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Dem Alliance forms. TRANSCRIPT: 11/19/18, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Kim Wehle, Bill Kristol, Richard Blumenthal, David Corn, Lawrence Wilkerson, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Carol Leonnig, Austin Evers

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Creates a little bit of a delay when we talk so there could be longer pauses in this toss.

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST:  It could be even more awkward than usual.  Somebody might trip on a cable and then cut you off the air.  And oh no, I might just be sitting here and ready to take over.

MELBER:  Do you want another hour?  Is that what you`re saying?

TUR:  I am always -- I want all of the hours.

MELBER:  Katy Tur, always good to see you.

TUR:  And with that, good evening.

MELBER:  Wherever we are.  Good evening.

TUR:  Have fun in Seattle.

MELBER:  I will.  Tonight, we are, as I mentioned live in Seattle.

We have a lot of news.  There`s news in the Mueller probe and there are these signs of a leadership battle brewing among Democrats.  You may have heard about that.  While many credit Nancy Pelosi for leading Dems to a historic blue wave, tonight there are the signs of the clearest challenge we`ve seen yet emerging to her becoming speaker again, an unusual public alliance of Democrats trying to get a no-confidence vote on her leadership.  It`s a big story.  We`re going to get into that a little later.

Also, I`m happy to tell you that Colin Powell, former top aide joins me to rebut Donald Trump`s attack on this Navy SEAL who helped kill Osama bin Laden.  And news about how Congress will approach any Mueller report that comes out.

But we begin tonight right now with important developments in this battle between Donald Trump and the Justice Department, a fight that as we all know by now has pretty much defined Donald Trump`s first term, at least ever since he fired the FBI director and sparked Bob Mueller`s probe.  And Trump`s new pick for attorney general is now under new pressure tonight.  I can tell you, three Democratic senators, suing to block this appointment including Senator Richard Blumenthal who joins me in a moment.

Now, his effort zeroes in on something of a technicality but the larger battle is over Matt Whitaker`s very public televised criticisms of this Mueller probe which Trump claims he didn`t even know about despite Donald Trump`s habit of watching T.V. news and yes, fixating on criticism of Bob Mueller.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS:  Did you know before you appointed him that he had that record and was so critical of Robert Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I did not know that.  I did not know he took views on the Mueller investigation as such.

WALLACE:  If Whitaker decides in any way to limit or curtail the Mueller investigation, are you OK with that?

TRUMP:  Look, he -- it`s going to be up to him.  He`s going to do what`s right.  I really believe he`s going to do what`s right.

WALLACE:  But you want to overrule them if he decides to curtail?

TRUMP:  I would not get involved.


MELBER:  That may sound like another typical denial but it`s important because that`s actually the same tactic that Richard Nixon used to try to shut down a probe into his White House.  When Watergate got hot and people started getting indicted, Nixon put a new attorney general in and publicly said he would not be involved while secretly using that new attorney general to try to hobble the probe.  This may be the same game plan playing out right now along with the same claims that a chief executive doesn`t need to honor a subpoena for testimony.


WALLACE:  Is that your final position that there`s going to be no sit-down interview and nothing, written or in person, on obstruction?

TRUMP:  I would say probably, probably.  I mean I can change my mind but probably.


MELBER:  That is a muddled position because Trump`s claiming he will answer written questions about collusion but refuses to answer written questions about obstruction.  Now, his lawyers are telling NBC tonight they`ll turn in those collusion answers to Mueller this week.  And Trump finally admitting he will fight any sit-down interview with Mueller which reveals he has been blustering for months.

Now to be clear, any president does have a legal right to contest a subpoena in court and fight that out so long as the president ultimately follows any decision by the courts but Trump hasn`t been touting a plan to do that.  He has been falsely claiming that he would talk to Mueller, that he was ready and eager because he wanted to sound tough and he insisted his intention to talk to Mueller was a hundred percent


REPORTER:  Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of these events?

TRUMP:  One hundred percent.

REPORTER:  Are you going to talk to Mueller?

TRUMP:  I`m looking forward to it actually.

I would love to speak.  I would love to.  Nobody wants to speak more than me.

WALLACE:  Is that your final position that there`s going to be no sit down interview and nothing written or in person on obstruction?

TRUMP:  I would say probably.  Probably.  I mean I can change my mind but probably.


MELBER:  Probably.  In a moment, I will be joined on the Washington politics of this by Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn.  But I want to begin with a former federal prosecutor Kim Wehle who worked on the Whitewater investigation and Bill Kristol, a founder, and editor-at-large for "The Weekly Standard" who has become by hook or by crook a Mueller probe expert, whether you want it to or not.

Bill, I`ll get to you in a second.  Kim, on the law, what does it mean in your view that Donald Trump has landed in this muddled position and clearly understands or has been made to understand there`s a need to look cooperative or all still resisting any real interview?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, and not wanting to talk about an obstruction that the question there have to do with this intent.  And I`m sure he`s worried, his lawyers are worried about him perjuring himself.  With respect to what happens on that question or if his answers aren`t thorough, then as you mentioned, then there could be a subpoena by the Mueller probe.

