IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

After Summit controversy and botching walk-back. TRANSCRIPT: 7/18/2018, The Beat with Ari Melber.

Guests: Michelle Goldberg; Jeanne Shaheen; George Will; Tony Schwartz; Tim Dickinson

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: July 18, 2018 Guest: Michelle Goldberg; Jeanne Shaheen; George Will; Tony Schwartz; Tim Dickinson


Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Now, Katy, you covered Donald Trump as a candidate. You covered his presidency. You know he does not appreciate being referred to in any way as a baby.

TUR: Listen, I`m just reporting the news.

MELBER: As do I. But that`s documented. I mean, you were around those players. He famously told --

TUR: He called Marco Rubio a baby a lot.

MELBER: I`m not saying that he can`t handle what he gives out. I`m just saying he addressed Paul Manafort and said, do you think I`m a baby? You talk to me like a baby through the TV, which I always thought was odd because babies don`t watch a lot of TV news.

TUR: I have got to go rest my voice. So I`m just going to take my -- you are right. He doesn`t like it. He doesn`t like it.

MELBER: You know what? I`m going to add one more thing. When you say you have to go rest your voice, it could leave people with the impression that you want this moment to end. But when I see you in the hallways, you always say, if I don`t banter, why didn`t you banter on the toss yesterday?

TUR: I did not say that. I`m pretty sure that there is thousands of people on twitters right now telling us how horrible and awkward our banter is and how horrible I am and how serious you are.

MELBER: I didn`t know you felt this was awkward.

TUR: No, I love it. It`s an awkward turtle of a handoff. But you can hear it in my voice. I barely have a voice. I barely got through that last read.

MELBER: I will say this, all jokes aside. And I did want to get in the point about the baby because he doesn`t like that. But I will say this. Your voice tonight is a testament to how hard you work here.

TUR: That`s right.

MELBER: Which is appreciated by your colleagues.

TUR: That`s right. I appreciate you, Ari Melber, every night.

MELBER: Katy Tur, this is 90 seconds no one will get back.

I begin tonight were Donald Trump under fire for taking Putin`s side of the story, yes, again. Now, if you watch the news, you know, this is a recurring theme in a week that has seen Donald Trump try to walk back his embrace of Putin in Helsinki then face withering criticism including from many conservatives. And tonight`s problem begins with Donald Trump saying this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No? You don`t believe that to be the case?



MELBER: You hear it there, no. And last time it took Trump, well, about a full day to backtrack. Today, it was a few hours and the White House tried to take what you just saw back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that what the President actually believes? Do you understand the question? And is his position that no, Russia, is not doing anything to interfere with the election?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I got a chance to speak with the President after his comments. The President was said thank you very much, and was saying no to answering questions.


MELBER: No to answering questions. So Donald Trump lies and trolls a lot. That is a documented fact. The question for America is how to respond. And his attempts to damage control this week increasingly inviting ridicule, like the normally Trump friendly TMZ saying yesterday`s dodge amounted to Trump. I didn`t commit treason. I just botched a double negative. And today`s claim was that no really isn`t a no drew mockery from Republicans.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No more questions. No -- I guess that`s what -- no, it was a joke. I saw it. And it sure looked like he was saying no. That`s consistent with what he`s been saying, you know, again and again and again that he mistrusts our intelligence services and believes the words of Putin.


MELBER: So that was a joke there which wasn`t funny because the problem is so serious. Now to be fair unfunny jokes are something we know a lot about here at THE BEAT.

Meanwhile, tonight the President compared himself to Putin in a new interview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016?

TRUMP: Yes. And I have said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before. And I would say that that is true, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you haven`t condemned Putin specifically. Do you hold him personally responsible?

TRUMP: Well, I would because he is in charge of the country, just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly, as the leader of a country, you would have to hold him responsible, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you say to him?

TRUMP: Very strong on the fact that we can`t have meddling, we can`t have any of that --


MELBER: Very strong to Putin that we can`t have any meddling. That is allegedly how Trump sounds when he gets a safe distance from Putin. Everyone saw it was a different story when they were side by side. And that is why I want to hold this up.

Today`s "New York Times" features something you don`t usually see right here on the front page, a headline exploring a mainstream and now national debate about whether the President of the United States is committing treason.

