Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: September 4, 2018 Guest: John Flannery, George Will, Natasha Bertrand, Libby Casey, Jason Johnson, Richard Blumenthal, Marc Morial, Michael Eric Dyson, Seth Waxman
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening and thank you, Chuck.
And welcome to you at home to a special edition of THE BEAT from Washington, D.C. We begin with breaking news tonight.
Donald Trump’s own criminal defense lawyer personally warned the embattled president that he could wind up in prison wearing an orange jumpsuit. This is not normal. This is a first. So let me repeat the news that is actually rocking Washington right now, even amidst a lot of other news regarding, of course, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings and a new senator named to replace John McCain.
But the big news here is Donald Trump’s former criminal lawyer John Dowd, who publicly split with the president over their strategy warning Donald Trump that he could end up in prison. And concluding that Trump was lying in their own preparations for a potential Mueller interview. This obviously raises a ton of questions right now.
Like why lie to your own lawyer in secret prep sessions about Russia and obstruction? And what else did Donald Trump’s lawyer see that brought him to such a stark and disturbing conclusion? And what on earth did Mr. Dowd and the White House have to say about all of this right now, this evening? Well, we have some of the answers for you. This report is not from a single article or a few blind quotes. It is a big deal precisely because it’s from "The Washington Post" journalist known for helping bring down another president Bob Woodward who famously reported Watergate. And says for this book, he conducted hundreds of interviews. Today, he even released separately audio of his own personal phone call with Trump. Now, the book features Trump’s aide’s hiding papers from the president, insulting his intelligence, and Donald Trump stewing over the Russia probe. All of this detailed piecemeal in a release through a "Washington Post" article.
And it reports for the very first time that Donald Trump’s criminal defense team tried to prep him for a potential Mueller interview and they were holding these prep sessions through a practice interview, a sort of draft Mueller interview back in January. And that’s where Trump lawyer John Dowd, "Peppered Trump with questions provoking stumbles, contradictions and lies" until the president eventually lost his cool which led to an estimated 30-minute rant by Trump ending with this important admission.
Trump basically secretly telling his own lawyers, "I don’t really want to testify before Mueller." That, of course, contradicts Donald Trump’s public claims that he does want to testify. And then there’s this, Woodward reporting that Dowd then would tell Mueller about that very practice session, even reenacting part of it in a kind of effort to show on their part that Trump was somehow his own worst enemy and it didn’t make sense for Dowd to let the president talk to Mueller.
Here’s that passage, "I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot," Dowd reportedly told Mueller, "And you publish that transcript because everything leaks in Washington and the guys overseas will say ‘I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?’" Mueller reportedly replying, "I understand."
Now, that is a rare peek inside the highest levels of negotiations in the Mueller probe. The meetings that Bob Mueller attends personally. And Bob Woodward, let’s be clear tonight, he is staking his reputation on getting these reported details right. Now, Dowd and the White House are strongly denying these reports. We’ll get into that.
Let’s get into the prison warning now because Woodward reports that by March, Dowd was trying to find any way to get through to Donald Trump about what he saw through his legal judgment as very real risks of criminal exposure. And yes, even a president can face legal risk. So he reportedly urged Trump, "Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit." Trump reportedly responding, "I’ll be a real good witness." And Dowd responded to that, "You’re not a good witness, Mr. President. I’m afraid I just can’t help you."
Now, Dowd may deny the words in this account but it’s an undisputed fact that he then left the White House the next day. Now, Trump’s aides say this entire book consists of, "Fabricated stories." But let’s be clear as we get into the ramifications of this very, very big report. The fake news card is not going to cut a lot of ice against Bob Woodward who’s reported on presidents from both parties his whole career.
In fact, today, journalists and politicos in both parties have been marveling at Woodward’s reporting and backing up his factual reputation. Former Bush Spokesman Ari Fleischer was tangled with Woodward said today Woodward is "Straight and never makes up quotes." Fox News is treating the book as true and noting it depicts a "Chaos and dysfunctional White House."
Now, Woodward is already releasing his own receipts, showing his high-level contact with Trump aides and his effort to interview the president which Donald Trump declined. Now, they did have a long phone call about that after. Woodward reiterated his reporting is from firsthand sources.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD: And I think there’s nothing in this book that doesn’t come from a firsthand source. Is that correct, Evelyn?
EVELYN: I believe that’s -
DONALD TRUMP: Are you naming names or do you just say sources?
WOODWARD: Yes. Well, names, real incidents so --
DONALD TRUMP: No, but do you name sources? I mean, are you naming the people or just say, you know, people have said?