We do have a decision from the Supreme Court in the Nixon era which involves a trial subpoena and I think there`s a really good law suggesting that he would have to respond.  But you also mentioned, you know, I think this is the elephant in the room the question of whether he`d abide by any court order.

His now acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker is my understanding, made a statement or indicated that Marbury Vs Madison which is one of the most bedrock Supreme Court cases in the history of constitutional law which says the federal courts decide the law. They can hold -- they decide whether the other branches are held accountable or not, that Mr. Whitaker`s indicated that maybe that`s not really something that is legitimate or that the federal courts really don`t have equivalent power.

And that, to me, is extremely dangerous and I would suspect that that wouldn`t be upheld.

MELBER:  I don`t say thank God that much on this program but thank God and thank goodness, that`s not Mr. Whittaker`s call and that`s not this president or any president`s call.

WEHLE:  Yes.  And it would go to the Supreme Court of the United States.  And even now Justice Brett Kavanaugh who is a former colleague of mine, I think would -- is a big person -- hawk on the question of judicial power I don`t think that would fly.  I don`t think any of this would fly but we would just have to see where it turned -- where it comes out.  It wouldn`t fly legally I don`t think.

MELBER:  Bill, here was another important exchange between Wallace and Trump on these issues.  Take a look.


WALLACE:  Your team is preparing written answers to questions about --

TRUMP:  No, no, not my team.  I`m preparing written answers.  I`m the one that does the answering.

WALLACE:  Are they going to be submitted?

TRUMP:  At some point, very soon, yes.  I`ve completed them.

WALLACE:  So you are submitting --

TRUMP:  And it wasn`t a big deal.  By the way, it wasn`t a big deal.  The answer -- the questions were asked and answered.


MELBER:  Bill, that`s such a ripe soft target for you.  I`m curious what you think of it.  I will put forward one idea for your analysis which is if it`s not such a big deal, why not answer the other questions about obstruction that they`ve ruled out or sit down with Mueller.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD:  Yes.  No, that`s absolutely right.  But, you know, the previous exchange is very interesting.  I`m glad you highlighted it because Chris Wallace asks the president about the probe and the president can easily say, "Look, I`ve told the acting attorney general leave Robert Mueller alone.  Let him finish his probe.  I don`t like it personally but this thing should not be contaminated by politics in any way."  He did not say that.

He said, "Well, it`s up to him", right.  He said exactly, "It`s going to be up to him."  So think about that.  The supervision of the Mueller probe is now up to, according to the president, that acting attorney general, a very political fellow appointed, of course, by President Trump who has never testified before the Senate and at least not confirmed by the Senate for a subordinate position.  Probably isn`t going to be called before the Senate or the House in the next two or three weeks that Congress is in session before it goes out.

So here`s someone really unaccountable to anyone except to the president who the president is saying it`s really up to him whether he curtails the Mueller probe.  If there`s a report in December, does he decide to redact large parts of it or not send it forward to the Congress or the public?  I mean I think the Whitaker problem, the fact that he`s acting attorney general and that he hasn`t recused, I mean this could be solved partly incidentally.

You know Whitaker could have said the day he took over, "You know what, I think I`m legit.  I`m not biased but just for the sake of caution and propriety and bending over backwards, I`m going to leave deputy attorney general Rosenstein in charge of the Mueller probe."  If he`s not going to do anything about it, why didn`t he say that?

So the fact that the acting attorney general, non-Senate confirmed, constitutionally dubious in terms of the way he`s appointed, a guy with a huge record of comments on the -- most adverse comments on the Mueller probe, a political animal, he is in charge of the Mueller probe.  And as you said, it`s like Nixon, that Trump has deniability, I`m not telling him anything but the person he put there, not Senate-confirmed is the person who makes the decision about how that progress forward.

MELBER:  And isn`t that, Bill exactly what Elliot Richardson`s role was to be because he came in after John Dean and others in the Watergate, example had been ousted, there had been indictments, it was in a hot period.  And Nixon basically tried to use him to do the same double step to say, "Oh, I don`t know that much about it.  He`s going to handle it, not me."

But then we learn to the history books we learned over time that privately they had one on one conversations where Nixon had a very clear idea which is, whatever happens, it doesn`t touch me, you work out the details at DOJ, Bill.

KRISTOL:  But think why did Elliot Richardson and Ruckelshaus resign?  Because they had assured the Senate in their confirmation hearing that they would not let Nixon fire Cox.  And then when they resigned, Bork became acting attorney general as solicitor general, the next in line, someone who had been Senate-confirmed.

And Bork immediately assured Congress, actually issued regulations preserving the Jaworski -- the independence, and the integrity of the Jaworski probe.  And then some Republican senator, Saxbe was his name, became the attorney general in January of `74 and he had to assure the Senate that he would not interfere with the investigation.  That is what is missing in this case.

MELBER:  Yes.  Kim, I mean Bill is referring to the history and the inner branch committee that worked in that example, even though Watergate was a matter of incredible strain for the country and took years.  Ultimately, it was exactly the issue on the table today whether the Senate`s constitutional role as a co-equal branch of government to deliver accountability and be a check on the executive when it`s investigating itself, whether that was going to play out as the founders intended.  Kim.

