Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: May 15, 2018 Guest: Jay Goldberg; Guy Lewis; Ben Clements, Liz Plank, Amy Tarkanian, Julian Epstein
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. A moving tribute, one of my favorite novelists (INAUDIBLE) goes back to blood. And of course, as you mention, the bonfire of the vanities is one of the greatest books about New York or law or life that I can think of.
TODD: You did the endorsement. That was a worthy endorsement. So see? Don't just trust me, trust you too, Ari. Binge his books.
MELBER: A tribute to a great man with a lot of great books. This is I believe fair to say a double endorsement.
MELBER: Thank you, Chuck.
We begin tonight with breaking news.
Moments ago, a federal judge ruling Robert Mueller's case against Paul Manafort will move forward. This is rejection of some of Manafort's arguments that Robert Mueller had gone beyond his mandate in making the case against him. We actually have a lot more on this and original and some reporting later tonight.
Out top story, though, right now is happening on THE BEAT. We hear a lot about Donald Trump's lawyers, like this news that Mueller's investigators do plan to question the Ukrainian politician with back channel talks to guess who, lawyer Michal Cohen.
And we hear about Rudy Giuliani's ongoing unorthodox defense of Trump. Lately, there has even more analysis of how even Trump's past lawyers can inform his mindset today. We were just discussing on the show the mafia defense lawyer, Roy Cohn.
But next, on this show right now, we are going to hear directly from long serving Trump lawyer who literally represented Trump in between Roy Cohn and Michael Cohen. His name is Jay Goldberg.
A seasoned New York litigator and former prosecutor who represented Trump over a decade on a range of matters including two divorces. Goldberg says he still talks to Trump as well as Trump's legal team about the Russia probe and he maintains attorney/client privilege with President Trump.
So why is Goldberg speaking tonight? Well, we will get into that. Does he think Rudy Giuliani is serving Trump's interests or does he agree with the White House leaks that Donald Trump now needs better TV lawyers? That was a question at a recent White House briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: One last question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do they still have confidence in Rudy Giuliani?
SANDERS: Yes, he is doing a fine job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump lawyer, Jay Goldberg.
Thanks for being here. Is Rudy Giuliani doing a good job for Trump?
JAY GOLDBERG, TRUMP'S LAWYER: I don't think so. I think he is a polarizing figure. There are those people who are think he was a wonderful prosecutor, but he has no record managing a defense of someone who is accused of wrongdoing. And to think that when he comes aboard, Mueller was going to be somehow frightened into cutting his investigation short is doesn't really know the role he plays in law enforcement.
MELBER: Do you think Rudy understands this case and what Donald Trump wants out of it?
GOLDBERG: Well, I think he should after repeated conversations between the two. But for him to go on Sean Hannity's program without fully debriefing the President seems the height of unpreparedness. I can't imagine a lawyer for client going on television without fully debriefing the client as to what the client expects and what the client wants.
MELBER: Well, you represents Donald Trump. Do you have phone conversations with before and after your appearances?
GOLDBERG: I do. And find him to be very cooperative, and I have had no trouble whatsoever in managing a defense or prosecution for one of his cases. I might say in each of the cases I handled for him for which I take credit that they were always won, he was always in the right.
MELBER: Did you warn him you didn't think Rudy was up to the job?
GOLDBERG: Well, I told him that I didn't seem that Giuliani was the right person for him to select. I thought that there were much better people that he could use in terms of negotiating with Mueller.
MELBER: Do you think he likes Rudy for the fact that he is on TV a lot than for legal training?
GOLDBERG: No, I don't think -- that's one thing I mentioned to him that I thought Rudy would come into the case with intent to take the spotlight off Trump and in some ways seek to aggrandize himself, whether at the expense of Trump or not.
MELBER: Does Donald Trump like when people take the spotlight off him?
GOLDBERG: No, he doesn't. Not in this case because he feels quite strongly if the facts get out as I believe that there's no crime involved in collusion, that in many ways the medicine exceeds what's needed to kill the odors.
MELBER: Michael Cohen is the person who came after you.
MELBER: -- in your role as Donald Trump's lawyer. We hear a lot now about potential money laundering and the mafia. Why do you think that comes up with Michael Cohen?
GOLDBERG: People involved in the building trades are at the mercy of the mob, who will threaten -- builder would lead the piece, the absence of (INAUDIBLE) and only to get payoffs. It is not unusual for the leaders of organized crime to say what you need more than anything else is labor piece. And if there be a strike, this could set you back terribly.
MELBER: What does that have to do with Michael Cohen?
GOLDBERG: Well, I don't know the role that Michael Cohen played, but he calls himself a fixer. Now in the many years I was with Trump, upwards of 20 years, he never once asked for something to be done that wasn't clear and perfect in accordance with the law. He never questioned me about doing something that would help his cause at the expense of what the law mandated. I found him to be a person who complied with the law.
MELBER: And why do you think Michael Cohen is in so much trouble? Why was the judge able to approve a search on his home and office? Why does he have 16 cell phones?
GOLDBERG: It could be that certain things were kept from me. I look upon these things as compliments because anything that harbored any suggestion of wrongdoing was kept from me.
MELBER: Do you think Michael Cohen's job at times was to keep the mob away from Donald Trump?
GOLDBERG: Well, if he says he was a fixer, then the question is what did he fix and what needed fixing. What needed fixing was relations with the mob and shake downs by the mob so that there would be no strikes and there would be labor peace at all costs.
MELBER: Now, let me ask you, there's Trump v Mueller and then there is Cohen v Avenatti. As an attorney, how do you assess Michael Avenatti so far?
GOLDBERG: Well, it is interesting. Michael Avenatti has an excellent reputation as a class action lawyer in California. He worked for a responsible firm that worked with me, Daniel Petrocelli. So he comes from a decent background. He just sees the opportunity in my opinion to cash in on publicity at the expense of what one would expect of a lawyer.
MELBER: Do you think he has been one step ahead of Trump's lawyers?
GOLDBERG: Well, anybody who resorts to the press in an effort to win publicity, without checking with his client, I don't know whether he checked with his client or not, does a disservice to the client ad acts in a way that aggrandizes the lawyer at the expense of what's needed for the client.
MELBER: Goldberg, long time attorney for Donald Trump. Thanks for coming on THE BEAT and taking the questions.
GOLDBERG: My pleasure.
MELBER: For reaction to that interview, former federal prosecutor, Seth Waxman, CNBC editor-at-large John Harwood and Natasha Bertrand from "the Atlantic."
Seth, what do you think of what Trump's lawyer just said?
SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the first thing strikes me is you have two lawyers who purportedly have a relationship or work for the President, and they are having at each other. You have Mr. Goldberg now criticizing Mr. Giuliani and the steps he is taking, I think rightfully so. But you know, I have never been part of a defense team where two lawyers on the team that have an interest in their client are out speaking ill of each other.
MELBER: Great point. And do you think that based on what we know, do you think Jay Goldberg would do that just now tonight without some inkling that the President wants that?
WAXMAN: Well, it is funny you say that because what he just said was that he questioned Mr. Avenatti going out on TV without the approval of his client. So I assume if you take that to the next step that he himself had the approval of Mr. Trump to go out and speak ill of Mr. Giuliani, which seems to not be the best legal strategy or at least setting up your own lawyers for failure.
MELBER: John, if I am not mistaken, Jay Goldberg who, of course, basically handed off to Michael Cohen in this job came as close as you can come to suggesting that somebody works with the mob without directly slandering them.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. And you know, I think the most relevant statement he made about his own representation of President Trump was I think certain things were kept from me. Somebody who was giving assessments he was of Donald Trump and the truth and law may not have said that.
I do think that there are questions about order and coherence within Trump, the circle of people advising Trump. Obviously Rudy Giuliani who has been rebuked not only by President Trump for getting facts wrong but by his old law firm for misstating what was acceptable for lawyers to do. He has not been serving the President well on television. He doesn't seem to have credentials as a real lawyer, and if does, he appears to be the most serious person on that team. And I'm not sure what Jay Goldberg's role is at all at this point.
MELBER: Jay Goldberg says that he talks to the President. He told me he spoke to him as recently as last month and maintains attorney/client privilege. Now, obviously, he is what you might call respectfully an emeritus status. But he has got a longer deeper connections to Donald Trump than heck a lot of lawyers who come in and out.
MELBER: I mean, Ty Cobb is respected but out completely, not emeritus. I mean, fully retired from the job.
MELBER: Natasha, as someone that covers this closely, what jumped out to you about what you heard and what sounded to me like a clear public knock on Michael Cohen and Rudy.
NATASHA BERTRAND, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC: One of the things he said that kind of confused me was that he was surprised that Rudy Giuliani would go out on TV, you know, seemingly unprepared. He actually said, Rudy Giuliani said that he had spoken to the President prior to the interview with Sean Hannity and had the President's permission to say everything he said. That everything he said was above board, that the he -- that President knew that he was going to disclose --
MELBER: But then they walked it back. So obviously, there was something off because they literally had to walk then fought back about the campaign finance piece.
