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Trump escalates "spygate" attacks. TRANSCRIPT: 05/23/2018. The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: John Flannery; Steven Brill; Tim O`Brien; Eric Swalwell; Donna Edwards; Donna Brazile

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: May 23, 2018 Guest: John Flannery; Steven Brill; Tim O`Brien; Eric Swalwell; Donna Edwards; Donna Brazile

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We begin THE BEAT tonight with some breaking news.

Bob Mueller is now circling the people closest to Trump including, yes, the family. His son-in-law and senior government adviser Jared Kushner sat with Mueller`s team for a second time.

And here is the news on that. This interview, we are told, lasted over six hours. Kushner`s lawyer is speaking out about it tonight, which in itself is important. He is telling NBC the client answered every question, focusing on the campaign, on the transition, which we know was appeared to contacts with Russia and sanctions questions.

We also know that there were questions about the activities post- inauguration, including something at the beating heart of the obstruction query, how and why was James Comey fired?

Kushner a key figure, he is a lawyer in his own right. He is someone that was with Trump, of course, from the start, and he has been involved in many defining moments. You can`t forget, obviously, the secret Trump tower meeting with Russians, which is under investigation. Kushner attended along with other family members like Trump junior and Paul Manafort, who has been famously noted, should have known better. Kushner also worked on that alleged secret back-channel to the Kremlin, a question that Mueller wants to ask Trump about directly, that we know from the "New York Times" leaks earlier about the continued wrangling over that potential interview.

And then last summer, consider that after speaking to congressional investigators, Kushner did something that you almost never see him do. This remains one of his iconic and almost only statement about all this. He came out and addressed those cameras in front of the White House.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: Let me be very clear. I did not collude with Russia nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. And I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.


MELBER: He took no questions in that setting. You can imagine that Bob Mueller`s investigators may have asked, what did he mean by the word "relied," and was he ruling out taking any Russian money at all given the questions swirling around, yes, Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Today the BBC reporting, sources in Kiev say that Michael Cohen was paid $4,000 by Ukraine to try to get access to Trump. Now, let`s be clear. Those are new and separate legal problems for Cohen. If you follow this story at all, you have heard us talk about the foreign lobbyists.

There are rules already in place that they have to register with the feds. If you don`t, you are violating the foreign agent`s registration act. And that alone can get you charged and convicted.

Now, Trump met with Ukrainian President last June. That was after Cohen received a secret payment. And shortly after that meeting, Ukraine announced they were dropping an alleged investigation that was going to go into Trump`s former campaign chair, the now-indicted Paul Manafort.

He was in court today. You can see, we are following a lot of threads, making requests that lawyers do make to try to keep some evidence from that early morning raid of his home out of the ongoing proceedings that Robert Mueller has against him.

So, a lot going on. Mueller making moves against Trump`s inner circle, and now we are seeing some new developments out of Trump Land. Rudy Giuliani, get this, says that maybe getting foreign help, which is ipso facto illegal, wouldn`t be illegal if were kind of a friendly gift.

Look at this in "the Huffington Post." Rudy says, it isn`t illegal, it`s sort of like a gift and you are not involved in the illegality of getting it.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: Nothing illegal about that. And if it comes from a Russian or a German or an American, doesn`t matter. And they never used it. It is the main thing. Never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.


MELBER: We have quite the panel to dig in. Former DNC chair Donna Brazile, who has also been in the mix of some of the results of the hacking. A former federal prosecutor, John Flannery. He was a special counsel in three separate congressional probes, hence the bowtie. That`s a sign of gravitas. Tim O`Brien, the author "Trump Nation," executive editor of Bloomberg View, and he has the distinction of having been sued by Donald Trump over his reporting of Donald Trump`s net worth. And a friend of mine who has been on the show before, Steven Brill is a celebrated attorney. He is the founder of Court TV and the legal journal and the American lawyer, he has a new book out, "tailspin," because Steven Brill never stops working.

We will get to you in a second. I begin with John Flannery on Giuliani`s defense. Why does it sound so stupid? Is it as stupid as it sounds?

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, you know, the howdy Rudy show has been running now for several weeks. And he doesn`t seem to get any smarter about what he used to know as a prosecutor. I knew him as a puppy prosecutor in the southern district. And I thought he was one of the leading legal minds. And I suppose so many years in politics has sort of, I don`t know, deteriorating his insight or he is doing what some lawyers do, which is, he is making political arguments. He is trying this in the media. Mueller is not doing that. And when Mueller drops his bomb, none of this stuff is going to matter.

