Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: April 27, 2018 Guest: David Rothkopf; Karen Loeffler; Liz Plank, Aisha Moodie-Mills, Fab Five Freddy, Peter Rosenberg
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, MEET THE PRESS DAILY: Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I`m shaking my proverbial hand toward you in a sign of respect.
TODD: I will give you a fist bump, buddy. You and I, we are new school. Got a fist bump.
MELBER: We are no school, sir.
Thank you, Chuck Todd. I will be watching on Sunday. I might be live tweeting.
Our top story tonight, though a revelation tying the Kremlin to the Trump tower meeting. The key Russian at the Trump tower campaign meeting offering dirt on Clinton.
Let me tell you why this matters. This person is now and this is really arguably for the first time in public reports linked directly to the Kremlin.
NBC News Richard Engel reporting that Ms. Veselnitskaya does work for the Kremlin. Now that is vague because you may recall she told the U.S. Senate, and this was public, that she was independent of any government bodies in Russia. And that she had denied any relationship with (INAUDIBLE), the very prosecutor who is considered a key source of potential incriminating material on Putin foes (ph).
But pressed on the new evidence by Engel, she is now admitting the more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS REPORTER: The only reason I`m asking these questions is because of the contact you had with the most senior people who are now in our government.
NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA, RUSSIAN LAWYER: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
ENGEL: You said your relationship with the prosecutor general is what?
VESELNITSKAYA: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Listen, Richard, as the saying goes. There he is. Richard Engel is live on THE BEAT tonight at the top of our show to discuss this big interview. But here is part of how Mr. Engel, my colleague, broke this story obtaining new evidence from a Russian exile and Putin foe. Mikael (INAUDIBLE) who jailed him after he spoke out. He was in prison for about 10 years. He lives abroad. And he told THE BEAT in October that the prosecutor named in this story (INAUDIBLE) tends to get permission from Putin before making big moves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I wouldn`t find it unusual if (INAUDIBLE) whom the people have accused of corruption used an attorney he knew to influence influential persons in America because he would want to make himself useful to Vladimir Putin. Were he to decide to take such a step. He would get permission from Vladimir Putin beforehand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A lot of this is coming together in public. Now, that is all about the Russians` involvement in the Trump tower meeting, their side in a ledger today. We are also seeing what Donald Trump junior, the one of the key hosts he put it together after those emails what he told investigators about it. Because he was saying the first topic that Veselnitskaya raised was Hillary Clinton`s donors. Which indicates that she knew the purpose of the meeting. That is to say where it started was offering this derogatory information about Clinton.
So yes, the meeting was about dirt on Hillary Clinton. And yes, now we know the Russians had a link to Putin who was kicking off the conversation. You know, the learning curve about what happened here may not be that steep after all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR., TRUMP`S SON: This is the first time we have ever done any of this. This is -- you know, I`m still way in the learning curve on all of this. I want to hear the information and that is what we do in business. If there`s information, you want it and then you make what you do with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was don junior explaining his role in the meeting. And let`s be clear, campaigns do want information. But information in someone else`s office? You can`t just steal it. That`s a crime. Ask Richard Nixon.
Information offered by a lawyer for the Kremlin? You can`t think a thing of value from a foreigner in a campaign. That`s a crime. So these new leads tonight are shedding even more light on that FBI raid of Paul Manafort`s home where has been reported they were seeking evidence on, yes, the meeting at Trump tower.
Now, I turn to the reporter of the hour, Richard Engel, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent, David Rothkopf who worked in the Clinton administration and is a foreign policy expert and former federal prosecutor Karen Loeffler. Welcome all.
Richard, your story involves one Putin foe (INAUDIBLE) who we just showed because it`s part of his organization that got some of this evidence. You obviously went about your corroboration independently. Walk us through how you got this and what it means.
ENGEL: So it`s a little bit complicated. But as you said, when you look at it in the bigger scheme of things, it`s actually not that complicated. And the pieces are coming together a little bit like a mosaic. And if you just look at one little spot, you don`t see it. But of you take all the pieces together, you do start to see a pattern.
So there was this meeting at Trump tower right in a critical portion in the campaign. President Trump was then the presumptive nominee. So he was moving up in the world. And there was a lot of setup going on. Who was going to set up this meeting? What was it going to be about? Who was going to be there? And there were emails going back and forth which have become public now and which have become a great focus not only in the press but also of the Mueller investigation.
And according to these communications in the setup to the meeting, the Trump campaign inner circle thought they were going to have this meeting with Veselnitskaya who was described to them as a government lawyer who was going to provide some sort of dirt on Hillary Clinton and then Donald Trump junior said if it is what you say, I love it.