WOODWARD: I say at 2:00 on this day, the following happened and everyone who’s there, including yourself, is quoted. And I’m sorry I didn’t get to ask you about these.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, finally, perhaps no inside Trump account would be complete without some baby talk. The president is notoriously prickly about being called or considered a baby but he does project that insecurity by using the attack on others. And according to a copy of this book reviewed by CNN, Trump called Giuliani a baby during the 2016 campaign. This was around the time Giuliani was trying to defend Trump in the "Access Hollywood" tape fiasco.
Here’s the quote, "Rudy, you’re a baby. I’ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed." When the president asks Rudy Giuliani, "Are you going to be a man?"
I am joined for our special Washington edition by George Will, a conservative columnist for "The Washington Post" and Dr. Bertrand has covered this presidency and the Russia case for "The Atlantic", and Former Federal Prosecutor John Flannery all at the table.
John, I begin with you. Before we get to what George and I call the baby talk, let’s begin with the prosecutor talk. What do you see as legally significant in this account?
JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, there are a couple of things that seem to me significant. The failure of the defense attorneys of the president going to Mueller and saying our client is a liar and we can’t have him testify and he can’t take the Fifth.
The flip side of that meeting that’s impressive to me is the statement by Mueller saying "I want to know his intent on the firing of Comey." And that fits into everything we’ve heard from the beginning until now about the corrupt conduct of Mr. Trump trying to obstruct the investigation and the hydra-headed ways that he has.
MELBER: But it also goes to a rare peek of how Mueller operates, that if Bob Mueller was convinced based on facts that this was a normal firing with normal, legitimate intent, then he would be OK with it?
FLANNERY: I think that Mueller is the kind of man -- I knew him from on The Hill, not in a criminal matter, but a matter out in California when he was the U.S. attorney there. And he’s a by the book guy, by the facts and I don’t think you could find a bias in the man except to get to the truth. And I think that’s how he operates.
But I do think he’s had a lot of things that have disturbed him and he wouldn’t tell a defense attorney I’m concerned about the intent of the president when he fired Comey. And I think that that is pivotal, and it drives him toward everything else because if the president is firing Comey to kill the investigation, then it’s consciousness of guilt. He has to be doing it for a reason and that is that there was a conspiracy.
Not a collusion, there was a conspiracy in the campaign to use material that he knew was stolen, that was itself a violation of the criminal law. In exchange for what? To help a foreign nation with sanctions that were rightly justified, and to remove them as part of his deal and whoever, whatever else there is.
And this is the, you know, only what we’ve seen publicly. We’ve seen from the first two indictments that talked about how they set up the Russian involvement, all the publicity that would help Trump. And the third indictment, if it comes, anytime soon, I think it will be the conspiracy, the underlying conspiracy. But this is a very disturbing statement that we have a president that can’t tell the truth, and his lawyer tells him he can’t tell the truth.
And he’s caught in this impossible Shakespearean dilemma of how do I preserve myself as a president who has to speak without compromising my ability to avoid this investigation? And he’s answered it. He’s going to destroy the investigation. He’s not going to do it in the midterms. He’s going to do it when the midterms are over.
MELBER: There are not many people who sit at these tables or go down to the building behind me and have the experience of Bob Woodward. I think it’s fair to say, George Will, you do, having covered and written about so many presidents and thought through what it means when a White House is, if one believes Bob Woodward’s reporting, leaking like this, and almost a cry for help. Give us the context as you see these new reports.
GEORGE WILL, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, Bob’s challenge, and I think he’s probably met it is to tell us something we didn’t already know because Mr. Trump is, himself, an open book who’s been reading himself to the country for 30 some years now. What I think is most interesting is that Mr. Trump said, "Were their names associated with these quotes?" You don’t have to be a real Veteran Washingtonian to read between the lines.
For example, when Lindsey Graham tells Bob Woodward about a quote of Trump insulting Obama, we can pretty much assume he got it from Lindsey Graham so another friendship out. It’s not, to me, what Mr. Trump’s employees say about him. We know they’ve insulted him repeatedly. It’s what he says about his employees. When he says to Ross, Secretary of Commerce, who’s in charge of all these trade negotiations, "You’re awful, you’re past your prime." And when he says to Sessions that he’s retarded and a dumb Southerner, I’m married to a Southerner. They take that stuff seriously and that’s his base down there.
MELBER: Right. And you’re using that language, you’re quoting the president’s language?
WILL: Correct. So it seems to me that when you have a White House that is so full of hob state of nature, where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, where no one trusts anyone, there’s no loyalty, beyond loyalty, there’s no affection. And to have a White House full of these people who are walking on eggshells, tiptoeing through a minefield, pick your metaphor, it’s a place where no one can fall back on anything. No one can relax. And to imagine what it’s like in that atmosphere. Well, it’s hard to imagine it.
MELBER: And that comes with the test of this investigation. But not a true foreign policy crisis, not a real decision point where you say how does that environment, this president, deal with something where there could be massive repercussions on the line? That’s why the presidency is different than just about every other job in this town.
