Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: April 20, 2018 Guest: Jonathan Greenberg; Jackie Speier
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.
Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I didn't know you guys were celebrating 4/20. Peter Tosh always said, legalize it, don't criticize it, you know.
TODD: All right. That's why Tosh has like 30 million followers on twitter.
MELBER: Is that true? How do you know that?
TODD: I don't - it is some absurd number. There is like Tosh and everybody else, apparently. Tosh and Taylor Swift, I think.
MELBER: I didn't know that.
TODD: I didn't either. I was stunned.
MELBER: I learn so much from you every day, but especially on 4/20. Thank you, Chuck Todd.
TODD: Thank you.
MELBER: Tonight we begin with a twist in the Russia probe. Democrats have just filed a new lawsuit and they alleged that the Russians conspired with the Trump campaign for the hacking that so defined the 2016 election. This is brand-new. It's a civil suit. It names in intelligence services that are run, of course, by Putin. It also explicitly names WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the Trump campaign itself, as well as explicitly naming senior figures in it, including suing those two members of the President's family, you see right there, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. The Trump campaign now is punching back. They say this is a sham lawsuit about bogus collusion.
All of this coming, of course, as James Comey has exposed many things about Donald Trump in those new memos, including that he was allegedly upset that he didn't know about a phone call from Putin right after the inauguration. Trump allegedly then confronting Michael Flynn about it and Flynn said the return call that Putin scheduled a few days later which prompted a heated response from Trump that six days is not an appropriate period time of time to return that call.
So, not only was Putin one of the first people to call Donald Trump that there is inauguration but Trump was apparently incensed about the return time of those calls, diplomacy.
On another unusual interaction getting a lot of attention tonight, Comey writing that Trump brought up the Russia dossier repeatedly, that he denied those very salacious allegations that we have reported on and saying that even still, although they weren't true, they were apparently allegedly discussed with Putin. Now, I'm only telling you this because it's right there in these unusual contemporaneous memos that James Comey chose to keep.
Now, last night in an interview that we have discussed on this show that we were waiting for that has now occurred, Rachel Maddow pressing Comey on that whole conversation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: He told you that he had had a personal conversation with President Putin about hookers?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Yes.
MADDOW: Did you believe him or did you think he was speaking hyperbolically?
COMEY: He didn't seem to be speaking hyperbolically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That's an important and new exchange, because Rachel is getting at the question, was this just more puffery, hyperbole, lies, for whatever reason, or is there something real here? Now, we do know that Trump and Putin were speaking directly on the phone about that time. We don't know what they talked about. You may recall other transcripts have leaked, but not theirs.
We can show you something else, though, right now. Vladimir Putin used some of the same language that you just heard when he was asked about the dossier at a press conference. And the context here, this was just weeks before Comey's conversation with Trump about all of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA'S PRESIDENT (through translator): I don't know Mr. Trump. I have never met him. It's hard to imagine why he would fund a hotel room to meet with Russian girls of questionable social stature. Although no doubt that Russia has the best of those girls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I'm joined now by California congresswoman, Jackie Speier, who serves on the House intelligence committee. Former Watergate special prosecutor, Nick Ackerman and MSNBC terrorism expert, Malcolm Nance.
Congresswoman, much has come out and much has been discussed about these Comey memos, which leaked from your Congress, your institution. Not you, per se. Walk us through what you think is significant about this and was Congress right to leak them?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, this is an example where the majority, the Republicans, wanted desperately for those memos to come under their possession so that they could use them as a weapon. They then, I think, leaked them immediately and it sort of blew up in their faces. It just confirms what then director Comey had said during the hearings on the Senate side and also what he has been saying all along.
I think the most -- one of the most interesting elements of it was the fact that the President referred to Michael Flynn, who was in a very sensitive position, as his national security adviser, and commenting to director Comey at the time, that he was concerned about his judgment. Well, why would you put someone in that kind of a position if you did not believe they had sound judgment?
MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC TERRORISM EXPERT: Well, it's all fascinating to me. You know, I would like to touch on one point that I felt was absolutely amazing in the Comey memo, which was, it appears that Donald Trump, when he was saying to Jim Comey, the whole party about how Russia has the best women, that he might be a little detached from reality. Many of us heard during that time the comments made by Vladimir Putin of women of questionable social responsibility and how Russia might have the best women in the world. Donald Trump somehow seemed to take that comment and embody it. And bring that into his reality, as if he had actually spoken to the Russian President.
MELBER: So your theory --
NANCE: That --.
