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Trump lawyer's mystery client is Sean Hannity. TRANSCRIPT: 04/16/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Renato Mariotti

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: April 16, 2018 Guest: Renato Mariotti

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: It does. And I appreciate your shout out. And I appreciate your over shout out. So there you go. I hope you have a great Monday.

TUR: You, too, Ari Melber. Have fun tonight.

MELBER: Thank you.

We have a lot to get to beginning with this news. A federal judge just dealt a big blow to Donald Trump in the Michael Cohen case. Here`s what`s brand-new this hour. A federal judge tonight ruling on what was happening all day, what you see on your screen there, a request in court by President Trump to stop the feds from reviewing evidence gathered on his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen. So that`s a loss for Trump.

The judge leaving open, however, the possibility that maybe they would have a third party review some of these evidence on Cohen and it obviously relates to attorney/client secrets between him and the President.

Another revelation as well today. Cohen forced to disclose that one of his only other clients is actually one of Donald Trump`s most high-profile defenders in public in the press, FOX News host Sean Hannity. Hannity, for his part, responding immediately and he says he never paid Cohen but he had quote "brief discussions with him on matters of the law."

Now some of the documents Cohen is fighting to protect relate to the now infamous $130,000 payment he facilitated to adult film star Stormy Daniels. She is suing Trump and Cohen. She was also in the courtroom there today. Here she was right after the hearing.


STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM STAR: For years Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law. He has considered himself and openly referred to himself as Mr. Trump`s fixer. He has played by a different set of rules or shall we say, no rules at all. He has never thought that the little man or especially women, even more, women like me, matter. That ends now. My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and the facts of what happened, and I give my word that we will not rest until that happens.


MELBER: You hear her reference to the man standing behind her, her attorney, Michael Avenatti. He will join me live in a few moments on this broadcast.

But first let`s look at what this case is about. The President and his lawyers are confronting the justice department, which, of course, Donald Trump`s attorney general oversees. In a court filing this morning, it`s Cohen`s lawyers arguing that they say it`s now unclear if this DOJ probe can even be done impartially and free of political bias or partisan motivation.

Now a new lawyer for Trump says quote "the President objects to the government`s proposal for how to move forward."

The prosecutors, though, who are the nonpartisan career people, they are firing back. They say that Cohen and Trump have already made, and, again, people who work for the DOJ under Rosenstein and Sessions, they say that the President is making quote "inflammatory remarks about the case already."

I want to turn to a legal expert we often rely on here on THE BEAT, May Wiley, a former counsel to the New York City mayor as well as former White House counsel and another friend of THE BEAT Jack Quinn.

Thanks to both of you. As I mentioned, another lawyer will join this panel of lawyers. Michael Avenatti fresh from court. That`s where he is coming from, Maya.

When you look at this rather remarkable exchange, I think something that would be easy to forget is, yes, there was going to be a fight if the federal probe continued against Michael Cohen. Some kind of fight. But the fact that it`s happening this way this fast over this evidence is a fight that Cohen and Trump have picked. It seems to be backfiring them.

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNCIL TO NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Well, they have lost and it`s not surprising that they lost. It`s also not surprising that Michael Cohen`s attorneys tried to assert this, right. Because if you don`t assert your attorney/client privilege and Trump as a client has to assert it as well, say I`m not waiving my privilege.

MELBER: It is privilege.

WILEY: It`s his privilege. You could be in danger of being viewed as waving it by not asserting it. So in some respect, there`s nothing surprising by it. It would have been very surprising to me if the judge had ruled any other way.

MELBER: Right. This was the expected way.

And, Jack Quinn, obviously, you as a former counsel to Presidents, can identify with some of the procedural arguments one would make that well, a, attorney/client privilege matters and, b, it could be arguably even more paramount when the sitting President is involved. So walk us through why they lost tonight.

JACK QUINN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL UNDER PRESIDENT CLINTON: They lost because what they were asking for was unprecedented. I mean, they were essentially saying that they wanted to review the documents first. And, you know, mind you, it`s important to understand, of course, the difference between a subpoena and a warrant.

In the subpoena situation, you know, like a grand jury subpoena, you are asked for documents. You have the opportunity to go through them and then provide the ones you think are responsive. Here a search warrant was issued. That search warrant was approved up the line of the department of justice, up the line of the southern district of New York, and, importantly, a federal judge found probable cause that a crime had been committed or was in the process of being committed, and that a search warrant was in order in order to preserve the evidence of that crime.

So the idea that in that circumstance the subject, in this case I think the target of the investigation, would have the opportunity to review all of the evidence and decide which should be provided to the prosecutors and which should be withheld. It was just over the top. And I think Maya will agree with me.


MELBER: Go ahead, Maya.

WILEY: I absolutely agree. It`s part of why it would be really surprising if there had been a ruling in any other direction.

And remember, no reason your audience would know this, Ari, but I know you know this, it is also -- what you essentially get in the law -- all the government needs to show is reasonableness that they think they have probable cause. It`s not like they have to prove their case to be able to pierce the attorney/client veil. And so they got that from a judge. And what they have is the opportunity on appeal if there`s a conviction to essentially appeal and say you got information you should not have had. So it`s not the end of it.

MELBER: Just to slow you down, you are talking also just about the admissibility. We were just looking at the split screens, which are extraordinary, Maya, when you look at what`s happening. Some people have counted out Stormy Daniels. She was there with Michael Avenatti, who I see now in the wings. He has just come from court. He is going to join us in a moment.

And Michael Cohen going in there who has been this fixer. One of the key issues though was what does Michael Cohen really do if he is not much of a lawyer and he has very few clients?

I want to read from our reporting on this. When Michael Cohen`s attorney disclosed the name of the third person, this mystery client, Sean Hannity, those gathered in the courtroom gasped, the mouths of reporters dropped open. Some struggling quote "not to laugh."

I bring in fresh from court Michael Avenatti. Thanks for coming on THE BEAT for your first interview after this momentous day.


MELBER: Let`s start with the Hannity part. What does this tell you? Why does it matter?

AVENATTI: Well, it was shocking. I mean, it was like a bomb going off, quite honestly, in the courtroom. First of all, what you have to understand, Ari, is that, and there were no cameras there, so I`m going to try to set the stage.

But there was a huge lead-up to the disclosure of this name. Michael Cohen`s counsel fought very, very hard to keep from disclosing this name. There was a lot of back and forth as to whether the name should be disclosed or not. The judge pushed back. At one point in time Michael Cohen`s lawyer said that he had been instructed by this individual that if the judge ordered his name disclosed that they were to seek an immediate appeal of her honor`s ruling. Basically sending the message to the judge trying to intimidate the judge, I think, into reversing her position or at that time not siding with public disclosure.

MELBER: Why did that fail?

AVENATTI: Well, it failed because Judge Kimball Wood is a really strong, tremendous, well-respected judge, and she is not going to be intimidated by things like that. I mean, she has seen that probably hundreds of times in her career.

MELBER: What is this thing where Donald Trump`s people attack law enforcement and judges and then you are winning and you are praising judges? What`s going on with that?

AVENATTI: Look, I want to be clear. He wasn`t attacking the judge. He was very respectful but he was trying to send -- he was trying to send the message. And then ultimately it got to a place where the judge said, look, I`m going to have you disclose the name and Michael Cohen -- and looked at Michael Cohen`s lawyer and Michael Cohen`s lawyers said, well, do you want me to write it down and hand it to your honor or you want to say it out loud? And I thought to myself, I`m sitting there thinking well, he is just going to write it on a piece of paper and give it to a judge because it is kind of a Hail Mary at that point, Ari. Because you hope that maybe you give her a name and she reads it and she goes, no, I`m not going to disclose it quite yet.

MELBER: Or, door number three, that it would have been an obscure name no one would care about.

I mean, on the list of potentially dramatic names with political implications, given that Sean Hannity has one of the largest followings in conservative media, as we are going to show later today that he was out there criticizing, effectively, your position, your side, the DOJ, the FBI raid on Michael Cohen all the while hiding the fact that he hired Michael Cohen. It strikes me as significant in way that is go well beyond your case.

AVENATTI: Well, look, I`m going to let you and others in - that are journalists. I`m not a journalist. I`m going to let you and others that are in journalism and that operate at high levels of integrity and fortitude in the pursuit of what you do, I`m going to let you all pass judgment on what happened and whether it was aboveboard. I`m not here to wade into those waters.

But I will tell you that the judge gave Michael Cohen`s counsel the option of writing it on a piece of paper or saying it out loud, and he mentioned it out loud. And, Ari, when I tell you it was like a bomb went off in that courtroom, it was like a bomb went off in the courtroom.

MELBER: You said that any link or association to Michael Cohen right now could be concerning for other people. That would include presumably Sean Hannity. What do you mean by that?

AVENATTI: Well, I said that last week. You know, again, I mean, I foreshadowed -- I didn`t know at the time, OK. You know, I think my record`s been pretty good along the way. I said last week that anyone associated with this guy, that he was radioactive, there could be significant consequences for them. And lo and behold, here we are. I mean, we`re here on Monday, and his name gets dropped in this courtroom. It`s like a bomb goes off. And now Sean Hannity has to deal with the consequences of that disclosure.

I mean, look, this is a bad situation, Ari. And with each passing day, it`s getting worse and worse for Michael Cohen and the people around him. The chickens are coming home to roost. And we know, we know the individual that has had the most contact with Michael Cohen over the last 10 to 12 years and that`s the President of the United States.

MELBER: That`s what we believe to be true and that`s why the connective tissue here, the legal link between what the feds were saying last week that Michael Cohen isn`t really a lawyer but does a lot of other stuff that`s under criminal investigation for one main client as we have discussed on this show, Donald Trump. And then what you see today is some of that coming out. It relates to you and Stormy Daniels, your client who is in court, because he was involved in that payment, it relates to the other questions about whether there were attacks or campaign finance issues, and what else has he done that has not come to light yet because not everyone like you has pursued him as doggedly in court.

To all of those serious points, I`m actually going to play a brief moment of levity that relates to the facts and relates to you which is Seth Myers was saying that to some degree seeing all of this converge in this courtroom right now looks like the attempt to wrap up all the characters from a really long episode or long season of a show. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, so just to recap, the FBI an organization Trump has attacked for months, raided the office of Michael Cohen, his longtime personal fixer, and seized tax documents which he has repeatedly refused to release related to campaign finance violations involving Stormy Daniels, the porn star he allegedly had an affair with, on a referral from Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia investigation. This is like the series finale of a TV show where they try to tie all the different plot lines together.


AVENATTI: He left out the Sean Hannity part but he didn`t have the material to work with at the time.

MELBER: Wish him luck tonight, Michael.

AVENATTI: You can`t, Ari.

MELBER: When you tie them all together, though, that my question for you legally is the punch line there is how fantastical it seems to have them all together. But it does seem that you are on to something in arguing that they are all tied together effectively by Michael Cohen doing things that are now under criminal investigation.

AVENATTI: Well, all roads right now, Ari, appear to lead to Michael Cohen. I mean, this guy, and I said this some time ago, I told you this guy had a bull`s eye on his chest, that he was going to be expected to take the fall and that I don`t think he`s built for it. I don`t think he is smart enough, I don`t think he`s tough enough.

MELBER: You don`t think he`s from the neighborhood.

AVENATTI: Look, exactly. I don`t think he is from the neighborhood, OK. I don`t think this is a guy that goes and serves 10 or 15 years for you. In fact, I`m willing to almost guarantee he doesn`t serve 10 or 15 years for you.

WILEY: I don`t think anyone should serve 10 or 15 years for anybody.

MELBER: For somebody else`s allegations.

WILEY: I think the question here is how much did Trump know? What we think we know from the warrant which seems to have been leak the warrant was clear it was searching for material directly related to Donald Trump. Whether or not Michael Cohen was behaving as an attorney and violating or helping to violate the law means it doesn`t matter if he was behaving as an attorney if it was fraud, if he was helping to advance fraud. And, secondly, what he may have done that wasn`t acting as an attorney.

MELBER: We often call on you to evaluate complex legal situations. And as a practicing attorney who has also worked in government, you bring that to bear. I`m going to ask you to assess part of Michael`s strategy because we keep it real on this show and you will get the benefit of response if you want it.

He has done something somewhat unusual here because he is in a civil proceeding with Stormy Daniels against Cohen and the President, but he was there in this criminal setting today. Agree that`s a little unusual?

WILEY: Very unusual.

MELBER: What do you think of that as the litigation and public strategy that he is using on behalf of his client?

WILEY: I think it`s a public strategy not a litigation strategy. There`s no reason related to the litigation for Stormy Daniels or Mr. Avenatti to have been at the courtroom. I think it was --

MELBER: They are not parties to the criminal case.

WILEY: They are not parties to the criminal case. They weren`t going to be weighing in on the judge`s decision, they weren`t going to be necessary for sharing information that was going to help Judge Wood make the decision.

On the other hand when you have a civil case and you want to make sure you are keeping the pressure and the attention on the civil case, pretty smart move to be at a place where there are going to be a lot of cameras.

MELBER: You think this could yield dividends? Any response for, allegedly?

AVENATTI: Yes, absolutely. First of all, you know I have the utmost respect to you and your abilities.

WILEY: Keep going, but think.

AVENATTI: I do. We agree 95 percent of the time. That this is going to be five percent where we don`t agree and here is why. On Friday Judge Wood gave me basically standing to make any point that I wanted to make in connection with the hearing on Friday or today. That`s number one. Number two, there was a reason for us to be there because there`s documents that were seized in connection with these raids that relate directly to our civil claim, a whole host of documents, that are important to us that the integrity of those be maintained.

