Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: May 17, 2018 Guest: Sol Wisenberg; Andrew Blankstein; Neil Katyal, Madison Gesiotto, Christina Greer, Joaquin Castro, Zephyr Teachout
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: I got to go. I got to send it over to Ari Melber.
Ari, I got to check my phone.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We are all addicted. Now, Chuck, I started my 5:00 hour watching the top of your show, as we so often do. And I saw your headline banner, "Mo Mueller, Mo problems." And I got to say I love that.
TODD: I know you do. We love it. We know, in fact, my staff always says, that`s one Ari will like.
MELBER: Do they?
TODD: When there`s hip-hop references, that`s all for Ari.
MELBER: It is a great song. And as you know, biggie said federal agents mad because I`m flagrant, tap my phone in the basement. I mean, there`s a lot of law enforcement issues in that song.
TODD: I hear what Michael Cohen is listening to now.
MELBER: Could be.
Don`t put it back. And Chuck Todd, thank you as always. Great topic of your show (ph).
We begin with new heat tonight on the man Chuck just mentioned, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. He sits in the bulls-eye of two different Trump`s scandals right now, the Mueller probe and the collusion, yes. And yes, the payments to Stormy Daniels that Cohen and Trump lied about. Her lawyer kicking off the day in a manner fitting for the Trump era with a televised tease of more developments to come, prodded by (INAUDIBLE) on the set of "Morning Joe" where I should mention full disclosure, I was also at the table.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` LAWYER: There`s at least two that I think are on solid ground. And I think that as the evidence rolls out over the coming months, disclosures are going to be made that my client was not alone as it relates to this payment. That Michael Cohen was not a 24-hour, seven day-a-week fixer for the sole purpose of taking care of Stormy Daniels.
MELBER: Two women who alleged that they have agreements with Michael Cohen or Donald Trump?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And women who claimed to have had affairs or sex with Donald Trump?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did they have larger payments paid to them, larger to than $130,000?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Yes. What`s new there is the allegations that these payoffs were larger than trump`s payment to Daniels which got him in so much trouble.
We also asked Avenatti if Trump mischaracterizing those alleged payments could create more criminal exposure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Do you believe that any financial dealings with these women were properly reported at the time or like Stormy Daniels, do you believe they also might create other exposure for Donald Trump?
AVENATTI: I think they may create additional exposure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, that`s the view from Michael Cohen`s antagonist. But in another twist, fitting for 2018 today, today, "the New York Times" reports Avenatti looking at teaming up in a deal with an ally of Trump and Cohen`s -- former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, the two reportedly pitching a joint TV show to cable networks, including MSNBC. It`s not clear if such a show is anywhere close to an actual formal pitch or how stormy Daniels might feel about her lawyer working in partnership with someone on the Trump team.
But Cohen`s troubles go beyond Stormy Daniels reports he tried to get Qatar to pay him a million bucks. The FBI probing his pitches to other foreign companies.
Meanwhile, "the New Yorker" reporting that Cohen`s financial records Russia leaked by a whistleblower concerned that Cohen`s other banking files were potentially improperly missing from a secret federal database. And the reporter who broke that story, Ronan Farrow telling MSNBC, those suspicious activity reports did appear to go missing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Your source says the reason he or she did that was because of concern about other similar reports that are gone?
RONAN FARROW, REPORTER: Yes. And we can absolutely report the two that you referenced, now unaccounted for, exist. They are referenced in the third suspicious activity report. When you search for Cohen`s name, they should come up in the system in the normal course of business. They do not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I`m joined by (INAUDIBLE). He was deputy independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation and participated in the questioning of President Clinton in his grand jury appearance, bringing a lot of experience to this discussion. Also former prosecutor Seth Waxman, and David Frum, a speech writer for George W. Bush who has talked about corruption issues with Donald Trump from the start.
Before I get super legal, let`s get super real.
David Frum, when you connect all these dots tonight, what do you think is important?
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Well, not to add to anybody`s reading pile, but I think there`s one more piece from the day that people need to look at and that is the story in BuzzFeed that shows that contra to repeated denials from President Trump, from his family, from Michael Cohen, that indeed the Trump organization and Michael Cohen were working on a project in Moscow through the Republican convention, through the campaign and almost to the point of inauguration day when it finally fizzled out.
And the big prize for the deal, should it happen, would be to announce sometime in the fall of 2016 at a Trump/Putin joint meeting.
One of the questions that many of us have had in figuring out the Trump/Putin attraction, was the lure in the past? Something Trump had been before that the Russians held over him? Or was it in the future, some tasty tidbit the Russians were holding in front of his greedy nose?
MELBER: Put that in context, Seth, to the open investigations and the increased attention on Michael Cohen and these somewhat missing or mysterious disappeared records?
SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, I mean, every time we hear about Michael Cohen, we hear about more and more contacts with Russians. And it goes to the idea of this conspiracy, potential conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election, and whether there were gifts or payments as part of a quid pro quo. So now we are hearing about this activity going into the Moscow hotel and connections there.
So as for the missing documents, you know, I have seen some reports that (INAUDIBLE) the financial enforcement network has come out and said that they often times or not often but do limit access. So it may be the case these files hadn`t gone missing, that they are simply being limited in access by either Bob Mueller or the southern district of New York.
And then finally, you know, whether they are restricted or missing, the underlying documentation at the individual banks will still exist. So I have little doubt that Bob Mueller who never, you know, and the southern district of New York can go out and get the underline documents --
MELBER: Right. Well, let me jump in, just because we are moving so fast. What you are saying is that the underlying evidence is not necessarily going to be gone. That`s not what`s concerning about it from say, a chain of custody position. We are six minutes into the show. So obviously we are going to talk chain of custody, because it`s exciting.
But the larger issue that the whistleblower is raising is whether -- let me read to you -- whether this presents new deceit. I have never seen something pulled off the system, they tall "the New Yorker," when something`s not there that should be I immediately became concerned. That`s why I came forward.
The person goes on to call it terrifying to say. That I`m terrified right now, would be an understatement. This is a terrifying time to be an American, to be in this situation, to watch all of this unfold.
This is a person who is obviously taking risks to leak, and saying their concern is that there might be people inside, the authorities of the financial oversight system or the American government trying to hide stuff.
WAXMAN: Yes. I mean, that is the allegation, you would think. Because there is a mole operating for Trump or someone that is in favor of Trump that is try to bury evidence
I find that hard to believe, you know, with these computer databases these days. The idea that someone can go in and manipulate the system and truly, permanently delete a computer file, it just doesn`t happen.
I mean, I can tell you working with the FBI agents. I would be involved in cases and say, can we get this email from ten years ago, where I would never be able to accomplish that. They would go in there. And incredibly they would be able to find it through servers or all sorts of avenues. So the idea that someone, a mole, was able to intentionally go in there and manipulate and delete a fincen (ph) computer Sars that was an electronic format, I find it difficult to believe.
MELBER: I`m going to hit pause on this. We have breaking news coming to our newsroom, building on reporting out of "the Wall Street Journal."
NBC News now reporting for the first time this moment, Paul Manafort`s former son-in-law who also was in business with him has flipped and cut a secret plea deal with federal investigators. A matter of major significance to obviously the open Mueller case against Paul Manafort.
Panel stays with me, but first I`m joined by phone, by NBC investigative journalist, Andrew Blankstein.
Andrew, what can you tell us?
ANDREW BLANKSTEIN, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST (on the phone): Well, Ari, we know from sources, law enforcement sources that Paul Manafort`s former son-in-law has reached a plea deal to plead guilty in connection with a real estate fraud case that`s ongoing in Los Angeles. What we don`t know is whether it involved local prosecutors in the central district of California, or it involves people on Bob Mueller`s team. We also don`t know the specific details or when a potential plea would be entered and when that happens, when there would be a sentencing.
MELBER: You mentioned the timing. One of the most tantalizing things of "the Wall Street Journal" reporting on this in the last few moments, was that what might have been reached as a secret deal as far back as January, which means that whoever Paul Manafort`s son-in-law is cooperating with, it`s been going on all this year.
BLANKSTEIN: Well, one of the things in terms of checking back on this, obviously when this initially began, the question was, was it going to be a matter of time? When was the case going to get going? And now, although we don`t know the specifics of what the plea deal would be in exchange for, we know that certainly Bob Mueller`s people have been looking into all aspects of his former father-in-law`s finances. And in this investment fraud case, it is how does that sit on the rest of this case? And I think that`s going to be really interesting going forward.
MELBER: Stay with me, Andrew. (INAUDIBLE) to for reporting out the story. Stay with me.
David Frum, one other thing that we do know that looks more significant tonight with this breaking news, 6:09 p.m. on the east coast, reports that Paul Manafort Manafort`s estranged son has flipped and he is cooperating. We don`t know who he flipped for exactly. And we emphasize that in this reporting. But we do know, David, that Bob Mueller`s investigators had previously met with him. Your view of this story?
FRUM: Well, there`s so many angles with the Manafort story. Because many of the things Manafort did before joining the Trump campaign were so intensely suspicious. So it`s not clear to me that this would have a direct bearing on anything to do with what happened in 2016 and after.
But the thing that everyone needs to keep in mind, when you hear about Manafort`s pre-2016 dealings, is that he volunteered to work for the Trump campaign for free. And that is just something you have to keep in mind. Manafort, not a very charitable person normally. So why do this? Why do it for free? What motivated him? That`s the big overhanging question. And if not what motivated him? Who motivated him?
