Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: August 17, 2018 Guest: Ralph Peters, Mary McCord, Christina Greer, Kevin Downing, John Flannery, Seth Waxman, Baratunde Thurston, Sowmya Krishnamurthy
KATY TURR, MSNBC HOST: With more "MEET THE PRESS DAILY." And this Sunday, Chuck will interview former CIA Director and NBC News National Security of Intelligence Analyst John Brennan because if it`s Sunday, it`s "MEET THE PRESS." "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now. Hey, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Katy. Thank you so much.
It was another day of deliberations in Paul Manafort`s trial today. We can report jurors are heading home now without delivering a verdict tonight. What does that mean? We`ll get into it.
Also tonight, an expert on Trump`s Russian money trail is here with a new book and new reporting.
And later in the show, we will air a preview of my interview, new today, with Steve Bannon. This is the first time the controversial former Trump Advisor has ever faced a journalist`s questions right here on MSNBC.
But we begin right now with our top story. Donald Trump`s clash with intelligence leaders, many across the spectrum now say, "It is clear, there is no doubt, there is no debate he is abusing national security powers to punish government employees, not only because of their criticism, which is political debate but also because of their potential role as witnesses in the Russia probe." The criminal investigation into his White House.
And we are seeing a rising chorus when you look at the screen. It now includes Defense Secretary Robert Gates and six former CIA Directors who served under presidents from both parties, signing onto a strong letter condemning what Donald Trump is doing. They say they`ve, "Never before seen security clearances abused as a political tool." They say this is "Inappropriate and deeply regrettable." Donald Trump has admitted this is all about Russia payback.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s a disgusting thing, frankly. Look, I say it, I say it again. That whole situation is a rigged witch hunt. It`s a totally rigged deal. They should be looking at the other side.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And while this week involves a lot of discussion of former CIA Director Brennan, who I mentioned is also an NBC analyst, there is more going on. Trump now using the same trick to attack a Justice Department Official Bruce Ohr who`s linked to some intelligence in the Russia probe, though he`s not even working on the investigation itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. I suspect I`ll be taking it away very quickly. I think that Bruce Ohr is a disgrace with his wife Nellie for him to be in the Justice Department and to be doing what he did, that is a disgrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Let`s get right to it. Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and long-time student of Washington, retired army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters who served his country as well as a Fox News analyst although when he left, he said, "It had become a propaganda machine."
He`s also had security clearances at a high level as my next guest Mary McCord for Acting Assistant Attorney General and she ran and helped ran the DOJ National Security Division. I should say not a one-person job probably. She says to the "New York Times" today, Donald Trump is sending out a clear message, "Don`t cross me." And joining us from New York as well is Christina Greer, a Professor at Fordham University.
My thanks to all. Colonel, I begin with you. Donald Trump does many things that people don`t like, which is fine, this is a free country. Why, in your view, does this go beyond something that`s disliked and become something dangerous?
RALPH PETERS, FOX NEWS ANALYST: Because it`s un-American. Because this is not how we do things. This is, it`s been said before, this is a banana republic behavior which is sort of an insult to Banana Republics.
MELBER: Anti-Bananas? Arguably.
PETERS: Yeah, (INAUDIBLE) bananas (INAUDIBLE) underground. But in the United States of America, we close ranks when it comes to national security.
And it`s not merely a matter of keeping these people read on, giving them continued security clearances so that they can give us advice. But in the case of a national catastrophe and a nuclear attack on Washington, you`ve also got this B team ready to help out. It goes on and on.
But the bottom line is this, we`ve gotten to the point where the only thing we`re worried about is, is it illegal? Well, no, it`s not illegal. The president can do this but it`s profoundly unethical and morally wrong.
And I think while a government has never been an ethical paradise, the depth to which this administration has sunk has exemplified by this behavior is literally immeasurable.
MELBER: Well, you began with bananas and you end with paradise, which makes me think of apples in the Adam and Eve. And the apple, Mary, of course, involves knowledge and this is a fight over knowledge and power.
That`s the part of it that`s not funny, that`s not to be just dismissed because it is according to the president`s critics. And we just showed how many of them come from both parties and from the type of jobs you have where you got clearance. It is the idea that he is going to say the knowledge is only accessible to people who agree with him, and the punishment will be for everyone else, including these potential witnesses.
MARY MCCORD, FORMER ACTING ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think just, you know, a comment was just made not illegal. I`m not sure that`s the case because well, it`s clearly the executive has great prerogative when it comes to revoking security clearances.
He can`t do that in ways that are unconstitutional. I think that`s one of the things that`s very concerning here which is this seems to be in direct retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment Rights.
MELBER: Well, how would that work? Because we discussed this earlier this week with a legal expert. I take your point. There are things you can have the authority to do and abuse the authority.
MELBER: But in this instance, with the presidential have security powers, you`re not suggesting that there`s a felony here?
MCCORD: No, no, no, not a criminal offense, just ...