BERTRAND: Right. And this is where the relationship between Trump and his lawyers has always been so murky. What exactly does Rudy Giuliani do? Is he Trump's lawyer actually? Is he just a guy he talks to on the phone sometimes and tells him to go out and kind of spin a PR strategy instead of a legal strategy? Same thing with Jay Goldberg. What exactly is jay Goldberg's role here? Does he just -- does he actually advise the President in a legal capacity or is he someone else that the President calls before he goes to bed at night, some very similar to Sean Hannity. We just don't know.
MELBER: I think you put it very well.
And John, let me pass it to you. But I think Natasha puts it very well. That diving into the metaphysically (ph) of what is it mean to give counsel to Donald Trump who is uncounselable (ph) by his own bragging and who says he got into the White House by ignoring most advice. And that is true, whether that works in court is a separate question.
I mean, John, if you have a tailor but you tell the tailor you want a three piece suit that's also a swimsuit, even a good tailor will be at a loss.
HARWOOD: Well, exactly. And I think Natasha raises the right point about what exactly the roles of these people are.
Rudy Giuliani in a story about his separation from his law firm a few days ago said one of the things he liked about being free of the law firm and presumably about being President Trump's attorney, he hadn't been able to be on television for a while and he really missed being on television.
I'm not sure he is giving President Trump any more legal advice than Alan Dershowitz is from television studios. So again, I am inclined to think that the heavy duty lawyering now is being done by Emmett Flood who we aren't seeing on television.
MELBER: Right. Well, and as they say in court, snap.
Seth, John Harwood, snapping there at a couple of lawyers who have known to appear on television, not that there's anything wrong with being a lawyer on television, obviously a reference only to you, Seth.
Let me read to you a little more reporting on Avenatti who continues to be in the spotlight, but also with that come scrutiny. Publication last week of Cohen's banking history could jeopardize his ability or even represent Daniels in court. That's the most sort of live action substantive piece of what I think, you know, Jay was eluding to, which is that there may be at some point be actual legal distance between what Avenatti is up to and making sure he can still represent her in the best possible way.
WAXMAN: Well, that's true. And he can come across conflicts of interest and step in and if he goes on TV too much, I mean. It is general the policy of practicing defense lawyers to not put themselves in the limelight, not with themselves squarely within the public discourse because that could be used against you in a court.
So Mr. Avenatti goes out on TV, obviously a lot, and there's nothing wrong with that necessarily unless he makes misstatements, then he has to own up to it or live with it. So, you know, the more he puts himself out, the more he puts himself at risk.
MELBER: Right. And maybe we should Mirandizing more television guests, you know, before segments so they understand what they say on television can be used against them. Classic Miranda joke. I'm looking at faces. Moderate hit, not a big hit.
MELBER: I want to thank John -- to John and Natasha for coming on the show. Seth, stay with me. I want to ask about Bob Mueller's jurisdiction in a few minutes.
We have more on breaking news from the Russia probe. The signal is being sent today by a judge in the Manafort piece.
Also, on the business side, Donald Trump talking about a deal with China while they fund something that helps the Trump organization, an ethics scandal in the making.
Later, we have a Trump supporter and a Trump detractor debating why his poll numbers are, wait for it, creeping back up.
And later, big news tonight from, yes, Dave Chapel and Jon Stewart. We will explain.
I'm Ari Melber. You are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Breaking tonight, a federal judge denying Paul Manafort's efforts to get his charges dismissed. The judge writing the indictment falling squarely within the authority granted to special counsel and knowing it was logical and appropriate for investigators to focus on Manafort. And we are still waiting to hear the final word from Virginia.
This new, and I'm telling you about doesn't change that one, they are separate districts. And the Virginia federal judge has been questioning whether Mueller is exceeding his power. The criminal investigation and the Trump White House did hit a new level with the raid of Cohen's office, and the Cohen probe appears to be partly beyond Mueller's original authority.
Now, we know that because of this. The single action that changed the Trump presidency more than any other development. I'm holding the memo that Rod Rosenstein released a year ago this week appointing Mueller. Now, it doesn't make Bob Mueller prosecutor for everything Trump may have ever done wrong. It provides precise authority written down to investigate collusion, things Mueller finds investigating collusion, and of course, prosecuting people who is obstruct the investigation.