WEHLE:  Sure.  And in the wake of that incident in Watergate, there was a statute passed, the Ethics and Government Act which is what govern the Ken Starr investigation and it was an act of Congress.  That`s something that the president, a co-equal branch couldn`t get around.  It went to the Supreme Court, the constitutionality of that.

That Ken Starr was appointed by a three-judge panel, not by the president.  He was removable by the attorney general but only for cause and that statute last.  But the entire reason for the statute was to avoid what Bill is describing was as a Saturday night massacre.  This idea that a president being investigated could be the master puppeteer of the investigators, the prosecutors.  Congress said no and here we are back again talking about whether we need "Legislation" to protect Mueller.  That`s what we`re talking about.  Because right now, the regulations that are governing this process are internal DOJ regulations.  And technically, the attorney general could resend them.

MELBER:  Right.  And that`s what we`re talking about.  We had no catch on the show who helped write them and that`s also an issue about, you know, who`s going to run the DOJ and what kind of guardrails they`re going to abide by on things that are Unitarian, their decision making.

Kim Wehle and Bill Kristol, my thanks to both of you.  As promised, I turn now to U.S. Senator who`s in the middle of all of this, Richard Blumenthal.  He is one of the Senators suing the president over this new acting attorney general`s appointment, Mr. Whitaker.  And David Corn joins me from Washington as well.

Senator, if you heard the conversation we`re just having, it leads right in line to what you`re doing.  Why do you argue tonight that Mr. Whittaker`s appointment itself is unlawful?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  This appointment of Matt Whitaker is an end run around the Constitution, an evasion of that system checks and balances that Americans rightly prize.   Essentially, what the president has done is install a lackey or lap dog exactly what the Constitution sought to prevent.

And Alexander Hamilton and other founders wrote about the dangers of someone of such insignificance and pliancy as to render them the obsequious instruments of the present pleasure.  That kind of appointment here, the eyes and ears of the president as he was known under Jeff Sessions, threatens not only the special counsel investigation, it threatens the rule of law.

MELBER:  I think you make the point forcefully and we were just discussing how vital it is to have this kind of accountability.  I think your problem, and I share with viewers my unvarnished objective view of your problem in the courts, is not whether or not what you`re saying sounds good, Senator, but whether or not this is really going to have any traction based on what past Justice Department lawyers have said even not in the Trump era.

So let me read to you for your response tonight.  Both in 2007 and this year, DOJ lawyers advised different presidents they may legally name an acting attorney general who did not have Senate confirmation so long as the person meets the requirements in the federal law on vacancies, such as serving in a senior post at the DOJ for over a year, which as you know applies to Mr. Whitaker.

And so my question to you is not whether you should be right, whether it would be a good idea for your goal to actually be achieved, but rather whether you have a real problem here in the courts that they`re going to look to DOJ guidelines from even before this year that say, "Look, this is a situation under the Federal Vacancies Act that can be lawful."

BLUMENTHAL:  Well, let`s break it down, Ari, as I know you would want to do.  First of all, the Office of Legal Counsel which I respect generally is not a court.  And the courts will test their opinion, which has never been challenged in court before.  There is no precedent, none, for this kind of appointment in recent times.

The most recent was in 1866 for a weeklong appointment of an acting attorney general.  The Constitution of the United States trumps, permit me to say so, the Vacancies Reform Act of the Congress which they rely on here and, in fact, the succession clause and act of the statutes also would seem to trumpet.

So we can make a lot of lawyers` arguments but what we have here is the denial of Senators` right to do their job, the right to vote --

MELBER:  So does that mean --

BLUMENTHAL:  -- and respond for delegate.

MELBER:  -- for you to win -- and I respect your point.  You`re referring to the Office of Legal Counsel which is smart and influential but obviously doesn`t have the same power as a court.  For you to win, does that mean that that office of DOJ has to be wrong and wrong in 2007 in part of the Federal Vacancies Act has to be wrong?

BLUMENTHAL:  Not necessarily wrong because they may have been relying on exigent or special circumstances that might permit an exception to the advice and consent clause of the Constitution, only very very temporarily, not for 210 days or longer as would be the consequence under the Vacancies Reform Act.

But here is the bottom line, senators have been denied their right to vote on this nomination and this man is unqualified in many ways.  But legally, the key disqualification is the failure to have been confirmed by the Senate of the United States which is required clearly and explicitly by the Constitution.

MELBER:  Senator, stay with me.  I want to bring in David Corn into this conversation.

First of all, David, you`ve always asked me what would law school be like.  It`s a little bit like this.


MELBER:  And no better person to walk us through some of it than a former prosecutor and Judiciary Committee member like Senator Blumenthal.  David moving beyond the law, walk us through the Washington politics of this, where the Republicans who are defending Trump has a great deal about mollifying Trump at the DOJ on Mueller and the Democrats obviously see this with the wind at their backs in the House as an important area of oversight.