MELBER: But this would violate which part of the constitution?
MCCORD: First Amendment. Retaliation for exercise of First Amendment Rights. And so that`s the kind of thing that the Supreme Court has left open when it`s come to review of the revocation of national security clearances. They`ve been pretty clear that generally speaking it`s not judicially reviewable but they`ve left this question.
MELBER: And we`re looking at your comments in "New York Times" here that I think made waves in your analysis of this.
Christina Greer, I want to show Donald Trump who, as we reported here, often says things that are not true. When we reported that, he sometimes deliberately lies and we report that. But today, he said something that seemed to be true, although disturbing. It was his honest view that being attacked in this way, which as our former leader of the National Security Division in the Justice Department just said might even be unconstitutional.
But that attack could be good because it`s the kind of hate or hate array that brings attention, and Donald Trump thinks attention helps anybody, which I thought itself was kind of a sad but stunning admission of sorts. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It`s not valid. If anything, I`m giving them the bigger voice. Many people don`t even know who he is and now he has a bigger voice. And that`s okay with me because I like taking on voices like that. I`ve never respected him. I`ve never had a lot of respect. I know that I`ve gotten a tremendous response from having done that because security clearances are very important to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Christina, as a political scientist and observer, I wonder if you could walk us through the multiple layers of sad premises there because he`s basically saying I`m helping someone by being in a fight. I`ve never liked him as if that`s the rationale for national security access. And completely, willfully ignorant of the First Amendment considerations.
CHRISTINA GREER, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, OBSERVER, PROFESSOR, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Right. I mean, Ari, what we talk about almost every week on this show is that there is -- there seems to be no bottom to this particular presidency. And so we know that Trump really does traffic in branding, right. He`s using the term witch hunt. He`s using the term rigged. He has the red hats. That`s always been his, you know, his shtick.
And so now, we see when he`s interacting with even adversaries, his framework is even, well, I`m helping to make them famous. So, you know, I don`t understand what the problem is. We saw this even with the gold star families, how he talks about everything in this idea of winners and losers.
I mean part of my sincere frustration, I feel like I`m sounding like a broken record with you, is that where are the separation of powers, where are the Republican members of Congress who are saying our president is overstepping in a very dangerous, unethical territory, but we actually need to speak out?
It shouldn`t just be former CIA Directors. It should be AGs across the country. It should be Republicans, powerful Republicans. We`re getting these milquetoast responses from Republican Senators saying, "Well, I mean, it`s not ideal." That`s not enough. I think that they should really ring the alarm.
Because once we go into banana republic territory which I think we`re in, we`re cruising on a pretty steady stream of an authoritarian, dictatorial country where this president keeps just pushing the envelope and his own party isn`t checking him. And unfortunately, he`s able to brand it in a way where it seems powerful but it`s incredibly dangerous.
MELBER: Howard Fineman?
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Politics, life, existence for Donald Trump is a zero-sum game. He sees -- he believes that he can only have power and authority if no one else has it. So any independent institution with a history, with a reputation, with a mission that is independent of politics is something that he has to destroy.
And that`s the essence of what dictatorial banana republics are all about. They`re about the personality, the will and the wants of the person in charge. There is no more independent, at least since World War II, institution in America with greater power than the intelligence community. And we designed it that way. We wanted it that way because we wanted to have people who are free to look for the truth where it was, and give --
MELBER: Well, and build -
FINEMAN: -- good advice to people.
MELBER: On the point you`re making, when you use the word power, you also seem to be referring to autonomy.
FINEMAN: Yes. Well, that`s implicit in the idea of what Donald Trump hates. Anybody who has autonomy cannot exist in his cosmos. That`s true to the Republican Party, which he`s completely neutered. By the way, if you`re expecting any of those Senators on the hill to start complaining, forget about it. I think they secretly like what he`s doing because they want to maintain power themselves.
In the case of the intelligence community, they have the temerity not only be independent but to say you know what, Russia has been deeply complacent in monkeying around with American politics for a long time.
John Brennan had the temerity to say the idea that there was no collusion with the Trump campaign is to use of his technical word, hogwash. So this is ultimately a political battle in which Donald Trump is going to use every tool he can find, including withdrawing national security clearances, to destroy the independents and the vision and the integrity of the intelligence community. He`s at war with the intelligence community to try to save himself from impeachment and conviction.
MCCORD: I`d agree with that. And I think that another important point here, to go to the president`s comments today about John Brennan, it`s true John Brennan is not going to be cowed from stating his opinions. That`s clear.
But don`t forget about the threat to others who might not be John Brennan. They might not have that kind of stature and that respect around the world, who not only the other people that are on the list, including, you know, a current, sitting Department of Justice official.
But also others who aren`t on the list yet, but are afraid that either if they speak out, their minds, or even if they just do their jobs, if their jobs have anything to do that might be threatening to the president, then they might get on that list as well. So that chilling effect, I think, is something we have to be very concerned about.
