER: We are sworn to do that.

VELSHI: We had a chance to poll some senators in particular this week. Let`s just listen to what they had to say and I want to hear from you on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the President, he has been openly talking about firing Bob Mueller. Potentially firing the deputy attorney general. What are your thoughts on that?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I have no reason to believe that`s going to happen. I have assurances that it`s not.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: He shouldn`t be removed from office. He should be allowed to finish the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think the President is going to fire Mr. Mueller. I think the President is too smart to fire Mr. Mueller.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: OK. No reason for it to happen, shouldn`t fire him, don`t think the President is going to. Don`t think the President is too smart to. None of that says, he better not. That doesn`t really show us a spine. I`m really glad that our elected members think the President shouldn`t do this, but I`m passed caring about that congressman. All I need to know is that he can`t.

NADLER: I agree with you, it doesn`t show a spine. Hopefully -- number one, hopefully it won`t happen. Number two, if it does happen, maybe they will develop a spines and then we can take appropriate action. And number three, if it doesn`t, this will certainly be one of the major issues in the midterm elections. And our job between now and the midterm elections is to try to protect the integrity of the Justice Department and the FBI, and to the extent possible, the Special Counsel, against assaults by the White House and anybody else.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC SENIOR ECONOMIC AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I want to ask you about the interpretation that the White House offered. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this on Tuesday that the -- that the White House seems to have advice that says he can fire Robert Mueller. Just listen with me for a second.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said the President believes he has the power to fire Robert Mueller?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: I know a number of individuals in the legal community and including at the Department of Justice, that he has the power to do so. We`ve been advised that the President certainly has the power to make that decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: So Congressman, that`s either spin, bad legal advice, or a lie. Which one?

NADLER: I don`t know. It could be a lie, it could be bad legal advice or spin. I don`t know of many lawyers who think that the President has that power, but he does have the power to fire Rosenstein and Rosenstein`s replacement could fire Mueller. There`s no question of that.

VELSHI: And that`s what we have to keep the eye on. Congressman Jerry Nadler, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

NADLER: Thank you.

VELSHI: Congressman Nadler is of New York, he`s a Democrat, he`s a Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Committee and he`s got a bill to try to deal with this. Ahead, much more on the bombshell details in James Comey`s new book. Plus, the salacious story sparking new scrutiny over Trump`s close personal relationship with the head of the National Enquirer. We`re back in 90 seconds.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because you don`t want to see yourself on television, cameras all over the place. And again, not just Russia, all over. Does anyone really believe that story? I`m also very much a germaphobe, by the way. Believe me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Yes. Donald Trump days before his inauguration rejecting the most salacious allegations in the infamous dossier. James Comey`s new book tackling that topic head on with the details coming out this hour. Comey writing that Trump asked him to take care of that story, to put it to rest, for fear that it would hurt his wife Melania. With me is Andrew Cohen who`s a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and Senior Editor for the Marshall Project and Clarence Page, Columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Clarence, you`re like us are digesting the initial reports of what has come out from the Associated Press, from Phil Rucker about the book. Your initial reaction?

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, it certainly accords with what we`ve heard other people say who have talked with Mr. Trump on various occasions and it fits with what Comey has indicated in the past. I was particularly intrigued by the culture gap between them. I mean, he was talking about feeling flashbacks to when he interviewed known gangsters and suspects out there, that it was the same kind of language. And one thing about Mr. Trump, he likes to talk tough and sound kind a gangster, as they would say it in the hip-hop, and we see that popping up here. But he`s over reacting a lot, as we`ve seen, to any kind of a direct -- any kind of a direct criticism. And Mr. Comey here has always sent him through the roof.

VELSHI: Andrew, what`s your take? What do you -- what do you hear from what we`ve heard, that most affects you?

ANDREW COHEN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE MARSHALL PROJECT: I mean, today about the Comey book, it`s two things. One is the fact that the first reaction from the President appeared to have been self-concern. As Natasha said earlier in the show that he didn`t say, oh, my gosh, this is an attack on America, unlike the attack on America that he alleged earlier in the week when his lawyer was searched, that that wasn`t his first reaction. How are we going to stop this? What can we do to prevent it in 2018-2020? That to me is one of the big take-aways that sort of transcends all of this political talk. The other thing, this is not a shock to any of us that James Comey is going to call President Trump a liar. He`s essentially said it before. A lot of people have said it before. And the coordination that has to be going on between Comey and Mueller in anticipation of this book, I think, is an open question that`s interesting to sort of cogitate on. Did the special counsel`s office ask James Comey to delay the publication of the book? Did they have a conversation about it? Because it`s a valid point to think all of this material now is subject to cross-examination not just by the President`s lawyer, if he ever has a lawyer, but all these other people who have been charged by Robert Mueller or maybe charge, Manafort, Gates, all these people down the line are going to be asking questions about this book going into the details. If I`m a prosecutor in any kind of a case, I don`t want as the earlier guest mentioned my star witness going on the record with all this stuff. It could lead to problems down the road. But I also think it`s a sign of the confidence that Mueller has in the evidence that he has, and also the confidence that if it`s going to be a credibility battle, it`s going to be a credibility battle between James Comey, this Republican former FBI Director who a lot of people still believe, and Donald Trump who`s what, lie rate now is in the thousands as The Washington Post --

VELSHI: But Clarence, does that matter? I mean, the White House -- the Republican Party, I`m sorry, is setting up sort of a war room in anticipation of the release of this book. They`ve got a Web site called lying Comey. They`re ready to fight this in a way that they didn`t fight fire and fury. The problem with Fire and Fury is it sort of fought itself because there was an author there who had had a habit of inconsistencies and it read a little bit more like a gossip book. Jim Comey is not a guy who writes gossip books. This is a guy who headed the FBI. You may not like what some of the things he did or some of his motivations, but the bottom line is was the Head of the FBI. Does anything actually matter anymore?

PAGE: Well, this is kind of unprecedented, this sort of a counter- campaign, as if we were running an election campaign.

VELSHI: Right.

PAGE: I can`t help but think that Mr. Trump and his lawyers are looking ahead to -- saying this all did got to an actual impeachment trial in the Congress. What if it went to a regular trial and depositions? That`s when the public -- the jury of the public out there can make a difference and many of them are now being prepped with this alternative narrative that says that it is Mr. Trump who`s the victim of a vast FBI conspiracy. That`s been promoted by the conservative press, that`s been promoted by his friends. And now we got the Republican Party itself, the RNC, part of this machinery, to promote this questionable narrative.

VELSHI: But it is dangerous because something that the President has been building on for months and months and months, is an attack on the institutions of this country, on the bureaucracy, on the judiciary and on the -- on law enforcement and the FBI. So there`s a segment certainly Andrew Cohen of the population that is quite ready to hear from a Web site be called Lying Comey, set up by the Republican National Committee that Jim Comey is a liar and part of a conspiracy to take down the President of the United States.

COHEN: Sure. I think that there`s a segment of the population that`s going to believe the President and his tribunes no matter what they say. We see that in poll after poll after poll. But the timing of all this is really interesting too, right? You have Comey coming out with this book with all these allegations, these detailed allegations that go beyond what his testimony has been, that go beyond generally what we`ve known, and at the same time you have the President now making noise, or through his tribunes, that he`s not going to talk to Robert Mueller, right? So I think there still has to be some American out there or maybe a few million Americans who are saying, OK, we`ve heard one side of the story and from the President, he`s going to have his opportunity to have his side of the story. And as they`re having that thought, as they`re going through this preview of the James Comey book, they`re hearing that the President doesn`t want to talk to Mueller. Now, I think it`s a great idea for the President not to talk to Mueller. I never thought it was going to happen.

VELSHI: Most of his lawyers -- most lawyers who otherwise say he shouldn`t talk to Mueller.

COHEN: Exactly. And I think this sort of linking it to the Cohen search is a great excuse for the administration to say, you know what, we`re going to keep our guy away from Robert Mueller. But the timing of it is awful for the President because this is his chance to go to Robert Mueller and say, you know what, James Comey didn`t do this, or James Comey didn`t say this, or I didn`t have this exchange. And if he doesn`t do that, he obviously runs the risk of bigger problems down the road.

VELSHI: All right, guys, thanks very much. Andrew Cohen is a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and Senior Editor at the Marshall Project and of course Clarence, good to see you as always. Thank you. Coming up, federal investigators now looking deeper into Michael Cohen and his connections. Plus, inside Trump`s personal connections and links to the head of the National Enquirer, that is now under new scrutiny as a salacious story breaks.

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VELSHI: All right, now to a story breaking right now. Federal investigators want all communications between Trump`s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and two National Enquirer executives. Sources telling NBC News the Feds are eyeing Cohen`s connections to David Pecker, a Trump supporter, and CEO of American Media Incorporated, known as AMI. That is the parent company of the National Enquirer and communications with its Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard. This comes after these headlines today. And I want to stress this, NBC News has not confirmed this reporting, that the tabloid paid a Trump building doorman 30 grand to stop an embarrassing unverified rumor about then-candidate Trump about an affair and an out of wedlock child. The story never ran. Today, AMI categorically denied it ever use company funds to shut down this or any investigation and said the doorman`s love child story -- their words -- was not -- was determined not credible. The company also saying neither Donald Trump nor Michael Cohen had anything to do with their decision not to publish the story. The Trump Organization also denied it, saying the doorman has a history of peddling false stories, and the woman in question denied the story to the Associated Press. AMI also reportedly paid former Playboy Model, this woman, Karen McDougal, $150,000 in August of 2016. She alleged a 2006 affair with Donald Trump, that story also never ran. Pecker once described the President as a personal friend and called an attack on Trump an attack on AMI. Here`s what we know. When Michael Cohen was raided this week, FBI agents were looking for records on the McDougal payment, records on the Stormy Daniels payment, a payment Cohen admitted to facilitating even though he`s given no reason as to why he paid her and who came up with the money, and any information or records on the Access Hollywood tape. Tonight, multiple people with knowledge tell NBC News federal investigators want all communications between Cohen and Pecker. We`ve reached out to the White House for comment. We have not heard back. With me now, New York Times Media Writer Jim Rutenberg who`s writing about the long history between Trump and the National Enquirer and Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post who`s also reporting on this story. Carol, let me just start with you because you`re trying to chase down the story about a doorman who says he was paid money not to tell a story about a love child. What do we know, if anything about this?

CAROL LEONNIG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I interviewed that former Trump Tower doorman today. His name is Dino. And he essentially said, look, I took a lie detector test. I was told by executives at the Trump Org at the time, senior executives, that there was this love child. So it didn`t -- it didn`t appear to me that he had first-hand information, but he believed this to be true and he was willing to sell his story to the National Enquirer. They paid him and we confirmed that they paid him $30,000, as the New Yorker first reported, and that they ultimately, they say, decided his story wasn`t credible and did not publish it.

VELSHI: Dino Sajudin, let me just read this statement that he issued. He said, today I awoke to learn that a confidential agreement that I had with AMI, the National Enquirer, with regard to a story about President Trump was leaked to the press. I can confirm that while working at Trump World Tower, I was instructed not to criticize President Trump`s former housekeeper due to prior relationship she had with the President which produced a child. OK. Let`s put that aside for a second, Jim and let`s talk about he National Enquirer and its parent company. It`s not probably known to a lot of Americans that there`s a practice, generally not practiced by organizations like yours or ours or Carol`s where you promise to buy a story or you pay someone for a story simply to kill it?

JIM RUTENBERG, MEDIA WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, the practice is catch and kill and it`s not always and usually isn`t applied to politicians, but in this case, it was for Donald Trump. And now this is the subject of this investigation, because the question is, did the $150,000 that was paid to Karen McDougal by AMI, does that somehow represent a campaign -- an illegal campaign contribution, because those contributions are limited to a few thousand dollars per election cycle. Very interesting moment, because you have a media company now basically being accused of acting in a more political fashion, and the media company is arguing, we have first amendment rights, we shouldn`t be mixed up in this.

VELSHI: But Jim, where`s the line for a company that catches and kills a story because they made do it because they`re a friend of somebody`s, which happens by the way in other countries all the time versus when it becomes a perceived or potential campaign contribution? In other words, AMI has been a friend of Donald Trump`s for a long time.

RUTENBERG: Right. The critical question here -- well, there are a few critical questions, but one is the timing. Let`s look at Karen McDougal. This is in August of 2016. Stormy Daniels is October 16. So these look like they`re about protecting a political campaign. Now, you know, Michael Cohen could say he`s my friend, I`m trying to protect his family. That`s where that`s a he said/he said -- he said/she said. However, now there`s a federal investigation. So what happens if there are communications that are found where it`s all spoken about in context of? And this is where the Access Hollywood tape comes in. The Access Hollywood tape hits. They`re worried about damaging information about Mr. Trump and his personal relationships and they go into some protection mode for the campaign. That`s where the problem will come and there`s a federal investigation that can get hard evidence in that.

VELSHI: Carol Leonnig, I have never caught nor killed a story. We don`t pay for stories here. Jim`s from the New York Times, you`re from the Washington Post --

RUTENBERG: I`ve caught a coup.

VELSHI: You`ve bought a couple. Yes, being up and kill --

RUTENBERG: Caught, caught.

VELSHI: You`ve caught. What occasion, Carol, in your career would there have been for you to either pay or pay for a story to kill? Why would you do that? Why would an a media organization do that?

LEONNIG: Well, we`ve never paid for a story, let`s be clear, at The Washington Post. We don`t even pay for it. The only time we kill a story is when we don`t feel it`s met the threshold for publication. There can be a million reasons for that. And I leave open the possibility actually that the National Enquirer had its own standard here that it followed in killing this story. But what`s more interesting to me is really the federal investigation because remember that the raid of Michael Cohen`s home and his office and the hotel room where he was temporarily staying, this is raid spelled out, according to people that have told me about the search warrant a pattern of activities that investigators are looking at. All of these women who received payments, this -- all the communications with David Pecker who was a close friend of Michael Cohen`s and who strategized with Michael Cohen, the president`s personal lawyer during the campaign about how to help their favorite candidate. It is unusual, it`s true, for a media organization to be trying to help a particular candidate in this country but the issue is the legality like was this all an illegal conspiracy.

VELSHI: Whether it`s moral or not is a separate issue, the legality is another issue. Carol Leonnig, good to see you. Carol is a reporter of Washington Post and an MSNBC Contributor. Jim Rutenberg is a Media Writer at the New York Times. Jim Comey blasts GOP leaders in his new book for standing by idly by Trump. A Democrat running for speaker Ryan`s seat joins me next to talk more about that.

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VELSHI: James Comey with stunning claims in his new book about Donald Trump coming in this hour. Comey writing that at one point Trump "began discussing cases where women accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised." He mentioned a number of women and seemed to have memorized their allegations. At another point Trump blasting Republican leaders writing "it is wrong to stand idly by or worst to stay silent when you know better while a president brazenly seeks to undermine public confidence in law enforcement institutions that were established to keep our leaders in check." With me now, a man who is challenging one of those Republican Leaders. Democrat Randy Bryce is running for Speaker Paul Ryan`s seat. Ryan, of course, announced his retirement yesterday so things are changing for Randy. Randy, thanks for being here. Randy, for a moment, when the Access Hollywood tapes came out, for a moment, Paul Ryan did what a lot of people think was the right thing. He got on a phone call with all the Republicans who were running for congressional seats and say do what your conscience governs you should do. You are not compelled o defend the person who is a the helm of the party at that time, the person running for the presidency. And there were a number of people in the country who at that moment thought Paul Ryan had the backbone to stand up against a man who would come to be a bully that is Donald Trump. That changed.

RANDY BRYCE, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE, WISCONSIN: Absolutely. And I also gave hip credit because there was supposed to be an event in Racine, Wisconsin close to where I live shortly after that the took place. And Paul Ryan refused to meet. That meeting did not take place. So I gave some kind of credit and I thought well, that`s great. It`s good to see him stand up. But however, since that time Paul Ryan has been nothing but Speaker of the White House. He hasn`t been speaking on behalf of the House of Representatives. It`s been very disappointing.

VELSHI: Why do you think that happened? Because Paul Ryan has had a more than 20-year career in the House. He has been chosen reluctantly to be the Speaker of the House because felt this is a man of principle and a lot of Americans don`t agree with his particular principles as an economics guy. I take some issue with some of them. But the fact is, he was thought to be that guy. Why give it up in the face of Donald Trump?

BRYCE: Well, I think the only time that you saw him speak out vocally about Donald Trump was when his donors were under attack. And other than that, it seemed to be he was going along in order to get his agenda passed. And his agenda has always been to give tax breaks to the wealthiest people in the country at the expense of working-class people like myself and the majority of people in the first district. So it`s been very disappointing to see that place, that not only is he -- is his legislative agenda to take from us in order to redistribute upwards but he`s not going to stand up for the rest of the country and do the right thing. He`s not going to make sure you know, and insist that Congress is part of the checks and balances that work that this country was set up upon. And just being complicity with allowing the president to do whatever the president decides he wants to do.

VELSHI: Randy Bryce, good to see you. Thank you for joining us. Randy Bryce is a Democrat running for Paul Ryan`s congressional seat in the 2018 midterm elections. All right, I just want to remind you, the book is not out until Tuesday but we have had people including Phil Rucker from the Washington Post who have read the entire book giving us some excerpts from Jim Comey`s book talking about Donald Trump saying he likes loyalty oaths and has an us versus them worldview. Comey also said about Trump, he lies about all things large and small. About Jeff Sessions, Comey says he is overwhelmed and overmatched by the job and after Trump told Comey to leave the room, Comey said to Sessions you have be between me and the President. That does it for me, "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Comey throws the book at Trump. Let`s play HARDBALL.

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