MELBER: What motivated him? Which is also a question of intent. I bring in Sol Wisenberg who is a very experience prosecutor, one of the only people alive who has questioned a President in a grand jury proceeding. And I appreciate your patience because I was going to come to you earlier, we got the breaking news. Dealer`s choice, your view on all of this?
SOL WISENBERG, FORMER DEPUTY INDEPENDENT COUNSEL UNDER KEN STARR: Well, one thing to really look at and when you are dealing with the Mueller investigation, is to look at the plea agreements and to look at the language of the plea agreements. And one thing that is striking about the language of the plea agreements and the associated documents is, it doesn`t look like, it hasn`t looked like for a long time, like he has a case on criminal collusion. You know, conspiracy to violate any of the offenses that have to do with the campaign activity.
We see that in the Flynn plea agreement and statement of the offense. We see it in the Papadopoulos one. So it will be very interesting to look at this. There`s nothing in those two or in the gates agreement that would indicate -- I mean, typically you will lay your case out in some way to let it be known that there is very damaging evidence here. And so I would say, wait, and look carefully at the language.
With respect to your respect about the Ronan Farrow report, what`s interesting to me is if I`m not mistaken, it`s a crime to do what this person did --
MELBER: Typically, yes.
WISENBERG: -- to leak it. I think Farrow even says it in the article. I haven`t had a chance to look at the statute. So can be sure --.
MELBER: No. I do know those kinds of activity reports are highly protected.
WISENBERG: That means there will be a criminal investigation -- I mean, they are already looking at the leak, but there will be a criminal investigation probably of this. And I think at some point, Farrow, if he has a prosecutor as aggressive as Patrick Fitzgerald was with the press, that he can expect a subpoena, and he`ll have to make a decision about whether or not he`s willing to go to prison to protect a source. Because it`s a very big deal to leak one of these.
I completely agree with Seth, the information is there. The information is there. The information isn`t going to be lost. But also if you read that report, many of the people Farrow talked to, at least half the people, I think, said, well, there could be an explanation for this other than the theft or the --
MELBER: And I appreciate that nuance. And indeed NBC`s reported on the possible counterintelligence reasons, which is to say, it was put to the side for the right reason, not the wrong reason. Although I did read the allegation of the whistleblower.
Seth, when you look at these reports breaking right now just over the last five minutes or so that Paul Manafort`s estranged former son-in-law has flipped, as far back as January, is cooperating with investigators and that we don`t know whether that directly comes from the Mueller probe or separately, this is a person that was on their radar, that was investigated, that did meet with Mueller`s investigators. Walk us through just as a line prosecutor, how this kind of thing works? Why, for example, is it a secret plea deal? Other plea deals have been released in the course of normal investigation. Your analysis?
WAXMAN: Yes. I think it couldn`t be any more clear to me. They want Paul Manafort. There were three people in that Trump tower meeting, Kushner, Don Jr. and Paul Manafort. And they are trying to get someone on the inside of that meeting to cooperate and flip with the government to roll them up on to Don Jr., Kushner, and potentially the President.
And so, they are trying to put whatever pressure they can, be it an indictment in D.C., an additional indictment in Virginia.
WAXMAN: Which as I understand it, is about 300-plus years, and now they have flipped his son-in-law. You know, why is it secret?
MELBER: So let me -- yes, let me go to the secret thing. I mean, it`s hard to be afraid of a concealed weapon if you can`t see it. So why secret if the goal is pressure?
WAXMAN: Well, I don`t know that they didn`t tell Paul Manafort this had been going on or his lawyer. I would suspect they had. Why secret though? It could be that they have proactive cooperation going on. In other words, they flipped him, and it could be the case, I`m completely--
MELBER: Are you talking about a wire?
WAXMAN: Talking about a wire. That they wired him up and got him into conversations. Paul Manafort`s on house arrest. So that in theory, he could still have phone calls and meetings. Whether that happened or not, I mean, there is a whole host of things that, you know, a prosecutor and FBI agent team would use to use a cooperator proactively. I will tell you that I can almost assure that all the defense lawyers for Mr. Manafort and anyone else who has been indicted, the first thing they are saying to them is don`t talk to anyone. Don`t talk on the phones.
Let me get David Frum on this. David, because I have dealt with Mr. Manafort in a reporting capacity. You are no stranger to a lot of players in Republican politics. Walk us through the mind-set here of an individual with this much pressure coming down on him, his deputy flipping who he brought in originally as an intern in his firm with Roger Stone. His son- in-law flipping since January and Seth giving us the reason that prosecutors do that, even privately, as to put more heat on. What`s Paul Manafort holding out for?
FRUM: I don`t know. But the question that I would keep brooding about is this who question as well as the what. When Paul Manafort went to work for Donald Trump for free, did he do so because he had people to please or people to whom he owed money. People who might come at you with something a little more frightening than a subpoena.