MELBER: Does Ms. Daniels need to be in the courtroom for that purpose?

AVENATTI: Does she need to be? No. But she wanted to lend her support and her voice to the efforts of the U.S. attorney`s office. Did I need to be there? Absolutely I needed to be there. Because we wanted to ensure the integrity of the documents. That they didn`t get turned back over to Michael Cohen without any ability to check what was going to happen from the (INAUDIBLE) standpoint or otherwise.

So there were legitimate litigation -- I didn`t want to be six months or 12 months, Air, down the road fighting to try to get documents that lo and behold went missing during this criminal proceeding. Was there a public relations or media aspect of this? Of course. I`m not going to deny that. But you know what? I think it is very effective. And we are fighting two- pronged battle here and I think we are doing a pretty good job.

MELBER: Do you think, final question, Ms. Daniels today is closer than she has ever been to victory as you define it in the case?

AVENATTI: Well, I mean, I think it`s maybe the end of the first quarter. There is a lot of football left to play, Ari. But you know, certainly, with each passing day she feels more vindicated. She feels empowered. She is courageous. I mean, this is an incredibly brave woman. And I think America saw that again today.

MELBER: Well. And we also saw as a reminder you cannot predict what is going to happen in life or law because this -- what we saw in court today and the confluence of these events is rather extraordinary and you continue to zealously advocate for your client. And I appreciate giving us your perspective here on THE BEAT, sir.

Maya and Jack Quinn, thank you to both of you.

We have a lot more coming up. Donald Trump is actually interfering in those sanctions against Russia. Meanwhile, James Comey says it`s possible the Kremlin could have something on Trump.

If Michael Cohen is not Sean Hannity`s lawyer, though, then what is he? Reverend al Sharpton knows these men and he is here with me live tonight.

Also, later I finished the book and I offer you tonight my extensive Special Report on James Comey and what he still doesn`t get about his role in 2016.

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


MELBER: Meanwhile, we have developing news on that famous Trump dossier tonight. The former FBI director James Comey who is peaking out, he says the claim Russia meddled to helped Trump was quote "consistent with what the FBI believe." It came from a credible source, someone with a track record. And he calls that source that are now well-known, British intelligence officer Christopher Steele both credible and respected.

Now McClatchy reporting Mueller has evidence confirming another key claim from the dossier about, guess who, Michael Cohen. The dossier had asserted, and this had never been verified, that Michael Cohen secretly met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign in Prague and the discussion was about how deniable cash payments could be made to hackers in Europe who worked under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign.

Cohen and Trump have denied this trip ever took place. Now, I want to be very clear tonight. NBC News has not confirmed this detail as well as we often mention, many aspects of the dossier.

But here is what is going on. Michael Cohen in court under criminal investigation. McClatchy reporting the feds looking at this part of the dossier and that probe, yes, moving back up towards the White House.

I`m joined by David Frum, the author of Trumpocracy, the corruption of the American Republic."

David, what does this mean?

DAVID FRUM, AUTHOR, TRUMPOCRACY, THE CORRUPTION OF THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC: I`m nervous still about the McClatchy story because we know the Mueller committee investigation is not leaking itself, so that the McClatchy people must have some source near the investigation but not in it. Why does no one else have access to that source? The fact that it hasn`t been confirmed by anyone else bothers me a great deal.

But we don`t need to rely on the dossier. That the hacking is a fact. And the close timeline of the WikiLeaks events with the "Access Hollywood" events, same day, October 7th, within 45 minutes of each other, you know, suggests a lot of connection.

MELBER: Listen to James Comey on some of this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I think it`s possible. I don`t know. These are more words I never thought I`d utter about a President of the United States, it`s possible. It strikes me as unlikely, and I would have been able to say with high confident about any other President I dealt with, but I can`t. It`s possible.


MELBER: By now I think people have heard what Comey is saying there. Could you give us any of your insight into why he`s saying it that way right now?

FRUM: Look, I prefer to deal with the external events and the known facts. Just yesterday Nikki Haley, cabinet rank, ambassador of the United Nations, predicted that there would be more Russia sanctions to come today. People do not say things like that on the Sunday morning shows without knowledge. And yet today it didn`t happen, the decision was walked back after it was publicly announced. And it was walked back after we read that the President has been frustrated with his own staff realizing they are maneuvering him into a harder line Russia policy than he wishes.

Now, is Trump driven by some kind of hold the Russians have? Is he driven by ideology that he actually shares Putin`s view of the world? Is he mesmerized not by things in the past but by things in the future, the vision of a Trump hotel in Moscow and Russian-like wealth? We can`t know. What we can see are the results which is American foreign policy is compromised in troubling ways.

MELBER: I appreciate the way you put it and you urging us to look at the available evidence, even new evidence, this week to understand some of that, thank you.

I also want to mention Rachel Maddow will be interviewing Mr. James Comey live this Thursday at 9:00 p.m. eastern. I will be watching. I know also should you.

Up next, Michael Cohen`s secret client revealed today. It was called a bomb in the courtroom by my last guest who was there. Al Sharpton joins me for more context.

And later tonight, I finish the book, I have a Special Report for you on why James Comey has not come to grips with the mistakes of 2016 and why it matters now.


MELBER: Back to the big breaking story tonight and it is a bomb. Sean Hannity has been exposed as Michael Cohen`s secret third client in court today. Now Hannity never disclosed that Cohen worked for him in whatever capacity. In fact, here is Sean Hannity the night the FBI raided Cohen a week ago.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Mueller is out to get the President and it appears at any cost. Here is what happened. Upon referral from special counselor Robert Mueller the FBI has raided the office, the home, and the hotel room of Michael Cohen. Cohen was never part of the Trump administration or the Trump campaign. This is now officially an all-hands- on-deck effort to totally malign and if possible impeach the President. Robert Mueller is so far beyond his mandate. But the media, while they are obsessing over Michael Cohen, if there are really important stories to bring to you.


MELBER: Mandate. Well, Sean Hannity`s mandate appeared to be reporting on this without giving his viewers the basic back on information. Now here is Sean Hannity`s response to the breaking news as it happened on his own radio show today.


HANNITY: Michael never represented me in any matter. I never retained him in the traditional sense as retaining a lawyer. I never received an invoice from Michael. I never paid legal fees to Michael. But I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.


MELBER: I`m joined by former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti and reverend Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, host of POLITICS NATION here on MSNBC, and a friend of THE BEAT, if I may.

Before we get to big answers, yes or no, should Sean Hannity have disclosed this?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, obviously, it`s important.

MELBER: Yes or no?




MELBER: OK. I`m going to play, too. Yes. This is a pretty basic requirement. Question number two, each of you, why wouldn`t he?

MARIOTTI: He had something to hide. He thinks he wanted to make it seem like he was more distant from the story than he really was.

REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: I think that clearly he wanted to beat the drums for Donald Trump and not appear like he had any reason other than that was his opinion, and I think what he has done has undermined his own credibility as a journalist because all he had to say in full disclosure I`m doing legal -- his legal adviser, his lawyer and mine are the same. But he can`t have it both ways, Ari because one of the things that I think people are missing here is if Sean is saying that he really is not my lawyer, I ask for legal advice, then he should object to them saying use me as an example of lawyer/client privilege.

MELBER: Oh, I mean, it`s absurd. It`s not --

SHARPTON: All he got to do is file it down at the court saying he`s not my lawyer. There`s no attorney/client privilege.

MELBER: No, there`s no -- we`re not even -- I`m not even saying -- I`m not even spending time on that denial because there`s no halfway. He`s listed in the court proceeding where it matters as a lawyer. Do you think he did a disservice to Fox viewers?

SHARPTON: I think he certainly did a disservice to Fox viewers and other viewers by not disclosing it. Anytime -- you can do a lot of things -- many of us do a lot of things other than our show. But if it`s even indirectly --

MELBER: You do like ten things a day. I`ve seen it.

SHARPTON: And I say and I`ve taken this position, I know this person. I`m here now talking to you because I know Sean and Michael Cohen. You disclose it. So you have to really question when somebody doesn`t disclose something that they are on the air doing. You can do whatever you want but you have to go out of your way not to disclose it.

MELBER: Right because it`s not that big a deal in Fox-land, Renato, to say that you have a business or even personal relationship with some people in conservative circles. Indeed, there are people like Karl Rove who are on T.V. there because of that. So it really does stand out. Now, take a look at -- excuse me, Sean Hannity talking to Michael Cohen about attorney/client privilege, as we say, back in the day.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Can I assume in that role not being a government role that you`d have attorney/client privilege with President Trump?



MELBER: And that now is the issue between the two of them. They have privilege. What kind of pressure is being brought to bear on Michael Cohen in this context that this is all coming out?

MARIOTTI: Well, Michael Cohen, first of all, should have the weight of the world on his shoulders. He`s under criminal investigation, his home and office were raided by the FBI. What I find remarkable about Michael Cohen and you may know more, Reverend Sharpton, than I do about the man, is how he`s taking this in a way that`s very unusual from the typical person under criminal investigation. Typically, when I used to investigate people, they weren`t outside of the courtroom smoking cigars laughing it up with their friends. They were very concerned, they took it in a very serious manner.

MELBER: Which tells you what?

MARIOTTI: Well, it suggests to me that perhaps he doesn`t think this is something he should be afraid of. He`s got a more powerful friend than the prosecutors and perhaps he thinks he`s expecting a pardon.

MELBER: Well, and to that point, whether he is acting easy breezy because he thinks at the end of the day he`s going to get bailed out by Trump. You know, Asap Rocky who said, I hope the Lord takes collect calls. And will the White House at the end of this day take a collect call for Michael Cohen for a pardon before this is all over?

SHARPTON: Well, he`s got to assume that`s the only legal problem he`s dealing with because there are many people that feel that you have the feds and the state looking at him. And if Eric Schneiderman is looking at him, I have no way of knowing, and you looking at state time, then you cannot be pardoned by the President for state time. So let`s say just for the sake of this discussion, he`s the prosecutor, I don`t know. But for the sake of this discussion, if he ends up with state charges and they go to a man with a family with state charges, he may start singing like the Baptist choir in my church.

MELBER: And you do know him because you know all these New Yorkers, you think he`ll flip or not?

SHARPTON: You know, for what I know of him, you know, he`s the guy that fixes things. When I was on the air beating up on Donald Trump about birtherism, he was the guy that would call us, he`s not a racist. Come meet with him. He was that guy. He is not from the neighborhood. He`s not the kind of guy that will say I`ll go do three, four, five years for my friend. He didn`t strike me as that kind of guy. He could surprise me but I`d be closer to shocked than surprised especially if it`s state tax.

BELBER: Sometimes we keep hearing things -- sometimes we keep hearing things over and over because --

SHARPTON: And Michael, they haven`t close Rikers yet.

MELBER: You heard it here from the Rev. Al Sharpton, Renato Mariotti, thank you both. You can always check out "POLITICS NATION" Sundays at 8:00 a.m. Now, ahead on THE BEAT, there is a bizarre story developing on why Trump tried to stop those new Russia sanctions. Also, I`m going to share with you my full breakdown of James Comey`s book. I just finished it, when we`re back in 90 seconds.


MELBER: James Comey still does not get it. I read his new book this weekend, and that`s honestly what comes through the most. Of course we all make mistakes and pressure does increase the margin for error. Comey face a lot of pressure in 2016 but now it`s 2018, and with more hindsight James Comey is using this book and this moment to double down on his biggest mistakes. On the things that Comey did, not the things that were done to him by Trump, on the decisions Comey made that impact law and order and maybe the future of our republic, in this book, I`m going to tell you James Comey doesn`t acknowledge all those mistakes. He doesn`t even reckon with what a lot of the public legal substantive criticism. So if Comey won`t tackle the big questions in the book, I think we still can. So right now tonight, I want to offer you my key points from the book with a big caveat. And of course, that I have far less experience than James Comey. He`s one of the most seasoned prosecutors in America. I know far less about these cases at hand. I`m relying obviously on publicly available information. He knows some secrets the rest of us don`t have. But let`s get into it. James Comey writes that as a matter of law, the Clinton e-mail case would probably not lead to prosecutions because it takes more than mishandling classified information to get to a charge. You`d have to typically deliberately leak it. It means it`s a long way from a lost and found box to Edward Snowden. And here`s how he puts it. Comey writes, we started the Clinton investigation aware it was unlikely to be a case that career nonpartisan prosecutors at the DOJ would prosecute and the Clinton case thus started as an exercise in double-checking that was no deliberate leaking and it ended with the FBI conclusion that there was no deliberate leaking. That would make it a simple case to close. But of course, as we know James Comey broke with tradition when he stepped out there for that unusual press conference in the middle of the campaign, and he admits this was an effort to impact public perception.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: Good morning. I`m here to give you an update on the FBI`s investigation of Secretary Clinton`s use of a personal e-mail system during her time as Secretary of State. Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information. This is not to suggest that in similar circumstances a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. Although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.


MELBER: No charges appropriate. Comey broke tradition and rules with that dramatic statement. On the tradition closing, a case is usually done in private, as we reported at the time.


MELBER: This was a little unusual in an abundance of transparency so we just saw Secretary Clinton, President Obama, everyone learning at the same time moments ago the FBI Director saying this is what our evidence showed, this is what we found, and we`re making a recommendation of no charges to the prosecutors at the Justice Department. Typically that would happen privately.


MELBER: That was that day, typically privately. As for the rules the FBI doesn`t decide whether to charge people. Prosecutors decide that. Comey made the announcement though as you just saw in a way that took the charging decision effectively from the prosecutors which was a mistake. It undercut the DOJ and boxed them in and fanned controversy in an already politically hot case. It failed to do the narrow and unnecessary thing that Comey writes in his book to this day that was his goal defending DOJ independence. He says thought that potentially false political attacks on the Obama DOJ and Attorney General Lynch would enable partisans to argue powerfully that the Clinton campaign through Lynch had been controlling the FBI`s investigation. That argument from Comey is so illogical, circular and, frankly, dumb, it`s actually hard to follow, but it`s also important. So here we go. Comey is claiming that even though the FBI independently cleared Clinton, and it would be false to claim the Clinton campaign controlled the DOJ, he was so worried that partisans would lie and say that, he changed his entire FBI approach to the case as a preemptive rebuttal to that potential lie. Now, that`s wrong on substance. Comey admitting that as FBI Director, he decided to sort of shadow box with partisan lies instead of just doing his job. It`s also wrong on strategy because in case James Comey didn`t notice over the past two years, Donald Trump and a lot of partisan hacks accused the FBI and any others opponent of lies anyway. It`s absurd to think that people hell-bent on attacking Clinton and the FBI are going to reverse themselves because James Comey gave a dramatic press conference. But Comey admits in the new book to still believing his special political status would save the whole operation. He writes, "as a Republican, he thought his public statements about Clinton would help Attorney General Lynch more than had he been a Democrat. Let that sink in. Comey is admitting part of his reasoning was his own political credentials as a Republican appointee would give the Obama DOJ cover. That is not a reason for the FBI to do something. And then on the smaller point it`s also obviously naive. Comey seems to think that Trump fans would credit his history with the Bush administration. Of course, if you watch the news you`ll remember Trump was on the campaign trail at the time, savaging the Bush administration and others top Republicans. A political world that already cleaved into pro-Trump and anti-Hillary. AND now, two years later, Trump has made his own attacks on James Comey quite clear. So keep that in mind as you read that Comey can still write these following words with a straight face to justify the second public intervention of the Clinton case that famed October e-mail announcement. He writes, once again, it became my responsibility to take the hit. Comey says that to explain why he went public with Clinton e- mails he hadn`t even read yet arguing he could only handle the hit from a crisis of his own making. Only he could handle that. Now that`s more than chutzpah, it`s more than delusion, it is the kind of grandiose rationalization that calls your judgment into question and everyone remembers Comey inserted himself into the campaign. That extra time breaking with tradition to tell Congress about Clinton e-mails his agents found that hadn`t been reviewed. I also remember covering the story that night when the news broke. It was apparent to many of us that first day that announcing new evidence to the world in a campaign before reviewing it was a self-inflicted mess the FBI would have to clean up.


MELBER: Jim Comey may have been trying to do the right thing legally, but has done it so poorly and so vaguely that practically it is a mess and distortive and something he may ultimately feel he needs to clean up in the next 11 days which would itself would invite more scrutiny.


MELBER: And that`s what happened. Within the next 11 days before the election, Comey tried to clean it up by announcing the e-mails didn`t change anything in the Clinton case. Now there`s no factual debate about this part. We know now that Comey made the wrong call. He rushed to announce the e-mails but the FBI determined within days that most of that material was not actually new evidence at all. The e-mails were, "duplicates." And had they only followed the normal process of reviewing evidence before going forward with it there wouldn`t be anything to go forward with. So keep those facts in mind when you read this in the book. Comey says, I still believe, even in hindsight, his approach on that Clinton matter was the best thing for the FBI and DOJ. So that`s all the Clinton stuff in the book. Then there`s the Trump probe. What about the different standard Comey used to keep the Trump-Russia case secret in 2016? Well, I know the book is new. I have a spoiler alert. James Comey also thinks he got that decision perfectly right as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your critics say this is a clear, clear, clear double standard. You revealed information about Hillary Clinton, you concealed information about Donald Trump, that elected Donald Trump.

COMEY: The Hillary Clinton e-mail case was public and the current intelligence investigation is trying to figure out whether a small group of people, not Donald Trump -- we were not investigating Donald Trump -- whether this small group of Americans was coordinating anything with the Russians. We had just started the investigation, didn`t know whether we had anything. So it would have been brutally unfair those people to talk about it.