MELBER: So on a scale of 10 being a slam dunk legal argument and zero being worthless, your assessment of this new gift defense?

FLANNERY: It is minus imaginary numbers.

MELBER: Steven?

STEVEN BRILL, AUTHOR, TAILSPIN: Absolutely. I mean, he is basically admitting that they took something of value from a foreign entity.

MELBER: And that`s --

BRILL: That`s what the law says you can`t do.

MELBER: Right. And that itself tells you what?

BRILL: That it`s a violation of the law. I mean, a gift means that -- you know, the only thing that means is that the Trump campaign didn`t pay them for the stuff. No one ever assumed that the Trump campaign did pay them for the stuff.

MELBER: Yes. I mean, Tim O`Brien, a thing of value is what is barred under the federal election law precisely because we have regulated campaigns, which means you can`t get endless amounts of money, even if they are gifts, in fact, especially if they are gifts. In-kind contributions an area where a lot of politicians get tripped up.

BRILL: It`s also worth remembering the same interview today, Rudy said that you had to doubt whether there was Russian interference in the campaign to begin with, and he doubted the information because it came from Brennan and Clapper. And today Trump`s own secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, conceded that it was a reality that the Russian colluded or the Russian attempted to interfere in the 2016 election.

A member of Trump`s own team is now confirming this. So Rudy has to try to make this stuff be viable against a landscape in which it was known not only to law enforcement officials, but to the Trump campaign that they were concerned with Russian interference. So they get these emails right at that moment.

MELBER: Right. And Donna Brazile, I always mention and disclose that you both bring expertise to this from being involved in, but you also bring that personal background, not neutral on this issue. But you remember how devastating the timing of the political release of the emails were.

Let me read more from Rudy on this today. He says with regard to this, you say stolen, I say emails that were put out in the public domain. You would also have to believe that U.S. intelligence was correct. They have been right about a lot of things, have been wrong about a lot of things. I certainly wouldn`t trust Clapper or Brennan as far as I could throw them. Your response, Donna Brazile?

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR: Well, let me just say respectfully, that the former mayor, he has it all wrong. It wasn`t a gift in the sense that someone provided the Trump campaign wanted this information. They wanted to use it in such a way that would sew division within the Democratic Party, but also distract from the daily, what I call insane campaign that he was running.

We all know that these -- not only the release of the emails, the stolen, hacked emails had an impact on our party, but the way in which the Trump campaign used those emails in the fall campaign, almost as if it was talking points. So I would hope that we continue -- that Mr. Mueller continues this investigation, follow the evidence. This is not about the calendar. This is about following the evidence so that we can prevent this from happening again and learn more about what happened in 2016.

MELBER: John, I wonder what you make of Abbe Lowell, another lawyer that I`m sure you are familiar with who has represented -- say again?

FLANNERY: I said he`s a friend of mine.

MELBER: There you go. And he has been on this show and he is respected for his legal acumen. He had a victory in the Menendez case and he is here defending Kushner. And he seems to be on the offense today. As I mentioned, speaking publicly and really making the case that they have a story to tell. That these six hours that they spent with Bob Mueller were essentially a good thing and that he got a security clearance. And that`s in contrast to what Rudy was saying about people like Jared Kushner, about, you know, in-laws. Take a listen to the in-law item.


GIULIANI: Jared is a fine man. You know that. But men are, you know, disposable.



FLANNERY: Well, I`ll tell you, you know, Rudy throws everybody under the bus. He throws Kushner under bus. He certainly threw Cohen under the bus with his bizarre confessions with Sean Hannity.

But you know, Abbe Lowell is pushing hard, and you have to wonder sometimes if a client hasn`t insisted on speaking. I have never considered it a good thing to have a client in a criminal investigation, who hasn`t been assured that he or she is a witness or has immunity to talk and to talk for six or seven hours or whatever it was, in what appears to be the closing days when they are tying knots into their report.

MELBER: Well. Let me push you on that, John. And then I will go to Steven.


MELBER: You`re making two points. One, it might be a bad thing, especially as you get to the end. As you get to the ninth inning, you don`t want to be the last guy or gal in there. On the flip side, though, you can`t say that it was bad to cooperate. What else was he going to do?

FLANNERY: Oh, no, no, no. In my neighborhood where I come from the South Bronx, if the cop on THE BEAT was your uncle, you wouldn`t have talked to him. And it`s almost never a good idea in any criminal investigation. But when you have public figures and politicians, they always insist that they want to talk, which is almost always the worst thing they can possibly do in an investigation.

So if you are not assured that your client is merely a witness and you don`t have immunity for your client, it is almost always a mistake to put them in there. And these guys have been investigating them. Why do you think the first interview was three hours and this one is six or seven? Do you think they were doing that to clear him? I don`t think so.

MELBER: Hold on, John, maybe they were just talking more slowly.

FLANNERY: Yes, it`s true. Prosecutors from New York can speak slowly.

MELBER: I could tell you, here on the set in New York, zero laughter on the set. Zero. I mean, just not even any.

FLANNERY: Of course.

MELBER: I will say this, John raises the legal point, Steven, about what is the status of Jared Kushner. And a lot of words get thrown around. I have a brand-new statement that was just handed me, that Abbe Lowell has basically put out, where he said, the kinds of questions they asked, referring to Mueller`s team, the statements they made that reflect that quote "they understand Kushner is a witness to these events, but I don`t use those terms," end quote.

Abbe Lowell trying to thread a needle to suggest his client`s a witness, while not able to factually claim that Mueller said that. Go ahead, sir.

BRILL: I read that that he asked them, can you assure me that he`s not a subject or target. And they said, no, I can`t. That`s the only way to read that, you know. If he had been told he was just a witness, he would have said, I was told he is just a witness.

MELBER: That`s a great point.

Donna Brazile, what is your view of Jared Kushner who`s in the thick of everything right now?

BRAZILE: I wouldn`t call him a newbie to politics, but I can tell you this. The fact that he received his permanent security clearance today after revising it multiple times, the first time, of course, he admitted the fact that he had contact with foreign quote/unquote "individuals."

So, look, I think that Jared is more than just a witness to some of the things that happened in 2016. We will learn more once the investigation is over with. But remember, he took credit for the social media campaign, the digital campaign. And now that we know the role that Cambridge Analytica played along with Facebook, we need to know more about what Jared did do, and not just witness, but what he actually did during the course of the campaign.

BRILL: You know, by the way, we don`t know that he wasn`t offered and given immunity and accepted it. Who said that?

MELBER: Well, they haven`t disclosed anything we don`t know.

BRILL: The great thing about the entire Mueller operation is they don`t say anything, they don`t leak anything. For all we know, he was given immunity.

TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG VIEW: And the other thing looming all over this is still 666 Fifth Avenue, which remains this sort of financial boondoggle for the Kushner family. And we know that Jared was out lobbying for an investor during the transition and shortly before the inauguration to help them get funds. That remains unresolved issue about what all of that involved.

MELBER: Right. And who could have predicted that address 666 would have any kind of bad luck.

John, take a listen to one witness who knows a bit about this talking about what Mueller`s most interested in. And it starts with people`s contact with the President.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I`m in the middle of the Mueller investigation, right? The very first thing, when Mueller brings you in there, one of the very first things he wants to know is your conversations with the President.


MELBER: Conversations with the President. That`s Steve Bannon there. And he is also making news, claiming today that Rosenstein might be next to be fired.

John, your view on both of those?

FLANNERY: Well, he is not exactly a reliable source, either. But I don`t think it takes more than a sixth grade education to think that in this conspiracy, and I don`t call it collusion, this conspiracy, that the quid pro quo for the President being elected is that he is going to take care of those who helped him get elected. Whether they started in 2013 or 2014 or 2015 with the machinery to conduct this message on his behalf, reassuring that he was the candidate for the Russians. So, you would focus on him.

And how could you not focus on him when the last thing that happened before the investigation began was that he fired Comey for investigating him, which is an abuse of due process in my opinion and an abuse of his oath and a crime of obstruction.

So I think it`s pretty obvious what that we are doing is carefully building, perhaps more than we would normally have to do, because of such a public official, so visible and considered by the office to be substantial, when the occupant is not worth that kind of dignity.

MELBER: You don`t think Donald Trump is worth the dignity of the oval office?

FLANNERY: Absolutely not.

MELBER: John Flannery, making it plain, as we say in the business. Appreciate your expertise and your candor. Tim O`Brien and Steven Brill, legal egos over here. Donna Brazile, stay with me. I want to ask you about some of that other big news, those elections last night.

Later tonight, Donald Trump trying to rebrand the Russia probe. We have one of the investigators in Congress, Eric Swalwell is here live. Also, diving into this historic win in Georgia and across the south, women emerging as a leading edge to fight Trump in the midterms.

And this is a big one. The NFL buckling to Donald Trump after all of this and says it will fine and punish athletes who exercise free speech rights before the games.

Also, the backstory on some of those new revelations about Donald Trump`s attacks on the free press.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The news gets away with murder, the news media. They get away with murder. I don`t stand for it when they write false and malicious stories.


MELBER: The history is instructive.

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


MELBER: Disgraceful sham. That`s what Democrats are now calling this very controversial private meeting that`s scheduled for tomorrow with DOJ officials and only Republicans.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: They are hunting desperately for any scrap of information or innuendo that might help them sully the investigation or to provide them a sneak peek at any evidence the FBI may have against the Trump campaign. No one should trust anything they say coming out of that meeting. It will be a sham. It will be a sham.


MELBER: And in a letter directed at the FBI`s chief and Rod Rosenstein, that same person there, Chuck Schumer, along with Nancy Pelosi, say they are concerned about the meeting. They want to reconsider it even being held. But if they decide to go ahead with it, at the very least, the Democrats should be invited and there should be a bipartisan meeting with the gang of eight intelligence leaders.

Now the reason for the meeting is basically growing out of a conspiracy theory that is being peddled by Donald Trump that because there was an investigation in his campaign, which everyone knew about, and because it involved an informant, that is somehow is a bad thing for the investigation, that it`s spy gate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What evidence do you have that your campaign was spied on?

TRUMP: All you have to do is look at the basics and you will see. It looks like a very serious event. But we`ll find out. We now call it spy gate. You are calling it spy gate.


MELBER: I`m joined by California congressman Eric Swalwell who is on the House intelligence committee.

Congressman, we have laid out in our reporting tonight and other nights what is bad about this. But even if that`s clear, don`t the Democrats have a problem in arguing that this meeting is a bad sham, but they should also be able to go to it?


We don`t want the meeting to occur at all. It is a sham. But we don`t want to be locked out and allow the Republicans to continue to reach into the evidence locker and then give that evidence back to Donald Trump. What we are --

MELBER: But why, substantively -- let me press you a little bit.


MELBER: Why substantively (ph), would it be productive for Democrats like you to attend a meeting that you say itself is counterproductive?

SWALWELL: To defend democracy. You know, right now, it`s under attack and our job in Congress as representatives of this great democracy is to make sure that we have a rule of law. And every day that this nonsense continues, the rule of law is under attack. And so we should at least be able to witness, you know, this conspiracy working between Donald Trump and, you know, his efforts to undermine the work of the department of justice.

MELBER: So if you were there tomorrow, what would you say or do within this discussion of, as we have reported, based on the evidence so far, is just a conspiracy theory?

SWALWELL: It`s what we do every day, Ari. It`s protect to truth to make sure that we understand the facts of this case. From everything I have seen, the department of justice has done nothing improper in the way that it has investigated the number of alarming contacts that Donald Trump and his team had with the Russians.

MELBER: Let me read on that point something that the former FBI director, James Comey, who was fired by the President`s own admission around the Russia probe, says look, facts matter. The FBI`s use of confidential human sources, the actual term is tightly regulated, essential to protecting the country, attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country. How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?

James Comey with a Comey-esque closing, if there ever was one. I`m not sure that this particular incident is one that will go down in the history books for their grandchildren. I think the larger question is whether the justice department will find a way to stop Donald Trump from continuing this conspiracy hunting or will buckle? Do you view Rod Rosenstein`s moves over this past week as more in the direction of buckling?

SWALWELL: I do. I wish he wouldn`t do it, Ari. Because what James Comey is saying is right, which is that facts matter and Donald Trump is trying to torch all of the facts in this case. And speaker Ryan, to allow this to continue, is an accomplice himself.

You know, democracy, Ari, is not a building, it`s not the dome behind me. It`s an idea. It`s an idea you can work hard and become anything. It`s an idea that you can have a rule of law. And it is under assault right now from two fronts. The Russians who have attacked us and continue to attack us. And Donald Trump and his fixers in Congress. And we are at a crossroads right now. Are we going to stand up and say, we don`t do this here, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or we go into just let it be chipped away at until nothing is left and we now look like the country that attacked us in 2016?

MELBER: Do you know Paul Ryan seems to have such a hard time dealing with this when he`s not running for re-election? What`s holding him back?

SWALWELL: I don`t know. It`s the most disappointed part of all of this. I never count on Mitch McConnell, whose wife also works in the administration to stand up, but I always counted on Paul Ryan. I have always believed he is an honest, decent person. And to allow Devin Nunes to behave the way he does, to look the other way every time Donald Trump invades on institutional norms is a complete abdication of the duties of the speaker, of the whole house, not just the speakers of the Republican Party. And it is time, if he wants our country to be the country that he stood up to serve for, he has to stand up to this President and stand up for the rule of law.

MELBER: Strong words and strong take on an issue that obviously is dividing Washington and it really does look like the DOJ doing something it doesn`t usually do and only because of Donald Trump`s bullying.

Congressman Swalwell, thank you for your perspective.

SWALWELL: Yes. My pleasure.

MELBER: Up ahead on THE BEAT, there is a major controversy over the NFL which announces as brand-new. They are going to fine teams for players not standing for the national anthem. We have that story tonight and why it matters in politics.

But first, something that may matter a whole lot more. Women dominating in these Democratic primaries last night. A big loss for Mitch McConnell that has some rattled in the GOP. All of that next when we are back in just 60 seconds.


MELBER: The other top story tonight, a historic counter reaction to Donald Trump making measurable gains. Democratic voters backing an unprecedented number of female candidates. Now in a moment, we are going to speak to two people who know this terrain better than most. Former congresswoman Donna Edwards and the former chair of the Democratic National Convention, Donna Brazile.

The big news here is primaries last night that could result in Kentucky`s first-ever congresswoman, the first openly gay woman serving in Congress from Texas, and this is a remarkable fact about America that I`m about to say. This, we have as of last night, the first black woman governor candidate anywhere in the U.S. as a nominee. Today, she says she is part of the resistance.


STACEY ADAMS (D), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We are resisting the xenophobia that`s coming out of D.C. We are resisting any conversation that says that we have to go backwards. We win with a message of progress.


MELBER: Stacey Abrams there arguing that she is picking up right where it started the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated when millions of women famously took to the street in protests. And then take a look at this. The breakdown of House nominees by gender from 1970 to 2010. The number of female candidates from either party never reaching 30 percent, until now. As of tonight, nearly 50 percent of Democratic House nominees are women. Some experts say that will continue to climb.

Now, on the other side, Trump was at a pro-life event last night, pushing efforts and touting what he has done to try to restrict not only abortion access, but medical access. Then he made a joke about the midterms.


TRUMP: Your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016. Although I`m not sure I really believe that, but, you know. I don`t know who the hell wrote that line. I`m not sure. But it`s still important, remember.


MELBER: I`m very excited for this conversation to welcome former Maryland congressman, Donna Edwards. And back with us, former DNC chair, Donna Brazile. Welcome to you both. With your blessing, congresswoman, can I call you Donna E.?


MELBER: And then that will help -- it will help the whole conversation. Donna E. and Donna B.

Starting with you then, Donna E., what does it say, I think that many people might be surprised to learn something that you both know, that we have kept track of, that until last night, neither party had ever nominated a black woman as a gubernatorial nominee.

EDWARDS: Well, I mean, I think it says something about where we are in America. I mean, I think Stacey Abrams ran a brilliant campaign, really crossing a lot of different intersections in Georgia to bring the Democratic Party to bear. And the excitement that drove the election. Voter registration, excitement about voting. I think that`s going to continue all the way up until November.

MELBER: And Donna E., when you look at the history of this, and you have been involved in this kind of recruit and organizing, I believe your whole career, it`s fair to say. We are going to put up on the screen more of the graphic we showed earlier, which is really striking. The systemic and ongoing gender imbalance in representation, the big spike you see, but the circled part we are getting in football level here is that among the Republicans, the actual share is dropping to under 10 percent while more women are running as nominees in the Democratic Party. Your analysis?

EDWARDS: Well, the Democratic Party is really a party of women. And you can see that in the number of candidates who are running in this cycle. I was particularly excited about Amy McGrath in Kentucky. I talked to her before she decided to run. I`m glad that she did. And she really brought it home. And I think the same fight that she brings, we are going to have women all across the country. And it is not -- it is going to be a blue wave but it`s going to have a really pink tinge.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Donna B, Donna Brazile your take.

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER CHAIRWOMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, first of all we do have a black woman currently serving as lieutenant governor in a great state of New Jersey. But this is -- this is really a terrific moment, a breakthrough because not only did Stacey who`s a phenomenal woman win last night her Democratic primary but over in Texas, Lupe Valdez won her primary in the great state of Texas being the first Latina in the Democratic Party. Now we know there`s a Republican Governor in the state of New Mexico Susan Martinez but this isn`t - of course, we`ve had other women of color in South Carolina, I just want to make sure we got our women politics. But as a Democrat, I`m very excited because we`re going to see a small but significant increase. This pink wave is going to have a blue overtone and it`s going to change American politics because these women are running on issues that will really bring independence to our party as well as motivate Democrats to run. So it`s a great night for America, a great breakthrough for women of color but they have a lot of work to do and we`re going to roll up our sleeves and go down to Georgia, go over to Texas we`re going to go all across the country to help them win their races.

MELBER: Do we have a word for when -- you guys keep saying pink and blue, so is that magenta? What is the mix of pink and blue?

EDWARDS: Well, I just know it`s women. Look, I just know it`s women and I know that we really have an opportunity here to increase by significant margin the number of women who serve at every level of government. And that`s actually going to make us a better Democratic Party. It`s going to make us a better country.

MELBER: So you mentioned the faring Democratic Party, and let me push Donna Brazile on this. For people watching who think well, it`s a good thing when the number of candidates reflects America and it`s a bad thing if it`s been overwhelmingly male in both parties for a long time for no good reason. I think there`s a lot of agreement about that. Then when you go to the party part, D versus R, I think it`s a lot more obviously divided and the potentially negative news for the Democrats, Donna, that may have nothing to do with gender but has something to do with something, maybe Trump sort of endurance with his base is if you look at the generic ballot that we put up here, it`s actually getting tighter. Democrats were doing better earlier this year in this generic ballot question which has its problems. I`d be the first to flag but it`s tightening allegedly down to a five-point gap but when it was as high as over a ten point gap. Why is that, Donna Brazile?

BRAZILE: Well, I think more Republicans are coming home. They are going to circle the wagon around the President. But look, I still believe the Democrats will have more momentum, the passion is there, you have a wealth of new candidates who are out there raising money like never before. They`re not relying on the on the DNC, at the (INAUDIBLE) the DCCC. You know our sister`s organization. These are individuals who are motivated to win who will represent the American people and they are running because they want to change the status quo. So whether you`re a liberal or moderate, it doesn`t really matter. It`s about making sure that we have good quality candidates and we`re doing that now within not just the DNC but all of our sister allies in our state parties.

MELBER: And on the issue of choice, Donna E., I wanted to ask you about this. It`s something you worked on while you were in Congress. The President last night obviously goes off-script all over the place. We showed in the lead to him going off-script with the relatively a basic claim that politicians tend to say the next election is important. He admitted he doesn`t really feel that way because he`s not personally on the ballot. People can factor that in how they want. But he did stick to the script when it came to limiting women`s access to not only abortion but as we`ve been reporting to basic medical care. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democratic Senators like John Tester, Heidi Heitkamp, Claire McCaskill, Debbie Stabenow, all voted against the 20-week bill and in favor of late-term abortion. Got to get out and vote. The Democratic Senators are up for re-election in ten states that I won by a lot.


MELBER: Donna E.?

EDWARDS: Well, look, the President continues to play to his very narrow and narrowing base. And I think words like that actually inspired Democrats to turn out to the polls. And the Senators that he named, I mean, they`re in very tough races but they know that their votes share the view of the majority of the American people. And I think again the President is off on his track. But the fact is that our voters are actually going to be inspired to get out there and make sure that we elect these -- we re-elect these Senators and that we get the House of Representatives back.

MELBER: Well, I got to tell you. It`s very interesting to see all this change at once. There`s an old saying you probably know in politics. What`s better than one Donna, two. And I really felt that way today.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

BRAZILE: Well, you got -- you got Donna E. and the diva herself. You`re a lucky man.

MELBER: I feel -- I feel lucky. I feel lucky.

BRAZILE: You`re a lucky man.

MELBER: I feel like a lucky man. Thank you to both of you, Donna Edwards and Donna Brazile for this conversation. Upcoming, we look at the motive behind Donald Trump`s attacks on the free press. These are actually revealed in marks -- remarks that he may have hoped would name private. And next critics accusing NFL owners of buckling to Trump on the big issue of kneeling during the anthem. I have a former star player and Mike Lupica here with us.


TRUMP: Just like the NFL who are going soft. It`s true. No think of it. Am I right, am I right?



MELBER: And now for something truly depressing. The most profitable sports league and thus corporate sports enterprise in the world is now quite blatantly bowing to political pressure from Donald Trump, the kind of pressure that raises serious First Amendment concerns. The NFL today saying they will cracked out on this issue of kneeling on the field during the national anthem which many players have said they do to protest racism, police brutality and what they called murders in the United States of Black Americans. The new NFL policy says it will fine teams when players kneel. Now it says it also gives players the choice of staying in the locker room but this appears to essentially buckle the Donald Trump`s big political talking point that all of this is not about what the players say they`re doing, that is how they define their political speech but rather Donald Trump`s view of what he wants to require people do to respect the flag. Reading from the NFL policy, all team and league personnel in the field shall stand and quote show respect for the flag and the anthem. Of course, it was that same theme, a certain version of respect, one person telling another person how to show respect, the Donald Trump hit when he attacked players for kneeling.


TRUMP: Wouldn`t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out, he`s fired.


MELBER: The NFL adding a kind of a spinning insult to what is very obviously going on is now telling us, all of us that this is some kind of middle ground.


ROGER GOODELL, COMMISSIONER, NFL: We been very sensitive in making sure that we give players choices. But we do believe that that moment is an important moment and one that we are going to focus on. I`m joined by former NFL star Donte Stallworth as well as a Sports Columnist and Political Analyst Mike Lupica. Donte, what do you think of the NFL`s decision and does it relate to the current president.

DONTE STALLWORTH, WIDE RECEIVER, NFL: Yes, I think -- I think it`s -- there`s a direct correlation between what the NFL decided to do today and what the President has been saying for the last year or so. You look at what the NFL has done here. I mean, you know, they`re -- when history is you know said and done, they`re going to be on the wrong side of history and I know that`s not what they intend to do but it is obviously what that direct result will be. And I think it`s also another point to mention that the President has used the seat of the Oval Office, he`s used the power of the executive branch to lash out at his political adversaries, to air out his personal grievances obviously with the NFL not allowing him in the cool kids club on multiple occasions trying attempting to buy an NFL team and they did not let him. So he -- you know obviously has been lashing out at the NFL and the players and this is -- this is you know -- it`s a history of this president kind of you know flirting with authoritarianism. And you know, again he`s used the seat of the Oval to intimidate people and he`s done it to the NFL and the NFL scout out to him and this is the result of that.

MELBER: What do you think of the way the NFL is casting this which appears to endorse a very narrow view that political protests around American icons or themes which is as old as America itself is if so facto disrespectful to the flag. While many people have said that and feel that way, other people say that this is not designed to disrespect the flag itself but is designed to call attention to racist action perpetrated by government officials in the United States.

STALLWORTH: Yes, I think that`s a very important point. And you know, I always try to go back and remind people that the initial reason that Colin Kaepernick decided to change from sitting on the bench to take a knee was because of this suggestion and advice of his now friend former Green Beret Nate Boyer who had an -- who had an open letter to him and they ended up meeting that following week before the next game. And Colin Kaepernick and him had a conversation. And he said that -- he told Colin Kaepernick that we take a knee you know, for our fallen brothers, and our fallen brothers and fallen sisters. And so that`s why Colin Kaepernick decided to do this. Now, the thing with players, I think it`s interesting to note that the players, I don`t think they`re going to -- they`re not going to take this sitting down. They understand also too which is another very important point to mention that the collective bargaining agreement will be up at the end of the 2020 season and the last time at the end of the 2010 season. It got pretty -- it got pretty dirty between the players and between the Union and the NFL. So I would expect to the players to you know to push back against this and we`ll see what happens, you know, come September.

MELBER: That`s a great point because the Players Association was on record saying they were consulted about this today. They chose not to consult the union and development of this new "policy." Mike Lupica, so many things get Trumpified. Of course, this goes back much, much farther as you know as a student of history and sports and politics in their intersection. I mean, 1968 Olympics, you had black athletes put up the Black Power Salute and there were many people who I think were genuinely against that because they felt like this was a time for unity at the Olympics to represent one America to the world. And then there were a lot of other people in America who said the whole point is we don`t have that unity because we don`t have equality and equal rights and respect at the time for Black Americans, for women for a lot of people, and so why should we go and give away and give up unity in our one moment of influence and pretend it exists when it`s being denied us. Could you speak to the history of this?

MIKE LUPICA, SPORTS COLUMNIST AND POLITICAL ANALYST: Ari, there`s so much to unpack here. Muhammad Ali was probably the most beloved athlete in this country when he died. And remember how he first became famous with a lot of the people who are castigating these players now when he refused to enter the draft at the end of the 1960`s. These owners got rolled today by the President of the United States who originally gave that speech and at a crowd in Alabama that look like an SCC football crowd in the1950s, OK? You can start there. And here`s another question. For all of these people who have made this a referendum on patriotism. What`s better for our country`s values, somebody engaging an honorable protest or a league like the NFL who is blackballed the guy who started all this Colin Kaepernick four taking a knee in the first place? You know, I was laughing today thinking about why would any player want to take a knee anymore because it know -- they know that they could now cost them their careers, the way it has Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid who knelt behind it. This had nothing to do with politics or morality or principle or courage. This was about business for some of the richest people in this country and they decided this was bad for business and they passed this incredibly hypocritical rule.

MELBER: And Donte, I wonder if you could speak to that because I don`t have to tell you and I don`t think I have to tell our viewers, there`s a heck of a lot of lecturing that goes on about how people should conduct their politics and speech which is antithetical to freedom of speech. The whole point is as long as you are not breaking the sanction on violence, you`re not breaking the law, that you get to say almost whatever you want in this country. That`s important values. I wonder what you think about the President effectively trying to lecture and control the speech of these people who are overwhelmingly rich and powerful Black Americans if that`s part of what`s animating the concern for him or not, he has to explain and sort of say that now nonviolent free speech is not free.

STALLWORTH: Yes. I find it awfully comical that you have the anti- political correctness crowd who are the ones that are -- that are that are cheerleading this whole thing and they have been including the President of the United States. They acted like you know, they are here for our whole anti-political correctness. Well, I would -- I would say that it`s been politically correct to stand for the national anthem to do kind of the conventional things that people think that that is equated with "showing patriotism" or exhibiting some type of patriotism. Now at the end of the day though, I don`t -- again I think history is going to vindicate these players like they -- like they have -- like history has throughout the course of any time professional athletes I spoke like you mentioned. You know Carlos -- John Carlos and Tommie Smith, also Muhammad Ali. We mentioned Steve Nash who wore a suit for peace not war or shoot for peace or shoot for love not wart-shirt in his pregame warm-ups and he was chastised for that, essentially told to shut up and dribble. And you know, so that and of course you know, we all know the Iraq invasion, how that turned out for the region, how that turned out for the people of Iraq and how many dead US soldiers, unfortunately. So the players have always came out -- professional athletes have always come out and then have indicated at the end of the day through history not at the time of the side guys so that people feel that they can -- that they can chastise these players and they will eventually you know, be proven are correct.

MELBER: Yes, and there`s a lot of misinformation on this. Donte Stallworth and Mike Lupica, your voices I think a bit educational to us tonight. We thank you for that and we will be right back.


MELBER: Some other news we want to bring you. Novelist Philip Roth has died at the age of 85. He wrote 25 books over 60 years. About a third of them have been adapted into movies like the Human Stain with Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, Portnoy`s Complaint and Indignation. Roth`s frank writing about sex religion and politics were provocative at the time and are still debated today, though he said his goal was never to be controversial for its own sake.


PHILIP ROTH, NOVELIST: In 69 I published as Portnoy`s Complaint. Well, that certainly didn`t help. I don`t know whether it was written as a provocation. You know, a book comes out of many, many things and rather far down a list is the desire to provoke somebody.


MELBER: Contemporary writers today continue to shout out Roth as Lena Dunham did on her showgirls.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hear you`re reading Goodbye Columbus?

LENA DUNHAM, ACTRESS: Yes. I felt that Goodbye Columbus would be the best Philip Roth for the kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I feel the best Philip Roth for kids is no Philip Roth.

MELBER: Philip Roth was also clear when it came to expressing his personal politics.


ROTH: I`m an Obama supporter and if you`re an Obama supporter, it means you had a hard time during the Bush years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And how are you feeling he`s doing now as President?

ROTH: I think he`s doing the best he can.


MELBER: Roth largely led his work speak for himself but Trump`s election had many rereading this Roth 2004 classic, The Plot to Hack America. He wrote it at the age of 71 imagining a pseudo-populist celebrity Charles Lindbergh winning a U.S. election and then steering the U.S. towards fascism. Now you can see and imagine how a lot of people would make some comparisons there when asked about it in an interview in The New York Times that came out just this year, here the year he died Roth expressed it with the brilliance as only he could saying, "No one could have imagined that the 21st century catastrophe to befall the USA the most debasing of disasters would appear not in the terrifying guise of an Orwellian Big Brother but in the ominously ridiculous commedia dell`arte figure of the boastful buffoon."


MELBER: Breaking news. Rudy Giuliani just spoke to Buzzfeed and made several statements about the Trump legal defense, including the assertion that he hasn`t spoken to his client Donald Trump in a couple of weeks. I repeat, Rudy Guiliani who is everywhere talking to everyone except apparently Donald Trump. We`ll I`m sure have more on that and their discussion of a potential interview with Bob Mueller. But that does it for THE BEAT. Our show is over. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: How scared is Trump? This scared. Let`s play HARDBALL.


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