It is common to claim that nothing matters. It feels like to some people in the Trump era. Facts do matter. It was facts and criticism and pushback that exposed Trump`s border policy and made him partly cave on it. And now its facts, this public spectacle of Trump siding with Putin as the Russian leader stood by and walked him out there and watched. Those are facts Americans saw and which have already led Trump to at least spin and try to revise his position, however partially and ridiculously.

Tonight it is facts that are also driving some to raise this question on the front page of the Times of his alleged disloyalty to his own nation. And that has some legislators laying they want this interpreter to testify before Congress to find out what really happened in this private meeting with Putin. Those meetings are usually reserved to the utmost secrecy between leaders.

In a moment the senator leading to push to question the U.S. interpreter on that meeting will join us here live on THE BEAT which should be quite interesting.

But we begin with "the Washington Post" George Will, one of those conservative critics. His new column says Donald Trump is a quote "child President," kind of like a baby, with a quote "play date with a KGB alumnus." And Michelle Goldberg who writes in her own paper that Trump has a slavish and toadying performance towards Trump this week. We are also joined by special guest and friend of THE BEAT, Tony Schwartz who is CEO of the energy project and coauthor, "the Art of the Deal."

Mr. Will, I begin with you because as a long-time reader of yours, you are not known for being reflexively or automatically hypercritical of Republican Presidents on foreign policy, although you have made your criticisms before. I think this is the first time you have used this language about a President in relationship with Russia. What moved you to do that? What concerns you about what appears to be unfolding of a Trump- made crisis with the U.S. relationship with Russia this week, sir?

GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: You are quite right this is Trump made. The President is, and I want to say this as delicately as possible, sin tactically challenged. He has very difficult time getting from (INAUDIBLE). His sentences tend to explode in midflight. And for that reason it sometimes is difficult to know what he intended to say. I think as a matter of philosophy, if you can`t say something, you can`t think it. And the fact that a lot of what he says comes out in confused language indicates that there`s confusion straight through.

That said, it was quite clear, a, what he said in Helsinki, which is that he did not side with the U.S. intelligent agencies. And b, that someone, and I would love to have an analysis of what happened in the White House to bring this about, someone made him sit down and read a statement. He doesn`t like to read. He doesn`t like to read statements, but to actually go through with this kind of contrition theater after that. But then as soon as he was done with the contrition he began to say, well, there are a lot of other people out there. Again, a kind of verbal gasp that just put more fog back in place.

MELBER: A follow-up, when you say, sir, contrition theater, your emphasis is on the notion that this was not authentic?

WILL: Of course. I mean, this is -- I don`t know if it`s the case as has been reported that some senior White House people, including perhaps the chief of staff were orchestrating pushback from the hill in order to get the President to do this. It would have been quicker just to go one-stop shopping to FOX News and get someone there to disapprove of it. But clearly, the President was either startled or his staff was startled by this pushback, and clearly someone in the administration said you better do this or there will be trouble in house.

MELBER: In house, right. And the notion that it could get even worse than what was widespread in public (INAUDIBLE).

Tony, George says the President doesn`t like to read. He also not known for writing, although you were a part of ghostwriting a bestseller of his. You have been ringing an alarm bell very vociferously this week, and part of it is about motivated Trump to act this way. And here we have a spectacle of Christopher Wallace who I should mention happens to be on a competitor channel, although, he definitely contributed I think to public information with his interview of Vladimir Putin and some of what we learned from. And here was some of the exchange with Putin, Tony, as Chris Wallace who again is at FOX, raising profound questions about what motivates Trump to act this way this week.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: There are many theories in the United States about why President Trump is so reluctant to criticize you. And I would like to ask you about a couple of them. One is that you have something on him.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We don`t have anything on them and there can`t be anything on them. I don`t want to insult President Trump when I say this, and I may come as rude. But before he announced that he will run for presidency, he was of no interest for us.



TONY SCHWARTZ, COAUTHOR, THE ART OF THE DEAL: Well, I`m willing to believe that he was of no interest until he ran for President. That makes sense. On the other hand, what Putin does is exactly what Trump does, or what Trump does is what Putin does, they lie for a living. So it`s irrelevant what Putin said in that moment as it is when Trump says what he says.

Here`s the irony about Donald Trump. It`s very unusual that you have a person who, when he is impulsive and speaking reactively, he tends to tell the truth. It`s a grim truth that he tells because it reflects what he actually believes. And when he is quote "reflective" or when he takes time to think about what he is going to say, he always lies.