So Mueller's authority is becoming really the touchstone for some of the big fights in the next phase of the case. Trump defenders say Mueller has overstepped his mandate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It is a threat to every American to have this kind of power in a prosecutor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mueller is out there, basically abusing process everywhere, he is clearly outside the scope of his authority.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What does 2005 have to do with the 2016 election or 2017 firing of James Comey? The arrogant, almighty Mueller team responds in an open courtroom to a federal judge. We have additional powers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now that may be the battle cry Mueller's most partisan critics, but it doesn't mean the entire issue is partisan. So right now, let's dig into what part of this is real. Rod Rosenstein originally gave Mueller the power to probe, coordination aka collusion between the Russian government and people associate with the Trump campaign, and matters arising out of the probe, and it says any other matters within the scope of 28 CFR. That goes to obstruction and interfering with the probe.
But if Mueller wants to go beyond that as a rule, he needs Rosenstein's explicit approval. And we know how he got that as well. This is a different document. Partly redacted. This memo which came out three months after Mueller was appointed, shows Rosenstein stating Mueller has the authority to investigate, for example, allegations that could be outside the scope, like these against Paul Manafort, relating to Ukraine.
Now when you hear people ask whether Mueller is exceeding the authority, the answer does turn on whatever specific thing is being probed. So take some examples. Ukraine may sound like a reach, it is not Russia, but as I say, Rosenstein approved it. Or take a very easy call, Trump tower meeting is obviously in the strike zone, it was a Kremlin linked meeting about attacking Clinton in Trump tower.
Mueller also probing how Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia, if that was some kind of collusion payback, that would seem to fit in the scope as well.
But let's be clear. There are other topics that do look like a harder sell for Mueller. Take the Manafort indictment, singling out a Brooklyn home purchase with money from Cyprus. That could be a long way from Russian collusion. It maybe another thing Rosenstein would have to specifically authorize.
Or take Mueller digging into the 2017 Seychelles meeting. I mean, if that was a meet and greet, and the campaign was over, that could be outside the original scope. And then new reports this week, that even if there are crimes, this could be argued that they should be handled by D.C. prosecutors.
These reports, you may have heard about. That Mueller is probing foreign donations to Trump inauguration from foreign countries. Well, there's no Russia link. Should the special counsel be probing donations that came in after November?
I mean, the memos we do have suggest one thing. Bob Mueller is very careful and clears everything by the book when he moves past that original authority. But as this probe gets higher and higher up the White House food chain, we are going to hear a lot more about that authority.
To dig in, I want to bring in Guy Lewis, former federal prosecutor. And he has worked with Bob Mueller, James Comey and Rod Rosenstein at DOJ and Seth Waxman rejoins us.
Guy, looking at this objectively, not whether a person respects Bob Mueller or not, but at the original scope, what do you see as clearly in bounds and which subjects under investigation you think pose some more issue here.
GUY LEWIS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I think, Ari, that your point is so well taken that Bob Mueller will proceed very cautiously, very carefully. Look, he is a conservative guy. There is no question about it. When he feels he needs to go back and see Rosenstein, see Rod, and have that discussion, have that additional memo, I think that's what he's going to do, to try to stay carefully and closely within the bounds of those authorizations you just read.
MELBER: Seth, let me hit you with two of the tougher ones. One, the Viktor Vekselberg linked fund, payments to Michael Cohen, which are, to use a legal term, super shady, but may not actually be election collusion. And two, the inaugural donations. Would he need in your view explicit authority to go for those?
WAXMAN: Well, you know, I think that you would have to go back to Rod Rosenstein for those. But the thing I think that's key is that we are looking at this the very tip of the iceberg. You know, we are all sitting back, trying to predict and judge what we don't have access to the evidence.
What I think Bob Mueller has are emails, text messages, bank records and documents that will tell the story in large part, in addition to cooperators. And so, well, from the outside looking in, we may say, well, how do Middle Eastern payments tying to the Russian investigation? Or how does Russian funding through Cohen fit into the Russia investigation? For all we know, there are all sorts of emails and documents and cooperators that provide those missing links and very naturally made fall into the scope of the mandate. We are not, but we just don't know.
MELBER: Here's Donald Trump picking up on the latest point.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From CNN, they have a head line, judge in Manafort case says Mueller's aim is to hurt Trump. Do you believe that? It is called a witch-hunt. Let me tell you folks, we are all fighting battles. But I love fighting these battles.
MELBER: He loves it. What do you make of Donald Trump seizing on something that unlike many of the other attacks on Mueller has a legal framework, Seth? I mean, in New York, for example, are you of the view that Rosenstein does want to keep most of the Cohen stuff in New York because it is not collusion related? Or oddly, the more that's leaked out, the more there are ties back to the money trail?