FINEMAN: I don`t think we should be naive about the intelligence community. They`re fully capable of playing hardball themselves. But, they`ve always done it, I think, in the interest of independence, of their independence, so they can give in their sense of patriotic duty, unvarnished information about the world, secrets about the world, and guidance to our American leaders.
MELBER: So, Colonel, when you look at everything that`s just been said, one of the takeaways here is, according to a lot of experts, this is a bad thing. But it`s also a bad thing that`s being done very effectively, which makes it worse than incompetence in pursuing a bad thing.
Some people are so against Donald Trump, they seem to forget sometimes how effective he is. But when it comes to creating a politicized, polarized environment, where people like you who served the country in a non-partisan way for the bulk of your career are being misperceived as a part of a, "Deep state".
When, in fact, the agenda seems to be to change the leadership of the FBI because he`s under investigation in the Russia probe. He got Comey out, he got Mccabe out, and now Peter Strzok is fired. He`s going after Bruce Ohr`s security clearance which does limit -- the department you were in, right, you can`t work there without one of those.
MCCORD: That`s right.
MELBER: And then you go out to Clapper and Hayden.
FINEMAN: What if he pulls Mueller`s?
MELBER: And then that goes to the Mueller question, which we`ll put up on the screen what you`re saying which is, Jeremy Bash who was CIA counsel who says my concern, "Is that Trump will strip the clearances of the Bob Mueller investigative team." Give us your analysis, if you will, on how effective this is and how Donald Trump who has been so underestimated politically seems to be good at doing this bad thing.
PETERS: Well, I think a fundamental problem we have, Ari, is we try to analyze him as a politician. He`s not a politician. He`s a masterful entertainer. Indeed, he may be the most successful entertainer in history. I mean back in the `60s, John Lennon got in trouble for saying "The Beatles are more popular than Jesus."
I`ll tell you, Trump is a lot more popular than The Beatles and he`s commanding headlines daily around the world. What other entertainers can do that? But for me, the fundamental problem - I mean everything else is a symptom. This is a president who doesn`t like our system of government, who does not understand our system of government, despises the idea of a separation of powers, of sharing power as what`s said here.
And when it comes to the Constitution, he and many of his core supporters think it`s a menu where they can pick what they like.
MELBER: A menu, yes.
PETERS: Like the Second Amendment don`t like that First Amendment so much. I see them as fundamentally un-American, not always intentionally so. But to just wrap up Trump, Trump`s genius. And it`s been done before by many a dictator, many a charlatan. His genius was his core supporters. He`s offering them absolution.
Nothing is their fault. It`s the fault of the deep state. It`s the fault of minorities. It`s the fault of the left. It`s a fault of the traditional Republicans. It`s a fault of immigrants.
And his message to them is, "You`re not responsible. Whatever failures you`ve had in your life, whatever bad choices you were, somebody else`s fault." He gives them somebody to blame.
And at heart, his core supporters aren`t builders, they`re couch potato anarchists who are just thrilled to tear things down. He is a potent, destructive force who as you observed ...
MELBER: Are you alleging that about all 46% of people who voted for him?
PETERS: No. His core supporters. His supporters come in a lot of different flavors. But the core supporters I see is people who have been told so many times that they`re entitled to more, that despite their red hats saying "America great again", they`re not really wild about America.
In fact, that`s something I charge, I would lay at the feet of their left and the right, we`re an ungrateful nation. We`re spoiled and we`re crying out that we deserve more. No, we don`t. We`ve lost that fundamental American value, the sense of responsibility. Trump is ultimately the theological anti-Christ of our political scene, arguing that nothing is your fault, I can save you.
MELBER: You know, Christina Greer, I can`t help but say that when I listen to Colonel Peters when he`s on a good run, it feels like a combination of General Patton in (INAUDIBLE). And I hate to ask you to follow that but I think you`re capable because I`ve heard you make many good points as well. Take us all.
GREER: Well, I think we need to give rise to two things. One, the reason why Mueller is investigating Trump has to do with Russia. And it`s not like we don`t have elections coming up in September in New York at least and in November and in two years for the presidency.
So we always have to make sure that we maintain our eye on the deacon, which is, has Russia colluded with the president of the United States and his ilk to interfere in our elections. We cannot forget that with all of the nonsense that Trump brings. In multiple times today, he`s really great at switching new stories and he`s done that for several decades now.
And I think the second piece that`s really important is that, you know, going off of what the Colonel said, Trump is masterful at being both the hero and the victim and making his supporters feel as though they`re the heroes in their red hats and they`re clamoring for more red meat at his rallies, a lot like 1920`s claims rally.
But also that they`re the victims that, again, this country has not provided them with what they deserve, especially as white Americans because it`s Muslims, Mexicans, blacks, women, whomever it may be. So we have to make sure that we stay vigilant because he keeps going deeper and deeper into this sense that they deserve something as the victims, but also that they are the true Americans and the true champions. There is no such thing.