MELBER: Let that sink in.

Michelle, I want to ask you something. But Senator Shaheen`s office told us to get her on. We have to go to her first. So that is transparently the situation. The whole panel stays with me.

Let me give a little context to what is about to be we hoping a newsworthy interview. There is a push to find out what Trump and Putin talked about in there summit meeting that was in private. Trump`s translator debriefed by U.S. officials. But experts say the Russians have their own information.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think whatever Mr. Trump said in that meeting with Mr. Putin is now memorialized on Russian tape and it will be used as necessary by Mr. Putin against Mr. Trump.


MELBER: Kremlin even claims there was a deal that came out of the meeting bragging about quote "agreements in the sphere of international security." Now no U.S. officials are joining up in that kind of statement. Lawmakers want to hear from this Trump translator.


SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: It`s important for us to know what was said in the meeting. The interpreter is the one in the room who may have some of that information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want the interpreter to come before the committee. We want to see the notes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of us want to know what took place in that meeting. I`m not sure it`s appropriate to subpoena the translation notes. But if it is, we will certainly look at it.


MELBER: I`m joined by the senator you just saw there in that clip Jeanne Shaheen who is leading the push to find out what happened behind those closed doors. Thank you for your time. I realized you have a very busy schedule and you are working with.

SHAHEEN: Thanks to be with you.

MELBER: Nice to have you. Why should this type of information go to the Congress and potentially become public?

SHAHEEN: Congress has an oversight responsibility for our foreign policy. We are an independent branch of government. If we can`t get the information to do our jobs, then the American people are the ones who are hurt. So it`s very clear that we`re not getting readout from the administration about what happened in that meeting.

The interpreter is the only one, as far as I know, who knows what actually happened. And it`s not acceptable to have the Russian government tell us what happened in that meeting. It`s the defense ministry and Russia that`s put out a statement about what was agreed to in that meeting. It`s just not acceptable for Congress to take that as what happened in the meeting.

MELBER: Did you ever make this kind of request of an interpreter working for a previous administration, say the Obama or Bush administration?

SHAHEEN: No. But we have also never had this kind of an unprecedented meeting where the President of the United States stood up and took the side of our aggressor, the Russian government against the American people and our own intelligence agencies.

MELBER: Do you see this, then, as an exception or a potentially new rule? Because, senator, as you know, there may be many viewers who hear what you are saying, that this seemed really bad, and thus -- and thus is a reason to do something. But what if then all private meetings between heads of state are going to have this kind of -- this kind of potential leaking, wouldn`t that be bad for U.S. diplomacy?

SHAHEEN: Look, I can`t address all those other meetings that may happen at some point between Presidents and heads of state. What I`m telling folks now, and what I believe now, is that Congress needs to understand what happened at that meeting.

We saw, as I said, an unprecedented performance by an American President undercutting United States interests, taking the side of Russia, which is not a competitor as it was described by President Trump, but is an aggressor nation. We have seen what happened in Ukraine. We have seen their meddling in our elections in 2016. We have heard from Dan Coats, the President`s own DNI that they are doing it again in advance of the 2018 midterm elections. And yet the President, in the face of all of that evidence, took the side of Vladimir Putin. That is just not acceptable.

MELBER: And the final question for you broadening out to I think what you just raised, and we have been reporting, and I think viewers have heard a lot about the theories, the mainlining of the questions, what the "New York Times" today was looking at as the treason question, do you have any reason to believe or are you concerned that the reason that Donald Trump did, as you say tonight, undercut U.S. interests in this meeting is somehow elicit, is for some nefarious reason?

SHAHEEN: I have no idea why he did it. But the point is Congress needs to fulfill our responsibilities of oversight of our foreign policy, and as a separate independent branch of government. And to do that we need information.

MELBER: Senator Shaheen, joining us between other activities on the hill. Thank you for joining us about your effort tonight.

SHAHEEN: Thank you.

MELBER: Much appreciate it.

I bring back the panel. Michelle, your thoughts?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, my thoughts are that Congress was really remiss in letting this meeting go forward in the first place. Although, obviously their, you know, their power over Trump is limited. But there should have been a huge cry over the fact that the President was going into this meeting by himself, something that no previous President would have done and. And that basically the American people, it was known going into it that we were going to have to take either Trump or Putin`s word for what was said. And --

MELBER: And why reward him with a meeting after these indictments?