CORN:  You know let me take a step backwards or sideways here for a second because in years past, it`s been a bipartisan issue.  But when it comes to senatorial prerogative, this is something that the senator here may cheer, that when a president has gone around the Senate, often members of his own party will raise a red flag and say, "No, no, no, you`re impinging upon our prerogatives."

But yet in the Trump era, we see again and again and again Republican senators deciding they don`t care.  They don`t mind.  They`re not going to raise a fuss.  There is no serious senator, a Republican or Democratic side that believes, A, that Whitaker is a qualified pick and that B, he should be able to serve for so long without any Senate input.  But yet you see no one really coming forward on the Senate side to raise a fuss about that.

And this is a fellow -- and I`m proud that we at Mother Jones reported a week or two back, he said last year, Matthew Whitaker, that he believes Donald Trump on his own can kill any federal investigation, the Mueller probe and even that a DA agent does, an FBI and RS agent, he has that executive power.  There are very very few Republican senators who actually buy that guff.  And so they`re not coming forward.

So you see this situation and I think it is a bit sad when you have Democratic senators raising these process issues about good government and Republicans running and hiding and you do have the House Democrats who about to take control saying, "Well, you know what, if the Republican senators in charge on that side of the Capitol won`t do anything about it, well maybe we`re going to have some hearings come January."  So this situation is not going away regardless of what happens with the lawsuit the senator here has filed.

MELBER:  And briefly, Senator, regardless of what happens long term on the lawsuit, how long can Mr. Whitaker stay in this post under these terms?

BLUMENTHAL:  Under the terms of the Vacancy Reform Act, 210 days but that number of days may be extended.  So what we`re watching here, Ari is a slow-motion Watergate type Saturday Night Massacre where Whitaker is in place possibly denying subpoenas, maybe stifling indictments, possibly strangling the investigation by cutting funds, and that is a real danger that we`re seeking to surmount by going to the courts, our last resort, our only recourse.

MELBER:  Well, it`s very important what you say particularly what people have learned from Watergate and how you can slowly try to whittle down who is in charge of these probes and put the pressure on, which leads us back to the question of the whole era we`re living in which is why does Donald Trump seem so hell-bent on trying to prevent those questions being answered in the investigation running its normal course.

Senator Blumenthal, I trust we`ll hear from you again.  Thanks for making time for us tonight.

BLUMENTHAL:  Thank you.

MELBER:  Thank you, sir.  And David, I`m going to come back to you later in the hour.

Tonight, the anti-Pelosi Democrats actually going public and on the record but could this really deny her the speakership?  A new reaction to Donald Trump`s attack on the Navy SEAL commander who literally oversaw the bin Laden raid, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, my special guest on THE BEAT tonight.

And a top Democrat saying he has a plan to make sure Bob Mueller`s final report is made public regardless of everything you just heard.  And Barack Obama pulling a quote Jay Z at Michelle`s book event.

You know we`ve got you covered on that.  I`m Ari Melber.  You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER:  Donald Trump in a new feud tonight.  This one with the Navy SEAL commander who oversaw the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.


WALLACE:  Bill McRaven, a retired admiral, Navy SEAL, 37 years, former head of U.S. Special Operations.

TRUMP:  Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE:  Special operations -- yes.

TRUMP: Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE:  Who led the operations, command of the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden says that your sediment is the greatest threat to democracy in his life.

TRUMP:  OK.  He`s a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer.  And frankly --

WALLACE:  He was a Navy SEAL.

TRUMP:  -- wouldn`t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that?


MELBER:  And McRaven saying though that he did not support Hillary Clinton or anyone else in that 2016 election.  He also mentions he`s been a fan of both Presidents Bush and Obama, meaning that was another false attack to distract.  Here`s what is important, McRaven was actually reportedly on a potential V.P. list for Clinton but he was also on Trump`s list to be national security advisor.  In other words, this is someone who seems widely sought after which makes sense considering some of what he`s done in service.

Now, in the "Fox" interview, Trump also admits that he should have visited Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day.  He said he hasn`t visited troops in war zones because he`s busy with "Phony witch hunts".


WALLACE:  Why haven`t you visited our troops serving in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan in the two years you`ve been in office as commander in chief?

TRUMP:  Well, I think you will see that happen.  There are things that are being planned.  We don`t want to talk about it because of -- obviously because of security reasons and everything else.  But there are things that are planned.  I`ve had an unbelievable busy schedule and I will be doing it.  On top of which you have these phony witch hunts.  On top of which -- I mean we`ve just been very busy but I will be doing that.


MELBER:  Retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson joins me now.  He served as Colin Powell`s chief of staff at the State Department, also served 31 years in the U.S. Army.  And he recently wrote that Trump has been treating the troops like "Toy soldiers" and trying to manipulate a domestic midterm election outcome by sending them to the border.

One more news item.  Late today, we got a report that some of those troops may come home as early as this week.  That`s even before the so-called caravan that Trump said they were supposed to deal with, even gets to the border.

First of all, Colonel Wilkinson, thanks for making time for us tonight.


MELBER:  When you look at what the president just said there, what stands out as important to you and why do you think he feels the need to make false claims or lies about this veteran with regard to his political history when dealing with these military debates?

