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George Papadopoulos arrives at Wisconsin Prison. TRANSCRIPT: 11/26/18, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Neal Katyal, Maya Wiley, Mara Gay, Eric Swalwell, Jason Johnson, Enrique Morones, Erika Andiola

KATY TUR, CORRESPONDENT, MSNBC:  He`s graceful like a gazelle, covered in orange fur.  So my friend, Gritty, don`t let the haters get you down, you keep it up.  And Richard Simmons, be warned.  I think someone might have his googly eyes on you.  That is all for tonight.  We`ll be back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily."  "The Beat with Ari Melber" starts right now.  Ari, did you understand why I was telling you why pie was healthier than salad? 

ARI MELBER, HOST, THE BEAT:  I appreciate all your tips.  Watching that made me think of the old saying, don`t hate the turkey, hate the holiday. 

TUR:  Bye. 

MELBER:  Bye. 

TUR:  I`m going to leave it there.  Bye. 

MELBER:  You`re going to leave it there?  We just did.  Always fun chatting with Katy.  We have a lot here now that we`re back in the newsroom after a long holiday weekend.  Tonight, I can tell you, another Trump aide who pleaded guilty in the Mueller probe, going to prison.  That`s new.  That`s tonight.  We have the details. 

Also, these children who were choking on tear gas at the border, we bring you that story later tonight, and then the blue wave growing.  New numbers showing Democrats won the House by the largest margin in US history. 

But we begin with Bob Mueller putting another former Trump aide behind bars.  Today, the man who kicked off this Russia probe, you`ve heard his name George Papadopoulos, reporting to Federal prison in Wisconsin.  He`ll serve a light two-weeks for lying to the Feds.  Part of his reward really for cooperating with Mueller. 

The move comes as Donald Trump has installed a loyalist as the acting Attorney General, which has many legal experts wondering if a collision between Mueller and his new boss is inevitable.  Just a matter of time. 

Now, Mueller has kept the heat on, a judge denying a Papadopoulos request to delay what you see here, which is him getting ready for the sentence.  The aide has complained of course has also gotten public complaining of misconduct, which contradicts his own wife who had also spoken to the FBI in this probe and told me the Mueller investigation was never unfair. 


GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FORMER TRUMP AIDE:  I believe there was tremendous misconduct on the government`s behalf regarding my case. 

MELBER:  There have been allegations that it`s a quote unquote "witch hunt."  You didn`t find that you`re -- 

SIMONA PAPADOPOULOS, WIFE OF GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS:  No, I never found that.  They just wanted to meet to clarify a certain number of things and I never felt that they were making false allegations or they were doing an unfair job, never. 


MELBER:  Never found them to be doing an unfair job.  So, obviously there`s some splintering there as Papadopoulos goes into jail.  But this reward for cooperation does come as other witnesses tangle with Mueller and consider their own fate. 

Also news tonight, Roger Stone associate and conspiracy theorist, Jerome Corsi telling our own NBC News that Mueller`s team offered him a plea deal for perjury regarding what he said about contact with Julian Assange.  That`s a Papadopoulos style offer when you think about it, and he says he`s not buying. 


JEROME CORSI, CONSPIRACY THEORIST:  From what they offered, I can tell you, it`s unacceptable.  I will not sign a statement in front of a Federal judge that says I intentionally and willfully lied to the special counselor.  Because I did not. 


MELBER:  Today is the deadline for Mueller`s team to submit an update on the Paul Manafort`s cooperation since he pleaded guilty and that`s just what`s public.  We also know Mueller has other angles including this "New York Times" bombshell report that Trump tried to order a DOJ investigation of another key witness, James Comey, as well as his rival, Hillary Clinton.   I have a special report with my take on that later tonight. 

All of this is adding up to a situation where even some of Trump`s biggest defenders are warning of big trouble. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We`re getting information from Paul Manafort, we`re getting information perhaps from Coris, we are already getting information from Gates, from Cohen, that`s an awful lot of people tied to the President providing evidence. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is.  And I think the report is going to be devastating to the President, and I know that the President`s team is already working on a response to the report. 


MELBER:  Devastating.  In a moment, I`ll speak to Congressman Eric Swalwell on the Intelligence Committee, as well as Jason Johnson of The Root, that is our Washington conversation, but we begin right here onset with Maya Wiley, former counsel to the Mayor of New York City and a civil prosecutor from the southern district of New York and Mara Gay, editorial board member of the "New York Times".  Thanks to both of you for being here. 

Maya, Jerome Corsi does seem to be publicly, he`s taking out a very different position from other people who have been hit with these claims.  What do you think he`s doing? 

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY AND A CIVIL PROSECUTOR FROM THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  First, let`s start with the fact that he entered into plea agreement discussions in the first place.  So to sort of say today, wait, they wanted me to say that I have lied, is a little bit disingenuous, because they had to have been discussing that from the beginning of the plea deal, discussion is why you are having a plea deal discussion. 

MELBER:  And perjury would be one of the lighter items on that menu. 

WILEY:  Absolutely.  So, I think it`s very interesting that he`s taken this route.  Obviously without being an attorney that has had conversations with him or knows more about what the Mueller team has.  It`s hard to assess it.  But I did find it surprising, given that he entered into those plea negotiations in the first place. 

Normally, you don`t do that unless you`re really planning to make a deal.  The other possibility is, he didn`t have enough to offer, right?  Mueller is not going to be the person publicly commenting on their discussions about a plea deal.  It`s also possible that he wasn`t able to offer enough to make it worth their while.  We don`t know. 

MELBER:  Well, and two weeks isn`t bad for this kind of thing.  So Jerome Corsi looking at something to Papadopoulos, we can reasonably ascertain that it`s not like Mueller would be looking at a max or a year for him, it would be something manageable. 

WILEY:  Well, and remember that really what Mueller was looking for, for Papadopoulos was up to six months and Papadopoulos got only 14 days, which may have sent a signal as well to Corsi that this might not be so bad even though you technically face up to five years, maybe he thought, maybe he`s thinking  pardon.  Maybe he`s thinking, you know, I might beat this and any way, it might not be so bad.  We don`t know. 

The interesting thing about Papadopoulos is remember, this is a man who pled guilty.  He pled guilty.  He said, I did it.  I lied. And now he sort of is saying, going to court and sort of saying this is all -- 

MELBER:  He`s all over the place. 

WILEY:  He`s all over the place. 

MELBER:  You mentioned whether Corsi is more likely to get a pardon.  And white Donald Trump isn`t known for his reading list, I think that`s an accurate statement, he is in the racist birther book of the month club with Jerome Corsi, I mean, they are together on that.  Take a listen to Corsi teeing up a defense that`s sort of similar to what Roger Stone and others have said, which is it may have looked like I knew what was coming, but really, I`m just really good at figuring things out and making predictions. 


CORSI:  What the special counsel couldn`t figure out was that in August, I knew, and in fact, the e-mails remaining that Julian Assange had were Podesta`s e-mails.  And I basically figured it out, which is what I do.  I connect the dots.  I didn`t need any source to tell me. 


MELBER:  That`s what he does, he just connects the dots. 

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER OF THE "NEW YORK TIMES":  It`s really spectacular.  Yet again, this is straight out of the Donald Trump and also Rudy Giuliani playbook of, I`m going to fight one battle in court, and then I`m going to fight another battle entirely in the court of public opinion, and it`s kind of whiplash inducing, because of course, you have people like Papadopoulos, of course, as you pointed out, Maya, saying, "No, I did it, I`m guilty." 

And then the next minute, they`re on national television somewhere saying, "Oh, it was really no big deal."  So I think ultimately, Bob Mueller hopefully is going to have the final word here, and the courts will have the final word, justice.  I do think that this is interesting, because we`ve moved away at this point from conversations about the election, and now the focus is right back where it was before on this Mueller investigation. 

And I think the walls might be closing in a little bit here, because the Congress is now no longer solely in Republican hands. 

MELBER:  But I wonder if part of what you`re saying makes them look bad as incompetent, also provides a decent defense for some of these people because I was down in Florida, it`s on my mind, I call it the Broward County defense, which is can`t be much of a conspiracy if they can`t put together like lunch.  

Like if they have trouble conspiring to serve lunch in the elections, obviously, there`s not like a statewide voter fraud conspiracy.  And likewise, Jerome Corsi, George Papadopouloswho was in the center of this in the beginning with the e-mail tip in Europe, and Roger Stone, who of course seems a little more competent, none of these people look like they could pull off a secret international collusion conspiracy right now. 

GAY:  And yet, I mean, Maya might have more perspective on this.  I don`t know that that would pass the sniff test in a court.  I think the question is, whether they actually committed a crime and if that can be proven then -- 

WILEY:  Yes, if they intended to get information that was stolen by Russian nationals in order to help Donald Trump win, it doesn`t matter that they did it incompetently, they tried to do it.  It doesn`t even matter if they didn`t know all aspects of what Robert Mueller might call a conspiracy in this case, right?  You don`t have to know about every aspect of the conspiracy if you know one aspect of it, one part of it in order to be guilty. 

GAY:  That`s why they call you -- in the Kremlin, they would call you a useful idiot. 

MELBER:  I think that is the term. 

WILEY:  You know, the other thing that I find so striking about this particularly when you quote Alan Dershowitz talking about the wave at this Mueller report, it`s going to be so devastating for Donald Trump.  All of these folks, I mean, from Papadopoulos to Corsi to Roger Stone to Trump himself, have actually done a really good job creating what should have been politically devastating, right, including Donald Trump himself making statements like, "Oh, yes, I actually got rid of Comey because I was thinking  about the Robert Mueller investigation." 

So when you put it all together, what he`s really saying, is it going to be embarrassing enough for Republicans to actually say the word impeachment. 

MELBER:  And you couldn`t help but notice Alan Dershowitz made a political statement and a legal one, he said, "It will politically look bad, but actually won`t legally be a crime," which is a very smart way, if you are an advocate of acting like you`re concealing something while still defending Donald Trump and Alan Dershowitz, if we take him to his word, doesn`t know all the evidence because he`s not privately a lawyer for the President, so he doesn`t know yet.  Although, we look forward to having him back on the program to hear what he knows. 

Maya, Mara, thanks to both of you.  I want to turn now to the Congressman.  There`s reporting that the White House might be caught flat footed by the onslaught investigations from the House.  Democrats taking over White House counsel Don McGahn of course already out from October and his replacement Pat Cipollone is going through a background check and is held up. 

POLITICO is saying the office is down to a skeletal staff and not prepared to deal with a flood of potential subpoenas from, well, people like this.  California Congressman Eric Swalwell who serves on both the Intelligence Judiciary Committee and here for Washington perspective, Jason Johnson from The Root, also with us. 

Congressman, what do you think of that story line, and will it be a defense for the White House to say, "We`re not staffed up, so we need more time to respond to you and the chairs you`ll be  working with?" 

ERIC SWALWELL, US CONGRESSMAN, CALIFORNIA, DEMOCRAT:  Good evening, Ari.  I think it also reflects a White House that has become all too comfortable with the Republican Congress that has just given them free passes in this "ole, ole oxen free" environment for the last two years, where they can get away with whatever they want, and not be held to account. 

Well, that is going to change in about 39 days when the new Congress comes in.  And what we are going to do is we are going to fill in the gaps on the Russian investigation, we`re going to seek to protect Bob Mueller, and we are going to understand why the President continues to have these transactional relationships that put his transactions above our country`s values. 

That happened with Russia, that`s why this is so important, it`s more important than the characters of Jerome Corsi or Roger Stone.  It`s about the rule of law and the President putting transactional relationships above that, and it`s also playing out right now in real-time with Jamal Khashoggi`s death, where a US resident working for a US publication, was killed on the soil of a NATO ally, and we are almost acting as accessories after the fact to help the Saudis cover it up because of the President`s transactional relationship.  So those days are over, and he can expect much more accountability. 

MELBER:  Jason, I see you nodding.  Do you have a thought and do you have a question for the congressman? 

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THE ROOT.COM:  Yes.  So the key thing here is, where do we start, right?  I mean, the levels of not just conspiratorial but absolute corruption and incompetence in this administration are so many, that many people wonder, okay, we`re really thrilled, if there was a blue wave that came in, what will the new leadership focus on?  Will it immediately go after Trump`s finances?  Will there be requests for tax returns?  That`s the real question that the American citizens are concerned about. 

And I am wondering where there Congressman thinks that the new Democrats will go first. 

SWALWELL  And Jason races a great point.  There`s almost so much out there, that you have to really prioritize it because in any other administration, you would think that Jared Kushner failing to fill out a security clearance a dozen times and not disclosing his own interests is the biggest issue.  That would be the case in most administrations. 

Here we have the President`s dealings with Russia, the dealings with Saudi Arabia, cashing in on access to the Oval Office by easing sanctions with the Chinese on ZTE while they`re giving him $500 million on a Trump Tower property.  And then oh, yes, the emoluments clause issue. 

So we want to do a few things and do them right, to not overwhelm the American people, but to show them that, again, that we`re going to do our job and put a balance of power on this abuse of power. 

MELBER:  And Congressman, you mentioned Kushner, and I saw you told "The New York Times" today, that`s not as high on your list.  The President obviously is trying to have it both ways and say that the Democrats are going to overreach in dealing with his family.  And I think for family members of the President, and who are uninvolved, who are truly what we might say civilians, who happen to be family members, there probably should traditionally be some deference. 

But do you think that it`s an abuse of that spirit, of that good faith, as lawyers might say, with a President who has insisted for the first time in US history on controlling and owning a business and putting his family in charge of that so that they can profit while they are in government and then as we all know, installing other members of his family in government who have now been flouting e-mail rules among other things. 

SWALWELL:  Right, it`s one thing, Ari, if it`s just straight corruption and that should be dealt with ideally, criminally.  It`s another thing though if the President`s financial interests are driving US foreign policy, and that`s what we`re seeing with Saudi Arabia, and with Russia. 

And I think that`s what we want to really zero in on, and make sure that we can intervene where we can, and where we weren`t able to in the last two years. 

MELBER:  And Jason, before I let you go, what is the feeling of your view in Washington here, as we get past the holiday, as we have the bombshell report I`m going to deal with more tonight, regarding the targeting of trying to jail James Comey and Hillary Clinton, of the blue wave tonight, reaching even higher numbers, are you starting to see in your reporting or in the mood that shift in Washington or not yet? 

JOHNSON:  I think people are beginning to be excited.  I think one thing that`s happened today is sort the obstinacy and the arrogance of these people heading to jail, whether it`s Jerome Corsi saying I won`t sign this, or Papadopoulos, acting like -- I mean, he`s going jail for two weeks, two weeks and you were involved in possibly attacking American democracy. 

He acts like he`s going to have do rag and sing and locked up, okay, he`s going to be in club Fed for two weeks and then he will walk out.  So I think a lot of people are shocked that even as this net becomes tighter and tighter on this administration, the boldness and the arrogance of the Trump administration continues.  So we`ll be interested to see how the blue wave starts to rein some of these people in. 

MELBER:  I think that`s certainly is one of the notes we`re picking up.  It`s a fascinating period, and it`s clearly a transition period.  Jason, thanks for your reporting.  Congressman, thanks for making time for us. 

SWALWELL:  Thank you, Ari.  My pleasure. 

MELBER:  Appreciate both of you.  Still ahead, a huge story, the outcry after children are tear gassed at the border.  Donald Trump says he may have a defense for that.  Also, the Mueller probe, my take on this bombshell report of Donald Trump`s new potentially illegal enemies list. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My Attorney General, I will ask to appoint a special prosecutor.  We have to investigate Hillary Clinton and we have to  investigate the investigation. 


MELBER:  That`s not just rhetoric and we`ll dig into it as well with reaction from Neal Katyal.  He`s argued cases over at the Supreme Court about action on how Trump`s own lawyers warned him that action could lead to impeachment.  Later, big news on that blue wave I mentioned, including a pretty remarkable comparison to the midterms that came after Richard Nixon`s criminal presidency.  I am Ari Melber, you`re "The Beat" on MSNBC. 

Now to a story today that starts with images, searing and provoking an outcry, with Donald Trump forced to respond.  You may have heard about this, one picture shows a Honduran girl in a diaper, crying after being tear gassed by US Border Patrol agents on the border with Mexico.  Another shows what appears to be the same girl with a toddler as they flee with an unidentified woman. 

They are part of a group of Central American migrants who have been seeking asylum in the US and were trying to cross into the US from Tijuana on Sunday.  The Trump administration says that some of these migrants were also throwing rocks, thus posing a threat to other people. 

NBC though, we want to tell you, has not been able to report or verify that claim, meaning we don`t believe it to be verified tonight at this hour. 

Today, Trump also accused some as being quote "stone cold criminals" and saying this about the tear gas. 


TRUMP:  They had to use it because they were being rushed by some very tough people, and they used tear gas and here is the bottom line.  Nobody is coming into our country unless they come in legally. 


MELBER:  Congresswoman-elect, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says that there should be a consideration of these people being refugees is not quote "a crime."  Meanwhile, Amnesty International notes that quote, "America should be better than this."  Here with reaction from Senator Bernie Sanders. 


BERNIE SANDERS, US SENATOR, VERMONT, INDEPENDENT:  I think you`ve got a really tragic situation, and you`ve got to minimize the level of force that is being used. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You write in your book that President Trump is on the wrong side of decency on this issue. 

SANDERS:  He`s on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of decency. 


MELBER:  Joining me is Erika Andiola, Communications Director for the movement Voter Project.  He is also a DACA recipient who worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign we should mention, as well as Enrique Morones, who leads Border Angels, an organization that`s been delivering supplies to some of the migrants coming from Tijuana. 

My thanks to both of you for being here.  Enrique, is this just a very bad problem at the border, or is this explicitly worse right now under the Trump administration? 

ENRIQUE MORONES, FOUNDER, BORDER ANGELS:  Well, Ari, glad to be on again.  I was there yesterday, like I have been several days over the last month, since this last caravan arrived.  And yesterday, once again, we saw the worst of the American spirit.  The problem is Donald Trump.  His militarization of the border, his having the military there lined up with the Mexican border on Thanksgiving Day, tear gassing children yesterday.  These were women and children, and most of the people that went towards the border where they were chanting "we are workers, not criminals."  They wanted to get in line to plead asylum.  That`s what they have been saying.  If you want to get in, get in line. 

They`re not even allowing them to do that.  So what Trump is doing is he is causing more hate actions with his hate words, the whole world saw it.  I was there, on the Tijuana side.  I`ve seen the whole thing and we have got to stop it because people are getting hurt. 

MELBER:  Let me press you on this, because we covered this story before, and I think the humanitarian issues are clear.  But given your work on it, as you say you were there, what specific evidence do you have that this is coming from the current President rather than, as I mentioned, part of the ongoing border problems, that, to be clear, we`ve seen under multiple administrations. 

MORONES:  I don`t see it as a border problem.  I see it as a border reality.  The United States is 21st in the world when it comes to welcoming migrants.  People cross borders all the time.  There`s 250 million undocumented people in the world today.  In my lifetime, unauthorized migration to the United States has never been lower.  When we saw these big groups in the caravan, it gives a false image especially when Trump says it`s ISIS and criminals.  Are there some bad apples?  Yes. But there are very few of them. 

The overwhelming majority of the people in Tijuana support the migrants.  I have family that lives in Tijuana.  We, the Border Angels have a shelter on the beach in Tijuana.  We saw people from San Diego come over, the minute men types, throwing rocks at migrants sleeping on the beach.  They`re provoking this type of a situation. 

And when there`s chaos, it gets going, as you saw, like you`re seeing.  People start rushing, they don`t know what`s going on.  It`s a very scary situation. 

MELBER:  And we have some of those visuals for sure.  Let me put the same question to Erika and put it to contrast to the child separation policy, which very explicitly was a changed game from this administration and the numbers here show immigrant children in Texas shelters alone have gone from about 3,000 up to 5,620 children, the ongoing human toll, and where human rights experts say is human rights abuse under the policy. 

In contrast to that, same question to you on the link to the current administration. 

ERIKA ANDIOLA, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, VOTER PROJECT:  The thing is, this is not the answer.  And for me, it`s been very, very frustrating, very painful to see that instead of figuring out what is the best way to address what is a national problem, not necessarily just now, but it`s been a problem of violence and poverty in Central America, and I keep asking and telling people, what would you do if your children were being threatened to join gangs, to women and a lot of girls being basically threatened with rape if they don`t join gangs.  It`s just a terrible situation. 

And instead of figuring out how to address that by actually going and looking at the cases of all these migrants, figuring out who has fear, why, and whether they should stay, instead of that, we`re cause thing entire problem at the border that shouldn`t be happening in the first place.  Tear gas, all of this, children crying because they`re suffering, that should not be happening in the very first place.  Trump is wrong, he`s been wrong, and this is not going to be the way to stop people from coming, because people are suffering in Central America. 

MELBER:  And Erika, turning to that suffering and the facts here, the administration, through DHS has put out this statement today.  I`ve mentioned some of this in the lead, but they talk about how there was an attempt to harm personnel throwing projectiles, rocks, et cetera at them.  As I mentioned, we don`t have the evidence of that, at least on the tapes we have consulted. 

How important is that factual debate?  Because there is a big difference in a security context between people who pose an imminent threat, and people who, as you mentioned, are seeking asylum, which has always historically been a legally protected process, which is nonviolent in its essence. 

ANDIOLA:  The problem is that this shouldn`t be happening in the first place.  The way that people have been asking for asylum in the past is that they don`t necessarily just have to go through to a point of entry.  Now, because Trump has asked people and has put up you know, policies forward that are asking people to go to ports of entry, and they`re not even being allowed to get processed.  There has been so much money being put into the military to come into the border instead of being -- funding more and more agents to come and actually process asylum cases. 

So people are desperate. They are -- I mean, those photos, and there`s many other photos of people who are right now camping in the streets.  Children on diapers, children who are hungry, and we are going to see more and more people coming to the border and staying there, basically homeless right now, in cities that are very harmful also in Mexico. 

So right now, those families, those people who are there, they`re very desperate and like I said before, that shouldn`t be happening, because people should be able to ask for asylum in the United States.  It`s illegal and morally wrong and legally wrong for Trump to be doing this. 

MELBER:  And I think you both spoke into that humanitarian point, which is whether it`s World War II or Syria or Central American violence, there`s always people fleeing violence.  They are not traditionally our opponents, even if they can`t all legally be let in.  Enrique Morones and Erika Andiola, thanks to both of you. 

I want to turn now to my take on a very important report from the "New York Times" on Donald Trump`s attempt at illegal prosecution of a key witness in the Mueller probe and his opponent, Hillary Clinton when we`re back in 30 seconds. 

Now to our special report.  Tonight, a Trump attack on the rule of law that is worse than the actions which actually led to the Mueller probe in the first place.  Donald Trump tried to order the illegal prosecution of a key witness in the Mueller probe, James Comey, whom he famously he fired as FBI Director and Donald Trump tried to order illegal prosecution of his rival, Hillary Clinton.  "The New York Times" exposing both of those potentially illegal acts last week. 

A bombshell that could really easily get lost in a sea of Trump outrages and crises.  But tonight, we`re digging into this report, because it is vital that this story is not lost or minimized or misunderstood. 

This "New York Times" report exposes an attempted crime by US standards, and the kind of abuse commonly associated with authoritarians in other countries like Vladamir Putin, who oversaw the prosecution of his rival, a billionaire critic named Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was bankrupted and jailed for nine years in a show trial blasted by an international human rights court because it was deemed a total abuse to take out a critic. 

Venezuela`s President, Nicolas Maduro took a similar tack against his leading opponent, using protest as a pretext for a 13-year jail sentence condemned by international human rights groups. And it was the same playbook in Egypt where President Hosni Mubarak jailed the first person to ever run even a kind of symbolic race against him abusing their justice system to target enemies which is the kind of thing that let`s be clear U.S. presidents used to condemn. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are many distances you couldn`t join us because they are being unjustly imprisoned or held under house arrest.  I look forward to the day when conference like this one includes --

Ayman Nour of Egypt, I called for the immediate and unconditional release of your loved ones.


MELBER:  Each of those examples from foreign authoritarians shows a leader jailing a candidate.  The idea of jailing a former office holder like Senator Hillary Clinton may sound even more extreme.  That is exactly what happened to the first woman to serve as the Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko.  A Putin ally came to power and had her jailed for seven years.  It was a politically motivated violation of human rights according to experts.  Her daughter said there was no doubt why Tymoshenko was jailed.


EUGENIA TYMOSHENKO, DAUGHTER OF YULIA TYMOSHENKO:  Now, the regime will -- cannot say that my mother is not a political prisoner.


MELBER:  A new Putin Ally comes to power and seeks the prosecution and jailing of his chief rival, the most prominent woman in politics.  The sound that you hear is the echo of authoritarianism creeping into the United States.  This isn`t a hypothetical comparison.  Political leaders around the world abuse their legal systems to kneecap opponents because it works.  These campaigns have an intimidating and chilling effect even if certain plots are not always completed. 

