Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: November 20, 2018 Guest: Richard Painter, Neera Tanden, Austin Evers, Marc Ginsberg
TUR: That will do it for me on MTP DAILY TONIGHT. "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Katy. Thank you very much.
We begin tonight with breaking news on the most significant legal scandal to hit this White House since the report that Donald Trump tried to fire Bob Mueller.
This is truly a bombshell. President Donald Trump tried to order the Justice Department to prosecute not one but two of his biggest adversaries, Hillary Clinton and James Comey. This story breaking in the "New York Times" late today. The story is that in the spring, Donald Trump told his White House counsel, Don McGahn, that he wanted the DOJ officials to explicitly prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey.
So that right there is a potentially illegal act. And that is quite important, given that obstruction is still under investigation in this White House. Now what happened next is also important. Don McGahn, according to this "New York Times" report, refused and then went on to try to show Donald Trump in detail why this was not only a bad idea, but a potentially impeachably bad idea.
Yet his White House lawyers write this memo that you're looking at basically that is described in the "Times" saying that if they went forward with this the consequences would be damaging and, yes, would include, quote, "possible impeachment."
Now that right there is a big deal. It is usually of course Donald Trump's critics and adversaries who are talking about his potential impeachment. We don't use the I word lightly on this show because impeachment is an extreme constitutional remedy. Now we don't even know if Donald Trump read that memo but we do know, according to the "New York Times," that it was his own lawyers and his chief counsel, Don McGahn, saying, Mr. President, if you do this, you could be impeached.
And that's not all. The "Times" reporting that Donald Trump would go on to continue to privately agitate for these investigations of Hillary Clinton, obviously his chief rival in politics, and James Comey, his former FBI director.
But this news, I want to be clear with you, is a scale way beyond anything else we have seen in legal controversies with Donald Trump. And that's saying something. You may recall, of course that he did attempt to get Bob Mueller fired. And that was wrong. It may not have been lawful. That's something under debate. But there is a debate to be had there because the commander in chief has such big powers over his agencies like the DOJ.
Tonight I want to tell you, before we get to our guests, and we have some great guests on this, this is a different category than even the removal of Special Counsel Mueller. This is a report tonight for the first time that the president of the United States actively and explicitly tried to prosecute Hillary Clinton, a political opponent, and James Comey, the key witness of course in the obstruction probe.
That request, if it happened, that order, if it was given, is blatantly unconstitutional, which is why, of course, Trump's own lawyers, according to this report, warned him that it was not only unlawful but impeachable.
Now James Comey is of course at the center of the Russia probe. Trump fired him and then linked him in that firing to the probe. And we know now tonight, for the first time, also was trying to prosecute him. This reporting is right in Bob Mueller's strike zone which we're going to get into with our experts tonight because he can investigate this new account, that Donald Trump was trying to fire that man that he once embraced, James Comey, and then get him prosecuted, and prosecuting Hillary Clinton. That is all potential grounds for obstruction of justice.
Trump's own lawyers warning him not only the investigation request was unlawful, but again, I want to read from this report that it could, quote, "lead to the beginning of impeachment proceedings."
One way to look at this story based on Donald Trump's own lawyers, not my reporting but his own lawyers, is that if this went through, the odds of the impeachment of Donald Trump would have risen dramatically. Meanwhile, Congress is going to learn a lot more on this matter. That will likely come when former White House counsel Don McGahn speaks out if he ever gets past the Mueller probe and is called to testify, as former officials can be called to do, before what will become a Democratic House.
The last point, before I get to our guests, everything we just told you, everything we're learning tonight, which is obviously big, this is news to us. I admit it was big news when it came into the newsroom. It may be news to you. It is not news to the special counsel because whatever Don McGahn knows, Bob Mueller already knows.
We've got a range of experts. I want to begin with a former U.S. senator, Robert Torricelli, Neera Tanden, a former top aide to both Hillary Clinton and President Obama, and former Watergate special prosecutor Nick Akerman.
Senator, I gave you and the viewers my take on why this is so significant. On the scale of zero to 10, where does the story fall for you? And what does it say about the man occupying the White House tonight?
ROBERT TORRICELLI (D), FORMER NEW JERSEY SENATOR: Well, first, there is of course a difference between the president proposing this, which would be outrageous in itself, and actually contacting the Justice Department and attempting to order it. The first is bad government, unethical, and inexcusable. The second would be an impeachable offense. So let's try to assume that this is a thought that he had, it's something he wanted to do - -
MELBER: I'm not assuming that, Senator. Senator, Senator, I'm not assuming that. I got a report from "The New York Times" that says he used his liaison to the DOJ, which is Don McGahn, and told him, let's do this, and Don McGahn put a stop to it. That's the reporting. Unless you have something other than "The New York Times" --
TORRICELLI: No, no --
MELBER: We are past assuming.
TORRICELLI: No, I'm just -- I'm just hoping that the system worked enough that he was blocked or shut down -- the question will become not only his intent, was there actually any action taken which became an abuse of power?
MELBER: Yes, I'm only -- I'm only pushing you --
TORRICELLI: Abuse of power of that scale --
MELBER: I'm only pushing you --
MELBER: I'm all for giving people the benefit of the doubt in life, but the facts are what they are tonight, unless you have something different from "The Times," which is this is what he tried to do.
TORRICELLI: No, no, I don't. What I'm hoping is here is that McGahn not only gave advice but stopped him short of an action which would have set this in motion and become an abuse of power. It will be a question of, did he talk about it? Did he attempt to do it? Or was there actually an affirmative act that set this in motion? If there was, you are right, it is an abuse of power. What I think it really raises, I hope for those who are around Donald Trump, is, we have a president, right or wrong, who is the most inexperienced in the culture of the office, the laws of the country, the operations of the Constitution.
Having a chief of staff and a counsel in whom he has sufficient confidence and enough strength to stop these extra-constitutional impulses of his is so important. And tonight as we sit here tonight, he does not have a counsel. And he does not have enough confidence in his --
MELBER: Right. Well --
TORRICELLI: -- not working with his chief of staff to save himself.
MELBER: Let me bring in Neera Tanden. Senator -- Neera, I'm going to be very blunt tonight because this is a big story. Senator Torricelli, who's an expert on the show sounds very classic, Washington Democrat, which is bending over backwards to find some bright spot in a very dark story.
As for Donald Trump's inexperience, he has been very clear about what he wants to do. I want to play him in a debate with your old boss, Neera, and get your analysis. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because you'd be in jail.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary Clinton --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Neera, how do you view the reports here that Donald Trump took that long-standing pledge, lock her up, you'd be in jail, I'll investigate her, and tried to make it real?
NEERA TANDEN, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON AND PRESIDENT OBAMA AIDE: I mean, I think this is a scandal of 15 on a 1 to 10 level. And I think the idea that the president is naive or he is inexperienced is ridiculous. He was essentially trying to use the apparatus of the state to punish his political enemies. Hillary Clinton and James Comey. And if this happened in another country, we'd have the State Department saying, it's no longer a democracy.
Just because he was stopped by his counsel informing him it was an impeachable offense does not take away from the fact that the president essentially wanted to break the law. And I for one think it is something that -- this warrants an investigation. I mean, the Republicans should be investigating this tomorrow before the Democrats come in because they are a blank check for this guy, they won't. But it is one of the most -- I think it is amongst the most outrageous things that have come out of this White House in two years of outrages.
The things that people were, like, thought were a fantasy that could occur are actually things Donald Trump wanted to do, to not just Hillary Clinton, a person who won the Democratic nominee and was his competitor, but James Comey, who was a central part of the Mueller investigation. I don't think there's any way to look at this that isn't -- that shouldn't scare every single American.
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Ari, this is absolutely off the charts. Donald Trump is basically running his office like he's the head of a banana republic. Trying to put his former opponent in jail, trying to put James Comey in jail. And what is really concerning is this isn't just an isolated event that occurred last spring. This is something that's going on right now with his appointment of this hack Whitaker as the acting attorney general.
Why did he put Whitaker in there? Why didn't he go through the Senate confirmation? Because he's looking for somebody that will do his bidding to get rid of the Mueller investigation and to undertake the kinds of illegal investigations that he wants done. That's why Whitaker was put in there. That's why Sessions was fired. It's all about him trying to undermine the rule of law, which is the basis of this country, which was the foundation of this country. He wants to go back to the time of the English kings where anything goes. And that's where we're headed.
TANDEN: I would just say that Donald Trump exhausted the benefit of the doubt about 18 months ago. Sorry.