WILKERSON:  I think as we said in the op-ed in "The New York Times", Gordon Adams, Isaiah Wilson and myself that appeared this morning in the online edition that the political stunt that comprise sending the troops to the border was just that, a political stunt.  We think that`s dangerous.  And I think the criticism of Admiral McRaven and other things like that are of a similar nature because this president does everything or most things that I can ascertain with a reason for his political domestic base.

That`s the reason he sent the troops to the borders, to try and influence the midterms.  And that`s the reason I think he`s now attacking Admiral McRaven because McRaven made some very derisive comments about his policy towards the media, comments that maybe I don`t agree with the degree of threat McRaven suggested, but I do agree that it would be in the top three or four threats to our democracy right now.  The destruction of the ability of the media to represent to the American people what its government is doing in their name and to give them the truth and the facts about the media.

Trump has been an absolute enemy of that concept of our democracy.  So I mean McRaven was the Chancellor of the University of Texas.  He was the head of Joint Special Operations Command.  He is a -- for -- I don`t know him personally but for all intents and purposes, everything I`ve heard about him is he`s of a high character, a high integrity.  He didn`t take political positions.  He worked for the commander in chief he happened to serve at the time that the American people chose to put in the White House.  He was an outstanding individual.  He is an outstanding individual.

So for Trump to do this, again it`s a political stunt.  The sad thing for Trump is that as he does more and more of these political stunts, he is carving away the fringes of his political domestic base.  He is, in fact, committing suicide.

MELBER:  What does it do for something that we talk about in, you know, in fairly grand terms and we study the American experiment?  We talk about civil-military relations.  What does it do for them and that bond we try to have where there`s civilian control of military but there`s also this great respect for the important courageous nonpartisan role of the military when the president acts this way?

WILKERSON:  It erodes that faith and that relationship.  There`s no question about it as we say in the op-ed.  When you do things that are strictly domestically oriented with the Armed Forces of the United States like dispatch all these forces down to the border as a political stunt, then you are eroding that relationship, you`re eating away at that relationship.

Furthermore, when you put John Kelly, Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster, and whomever else that Trump finds he likes rather than he detests like Bill McRaven, when you do that, you are taking away from the civilian component of the government`s governance of this country.  That`s dangerous.  That`s extremely dangerous.

So he husbands the military who show fealty to him.  He gives them important positions and jobs and he Spartans the military who happened to speak up in some way that`s usually fairly powerful against his policies or against this person.  This is not the way the commander in chief of this democracy should be treating the Armed Forces of the United States.  And frankly, it`s not the way the Armed Forces should be treating this commander in chief. 

So we`ve got a dangerous situation here.  It`s not a situation where they`re going to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and take over the country, it`s much more insidious than that.  One has to go back and read James Madison and read some of his concern about the power for war, the power from if you leading the military, being in the hands strictly of the executive.  That`s why the Congress put it in the Constitution in the hands of the Congress, but the Congress has abandoned its responsibility to that regard. 

Look at the war in Yemen right now.  They`ve got two pieces of legislation over there.  They could pass that legislation in accordance with the War Powers Act and the Constitution and get the United States out of that brutal war in Yemen, but they won`t do it.  They lack the courage so the more they lack the courage, the more the president grows in power, the more the military associated with the president grows in power, and the more our Republic is in peril.

MELBER:  Colonel Wilkerson, you lay it out very well on an important issue and we speak on an evening where the news is breaking that they`re drawing back the troops from the south which sort of further confirms as you and your colleagues write in that piece what a political stunt it was in the political timing.  I really thank you for giving us some of your expertise here on THE BEAT. 

Thank you.  I`m glad they`re coming back because a lot of these troops probably had -- haven`t had a Thanksgiving with their family for months, years.

MELBER:  Well, amen to that.  Thank you again, Colonel.  Well, what we`re going to do up next is take a look at this growing blue wave at Nancy Pelosi`s fight trying to keep her gavel when we`re back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER:  Big news tonight in how some Democrats want to ride this blue wave into Washington.  Pressure mounting for some kind of alternative to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.  Now what you`re about to see on your screen is pretty unusual.  This is over a dozen House Democrats linking arms in a letter to publicly commit to voting against Pelosi as Speaker.  They say they want on a message of change and our that`s committed to voting for new leadership.  Now, those Democrats are taking a big risk because if Pelosi does become Speaker as many expect, they`ll be on the outs.  They`ll have more trouble getting on key committees or appropriations which is of course controlled by the speaker. 

Now, some capital experts say the move reflects real potential weakness for Pelosi if a few other Dems join this list and mean it.  They could form a block that at least initially denies her the speakership on the floor, that could create a vacuum for new people to run.  One that is rumored is Marcia Fudge, a former prosecutor from the key State of Ohio.  She served a decade in the House.  Now, Fudge did not sign on to that new effort I just showed you, but the fact that she`s actually considering running against Pelosi herself suggests she could. 