WAXMAN: I think initially there might have been some space between the two, and that's why it was referred over to SDNY, the Southern District up in New York. What I will tell you is that the moment those prosecutors in New York find something Russia related or something that might go to the Mueller investigation, they are going to turn around and hand it right back to Bob Mueller. So while there is space --.
MELBER: Right. He's not hands off.
WAXMAN: Yes. I mean, this is all DOJ. They'll share evidence and information. I don't see the separation of the two as impeding Mr. Mueller's investigation if something comes up.
MELBER: Guy, final question. When I hold up on the screen this large black box redacted, I mean, this intrigues journalists, lawyers, and I think a lot of regular citizens. This is Rod Rosenstein explicitly giving Bob Mueller power or authority to go after other people besides Manafort. We still don't know who they are. Do you have any idea, analysis or leads on what's covered here?
LEWIS: It is so hard to say, Ari. It's definitely an express authorization to expand the jurisdiction of the investigation. No question about that. But keep in mind, and I'm very cautious about this, we do know that Rosenstein apparently went to the White House and told the President that hey, you are not a quote "target of the investigation." So certainly if that changes, that's where you're going to see the earthquake, seismic shift in the investigation.
MELBER: Right. A veritable San Andreas fault line lurking (ph) there.
MELBER: Guy Lewis and Seth Waxman, thank you both.
WAXMAN: Thank you.
MELBER: Coming up, developing story about China. The Trump organization and now top Democrats saying this is proof Trump is violating the constitution.
Also, Trump allies say they have political momentum. We have a debate when we are back in just 60 seconds.
MELBER: Other top story tonight. Is Donald Trump enriching himself off the presidency? And is he doing so with the help of foreign governments? And if so, is that messed up and or illegal?
Well, consider this news, which has the makings of a blockbuster ethics scandal. Trump rushing to help a Chinese company, even though it was found to be illegally helping Iran, the very country Trump was concerned about while scuttling the Iran-Obama deal.
Now Trump made this move within days that the Chinese government putting, yes, half billion dollars into an Indonesian project that partly benefits the Trump organization. And Trump's own intel professionals say this company's phones are actually a threat to U.S. security.
Meanwhile, Trump already battling lawsuits that his company takes illegal gifts from foreign companies. And tonight, a group of senators says Trump should cancel this whole thing. Critics say it is obviously self-dealing just like the RNC funneling money to Trump properties. The White House, meanwhile, insists no, this is about jobs.
Now while any President can technically keep a business open in office, no other President is opted to do so, to say run their law practice out of the White House or run a company on the side. Trump did tell everyone he could do that. Tonight we can see he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I could actually run my business and run government at the same time. I don't like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The old saying was this is what democracy looks like. Well, the new saying might be this is what conflict of interest looks like. Trump bringing his kids to that tech meeting during the transition, and people really didn't know if they were pitching America's richest tech leaders on behalf of the U.S. government, OK, or just pitching the government of the Trump Org.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'm here to help you folks do well and you're doing well right now. There's (INAUDIBLE) people in this room. And anything we can do to help this go long and we're going to be there for you.
ERIC SCHMIDT, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, ALPHABET: Eric Schmidt, Alphabet, Google.
BRAD SMITH, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER, MICROSOFT: Brad Smith, President of Microsoft. Pleased to be here.
JEFF BEZOS, CEO, AMAZON: Jeff Bezos, amazon.com, CEO.
DONALD TRUMP JR., ELDEST SON, PRESIDENT TRUMP: Donald Trump Jr.
IVANKA TRUMP, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Ivanka Trump.
ERIC TRUMP, SON, PRESIDENT TRUMP: Eric Trump and welcome.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Welcome. They're open for business. Tonight, critics say while Trump campaign doing for America what he did for the Trump Organization, critics say, well, actually we may be witnessing the reverse. Trump using the American power and taxpayer dollars to bail out the Trump Organization maybe one last time. I'm joined by Vox's Liz Plank and Ben Clements a former Federal Prosecutor and former Chief Legal Counsel to Governor Deval Patrick. Ben, is this a problem?
BEN CLEMENTS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it's more than a problem, Ari. It is -- and it's more than a conflict of interest. It is a blatant violation of the Constitution at a minimum. There may be criminality as well. More information is needed to know whether there's criminality. But unquestionably, this latest dealing with the flip-flop on what the Commerce Department did with respect to ZTE on the -- within 70 hours of Trump getting the benefit -- his organization getting the benefit of a half billion dollars in loans from China is just a straightforward emoluments violation at a minimum.