MELBER: So your theory -- let's go into that. Your theory of the case, because this is new to our viewers, because we just dug up that footage, your theory of the case is that Donald Trump may not have had that private conversation with Putin, but rather heard those words from Putin and integrated it in his own mind into an imagined conversation?
NANCE: Yes. And we have seen this happen several times before. I mean, unless -- I mean, the first phone call of a President of the United States, with the President of Russia, and if they have a conversation about Russian prostitutes in there, then that's disturbing enough. But I really think that he just heard that comment from Putin and incorporated that into his reality. And I think that's the single-most disturbing part of the entire release we had yesterday.
MELBER: Well, it's a fascinating question, Nick Ackerman. And as you know, in court, there's a saying, not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good. Do you know that saying?
NICK ACKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, I think in this case --.
MELBER: You know that saying?
ACKERMAN: Yes. I do know that saying.
MELBER: OK. Well, I wonder whether this is bad meaning good, if Donald Trump was imagining these things, that raises a lot of questions about him, but it might be legally good for him if he wasn't discussing the dossier with Trump.
ACKERMAN: It might, but he may have been discussing the dossier with Trump. Throughout the campaign, he was boasting that he knew Putin well, that he had conversations with him. And then, when the press pointed out to him and others pointed out to him, hey, that's not so good, you know, it sort of questions his loyalty to the U.S. He suddenly claimed, I never talked to Putin, never explained his prior statements.
So you have got these -- a series of prior inconsistent statements, where it appeared he was having his own conversations with Putin. We don't know what the truth is. We don't know if during the campaign, Trump and Putin had not communicated in some way.
MELBER: Now, let me ask you the legal part. And obviously, we understand why certain parts of this are getting a lot of attention. But the legal part that is more dry, but potentially more legally significant is, do these memos increase or decrease the credibility of James Comey has a witness?
ACKERMAN: Oh, complete increase. I mean, these are contemporaneous memos. He wrote down everything, right after it happened. And if you read through them as a totality, they are even more interesting. Because you can almost tell, even though he has been criticized for not saying that Trump was obstructing justice, you could almost feel the obstruction when he starts just going into the detail and description of what Trump is saying and how he is saying it. It just reeks of obstruction of justice.
MELBER: Congresswoman, same question to you.
SPEIER: I think that it underscores Comey's reputation, generally, as, you know, being straight-shooter accurate. I also think it calls into question, once again, the fitness of the President to serve, because as Comey said in those contemporaneous notes, it was like a puzzle. He was throwing one puzzle piece down and then putting it back up, jumping from one topic to another, in a monologue. He does not track well. And in terms of his ability to lie, we have seen that over and over and over again.
MELBER: Congresswoman, when you say, these memos make you question Donald Trump's fitness, what do you mean?
SPEIER: I have, for a long time, been very concerned about the President's fitness to serve. And I worry whether he is fueling the fires against North Korea with his fire and furry language, or whether he is just having a conversation. In this case, with director Comey, and how he jumps from topic to topic. There isn't the kind of discipline associated with what we would expect the President to have.
MELBER: But do these memos in your view raise questions about his actual ability to do the job and his legitimacy? Because the militants that he may show in his rhetoric towards other countries is a policy debate that you could vehemently disagree with many Presidents on that score.
SPEIER: Well, I would suggest to you that what it shows is that he does not have the discipline to be able to have a conversation, to engage with someone in a manner that has a give and take that he is constantly jumping from one topic to another. He does that in his press conferences all the time. He continues to repeat sentences over and over again. I worry about his fitness.
MELBER: Malcolm Nance, I to turn to the other piece of this, which is where the intelligence service has landed on what was a difficult situation. I have summed up some of what we see from the memos as yet again, when it comes to James Comey, good memory, questionable judgment. By which I mean that at least with the benefit of hindsight, there are things that any rational person would have done differently. And as Comey himself has acknowledged in some of these interviews, there are times when he didn't really step all the way up. He memorialized things he didn't do anything wrong. But didn't always step all the way up and say to the Trump White House as they broke certain rules, don't do that, this is wrong. He navigated and people in government do that.
I put the question to you, knowing what we know now, how better could they have handled this delicate briefing at Trump tower, which clearly didn't go as the intelligence leaders wanted?