Meanwhile, Donald Trump weighed in on the matter in a classic trolling fashion saying he could help deliver Democratic votes to Pelosi.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I would help Nancy Pelosi if she needs some votes.  She may need some votes.  I will perform a wonderful service for her.  I like her.  Can you believe it?  I liked Nancy Pelosi.  She deserves to be speaker.  Nobody else could be speaker. 


MELBER:  If there`s one person one person the Nancy Pelosi doesn`t need or want door-knocking for her, it`s Trump.  He won only nine percent of the votes in her district and remains unpopular in virtually every district sending new Democratic members to Congress.  Now, let`s get into it now with someone who knows these issues well.  Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, thanks for joining me.

REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON D.C.:  Glad to be with you, Ari.

MELBER:  Let`s stipulate when you look at this letter that there`s a lot of people here who are happy with Nancy Pelosi`s record that she drove the Democrats to this historic win but that doesn`t mean she`s the only person who could do this job.  If you`re being real regardless of your support for her, how big of a deal, how big of a sign is it that this many Dems are publicly saying no confidence?

NORTON:  Not so big.  Nancy Pelosi is the only Democrat with a track record to be Speaker at this time.  She is the only Democrat who has the experience to dealing with the Republicans in the Senate and there were and Donald Trump.  There is no alternative to her.  And the only question is she going to be the speaker now or is she going to be the speaker later.  I mean, she is the only Democrat with a kind of track record that you could put up if somebody were running against her. 

For example, what she did with ObamaCare when even the president faltered, what she did with Wall Street Reform, what she did with those few short years when we were in the majority.  There is no case, isn`t it interesting that no one is making a case against her because there is no case to be made.  So why do we want to start off weak, she won`t be weak because she`s got a win at some point.  Who look weak is the caucus itself when its first item of business is not business but the inevitable woman who`s going to be Speaker.  We act like we don`t know how I govern.  That`s not how to govern. 

MELBER:  I feel you.  You make a strong case.  When you use the word only though, you know, that sets people off.  There were folks who said well, Hillary Clinton was the only person whose turn it was to be the Democratic nominee, and then there was a wider race and it turned out that at least I think you would agree whatever one thinks of her and Bernie Sanders, there was a pretty wide race to be had there, and we`ve heard --

NORTON:  Please don`t mistake me.  I don`t mean the only one in our caucus, I mean the only one with a track record in our caucus.  If you know -- if you`ve been out of the majority for the longest we`ve been out of the majority, not any old intelligent member is going to be able to step in, take on the Republicans in the Senate, the Republican in the White House, get us started on our own agenda.  Remember the word speaker doesn`t have to do with speaking, it has to do with strategizing, it has to do with knowing the speakers.  I`m not going to put myself in the hands of somebody who simply wants to be speaker. 

Look, if you want to be speaker, you`ve got the next several years.  Build off the case to why you ought to be speakers the way Nancy Pelosi build the case. 

MELBER:  Let me ask you how it works with these 16 and the letter as you know, it`s 15 people who are definitely going to be in Congress.  There`s one person there who may not win their race.  There`s other people like Miss Fudge and Mr. Lamb who have not joined the letter but it publicly talked about opposing.  The House Leader I should say, Pelosi.  So Congresswoman, what happens though if they get to seventeen and they -- and they have a no vote, and they -- and they block her.  Then do you think other people will come in and emerge these alternatives would then run against her.

NORTON:  Well, this is a very important question.  We don`t want to go on that House floor in January without the vote.  It would be humiliating to the Democrats.  And what will happen is you`ll have vote after vote until she finally wins.  By then, you`re already a weekend caucus, you haven`t taken up ObamaCare, one of the things that got the freshmen here in the first place.  You haven`t taken up the notion that is so important to the people that we represent and that is that paychecks are not where they should be.  It`s all been about you, selfishly, about you not about the American people.

MELBER:  Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton who knows her way around some of these issues, thanks for joining us today,

NORTON:  My pleasure.

MELBER:  See you again.  Now straight ahead, we turn to the power to investigate the incoming oversight committee chair for the dams dishing on key plans for the Mueller report and key witnesses.  Also another broken promise from Donald Trump this time following the money that he promised Midwestern states in that trade war.  And a surprise appearance in Barack Obama, we`ll show you what Jay Z and Beyonce have to do with it.  That`s later on THE BEAT.


MELBER:  We have breaking news right now.  The Washington Post reporting that Ivanka Trump has been busted for making personal use of her e-mail, using a personal e-mail account to send hundreds of e-mails and this is about government business as recently as last year.  The Washington Post`s crossing this story across the wire within the last five minutes.  And I`m excited to say that Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, one of the authors who broke this story is on the phone to give us all of the details.  David Corn from Mother Jones is with me and I`m going to ask you David having digested this to report on this breaking news with us instead of the item we were going to talk about.

Carol, this is an obvious bombshell to anyone who`s followed politics in the last several years.  What did you find?