You know, I`m over 15-generation American in this country. I`m more American than, you know, probably 90% of the people walking in this country. And so -- but we have to change our ideology of what this country really means.
And Trump, unfortunately, has called into question truth, facts, and the media. So when we have these conversations, if he doesn`t like them, he can just throw them out as fake news. So I think we always have to sort of keep our eye on the prize which is this is a man who does not love this country, and he doesn`t understand this country.
MELBER: This might be one of those times where I say there are other perspectives on this. And we`ll be talking to one of them later in the show actually.
Christina Greer, Mary McCord, Howard Fineman and Colonel Ralph Peters, thank you all for a spirited discussion.
John Brennan will be on "RACHEL MADDOW" tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern as well on this hot story.
Donald Trump is also praising Paul Manafort today as a good person while this jury in his trial was deliberating all day. Plus a revelation from the judge, high stakes for the entire Trump organization.
Later, I speak to a journalist who`s been covering Trump`s money for years. He says Trump wouldn`t literally be in the White House without Russians. We have that reporting.
And then later, as I mentioned, a look at my exclusive interview with Steve Bannon. We talked many things, Roy Moore, Charlottesville, the Midterms and a lot about the Mueller probe.
Plus of course, if it`s Friday, we`ve still got you covered with fallback Friday. Stay tuned.
MELBER: No one knows if Paul Manafort will serve life behind bars. But we do know he`s behind bars all this weekend because the judge in that high- profile case just dismissed the jury within the last half hour or so.
They`ve deliberated 7 1/2 hours today which is continuing their evaluation of Mueller`s charges on bank and tax crimes, that if convicted would ultimately give Manafort an effective life sentence according to many experts.
Now, while the jury was deliberating, President Trump spoke about the trial today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad. When you look at what`s going on, I think it`s a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time, but you know what, he happens to be a very good person. And I think it`s very sad what they`ve done to Paul Manafort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Just to be clear, most presidents don`t hold those kinds of extemporaneous remarks about an open trial while jurors are deliberating. If you`re wondering how everyone felt about it, well, the Manafort team thought it was a good thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the long deliberation work in your favor?
KEVIN DOWNING, ATTORNEY: I think it does.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your reaction to the president today?
DOWNING: We`re very happy to hear from the president and that he`s Supporting Mr. Manafort.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you feeling going into this weekend?
DOWNING: Very good. We`re very, very happy about the fair trial that Judge Ellis ensured for Mr. Manafort, and that`s about it. Thanks, guys.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, we don`t know what`s going to happen. But I got two people who have been through a lot of these types of federal trials. Former Federal Prosecutors John Flannery and Seth Waxman. I want to get into the deliberation room because it`s fascinating and you know more than I do and most of us do.
But let`s start just with is it normal for a U.S. president to speak like this while a jury is deliberating about the defendant?
JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: No, it is not usual at all, but this president is not usual and doesn`t care about the law or constitutional rights and doesn`t care if he affects the outcome, which he plainly hopes to do. It`s interesting --
MELBER: Why isn`t it jury tampering?
FLANNERY: Well, it is jury tampering. Everything he does, practically, is an obstruction, whether it`s issuing statements that you will no longer have security clearances or he gives this speech.
MELBER: If Judge Ellis were here, he would give you a hard time when you say everything Trump does is an obstruction, you`re not being fair, accurate or precise.
FLANNERY: I would have an argument with Judge Ellis then because I don`t believe Judge Ellis appreciates the threat to our judicial system, particularly by this president. He apparently had some concern about at least two things which was public coverage of the case when he didn`t have a sequestered jury, and perhaps even how he -- we`ll find out how he`s handled the threats to himself and to the jury.
MELBER: Well, you`re pointing your finger. Let`s get right to it, Seth. People around the country, no matter what your political views are wondering, "Wow, is the current president`s campaign chair about to be convicted of serious crimes, which means he was running this organization but was a criminal."
Now, what does that say about America? What does that say about his presidency or is he going to get off for a mistrial, and they`re all home for the weekend? The media is obviously going full-blown, that`s what we do. What do you think about John`s point and what do you think those jurors are going to do this weekend and walk us through what they`re supposed to not do?
SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, they`re not supposed to think and talk about the case, talk with their wives, go on the internet or husbands. They`re supposed to leave this thing be, enjoy their weekend in theory and come back Monday and get back to their workman-like jury deliberations.
But, you know, betting on a jury on where they are, is like going to Vegas and betting bad roulette. You just have no idea. It could be that they`re 12 to 1 in favor of conviction or acquittal, maybe they`ve decided on some charges and not others.
The fear is, is that maybe one of these jurors has kind of gone rogue, maybe and wants to kind of become their 15 minutes in the sun afterward and say I got to be the lone holdout. You hope something like that hasn`t happened.