MELBER: Brutally unfair. Comey`s assessment of Donald Trump in the book is withering and it`s largely built on Comey`s firsthand observations backed up by his meticulous notes which do make him a credible witness against the Trump White House despite the other mistakes. Now, Comey also in this book exposes more of his lapses in judgment and a type of bias which is important but he doesn`t come across as anything less than honest in relaying the facts. But now on the book tour, Comey has already now newly committed another error in judgment about, this time, the Trump probe which is pretty significant. Remember, of course, he`s a witness to the facts. He`s not a prosecutor or a judge in the case but faced with a question what should happen at the end of this criminal process where any witness should just take a -- take a pass and let the process go where it goes, well, James Comey is now weighing in on that, too. We don`t yet know what Mueller will find and whether it will serve up further questions for the courts or Congress, but James Comey already announcing he is against this probe leading to potential action by Congress.


COMEY: I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they`re duty bound to do directly. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values.


MELBER: Unbelievable. After a book-length lecture on avoiding politics, James Comey is using his newfound rhetorical freedom to tell people to vote their values against Trump. Of course, many people felt they were voting their values when they chose Trump, over 62 million people did that, and Trump may yet get re-elected. So besides being tone deaf and political, the answer undercuts an open criminal investigation by Special Counsel Mueller who is yet to release or complete public findings. Prejudging that outcome in any possible remedies would be a mistake for any witness in this probe. But for a witness this central, a witness who used to run the FBI, a witness who made these famous failures in 2016 by speaking out prematurely about other political investigations, a witness who knows better? How do you explain making that kind of mistake in the middle of all of this right now? The same way most mistakes are made. If you don`t address your past mistakes, you are doomed to repeat them.


MELBER: Another breaking story tonight we told you would we get to. Donald Trump is now interfering with a plan from his own aides to impose those new Russia sanction. Look at this Washington Post reporting. Trump telling advisers he`s "upset over the sanctions on Russia and not, "comfortable" with them." This came after the Kremlin spoke out criticizing the sanctions, and they were as David Frum was mentioning earlier in our broadcast, initially previewed by Ambassador Haley as a kind of economic rating that would be useful for the United States. Meanwhile, James Comey has been questioning publicly why Trump is reluctant to confront Vladimir Putin.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think President Trump has been compromised by the Russians?

COMEY: I don`t know. And these are words I never thought would come out of my mouth about an American President, but it`s possible. I`m not saying it`s likely. I don`t know and the honest answer is it`s possible. He won`t criticize Vladimir Putin even in private, even in a meeting with three people in the Oval Office.


MELBER: The note about what he saw privately is probably the most interesting part there that he has revealed. Will the sanctions be implemented? We are going to stay on this story. I promise you that. I also want to give you another news update, an unusual one. The Pulitzer Prize Winners were announced today and among the list of writers and other artists, there was someone who broke a barrier. Kendrick Lamar, the rap artist won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his 2017 album Damn. That makes him the first person in music whose not from classical or jazz music to get a Pulitzer. The committee noting that the album was virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism offering effective vignettes capturing, I should say, the complexity of modern African American life. According to the Pulitzer committee, the album has made many waves for its commentary on racial inequality, on police brutality, on economic and class divisions and you see Kendrick performing right there. Damn was also named the best rap album in this year`s Grammy Awards, that`s the 11th win in there for rapper we congratulate him on the Pulitzer. Now up next, something a little lighter. I got the John Oliver treatment last night, and we`ll show it to you.


MELBER: Now before we go, if you watch this show, you know we`ll do just about anything to try to explain the news around here. And last night HBO`s John Oliver ribbed one of our tendencies on THE BEAT.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now, Ari Melber, rap genius.

MELBER: Do you ever listen to the rapper Kevin Gates?

Call it the Dr. Dre rule of politics.

To paraphrase Kanye West, you`ll have to wait for the 35th of Nevuary, 35th of Nevuary.

Well, you know what Kanye calls that is the 35th of Nevuary.


MELBER: Busted. It went on like that for a minute. John had some material. But as they say in the game, what`s better than one corny rap montage? Two corny rap montages.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now, Ari Melber, the rap genius volume two, just Jay-Z quotes.

MELBER: We know the pain is real, but you can`t heal what you never reveal.

As you know, Jay-Z says what`s better than one billionaire? Two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Also, nobody mentioned reasonable doubt. You have to acquit.

MELBER: You mean Jay-Z`s first album?


MELBER: But it`s not just rap on THE BEAT. It turns out John Oliver likes to sing.

OLIVER: Be our guest, be our guest, put our servers to the test.

You`re going to hear me roar louder, louder than a lion

As a matter of fact, I can`t wait for your candy rain.

Been a long, long time coming

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I tell you something?

OLIVER: Wait. Change don`t come. Now go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You really have a terrible voice.


MELBER: I see you, John Oliver. I see you. I salute you. I thank you and maybe you inspired all of us. That is our show. Thanks for watching THE BEAT. We`ll be back 6:00 p.m. Eastern. "HARDBALL" starts now.