CAROL LEONNIG, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, we found that lo and behold a very well-kept secret inside the White House was that not at Jared Kushner her -- his wife Ivanka Trump was the person who was more frequently using her personal e-mail in discussing government business than anybody else in the White House, a review launched in the fall of 2017 because of a public records lawsuit.  And that public records lawsuit uncovered that she had been using her personal e-mail with cabinet officials.  But when they looked a little deeper, they realized she was using it quite a lot with White House officials as well which were not subject to the public records law and they also found that she was using it pretty frequently to convey government information to her assistants at home, kind of like basically for logistics, like let me keep you up to date with what I`m doing so that we can run my household.  But those e-mails also, you can`t do that on personal e-mail you have to do it on government e-mail.

MELBER:  Carol, is she in violation of any rules?  She was, and that was the grave concern in the fall of 2017 when they saw the volume of e-mails that she was sending on her personal account.  However, her lawyer has said in a statement that she`s in complete compliance today as a result of all of those e-mails being copied retroactively to her government account and copied so that they can be archived as part of the history of the Trump presidency.

MELBER:  Which as you know, Carol, so that`s basically an admission from her lawyer that they were in violation in the past and they`ve had to try to clean it up.

LEONNIG:  Yes.  There`s one source told us it`s kind of like you know you have a big accident in your backyard and then somebody fixes the accident and you can say hey we didn`t really we don`t really have a problem anymore and that`s what happens here.  We don`t have a problem anymore but at a time when a lot of Trump administration officials probably should have been aware of the personal e-mail scandal that had dogged Hillary Clinton and ultimately helped Donald Trump immeasurably in his campaign.  They should have been sort of on the words that that might be an issue they should be attention to in the White House.

MELBER:  Carol, stay with me.  You have a report here that I think people are going to be very interested in for some time to come.  David, I turn to you and I could ask the question to ways.  I could ask you on the one hand what do you think the import is of this story or I could ask you, are you kidding me?

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES:  Well, you know, what I`m trying to wrap my head around here.  And first off, congratulations to Carol and the Washington Post.  As the report, I`m very envious that they got this scoop.  But what I`m trying to think of, what was she thinking?  In the story it says she wasn`t aware that there were rules like these she had to abide by.  Was she not present for the last two years prior to this as they chanted lock her up, lock her up, at her father`s Convention and at her father`s rallies?  And is it -- is it a complete ignorance or is a hubris that she is above the rules, what people used to say about Hillary Clinton that you just can`t trust her.  She doesn`t care whether that was true or not, that was the Republican charge against her with her e-mail server controversy being the number one item on the on the indictment.

And here we have Ivanka Trump doing this with a domain she shared with Jared Kushner.  So though it`s her e-mails not his, this again seems to be a family affair and it boils -- it boils down to too unaware, too stupid, or I just don`t care.  Maybe she should be wearing the coat that Melania walked around in.

MELBER:  Well, and these are two individuals who of course are family members who are under federal law barred from serving in almost every federal government position of the anti-nepotism law.  They found a loophole by giving them quasi-governmental rules within the White House Advisory Arm.  And on top of that loophole here, they`re being busted for breaking rules which is you say in Carroll reports were central to their argument for why they should be in the White House.  I`m reading from Carol`s article, first for you David and then for Carol, "the discovery alarmed some advisors to President Trump who feared his daughter`s practices "bore similarities to the personal e-mail use of Hillary Clinton an issue he made a focus of his 2016 campaign."  David?

CORN:  You know, I don`t know this is appropriate, Ari, but I`m thinking of the Great Gatsby and the line about Tom and Daisy, that wealthy couple.  They were careless people.  They were careless, they let other people clean up their messes.  Well, I can`t think of a greater degree of carelessness now both politically to allow yourselves to be attacked this way and just in terms of being a dedicated public servant.  Careless, careless, careless. 

MELBER:  Carol, reading from your article here, I`m curious if you could walk us through a little bit of what you found as you took this red-hot political kryptonite type information and started making your due diligence calls to people.  Because as I`m reading here you`re reporting that some people around Trump didn`t really fake it.  They admitted this was concerning.  What else did you find as you did your diligence?

LEONNIG:  You know what I thought was the most interesting about the work that I did with Josh Dawsey, my colleague on this story was that people were so obsessed with what Jared had done and congressional investigators body was trying to skirt the law and avoid turning over e-mails to Mueller.  You remember the special counsel was gathering internal e-mails at the time and try to avoid sharing things with Congress.  And in fact, President Trump kind of scolded Jared about this and saying this could be a problem for him.  But in this instance, the big secret that was lying underneath was that Ivanka was in the words of one of our sources, the worst offender in the White House. 

And David, I was struck too by your comment about Tom and Daisy because one of the people that we talked to for this story also made that comparison and said you know, it was a kind of a blitheness you know, that Ivanka kind of tossed up her hands and said hey, look, I didn`t get all the you know these e-mails about the specifics of the rules.  I don`t know what you expect of me.  I`m not quoting her obviously, but that was the impression that people got.

CORN:  Isn`t there one thing that you`d want to do coming into the Trump White House that is to understand how you do e-mail right?  I mean I can`t really think of anything else that would that would be more important than that given what happened during the campaign. 