MELBER: What is the question about reasonable doubt say to you after two days, on the one hand, complex charges. On the other hand, the Mueller folks were arguing that this should have been easy to figure out?
WAXMAN: Yeah, I mean if you`re the prosecutor, your heart drops a little bit when you see that request for an explanation on reasonable doubt. But, you know, again, this could be one juror just needs to understand better and the other 11 on the other side are saying, "Look, it`s very clear to us, let`s get the judge to tell you." And, of course, the judge said like most judges, reasonable doubt is a doubt for which you can have a reason which really tells you very little.
MELBER: Very helpful. I find that very, very helpful.
FLANNERY: Oh, yeah, certainly.
MELBER: I`m going to press you one more time and then go back to John. You are someone who`s argued in your analysis that the case against Manafort evidentially is strong.
MELBER: When you see them go through the weekend here without this verdict and it creeps into Monday, are you worried that there is a holdout, that this could be a mistrial?
WAXMAN: No, not at this stage. I mean two days of deliberations in a two- week long trial is not unusual. The fact that the jury note came on the first day and yet today they had a full day of deliberations with no notes, we haven`t seen anything where they say they`re, you know, hung, that they`re having problems with a particular juror not participating.
So the fact that they`ve taken a whole day of jury deliberations kind of in a workman-like fashion and said, "Look, we just want to get out a half an hour early and we`re ready to come back on Monday," wouldn`t cause my, you know, too much consternation if I was the prosecutor to get to four or five days. And you start to see, you know, we`re hopelessly deadlocked kind of notes, then you start to really panic.
MELBER: John, take a listen to Donald Trump`s evolution. We showed him today saying, "Oh, good guy." But previously he tried to limit the whole idea that Manafort was crucial to the campaign. Of course, he was the number one guy on the campaign for a while. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Now, Paul Manafort`s a nice guy but, you know, he worked for me a very short period of time, literally like what a couple months. Very short period of time.
Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for John McCain. He worked for many other Republicans. He worked for me what, 49 days or something? A very short period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What I like is the casual reference of 49 days.
MELBER: As if it wasn`t a memorized talking point. Forty-nine days? What`s he doing there and does it matter for the trial?
FLANNERY: It does matter for the trial. Basically, what he`s trying to diminish is the role of his campaign manager who`s likely going to be convicted of washing money, avoiding taxes -
MELBER: Well, we don`t know.
FLANNERY: -- things like that. We don`t know.
MELBER: You don`t know.
FLANNERY: No, I don`t know it but I`ll bet it`s going to happen.
MELBER: Wait till I get this power panel with Judge Ellis.
FLANNERY: I`m waiting for that.
MELBER: You know this question ham, he`s going to go ham on you.
FLANNERY: He`s going to go ham on me.
FLANNERY: Well, let`s analyze what he did in that short period of time. He was his campaign manager to run a convention, as he had for others, a successful convention. And at that convention, he helped change one of the planks of the platform to make it -- they wanted -- the Republicans want to help --
MELBER: Want to help out interest in Ukraine?
MELBER: Why wasn`t that charged if you think that`s bad?
FLANNERY: Well, I think it is bad and I`m not in charge of that investigation.
MELBER: You think they have the evidence?
FLANNERY: Well, the investigation is not over. I think that we`ve had three indictments that have set up different parts of this case and I think we`re going to have a fourth one that moves into what everybody is calling collusion which is a conspiracy of what they did.
And I think they will have - we have evidence that people have been coming forward and giving information to the prosecution. And we don`t know what`s going to happen with Cohen, and we don`t know what`s going to happen with other people who were involved and close.
We have no idea what Flynn said. We have no idea what the tapes might be by Papadopoulos. There`s a lot of information out there. And so far, there is nothing that has been presented by Mueller that wasn`t solid. Pleas, indictments and the conduct of this trial was outstanding.
I`m not saying that the defense wasn`t doing a lot of really good legal work but the team that he put together is amazing in the courtroom.
FLANNERY: And they had a very difficult time with the same judge you would have judged me who interfered during the case, scolded the prosecutor in the courtroom, and then basically misrepresented the law when he said well if that loan wasn`t granted why don`t you go on --
MELBER: Why don`t you spend your time on something more important.
FLANNERY: Yes. And that`s not the law he needs to judge.
MELBER: Which was unusual, yes.
It`s very unusual.
MELBER: Well, look, they say you should always treat people how you want to be treated and you guys have acted like lawyers to a lot of people so today I tried a lawyer to you and I hope that`s OK.
FLANNERY: Yes. We enjoy it. It`s like a fruit cocktail.
MELBER: John Flannery and Seth Waxman with the analysis. We`ll be watching and we`ll be calling on you next week, a case that everyone is watching on the Manafort trial. Straight ahead, my next guest has been reporting on Trump and Russia and the money trail for years going all the way back to the 80s and alleged money laundering when we`re back in just 30 seconds.