The meeting takes place. And we don`t know exactly what was said in the meeting. But we know that they talked about some sort of dirt that the Russians had or they thought they had on Hillary Clinton. And it was talking about old financial transactions and apparently Donald Trump Junior and the others didn`t find it that interesting, and later tweeted that it was a waste of time. Jared Kushner tried to get out of the meeting apparently asking his assistant to make a call. So it wasn`t exactly the kind of compromising material they were looking for.
Now, CIA officers, retired CIA officers and others we spoke to say that the most important thing is that this meeting took place at all, and that Veselnitskaya who is connected to senior government officials which she is now saying. She says she still says she didn`t work for the Kremlin, doesn`t work for the kremlin, but she certainly has this role as she described as an informant. What that exactly means is something she hasn`t set forth. Not exactly clear what it is, but it`s clearly a connection, and then --
MELBER: Let me, Richard --
ENGEL: There`s a great degree of influence.
MELBER: Richard, let me take some of what you are saying which is you are laying so much out. Let me put it to Karen, our former federal prosecutor and say does anything in here enter into what prosecutors are looking at since we know they were at least searching about information about the meeting?
KAREN LOEFFLER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, yes. I think it does. But I think what -- and thank you, Richard, for your hard work. But the connection that the fact that the Russians would use somebody to try to reach out to the Trump campaign and to the close Trump confidants. And I think they already figured out that this group was to say the least ethically challenged.
And while they were using the other parallel lines of social media and everything else, is, you know, it`s a connection. It`s like we could reach these people. They will meet with us. They will meet with Russians because they are trying to use whatever avenues they can to win the campaign. And whether it was successful and whether they provided the information, the fact that you would have the meeting to try to gather the information is significant.
MELBER: And all of this is coming out, some of these independent news reports on a day when the House Republicans put out something more akin to a bit of a defense brief in their report on the Republican side.
And so David Rothkopf, let me read to you. They say in a finding Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort did attend this meeting at Trump tower. They did expect ti received but did not ultimately obtain derogatory information on candidate Clinton from Russian sources.
What do you make of that defense which is we might have wanted to do something unethical and potentially illegal, but we couldn`t pull it off?
DAVID ROTHKOPF, CEO, THE ROTHKOPF GROUP: First of all, we don`t know that they didn`t pull it off. We have all the evidence that they did pull it off. They may not have received the information at this meeting. But of course, information did come from the Russians later by a WikiLeaks and other that was damaging, did comer at a damaging point in the campaign.
And we also see a pattern of meetings with Russians that George Papadopoulos meeting, this meeting, conversations Manafort had. Carter Page, other people throughout the campaign. So I wouldn`t look at this meeting as the entirety of this whole thing.
The other thing about what happened with the House Republicans and this whitewash report by Devin Nunez who is essentially the PR guy for the White House on this is that they said Donald Trump Junior and Manafort showed bad judgment.
Now I think that`s the understatement of the year. You look at Richard Engel`s interview with this woman, you know. It doesn`t take -- you don`t have to watch a whole season of "Homeland" to think maybe this woman is connected to the Russians in not a very good way. She is representing that she has information and will give you the help of the Russian government in order to achieve something that the Russian government seeks. That`s not bad judgment. That`s seeking the help of an enemy of the United States to win a political campaign.
MELBER: Let me go to Karen and then back to Richard.
Karen, when you look at it that way, and I`m going to read again from a quote from Richard`s big the interview here where she says I`m a lawyer. I`m an informant since 2013. I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general. When you look at that statement, that firms up her links. If they didn`t get information at this meeting, could this meeting still be used to show the kind of criminal intent necessary for other potential crimes during 2016?
LOEFFLER: Well, yes, it could because it certainly looks like an attempt and an interest and intent to try to connect up and with Russian sources which is not allowed. But you have to connect it. Everything is about intent. And you have to connect it with all the other connections as you was just pointed out. You know, all of the efforts from the campaign and all the connections between the campaign and the Russians.
I mean, it`s not -- to walk into this meeting and say I`m shocked to discover this that woman had connections to the Russian hierarchy is, you know, beyond willful blindness. It`s stupidity that`s a little a hard to imagine.
MELBER: Karen, I feel like you`re on the verge of a Casablanca reference.
LOEFFLER: I was about to say that. I was just about to say that I was thinking very much I`m shocked, shocked to discover that there`s gambling in this institution. And we are thinking of the same thing. And that`s where the believability level goes to me.
MELBER: Richard, what else is important here from this complex story you have within unpacking?
ENGEL: So there are two elements here. One, she said for the first time that she has this role as an informant which is something clearly more than she said before. In the past she said she has no connection with the prosecutor. No special connection. And the other is all of these emails that we were leaked out that we have confronted her with that she says were hacked. We reached out to the Russian government. We have gotten no initial response. I think it is important to say that.