MELBER: Neera, Neera, we talked about your boss, and that's Hillary Clinton, and they had a pitched battle in the campaign. James Comey spent most of his time rising through government in Republican administrations.
MELBER: He is one of the individuals who appeared to stand up to Donald Trump in those early months, to Nick's point, when people were trying to figure out, do you go the Whitaker route or do you go the Comey route? And we know what happened. Here was Donald Trump making what lawyers call an admission against interest, admitting that he was angry with and fired Comey because Comey did his job in the investigation, apparently tonight we learn that's also why he then tried to get the former FBI director jailed which, again, is not something that we like to think about as happening inside the United States.
It's happening. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TANDEN: I mean, I don't understand why this isn't just another example of obstruction of justice. Using the Department of Justice to essentially retaliate and punish a central witness to your possible crime? I mean, remember, Comey is the person who Trump was basically talking to, to discourage his investigation. I don't know why -- I mean, obviously this is part of a pattern of obstruction of justice. And I agree with your earlier assessment that this is likely to have been something that Special Prosecutor Mueller knows and special counsel Mueller knows.
TANDEN: But I think that for the American public, this is another element in a crime committed by -- possibly committed by the president of the United States, which we should obviously be deeply worried about.
MELBER: Senator, I'm going to give you a final word. Let me show you one more item again in the context of Don McGahn, which is, Donald Trump, again by "The New York Times" reporting, did try to remove Bob Mueller. It's Don McGahn who basically stopped that when it was attempted in December, and Mueller knows all that. Analyze that as well in the context of what we're learning as a final thought, Senator.
TORRICELLI: Well, I don't know there's obstruction of justice. What there clearly is we're on the line here of abuse of power. This is something we simply don't do in the United States. We don't use the mechanisms of government and the Justice Department to punish political enemies. It is not something we do in our political culture, it's not something we do in our laws. But it does raise, again, right now there's one thing to have Donald Trump, if he has -- if he is surrounded by people who contain his instincts.
But with Whitaker as attorney general, McGahn gone as White House counsel, and Kelly potentially going out the door as White House chief of staff, there's a big difference between Donald Trump surrounded by capable people who respect the Constitution, and Donald Trump on his own. And we are facing tonight the nightmare of Donald Trump revisited on his own without restraints.
And the story you're carrying tonight is an example of what an unrestrained Donald Trump can look like. An abuse of power on the scale to which this country is not accustomed.
MELBER: Right. And that is so much more severe. My thanks to Senator Torricelli and Neera Tanden.
Nick, stay with me, because I want a prosecutor to ride along.
With reaction from Congress tonight, Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley who serves on the Intelligence Committee.
Thanks for joining us on this important story, sir.
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Glad to be here. Thank you.
MELBER: Let me start with the question to you, what is the significance in this "New York Times" report? Do you see conduct that could be an element of obstruction or that is unlawful?
QUIGLEY: I see -- it depends exactly what Mr. McGahn says to us. I'm very interested in Mr. McGahn testifying before Congress. What were the circumstances? What exactly was said? How did he respond? Did the president talk to anyone else? How far did this action go? Obviously what people need to understand in the bigger picture is, when the president said that he had complete control and authority over the Justice Department, it wasn't just his belief that he could stop an investigation of himself or his friends.
It also meant, like a true autocrat, he could attack his enemies, or those who disagreed with him. This is extraordinarily dangerous.
MELBER: Congressman, and you mentioned McGahn, who's a lawyer. They might try to invoke executive privilege the way they did with Steve Bannon and others to block that. Are you prepared when you take the gavels in January to subpoena Mr. McGahn on these issues if he won't come voluntarily?
QUIGLEY: As a true team player, I'm going to work with the chairman to be, Adam Schiff, on the Intelligence Committee and my colleagues there to come up with a working plan. How do we go forward? Where is the Mueller investigation at that time?
QUIGLEY: Where's the Senate and the House investigations?
MELBER: So I take that as a --
MELBER: I take that as an answer TBD. And I understand moving judiciously.
Let me play for you as well as we look at the import of this story. James Comey, who whatever everyone thinks of him, and I've criticized him with regard to some of his government tenure, there has never been any evidence whatsoever, or any grounds for any kind of criminal investigation. It is only according to this reporting that Donald Trump wanted to blackball an opponent and someone that was dangerous to him in the probe, the probe of course that your committee is involved with.
Take a listen to James Comey's testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation is being conducted. That is a very big deal. I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning. I mean I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: James Comey providing the facts as he knew them regarding the president's motivations for the firing.
In your view, based on what we know, is it reasonable to probe whether Donald Trump was now trying to get James Comey prosecuted and jailed for that same criminal purpose, and if so, is that an impeachable offense?
QUIGLEY: Well, let's take it one step at a time. Obstruction often comes in a pattern of behavior. I do believe that the firing of Mr. Comey was for that Russian thing. It is part of a paper of obstruction by the White House, and those complicit with him as part of the House Intelligence Committee, unfortunately, Republican side. So this is just one more element of that, in addition to his various tweets and other actions by the president to object.
I ask the American public to be patient. You talked about the I word. Let the Mueller investigation be completed. Let us finish this. Let's go -- we're going to get one shot at this to do the right thing. Let's completely investigate this recent allegation and the information from Mr. McGahn and take the American public -- and give the American public all the information it needs.
MELBER: Congressman, I know you're speaking colloquially. I want to be clear, we rarely use the I word on this newscast. Tonight we are using it in the context of reporting that Trump's own top lawyer warned him about the I word. Warned him that this could lead to impeachment proceedings. So that's sort of what brought it into the discussion.
MELBER: And before I let you go, and I'm over on time, but I do want to ask you, one of the things that happens a lot in Congress is they set up special committees to investigate things. There's been a lot of talk about Russia collusion in 2016, and Mueller obviously in the lead on that. But don't you think, and I wonder what you and your colleagues are going to do, if we learn that a president, standing alone, was trying to jail the former FBI director and their political opponent? If that was learned about Barack Obama as a goal against John McCain or Mitt Romney, wouldn't that alone require some greater investigation? Is that something the House Democrats should look at as their own special committee? Are we being normalized into this banana republic conduct that is anything but normal?
QUIGLEY: I don't want to diminish what the House Select Committee on Intelligence can do. I have complete faith that if given subpoena power and the ability to investigate this, they will get to the truth. I think any president that does what Mr. McGahn warned against actually completed, that is an extraordinary abuse of power.
I am not minimizing this at all. What the president is doing is a pattern of obstruction. But I want us to be thorough and complete. Let's go through with this investigation and take its natural course. I have faith that we don't need a special committee. I do believe the House Committee on Intelligence can do the work.
MELBER: Well, and just to wrap the news, because we heard so much from you, Congressman, I appreciate you joining us on the big story. You're saying tonight, number one, you want to hear from McGahn, but whether or not you'd issue a subpoena is a larger conversation with the chair. Number two, you think the Congress will get to the bottom of this, you don't need a special committee. And number three, you view this type of act, if achieved, as a huge abuse of power.
I appreciate you breaking some of that news with us.
Nick Akerman, you've been very patient. I'm going to come back to you later in the show to breaking news kind of night.
Thanks to you both.
Coming up, the bombshell story affecting what we know about the Mueller probe, and of course the obstruction investigation. And Donald Trump, get this news, he sent his written answers to Mueller today. A lot happening. What will Mueller do with them?
And later, Trump defending Ivanka's use of personal e-mail for government business. We actually have the man who started this whole probe off on the show tonight.
Later, Donald Trump, you may have heard about this, he went ahead and -- sided, I should say, with the Saudi government despite its torture and murder of a U.S. resident over the opinion of the CIA. And he said it's all about business.
We have a lot more coming up. Ari Melber, and you're watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Breaking news tonight. "The New York Times" reporting Donald Trump directed his White House counsel to get the Justice Department to prosecute James Comey, the former FBI director, and Hillary Clinton, his former rival.
This is a true bombshell and Trump's lawyers resisted and warned him that a request like this could lead to possible impeachment.
Ken Dilanian and Gene Rossi are here. Rossi of course is a former colleague of Rod Rosenstein at the DOJ, an experienced federal prosecutor. Ken Dilanian, a spot-on reporter for us.
I want to begin with you, Gene, as our prosecutor, and say in the A-bloc in the top of our show we went through just what this means and we had a pretty lively debate and discussion about how important it is.
I want to go in with you now, for viewers who are listening to this and saying, OK, so what? If Mueller knows this, is this something that is in his purview? And what does he do with it?
GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Let me tell you this. I could draft an indictment against the president of the United States on two counts. One would be his relationship with Michael Cohen on the election fraud. And number two, I could draft a scheme and an attempt to obstruct justice against the president right now, and Robert Mueller has the jurisdiction and the authority unless Matt Whitaker puts a quench over it. He has the authority to go into that because it's the heart and soul and the gestalt of what Robert Mueller's looking at, absolutely.
MELBER: So, Gene, let's zero in on just that point which is, put aside the mystery around the 2016 election. Put aside the campaign finance violations, which as you mentioned, Trump's lawyer did confess to. And just this act as outlined in the reporting for "The New York Times," quoting the ultimate source, Donald Trump's own lawyer, and the White House counsel could get in the way, just like John Dean did, targeting Comey who again, I'm going to read from the article, "is a witness against President Trump in the investigation by Special Counsel Mueller."
What you're saying is your view as a federal prosecutor -- and I know you to be a normal line prosecutor, not talking party or politics -- that alone looks to you like the crime of obstruction?
ROSSI: Yes. I charged an attempt -- you have to understand, Ari, this is an attempt at obstruction of justice. And when I charge obstruction of justice, I didn't just always focus on one moment. I would focus on an entire pattern. And you clearly have a pattern and a scheme against the investigation that clearly falls within the obstruction statutes. And what he did with the attorney McGahn, that is an attempt to obstruct justice.
And here's something people have to realize. The attorney-client privilege, executive privilege, priest-pennant privilege, they wash away if there's a crime fraud. And the president of the United States is essentially asking McGahn to commit a crime by obstructing justice. So that's what I would charge.
MELBER: I think that's right. I think it's going to take a little time for it to sink in to people what we're getting here. Because this is not a Russia story, Ken.
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE SECURITY REPORTER: No.
MELBER: It's not a collusion story, it's not a Donald Trump is reckless and different and an innovator and a disrupter and all of those things which can be debated in American life. This is a story that again sometimes using different terminology can help boil it down.
If Barack Obama made a phone call and asked in a serious way, to have John McCain criminally prosecuted for no reason, for no foundation, I think that alone would be a multi-month, huge deal in American life. Precisely because it would be such an obvious abuse of power. As this is, Ken.
DILANIAN: I could not agree more, Ari. And in fact, the analogy here is Richard Nixon. I was reading before we got on the air the second Article of Impeachment against Richard Nixon. And it was all about obstruction of justice, intervening with the FBI, asking the IRS to investigate his political enemies, and asking the Justice Department in one case to drop an anti-trust case against a big company in exchange for a political contribution. That was an Article of Impeachment.
But here's the thing, Ari. There is no law, as you well know, there's no law, there's no statute that stipulates that the Justice Department is independent of the president. It's a tradition. Mostly a post-Watergate tradition, in reaction to these abuses by Richard Nixon. And what Donald Trump has always claimed, he said it publicly, he believes that he controls the Justice Department.
He's often said, I could wade in but I've chosen not to. This is the theory of the unitary executive. Many legal scholars disagree, but this is kind of unsettled law. The idea that he could order the Justice Department to investigate his political enemies. Imagine what would have happened if that order actually was transmitted. I think you would have seen mass resignations at the Justice Department, but perhaps eventually he would have found people to put in those jobs to actually carry this out.
MELBER: Although, Ken, it also goes back to what the power is and what the abuse is. The president has the power to drop bombs in real time. We don't have a mechanism to stop it in real time. If a president dropped bomb on this the Hyatt because he owned other hotels and wanted to decimate the competition, I think very quickly, I trust, that the country would deal with that. In other words, the bomb might ultimately drop. But then there's the abuse of power.
And let me play for you, Ken, something that goes to your point but people have forgotten, which is even when Donald Trump backed off publicly prosecuting Hillary, which we're learning tonight he was still agitating for privately, he used that same false conception that you just described, that it's his unitary call. This was on "60 Minutes." Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You called her crooked Hillary, said you wanted to get in jail. Your people in your audience has kept saying lock him up.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to --
TRUMP: She did -- she did some bad things. I mean, she did some bad things.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, but a special prosecutor? You think --
TRUMP: I don't want to hurt them. I don't want to hurt them. They're good people. I don't want to hurt them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: And Ari, to your earlier point, this is so inconsistent with the American tradition since Watergate. When George W Bush sought to fire seven U.S. attorneys, the result was a scandal, congressional hearings, and Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General lost his job. Barack Obama and the Obama administration wouldn't even comment on pending criminal cases because they wanted to emphasize that the Justice Department is completely independent, again, by tradition not by statute. But the idea is these are professionals who should be making decisions based on the law and right facts with no whiff of political influence and Donald Trump completely fails to embrace that idea.
MELBER: It's one of the -- it's one of the biggest stories by far the Trump presidency. I have to fit in a break as we're over on time, but Ken Dilanian giving us the context and Gene Rossi, a DOJ veteran saying this is literally indictable. Thanks to both of you. Coming up, Donald Trump defending Ivanka Trump's personal e-mail use. The watchdog who sparked that investigation is here when we're back in 30 seconds.
MELBER: New developments in Congress in a story that broke right here this hour last night. House Democrats now say they will investigate Ivanka Trump for her misuse of private e-mails sending hundreds of e-mails that were government related business, a familiar scandal. Today Donald Trump defending his daughter who is of course also a White House official.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Ivanka's e-mails, why was it appropriate for your daughter to use personal e-mail for government business?
TRUMP: Just so you understand early on and for a little period of time, Ivanka did some e-mails. They weren't classified like Hillary Clinton. They weren't deleted like Hillary Clinton. There was no service in the basement like Hillary Clinton had. You're talking about a whole different -- you're talking about all fake news. So what Ivanka did, it's all in the presidential records.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The legal defense is also that Ivanka says she just didn't know the rules. Meanwhile, Donald Trump in a story that has extra resonance tonight called for Hillary Clinton to be jailed for her e-mail use.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Here she is all screwed up with her e-mails, she doesn't know what the hell is going on.
Just look at how she's boxed up her e-mails.
AMERICAN CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
TRUMP: Who would be so stupid to do what she did with her e-mails?
The investigation is the biggest political scandal since Watergate.
I think she should be in jail for what she did with her e-mails, OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Attorney Richard Painter served as White House Ethics Chief under Bush 43 and also has ran as a Democrat for Senate. Back with us as well is Neera Tanden, Clinton's campaign adviser who lived through much of this. Richard, your response.
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CHIEF: Well, back when I was in the Bush White House as the chief ethics lawyer, I told them over and over again, you don't use personal e-mail for White House business. Everybody has known that. And Ivanka Trump is one more official who has chosen not to follow the rules. No, we're not going to lock her up, we're not going to have a big rally in chant lock her up like we were in Nuremberg, Germany in 1933.
No, we're not going to do that. But the answer is clear, the United States government including the House of Representatives, the FBI, yes, Robert Mueller needs to go through that e-mail, all of her e-mail and find out what is in there that's relevant to the United States government, what is relevant to Russia, Saudi Arabia, or any other foreign powers have sought to influence our government. There are very important investigations going on and if people choose to use their personal e-mail for U.S. government business, that should be subject to investigation.
And I'm a lot more interested in what's in her e-mail than what was in Hillary Clinton's e-mail where we learned about details of a Chelsea's wedding and various other irrelevant things. This is a very, very dangerous situation we're in our country right now. And I also want to see what's a Jared's e-mail because apparently he was doing the same thing, using his personal e-mail for U.S. government business. And by the way, he was trying to make contact with the Russians to open up a cello communication with the Russians before Trump was even president. We need those e-mails and we need them now.
MELBER: Well, as a journalist I'm equally interested in all public officials e-mails particularly the ones that aren't otherwise not cleared for review because we learn all kinds of things. The hypocrisy, Neera, is what really stands out. We'll put up on the screen the number of Trump officials who came to office in this wave, we just showed it, that have been busted for this kind of personal e-mail use. Ivanka, Jared, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn. Neera, beyond the obvious overwhelming Simpsons episode, dystopian level hypocrisy that you're living through that I imagine Taylor Clinton's living through, the people who -- and by the way, campaigns always have people on both sides that have strong feelings, people are all living through.
Beyond that, because you are a policy person and a serious government type person, if I can make up a term, what do you think is the import here? What are we learning about the attitude towards public service and the rules by these individuals who've now been busted?
NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Yes. So let's be very clear just to -- just to bottom line it. Ivanka Trump's father had a two-year campaign against Hillary Clinton in which lock her up chance based on e-mail use, those a scandal at the basis of all the attacks against Hillary was how she was using private e-mails and or using a private e-mail account. And then Ivanka Trump comes into the White House and Jared Kushner as well, but here we have Ivanka Trump coming into the White House and she does exactly the same thing. And I think the reason why is because the Trump White House existed in a world in which there was zero accountability. That has changed.
But well, we should recognize all we know about these e-mails so far is what is what if Uncle Trump has handed over because as it said in the Washington Post, the White House Counsel's office, another part of that story as well, didn't actually see all of the e-mails. They've only seen what's been handed over. And so I think that it's exactly -- it's almost exactly like what we dealt with Hillary's e-mails and I thought that story was overblown, but I will -- I look forward to her hopefully testifying after an investigation and just answering the simple question of why what Hillary Clinton did deserve to lock her up chant but which -- why she should be any different? Why we should not lock her up, Ivanka Trump?
MELBER: I want you both to stay with me. I'm going to bring in Austin Evers. He sparked this all. He's the director of the watchdog group American oversight and he filed this Freedom of Information Act request that got some of the e-mails and texts out that regarded Ivanka and political appointees. What did you think you've achieved thus far with this? How did you think to look for and we spoke briefly by phone when the news broke last night?
AUSTIN EVERS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN OVERSIGHT: Sure. We started this investigation early last year just because we wanted to test whether Ivanka Trump was doing government business. At the time, they were saying she wasn't an employee and didn't have to follow any rules. So we wanted to get a sense of that. And what we discovered was, sure enough, she was doing government business and she was doing it at least periodically on personal e-mail. What has come too to light since then through great reporting is that she was doing it a lot. She was "the worst offender in the White House." And the only reason she stopped it was because my organization American oversight filed a lawsuit and brought these e-mails to the White House Counsel's attention.
I view this as a wonderful example of how accountability is coming. This is an investigation we started in March 2017, litigation we filed in May 2017, and here we are on the cusp of a Democratic House of Representatives with subpoena power that can dig into this for the first time. They're not going to --
MELBER: So you're hitting something -- you're hitting something really important which actually dovetails with what we've been talking about all night that while people may feel frustration as citizens and as partisans, people have all sorts of feelings about the rank hypocrisy and the total arrogant disregard for the rules, I don't know any other way to say it given what we're watching. You're saying that amidst that is also signs that the system still works, that court system works, that the accountability system despite their efforts worked, Austin?
EVERS: We have been working and what I would say to the people who've been shrugging their shoulders for the past 20 months saying facts don't matter. They now have an opportunity to matter in a way they haven't. We've got Congress coming back into town in January. They're going to investigate. American Oversight has filed 80 lawsuits in the last 18 months and those are all just documents piling up in the public on our Web site that are ready for investigators to go through. You name the issue, there's an open investigation and finally, we're going to have a venue for real accountability beyond the you know, the front page of the newspaper which has to respond to whatever crazy thing the president does each day.
MELBER: My thinks to Austin here. Before I let Richard painter go, I got to get you on the other big story, The New York Times account of the attempted abuse of the Justice Department to try to prosecute Comey and Clinton. Your response to that, sir?
PAINTER: Well, this is the way business is done in dictatorships. You prosecute your political opponents, you prosecute material witnesses in crimes committed by those in power. You go to a rally, you can't lock her up directed at your political opponent. We have seen this for over two years with the Trump campaign and the Trump White House. Yes, there's hypocrisy. The e-mail episode shows hypocrisy but these are very dangerous hypocrites and we need to have serious investigations as to what they've done a clue with foreign powers and how they're trying to destroy our democracy. And this revelation today from Don McGahn, that's just one more piece of evidence that these people do not want to function within a democratic system.
MELBER: I think you put it bluntly and we had a guest on earlier who I think was maybe just too optimistic to want to say what you just said, Richard, which is that this is autocratic, anti-democratic conduct and has to be counted as such by every force that we have in civil society. My thanks to Richard Painter, Neera Tanden, Austin Evers. Up ahead, we have more on the breaking news as well as what Donald Trump has been doing in response to Mueller. He just turned in his answers on collusion. And this comes meanwhile with the breaking story about Comey and Clinton.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump standing with Saudi Arabia after the CIA says their Crown Prince did indeed order that horrific murder of a U.S. resident.
MELBER: Today marks an inflection point into Bob Mueller's investigation into the Trump Whitehouse. Nick Akerman joins me. Nick, the news tonight for the first time ever we can report Donald Trump has submitted answers on Russia questions to Bob Mueller. What does it mean in your view?