MELBER: The other top story tonight. Donald Trump`s long-standing business ties to Russia revealed as he launches these new attacks against Bob Mueller today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted. In fact, Comey is like his best friend. I could go into conflict after conflict. But sadly Mr. Mueller is conflicted. But let him write his report. We did nothing. There`s no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Donald Trump has claimed he has no ties to Russia but there is reporting in a brand new book rebutting all of that. It`s called House of Trump, House of Putin by Craig Unger claiming the Trump Tower effectively was a "Cathedral for Russian mafia-linked money-laundering going all the way back to the 1980s." Reading from the book "it`s hard to imagine Trump had no knowledge whatsoever about what was going on," Unger writes.
Now, President Trump back in May of last year denied this type of thing in that now-famous NBC Lester Holt interview about any links to Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don`t have property in Russia. I had the Miss Universe Pageant which I owned for quite a while. I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that I have nothing to do with Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I`m joined now by New York Times bestselling author Craig Unger. What is the basis for this reporting and does mean that Donald Trump as a president may "owe Russia something."
CRAIG UNGER, AUTHOR, HOUSE OF TRUMP, HOUSE OF PUTIN: Absolutely. I believe this was the greatest intelligence operation of our times and it ended up putting a Russian asset in the White House. And I wanted to go back to the beginning and see how and when it began. So I kept going back and back.
I started looking at all the people who lived in Trump Tower, all the Russians and I Googled it again and again and I found that as early as 1984 Donald Trump -- Donald Trump`s properties were being used to launder money for the Russian Mafia. A man who is associated with Russian mafia met with him in 1984 at Trump Tower, put down $6 million that`s the equivalent of about $15 million today and paid for it and put it in an anonymous shell company
And as I trace things, this happened at least 1,300 times in 1300 condos over the next 20 or 30 years.
MELBER: How do you get -- and let me let me ask you the big question. I know you`re going there but how do you get from that thing happening to the Trump Organization being in on it?
UNGER: Well, you can`t prove what Donald Trump knows and the Trump Organization says we don`t know who`s buying these things, the brokers sell them and they`re just not doing any due diligence. The real estate laws are incredibly lax so you don`t have to reveal who the owner is. And as a reporter, I can`t penetrate that. I don`t have subpoena power.
What I did find was that this was the pattern through which Trump became rich again. When he -- after Atlantic City he was $4 billion in debt, six bankruptcies and the Russian mafia came to his aid and helped build him back again.
MELBER: You`re referring to this issue, this alleged money laundering which is something that is rumored about, that has been discussed as an allegation. Steve Bannon who I happen to be talking to later has discussed the money laundering allegations as a problem for the Trump Organization which is interesting coming from someone tied to Trump. How did you feel that you were advancing this story and that you are willing to commit to it journalistically in this book?
UNGER: Because you have to see it how the Russians owned him. They bailed him out. I don`t think anyone would be elected if they were $4 billion in debt. And they came into Trump Tower in 2002. There was a firm named Bay Rock. It had ties to two Russian mafia and it just happened. Suddenly you saw hundreds of millions of dollars going into fund Trump projects like the Trump Soho. There were other projects as well in Toronto --
MELBER: Right. One more question, sir, and I`m just pushing to get all of it in. Does this finding in your theory of the case mean the collusion in 2016 was more likely because of a history of relationship or irrelevant because there`s a financial debt irrespective of whether there was campaign conspiracy?
UNGER: No, I think it absolutely means it`s more likely there was collusion. What`s important to understand about the Russian Mafia is it`s a state actor. Americans may think of the mob in terms of the Godfather the Italian American Mafia. The Russian Mafia is very different and I interviewed General Oleg Kalugin who was head of counterintelligence in Russia. He was actually Vladimir Putin`s boss and when I asked him about the Mafia is that that`s another branch of the KGB.
And so, you have all these people tied to the Russian mafia in Trump Tower, in the home of the President of the United States. And I would suggest I mean, we`ve had all this talk about national security clearances, Trump would never get a national security clearance in the zillion years.
MELBER: Craig Unger, you are peeling back layers that I imagine a lot of people watching live are very interested in. I appreciate you telling us about your book tonight.
UNGER: Thanks for having me, Ari.
MELBER: Thank you, sir. Later in the show, we will show you part of my exclusive interview with Steve Bannon, his first time ever on MSNBC. But before that, it`s Friday, who needs to fall back? We have a special panel next.
MELBER: What a week but it is Friday on THE BEAT and we all know what that means it`s time to fall back. I`m happy to say I`m joined by Baratunde Thurston, Co-founder of Cultivated Wit, a former Daily Show producer, Rick Hertzberg a Senior Editor and Staff Writer at the New Yorker, I believe his first "FALLBACK" and Sowmya Krishnamurthy, a Music Journalist for publications that include Rolling Stone and Billboard, she`s also host of XXL`s shot-callers podcasts Act Like You Know.
Baratunde, I`ll start with you. Who needs to fall back?
BARATUNDE THURSTON, CO-FOUNDER, CULTIVATED WIT: This week, Ari Elon Musk needs to fall back. The man is clearly overworking himself, too many companies, too little sleep, too many tweets. He`s accused a rescue worker of being a pedophile and now he`s invited the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation over his tweets about taking Tesla private.
I love what this company does. I think its leader does too much. For his own mental health, for the help of his company, and maybe for the future of our species, he needs to fall back.
MELBER: Wow. Now, real quick though, is it all of Elon Musk or just the Elon Musk tweeting? Because tweeting can get us all in trouble sometimes.
THURSTON: Definitely the tweeting part but I think maybe he has one job too many as well. If he`s working 120 hours a week, that`s with leading to the bad tweets so I hope he can get some executive support in running these multiple companies.
MELBER: Rick Hertzberg who needs to fall back?
RICK HERTZBERG, SENIOR EDITOR AND STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, as usual it`s Mr. Trump who requires some back falling. He -- and what he needs to fall back from is anything to do with the military. I mean, he`s -- he started out this week by signing the John S. McCain Defense Authorization Act and never mentioning John S. McCain. And he`s talking about creating a Space Force even though we already have. The Air Force already has a Space Command.
But it`s like -- he`s like a child, he`s like a bad child. And he thinks that the Space Force is going to turn him into Han Solo. He`s going to be a big interest intergalactic hero. That`s unlikely. And then worst of all really in a way it`s the military parade fixation. He`s -- that`s another -- that`s another thing that`s weirdly childish. This desire to have a giant military parade with him standing in the reviewing stand seeing all the might go by, pretending -- he`d be more like Stalin than the U.S. President well to do that.
MELBER: Yes, and a lot of folks criticize that. Sowmya, what is your "FALLBACK"?
SOWMYA KRISHNAMURTHY, MUSIC JOURNALIST: So this week, like every week, we have to stop hitting women against each other so as you know Ari, Nicki Minaj dropped her highly anticipated project Queen but instead of talking about the music everyone is petting her against Cardi B a fellow female rapper. And I have to say, there`s a seat at the table for everyone so instead of focusing on there can only be one Queen, why not bring more people into the rain.
So when it comes to falling back, whether it be in hip-hop politics or just general life, I think we need to see more love for women as opposed to putting them against each other.
MELBER: And tell us a little bit more about this because Nicki`s song got a lot of attention and a lot of it was about her giving certain male rappers a hard time albeit a good-natured hard time. And as you`re pointing out, there are people and people in the media who instead are trying to focus on what wasn`t a big part of it which is sort of as you put it two female rappers feuding.
KRISHNAMURTHY: Absolutely. I mean, Ari, can`t we all just get along? You know, I think it`s amazing that Cardi B has had such a huge year, the Bodak Yellow Rapper has smashed so many records. But with Nicki, she`s a superstar in her own right. So why don`t we celebrate these women and bring them into the fold? Let`s bring people together not divide them.
MELBER: Yes, and as Cardi would say be careful. Baratunde, any other "FALLBACKS" this week?
THURSTON: I always want Amazon.com to fall back. There`s rumors now they`re trying to buy the Landmark Movie Theater and I just think they`re doing too much too fast. They already have all of our shopping money, most of our grocery money, they know what we`re watching and they`re watching and listening to us through all their creepy devices. So leave our movies alone.
If they can let us buy a Kindle book through the iOS app, that would be a great step forward. Focus on the basics. Leave the theaters alone.
MELBER: You know, I`m learning about you from your repeat "FALLBACK" appearances that you really use this as a time to go after tech companies which makes a lot of sense when you think about the power they have and how little coverage sometimes they even get politically or media wise. Rick, who else needs to fall back?
HERTZBERG: I need to fall back from being so obsessed with Trump and the military.
MELBER: It`s a self "FALLBACK" which is very -- go ahead.
HERTZBERG: Somebody with his military record should probably steer clear of that particular subject five deferments for something called bone spurs. It`s babyish. It`s embarrassing. We`re really -- we`re really in trouble with this guy to have this one the president.
MELBER: And you`re calling him a baby. He doesn`t like to be called a baby as we`ve reported on this show.
HERTZBERG: Well, he certainly looks like one. He`s kind of round and babyish and soft and --
THURSTON: Yo, Rick!
KRISHNAMURTHY: He`s just going in now. I love it.
THURSTON: Rick is tracking right now, live.
MELBER: I think Sowmya, Sowmya, I think that`s what they call nursery shade what rick is doing.
KRISHNAMURTHY: Shots were fire, Ari. I think we just saw some shots.
MELBER: Do you have a final one before we go?
KRISHNAMURTHY: Absolutely. You know, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin passed this week and we got to fall back from these terrible, terrible tributes. So first of all the baby, Mr. Trump talked about how she had worked for him on numerous occasions. Fox News did a tribute but for some reason threw up a photo of Patti LaBelle who`s very much alive by the way, and then you Jim Carey who did a cartoon and a very loving homage and it looked nothing like Aretha Franklin. I mean this is Aretha Franklin. Let`s put some R-E-S-P-E-C-T on her legacy.
MELBER: If I`m not mistaken, you`ve made Aretha Franklin birdman portmanteau reference.
KRISHNAMURTHY: I`m glad that you caught that. I appreciate that.
MELBER: I tried.
KRISHNAMURTHY: You were here, Ari, even though you`re not here, were here.
MELBER: We`re all here. We`re all in it together. My thanks to Baratunde, Hendrik and Sowmya. I very much appreciate it. Now, there is some more political news. The political strategist who defines from selection campaign and the platform of Trumpism. I`m going to show you our one-on-one interview and our back-and-forth next.
MELBER: Today I sat down with Steve Bannon for his first ever interview with MSNBC. We covered a lot of different topics. He is a rightfully known controversial person and at times it was a controversial interview. We talked economic policy. Here is part of the interview.
MELBER: You talk about populism?
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Yes.
MELBER: The President went to Mar-a-Lago where membership is $200,000 and told people the tax bill then "you all just got a lot richer." Is that your populism?
BANNON: Look, I think populism when you look at President Trump, is not in his entire program, OK. This tax cut was focused on industrial tax cut and a repatriation of cash. It was to make the manufacturing side of this country stronger. We had 100 percent you know, right off of capital expenditure in period zero. This was all about building -- rebuilding the manufacturing base and that is the top of populism I`m talking about.
MELBER: I`m going to read you more Bannon.
BANNON: Yes, sir.
MELBER: "2016 --
MELBER: I love hearing Bannon.
MELBER: "2016, sir, not one criminal charge has ever been brought to any bank executive associated with the 2008 crisis. You said that then, then you got in office. Why hasn`t that happen under the Trump administration and what should be done about that?
BANNON: That was during the Obama Administration under Eric Holder that all the criminal referrals went to the Justice Department early didn`t do anything with them. You know, he`s a Covington and Burleigh you know white-collar criminal lawyer. I think it`s outrageous. I think that Justice Department should be -- I think we ought to really -- I think on --
MELBER: You think the lack of action by the Trump Justice Department is outrageous or you just (INAUDIBLE) Eric Holder when he was in office and now he`s in private practice?
BANNON: Hang on, hang on. I am very upset about Obama and all those years when nothing was done.
MELBER: Right, but I`m asking you about who has power now.
BANNON: Well, I think --
MELBER: This Justice Department.
BANNON: By the way, I think Senator Sessions what I would hope would happen, OK, and particularly on the 10th year anniversary is we start to review some of that and I think people ought to be held accountable. No one`s been held accountable for the financial crisis and here we are ten years -- ten years afterwards and we still have no accountability and I don`t think any real explanation of what went on.
MELBER: So you were applying that to both administrations then, to Sessions as well.
MELBER: That is just a small part of the interview. The entire piece is - - will air tonight at 10:00 p.m. I want to be clear that we covered a lot of ground with no ground rules. Here is a little sampling of some of the other topics we covered.
MELBER: Let`s start with the midterms. If they were held today, who do you think would win the House?
BANNON: It`s bad advice.
MELBER: Is that because you think Republicans are on pace to lose and they need your help? You think impeachments on the ballot in November, why? Is there anyone you would not take money from?
BANNON: Well, I would not take money from foreigners, right?
MELBER: What`s your current relationship with President Trump? You said a lot about you when you had a public parting, do you think he still believes those things about you?
BANNON: Worry more if would have won that election, if Mitch McConnell and Shelby and these other`s head turn against him.
MELBER: Isn`t that a good thing to revise the patriarchy as you put it? (INAUDIBLE) responded and then I`ll give you more time.
BANNON: OK fine. And by the way --
MELBER: What about --
BANNON: By the way --
MELBER: You brought it up. What about those accusers?
BANNON: No, no, by the way --
MELBER: The question, and then I`ll give you time. The question is, is Donald Trump walking away and walking the GOP way in these women voters?
BANNON: He`s definitely not. He`s definitely not. He`s definitely not.
MELBER: Charlottesville, was the President wrong to say there was blame on both sides? We`re you a witness of fact to the investigation regarding obstruction or collusion or both?
BANNON: I see it on T.V. like everybody else. I mean, I`m sitting in the Chief of Staff`s office. I`m working on something for Reince that needs to be done. I see it up on T.V.
MELBER: We covered a lot of ground and we will show it to you tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, Steve Bannon`s first ever interview on MSNBC. And here on THE BEAT, we`ll be right back.
MELBER: That does it for our show. A reminder, Rachel has John Brennan for a big interview tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern followed at 10:00 p.m. Eastern by me filling in and interviewing Steve Bannon as I mentioned this hour. But don`t go anywhere, "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Power trip. Let`s play HARDBALL.
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