GOLDBERG: Well, and not just that, but also even if you assumed, as I don`t assume, that Trump doesn`t have sinister motives, he is now in a position where Putin can say that Trump agreed to anything he wants, and Trump has kind of no way to argue otherwise. I mean, it`s just -- it was both -- it was just so strategically idiotic if you assume that Trump in any way has interests that are contrary to Putin`s, which is, you know, not necessarily an obvious assumption.


George, I want to read to you from your column, this is part of the newscast where we go into this sort of baroque few states and think about the difficult questions and you laid them out disturbingly (ph).

You write, Jim Mattis, John Kelly, Daniel Coats and others might believe they must stay in their positions unless there be no adult supervision of the oval playpen. This is a serious worry, but so is this. Can those people do their jobs for someone who has neither respect nor loyalty for them? George?

WILL: Well, these gentlemen are serious people, and they are vastly experienced. And they have a very difficult decision to make. And I think either way they decide it deserves respect.

It is -- so say no more, interesting that the President wanted neither his national security adviser Bolton nor his secretary of state Pompeo in the room with him when he was with Mr. Putin. It is not within the power of Congress to prevent this summit in Helsinki. The President`s powers in conducting foreign policy are almost plenary. But Congress could have raised a (INAUDIBLE) about going forward whether perhaps should have done. And it strikes me as if they are going to have to think long and hard whether or not they really want to subpoena this interpreter who is in the room.

Woodrow Wilson famously as part of his 14 points to remake the world wanted open covenants openly arrived at. There has to be a certain degree of privacy and secrecy in the conduct of diplomacy. So whether Congress wants to set foot in this dark and bloody ground of controversy, I`m not sure.

MELBER: Yes. And I think that`s a fair point that I was -- that`s why I was raising the question for the senator because one can see the overwhelming interest in this meeting. And yet we all know how precedent works, Tony, if you go down that road, then you don`t necessarily have a limiting principle.

What are your thoughts on the larger difficult questions that are facing the nation, what to do about this, what happens in a situation where you still have a constitutionally elected individual here, and no way to address what many people, including according to reports, people inside Trump`s own administration viewed, as a cataclysmic disloyal failure of foreign policy this week?

SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, we are dealing with an exceptional case, obviously a unique case with Trump. And in any other situation you would imagine that the person would be immediately either impeached or in one way or another forced to resign for saying the kinds of disloyal things he did and for arguably being a traitor.

What I think is that the Republicans at this point are quite clearly not going to respond to anything that Trump can shoot someone in the middle of the street which is the equivalent of what he did, the equivalent of what he did, and nobody will respond, nobody who supports him will respond.

So I think actually what you have is an extraordinary issue now for the Democrats going forward, which is -- you know, I can see the ads as we go forward. Do you want Vladimir Putin as your President or do you want a democrat and democracy? And I would imagine that that`s going to be a very, very powerful argument to make.

There`s always going to be the 20 or 30 percent that are going to stay with him no matter what. But I have to say the number of people who don`t want Putin to be in charge of our country or don`t want Trump to be a Putin in charge of our country vastly exceeds the number who don`t. And so all -- the only question really is will they get out and vote?

MELBER: Right. And when you put it like that, it is stark indeed.

Tony Schwartz and George Will, thank you both.

Michelle, stay with me. I have something else to ask you about.

Coming up, a judge today denying bail for this accused Russian agent allegedly offering sex for political access in Washington. The case involves the Kremlin, the NRA and the Trump campaign. And it is all new. That is up next.

Also, new tape of Trump`s Supreme Court nominee blasting a law that actually can hold Presidents accountable for criminal conduct. We will explain. Democrats say this is a bombshell.

Also, a live interview with a Republican congressman who has a different view on everything that happened this week. We will get into.

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


MELBER: New tonight, a judge jailing the Russian indicted for political activity inside the U.S. in 2016. Here is the agent. She is behind bars based on federal charges that she worked with Russian intelligence to infiltrate GOP circles.

Maria Butina was in a critical court appearance today. She wore an orange jump suit and asserted her innocence. Now many defendants are freeway in trial. Butina, though, tonight I can tell you is stuck in jail based on new allegations and evidence. We are learning from these new federal indictments. And while Trump`s wildly pan Putin summit has gotten a lot of attention, what`s in here is fascinating, often reading like a spy novel.