But these emails show communication back and forth with the prosecutor general with an official at the prosecutor general`s office. Apparently exchanging copies of a document back and forth, putting edits together, trying to get on the same page to formulate an official Russian response to a request by the U.S. justice department for a legal case for one of her clients.
What`s important here is also not the specifics about that case. It`s the contact that she had the ability to reach out to an official in the prosecutor`s office in Russia and coordinate an official Russian government response to a request by the U.S. justice department. That also suggests that she is not just an average lawyer who represents private clients but someone whose degree of influence within and over the Russian state is greater than that.
MELBER: Fascinating. On the American front here, David Rothkopf, the other things that were in the House GOP report were interesting for other reasons. That`s the best way I can put it. Let me explain. We will start with Kellyanne Conway`s odd statement earlier this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So calling every person and go ahead and run a lie detector on them. Why don`t they do that?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Well, they may. They may not. There are many different ways to discover who is leaking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Many ways to discover who is leaking. This is, of course, is one of those Trump versus Trump issues, because a lot of the leaks by definition are from very top people in very small rooms in the Trump White House. I`m reading to you now from a real document. The House Republican report today which says the Trump executive branch should consider instituting mandatory polygraphs for non-confirmed political appointees with top secret clearance as sort of lie detector test for leak plugging. What do you think?
ROTHKOPF: Well, that`s not going to happen. And you know, the leaker in chief is going to be caught up in this --
MELBER: Is he confirmed? Does he get a polygraph?
ROTHKOPF: Well, we don`t know, you know. My suspicion is that he doesn`t.
But what`s interesting to me, though, when you get to him, is that the minority also submitted a report alongside this. And one of the things that the minority focused on where they offered some new information, was where was Trump when this meeting was happening? And Trump was in the building. Trump was a floor above this meeting. And Donald Trump junior called Trump and or called a Russian oligarch they had contact with, and then got off that call, called a blocked number, and then went back and call this Russian oligarch. And Adam Schiff and others have earlier today pointed out that they wanted to know who the blocked number was because Donald Trump had a blocked number and did they call? Was he connected to this?
And in fact, it seems like that would have been something a real investigation would look at. But the Republicans said we`re not interested.
MELBER: We are not going to look at that.
ROTHKOPF: Yes. We are not interested in who he called in the middle of this. But clearly there`s a number of things afoot now that suggest that not only did this meeting with this spy take place and did they know what they were doing. But that the President of the United States may have actually been involved.
MELBER: Right. And we can`t go quite that far because a lot of people have blocked numbers, to be honest.
ROTHKOPF: No. It`s absolutely true.
MELBER: But you are more speaking to the fact that the process wasn`t, oh, let`s figure that out. But more like we will just leave that. That some people take a lie --.
ROTHKOPF: They said we`re not interested.
MELBER: Yes. It`s a funny process.
Karen Loeffler, stay with me. I have some other legal questions to ask you.
David Rothkopf in New York, thank you.
And Richard Engel, not only thank you, but stay tuned as we say. Richard`s entire interview there will be part of a larger special, "On Assignment with Richard Engel" tonight, 9:00 p.m. eastern on MSNBC.
Coming up, a federal judge making a big move in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit that`s breaking right now.
Also, we are going to look at why taking the fifth may not stop Michael Cohen from eventually having to speak.
And new reporting on Trump`s handling of officials who fall from grace.
Also what do John Boehner, Kanye West and Donald Trump Junior have in common? Well, they are all potential targets of fallback Friday tonight. And I have the legendary rap pioneer fab five Freddie at 30 rock along with Willy Geist (ph).
I`m Ari Melber. You are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Breaking news at this hour. I`m holding a new ruling in the Stormy Daniels case. A federal judge has issued a three-month stay in this lawsuit against Trump and Michael Cohen. This is something Michael Cohen asked for because of the other major problems he is dealing with, the criminal case he is facing in New York.
Now let me tell you, I`m looking at this because it just came into the newsroom. And it says Mr. Cohen is a key witness in this action. Defendants think he is the most knowledgeable person with respect to the facts in this action. That has to do with the fighting over Stormy Daniels.
And this is very interesting page for this ruling which has come down within the last hour here. Defendant`s Fifth Amendment rights are heavily implicated. That`s a judge here in the Stormy Daniels case saying tonight that Michael Cohen has a point when he says he may have to plead the fifth to avoid self-incrimination.
So this is brand new breaking right now. And it comes as the feds also say they have information from not one, not two, not five, not ten, but 16 different cell phones of Michael Cohen. Now, they turned those over to an independent reviewer, an attorney who will decide what information has protection under attorney/client privilege.
The feds also holding onto at least three other phones including basically a pair of Blackberries and an iPhone because it may take them over three months technologically to figure out everything that is on it.
Breaking news on the story that Vox`s Liz Plank is joined us on the forum and covering such an inception and former federal prosecutor Karen Loeffler is back.