MELBER:  Well, and David this is -- let me -- Carol I`m going to play a bit of sound and then come back to you.  I just want to mention for folks joining us, Carol Leonnig from the Washington Post is on the line and broke a story at about 6:30 p.m. on the East Coast tonight that Ivanka Trump was busted using a personal e-mail account to send hundreds of e-mails about government business last year, in violation of the rules, and with echoes of Hillary Clinton`s e-mail use.  Ivanka Trump also told 60 Minutes after the election she was going to be a daughter.  She wasn`t going to take a role of the administration.  So there has been a kind of a cascading view of what she can do and being above the rules of being above her own pledges.  As for Donald Trump David and Carol, take a listen to him in June 2016 on this type of issue.


TRUMP:  To cover up her corrupt dealings, Hillary illegally stashed her State Department e-mails on a private server.  She`s under investigation but it seems like nothing`s going to happen even though other people who have done similar things, but much -- at a much lower level, their lives have been destroyed.


MELBER:  David, will that apply to someone who`s medium level like Ivanka Trump?

CORN:  The next question, I don`t think we`re appearing Donald Trump anytime soon calling for an investigation of what happened with Ivanka Trump`s e-mail.  And I don`t think we`ll see any Senate Republicans calling about it.  But guess what, House Democrats have something else now to add to their list of 120 investigations that they wanted to do the past two years that the Republicans said no to.

MELBER:  Certainly, David and Carol, stay with me on this breaking story.  Carol, in your piece, you quote that there is a watchdog group called American Oversight that was part of the effort that even got these e-mails exposed in the first place.  And one of your sources there`s Austin Evers.  He is called in and has joined here -- us here on MSNBC`s THE BEAT by phone.  Austin, how did you think to pursue this and what is your reaction to the news?

AUSTIN EVERS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN OVERSIGHT:  Our original reason for submitting the FOIA request for her communications was driven by the fact that she was saying that she was not going to obey any ethics rules because she was an employee.  We had the theory that well, if she`s e- mailing with agencies, maybe we can see if those claims about not being an employee, not engaged in covering business prove true.  Well, we ended up finding late last year was that she did use personal e-mail from time to time which we thought was hypocritical.  What we didn`t know until right now is that the scope of her use was pretty extensive and that she needs in a process to review them that absolutely mimics what Hillary Clinton did and was subject to intensive criticism from her Father among others.

MELBER:  Carol, how about that?  That some of this originated with the point that dovetails with the Great Gatsby point that you said your sources and David Corn both thought of great minds or whatever which is that there was a kind of an idea that Ivanka thought she could be above all kinds of rules from the get-go. 

LEONNIG:  Well, you know, I don`t want to get inside of Ivanka Trump`s mind except to say what people felt at the time when they were learning this inside the White House.  It felt very awkward for them.  It must still be awkward right?  She`s the President`s daughter who`s going to really tell her what to do.  But I will say this, Ari, and that is that she -- in fairness to her, she made sort of a casual series of mistakes that are the vast majority of these e-mails that were found in the internal review and the casual mistakes she made was that she decided to forward and using personal e-mail a lot of scheduling stuff, a lot of material of a visual travel, about all these things, and that was you know, was that really an effort to hide her government work we don`t know because we can`t see those e-mails.  But that is what her team says is the vast majority of (INAUDIBLE) that she was just making a dumb -- making a dumb mistake.

MELBER:  Right.  Which goes -- which goes back to, Austin, the debate from 2016 over how significant or insignificant this kind of e-mail maintenance is, the hypocrisy though still is a blinking red light.  And Austin, I wonder briefly, before we let you go, what is your response to the -- to Ivanka Trump defense that she just didn`t know better about any of this?

EVERS:  I just don`t think that holds any water.  The idea that you didn`t know better given the campaign would all just come through just doesn`t pass the smell test.  And as of right now, what we know from Carol`s reporting is that the White House hasn`t seen all these e-mails because she kept control of them.  She allowed her lawyers to review them.  I`m not sure we have the facts right now to conclude that all of the mistakes were innocent and small.  I think we need to investigate it.  And I will just point out, Trey Gowdy is the current chair of the House Oversight Committee.  He spent two years investigating Benghazi and the Hillary e- mail scandal.  He`s got jurisdiction and I think a responsibility to do what he -- to ask the questions that he was asking before.

MELBER:  Well, and you make that point.  That goes to what this current Congress wants to do in regard to its consistency and what the new Congress will do as David Corn was alluding to earlier.  My thanks to David Corn, Austin Evers and Carol Leonnig with the big scoop tonight.  I very much appreciate it.  We`ll be right back with one more thing.


MELBER:  Ivanka Trump busted for personal e-mail news tonight.  Here what - - well, she once said about being a government employee.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  People think that you`re going to part of the administration, Ivanka. 

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP:  I`m -- no, I`m going to be a daughter.


MELBER:  Tonight, she is a daughter and a government employee and a lot of hot water over e-mail.  Before we go, a quick announcement.  Tomorrow, Grammy Nominated Musician Anderson Paak will make his debut on THE BEAT.  We`re going to talk about a lot of things including how he escaped homelessness and why he`s fighting for criminal justice reform.  As for right now, it`s "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews.