Cohen is under criminal investigation. TRANSCRIPT: 04/13/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Michael Avenatti, Christina Greer, Nicholas Kristof, Michael McFaul, Neal Katyal, Isiah Whitlock, Dave East

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: April 13, 2018 Guest: Michael Avenatti, Christina Greer, Nicholas Kristof, Michael McFaul, Neal Katyal, Isiah Whitlock, Dave East

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, Chuck. Have a good weekend.

We have breaking news on THE BEAT right now. The feds confirming Donald Trump`s lawyer Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation. Trump personally called him today against standard legal advice. And right now, we are going to hear from a man who is inside the courtroom today. Cohen`s adversary in the Stormy Daniels case, attorney Michael Avenatti. I`m going to ask him what went down and what he saw and why he says he now has a clue about when Michael Cohen could plead the Fifth Amendment in this case. That big interview is the lead block of our show. I`m going to turn to it momentarily.

But it comes amidst this rising heat on Trump. James Comey taking on the President and going there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don`t know whether the current President of the United States with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It`s possible, but I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The former head of the FBI, Republican, talking about his new book that everyone wants their hands on and making a stunning assertion about an issue that`s at the heart of this criminal probe into Trump`s link to Putin. If there`s any doubt as to what you just heard your former FBI director say, I`m just going to play it for you again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: Honestly, never thought these words would come out of my mouth but I don`t know whether the current President of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It`s possible. But I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It`s possible. Those truly unusual comment comes from James Comey as Trump`s lawyer faces what could be an existential threat to his career and his freedom with new details coming in as I mentioned this New York courtroom today. A legal fight that could go all the way to the Supreme Court. What`s at stake may include secret tapes of Donald Trump or his associates. The feds now saying Cohen is formerly quote "under criminal investigation." It also telling the court they have evidence supporting this emergency raid on Cohen but some of the hottest details are redacted. The feds say they have spent months probing Cohen`s personal business dealings.

And that`s not all. Because Cohen and Trump are challenging this seizure of the evidence, the feds came back blasting today at Cohen. They say they seized this evidence because of his misconduct. And they go further saying, this is important, they say today that Michael Cohen doesn`t really practice law. And he basically only works for one person anyway. That sounds familiar. It is a concept from the godfather that a former U.S. senator raised right here on THE BEAT this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me explain the Trump organization. There`s a wonderful scene in the godfather where Tom Hagen is asked about his representation of Michael Carleon (ph). And he says, I have a very unusual law practice. I have a single client who insists on hearing bad news immediately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I have a single client who insists on hearing bad news immediately. Think about that and this incredible report breaking tonight that Donald Trump was calling Michael Cohen today. This is all about whether Cohen equals Trump. Well, that was one expert`s view. Tonight I can tell you the feds agree. They say in these filings under oath here, he has exceedingly few clients beyond Trump and that he does basically quote "no legal work." He sends zero emails to Trump.

This looks bad for Cohen. It looks like the effort by Michael Cohen and Trump to protect this evidence that the feds already have is backfiring. You know, it`s never a good sign when your bodyguard needs a bodyguard or when your lawyer needs a lawyer. And Donald Trump`s lawyer needed a lawyer really badly today. And now the feds say Donald Trump`s lawyer doesn`t really practice law.

Which raises a question that is hanging over all of this and that we can report tonight terrifies Trump. If Michael Cohen isn`t Donald Trump`s lawyer, what is he? Well, in the last five minutes "The New York Times" has a new report that begins Trump`s advisers have concluded a wide-ranging corruption investigation in New York into Michael Cohen poses a greater and more imminent threat to the President than even the special counsel`s investigation.

One man who was in the courtroom today and has this vested interest in the case is my guest, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti.

Thank you for being here.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` LAWYER: Thanks, Ari. Good evening (ph).

MELBER: When you look at Michael Cohen under this type of strain and what the feds said today that he is not really a lawyer, does that ring true to you? Haven`t you guys been litigating against each other?

AVENATTI: Well, absolutely. I mean, Ari, this is something that we have been saying for weeks now. I have been stating that our case and the likely fallout from it was going to be substantial and was going to be more of a threat ultimately to Michael Cohen and the President than the Mueller investigation. I have been saying this for weeks. A lot of people doubted us at first. I don`t think there`s a lot of people doubting us at this point.

MELBER: Is that because of your client, Stormy Daniels, or is it because of things you learned about Michael Cohen and what he does for Trump?

AVENATTI: Well, I think it`s both. I think we brought a lot of attention to bear on a number of these issues. I think the waves that occurred on Monday, the timing of those, the scope of them, et cetera, is a direct result. I know it is a direct result, as a lot of the work that we have done over the last five weeks.

But with each passing 24 hours, Ari, this matter becomes more and more serious for Michael Cohen and the President. This is not some small investigation that was thrown together. I mean, this has the attention of some very, very qualified lawyers in the southern district of New York.

MELBER: You are talking about the federal prosecutors that are bearing down on Michael Cohen today. You are talking about reading these case files today that really seem to backfire. I mean, they took a two by four to Michael Cohen`s head and said not only you are not a good lawyer, you are not really someone who practices law and you do a bunch of other shady things hiding behind your JD. Have you seen a prosecutorial filing like this?

AVENATTI: Not a lot. You know, maybe on one other occasion in 18 years.

But let me tell you why that is so critically important in this context. If they find that the communications between Michael Cohen and the President were not in furtherance of Michael Cohen practicing law, then there is a high likelihood that those are not attorney/client privilege communications.

MELBER: You just said something that terrifies the White House. That Donald Trump knows. I want to put up on the screen this "Washington Post" headline. Trump`s allies worry federal investigators may have already seized these recordings made by Cohen.

Quote "it was his standard practice to do it. He recorded business and political conversations. That could be third party verification of things he discussed with people around Trump. It could include Donald Trump."

You are saying that part of the reason why the feds went in today and you were in that courtroom and said Michael Cohen is not really a lawyer is because they want to say those aren`t really privileged lawyer tapes.

AVENATTI: Well, if there are tapes or whatever the communications are, but Ari, I want to set the stage for a moment for your viewers because this is important. Imagine you are communicating with an individual that you believe is your lawyer and that you have privilege with. So you are free- wheeling in your communications with him because you think they are protected under the attorney/client privilege. And you do this for a number of years as it relates to a number of, let`s just describe them as hairy issues.

One day the FBI kicks in the door, actually doesn`t kick in the door, they knock. They are courteous. They raid his office in his home. They obtain these communications.

MELBER: Right.

AVENATTI: And you find out --

MELBER: And that`s what terrifies him?

I want you to stay with me. Matt Apuzo who broke the story that I mentioned that broke within the last ten minutes is joining me by phone. Michael is going to stay.

Matt Apuzo of "the New York Times," Michael was just walking through why Donald Trump`s most candid conversations ever might not actually be privileged as he long thought they were. Is that part of what you found in your reporting and why this is scaring them tonight?

MATT APUZO, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (on the phone): Yes, but the bigger problem with the reason this is so scary for people around the President and for the President himself is they don`t know what has been taken, right. So the FBI came in and took all of these records, and they don`t know what the FBI has. Because the search warrants were super broad. They took stuff from a safety deposit box. They took stuff from his cell phones. They took information from his computers. And we don`t know what`s on it. And I don`t just mean we the reporters don`t know. Even the lawyers for Michael Cohen and --

MELBER: Yes, you`re sort of putting it a little reverse. Donald Trump does know the worst things that he`s talked to Michael Cohen about since he joined the Trump organization in 2006.

APUZO: But he doesn`t know what evidence --

MELBER: Sure.

APUZO: -- has been taken.

MELBER: Of course, but the flip is, and I want to ask you about this, when you write that they now around Trump see this as a greater and more imminent threat to the President than the special counsel`s investigation, is that based on a view or fear that there are things in the past that Michael Cohen was in on that could be more damaging than the Mueller probe?

APUZO: I think the view is from both the uncertainty and also from the fact that this puts Michael Cohen in extreme legal jeopardy. And the concern, of course, is, well, they felt they had a real understanding of the Mueller investigation. They kind of knew where their vulnerabilities were. They knew what -- where this was headed. They don`t know. This is a big unknown for them.

MELBER: Yes. I`m going to bring Michael back into this because Matt is describing the uncertainty. In my experience with clients, although uncertainty is something we all deal with in life, the clients who get the most nervous are the ones who think they did something that they are worried about people finding out about.

I put that frame to you for your remarks. And I want to ask you as well, you said there may be a clue as to when Michael Cohen next has a heat on him and might have to plead the fifth. Tell us about that as well.

AVENATTI: Well, let me tell you in a statement that was made in court today by Michael Cohen`s counsel. And in fact, this was in a declaration he filed before. I believe he filed it yesterday, before today`s hearing. He attested to the following, Ari. He said that the number of documents that were seized that may involve the attorney/client privilege is in the thousands, if not millions. Those are not my words. Those are his words.

Now that`s a lot of attorney/client privileged communications. And, as you stated at the outset, we know that those communications, if they are privileged, or if they believe they were privileged, he only had one client. So it`s not as if these thousands, if not millions quote, these are quotes, "those communications would all pertain to his work on behalf of the President."

MELBER: Right, which goes back to even if Donald Trump doesn`t do email, you are saying that he, by invoking attorney/client privilege for that much material is effectively admitting that these were Donald Trump. When would he in your view, potentially have to plead the fifth?

AVENATTI: He has been ordered to appear at 2:00 on Monday by the honorable Judge Wood because she posed a number of questions to his lawyers in court today about Michael Cohen`s law practice. They couldn`t provide answers to some of the most basic questions. She became very frustrated. And she basically ordered them to bring their client, Michael Cohen, to court, 2:00 p.m. this Monday so that he could be available to potentially answer her questions from the bench, which cannot be a good sign for Michael Cohen. And it may force him into a position, Ari, where he may have to plead the fifth in open court on Monday afternoon.

MELBER: It`s extraordinary. Michael, you are not a court reporter. You are an attorney. You have a side in this case which we are always clear to our viewers about. But you sound like a busy court reporter who gleaned a lot of good intel at this hearing today. Because what you are saying, to be very clear with everyone, is that as soon as Monday, there might be a put up or shut up for Michael Cohen to say that on the grounds that he could incriminate himself, he will not speak in open court which has major ramifications for him, for Donald Trump, for anything he did that touches the Mueller probe. This all started with evidence gathered there and obviously for the Stormy Daniels case.

I want to turn to something else. I want to put up on the screen for folks to understand. These are new docs. This is, right here, some of the key material that the judge knows that we don`t yet in court when there are certain things to support something they can be publicly redacted. So only the judge has it, as you know.

When we look here and you see some of these redactions, to me, they sounded like places where the feds were saying we have reason to believe there was ongoing misconduct or concealment that made the raid urgent. What was your interpretation and the significance of this in your view as a lawyer?

AVENATTI: Well, I have the same interpretation that you did, Ari, when I saw these documents. I think that one of the reason why they executed the warrant so quickly or when they did on Monday, is they were concerned the documents were going to be destroyed or spoliated as they say legally and that`s one of the reasons they did that. But they mentioned in court today that they believe that some of the documents that may have been seized could go back as far as 30 years.

So, look, this is a lot of documents. And there`s probably a lot of potential misconduct in these documents if what we`ve heard in the past relating to Michael Cohen`s conduct and his tactics is to be believed.

MELBER: On behalf of Stormy Daniels, who has pushed a lot of this out, what do you say on her behalf today? How does she view all of this?

AVENATTI: With each passing day she becomes more vindicated relating to the fight that she has conducted. You know, she sacrificed a lot, Ari, over the course of this process. Not a lot of people have reported on that. But she has put herself on the line and her family has gone through a tremendous amount. And someday that`s going to be reported.

MELBER: The nature of the criticism of the process from your side, on behalf of your client, was effectively that it was unfair throughout. That Mr. Cohen was not acting in good faith, as the lawyers would say, or worse, was acting improperly or potentially feloniously. Does the pattern the feds are starting to draw in court today support and match that, in your view?

AVENATTI: It is 100 percent consistent. It`s exactly what we have been saying. And I think ultimately, it`s going to be proven by way of these thousands, if not millions, of documents.

And let me say this. You showed the video of Michael Cohen sitting on the bench with some friends of his on a beautiful day here in New York. Really ironic because while he was doing that, I was in court and I was listening to Judge Wood criticize his attorneys for their inability to get simple answers to the most basic questions. And I think on at least two occasions, she asked them if they had access to their client.

MELBER: Client list.

AVENATTI: No, to their client.

MELBER: To Michael, yes.

AVENATTI: To Michael, to answer questions. So if this guy had time to sit on a bench and take in the sunshine while his attorneys were in federal court, perhaps he should have been in federal court assisting the judge and giving answers to the questions she posed.

MELBER: It`s an extraordinary series of developments you`ve been in the middle of. You were in court today and busy. So I appreciate you coming on THE BEAT tonight to show your first reaction.

AVENATTI: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Michael Avenatti, as always, good to talk with you.

Coming up, we have a lot more, including the most important story other than this that I want to get to. Donald Trump today issued his first pardon for obstruction of justice. If you don`t know about that, that`s next. I have an exclusive interview with a man also who literally wrote the rules for Bob Mueller for the DOJ. And reaction to this jaw-dropper from James Comey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: Honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don`t know whether the current President of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It is possible but I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Donald Trump respond to that.

And of course, it`s Friday so we have a fallback Friday with some very special guests.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Many breaking stories this evening. But tonight, the most significant thing Trump is doing to append the Russia probe is not about this renewed brawl between Comey and Trump. It`s actually about what Trump is doing while many people are distracted by that brawl.

President Trump just issued his first pardon for obstruction of justice by a former White House aide. So yes, as the walls are closing in with Trump on the defense of the FBI raiding Michael Cohen`s office and Comey making a public case against Trump, the President now issuing his unusual pardon for a political aide convicted of obstruction. Trump pardoning a Republican who worked in the Bush White House, not in the Trump White House. In the case that Trump has never shown interest in previously and even described as irrelevant. Legal experts warn tonight this could be a dry run for Russia pardons which makes it more important, even dangerous, than Trump`s new twitter tirades against Comey and his deputy tonight. This obstruction pardon is for Bush aide Scooter Libby whose crime, lying to the feds from inside the White House, has many parallels to today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Today, a federal jury convicted vice president Cheney his right-hand man of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI.

Michael Flynn`s guilty plea for lying to the FBI.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The media should bring the focus back to the seriousness of the investigation that Scooter Libby obstructed.

Lying and obstructing justice, under scrutiny for obstructing justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Real parallels. Trump pardoning Libby for lying to the FBI. That`s the crime that Mueller got Trump`s aides to confess to already from Flynn to Rick Gates. And that makes today`s pardon right here out of the blue a potential practice run for those kind of aides.

The White House now says that Trump pardoned Libby was treated unfairly. And this was dealing with the sad portion of his life. But when Trump was asked about this exact pardon during the campaign, he literally said it wasn`t worth discussing and was not pertinent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you bring your children into the administration. If you were to become president and secondly, totally off- subject, but would you pardon Scooter Libby, if you become president?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: OK, would I bring my children into the administration? I will tell you, they are very capable. The answer is probably not. But having them in would be very good. They are very, very capable children. Second part, I won`t bother answering because it`s no longer pertinent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: David Corn and Jack Quinn, a former White House council.

David, the answers there, of course, turned from probably not to yes. And not pertinent to this unusual pardon tonight. Why?

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Well, it`s very pertinent. I mean, there have been conservatives, the neocons have been pushing Scooter Libby`s pardon for years. It`s interesting in the clip that Donald Trump didn`t care about it. Why does he care about it now? Because Scooter Libby was convicted of lying to FBI agents and a grand jury during a special counsel investigation of leaks of wrongdoing within the administration he served. He had lied. I mean, it`s a complicated case. I just put a piece up on motherjones.com, but he lied to protect vice President Dick Cheney. He wanted to keep his involvement in the scandal --

MELBER: He didn`t flip. He didn`t flip.

CORN: He didn`t flip.

MELBER: Is this a message to other people tonight not to flip?

CORN: Well, it has to be that like Donald Trump doesn`t care or isn`t offended if you lie to FBI agents in order to protect people in the White House.

MELBER: Jack?

JACK QUINN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL: Well, yes, look. I mean, the obvious question is the one you asked. Is this a dog whistle? I mean, is this a signal to people that, you know, obstruction of justice, perjury, making false statements during the course of an investigation are things which there are times when the President --

MELBER: Well, dog whistles are subtle.

CORN: It`s a cannon shot.

MELBER: Let me ask you this, Jack. If dog whistles are subtle, this is more like saying, where are my dogs at, and are they going to stay loyal to me because I`m in the middle of a Russian probe. I`m freaking out over Michael Cohen. I`m freaking out over Bob Mueller. The interview may not happen. And now on today, Friday of all days, as Rod Rosenstein, Mueller`s boss, tells people he is prepared to get fired, we get this out of the blue pardon that he never cared about.

QUINN: And by the way, Joe diGenova is right. Vicki Tansing is Scooter`s lawyer.

MELBER: OK. But is this a problem, Jack?

QUINN: It`s a small town.

MELBER: Is this a problem?

QUINN: Is it a problem for the President? You know --

MELBER: For America.

QUINN: Sure, it`s a problem.

MELBER: David, your view?

CORN: Yes, I think it`s a big deal. I think it`s a very important deal. The President did not make a case about why this obstruction of justice and lying conviction should be overturned. It seems that the statement he gave was, I heard something bad about this case. He seems to be more motivated by the symbolic nature of this. I`m going to protect somebody. I`m trying to protect the vice president.

QUINN: Let me just - I mean, I will say that on the other side, you know, you had an important witness in the case who recanted her testimony.

CORN: But, Jack, I covered that case --

MELBER: Hold on. Hold on. I`m going to take over. Jack, I`m going to take over. It`s what I do because I host the show.

CORN: It`s your show.

MELBER: The issue is not re-litigating the case. Scooter Libby never did a day. He never did a day in jail, and you know -- hold on. You will get to go after me. You know as White House counsel that there are people all over this country locked up for way longer for way less. He already got commuted. Today, out of the blue, in the middle of the probe, the President pardons him on top of that. The commutation wasn`t enough? You don`t see a road to Russia here? Your turn.

QUINN: I didn`t try to justify it. I thought it was important to mention that. I told you before this whole thing started, I thought it was a problem.

MELBER: Yes.

CORN: And I --

MELBER: OK. We`re out of time. David, briefly.

CORN: I was on the trial. The case against scooter Libby was a slam dunk case. So this has nothing to do about justice.

MELBER: I think we are looking at a normalizing of pardoning of obstruction of justice. It is a big thing happening tonight. And more important than the twitter.

Jack Quinn and David Corn, both experts on these issues. I really appreciate you joining us tonight.

CORN: Thank you. You`re right again, Ari.

MELBER: Still ahead, James Comey goes there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: It was almost an out of body experience for me. I was floating above myself looking down saying, you are sitting here briefing the incoming President of the United States about prostitutes in Moscow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We`ll show you the White House reaction and what Trump did not ask about a Russian election interference, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: I started telling him about the allegation was that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013 during a visit for the Miss Universe pageant and that the Russians had filmed the episode. And he interrupted very defensively and started talking about, do I look like a guy who needs hookers? And I assumed he was asking that rhetorically. I didn`t answer that and just moved on and explained. Sir, I`m not saying that we credit this. I`m not saying we believe it. We just thought it very important that you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: James Comey talking about the new book and the dossier. He also says Trump raised the issue more than once.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: It says he may want me to investigate it to prove that it didn`t happen and then he says something that distracted me because he said you know if there`s even a one percent chance my wife thinks that`s true, that`s terrible. And I remember thinking, how could your wife think there`s a one percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow? I honestly never thought that these words would come out of my mouth but I don`t know whether the current President of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It`s possible, but I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Well then. I`m joined by some friends of THE BEAT, Christina Greer, Nicholas Kristof and Ambassador McFaul. Christina, there`s a saying reporting live from the gutter. James Comey saw a lot of important things. What do you think about him speaking so bluntly about something that is probably not as important and is in the gutter?

CHRISTINA GREER, FELLOW, MCSILVER INSTITUTE, NYU: So I think his detractors will say he`s got a book to sell, and he`s possibly using hyperbole and this just further discredits him. For some people, you know, Trump is like tar, right? Any interaction with him, you somehow get pulled down to his level. He does -- he does not rise to the occasion as we`ve seen. Comey, though, is an interesting character and that you know, so many Democrats remember him releasing certain things about Hillary Clinton before the election. Now we know that he had information on Trump and did not do that. And so he`s unfortunately not the most credible storyteller right now. And it`s frustrating because there are so many things about the Russia scandals, the --

MELBER: A lot of other things.

GREER: A lot of other things.

MELBER: Let me play also, Nick, here is James Comey again, talking about the discussion of the tape and whether to investigate whether there was any kind of tape.

COMEY: And I said to him, sir when he started talking about it, I may order you to investigate that. I said, sir, that`s up to you, but you want to be careful about that because it might create a narrative that we`re investigating you personally. And second, it`s very difficult to prove something didn`t happen.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You know, I guess I would make the point that -- and it is incredible that we`re having this conversation about half the time about golden showers and half the time about a second federal criminal investigation of the president. But I do think that fundamentally this isn`t about golden showers but about a president who is trying to use the law enforcement apparatus to get a pass to impress his wife. And --

GREER: His third wife.

KRISTOF: His third wife.

MELBER: So you`re saying one way to think of 2018 is this is not about golden showers?

KRISTOF: Yes. I mean, obviously, we`re titillated by the fact that that is the content of this but the larger constitutional issue, the issue of abuse of power, the issue of obstruction has to do with the president who - - I mean, any president is going to try to do things for their family, maybe arrange a trip to the national gallery. But here we have a President who, according to testimony of the FBI chief at the time, is instead trying to use America`s FBI to investigate something --

MELBER: Tomato, tomato, national gallery --

GREER: But I mean, this is -- this is the same president who`s using the presidential seal to you know, sell trinkets so that he can further enrich himself and his family. This is someone who has refused to rise to the occasion of the presidency of the United States. So he sees the FBI and CIA as entities that work for him because he fundamentally never sees himself as someone who works for the American people, which is the definition of the U.S. presidency.

MELBER: And you -- and you -- you`re putting the context here that links both of your points which is this is not your personal FBI and that original sin is hanging over everything. Ambassador, I have news for you. I`m going to ask you about a different topic.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: OK.

MELBER: Let me play for you James Comey discussing another important policy part which is what he viewed as Donald Trump`s complete and total lack of interest in standing up to a national security crisis in Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You also said you were struck by what they didn`t ask.

COMEY: Very much. No one, to my recollection, asked, so what`s coming next from the Russians? How might we stop it? What`s the future look like? It was all what can we say about what they did and how it affects the election that we just had?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Ambassador?

MCFAUL: Well, very consistent, right? The President has never been that interested in this topic. He needs to keep denying it because he thinks it undermines his legitimacy and we have suffered in terms of our national security as a result. We have not taken elementary measures to protect ourselves in future elections nor have we taken, in my opinion, elementary measures to protect us from disinformation in our elections. And I want to underscore that to get back to your earlier conversation because I do know the Russians pretty well and two things I know well, one is, they can record anything that happens in their country, most certainly at the Ritz- Carlton. But number two, they`re also incredibly adept at using disinformation in all kinds of strange ways. And we need to weigh both of those things as we think about that first story and to second --

MELBER: To that point, Ambassador, to that point, I want to pin you on this. Is James Comey, as a former federal official, out here over his skis saying things that might help their disinformation about a thing that`s not true --that hasn`t been verified?

MCFAUL: I thought he was pretty careful. I haven`t heard the whole interview.

MELBER: That -- those clips were careful?

MCFAUL: That`s basically it? Well, he did not say that we know this tape exists. It was alleged.

MELBER: He fanned it. He fanned it and he`s coming from a very sacred place as being involved in the investigation.

MCFAUL: Well, again, he`s reporting on something that is common knowledge. We`ve been talking about it for a long time now. Whether he should or not, that`s an ethical question given his previous job. I take your point there. But we do not -- you know, I can think of all kinds of reasons why Russian government officials, including ones that might have spoken to private investigators, might want this story to be being discussed right now just as we`re doing right now. I don`t know the -- I want to be clear. I`m speculating, but I can -- I can come up with that hypothesis, and I`ve seen that kind of disinformation, smear campaign against other U.S. government officials, including myself, by the way.

MELBER: Of course. And that`s the important part and I`m going to have more on this next week. James Comey is an honest person according to the record but he`s make something choices here that bear more scrutiny. Ambassador McFaul, Christina Greer, Nick Kristof, I`ll see you in "FALLBACK", stay with me. Now we turn to former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal. He served in both the Clinton and Obama administration and he wrote the actual rules that govern Bob Mueller all the way back in 1999. He joins me now as my exclusive guest. When you look at this situation, is it possible that the President would be sending a message to people involved in the Russia probe with this pardon today?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: Well, you know, nobody knows what`s in the President`s heart except the President, so I don`t know what his intention was. But certainly, the message that is being sent is exactly that. That, you know, the idea that he`s pardoning you know, not just anyone but a guy who was a high-level White House official accused of basically, you know, conspiring and covering up and obstructing justice on a sensitive political investigation. You know, if you wanted to send a message, he is the ideal person to do it.

MELBER: I`m going to put up on the screen some of what NBC News has found that Mueller is looking at in the obstruction probe because prior to today, one of the items was dangling pardons before witnesses, something John Dowd allegedly did according to The New York Times. Could this action today, based on what evidence they find, also enter into that obstruction analysis?

KATYAL: It sure could. I mean, basically, you know, everyone agrees the President has what`s called an onward view of a right to pardon. He has an absolute right to pardon someone. But if he`s dangling out pardons in order to hinder an investigation, that is quintessentially what bribery is all about. I mean, as a litigant in a criminal case, the one thing you know you can`t do is bribe someone. You can`t give them $5, you can`t give him $5 million and you can`t offer a get out of jail free card and this isn`t the only accusation. Today, this message that`s being sent as you said, the President`s own lawyer John Dowd now stands you know, possibly accused of that very same thing saying to some witnesses in the investigation against Trump, hey, you know, would you like that get out of jail free card from the President? Now, again, these aren`t facts, these are just news reports at this point, but if true, Mueller has a serious and strong case.

MELBER: I also have to ask you about Rod Rosenstein, a top DOJ official, just like you were, reportedly telling more than one person that he`s prepared to be fired, that he would be at peace with that and he stands by his role. If he goes any time soon, do you view that as potentially part of a Saturday Night Massacre event?

KATYAL: I do, but I think he can`t go for a couple of weeks. The Justice Department Supreme Court today announced Mr. Rosenstein will be arguing a U.S. Supreme Court case in about two weeks. And I think it would be the height of impropriety to try and remove him before that case is argued. Now, you know, Mr. Trump hasn`t exactly shown solicitude toward the Justice Department so you know, lord knows he could do anything. But, boy, I think that would be a horrible thing. And what Mr. Trump has done is, I think, you know, really, really unforgivable, the idea that he`s attacking his own Deputy Attorney General in such a public and, frankly, absurd way.

MELBER: And finally, Alan Dershowitz who speaks with the President and Steve Bannon, a former adviser, have both been making public arguments about how to hobble or even cripple the Mueller probe. Do you think Donald Trump is listening to that and do you think that`s appropriate?

KATYAL: Well, firstly, yes, I think the appropriate thing is the first place to start. The idea that the President`s advisers are sitting there and the president himself is thinking about how do I stymie a federal law enforcement probe. I mean, the only precedent for that in our lifetime is by a President thinking of something like that is a guy named Richard Nixon. And it is a you know, very, very disturbing thought. Nobody thinks that that is a good legal strategy. I think Mr. Bannon should stick to politics and strategic advice. I think playing a lawyer is not his strong suit.

MELBER: Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, thanks for coming on THE BEAT tonight.

KATYAL: Thank you.

MELBER: And we have a couple of special things coming up. "FALLBACK FRIDAY" with some very special guests and I will report back on my own trip for the first time into late night T.V. with Seth Meyers. Find out when we`re back in 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: A personal note from me. If you don`t stay up late, I had the honor for the first time going on Seth Meyers "LATE NIGHT" last night. We talked politics as well as one thing that I`ve literally never discussed on T.V. before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH MEYERS, NBC HOST: Mueller had told Trump that he was not a target of the investigation, he was a subject of the investigation. Were you surprised that he took subject of an investigation as good news?

MELBER: If you call someone and say, hey, you`re the subject of this criminal investigation, which means you might be charged and you might be the next person to go to jail, they aren`t usually like --

MEYERS: You wrote and performed in a play in middle school? Is that accurate to say?

MELBER: Third grade.

MEYERS: Third grade, about the Exxon Valdez. And there you are right there and is it -- what is that prop? Can you tell us?

MELBER: OK, your researchers are incredible because I`ve never discussed this on T.V. ever but I was very upset about the oil spill. I`m holding a fish as evidence. It was a talent show, people were playing the flute and doing things, and I said why don`t I write this play and star as the prosecutor against Exxon and cast all my friends in it and that`s what we did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Thanks to Seth for finding that and asking about it. We thought we`d show it to you on THE BEAT. "FALLBACK FRIDAY" is up next when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: It`s Friday on The Beat and you know what that means, it`s time to fall back. Our "FALLBACK FRIDAY" guests tonight are Isiah Whitlock from the wire and Nick Kristof. So we have cinema and journalism covered. Isiah, you`ve been in Goodfellas, Law & Order and you`re of course known for your iconic portrayal of politician Clay Davis on The Wire.

ISIAH WHITLOCK, AMERICAN ACTOR: Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your name, officer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Detective Sydney, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Major crimes? I do not follow along.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clay?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think I`m going to be a scapegoat for the whole damn machine?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Very memorable. New York Times journalist Nick Kristof is here. You won a Pulitzer for your reporting on the Darfur genocide. And I`m very happy to say East Harlem Rapper Dave East is here. You just sat down. You recorded with Nas, Lin-Manuel Miranda, you`re working on your first album with Def Jam and we`re going to show your profile in this new Netflix documentary Rapture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE EAST, RAPPER: When you as who Dave East is, I just say I`m a hunter. I feel most powerful when I`m with my daughter. I feel like god when I`m with Kairi and on that stage, I`m going to tell you like it is, you know what I`m saying, I don`t really bite my tongue for nobody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A very special "FALLBACK FRIDAY." I could start anywhere. Isiah, who needs to fall back this week?

WHITLOCK: I think Sean Hannity needs to fall back on his criticism of James Comey. He was on the other day talking about this Comey comparing the President to a mob boss. Then he put up Lucky Luciano and Al Capone and John Gotti and then he put up what they were guilty of, and then he put up gambling, prostitution, obstruction of justice, tax evasion. And I was sitting there thinking, now wait a minute, you did have a casino and we know about the prostitutes in Russia and we haven`t seen your tax returns, I think we might have a mob boss here.

MELBER: You think Sean Hannity may have it exactly backwards and needs to fall back. Nick, who do you think needs to fall back this week.

KRISTOF: I`m going to take us halfway around the world and say that Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner needs to fall back. One of the problems with this incredible, historical moment is that President Trump sucks the oxygen out of all kinds of other issues in the world and we have unfolding in Myanmar essentially a genocide against the Rohingya people. I talked to a survivor who as she was being led off to be raped her baby was pulled from her breast and thrown into a bonfire. This is a policy of throwing children into bonfires, a policy of rape and the U.S. needs to stand up. Other countries need to stand up. But --

MELBER: What`s one thing the Trump administration could do?

KRISTOF: So there is a bill in Congress that would provide targeted sanctions against Myanmar leaders. It has a lot of support in the Senate including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Mitch McConnell is holding it up because he admires Suu Kyi as we used to do.

MELBER: I`m glad you bringing that issue to the table and educating us a little bit on that, and McConnell, and that`s something we want to say on. Dave East, what`s up.

EAST: What`s up?

MELBER: I`m glad you`re here. I happen to be a fan. Although I`m a fan of all of you.

EAST: Appreciate it, man.

MELBER: Who needs to fall back this week?

EAST: In my opinion, I feel like the NYPD need to fall back this week. I feel like a lot of things happen all the time but I just seen -- there was a bipolar guy got shot ten times over a metal pipe or something they thought he had. They thought it was a gun. But I feel like that story is getting old. And I mean, they think somebody got something and they killing them, you know what I mean. So I really feel as though that needs to be looked at a lot more. And I mean, it`s happening everywhere, but I`m from New York City so it bothers me that the cops that police me and my family, you know what I`m saying, is killing innocent people. And so I feel like they need to fall back.

MELBER: Right, and the idea here that when you reach for a pipe or a wallet, the statistics show how you look and how your profile makes all the difference and whether force is used. I`ll tell you my political "FALLBACK" this week is actually our first self-of "FALLBACK." It`s Paul Ryan who decided he is falling back this week. And this is someone who said he was going to stand up to Trump, he said before the election. He said, "I will never be defending this guy." And now not only did he do a lot to maintain the Trump agenda but now he`s just falling right out of the whole picture after that. So he could fall back. Who else, Isiah?

WHITLOCK: I would say Yankee fans. It`s only been ten games. I mean, you know, you got to give it maybe 50 games before you start complaining, you know. You know, the weather is cold, you know a lot of balls that were hit, deep dying on the track would probably go out. It`s only been 12 games so I think they might need to cool it a little bit and fall back.

MELBER: Now, Dave, before we let you out of here, obviously, I want to ask about some of your lyrics. You had this line, "We would go hustle so eagerly, watch what I say now because my daughter repeating me."

EAST: She`s repeating me.

MELBER: And it`s on the new album. We could put it up. You put her right on the album. Tell us about that and what you`re getting at.

EAST: Honestly, I feel like that just goes from my past life and how I`m mature now. I`m a father now. So we`re just saying that we used to hustle so eagerly. So that was just, whatever it took by any means we would try to get to it. You know what I mean? But now I have to watch my every move, I have to watch what I say, I have to watch who I`m around. I have to watch pictures I take. I have to watch the music I put out.

MELBER: And you`re thinking about you in her eyes.

EAST: My daughter, yes. She`s two now and anywhere -- anything I say she`s starting to repeat it. You know what I mean? So I was like, I got to -- you know, I can`t curse. I got to really -- I got to tell my wife, watch what you all say. She`s starting to pick up on things. so that`s just me realizing my position in life now going from just being a rapper coming out of the -- out of the city to now I`m a dad. You know what I mean? So that`s a whole other job in itself. You know what I mean? I`m just trying to take it on.

MELBER: Yes, and you talk -- when you -- when you rap about success, you said every time I speak they record, and now when we eat, we eat bigger portions. And that really connected with me personally because I have a lot of problem with portion control, you know. They put out the pasta; I just eat the whole plate. Nick, who else needs to fall back?

KRISTOF: So, Scott Pruitt needs to fall back. And you know, part of that is the incredible stories we`re seeing about this 20-person security detail around the clock security spending millions of dollars on that. But even more than that, it`s the way he systematically is putting the chemistry -- chemical industry in charge of what toxic chemicals we are exposed to. And in particular, he has allowed a chemical chlorpyrifos, a nerve gas origin that is shown to damage the brains of young children and fetuses. And the idea that he would be unleashing this because it is profitable for Dow Chemical Company --

MELBER: Nick Kristof really bringing the policy to "FALLBACK FRIDAY" which we love. Before we go, Isiah, you have this amazing bubblehead. We`ve never ever shown a bubblehead on the show before but kind of amazing.

WHITLOCK: This is a special bubblehead. It`s a talking bubblehead.

MELBER: I`m not going to -- that`s him from the Wire. I`m not going to ask you what it says but --

WHITLOCK: I`ll play it. It will be OK.

MELBER: Isiah Whitlock, Nick Kristof and Dave East, thanks to each of you for a very special "FALLBACK FRIDAY". We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: That`s it for THE BEAT. We`ll be back 6:00 p.m. Eastern on Monday. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.

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