NANCE: You know, the fault that lies in that is that they thought, by going and briefing Donald Trump, that he would be a rational, dignified player, who would take this information on logically. And use it for the good of the nation. And clearly, they didn't know who they were briefing. They were briefing a man who took this as a personal affront to him and decided to weaponize --
MELBER: Sir, I think you put it perfectly. I'm going to push you a little harder. Because one of the things we are most proud of here at THE BEAT is how smart our viewers are. And I read a lot of their emails and tweets. I bet you a lot of our viewers right now would say to you, well, if you run an intelligence agency, how come you didn't understand, by the transition, who Donald Trump was? Because a lot of other people have been observing his behavior and his approach, his monetizing of the campaign and the presidency, rather than pursuing the public interest, his lack of a record or history in ever doing anything in the public interest. Quite the contrary, more stealing from charities and that kind of thing.
Why were these people, who have intelligence in their title, if you'll permit me to be that jocular, why didn't they understand that you don't brief this President the way you might have briefed other Presidents, Obama or Bush.
NANCE: Right. Well, I agree with you 100 percent. I wrote a whole book about this before the election. You know, the norms were just shattered here. And they should have known, particularly the FBI, knowing that the profile of this individual may have been involved in a counter intelligence operation against the nation. But they had standards, traditions, and norms they had to fulfill and did fulfill for every President. And they just had to maintain that.
ACKERMAN: Yes, look, I think you have to go through this whole thing in general. You look at the whole thing, and it really does corroborate what Comey's been saying from the beginning. I mean, I think that's the bottom line. If you had him on the witness stand, you would feel real comfortable in front of a jury saying this guy is believable.
MELBER: Yes. And at the end of the day, witnesses particularly in any kind of case around government activity or obstruction, they are there for the facts more than their opinions. And people have debated James Comey's opinions for a couple of years now, on the facts. I was struck, having studied these memos all last night, at how on every material fact, they corroborated what he had said under oath or what's in the book, whether you agree with it or not. That's striking for a potential witness.
Excellent panel, if I may say so. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thank you. Nick Ackerman and Malcolm Nance. Have a great weekend.
Coming up, this revelation about the FBI and the newest member of Trump's legal team, Rudy Giuliani. We are going to get into that.
Later, my Special Report on Trump's desire to control the DOJ. The keys we are learning from the Comey memos.
Also, new audit tapes now disclosed shows Trump pretending to literally be someone else in order to try to fool people about how rich he was. I have the journalist live who went public with the John Barron tapes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump. But I think you can really use Donald Trump now and you can just consolidate it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And that's not all. Tonight on THE BEAT, I have an interview with the Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn and his new book about America in the age of Donald Trump. He's my special guest here at 30 Rock.
I'm Ari Melber and you're watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Here's a big story. James Comey just told Rachel Maddow that Rudy Giuliani's election comments sparked an FBI leak investigation. Comments like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then I think he's got a surprise or two that you are going to hear about in the next few days. I mean, I'm talking about some pretty big surprise.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard you say that this morning. What do you mean?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You will see. Giuliani later claimed the surprise he was referring to was new ads by the Trump campaign. Apparently the FBI thought differently, as Comey revealed to Rachel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Did Rudy Giuliani, and therefore the Trump campaign, have advance notice from inside the FBI, from the New York field office or wherever, that this announcement from you was coming?
COMEY: Not that I know of, but I saw that same publicity and so I commissioned an investigation to see if we could understand whether people were disclosing information out of the New York office or any other place that resulted in Rudy's report on FOX News.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It was not the first time in the campaign that Giuliani seemed to have a heads-up about events. One day after Trump asked for Russia's help in finding Hillary Clinton's emails, Rudy Giuliani said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: The Russians have those emails. They have had them for some time
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What?! Giuliani is now a new member of Donald Trump's criminal legal defense team.
I'm joined by MSNBC's Howard Fineman and Sam Seder, host of "the Majority Report."
Howard is a closer friend of mine on the show than you are. But I'm going to begin with you.
OK, I was going to say --
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBCNEWS.COM CONTRIBUTOR: I yield my time.
MELBER: Because you have spoken forcefully and thoughtfully about this relationship between FOX News, conservative commentary, where we saw Rudy make this case, and other insidious parts of unseen politics. What do you make of this?
SAM SEDER, HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT: You know, Wayne Barrack, the later Wayne Barrack (INAUDIBLE) who wrote about a Donald Trump for years and years and had a long relationship with him, wrote quite a bit about the nexus coming out of the New York FBI office, about former head Jim Calstrum there and Rudy Giuliani's relationship. And there is a lot of weird stud. When you throw in Felix Seder, who is an asset for the CIA and informant for the FBI, there is a lot of weird things that going around there. And there's a lot of relationships with active and former FBI agents.