MELBER: Yes. And Sol Wisenberg, final word from you, sir.
WISENBERG: Well, if the son-in-law was wearing a wire while he talked to a federal defendant under custodial control, that would be amazingly aggressive and risky prosecutorial tactics. So again, I think we have to wait and see. I mean, I think you need to be very careful not to make enemies with your former son-in-law. I think that`s a very important lesson.
MELBER: Well, it all depends on what he has on you, like so many things.
My special thanks to Andrew Blankstein calling here with the breaking news. Sol Wisenberg, and Seth Waxman and David Frum. A lot of experts on this panel.
Coming up, my special guest tonight, the man who literally wrote the rules that govern Bob Mueller. Neal Katyal is on THE BEAT and talks about what could let to indicting a sitting President.
Also, Rudy Giuliani now says maybe there is nothing wrong with getting dirt from the Russians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: Nothing ill legal about that. Whether it comes from a Russian or a German or an American, doesn`t matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Doesn`t matter turning to some other important policy, Congressman Joaquin Castro is here to discuss Donald Trump`s attacks on MS-13 and immigrants in general.
And a special guest tonight on corruption probe to the woman who could be the next attorney general in Donald Trump`s home state of New York.
I`m Ari Melber. You are watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Big story right now is this. Can Bob Mueller indict Donald Trump, charge him with crimes that could lead to prison while Trump is in office, and eventually send him to prison? If that sounds like resistance fan fiction, consider the topic is news tonight because like many terrible stories for Trump, his own attorney, Rudy Giuliani brought it up on TV.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: First of all, he can`t legally be indicted by anyone. President can`t be indicted. He can only be impeached.
I asked them specifically if they realized they didn`t have the power to indict. He said -- well, he wouldn`t answer. And one of his assistants said, they acknowledged they were bound by justice department policies. Then the next day or the day after, they clarified they didn`t have the power to indict.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: If true that was really interesting. Giuliani taking everyone inside a secret meeting with Bob Mueller himself. And Rudy elaborated on this in a longer interview, telling "the Washington Post" quote "one of his assistants broke in and said, well, of course, we`re bound by justice department policies. And Giuliani then said Mueller looked at him, like quote "don`t interrupt me." And then Giuliani said quote "it reminded me of that scene in the godfather was sunny and the godfather where he said, you are going to take care of us, we can take care of ourselves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your business a little dangerous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you`re worried about security for your men, they`ll guarantee it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you telling me that the Italians guarantee our investment --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait a minute.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should listen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Corleone then warns Sunny quote "never tell anyone outside the family what you`re thinking again."
Now Giuliani is telling that`s what Mueller would be saying to his deputy. But this is not a movie. And maybe someday they will write movies about this period in America, but that assumes America makes it through this period.
And while Giuliani has gotten a lot of things wrong, it is true that justice department guidelines do state, you cannot indict a sitting President, which would be unconstitutional. And Giuliani`s basically saying a Mueller aide cited that rule in their meeting, which is possible. The rule that the DOJ applied for past Presidents would seem to continue. People who want to change it because they don`t like Trump may not appear credible unless they have a better argument.
And what about the rules that do give Mueller this power? Do they resolve this battle? Well, my next guest literally wrote the rules, former senior DOJ official Neal Katyal. And he points out they provide for exceptions of DOJ policy with the approval of Mueller`s boss, in this case, Rod Rosenstein.
My next guest literally wrote those rules, former senior DOJ official Neal Katyal. He points out the rules do provide for exceptions to DOJ policy with the approval of the special counsel`s boss, Rod Rosenstein.
Mr. Katyal, you worked at a DOJ with the same internal policy about not indicting a sitting President. Why should that be different now?
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER SENIOR DOJ OFFICIAL: Well, I think the first thing to point out is that we -- just consider how low the President`s bar is here, what he is saying. We have gone from, you know, Russia, what`s Russia? Or Stormy Daniels, who`s that? What`s the $130,000? I don`t know anything about it. To, oh, you can`t indict me, I have a get out of jail free card.
And that`s a remarkable thing. We are talking about the President of the United States saying that. Now, you know, there`s I think a large number of reasons to be suspect about what Mr. Giuliani has said, I mean, apart from the fact that details and facts aren`t exactly his strong suit.
I mean, the story just seems very incomplete, because the special counsel rules, as you just said, Ari, do absolutely permit Mueller to indict the President, but he has to seek the permission of the acting attorney general Rod Rosenstein first.
MELBER: Are you familiar with a situation, though, where the acting attorney general would authorize directly contradicting standing guidance from the office of legal counsel which is you know, sort of the DOJ`s DOJ?