Karen, going to you first, what do you make of a judge basically saying yes, there are grounds for a delay here, and yes, Michael Cohen`s fifth amendment rights are implicated?
LOEFFLER: Well, I mean, to tell you the truth, that is what you would expect. I mean, Mr. Cohen had a right to assert his fifth amendment. Obviously he`s in deep trouble with the southern district of New York investigation. And once he asserts his Fifth Amendment right, the judge is, you know, the judge is correct to say the case can`t go forward without his participation. Once he says he`s going to assert it, that ruling, I think, would have been expected. It is happened in many cases that I did if there were parallels and criminal proceedings. There isn`t an indictment yet in the federal case, but I think this is really what you would expect.
MELBER: Right. It`s what you would expect when you have a situation, Liz, where the person seeking the delay can credibly say I need this criminal Fifth Amendment protection. In other words, in normal civil cases if you say hey, someday I might be under federal investigation or might get charged, they say that`s not good enough. Here the judge is saying, Michael, you should with be worried.
LIZ PLANK, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, VOX MEDIA: That`s right. And Michael Cohen, to your point, should be worried and probably is worried. You know, there was a story in the "Wall Street Journal" that came out about the relationship about Donald Trump and Michael Cohen. And it`s so fascinating to see, you know, there are sort of 12 sides showing the signs of a co- dependent abusive relationship. And I think the article, you know, knocked down every single facet of that.
We see a relationship with Michael Cohen completely being dependent on the President. And the President spending a lot of time embarrassing Michael Cohen and discrediting Michael Cohen.
MELBER: You think the relationship between these two is unhealthy.
PLANK: it is unhealthy. If I was -- if they were in couple`s counseling and I was their counselor, I would for sure label it as abusive. And --
MELBER: Do you think that Donald Trump got Michael Cohen to sign an NDA about this relationship? And if so, who would negotiate it?
PLANK: That`s a really good question. You are a lawyer. Would you take that on?
MELBER: Michael Cohen --
PLANK: If I`m a couple`s counselor, would you take on me as a lawyer?
MELBER: You know, you are not supposed to represent yourself, I can tell you that.
The article you mentioned has turned a lot of heads, I mean, reading from "the Wall Street Journal." Boss, I miss you so much. The awkward exile of Michael Cohen is sort of the headline. And this part, Mr. Trump decided that bringing Mr. Cohen inside the White House carried too many risks. This is a President who loves defying rules and risks and who brought Mike Flynn, pled guilty, Rick Gates, pled guilty, Bannon, fired, Kushner, something amounting to a subject of a review. He brought these people into key positions for some reason, he said Michael Cohen, too risky.
PLANK: Right. That`s really fascinating and now, you know, with these 16 devices and 16 phones that are in his office which he was probably not just holding onto, you know, in case his phone breaks down. Like you don`t keep 16 of those devices for nothing. There`s definitely something in there. And I guess it`s just a matter of time until we find out.
MELBER: Karen, because of your decades of experience and service to the justice department, to our nation, obviously we remiss if I didn`t get also your analysis of that rather unusual interview that Donald Trump made potentially against his own interests with FOX News. Take a listen to this part on Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, how much of your legal work was handled by Michael Cohen?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, as a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny, tiny little fraction. But Michael would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me, like, with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me. And you know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Karen, what is your analysis of that? Go ahead.
LOEFFLER: Well, there`s, you know, there`s one you have whoever has Trump for a client is a client without a filter which is a problem. But, I mean, the issue is he is now saying, you know, to the former judge that`s reviewing for attorney/client that the vast amount of this is not attorney/client. And he makes it hard to the extent that the attorneys for the President or for Mr. Cohen are going to try to protect things broadly when you have the President saying oh, no, there would only be a really tiny part. And then there`s the, you know, what he handed to, you know, obviously Miss Daniels by saying, you know, he represented me in that case. You know, that there are plenty of lawyers to deal with that.
But he is basically, you know, announced that there should be a very narrow group that`s attorney/client privileged. Now, you know, the special masher that has been assigned will go through and take the view of the parties each time to determine it. But it`s certainly handed a lot of stuff to the federal prosecutors when they try to get the information.
MELBER: No doubt. And as we are talking, I said this was a breaking story. I have a breaking response from the Stormy Daniels` side because this all just happened. They say while they, of course, respect the ruling, they are considering filing a quote "immediate appeal with the 9th circuit as early next week." Justice delayed is justice denied. And then #(INAUDIBLE), whatever. That`s not a legal term. But that is clearly a sign that the Stormy Daniels; lawyers want to keep this going. I expect we will hear more from Michael Avenatti on this.
Fascinating to see the Fifth Amendment criminal side of this exploding tonight in the civil litigation.
Liz Plank, Karen Loeffler, thank you.