Prosecutors alleging she offered to trade sex in exchange for position with a political group and she moved with the conservative political consultant to further infiltrate GOP circles. In spy novels, this kind of thing is called a honey pot, sexual seduction on behalf of a foreign intelligence operations.

In these new charges it is Russian sexual activity alleged to be part of an effort to cultivate conservatives and pro-gun political groups right here in the U.S. And these orders allegedly come from a Putin-linked oligarch who Butina dramatically from election night, I am ready for further orders.

It is a lot. Now, we don`t know if those orders ever involved what looks now like a very embarrassing exchange with Donald Trump himself, he may have had no idea in what you are about to see that he was speaking to this newly indicted alleged covert Russian operative.



TRUMP: Good friend of Obama, Putin. He likes Obama a lot. Go ahead.

BUTINA: My question will be about foreign politics.



MELBER: I`m joined by Tim Dickinson from Rolling Stone. He reported on Butina`s alleged infiltration all the way back in April. What is this story about?

TIM DICKINSON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, ROLLING STONE: Well, this has turned into like a real life plot line from the Americans. It`s just sort of staggering. And when we started piecing this together back in the spring we didn`t really understand, I think, that we were piecing together what`s now alleged to be a vast criminal conspiracy involving Russian intelligence and Russian oligarch funders seeking to essentially flip the NRA and religious conservatives, you know, to try and reverse the GOP`s hostility towards Russia.

MELBER: And when you look at, for example, what`s in here that`s now coming out, a document uncovering a handwritten note that says Maria`s Russian patriots in waiting organization, how to respond to this FSB offer of employment. As for the agent worrying the Trump team, I`m also reading Trump`s campaign advisers wondering about one of these encounters, this is from David Corn and Michael Isikoff`s book, Bannon said that Trump had a fully developed answer. Whenever there were events held by conservatives group, she was always around. Priebus told Bannon, why did it not get farther than this earlier if so many folks were seeing something suspicious?

DICKINSON: Because they -- this is a year`s long effort to infiltrate right wing conservative circles. In the first, her handler, alleged handler Torsion (ph) who was a top Russian senator at the time, came over as sort of this eccentric gun nut and he kept coming to the NRA conventions and join the NRA and meet lots of buddies there, including this guy, David Keen, who was the NRA President at the time.

And so Torsion has sort of the squash buckling Russian came and carved this path. And then they started having these exchanges with this brand new upstart gun group in Russia, the sort of (INAUDIBLE) set-up with Butina as the sort of comely founder of this. And she became -- she followed in Torsion`s path and became friends with all the same people. They got John Bolton to cut a video for them.

She was -- the tentacles of this thing went really far and wide. And so, it was sort soft so slow and so convincing, you know, that they invited these NRA folks over to Russia, (INAUDIBLE), lots of vodka, you, me, same- same, we all love guns. It was the idea. And then all of a sudden everyone is deeply compromised. And this one guy American, the U.S. person won got especially compromised as we can tell from these latest indictments.

MELBER: It`s an extraordinary set of allegations, as always. They remain just allegations because they haven`t been proven in court yet. But they do have some evidence and you had reporting to begin it all off. It`s extraordinary.

Tim Dickinson, thank you so much.

Up ahead, how are Republicans defending Trump on Russia? I have a one-on- one with the current member of Congress. And first, very important, Donald Trump`s Supreme Court pick under fire for some new tape.

We are back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER: As the White House is fighting off its foreign policy crisis of Trump`s making here at home, his potentially pivotal Supreme Court pick under new fire for a newly unearthed tape. This is from 2016 Judge Brett Kavanaugh doing something that judges actually rarely do. He volunteers a Supreme Court ruling that`s on the books that he personally says he wants to overturn. And guess what, it`s exactly the kind of case that Trump and Giuliani would love to see overturned, a case that makes a White House subject to tough criminal investigations, the case Morrison v Olson.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you think of a case that deserves to be overturned?

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Yes. Actually, I was going to say one, Morrison v Olson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said that`s the Independent Counsel Statute case.

KAVANAUGH: It`s been effectively overruled but I would -- I would put the final nail --


MELBER: That is a nail that just about any incumbent President would like. Democrats though or arguing Kavanaugh is showing partisanship because he actually operated under that very law to go after a Democratic president. And at the time, when he was investigating Bill Clinton, he wrote he was "strongly opposed to giving the president any break." I`m joined now by Attorney Vince Warren who runs the Center for Constitutional Rights as well as the NPR`s Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg. Vince, is this a case of selective partisanship which Democrats allege or another example of a confirmation process where judges are discouraged from ever saying anything about any case?