I count Shakespeare and Hobbs. I’m very interested to see what literary reference you have, Natasha but let me play for you while you gather your thoughts, John Dowd, someone you reported on and spoken with a lot, his gloss and all this. This is, of course, a clip from before these bombshell reports came out. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NATASHA BERTRAND, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, BUSINESS INSIDER: Do you believe the president will eventually sit down with Bob Mueller based on your experience with him wanting to engage with counsel?
JOHN DOWD: Well, there’s no reason for the president to answer questions from Mueller. Mueller has all the answers. We gave him all the answers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERTRAND: Mueller has all the answers from the myriad of witnesses that he’s been interviewing around the president. I mean, just look at the list. It’s George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Don McGahn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates. I mean, I think that this is really the root of the fear that they have in allowing the president to sit down with Mueller. It’s not just because he has a loose relationship with the truth, to put it generously, but it’s also just because there are so many things that he’s probably going to contradict about other people’s testimonies that they’ve already told the special counsel.
But I think that one of the most telling things about this book is the fact that Trump was not only -- he was lying to his lawyers. I mean, why would you lie to your own lawyers if you really feel like you don’t have anything to hide? And part of Trump’s M.O. for the last couple decades of being in the real estate business is he’s always thought he’s been able to talk his way out of anything, that he can just get into a room, he can negotiate with someone, he can convince them that he’s done nothing wrong and that he himself is the victim.
And I think that is also part of what’s fueling this kind of paranoia in the White House is that people are generally afraid that Trump is going to throw them under the bus because he’s done it so much in the past. In depositions, for example, we’ve seen that he’s blamed other people for things he himself is being accused of. So it’s almost like you’re seeing people trying to get out ahead of this. And just based on that exchange that he had with Rudy Giuliani, for example, calling him a baby even when Rudy Giuliani was virtually the only one defending him during that weekend that the "Access Hollywood" tape dropped. It just shows that loyalty is really a one-way street for the president.
MELBER: Well, that can tell you it’s an unfair and an inaccurate attack because babies can’t do television interviews. We’ve never had a baby on this show because they don’t speak, John. If they don’t speak, they’re not good for interviews. What about the question Natasha raises such an intriguing question, I saw you vigorously nodding your head as you are known to do on this set from time to time? Natasha raised an intelligent and interesting question. Why would you lie to your own lawyer? I wonder if we put that question to you.
FLANNERY: I think he resents the dependence. The same thing goes on with the baby thing and then he goes off and he gives his intent. He goes off and he says in an interview that, "Yes, I fired him because of the investigation." He makes the -- he gives his intent in a public proceeding under tape and you might ask why and there are the comparison to Shakespeare. Shakespeare has this quote, "Guilt spills itself for fear of being spilled."
He can’t keep it to himself. He has to say it. He knows everybody knows it, or he fears he does. We talked about the paranoia in this book that he exhibits and he talks about their out, to get him and so forth and he helps them get him. It’s sort of the thing he wants to be caught and he has been caught in a way. The polls are indicating the nation doesn’t buy his stories anymore and they know he’s lying. He’s in a very dangerous place.
And as a kid, you know, you see these movies with the walls and the ceilings and everything coming in. Well, he perceives that whether or not it’s true and it’s becoming true because ...
MELBER: I’m only going to interrupt you because as is the case around here, we have more breaking news. "The New York Times" is reporting, I’m being told, at this moment that Bob Mueller’s lawyers are basically open to some written answers from Donald Trump. This is crossing the wire right now. They’re calling it an "Interim Measure."
And this reporting appears, I want to caution, appears to be based on characterizations not from Mueller’s folks, who aren’t confirming it on the record, but from a characterization from the Trump White House. Again, I’m going to read from "The New York Times" here for your response.
MELBER: It says, essentially, "The Special counsel will accept written answers from President Trump on questions about whether his campaign conspired on Russian election interference." This says Mr. Mueller’s office told Trump’s lawyers in a letter according to "Two people briefed on it."
They don’t identify the sources, but later it says they have dangled written answers as a possibility. Mr. Mueller’s team "Appears receptive as an interim measure." That would be Russian conspiracy, not obstruction and it might not forestall an ultimate subpoena which we saw in the Starr/Clinton matter. Your reaction?
FLANNERY: My reaction is that’s terrific because this will be focused questions. When he answers it, it’s as a true or false statement, whether he was saying it orally or is written down. A hundred lawyers can sit there and write this thing, but if they fail to answer the question, there will be a follow-up. Just like there would be in a true interview. So there’s going to be a statement and they can’t get away from it.
MELBER: Right. George, your view of this story?
WILL: Well, it’s a meaningful attempt on the part of Mueller, it seems to me, to meet him more than halfway. The question, why does he lie? He lies to everybody, first of all.
MELBER: He said, why does he lie?
WILL: Yes, because that’s what he does. Fish got to swim, birds got to fly, he has to lie.
MELBER: Do you think it’s in his nature?
WILL: I do. Of course, I do. There’s also the problem what a tangled web we weave. Well, first we practice to deceive. We’ve all told our children, tell the truth, it’s easier to remember than all the lies that can be told. And I think that’s part of the problem that Mr. Trump is in now. He’s got so many versions out there of what he did and why he did it that it must be hard to keep track of.
MELBER: Exactly. My special thanks to George Will, John Flannery, and Natasha Bertrand. It’s part of our special Washington coverage.
We have more of the revelations from this Woodward book including new attacks on Jeff Sessions in the rule of law, new details on what Trump’s aides are calling him behind closed doors, and how one stole documents off his desk to try to prevent a trade change in policy.
Also, I’ll share with you my reporting from being inside that hearing room today for Brett Kavanaugh and Senator Richard Blumenthal is here about what the Democrats plan next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, CONNECTICUT: This process will be tainted and stained forever. No administration in the past has engaged in this kind of concealment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I’m Ari Melber. You’re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Tonight, "The Washington Post" has the bombshell reporting from Bob Woodward with Trump’s new attacks on Jeff Sessions and the rule of law. This goes beyond the tweets, Woodward reporting that Donald Trump told an aide, Sessions was effectively a "Traitor" just because he took the DOJ’s instructions to recuse himself from the Russia probe based on his campaign history.
Trump also mocking Sessions’ accent, insulting his intelligence and saying, "He’s this dumb Southerner. He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama." This comes a day after Trump criticized Sessions in public for those two prosecutions against Republican lawmakers adding "Good job, Jeff."
I’m joined by Libby Casey, a politics reporter from "The Post" and Jason Johnson, a politics editor for "theroot.com."
Jason, it has become commonplace to say this is not normal and oh, my God, what a news day. But as we’re reporting, we’re going to get to Cavenon (ph) next. There’s a lot going on. This has been a bombshell, though, and feels different because of the strength, the sturdiness and the depth of what Woodward has uncovered.
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: Right. So I mean he’s got so many people on background. They’ve given every kind of information, every kind of indicator. And honestly, Ari, the thing that gets me about this, is it’s almost like a series of books now. This and unhinge, every single story, they’re confirming each other.
In the wake of a Supreme Court Justice that we’re now talking about, who may actually come in and have to look at this kind of behavior and determine if corruption has occurred, it sort of reminds us of how not normal this is and how serious the consequences could be if Trump gets whatever he wants regardless of his behavior.
MELBER: Right. And so Jason and I are struggling with words. Maybe you can help us, there’s normal, there’s not normal, there’s troubling or bad, then over here there’s illegal or unconstitutional, and these are all in play. On the bad, but not illegal part, I want to read General Mattis who, again, to be fair and accurate, is disputing this. So you have Bob Woodward’s longstanding reputation, which I’ve discussed on the program tonight and his reporting, in your paper, and you have Mattis now disputing it. But let me read the reporting so folks can judge it themselves.
"At a national security council meeting on January, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including intelligence operation that allows the U.S. to detect these missile launches in seven seconds versus a full 15 minutes from Alaska. Trump questioned why the government was even spending resources in this region." Woodward writing, "Mattis was saying we’re doing this in order to prevent World War III." Trump leaves the meeting and Woodward recounts that Mattis was exasperated and alarmed telling close associates the president acted like and had the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader.
LIBBY CASEY, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Also a concern, in relationship with Mattis is that allegedly, according to this reporting, he wanted to assassinate Assad. And what’s fascinating about this exchange is he says basically let’s kill him. And Mattis says, "We’ll get right on it," and hangs up the phone and tells a senior aide, "We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be more measured."
So Bob Woodward calls this essentially an administrative coup d’etat. And so you do see members of the administration stepping in and trying to measure what President Trump is doing.
MELBER: Well, you make such an important point. To build on that, we’re talking about separate from the corruption and the criminal questions, we’re talking about what looks like, in this account, a fan fiction presidency. The general saying that the president acts like a sixth grader, says do this, do that, go kill our enemies, assassinate foreign leaders which by the way the U.S. has a policy against, and wow, that feels good in the moment. Hangs up the phone, and then the military makes the real policy, and so while people may prefer a non-assassination policy, also raises the question, as you put it, Libby, who’s in charge?
LIBBY: Who’s in charge, absolutely. Another story that plays out in the reporting is that Gary Cohen was, of course, the chief economic adviser takes a piece of paper off the president’s desk to prevent him from signing it. This would be to pull out of a trade agreement with South Korea. And so you have another example in this reporting of a staffer essentially deciding policy. And he says the president won’t notice it’s gone and so he won’t miss signing it.
That says a lot. You’ve got the bad behavior. You’ve got the language that’s offensive. I mean you know, if we see General Mattis saying that he’s acting like a fifth or sixth grader, I think most fifth or sixth graders know that you don’t use words like "Mentally retarded" to describe anyone, much like the attorney general of the United States. But then you got the question of who then control and then it goes all the way up to the legal hot water you’re talking about, as your guests were just referring to, the Mueller investigation.
JOHNSON: You can pick whatever metaphor you want. You can say the Lannisters in Game of Throne, you can say Ghost and Tommy in Power, it’s clear no one knows who’s in charge and they’re all stabbing each other in the back, and that puts us in danger. I mean, that’s the core issue that you can pick up from Woodward is when you’ve got people snatching documents, when you’ve got people saying Trump says one thing when I’m in the office and says something else when I leave, when you have no idea what the foreign policy impact is of a random piece of paper on your desk, we’re all in danger.
And I think that’s something that we sometimes overlook. Yes, but we talk about corruption, we talk about the shame, but these are national security issues. One day, someone’s not going to take the phone from him and he will tweet the wrong thing, he will sign the wrong sheet of paper, and then we’re all going to suffer the consequences.
That’s the most sort of damning thing about this book, that we’re always tittering on danger in this country because we have a president that nobody can trust.
MELBER: Right. And the substantive actual conduct of government is the opposite of the reality show fiction.
MELBER: The reality show fiction was he’s a tough boss, he says what he means, people do what he says. And the reporting in your paper and what you’re hallucinating is it’s the opposite. It’s literally the opposite. On a lighter note, I appreciate you wearing your Make America Great Again tie.
JOHNSON: I try to.
MELBER: I know. I know where you stand and --
JOHNSON: Yes, exactly. You know, Maga for life. It’s actually tattooed across my belly, but you can’t see it.
MELBER: It’s like thug life.
JOHNSON: Yes, exactly. Maga. Go for Maga.
MELBER: OK, great.
CASEY: The tie is on me, neutral journalist.
MELBER: You know what, what we’re saying in TV news, we’re going to leave it there.
JOHNSON: We’re going to leave it there.
MELBER: My thanks to Libby and Jason.
MELBER: Coming up, I am of course here in Washington for this battle for the soul of the Supreme Court. Senator Blumenthal and Mark Muriel are here in 30 seconds with me when we come back.
MELBER: Now, we turn to another big story tonight, the start of the battle for the soul of the Supreme Court. Republicans trying to hold a razor-thin majority to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed on this court but it was Democrats seizing the energy today for a hearing that all sides agree was unlike any other in American history. That’s not hyperbole there was a move to shut down and delay the entire hearing that was backed by Senator Richard Blumenthal, seated with me today live.
Republicans, he says, are making a mockery of the process. Now, he’s part of a coordinated effort by Democrats demand the Trump White House release thousands of missing documents about Brett Kavanaugh’s government work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, CALIFORNIA: We cannot possibly move forward, Mr. Chairman. You have not been given an opportunity to have a meaningful --
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, IOWA: I extend a very warm welcome to judge Kavanaugh, who his wife Ashley --
SEN.RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, CONNECTICUT: We have been denied real access to the documents we need to advise --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, regular order is called for --
BLUMENTHAL: -- which turns this hearing into a charade and a mockery of our norms. This process will be tainted and stained forever. Mr. Chairman, I move to adjourn.
GRASSLEY: The motion is out of order.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, they’re not out of order, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, TEXAS: This is the first confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court Justice I’ve seen basically according to mob rule.
BLUMENTHAL: Far from mob rule, far from contempt of the process, we’re simply asking for respect here to the normal regular order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The pressure from senators was matched by an unusually vocal citizen protest inside the hearing room. There were 70 arrests by the latest count. We saw police carrying out some activists in the room by their arms and legs. Meanwhile, outside the room, other protesters dressed like characters from the Handmaid’s Tale, a reference to that novel in mini-series about a world where women are denied basic equality and rights. Now, when Kavanaugh finally did speak, he argued that he’s fair. He made a direct reference to his colleague on the appeals court in Washington a name that Democrats associate with the very seat Republicans stole from President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRETT KAVANAUGH, NOMINEE, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I’ve served with 17 other judges, each of them a colleague and a friend on a court now led by our superb Chief Judge Merrick Garland.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Superb or not, Garland is not being considered anymore for this court. And Democrats argue Kavanaugh is a threat to women’s rights, to the environment, to regulating Wall Street. The theme though that they may have hammered more than any other was that Kavanaugh today could aid in abet Trump in alleged obstruction of justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: This is a President who has shown us consistently that he’s contemptuous of the rule of law and it’s that president who’s decided you are his man.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I believe you’ve repeatedly and enthusiastically embraced an interpretation of presidential power so expensive it could result in a dangerously unaccountable president.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: And I find it difficult to imagine that your views on this subject escaped the attention of President Trump who seems increasingly fixated on his own ballooning legal jeopardy.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There will always be a taint there will always be an asterisk after your name.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I’m joined now live by Senator Richard Blumenthal fresh from the hearing in Marc Morial President and CEO of the National Urban League which works on civil rights issues. Senator, why was it important to you to try to shut down this entire hearing and what do you think Democrats achieved today?
BLUMENTHAL: What we achieved was raising this issue for the American people that we have received only about six percent of the documents that are relevant to our doing real advise and consent and knowing what the Republican leadership is hiding here. You wouldn’t hire someone knowing just ten percent of their resume. You wouldn’t buy a house saying just ten percent of the rooms. We have seen about ten percent of the documents that bear directly on his qualifications.
MELBER: And you’re quoting Cory Booker, people were quoting Shakespeare earlier in the hour. Let’s listen to Senator Booker make that point and come back to you. This was Senator Booker today on the secrecy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: 90 percent of the documents we haven’t seen. It’s not the number of the document.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I’ll be glad to respond to that but I --
BOOKER: We wouldn’t -- we would hire an intern sir with only 90 percent of their resume and we’re putting somebody on the Supreme Court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You’re both hammering that. Is that because you think what’s not known about Kavanaugh is worse than what’s known?
BLUMENTHAL: What’s not known about Kavanaugh is very possibly worse and the presumption has to be that they have something to hide.
MELBER: They’re hiding it for a reason.
BLUMENTHAL: What are they afraid of showing the American people? And --
MELBER: But we’re in the fight now, we’re not in the pregame anymore. What is your theory? What do you think they are hiding? Do you think it’s something about torture during the Bush administration? Do you think it’s a personal impropriety? What are Americans to make of this as we go into day two tomorrow in questioning that there’s such a focus on the missing documents?
BLUMENTHAL: What real to the American people is whether or not they have the right, women have the liberty to decide when they want to become pregnant, whether people have the opportunity to marry the person they love, whether we drink clean air and breathe free air and water, and we need to know what it is about his views on this imperial presidency and that may allow Donald Trump in effect to be appointing the judge in his own case.
MELBER: Now, let me play some Republicans when this was last an issue under Obama. We always try to play all sides here to make sure the viewers get the full story. And sometimes you play the other side and it makes them look better. Sometimes you play the other side it makes them look far worse. And this seems to be that case because there is such an obvious hypocrisy when you look at the treatment here of Republicans towards Garland in 2016.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Will Justice Garland, Judge Garland get a hearing?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: No, I don’t think so. This nominee is not going to be considered.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.
MCCONNELL: It is a President’s Constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Was Ted Cruz consistent about that today or is he a hypocrite in your view?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, the Republican leadership has been completely inconsistent. They are obviously considering this nominee in an election year and the denial and cover-up, it is a cover-up of these documents is going to be a lasting taint and stain because eventually these documents will come out and my Republican colleagues who are voting for this nominee now will have to live with a very harsh judgment of history about their supporting someone. We don’t know exactly what they’re hiding. We can only speculate, something in its personal background, something in the positions that he took.
MELBER: You think it could be personal?
BLUMENTHAL: And either that or some of his views on whether or not the President can be indicted, whether or not the president has to comply with the subpoena.
MELBER: So you think there may be a bombshell? You think for example and we’re working off argument because they haven’t provided the facts. I would prefer to report as a journalist on what’s in the darn papers. But your concern there could be a bombshell like he told George W Bush you could never be indicted or have to face a subpoena and if that came out it would change the game. I want to let Marc Morial in the conversation. You were in the room today. Go ahead.
MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Yes, well, let me tell you something. This process is completely tortured. It’s broken. We’ve taken a position that until all documents, all information has been presented to the committee, the committee shouldn’t consider it. It’s a contradiction to last two years ago, the stall on Garland and now try to fastwalk Kavanaugh. It’s a complete contradiction.
Now, what’s in those documents? What’s in those documents bears on this candidate’s views on the issues of executive privilege, presidential power, issues that are at the heart of the consideration of how he would perform on the Supreme Court --
MELBER: So let’s put some facts on it, Mr. Morial. When you look at the decisions that are out there, a lot of what he said is well, they’ll follow the law so don’t worry about Roe or don’t worry about Brown v Board. But look at this reporting when you actually look at the numbers that the descent rate according to the Washington Post, Kavanaugh actually dissented 19 percent of the time when it was up against certain issues with Democrats appointed and nearly double the rate of his colleagues.
Does that say to you that if he got this promotion and was unbridled, he might overturn other precedent or civil rights precedent?
MORIAL: I think he’d overturn civil right -- he’d be inclined to overturn civil rights precedents. I think he’d be a rubber stamp for the administration. I think that so much of the progress we’ve made when it comes to voting rights, when it comes to health care, when it comes to women are at stake with this nomination. This is not a -- if you will, I think a worthy successor of the moderation of Anthony Kennedy.
This is a judge whose outcome predetermined, who has in one case when President Clinton took office, he believed in a wide-ranging inquiry of the president. When he became secretary to President Bush and in his writings later on, now he believes in almost an imperial presidency saying that one a president could ignore a lawful statute of the Congress, can refused to - - refuse to in effect execute it --
MORIAL: refuse to enforce it if he disagrees with his constitutionality.
MELBER: I’ve got to fit in a break because -- you guys both care about the law, that’s the law here on the show. I got to fit in a break. We’re going to be watching you in the hearing tomorrow.
BLUMENTHAL: They defied the law today in that hearing, Ari, so I would give you the same license here. But very seriously, Mark makes a very, very good point that we’re going to be in the arena tomorrow asking tough questions about his opinions, his dissent and about his e-mails.
MELBER: And we’ll be covering it. I hope you come back Senator Blumenthal, Marc Morial --
MORIAL: Thanks for having us, Ari.
MELBER: Thank you very much. Up ahead, Donald Trump behind closed doors sounding well, sometimes like his own biggest critics with his aides and him discussing whether he’s an idiot or unhinged. Michael Eric Dyson joins me on the Woodward book. And later, why Trump’s lawyers were so worried he would in perjury if he sat down with Mueller.
MELBER: I want to turn now to some agreement that’s so remarkable it could blow right past you on a news day like this. Bob Woodward reporting that Trump’s own senior staffers have views that actually overlap with some of the harshest voices in the resistance to Trump all coming together to make these accusations cite that President Trump is a liar who’s basically out of control and can’t be trusted.
Consider that contrast as you look at what’s playing out today. On the Hill, elected Democrats have a strategic argument. They’re trying to stop or get more documents on the Supreme Court pick for a long shot inside strategy. But on the streets, the resistance and the grassroots much stronger with direct action protest in that same room.
Trump meanwhile, shattering norms overstepping the law, violating oversight of the Justice Department. And Professor Michael Eric Dyson is more associated with that resistance critique and he was recently quite blunt in how to take on Donald Trump at Aretha Franklin’s funeral.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Then this orange apparition had the nerve to say she worked for him. You lugubrious leech, you don’t be doppelganger of deceit and deviance, you lethal liar, you dim- witted dictator, you foolish fascists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now that’s the voice of a critic but read this quote from Donald Trump’s own chief of staff allegedly saying he’s unhinged, an idiot, it’s pointless to convince him of anything, he’s gone off the rails, we’re in crazy town, I don’t even know why any of us aren’t here, John Kelly saying in the new Woodward book. This is the worst job I’ve ever had. Kelly denying that he ever said that today.
Michael Eric Dyson at Georgetown Professor and the author of What Truth Sounds Like. I’ll say on a personal note the sound of you at that important memorial with so many leaders from the American community, from the African-American community which is, of course, one community was notable and striking. Your view of this theory we put forward, this thesis since you are such a philosopher thank you and John Kelly according to Bob Woodward have a similar view of Donald Trump.
DYSON: This is our Hegelian moment. We have a thesis and an antithesis and now we have a synthesis. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be prouder. This is remarkable. The reality is that those within the beltway, those even within the Oval Office have to maintain a certain decorum, a certain distance from the madness because they must maintain and preserve business.
Those of us on the outside have the responsibility to continually hammer at and hammer away at the viciousness, the lies, the deceptions, the prevarications that come out on a daily basis. And it is gratifying though sadly so that John Kelly and Michael Eric Dyson absolutely agree and yet the resolution of it is that those inside must tell more of that truth. If you’re working for a man who you believe is in crazy town then he’s inducting you into the citizenry of crazy town this as well. You’ve got to oppose him tooth and nail.
Now, there’s an argument to be made, somebody’s got to be inside to stop him, steal letters, take things, and --
MELBER: Let me go right because you talk about stealing letters and you use the term dopey doppelganger.
MELBER: You are also good sir an agreement tonight with departed White House aide Gary Cohn who serve Donald Trump, defended Donald Trump, stood by during Charlottesville, but then and I want to read this at length because I want to make sure everyone at home understands the account. Cohn a Wall Street veteran tried to tamp down Trump strident nationalism on trade. Cohn stole a letter off Trump’s desk the President was intending to sign to withdraw the U.S. from this South Korean trade agreement. And Cohn later told him associate he removed a letter, that’s his word for stealing, to protect national security and Trump didn’t notice it was missing.
Cohn made a similar play to prevent Trump from pulling the U.S. out of NAFTA, something the president’s long threatened to do. And in 2017 Trump was eager to withdraw and told White House aide Porter why aren’t we getting this done? Do your job. I want to do it. Under orders from the president, Porter drafted a notification letter withdrawing from NAFTA but he and other advisers worried it could trigger an economic and foreign relations crisis.
The Woodward recounts that Porter went to Cohn who told him "I can stop this, I’ll just take the paper off his desk. This is not a joke. This is not a South Park or Simpsons episode. What does this tell you about what the men closest to Donald Trump think of him?
DYSON: I mean -- I mean, think about this. This is not even the fury and fire of brother Wolff. This is Bob Woodward, the Dean of American journalists with empirical evidence. Empirical, that which can be falsified or verified through the senses, a piece of paper, a document, a data, a recording, an interview of men who have been willing to testify whether on record or not or at least by attribution or not that this man is engaging in public policy in the presidency by tidily winks and jousting, and adolescent shenanigan.
This is astonishing and all the more frightening that the President of the United States of America does this and not only is it interesting and intriguing and some would say illegal or immoral for Mr. Cohn to withdraw that letter though some would agree with him, the more astonishing fact is Donald Trump didn’t even know.
He took something off of his desk because it wasn’t from his heart, his mind, his soul, his vision, it was something that was put before him to placate him or for him to placate the American public and it does not grow out of a conscious effort to negotiate the competing demands of that presidency because as one other person said this is a fifth or sixth grader not only in terms of his you know, ephemeral temperament but also the whimsy and the fancy and the anger and the hostility that emerges from him. We are in dire trouble in this book only clarifies that.
MELBER: When we listen to you, Professor, we don’t always feel better but we do feel clearer and sometimes that’s the first step. I appreciate you coming by on a busy night. Thank you very much, Michael Eric Dyson. Up ahead Donald Trump’s lawyers reportedly concerned he would commit perjury or end up in jail at a federal prosecutor on that next.
MELBER: Bob Woodward’s stunning Washington tonight by reporting Donald Trump’s own lawyer warning him he could go to jail. Former Federal Prosecutor Seth Waxman is here with me. Why would a lawyer make that warning?
SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, you are trying to shock your client back into reality to tell him look, this is serious. There’s nothing can come of this. And typically with any normal client, you just plead the fifth and it would be over but of course, the President has that ramification politically. If he pleads the Fifth, that can have an impact on impeachment. So it’s a little bit in a rock on a hard place in that regard.
MELBER: Right in the front in that hearing, that I was at today, I saw Rod Rosenstein, Mueller’s boss sitting there in his role as the Justice Department official watching the Supreme Court confirmation hearing. He will ultimately have the call over Mueller about anything that is revealed in the final report. Rudy Giuliani making his own way saying we will "try to block part of the Mueller report" in comments to the New Yorker. Can they do that?
WAXMAN: He could try. You know, under the -- under the regulations, it’s Rosenstein’s discretion. He may or may not decide to release it. Now, if you’re Trump and you walk into Rosenstein’s office and say look, I’m your boss, I’m telling you not to release that report, in theory, that’s an order he would have to follow unless he decided to disregard it and kind of suffer the consequences.
MELBER: That would be lawful order?
WAXMAN: Well, he could argue there to be an unlawful order, that Trump has conflicts of interest and he’s just going to release the report and suffer the consequences. But you know, Trump could also try to assert executive privilege and get the thing tied up in the courts for a while, maybe is even a pretext to see the report early.
MELBER: You think it looks weak rather than the lawyers saying finish your report, put it out and let everyone decide?
WAXMAN: Yes, of course, it does. I mean, you know, we -- protest too much. I mean, you know, if there was nothing to worry about, nothing to hide, then you let the report get out there and let the public digest it. But obviously, Giuliani is out there saying now you know, we’re going to try to block it.
MELBER: Former Federal Prosecutor Seth Waxman, I want to get you in a couple of those extra points here on this busy news night. Thank you very much.
WAXMAN: Thank you.
MELBER: Now, Brett Kavanaugh won’t be the only one on the Hill facing big questions tomorrow. I’ll explain next.
MELBER: Summer is over and Congress is certainly back in full swing. Tomorrow night, THE BEAT will be reporting again live from Washington with a lot of news. The Senators will begin the official questioning of Brett Kavanaugh in his confirmation hearing. That will be the first time he’s faced these kinds of questions under oath.
Meanwhile, the leaders of Twitter and Facebook Jack Dorsey and COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg will be testifying about election security and how they’re trying to do better given all the fire they have been facing. And that’s not all, Paul Manafort’s lawyers are going to be back in federal court facing this hearing related to conspiracy charges. So we’re going to be covering all of it as well as anything else that happens unexpectedly tomorrow. But don’t go anywhere because on this big news night, "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Nervous breakdown, let’s play HARDBALL.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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