So, I mean, Rudy Giuliani clearly there was trying to impress a lot of people at FOX. And was trying to just, on some level, just sort of go out and boast about his connections. I mean, it's laughable when you look at it now.
And I'm really curious as to what happened to that investigation that Comey initiated into that relationship between New York FBI office and Rudy Giuliani. Because remember, that's also where there was a lot of supposed upheaval during the course of this investigation. And where this Anthony Weiner stuff came out.
MELBER: And in the memos, we haven't even touched on this yet tonight, the Comey memos say that Donald Trump was personally asking Comey about what you just said. Was there an FBI revolt? Was there conservative or Republican pressure that somehow was working the system? And it also reveals that Reince Priebus wanted a full briefing on why Hillary Clinton's offenses were not quote "chargeable." I mean, there's a lot in these memos, other than what may or may not have ever happened in Moscow. Take a listen to Rudy Giuliani again doing what he does on FOX during the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: I had expected this for the last, honestly, to tell you the truth, I thought it was going to be about three or four weeks ago. I did nothing to get it out. I had no role in it. Did I hear about it? You're darned right I heard about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FINEMAN: Well, I'm trying to figure out why Donald Trump did this. Namely, why he named Rudy Giuliani to his team. Because don't forget, at the beginning of the assembly of the administration, Donald Trump rejected the idea of having Rudy Giuliani on board. Everybody around the inner circle of Donald Trump said, Rudy? No. No Rudy, no Rudy. So that's the first thing.
The second thing is, based on what Rudy himself has said, he may have made it up all up, who knows, he may be the subject of the investigation, not somebody representing the President in the investigation.
MELBER: Well, you raise something --
FINEMAN: He said he knew about the 30,000 --
MELBER: I want to be very clear. I want to be very clear. What Comey is saying, what he disclosed on MSNBC is that they were looking into whether the FBI was leaking into Giuliani. As untoward as all of that is, it makes Rudy a key player. But yes, the first line of the investigation would be whether people inside the FBI did anything wrong. I wonder what you think about why Donald Trump would be moved back towards Rudy, when they clearly didn't get long enough to bring him on at first.
FINEMAN: Here's a few reasons. Number one, the southern district of New York, as you were discussing. As you know, as a lawyer, as somebody who's been involved in court cases, there's no more revered jurisdiction than the southern district of New York and the U.S. attorney there.
MELBER: `Indeed, I will just interrupt. I want to add to your point, it is the place where Rudy was the prosecutor, Mary Jo White, who went on to run the SEC, a man named James Comey and a man named Preet Bharara. It was one of the top decisions.
FINEMAN: Right. The sort of most logical and above board and sensible legal explanation is by bringing Rudy Giuliani in, there's a certain amount. However much James Comey attacked Rudy Giuliani in James Comey's book, there's a certain bit of prestige and honor among colleagues in the U.S. attorney's office. And by bringing Rudy in, Donald Trump, I think, to one extent, is signaling that the Michael Cohen thing is really important. Because that's happening in the southern district. And they are saying, look, we have got a guy here who has been the U.S. attorney there. That's one explanation.
And another explanation is that -- a less charitable one, is that Donald Trump is in this bizarre-o world of -- he's got a FOX cabinet. He has got - he has got Sean Hannity is his chief of staff. He has got John Bolton as his national security adviser. He's got Larry Kudlow as his economic adviser. Rudy is the guy to be out there politically in his sort of TV cabinet.
MELBER: And let me go to Sam on that, because that brings us full circle around the bend. If Donald Trump is offered legal advice and it's not commissioned and presented on FOX News, does it make a sound?
SEDER: Well, I mean, it's quite possible that Hannity basically said to him, pick up Rudy and Rudy - I mean, I'm not being facetious. I mean, I think it's quite possible that Hannity's sitting around with Rudy and Hannity says to Donald Trump, you should get Rudy --
MELBER: But that would be, I have to say, even for this world, that would be ridiculous. The only thing that would make me believe that --
SEDER: It would be ridiculous.
MELBER: The only thing that would make me believe that would be if, I don't know, if Hannity and Trump shared the same lawyers or something.
SEDER: Exactly. And there's also one other element. I mean, look, we don't know what Rudy's exposure is in all of the investigations that are going around here. I mean, it may be the case that the only investigation that we know about involves maybe he received some leaks. But Rudy Giuliani has some interest involved in Turkey. We don't know -- and has represented there.
MELBER: My control room is melting down, because we are 90 seconds over in this segment.