VINCE WARREN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: I think it`s a combination of the two. The problem we have here, this is -- this whole fight is the question about independence who gets to investigate the President or the executive branch, what do they find, what access do they have. And I can understand why someone like Brett Kavanaugh when he was working for the special counsel or the Special Prosecutor Ken Starr and why he was working with George Bush and the White House would have two different views of executive power so as a prosecutor he wants all of the power when he`s working for the president, he wants the president to have all of the power so I understand that.

But I think the real question is why is Donald Trump so interested in this particular person? He`s showing his hand that when it comes to independence and when it comes to the power of the presidency he`s never met an investigation that he likes if he`s on the wrong end of it and that the President should have more power particularly if he`s in the judicial slot as opposed to being on in the prosecutorial slot.

MELBER: Well, you know, Nina, Vince clearly has something in common with you which is nuanced legal analysis of a complex situation. The saying in Washington is that where you stand is often determined by where you sit and so it is not shocking or necessarily terrible that this nominee held a position as a prosecutor that is different than the way he conceives his role as a judge. What do you think of this controversy?

NINA TOTENBERG, LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, first of all, whatever Brett Kavanaugh said when he worked for Starr, he was a prosecutor he was also only I think about 27 years old and people are allowed to have experiences that change their minds over time. What I find very interesting about this particular exchange that you showed is that Morrison versus Olson actually hasn`t been effectively overruled.

MELBER: Right.

TOTENBERG: What happened was that Congress decided that as a policy matter both sides Democrats and Republicans hated this law and they let it expire so it is no longer the law. However, the rules of special counsels were then transferred to the Justice Department and Robert Mueller cannot be fired except for cause under those rules.

So if Brett Kavanaugh thinks that that is too much of an intrusion on the President`s power, it would mean that the President or he or whoever in the Justice Department if he keeps going down far enough because he could fire Rod Rosenstein, he could fire the next guy and the next guy until he gets to somebody willing to fire -- willing to fire Robert Mueller that`s sort of what happened to Archibald Cox and the Watergate affair until finally actually Robert Bork was the person he was the Solicitor General, they had to go pretty far down through two or three ranks before they found somebody who said OK, somebody has to do this so Archibald Cox was fired. There was an enormous uproar. Then there was a new special prosecutor who was very independent and that led to the impeachment of Richard Nixon or not the impeachment -- the almost impeachment, his resignation in the -- in the face of almost certain --

MELBER: Right. And while we`re playing a legal footnote bingo, of course, it was in Robert Bork who ended up being a huge figure in the Supreme confirmation battles when he was of course Borked. I guess what you`re digging into is how this relates to the theory of executive power. I mean, the Independent Counsel statute became defined by Ken Starr. It would be like having such a terrible designated hitter in baseball that they eliminate the designated hitter position because that`s how much they didn`t like the person`s role. But you`re saying that this raises the deeper questions that what Kavanaugh should address in his confirmation about the independence of that special counsel role for a Mueller that is insulated from the President.

TOTENBERG: And it`s within the Justice Department. I mean the criticism of the Independent Counsel statute and both Republicans and Democrats got burned by people they thought were excessive. But it is only when the Democrats got burned that they finally had the votes to get rid of it. The criticism of the law was that it was outside the executive range and it was still upheld by a seven to one vote with Chief Justice Rehnquist who was a very, very conservative justice writing the opinion. And now it is within the Justice Department again but the firing under the rules of the Justice Department, you can`t fire a special counsel, an independent counsel just because you don`t like him. It has to be because he`s done something wrong.

MELBER: Right. Which goes back to Donald Trump in the way that he`s already talked illicitly. I mean, with Rush on his mind, Vince, those kinds of statements could end up in a court proceeding if he tried to remove the counsel illicitly. I got to get you on one other thing, money in speech. James Kavanaugh here in 2016 talking about another very important issue. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Money spent during campaigns is -- does represent speech and therefore deserves First Amendment protection.

KAVANAUGH: Absolutely, I think political speech is at the core of the First Amendment and to make your voice heard you need to raise money to be able to communicate to others in any kind of effective way.


MELBER: Does that concern you?

WARREN: Oh it definitely concerns.

TOTENBERG: Well, this is --

MELBER: I`m sorry, I was going to Vince.


WARREN: That definitely concerns me. That`s a tremendous problem that we have with that construction is that it essentially if you need money in order to be able to speak effectively what happens if you don`t have money in equating people`s wealth or the ability to raise money around political speech really does not only drown out I think the voices of most people in America but it also creates all of these interesting First Amendment protections for corporations. And so that we have now corporations and PACs and other sorts of money based entities that are on a par in the constitutional analysis with normal everyday people and that should cause us some concern.

MELBER: Right. And that -- I think that`s why Jay-Z was talking about citizens united when he said if money talks the whole world`s about to hear me out and is that fair. If only we had more time.

TOTENBERG: Well, but this is the one area where -- this is one area where that view already prevails on the Supreme Court.

MELBER: Oh certainly.

TOTENBERG: And the retirement of Justice Kennedy will not certainly bring in a whole different view that was not prevailing already.

MELBER: I`m supposed to get in a break. The control room mad at me both about another bad joke and my ability to time the show but that`s on me. Nina Totenberg and Vince Warren, I appreciate both of your expertise.

WARREN: Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you so much. Still ahead, how Republicans are defending Trump on Russia, my exclusive ahead.


MELBER: Donald Trump`s defense of Vladimir Putin and Russian election meddling have put the onus on many Republicans to respond and I`m happy to say we`re joined by Republican Congressman Bill Johnson from Ohio. Thanks for coming on THE BEAT.

REP. BILL JOHNSON (R), OHIO: Hi, Ari! Good to be with you again.

MELBER: When you look at what Donald Trump did side by side with Putin, were you disappointed and is it wrong for him to choose Putin`s line of defense over our own intelligence agencies?

JOHNSON: Well, I think the President made it very clear that he has great confidence in our intelligence agencies, Ari. He clarified that. He also clarified that he made a mistake during that press conference in using the word "would" instead of "wouldn`t." I personally would rather us rather than focus --

MELBER: So you`re on board with the "would-wouldn`t" thing? I mean, that`s --


MELBER: A lot of people`s -- a lot of people`s ability to give him a benefit of the doubt. As you know, it wasn`t just would and wouldn`t. I`ll put up on the screen for your analysis over 21 times as president Donald Trump has either denied or undercut our own intelligence agencies on Russian meddling and he`s done it again this week so at what point does that record beyond would and wouldn`t concern you if you are a believer in what the intelligence agencies have found.

JOHNSON: Because I think actions speak louder than words, Ari. Let`s look at his record and how he has handled Russia compared to both President Obama and President Bush. He`s been far tougher on the Russians than either one of them were. He drew a red line in Syria, he attacked Syria against the advice of Russia when we attacked the Assad regime. He expelled Russian diplomats from America. He gave the Ukrainian people weapons to defend themselves. I mean, and he`s got sanctions in place that are much stronger than any of the sanctions that President Obama had. And let`s not forget the evidence or the suspicions of Russian meddling into our elections came under Obama`s administration. I don`t remember hearing you guys out crying about that. So when you talk about giving the president the benefit of the doubt, I look more what he does rather than what he says. And when he says he made a mistake, I take him at his word.

MELBER: Well, I`m going to ignore the comment about the media because my job is not to debate the media although I appreciate the invitation. I will say for the facts, sure, we can go through what President Obama did since you bring it up because these comparisons come up. He did ask the for the meddling to stop. He condemned the interference in the election --

JOHNSON: Well, he ask for the meddling --

MELBER: Well, let me just go through it, sir, and then I`ll get you to do the response. He expelled 35 Russians and closed the compounds and implemented sanctions. The issues with Donald Trump as you know is and I know that you voted for the sanctions bill but he called that bill "unconstitutional" and waited up to seven months to implement parts of those. Do you think that was reasonable?

JOHNSON: Well, I think the President has been much tougher on Russia and don`t forget this is the same President Obama that whispered to the to the Russian officials, hey, tell Vlad to wait until after the election and I can have more flexibility. It was under the Obama administration that Hillary Clinton and the Secretary -- as Secretary of State reset the Russian relationship, opened the door for the Russians to buy American uranium. You name it. This president has been far tougher on the Russians than President Obama was. So when --

MELBER: Well, let me ask you that point again. I`m not -- I`m not taking a position one way the other but we are discussing the available record. When you talk about that comparison, how do you account for Barack Obama never holding the kind of joint summit with press conference benefits that Putin seemed to get this week? In eight years Barack Obama never provided that kind of platform for Putin. How do you square that?

JOHNSON: I`m glad you asked that question. When you`re working on the world stage in the community nations, to be able to get along and to strike a peaceful harmony with your adversaries you`ve got to be able to have a relationship with them. Let`s not forget I want to give you two examples, one was Ronald Reagan. One day he would call the Soviet empire the evil empire until Mikhail Gorbachev to tear the wall down. Soon after that, he`s got him out at the ranch having hot dogs and hamburgers building a relationship with him. And look at the open channel of communication that existed between Democrat President John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev at the height of the Cuban missile crisis when we were on the brink of nuclear warfare so got to -- you got to look at things in a historical perspective too.

MELBER: But Reagan didn`t -- let me say this, sir. I welcome the history. We love history on THE BEAT. Ronald Reagan did not take their word for it. Ronald Reagan said sure trust but verify and he took verify seriously and he never went in public and undercut the intelligence agencies at any point, let alone 21 times, let alone on a world stage with the foreign leader, in that case, a different Russian leader. And this comes on a night, and I want to play for your reaction, on a night when we`re getting new sound of Donald Trump in a new interview saying that he`s not comfortable calling Vladimir Putin dishonest about any of this stuff when again our intelligence agencies in our DOJ have said the meddling occurred which does make Putin dishonest given what he`s been claiming in the Chris Wallace interview this week and his denial since 2016. For the benefit of your response let`s both take a listen to this new sound from President Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Putin lying to you?

TRUMP: I don`t want to get into whether or not he`s lying. I can only say that I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently constituted. I think that Dan Coats is excellent. I think that Gina is excellent. I think we have excellent people in the agencies and when they tell me something it means a lot.


MELBER: If the agencies are telling the truth and Putin is saying the opposite, I ask you sir is Putin lying?

JOHNSON: Well, I think you just heard from the President himself. He didn`t say that he didn`t think that Putin was being dishonest. He said I`m not going to comment on whether he was being honest or not.

MELBER: Will you comment on it?

JOHNSON: Yes, I think Putin is a tyrant. I think Putin is entirely capable of lying and being deceitful. He`s murdered some of his own people. He`s back to a tyrannical murderous regime in Bashar al-Assad, so I do believe that Putin has the capability to lie. But the Russians have always lied, Ari. This is about international relations on them on the big stage at the big show and I think the President of the United States deserves some latitude and how he manages that relationship especially when you look at what he does in context of what he says. He`s been tougher on Russia than Barack Obama or George W Bush were and I think that record is being overlooked.

MELBER: Well, we went through -- we went through some of the facts on that so people can decide. I will say there`s been a lot of questions about what the Congress and particularly Republican members of Congress are doing and thinking this week. And Congressman Bill Johnson, I really appreciate you sharing your perspective with us on THE BEAT.

JOHNSON: All right, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

MELBER: Thank you, sir. Coming up, new data from Facebook shows who the biggest spender is in politics. It`s an interesting answer straight ahead.


MELBER: Facebook promised a big change after all the pressure over how Russian hackers have used their platform and affected the election. One thing they said they do is provide transparency about all those ads that you and your family may see. And the results are coming in and we wanted to follow up and report to you, the biggest spender on political ads on Facebook right now is Donald Trump. His campaign spending over a quarter million dollars on targeted Facebook ads and they`ve reached 37 million people since May. And we`re not just talking about traditional electioneering.

Take a look at what people are seeing. Ads supporting the fight for Donald Trump`s Supreme Court pick. Ads defending his border policies and use of ICE and as well as general ads attacking the media. Now, this is important. This is the digital arm of how Trump is governing as a communications strategy. Now, you may not pay attention to Facebook or think of it as big political news but remember, according to the campaign manager for Donald Trump`s re-election, this is their method for victory.


BRAD PARSCALE, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, TRUMP`S 2020 CAMPAIGN: I understood early that Facebook was how Donald Trump was going to win. Twitter is how he talked to the people, Facebook is going to be how he won.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Facebook is how he won.

PARSCALE: I think so. I mean, I think Donald Trump won but I think Facebook was the method. It was the highway in which his car drove on.


MELBER: That does it for us. "HARDBALL" starts now.


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.