And a programming note. I will be hosting a special edition of "HEADLINERS" on Michael Cohen. It airs this Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. eastern on MSNBC.
Coming up, the turmoil in Donald Trump`s cabinet. The surprising new criticism even from ex-Trump employees speaking out about the patterns they say.
Also later, we have the immortal fab five Freddie (ph) and NBC`s Willie Geist (ph) and a radio host Peter Rosenberg (ph) for what could be an epic fall back Friday when we are back in 90 seconds.
MELBER: The other top story tonight a (INAUDIBLE) dumpster fire of top Trump campaign officials with serious problems. Consider Trump`s original VA nominee, his EPA head and his budget director all caught up in a cold room of scandals and ethics problems. The big theme, a staff that may reflect a tone from the top. The same values that are often visible throughout Trump`s business career and this goes back years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of businesses in the Atlantic City area went out of business because they could not sustain the class from the moneys they couldn`t collect from Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much money is to be collected?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For us? $1.2 million.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And for all the contractors?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know that figure. It`s in excess of 60 million. I do not know the exact.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We attacked with people because he found their weakness and just exploited it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be publicity, lots and lots of publicity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: These are themes from Donald Trump`s business career. And we are charting some of them in the presidency. Now back then, Trump left a trail of unpaid contractors and business partners alleging a type of really fraud through billing.
Today, Scott Pruitt accused of dolling out pay raises the career professionals opposed as well as taking in kind donations from lobbyists and trying to find it. In business, Donald Trump often would like to talk about using people for their expertise and sometimes extracting whatever value he could from them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You take their advice, you pay them for their brilliance in some cases. Unfortunately, in some cases, you pay them for their stupidity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: But consider the trail of former and current staffers with their own depleted reputations after Trump took whatever he wanted from them. Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, John Kelley, and the beleaguered if still in office Jeff Sessions. There`s a lot of talk about loyalty and whether that means something you owe each other or in Donald Trump`s case a one-way street. Consider the former president of Trump Plaza Hotel, talking about Trump distancing himself from Admiral Ronny Jackson.
This is, of course, the V.A. nominee who just had to withdraw under scrutiny "Crashing and burning, it means nothing to Trump. He might put on a public frown for a day because he`s upset that in his mind, the Admiral got railroaded out. But Trump couldn`t care less about the admiral." That, of course, is a statement from a former Trump employee. I am joined by Democratic Strategist Aisha Moodie-Mills and MSNBC`s Howard Fineman. Howard, do you see an echo here in the cabinet`s problems and the way Donald Trump actually ran the company that many voters on his side of the aisle saw as a plus in making him, president?
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no doubt. This is his whole career pattern. There are a few categories of people. If I can use an analogy, it`s the rowboat on the lake situation, OK? And who gets in it and who doesn`t come back. Contractors, banks, everybody he did business within New York who was considered to be reputable, who was considered to be fair-dealing, he had bad relations with.
Most of them, in the end, wouldn`t work with him anymore because he would not pay on time or not pay at all, or demand to be sued and then threaten to take depositions that would cost a half a million and he dealt with smaller contractors that he rolled over and big banks that he didn`t repay which is one reason why he went to Russia. So those are the dupes, the disloyal, the dumb, and so on. They get in the rowboat and go out in the lake and they don`t come back.
There`s another category of people that he has to distance himself from, but that he doesn`t completely reject because they may be useful or dangerous to him. And right now those are people like Corey Lewandowski or Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen. And then there are people that he rejects, makes fun of and sometimes brings back in a cold-blooded transaction like Rudy Giuliani who he dismissed and who is now back at his side. There will be other people like that. The only people who have stayed in the house and have never gone in the rowboat right now in this administration as I take it are Kellyanne Conway, Roger Stone down in Florida, Brad Parscale who`s going to be the Chairman of the 2020 campaign, and his personal business friend Tom Barrack and Harold Hamm. That`s it. And that`s the pattern with Trump. It`s not only a one-way street, it`s a one-way superhighway.
MELBER: It`s well put. And you get the Harold Hamm reference in there. Howard Fineman running deep into the Trump archives. Aisha --
FINEMAN: That`s not an archive. That`s current.
MELBER: That`s current. That`s today. Aisha, we often turn to wisdom from other writers around here. Ernest Hemingway said never mistake motion for action. And I want to put on the screen the chaotic motion of these aides that you see, not that one guys, the one 49 percent of Trump`s A- time, recognized decision makers has turned over -- you see here -- in these periods. If you total it together, it`s half of the top aides in the A-team. This is according to non-partisan Brookings Institute, right? So it`s literally one out of two people in every key room coming or going, either fired or reassigned which suggests constant motion and less action.
AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And lots of incompetency starting from the top, of course. You know, as you play these clips back, I was chuckled when you play these clips back. It amazes me that we elected a president who has a history of saying ridiculous things, of having a horrible legal record, of people wanting to sue him, of him suing people, of him not paying people, of him, grabbing people by you know, the places. The fact that we --
MELBER: Or bragging about that.
MILLS: Bragging about that. The fact that we even elect this guy just completely miffs me. And I just feel like we should have some -- Congress should pass some legislation that says, you know what, there has to be at least some decency clause, some sensibility around like morally how you moved through the world in order for you to be qualified for the top --
MELBER: What about an evidence of decency clause where things like tax returns and business records could be held up to review. I mean, to you and then Howard, in the brief time we have left, do you think if people knew all the facts about Donald Trump`s business finances and debts that he would still been elected?
MILLS: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I don`t think he would have been.
FINEMAN: Well, he got the benefit of calling himself a successful businessman without enough research and exposure of what he`d done in the past. And that`s partly our fault. It`s partly the nature of campaign journalism, but -- by the way, I`m not convinced if people had known more they necessarily would have rejected him but it would have been closer than even the 72,000 votes that elected him.
MELBER: 72k. That`s the number to keep in mind. Aisha Moodie-Mills and Howard Fineman, thank you both. Wishing you very good Fridays and weekends. Up ahead, Michael Cohen taking the Fifth but he actually might still have to talk and I have a special break down on why that is. But first, next, Friday night on THE BEAT with you`re looking at a very special set of "FALLBACK FRIDAY" guest. That`s next.
MELBER: It`s Friday on THE BEAT and you know what that means. It`s time to fall back. And we have a great panel tonight. The legendary Fab Five Freddy, a hip-hop pioneer from the clubs in the 1980s to launching new MTV raps, today he`s a member of the Kennedy Counsel`s Hip Hop Cultural Counsel. Also my colleague, NBC`s own Willie Geist Host of course of "SUNDAY TODAY" as well as Co-Host of "MORNING JOE." And Peter Rosenberg, Co-Host on one of the leading hip-hop radio stations in the nation, New York`s Hot 97. He`s got a new show with complex. Willie, who needs to fall back?
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC HOST: First of all, I can`t believe I`m sitting next to Fab Five Freddy. He helped raise us. That`s (INAUDIBLE) before. He`s really good with the MTV Raps. I`m going to start my "FALLBACK Friday" and say Amazon needs to fall back just a little bit. They had big week, big earnings but they also announced they had this new technology where they can get into the trunk of your car if you give them permission.
Which means if you have a certain kind of car with on star, they will deliver a package to the trunk of your car in your driveway or where you work and you don`t have to be part of the process. I love Amazon. We all love Amazon, but they`re moving a little fast in the relationship for me. They want the keys to the car.
FAB FIVE FREDDY, VISUAL ARTIST AND FILMMAKER: What happened to the drones in front of the house? I was waiting to see that drop in Harlem, you know?
GEIST: That`s coming -- that`s coming soon, but the trunk thing is here now and I`m not ready for all that. So Amazon needs to back off a little bit.
FAB FIVE FREDDY: Jeff Bezos, are you listening?
MELBER: Fab Five Freddy, who needs to fall back?
FAB FIVE FREDDY: Well, you know, I just directed a major documentary which I`m going to be in a major platform. It`s about the history of cannabis in America looking at people of color. So I`m (INAUDIBLE) to snoops. I`ve just been immersed in this amazing plant.
And what`s so sad is when you see somebody like John Boehner come out like I`ve rethought my positions on the plant without acknowledging the hundreds of thousands of black and brown in jail for non-violent cannabis offenses, non-violent drug offenses essentially, and one of the things that I went on the film two weeks ago was a man that -- black man in New Orleans that was given 14 years for two joints.
His name was Bernard Noble. And we went down to film him come out of jail. So he`s one of hundreds of thousands of people in jail. I`d like to see people getting on this cannabis money train, the green rush to acknowledge some of the people that are in jail as this plant becomes --
MELBER: You`re saying John Boehner needs to fall back because when he had the power he did the wrong thing, now he`s doing maybe the right thing but for the money.
FAB FIVE FREDDY: Right. When he was the most important Republican in Washington, he voted against cannabis -- medical cannabis in Washington D.C. So, John Boehner, it`s going to change your thoughts but acknowledges the hundreds of thousands of people in jail for nonviolent cannabis offenses like Bernard Noble who just came home.
MELBER: Peter Rosenberg, who needs to fall back?
PETER ROSENBERG, HOST, HOT 97: I mean, it seems redundant at this point but I got to say Kanye West, obviously, has to fall back. It`s time for Kaney to fall back. Listen, I`ve been a part of many of these and watched these Kanye rollouts before. I`ve seen it. I know what he`s doing. I`m tired of the term trolling being an excuse -- being an excuse for people to say and do whatever they want. If Kanye West had been a supporter of Donald Trump from the beginning, and that was just his politics and that was his guy, while I wouldn`t agree with him, I`d be like all right, well, listen, that`s who you are.
But Kanye West doesn`t really believe in anything except Kanye West. And right now this entire thing, to leave this whole thing open-ended and talk about his admiration and put on the hat. We know that putting on the hat, there`s a bigger symbolism. That`s more than simply I voted for a Republican. It actually has nothing to do with partisan politics, it has to do with racial politics. And Kanye West playing with that to me is very serious and he needs to fall back.
FAB FIVE FREDDY: It is. I like to say that I sometimes see Kanye as literally playing three-dimensional pop culture chess. A hit record, I`ve seen people who have been just in the throes of the most devastating negative media turn it around with a hit record. So once again, it`s dangerous stuff. I mean, I heard he lost 9 million followers. But I`m hoping if those records are correct and he can give us a more expanded statement, we can give him the benefit of the doubt hopefully.
ROSENBERG: Well, listen, the -- hip-hop -- American culture, in general, is shockingly forgiving. Hip-hop is beyond forgiving. You know, like, listen, we -- in hip-hop, we defend our people, and like Kanye, I`ve been in many situations, especially being where I`m from, I`ve heard a lot of people say crazy things about Kanye. And I defend him at all costs. This is the first time in which I was like I got nothing for you today, Kanye. And listen, maybe one day he`ll explain it and we will understand it more, but right now the pain that he has caused a lot of people is to me still really hurt. I don`t think I can go back on that.
MELBER: That makes a lot of sense because there`s severe pain and we`re dealing with a President who literally endorsed white supremacy after someone was murdered at a white supremacy rally.
FAB FIVE FREDDY: That`s true.
MELBER: So that`s the level of the problem. I suppose the question I raise respectfully is does this mean we`re entering a place where people do want partisan litmus tests for their artists and is that all even if you are very critical of Kanye in this instance, is that at all problematic.
FAB FIVE FREDDY: I mean, it`s a dangerous kind of bed of fire to walk on right now. So I would hope Kanye gives us a bit more of a clarification because it`s really, you know, unfortunate to see the imagery without having more clarity.
ROSENBERG: Remember, remember, (INAUDIBLE) remember, Nas and Jay Z had a song called Black Republicans years ago. People weren`t really tripping off of the idea of they`re Republican. People understood it.
FAB FIVE FREDDY: Well, that was a Rockefeller Republican no pun intended.
ROSENBERG: Exactly. And this is a different sort of thing. That`s what I`m saying. I think the partisan politics being brought up in this situation was a total cover-up. That`s not what this was about. This was never about Kanye saying he was a Republican. In fact, he never said he was a Republican. This was about a very specific thing he was doing that he knew was riling people up. That`s why he did it successfully.
GEIST: You guys know there`s a long history of hip hop-loving Donald Trump. Go though it and read the lyrics, they loved -- they love this lifestyle. This was before he was president or he`s running for such a powerful office. But even the people who tried to get to him and explain what you guys are saying, John Legend texted him on the side and said, hey, this is why what you`re doing is problem. It wasn`t a game to play with words like this. He put John Legend`s text up on Twitter and said you can`t control me basically. We`re still friends, but don`t try to control my thoughts. So Kanye is going to keep pushing forward but he`s got an album to sell. It`s a game to him.
FAB FIVE FREDDY: To me, Kanye West plays three-dimensional chess with pop culture. I`ve seen him make dramatic moves that look like he was in checkmate, and then he was able to turn it around relatively and be -- and one of the things that I think that we like about Kanye, like him or not, is his truthful honestness on records. The way he confronts his personal you know, inconsistencies and things of that nature. I mean, fans of Kanye`s lyrics will attest to that.
ROSENBERG: I`ve heard from people behind the scenes, though, I`ve heard there are people behind the scenes close to making that check mate that he may not be able to recover from. That`s what -- that`s what I thought.
MELBER: That sound like -- you just did a pop culture version of Rudy Giuliani on Fox News, two weeks out from the campaign. You`re promising a big payoff and I`m intrigued.
ROSENBERG: I don`t want -- I don`t want a check mate. I`m just saying I`ve heard it.
MELBER: Lightning round, your other "FALLBACK" nominees but short and I`m going to start with Fab Five Freddy.
FAB FIVE FREDDY: I would go with the governments in Arizona and Colorado. I mean, seeing those teachers talk about having to sling burgers and wait tables to educate our kids is appalling, so I want to see teachers get a living wage.
GEIST: I`ll have Mitt Romney fall back a little bit when he`s rooting for the Utah Jazz. He came in a Russell Westbrook while wearing a jersey with his own name on the back.
FAB FIVE FREDDY: With a collared shirt under it. With a collared shirt under it.
GEIST: Yes. Really, really --
MELBER: That`s pronounced Wick Wick Wack?
FAB FIVE FREDDY: By the way, the Hip Hop Community wants to thank you for your incredible flavor and your knowledge of all the hip-hop.
MELBER: I didn`t know there was flavor, but there might be some knowledge. Thank you, sir.
ROSENBERG: Donald Trump Junior for he knew perfectly well that Chance The Rapper was not saying he was a Trump guy. He was simply sticking up for his friend, and Donald Trump Junior used this as a way to play Chance against the hip-hop culture and it was just not -- relax. Fall back.
GEIST: And why are there basketballs on the tweet? I never figure that out.
MELBER: That is a -- that is a great, great question. My "FALLBACK" nominee is Scott Pruitt. Mr. Pruitt, you know why. My special thanks to Fab Five s federal criminal case?my breakdown and what it means Freddy, Willie Geist and Peter Rosenberg for "FALLBACK FRIDAY" this week. As for more great questions, well, here one, Michael Cohen taking the Fifth. What does it mean for his federal criminal case? My breakdown on what it means according to Donald Trump`s own standard.
MELBER: Donald Trump`s fixer, Michael Cohen is now doing what no personal lawyer for a president has ever done while the President was in office, pleading the Fifth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Michael Cohen says, based on advice of counsel, this is in the Stormy Daniels case, I will serve my Fifth Amendment rights in connection with all proceedings in this case.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: The President`s personal attorney is pleading the Fifth in the Stormy Daniels case. How was your day? Seeing it written out this way in black and white in a court filing, it is a good reminder of how much legal jeopardy the president`s personal attorney seems to be in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, that legal jeopardy, that`s not just an interpretation of events, because you cannot automatically plead the Fifth in a civil case and get away with it, unless you can demonstrate legal jeopardy, which Cohen just asserted. And as we reported tonight, a judge just accepted. Now, I want to be clear and I`ve said this before, even if it`s a little annoying, Cohen has a right under our Constitution to protect himself against self-incrimination, pleading the Fifth does not confer guilt. In fact, as we all know from pop culture, some people even do it gleefully.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I plead the Fifth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m pleading the Fifth until I speak to my lawyer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Upon the advice of counsel, I must respectfully decline to answer your question based on my rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I plead the Fifth.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did he tell you where he was on the day McAlister was murdered?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I plead the Fifth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You have the right to do that. But even if fair-minded legal experts note that there is no implied guilt in exercising that right, let`s be clear tonight, not everyone applies that standard. In fact, Michael Cohen`s move means he is failing Donald Trump`s own standard.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You see them if you`re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was Donald Trump`s knock against Hillary Clinton aides, some of whom did plead the Fifth in the e-mail probe, and Trump aides invoked that in their campaign. One of those aides, of course, has now pled guilty to his own crime of lying to the feds. Another still works at the White House but was blasting the Clinton aides in the probe as liars. That was then. But I can tell you tonight, there`s even more here. Because even though federal rules bar juries from looking at a defendant negatively for pleading the Fifth, it doesn`t mean that pleading the Fifth is always OK or an innocent move.
Take President Nixon, who was ultimately busted for advising his aides to plead the Fifth as, yes, part of the Watergate cover-up. He told his aides, and this is a quote, "I want you all to stonewall it. Let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover-up, or anything else if it will save it. That`s the plan. That`s the whole point." The whole point. And at first, Nixon`s White House Counsel, his lawyer, John Dean, did exactly that in a Watergate grand jury. It was just three months after getting the advice I just read.
He later conceded that was partly an effort to save himself at others` expenses. But even pleading the Fifth has its limits if there`s a cover- up. In fact, it only protects incrimination when there`s an effort to incriminate you. So what if you get immunity, AKA, the word of the week? What if you flip? Well, John Dean got that. He flipped in dramatic fashion, publicly incriminating his boss and his former client, Richard Nixon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I concluded by saying that this is going to take continued perjury and continued support of these individuals to perpetuate the cover-up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is lawyer speak for obstruction of justice, which is a crime that people do time for. The President`s lawyer there, John Dean, faced a fork in the road that does test many criminal conspirators. Do you want to risk everything to protect your boss or at some point do you look out for yourself?
MELBER: The breaking news tonight, you can`t makeup, Michael Cohen, President Trump`s lawyer, who having said he would plead the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination has been granted a delay in the Stormy Daniels case as we`ve been reporting. Quite a turn of events, this was the filing that just came in. The Stormy lawyer says they`ll appeal it. A programming note that is related, I`m actually going to be hosting a "HEADLINERS" edition on Michael Cohen that debuts this Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. for the first time on MSNBC. Now, that does it for me. Thanks for watching THE BEAT. HARDBALL with Chris Matthews is up next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END