NICK AKERMAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, in my view, it means that Robert Mueller is focused on the conspiracy charge. He's looking at the conspiracy that involved the Russians to hack into the Democratic National Committee and stage and release the documents and e-mails. He's looking at the conspiracy that dealt with social media to try and suppress the Hillary Clinton vote. And so I think I could easily envision questions that could put Donald Trump in the suit. You've got four cooperating witnesses. You've got Paul Manafort, the campaign manager, you've got the lawyer who is --
MELBER: Michael Cohen.
AKERMAN: -- Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer, you've got the deputy campaign manager, you've got the national security director. When you put these four very high-level people together, it is very simple to come up with some very pointed questions that could really put Donald Trump in a straitjacket.
MELBER: And in your view, how unusual is it to split by topic and say they're only going to take Russia and not obstruction? Well let's forget the obstruction. They've got that one in the can. I mean, today it's just another example of other evidence showing corrupt intent to stop the investigation into the Russian matter. That's simple. What's really important is the underlying crime itself which are those two conspiracy charges.
MELBER: Nick, thank you for staying with us. We've had a rolling show. I got to fit in a break but then we turn to another big story which is the President siding with a foreign government over his own intelligence agencies in the killing of a columnist for The Washington Post when we come back.
MELBER: Tonight Donald Trump sided with Saudi Arabia in what has been widely reported as the torture and murder of a U.S. resident. Trump rejecting a new CIA report, again, that's his own CIA which says the Saudi Crown Prince personally ordered this killing of the Washington Post journalists and admitting today it's all about business.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We're not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars in orders and let Russia, China and everybody else have them. Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We're joined by Ambassador Marc Ginsberg. a former Presidential Middle East Adviser as well as U.S. Ambassador to Morocco. When you see a president act this way, what does it tell you about how he values what the CIA is determined and how he's charting American foreign policy and human rights?
MARC GINSBERG, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO: Ari, it's a total gut punch to American values and once again him just rolling over the intelligence from the -- from the intelligence agencies which he's done before when there's inconvenient murders or inconvenient truths that are inconsistent with the president's own view of what is important to him as well as to his administration.
HAYES: Let me play for you what Pompeo says because he basically has more respect I think it's fair to say from a lot of diplomats like yourself than perhaps the president, but he says look, this is the real world and it's nasty. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: So it's a mean, nasty world out there, the Middle East in particular. There are important American interests to keep the American people safe. So as the President said today the United States will continue to have a relationship for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What is the response to that sort of hyper realism or hyper -- as he put it -- nasty-ism.
GINSBERG: Yes, it's interesting, Ari. Henry Kissinger used to be known for real politic and in Secretary Pompeo's comments, I would call it gutter real politic. The Secretary is basically saying hey, you know, stuff happens in the Middle East and if it gets in the way of what's important to us, all the better. You know, Ari, this is -- there's a rumor circulating all over town that the Saudis actually thought they could get away with this and not have the Trump administration come down with it.
There's people who have come up to me that said that they've heard that people like Elliott Broidy who is bitten under investigation and a close friend of Jared Kushner has been pumping the Saudis before this actual murder that they could get away with this. And that's one of the reasons why the Saudi ambassador who was the brother of the Crown Prince is no longer here. You know, it only --
MELBER: And briefly -- I have to ask you one more thing before -- just to get you on record. Does it also in your view embolden other countries to be more likely to take out journalists whether they live in the U.S. or not?
GINSBERG: Absolutely. There's no doubt that the journalists around the world feel even more threatened than ever before largely because Trump seems to have signaled it's A-OK to go after journalists if autocrats disagree with them. And we see this happening time and again, Ari.
MELBER: Yes. Well, we've heard the word autocrat and autocratic more tonight than usual because of a lot of the conduct coming out of the White House. It is chilling, to say the least. Ambassador Ginsberg, thank you for your expertise tonight.
GINSBERG: Good to be with you.
MELBER: I'm going to fit in a break and then I have an announcement about "HARDBALL" and some other news when we come right back.
MELBER: That does it for THE BEAT. We'll be back here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. But I'm not going anywhere because I'm going to join "HARDBALL" to report on this breaking news tonight along with other guests including Michael Schmidt who broke the New York Times story as well as Senator Richard Blumenthal on "HARDBALL" now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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