SEDER: I should mention, it's nice to be a lawyer --
MELBER: Sam Seder, Howard Fineman, thank you both.
I want to go and turn to our next guest, who has a new clue in this central mystery about Donald Trump. Is he as rich as he claims?
Today, there's a former "Forbes" investigative journalist revealing new audiotapes from the 1980s. He says they feature Trump calling him and lying about his wealth, part of an effort to land a spot on the coveted "Forbes" 400 richest list. But the kicker, Trump doing it with a fake identity. You may have heard about this. He pretends to be a Trump representative named John Barron.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, what's your first name, by the way?
JOHN BARRON: John.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John.
BARRON: John Barron. Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump, you know, because, you have down Dred (ph) Trump. But I think you can really use Donald Trump now and you can just consolidate --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying that perhaps for tax purposes, it's been -- the ownership has been transferred to Donald Trump?
BARRON: Correct. That's correct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. And when you say, you know, in excess of 90 percent of the ownership.
BARRON: I would say in excess of 90 percent. In fact, well, it's really closer to even the ultimate, but in excess of 90 percent, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I'm now joined by my special guest, that former "Forbes" investigative journalist, Jonathan Greenberg.
Why is this audio coming out now? What do you want people to know?
JONATHAN GREENBERG, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, I didn't find the audio until a few months ago. And I want people to know the extent to which, you know, Trump's entire business entire and reputation as a successful businessman is based upon deception. To the extent -- and in a way, it's sort of unbelievable, until you hear it with your own ears.
So when I unearthed these aid audiotapes that I had, you know, in my storage for 35 years and looked at them, I saw, John Barron, VP of finance 1984 for the "Forbes" richest list. I was like, wait a minute. And I listened to them and I realized between that and the other interviews I had done with Donald himself in 1982 and 1983, acting as Donald Trump, and all the subsequent information, how intricate the fraud of his net worth was. And also, how instead of $100 million, which I put him down for in 1982, he was actually worth $5 million at that time.
MELBER: Right. Now, yes or no, has anyone else to your knowledge ever acted as a fake spokesman for themselves in your interviews?
GREENBERG: No. I -- it was something -- it was like -- I didn't even think of it. I had heard him in 1982, 1983 and --
MELBER: It was so bizarre. And then you write that you had a confidentiality agreement, meaning an off-the-record understanding with John Barron, but you don't feel you need to honor that, because the agreement was reached with a fictitious person?
GREENBERG: That's correct. He didn't exist. So it's like, he was doing this deception and using this off-the-record concept to hope that it would never catch up with him.
MELBER: Why do you think it was so important to Donald Trump to lie about his wealth and what does it tell you about his tax returns, potentially?
GREENBERG: I think it was important because, you know, there was some basic fundamental things that got put into the "Forbes 400" and to up his net worth, because Donald never had an actual statement of his assets and his liabilities. He used the "Forbes 400" and this statement of inflated assets to borrow billions and billions of dollars, which he used to build Atlantic City and overleverage himself.
MELBER: This is an important point. By the way, we are looking at the "Forbes" cover story. And I commend you for being willing to speak out like this. I know you were 25, I believe, when this whole thing started. There are many people, in many lines of work, including reporters, which if they're conned, they kind of want to leave it alone. So it takes a lot for you to say that you feel that he conned you and you want to speak out on it.
You just made, in closing, a very important point. You think he was doing this not only for media, which we've always heard about, but you are saying he wanted to use the "Forbes" list to fraudulently induce people to fund him in ways they otherwise would not?
GREENBERG: That's correct. I think he did that. And I think the reason he is not releasing his tax returns because they will show he is not at the level of success that he claims.
MELBER: Do you think it's possible he's not even a billionaire?
GREENBERG: I think it's possible he is not a billionaire on a cash flow, you know, on a multiple of cash flow basis.
MELBER: I was waiting for you to say multiple of cash flow basis and you did. And that caps the whole interview.
Jonathan Greenberg, again, I really thank you for telling a story and telling on THE BEAT.
GREENBERG: Thank you very much.
MELBER: Up ahead, we turn to my special report on what Comey's memos reveal about trump's approach to justice and why he wanted senior-ranking DOJ officials to be personally lawyer. And tonight, our special, Oscar- Winning Actor Sean Penn for his first appearance on THE BEAT and his view on the Trump era, and then, of course, it's Friday and we'll be doing "FALLBACK FRIDAY" as well, tonight. Stay with us.
MELBER: The other top story tonight, President Donald Trump's fixation on the upper echelons of federal law enforcement and what it now means in what remains the criminal obstruction case looking at his conduct, as well as others in the White House. James Comey's memos have revealed in more stark detail than we've ever seen from contemporaneous notes, not what people say later, but what he wrote at the time, they reveal Trump obsessed with high- ranked officials in the FBI and the DOJ, and that it started earlier and ran much deeper than many people knew. These memos show Donald Trump, for example, explicitly concerned about guess who, Rod Rosenstein, who would go on to be Mueller's boss. Well, he was looking at Rosenstein from the very beginning, back when he was just a nominee for Deputy Attorney General. The memos show that Trump was asking Comey about how Republicans were holding up Rosenstein's nomination. The memos also depict Trump as very curious about Barack Obama's two Attorneys General, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, asking Comey to even compare the two. The Comey/Lynch relationship generates questions to this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: It seems to me like, with Loretta Lynch, you worried very much about what misinformed people were going to say about her. That there -- that there was no true reason to have concerns about Loretta Lynch's integrity with that investigation, but misinformed people would get the wrong idea and you took action to account for that rather than the truth.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: Well, maybe in a slight sense, that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to believe that if I do the announcement next to Loretta, it won't have credibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I've already spoken about that, so I won't get into it right now. On the Trump side of things, we get a fuller picture of Trump's reported quest to obtain something inappropriate, personal loyalty from the FBI Director. Now, of course, we've heard about some of that, but the memos in more contemporaneous detail show Trump testing Comey in several different ways. Asking, for example, was he following the political tweets from Donald Trump? And was he following White House press briefings, which is bizarre, if he was working during the day? He also learn it was not just Trump asking Comey to let Michael Flynn go, it was also Trump's Chief of Staff asking about Flynn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Was he asking if Mike Flynn is currently under surveillance or if Mike Flynn is under a very serious form of investigation? Do you know what he was getting at by asking you that?
COMEY: Not for sure. I think he was asking, is there current electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of the National Security Adviser?
MADDOW: And you did give him an answer?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump fired Comey, and he said it was over Russia. Now, later, there was, of course, Comey's deputy, Andrew McCabe, who was run out of the DOJ in one of the most unusual firings ever. We've reported on that, but there is so much more now in these memos that come -- that came out last night. Comey is depicting Trump as obsessed with McCabe. In January of 2017, he asked if McCabe would be a problem working with Trump because Trump had so viciously publicly attacked him during the campaign. And in February, Trump asked if McCabe knew about his attacks on him during the campaign. So he's trying to keep up with all of that. Then in March again, at the end of an unrelated conversation, Trump mentions that he hadn't brought up McCabe during the conversation, which is a way of bringing up, and then saying, well, he trusts Comey's view backing up McCabe. Now, Comey calls Trump's takedown of his former number two as shameful.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Are you concerned there's been an orchestrated campaign to target you and other people who could corroborate your testimony as witnesses?
COMEY: There's certainly been an organized campaign to target me. There was definitely an organized campaign to attack Andy McCabe and urge his firing, tear down his reputation, attack his wife, just shameful attacks from the President directly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Just shameful, according to Comey. Of course, the news has broken that Andrew McCabe is actually, through the Trump Justice Department, facing a criminal referral, meaning a witness to potential obstruction by Trump could, himself, become a target. You take this all together, put aside some of the other stuff we have reported. It's newsworthy, but in this breakdown, you'll notice some of the things I didn't mention about the memos. And look at the picture that James Comey was writing, far before he knew that he would be fired or that there would be a Bob Mueller or anything else. You know, Donald Trump's critics often depicted him as clueless or even demented. These memos written from inside the room, they show something else. They cast Donald Trump as canny and sophisticated and detail oriented, if, albeit, perhaps paranoid, and they cast him as someone who does not respect the rule of law and who was hell-bent on squashing any potential legal threat from inside the DOJ. That is something worth keeping in mind as more evidence comes out in this open probe. Now, still ahead tonight, I turn to my conversation with Academy Award-Winning Actor Sean Penn. He talks about Donald Trump as American in his new book and it's withering. But first, you know what day it is and so hopefully you know it is "FALLBACK FRIDAY" when we are back in just 90 seconds.
MELBER: It's Friday on THE BEAT and you know what that means. It is time to fall back. I am joined tonight by award-winning D.J. and Producer, J. Period. He's worked with John Legend, Nas, Common and even a little Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda. His newest mixtape is called Wakanda Forever Ever. So it obviously features Outkast as we say in the newsroom dope. I'm also joined by Actor and Comedian Sean Crespo who is a Writer for the acclaimed Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Thanks for being here, you guys.
SEAN CRESPO, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN: Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.
MELBER: Jay, who needs to fall back this week?
J. PERIOD, D.J. AND PRODUCER: Man, you know, I think the first person I would say is anyone who has not recognized the significance of hip-hop culture. You know, we are now in the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian. The Kennedy Center just announced the hip-hop counsel. So you know, Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer a couple of few days ago. I think it's safe to say that hip-hop has arrived as a cultural art.
MELBER: Yes, or maybe Sean, Kendrick won the Pulitzer and Margaret Atwood needs to fall back. You know what I'm saying?
CRESPO: I do know what you're saying.
MELBER: Who's your vote?
CRESPO: I would say, you know, there was a study, a report that came out, I think yesterday or today that white evangelicals are doubling down on their support of Trump and I feel like white evangelicals need to fall back, because I don't know what it's going to take for that relationship to come to an end. Like, I feel like at this point Trump would have to impregnate a bible and have Cohen pay for the abortion for them to be like, oh, maybe we shouldn't do this.
MELBER: But that would just be another commandment violated. They -- he's already violated other commandments.
CRESPO: How do you up that game, though? It's like -- it's such a creepy, symbiotic relationship. It would be like if Damian's parents, instead of being horrified by what Damian did, like, I feel like they sent Damian to a Montessori school for telekinetic murdering, you know. How was knife floating class sweetheart?
MELBER: My "FALLBACK" is Chris Christie and his super expensive portrait. I mean, this is one way to go out. You can take a look. Chris Christie is getting his portrait as New Jersey Governor -- do we have it -- $85,000. We're going to show you the past governor's portraits.
CRESPO: Maybe there's a lot of paint.
MELBER: If you look at Corzine, it is a nice little portrait here. This is going to cost more than the three of those beautiful portraits combined. My only hope, if you remember this, by the way, have you guys seen this? My only hope is maybe they will base it off of his time with Donald Trump when he had the silent scream. Do you remember that?
CRESPO: I do not remember that.
MELBER: Do you don't remember -- look, he doesn't move at all. See that? And so we were thinking, and this is the end of my "FALLBACK" speech, if we went more of an Edvard Munch vibe.
CRESPO: Well, if you could just stretch --
MELBER: And just channel and channel that, maybe that would be something.
CRESPO: I would be behind that. I would go to that art gallery. Just nothing but Chris Christie screaming portraits.
MELBER: Do you have any other "FALLBACKS"?
CRESPO: Yes, I feel like, also, with Schumer finally pushing for the decriminalization of marijuana, like a good "FALLBACK."
CRESPO: Yes, it's 4/20. Jeff Sessions needs to fall back because there's so many good uses for medical marijuana, vets, PTSD, seizures. It's just ludicrous that marijuana is a schedule one drug and so is heroin. Like, that's insane. Because if Trainspotting were just a movie about a bunch of potheads, like it would literally be just an hour and a half of people watching trains and occasionally ordering a veggie burrito and not ruining their lives.
MELBER: So, maybe it's not just Jeff Sessions, but our antiquated federal laws on classifying drugs needs to fall back which is a catchy sentence.
CRESPO: Yes. They should emboss that in Latin or something.
MELBER: Sean Crespo, J. Period, thank you both for being here. And now we turn, up next, our Oscar-Winning Actor Sean Penn is here on THE BEAT next.
MELBER: Donald Trump is not just triggering a political resistance right now. There is a cultural backlash, as well. Take Oscar Winner Sean Penn, known for his iconic roles films like Mystic River and Milk, now he's taking on a Trump-like character in his new novel Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff.
MELBER: Sean Penn joins me on THE BEAT. Thanks for being here.
SEAN PENN, ACTOR: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: What are you saying with this novel?
PENN: I think essentially, it's a love letter to the best of this country, disguised as an equal opportunity, high offender.
MELBER: When you look at a fictional president that in this book tweets that has echoes of Trump, why take on Trump that way?
PENN: Well, I think the book is much less reflective of any particular individual than it is a kind of lament about the -- you know, a humorous lament about where we've come as a culture, at large. The leaders are results of all of that and it's a kind of -- it's a cry for mutual accountability.
MELBER: Which goes to a passage I want to read, which folks can interpret for themselves but talking about the character who is based, it appears, at times, on Trump. You say many wonderful American people in pain and rage elected you, addressing this person. Many Russians did, too. Though the office will remain real, you never were, nor will be.