MELBER: When you say emoluments, you're referring to the Constitution barring gifts from foreign governments. What makes this a gift rather than just a convenient business deal?
CLEMENTS: Well, the emoluments clause doesn't prohibit just gifts, it basically prohibits a federal official, including the President, from receiving anything of value from a foreign government, unless they have the consent of Congress. President Trump has never sought and Congress has not given that consent. So he cannot receive anything of value from foreign governments.
MELBER: Just to be -- just to be clear because you're making a charge here, although there's a lot of evidence already, you're saying that effectively that the Chinese government's role in subsidizing the Indonesian project which then benefits the Trump Org has maybe some long trail, but what starts in the Chinese government and ends in Trump's pocket is essentially that thing of value?
CLEMENTS: Well, again, I am basing on what's been reported, but what's been reported in the media is that the Trump Organization has a very large financial interest in this business entities that is being subsidized by the Chinese government and stands to make a substantial amount of money. So yes, leaving aside whether or not that influenced his decision to overrule the Commerce Department, it is itself a violation of the foreign emoluments clause.
LIZ PLANK, SENIOR PRODUCER AND CORRESPONDENT, VOX.COM: I don't think Donald Trump has proved that he understands how the Constitution works, even before going, you know, being in office, he said that the president can have conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, we have this news today and also since he's been in office, the Chinese government granted him or Trump 39 trademarks and Ivanka Trump seven trademarks. And so and, you know, then you have Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., apparently or allegedly Trump swears they are donating profits to charity, but of course we haven't seen receipts for that. And so, you know, as we're you know, all sort of coming to terms with, is that this could be a violation of the emoluments clause. And so, I'm left with one question, Ari, if Donald Trump shot the Emoluments Clause on fifth -- in the middle of Fifth Avenue, would people still vote for him.
MELBER: You're talking about a bullet right through the Constitution.
PLANK: Yes. Would that make a difference?
MELBER: I think -- I think that's a legal parable worth exploring. You add to that the fact that this company that benefits is not like a model corporate citizen. I'm reading here from The Wall Street Journal, somewhat you know, business-oriented conservative publication. This month the Pentagon banned use of ZTE cell phones because they fear -- this is the Pentagon -- the Chinese government can track the whereabouts of our soldiers using ZTE devices. I mean, if this were one of those like you know, blockbuster movies, this would be like the very obvious thing that like this isn't the company you want to help.
PLANK: Right. Like every day, it feels like a script conveniently written. And I think like many of the other scandals that we've seen happen you know, occur with this administration, it's not really about Indonesian you know, theme parks and you know, cell phone companies or porn stars, it's actually often about corruption, right? And so if you don't have a clear division between government and business dealings, that's not a democracy, that's a kleptocracy.
PLANK: And the flip side of financial gain, right, is financial penalties for people who might not fall in line with the way the government wants them to act. And so, obviously we have this news coming from Rudy Giuliani about the fact that Donald Trump tried to block, allegedly, that's what Rudy basically acknowledged with his words, that Donald Trump blocked that deal between AT&T you know, merging with Time Warner because maybe Donald Trump doesn't like the way that CNN covers him. And so we -- there's really a dangerous --
MELBER: Right, literally an abuse of power.
MELBER: Well, Ben, let me turn to the more sexy legal question, who would have standing to bring this emoluments suit?
CLEMENTS: Well, it's not clear. There are at least two emolument suits still pending in federal court.
MELBER: No, I mean, on your theory, on this new one.
CLEMENTS: Yes, off the top of my head, certainly members of Congress would have standing to challenge it and members of Congress have already brought suit against Trump for violating the Emoluments Clause and this could certainly be added to that lawsuit.
MELBER: Because in some ways this one looks -- this looks bigger in scale and in sort of security implications than some of the hotel stuff. Ben Clements and Liz Plank, thank you both. An important story.
PLANK: Thanks, Ari.
MELBER: Up ahead, fact-checking Donald Trump's biggest claims about his achievements as well as failures. We're going to hear from all sides. And North Korea threatening to pull out of this new summit. Also, great news about these two guys later in the show.
MELBER: Breaking news right now. Donald Trump just formally filed his financial disclosure form for the year. Now, it's not publicly available, the government ethics office gets first crack but this will have a list of Trump's assets and his asserted debts. He could even contain information about any new payments or reimbursement that he made to Michael Cohen related to Stormy Daniels, essential consultants or other issues. We're keeping an eye on the ethics office and the moment we get that data tonight or any other night, we will, of course, report it. Now, to our debate tonight. Donald Trump brags so much, it can be easy to forget that sometimes the political wind can be at his back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Again, I say it, there's never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That's not true. Historians do not put Trump's first year and a half in office among the most productive. In fact, given the constant staff shake-ups, and scandals, and leaks, indictments, and guilty pleas, plus the general roving dumpster fire Mexican standoff that characterized Trump's presidency thus far, it is a wonder he's doing as well as he is, many critics say. And they point to the self-inflicted wounds that at times has scabbed into a kind of giant wet scar spanning the American presidency. All of that, though, can actually make Donald Trump look good politically when you consider that despite the problems, his approval rating is ticking up now to 43 percent. Macro-Economic factors, unemployment falling below four percent, a 45-year low building on Obama era progress. Meanwhile, Trump rips up the Iran deal, popular with his base and brings three North Korean hostages home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)'
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: These are big things that will change history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got to say something is going right.
LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and then some.
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MELBER: That's one set of views. I'm joined by Julian Epstein who is getting rubioed up, taking in some water, ready to go and Amy Tarkanian, Republican Strategist, former GOP Chairwoman of Nevada State Party and a Trump supporter. I ask you both to be concise, and factual. And Amy, you go first.
AMY TARKANIAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: OK. Well, you did list out already some pretty impressive accomplishments that the President did promise while he was on the campaign trail, and he is going down his to-do list and he's checking them all off. And I think that's why one of the reasons he was elected, you know, we're tired of having politicians campaign one way and then once they're elected, they lie and he is actually sticking to his promises.
MELBER: Julian, is that why numbers are in the 40s?
JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I didn't hear a lot of facts there. This continues to be the most unpopular President in modern history. Yes, he is at 42 percent according to average of the polls, that's the lowest of any modern president. Clinton and Obama were upper 40s at this point in their presidency, so that's one. Two, he looks like he's going into catastrophic midterm elections, all of the indications showing in terms of Democratic intensity, in terms of the generic numbers on the Congressional election, all of them show big favors for Democrats. In terms of the substance, I mean, what did Donald Trump promise. He promised us we would have an economy at four percent. The economy is going 2.3 percent. He promise he would deal with the trade problem. The trade deficit has increased 13 percent since he took office. He promised he would get rid of ObamaCare, ObamaCare is still in place. The only thing he's really delivered on is the tax deal, which is basically breadcrumbs to the middle class. It's given about 15 to 20 percent of benefits to the middle class, 80 percent of benefits of the tax deal has gone to the elites in this country. And if you want have a debate about Iran and North Korea, the absurdity of North Korea and Iran debate is that the President can't hope to get half in the North Korean negotiations what he already has in the Iran Deal. In the Iran Deal, you have total denuclearization in Iran, and at least for ten years before they can begin any development. The most he's he can get from North Korea is perhaps a cessation of the testing and gradual denuclearization. That's a much worse situation than you have in Iran right now, where you have total denuclearization. So I think at some point, the middle-class voters as women are starting to say with this president is this guy has given us nothing but a con job. I mean, the major things he promised on, the economy, trade, he is not delivering on and this Iran, North Korea thing, I think that he may get a sugar high from that temporarily, but that's not going to as soon as people start taking a closer look.
MELBER: Amy, do you think the President has to do something broader than his base to get up out of the 40s?
TARKANIAN: Well, I mean, you said it yourself. We're actually at a record low for unemployment rate, and what, roughly 44, 45 years. And if you want to bring up females, we're also at the lowest since 1950s, also for African-Americans and Hispanics. So our economy is actually doing extremely well. And it is a fact that one of the reasons that Donald Trump was elected is because we're tired of politicians that campaign one way and when they get elected they lie. He's following through. Now, you may like the policies, you may not like the policies, but he is following through with his promises. And if you do look at all of the --
EPSTEIN: Amy, you're just making my case -- you're making my case.
TARKANIAN: And if you do look at all of the polls, you know, depending which one you want to take serious or not, 538 actually did a great breakdown of the President compared to past presidents on where they were in the last I think roughly 480 days or so. And even with Barack Obama, yes, he did start at a much higher favorable rate, but by the time he was done at this point, he was also in the negative. So I think that we are being a little too harsh maybe just because the media darling didn't win, but the President is currently doing exactly what he promised.
EPSTEIN: Amy, you're making my case. Let me just say -- let me just point out why I think the argument is ridiculous. First thing, you say the economy is doing well with four percent unemployment. Yes, that follows the Obama trends for the last eight to ten years. The point that I made though that you didn't respond to is if the economy is doing so well, why is this the most historically unpopular president that we have ever had. He's at 42 percent. Obama and Clinton, and they have -- first terms were at 46 and 48 percent in this point -- at this point of their Presidency and got walloped in the midterms. That's the first point that your argument doesn't make sense. The second point where your argument doesn't make sense about him, campaigning to do one thing, not doing another thing, well, he promised us four percent economic growth. Where is that? We're at two percent economic growth. That's half. That's about where we -- that's when he was haranguing the Obama Administration because we had 2.7 in the last quarter when Obama was president. That's the first point. On trade --
MELBER: Let me give -- let me give -- because timing --
EPSTEIN: Why hasn't he reduced trade deficit?
MELBER: Because of timing and fairness, Amy, 20 seconds and Julian, 20 seconds. Final thoughts.
TARKANIAN: OK, well, since the President has been in office, there's been roughly 800,000 jobs that have been created, so that is a fact dealing with the economy.
EPSTEIN: Well, Obama is doing that every month.
TARKANIAN: Dealing with foreign trade, you know, he's basically made it where it's more fair for America and we're not just constantly giving our time and effort and money away anymore. If you want to talk about North Korea, this has never happened in history where a U.S. President has sat down.
MELBER: Nor yet because we have to see where it ends.
TARKANIAN: So I think that there are a lot wonderful things that --
MELBER: Let me give a final thought to Julian in 20.
EPSTEIN: Well, this was supposed to be a factual debate. I mean, the fact you say he's improved the situation on trade. The trade deficit is worse. You talk about North Korea, you didn't respond to the point I made that he will have a better situation with the existing agreement in Iran which gives total denuclearization than North Korea which might give you half that. I mean, ObamaCare, he didn't deliver on. A whole host of things he just has not delivered on. The notion that you can just point to four percent unemployment, which is coat-tailing on the Obama record seems to be an absurd argument.
MELBER: And as we say in the -- as we say in the business, reclaiming my time only because I got to on. I want to thank you both for a civil and forthright debate face to face. Amy Tarkanian and Julian Epstein, thank you both. Up next on THE BEAT, we turn to two comedic legend dropping truth box.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want answers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want the truth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't handle the truth.
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MELBER: President Trump can't really handle the truth very often but enter two major truth tellers Dave Chappelle and Jon Stewart, obviously comedic legends launching their own comedy tour. Stewart came out of his retirement briefly in 2016.
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STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: It's Donald Trump.
JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: What?
STEWART: The guy from the Apprentice?
STEWART: The guy who did a McDonald's commercial with the Grimace.
COLBERT: Yep same guy.
STEWART: The guy who filed for bankruptcy in 1991.
COLBERT: And 1992.
STEWART: And 2004.
COLBERT: And 2009
STEWART: That guy.
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MELBER: Meanwhile, Chappelle famously involves his own wealth to argue that some Trump voters were confused.
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DAVE CHAPPELLE, COMEDIAN: I listen to them say naive poor white people things. Man, Donald Trump's going to go to Washington and he's going to fight for us. I'm standing there thinking in my mind, you dumb mother (BLEEP). You are poor. He's fighting for me.
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MELBER: Chappelle's critique of Donald Trump indicts not only the man but really the rest of us who can fall into his attention seeking web of trolling. Here's Chappelle was the weekend after Trump's November upset.
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CHAPPELLE: America has done it. We've actually -- we've actually elected an internet troll as our president.
STEWART: What the (BLEEP) is wrong with this guy? What is wrong?
A cliffhanger surrounded by military people you'll find out. Oh, will Trump give humanity the rose?
MELBER: But it's not just the "T" word. Remember, of course, Jon Stewart took on both parties.
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STEWART: Here in the United States we have our own powerless legislatures, they're called Democrats. Basically, the Democrats seem like the kind of people who switch to Geico and lose money.
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MELBER: And Chappelle was part of the SNL skit that roasted both Trumpism and entitlement in certain parts of our country.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I guess there's like a nightmare scenario where he wins the popular vote.
CHAPPELLE: Really? That's your nightmare scenario huh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. I think America is racist.
CHAPPELLE: Oh, my God. You know, I remember my great grandfather told me something like that it was I was like a slave or something.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know what it's like to be a woman in this country where you can't get ahead no matter what you do.
CHAPPELLE: Oh, geez, I don't know. Let me put my thinking cap on that but I'll get back to you.
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MELBER: I'll get back to you. Well, he's been thinking and it looks like Dave Chappelle is about to get back to all of us. We can't wait.
MELBER: That does it for me. I'll see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on THE BEAT. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now. .
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