KATYAL: Absolutely. So I think when we wrote the rules, we had in mind a situation in which, you know, there are some DOJ policy, office of legal counsel policy, something like that, that would preclude the special counsel from doing his job. And in an appropriate circumstance, we said absolutely the solution is to go and ask the acting attorney general.
MELBER: Did you have in mind something as big as indicting a sitting President?
KATYAL: We certainly had in mind big things. There`s no question about that. And the rules reflect that, in point seven of the rules.
MELBER: But don`t you see that there is a concern here that this all seems to be changing within the context of Donald Trump? What do you say to people who feel or perceive, that there seems to be even from folks who talk about the rule of law and the importance of the DOJ and its independence, kind of a hunger out there to go tougher when Donald Trump is the target?
KATYAL: Yes. I guess I would say a couple things about that. One is, you know, a lot of these scholarships and opinions or waiting to say a sitting President can`t be indicted were before the Paula Jones case. And the Supreme Court in Paula Jones case and vowing (ph) Bill Clinton said, you know, the American principle is no one is above the law.
And you know, that was a civil case. And what goes for a civil case, II suspect there will be a pretty good argument, goes even stronger for a criminal case. That a President shouldn`t be able to commit crimes and act with impunity. And there`s a second real problem here. Becausse the whole idea behind, you can`t indict a sitting President, a large part of it comes from the fact that indictments are distracting to the President who is very busy. And you got to carry out their official duties.
You know, courts operate in the real world. And you know, they know for example, that Donald Trump has golfed 53 days out of his 482 days in office, which more than one in ten days. So it`s a little hard to make the kind of distraction arguments that are at the core of Presidents can`t be indicted opinions when you`re talking about this President.
MELBER: Let me push you on that. Because that was certainly one of the issues in Paula Jones, and the notion of what a civil case and any -- just about anyone can file a civil case so you could tie up a fair amount of public official tying that way.
But I don`t think it goes down just to the time and the golfing. I think it goes to the idea that a federal indictment of a sitting President would effectively knee cap their term and potentially their re-election, that you are taking the person charged with executing the laws and making them subject to other decisions within the executive branch that might detonate their presidency as a practical matter.
KATYAL: That`s absolutely right. It is a very good point. And so, I think, you know, there are two basic paths. One is to say, well, we have a principle that`s more important, which is no one is above the law. And that is Polegens (ph) principle and it arguably applies to criminal. And at least may apply to the indictment of a President. And maybe you say, you can`t try him in office, that would knee cap him or something.
But the second and more fundamental point is there is a self-defeating quality to what the President is saying here and that can`t be indicted. Because all the scholars who say, you can`t indict a President while he is sitting, say, the remedy is impeachment, it is Congress doing its job.
Now, you can`t, if you`re the President, say on the one hand, you can`t indict me. And then on the other say, Mueller, you can`t write a thorough, comprehensive report, detailing everything you found. Both arguments can`t be true. And so they work together. So those people who say, you can`t indict a sitting President also say Congress should have all the information available to it.
And you know, the constitution is kind of like a graphic equalizer, you know. And you know, if you put everything up at ten, then it is not going to sound right. And Trump`s arguments are always to go minus 10 on everything and destroy the, you know, symmetry in the constitutional equilibrium. So it`s absolutely fine.
And you know, I can imagine an argument that says a sitting President can`t be indicted, but it`s always then coupled with, Mueller, all the stuff you found, all these reports and stuff, everything has to be turned over to the Congress of the United States, both the majority and minority party so you can do your job effectively.
MELBER: Well, you say it`s like a graphic equalizer, when you think about checks and balances and you think about the long relationship between bass and treble, obviously those are important matters of (INAUDIBLE).
I guess before I let you go, sir, I have to ask you as well about your arguments against Trump`s travel ban in the Supreme Court. I know there is not much lawyers want to say while they are waiting on a decision, but what did you take from your arguments that day? Do you have a chance to win?
KATYAL: Yes, I`m not going to comment on that, I`m sorry. But, you know, that`s my basic policy when it comes to a case that`s pending in the Supreme Court.
MELBER: I have heard about that kind of policy, but I had to ask.
Neil Katyal, thank you very much.
KATYAL: Thank you.
MELBER: Let me bring in Madison Gesiotto, a former Trump Campaign Surrogate and graduate of Ohio State Law School, and Christina Greer, a Fellow at NYU`s McSilver Institute. This seems now a big topic kicked up by none other than Rudy Giuliani. Madison, what`s your view?
MADISON GESIOTTO, FORMER ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: You know, neither tax history of the Constitution really provide us with positive guidance here but I think there`s arguments to be made on both sides. At the same time, something that`s not been mentioned enough is the fact that if we were to indict a sitting president, any sitting president, not just Trump, that would essentially give a jury up to only 12 people the ability to essentially overturn a national election and that`s a pretty scary thing.
MELBER: Christina, what do you think about that? I mean, Neal walked through a lot of the nitty-gritty details on the law. But at the broader level, America is now taking this all in, Rudy is obviously going to the mat, because he thinks, to Madison`s point, that a lot of folks would have the natural reaction and if this were Obama and it was going to be up to 12 jurors, people might say, is this any way to resolve this?
CHRISTINA GREER, FELLOW, MCSILVER INSTITUTE, NYU: Right. It would be highly problematic. I think what`s of great concern, we talked about this a year and a half ago is that the way the framers laid out the Constitution is such that there have to be checks and balances. And so Congress is always supposed to serve as a check on the President. The problem is, because this President has a Republican House and a Republican Congress -- or a Republican Senate, they`re acting like a bunch of sycophants. They are not actually stepping up. We`ve never seen a president like President Trump. The closest we`ve come is Nixon. And Nixon actually was a public servant, was an elected official, and had some decency in the sense that he stepped down so that he wouldn`t embarrass himself and the American people.
MELBER: So your argument is not necessarily this is a normal thing that we shouldn`t be concerned about indicting a president, this is abnormal but in the right abnormal circumstance it might be merited.
GREER: It might be. Because I mean, as Mueller, you know, who`s moving in silence, as he uncovers and excavates possible real deep-seated corruption on a series of levels for quite some time, I think that this is worth keeping on the table. I agree with Madison, we shouldn`t just move the bar every time -- just because 50 percent of the country or maybe more doesn`t agree with this particular president. We can`t set that precedent. However, we`ve never had a president who`s been this disrespectful to the American office of the presidency, because he`s never been a public servant and it`s a basically smash-and-grab presidency. We`re seeing this on a financial level.
MELBER: A smash-and-grab. Madison, there are politics to all of this obviously. Take a listen to Senator Richard Blumenthal on MSNBC going where more and more Democrats appear to go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: It has never been tested, there`s no precedent. There is a Department of Justice guideline apparently that says the president cannot be indicted. There`s a lot of legal support for that view, but my own view is that he can be indicted. He`s not above the law. Impeachment is not the exclusive remedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Do you think Democrats are basically changing their rules because they don`t like Donald Trump?
GESIOTTO: You know, I think the only response to this is in the words of Lauryn Hill, you all can`t see the truth in a courtroom of lies. And I think that so many Democratic Senators and Congressmen -- so many Democratic Senators and Congressman are completely going against what I think they would have said if this was Obama, Clinton, or someone else and they`re not really stepping up or looking at the Constitution, looking at the history of the DOJ and of course the risk that we would take if we were to indict a sitting president.
MELBER: But I suppose the flip side, you want to do this through Lauryn Hill is she also said consequence is no coincidence. And the idea that Christina`s raising is that Donald Trump has pushed the norms, so devalued the independence of the DOJ and FBI, that there has to be some reaction.
GESIOTTO: Well, and even, Ari, if he wants to say that that`s true. Let`s assume that we`re going off that and that is 100 percent. He`s different. He`s different than the presidents we`ve had before, but at the same time that does not change the Constitution and it does not change the rule of law in this country.
MELBER: Christina, final word?
GREER: The constitution`s a rough draft and I think the Constitution is also --
GESIOTTO: A rough draft for what?
GREER: Yes, a rough draft. It is an outline of things. And so, what they say is ---
GESIOTTO: An outline of things is how you would define the Constitution of the United States?
GREER: Yes, I am defining it that way because the framers never thought that they would have a President in the man of Donald Trump. We are supposed to elect a president who puts this country first. This president has never even had a board --
GESIOTTO: I`m sure the framers --
GREER: -- excuse me, Madison.
MELBER: This is what I`m going to do. I`m going to go to Christina -- I`m going to go to Christina and then I`ll go back to you, Madison in fairness. Go ahead.
GREER: So this president has never had a board of advisers for any of his businesses. He does not respect the rule of law, because he says he didn`t read. He`s never even read the Constitution. So we have to rely on the courts and Congress to serve as a check on this president, and they`re not doing so. So, unfortunately, yes, we might -- we are in a Constitutional crisis, not might be. And we know that the DOJ might have to indict a sitting president, which we`ve never had before but we`ve also never had someone like Donald Trump. The worst thing that Obama did realistically is his tan suit and his mom jeans when you put it in the grand scheme of things, right? Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandals and all these other things come nowhere near the Trump Administration. I mean, this is a point where domestically and internationally, we are in a crisis. And if you look at all the various articles of the Constitution, they`re pretty vague. And it`s up to Congress to fill in what they deem appropriate. So, yes, it is a rough draft from over 200 years ago, and we are the ones that are supposed to uphold --
MELBER: As promised, I want to give Madison a rebuttal. And on the point on the rough draft, there were a lot of problems in the original Constitutions. There are amendments and it is true that while the DOJ policy says you can`t indict that language itself is not in the Constitution. Final word, Madison.
GESIOTTO: Exactly. It`s not in the Constitution, but at the same time I think it`s insulting to this country and it`s insulting to the framers of the Constitution to call it a rough draft when that`s what this country is
GESIOTTO: But let me go back to something that she said, saying that the president has never read the Constitution. I know the President. That`s simply not true. He`s read the Constitution of the United States. He`s also read federalist papers number 69 about Alexander Hamilton, where he talks about the fact that the president should be impeached before being charged with a criminal offense and that`s what they intended.
GREER: -- because that might be helpful as well.
GESIOTTO: Right. and separation of powers is exactly part of my argument.
MELBER: Well, look --
GESIOTTO: We need a separation of powers and checks and balances so can`t unduly burden the president.
MELBER: This is what we like to do -- this is what we like to do on THE BEAT. We`ve got -- we`re quoting Lauryn, we`re quoting different federalist papers. You said federalist 69 --
GREER: Well, can I finish a line? Ready or not, here I come. That would be a quote from Robert Mueller.
MELBER: Well, everyone got a turn. Madison Gesiotto, Christina Greer, thank you both for talking directly to each other. We like to do that on THE BEAT and not talk past each other. Congressman Joaquin Castro is live with me live when we`re back in 60 seconds.
MELBER: Breaking news this hour, NBC News reporting Paul Manafort`s former son-in-law has flipped. He`s cut a secret plea deal with federal investigators which could have implications of both in Paul Manafort`s prosecution and potentially in the Mueller probe. I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro from Texas. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee. Thanks for joining me, a busy news night. Your view of this breaking news and any idea of whether it is connected to the Mueller Probe?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I would suspect that it is. I think most of all, it`s probably for Bob Mueller and his team, a way to put pressure on Paul Manafort to cooperate with them. And that can have a real significance for Donald Trump and his other campaign associates.
MELBER: You`re on the Intelligence Committee, so you know more than most, and you know more than I think sometimes you are allowed to say under those rules. But how do you feel when you -- when you learn this information, that the reporting, starting with the Wall Street Journal, (INAUDIBLE) Jones and NBC confirming alleges a January secret plea deal. So that while everything else have been going on and we`ve been doing all these discussions and reporting and (INAUDIBLE) around the water cooler across the country, that would suggest the whole -- the whole year, Paul Manafort`s son-in-law has been secretly cooperating with somebody.
CASTRO: Well, I mean, personally, it makes me wonder if it`s just coming out now, what he`s been doing for them since January. How much he`s been cooperating and in what ways? And you know, when all of this started, when the investigation started over a year ago now, obviously a year and a half, shortly after that I was asked a question what I thought the eventually outcome of this would be, and I said, I think in March of last year, that I thought that many people would end up going to jail. And we see that there have been 22 indictments, people are on their way to jail now. And my sense is that this will continue, that more folks will be headed to prison.
MELBER: More folks headed to prison. That`s an interesting statement from you, as I mention, on the House Intel Committee. Congressman, while I have you, we don`t want to just talk Russia. A lot of other important things going on including the ongoing debate about immigration. The President making these comments yesterday, referring to animals crossing the border, which today he emphasized was a reference in his mind he says to MS-13 gang members. Take a listen to both of those comments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARET MIMS, SHERIFF, FRESNO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: So here we are, stuck in the middle, trying to decide. We have federal law, we have state law.
There could be an MS-13 gang member I know about - if they don`t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in and we`re stopping a lot of them. But we`re taking people out of the country. You wouldn`t believe how bad these people are. These aren`t people. These are animals.
MS-13, these are animals. They`re coming into our country. We`re getting them out. When the other gang members come into our country, I refer to them as animals. And guess what, I always will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Do you accept the White House argument that plenty of politicians talk tough about criminals and gang members, or do you view this as a wider attack on immigrants?
CASTRO: It`s true that politicians talk tough about gang members, but it seems like every time the President talks about immigrants, he basically seems to assume that everybody is part of MS-13. Whenever he talks about immigrants, he always leads with MS-13 as though he`s casting everybody that`s an immigrant as an MS-13 gang member or somehow saying that MS-13 gang members are the embodiment of who immigrants are. And so it was very strange to hear a president of the united states speak in such dehumanizing terms. The other thing, Ari, it`s clear that the Justice Department and this administration are going after people and claiming that people are gang members, simply because they have something like a tattoo on their body, which to them signifies that somehow somebody is automatically a gang member because they`ve got a tattoo. So there`s not only been very disturbing and dehumanizing language that the president has used but very harsh and draconian and cruel policies that he`s pursued.
MELBER: You say dehumanizing, take a listen to something that`s gone viral when we talk about the strings around immigrant communities in this country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your staff is speaking Spanish to customers when they should be speaking in English.
My guess is they`re not documented, so my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country. They have the balls to come here and live off of my money? I pay for their welfare, I pay for their ability to be here. The least they could do -- the least they could do is speak English.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Is this a Trump effect and are you worried about how we relate inside this country with people, that individual referencing whether people speak Spanish which of course is a perfectly legal and fine thing to do in the United States.
CASTRO: I do think that it`s at least partly a Trump effect. He is basically emboldened people to let loose on their prejudices and let those prejudices fly and become very open about that. That`s one video that`s gone viral, but as you know, there have been very -- there have been many others. And so you know, I suspect that when the President continues with this kind of rhetoric, we`re going to see more of this.
MELBER: Congressman Joaquin Castro, thank you for touching on a couple of this important story with me tonight. Up ahead, we`re looking at the dangers for Trump to go well beyond the Mueller probe, including new corruption allegations, a leading voice Zephyr Teachout is here on THE BEAT.
MELBER: Corruption stories continue to dog the Trump Administration. Look at this headline about Michael Cohen potentially selling access to Qatar. Meanwhile, these are exactly the type of things that as a candidate Donald Trump said he had the knowledge to prevent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It`s called pay for play.
Pay for play corruption.
Pay for play.
More pay for play.
It`s pay for play, which is illegal, a hundred percent illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I have a special guest for this. Fordham law professor Name literally wrote a book on corruption in America and she`s now exploring a run for New York Attorney General, a post that takes on Donald Trump. And you`re doing that of course after the resignation of Eric Schneiderman after he was exposed for domestic abuse violations of a very serious nature. I want to get to that in your role as a potential candidate but starting with this corruption, was this predictable and how should it be stopped now?
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT, PROFESSOR, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: I mean, this is really chilling and we have to not ever get used to this. I mean, the corruption stories that we saw just today involving Qatar, both the Michael Cohen story and about Jared Kushner, both of them show ways in which foreign governments are really destabilizing foreign policy in the United States by using investments, bailing out Jared Kushner. And what it does, it calls into question all of our foreign policy choices. So this is destabilizing for all of us in this country, it`s also globally destabilizing. And I think it`s really important we never come to just accept, well, that`s Trump and that`s the Trump administration. It`s especially chilling for me because when you look at the founding era that people who wrote our Constitution, one of the things they were mostly worried about, and talked about day after day in that hot summer in Philadelphia, was the way that foreign interests might interpose themselves, using you know, cash and influence to try to impact the young country.
MELBER: And one of their animating concerns was the central corruption of monarchies because power is unchecked. And yet here we are in 2018, dealing with this type of corruption. Turning to the post you`re exploring running for, Eric Schneiderman was known to many people around the country who opposed Donald Trump. He took a tough line on a host of issues. How would you oppose this administration if elected within the rule of law? Would Donald Trump be more worried about you than Eric Schneiderman potentially?
TEACHOUT: Well, I got to say, like, a lot of people in New York and maybe around the country, I`m still shaken up by the allegation. I mean, the story, the very powerful story last week and what we learned about Schneiderman`s abuse. And we had seen that office as one of the most, and should continue to see it, under Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who is incredibly accomplished, as one of the most important posts standing up against the lawlessness, unconstitutional behavior and corruption of the Trump Administration.
MELBER: Would you be prepared to use the powers of that office, within your understanding of the law to pursue people who might get federal pardons?
TEACHOUT: Absolutely. One of the most important things that you may have talked about before on this show is that passing a pardon does not include state crimes. And so there`s many different ways in which a state attorney general, but in particular, the New York State Attorney General has the power to really resist the lawlessness and corruption of the Trump Administration. First of all, the Trump Administration looks to be violating state laws as well as federal laws, bank fraud, financial fraud. Second, it will be important to be working with federal prosecutors.
MELBER: I would say the issue is complex enough that we should return to it in another segment even if you`ll come back.
TEACHOUT: Absolutely. It`s great to be on.
MELBER: Professor Zephyr Teachout, I followed your work for a long time. Great to have you on THE BEAT and we will be right back.
MELBER: An update on news breaking during out hour. NBC News is reporting Paul Manafort`s former estranged son-in-law has cut a secret plea deal and is cooperating with federal investigators. Now, we don`t have information yet confirming who the plea deal is with. Does it involve Bob Mueller or other investigators or cooperation? Reuters reporting it began in January which means many months of cooperation, an interesting development in a big story. We will be right back
MELBER: We are back with one more thing. You know, the Trump White House still doesn`t have the timeline straight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say yet when Michael Cohen stopped being the President`s personal lawyer?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: I`m not going to get into anything on that matter. You`d have had to reach out to the President`s outside counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s what we call a very answerable question but like many Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen questions, apparently they don`t have an answer to stick to yet. You`ve been watching THE BEAT with Ari Melber. I will see you back here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.