PENN: I think when talking about, at large is where we've become a society so invested in branding that people themselves exist only as a brand.
MELBER: How do you as an artist approach that insight when you are also, to many people, Sean Penn, a brand, a figure, not just a human being?
PENN: Yes, I mean, I think there's two ways to live a life. One is to be in pursuit of being a brand and the other one is to fight and run as much as you can. You never going to win entirely because people are going to have their perceptions of you. You may also have, you know, in one way or another created a perception of one's self.
MELBER: Why did so many Americans then want to literally elect a brand?
PENN: Well, certainly we've come to a point where the -- those things once considered principles of integrity are considered a fool's game. And I think that the way in which the culture has become enamored with that celebrity, I often think about this President, the way that the audience, meaning the electorate, were it a Batman movie, this is them rooting for the Joker against their own interests and looking to beat Batman down. When they go in the movie theater and while they might enjoy the colorful quality of a performance of a Joker, they want Batman to win. And I think that the transfer from what we want in our real lives and what we want in our fantasy life has become a kind of poisonous counterpoint.
MELBER: Your book has definitely stirred up debate already. There are people who really don't like it. And we know that from a new ad here. This is in the New York Times and other papers that your publisher is running. So this is pretty unusual. The first quote says from Marie Claire "honestly, shut your face, Sean Penn." Another says "Sean Penn the Novelist must be stopped." Is this book Bob Honey wildly offensive? "It is." And then some of them speak to the way art can be more than one thing. I'll keep reading this to you to prolong the awkwardness of this moment, Sean. "Entertaining and maddening in equal measure, perplexing and unquantifiable by design," and the Guardian says "repellent on one level but stupid on so many others." Tell me about your reaction and why it's an ad in the Times?
PENN: I do like this a lot and it kind of makes me feel like yes, I did it. The author Jane Smiley said something fantastic and it got me thinking. She said after reading the book, she thought that this was going to be about a 25-75, 25 percent of the people that read the book were going to love it and the other 75 were going to loathe it. And I thought, well, that's a much better ratio than I had in my personal relationships so it's a victory for me.
MELBER: While you're here, I want to talk to you about the drug war and El Chapo. It's something you worked a lot. It's something we cover on this show. Your 60 Minutes on El Chapo was one of the most seen 60 Minutes until Stormy Daniels, talk about a news hook comparison. Let's take a look.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On January 8th, when the Mexican Marines finally raided El Chapo's hideout as seen in this video, they caught him as he attempted still another escape. Chapo's arrest raised questions whether the actor and actress had been trapped and helped lead the Mexican Marines to the drug lord.
PENN: There are irrational people. And so, I can't say for sure you know, that there's no risk.
MELBER: You were talking about the process that went into your lengthy and much-discussed article. This is now an issue in El Chapo's trial. I'm reading from federal prosecutors say. They're asking a judge to block jurors from even reading Sean Penn's article about El Chapo arguing that presenting it to jurors would "draw sympathy" for the defendant, El Chapo. Number one, do you think the jurors should be able to read your article, and number two, what do you see as you look at him facing justice in an American courtroom?
PENN: First, I would say that it represents a misreading of my piece. Largely what I found is that most who had reported on the piece in the first place, there was evidence that they'd never read it, that they'd read excerpts of it and sort of regurgitated those. What my position about whether or not jurors should be able to read this, this is a legal issue and I think that it's not for me to say.
MELBER: We love having you on THE BEAT. Sean Penn, the book is Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff. Some people like it and some people don't as we discussed with Sean. Thank you for being here.
PENN: Thanks very much.
MELBER: And breaking news on the Mueller probe. This is from the Washington Post. We just got it. They are reporting Attorney General Jeff Sessions has warned the White House that he would consider leaving his job if Trump went ahead and removed his Deputy, the acting boss for Bob Mueller, Rod Rosenstein. Now, Sessions has recused himself from the entire Russia probe which we know is a big point of frustration for Donald Trump. This message according to the Post was delivered by Jeff Sessions through the official channels to the White House Counsel just last weekend. That was right after Rosenstein, you guessed it approved the FBI raid on Donald Trump's long-time personal attorney Michael Cohen. What you're seeing is a warning about what would happen if Donald Trump went ahead and went after Rosenstein. And that warning is a potential Saturday Night Massacre. We'll have more on this tonight on THE LAST WORD because I'm filling in for Lawrence O'Donnell, 10:00 p.m. tonight. 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