And that`s where we are tonight.  That is the international historical context for what is the now widely exposed plot of United States President Donald Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Breaking news tonight, word from the New York Times that the President wanted the Justice Department to prosecute James Comey and Hillary Clinton earlier this year.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS HOST:  A stunning report out tonight says President Trump was poised to order the criminal prosecutions of two of his biggest political adversaries. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He could face a range of consequences including possible impeachment. 


MELBER:  Impeachment.  That word is in newscast tonight because Donald Trump`s own lawyers used that word warning him this plot was not just unconstitutional, not just illegal, not just a crime, but rather right in the strike zone of the kind of high crime that does warrant impeachment.  And while some have tried to minimize those Trump campaign chants you remember as rhetoric, "lock her up," this new reporting shows Trump was just following up explicitly and directly on his 2016 pledges.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If I win, I am going to instruct my Attorney General to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.

My Attorney General I will ask to appoint a special prosecutor.  We have to investigate Hillary Clinton and we have to investigate the investigation.


MELBER:  The candidate was clear.  He meant that.  It`s what he told Clinton, it`s what he repeated to his supporters around the nation.  The Times report proves that what Trump said before becoming president is exactly what he`s trying to do as president.  This is documented evidence now. 


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  It`s an unequivocal clear piece of documented evidence that the President does want to mess with law enforcement any way he can.


MELBER:  And whatever one thinks of James Comey, we`ve criticized some of his actions right here on this show.  The reason Comey matters in this whole plot is that he`s key to the obstruction probe.  In fact, it was Trump`s targeting of Comey that led to the entire Mueller probe.  Before Trump fired call me there was simply a Russian collusion investigation inside the DOJ.  Firing Comey raised the strikes because it raised the question of whether Trump was pulling a Nixon and obstructing an open probe.  And that firing famously led to Mueller`s appointment and Comey backed up the rationale for that appointment under oath testifying Trump targeted him to change the Russia probe.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI:  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 Russian investigation was being conducted.  That is a -- that is a very big deal.


MELBER:  A very big deal.  Firing the FBI director to change a probe can be an element of a crime of obstruction.  That is very big.  Now, think about where we are tonight because it is new.  Trying to get the FBI Director jailed to change a probe is impeachable all on its own.  It is very, very, very big.  That`s what the New York Times has exposed, a single act that is more serious and more criminal than the whole thing that got Mueller appointed in the first place.

Let me repeat that because we all have understandably some bombshell story fatigue these days.  This story exposes an act by Trump that is more serious and more criminal than the whole thing that got Mueller appointed in the first place.  And during Nixon`s famed Saturday night massacre many warned that he was trying to do a similar thing, abuse law enforcement to get his way.  And there was one Republican senator who spoke to that as an outspoken critic.


JOHN CHANCELLOR, JOURNALIST:  The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The travesty of this whole thing is, of course, that for the people that we`re trying to obey the law, trying to enforce the law and now they`re the people that are forced out and that`s -- that I think is the crux of the new crisis because this brings squarely into focus are we going to be a government of law.


MELBER:  Are we going to be a government of laws.  That was the question because Nixon tried to abuse the DOJ and turn those powers against his enemies it ultimately backfired.  If an entire Special Counsel probe was ignited because it appeared Trump was trying to simply change the outcome of the Comey investigation by firing him, imagine the full of ramifications of this report with Trump trying to now get people to use the legal system to prosecute Comey and prosecute Clinton. 

And this is not just something we have foreign examples for as I mentioned.  Donald Trump has also systematically and publicly targeted Comey`s deputy Andy McCabe and got him ousted from the DOJ.  Trump didn`t personally do the firing, cutting off his pension days before it was supposed to kick in which sends a chill through any other public employees, and then now getting an open criminal probe in D.C. into McCabe.  We don`t know what`s happening inside there where it leads.  But the attempted pressure to silence Comey and McCabe two former top FBI officials, yes it obviously does send a message to everyone else working behind the scenes about what it means to stand up to Trump.  He will come after you.

And Donald Trump doesn`t just talk trash.  He is doing these things.  Remember, he talks a lot about the media but he`s also trying to come after them in the same way.  This hasn`t gotten enough attention but when he came into office, he promptly asked the FBI to investigate in jail journalists, something we only learned about later after he fired the FBI Director it came out in oops, those Comey memos.  That same playbook is now being used against Comey himself and apparently against his deputy McCabe, and yes against Hillary Clinton.

Some civil servants will continue to push back against this and tell him no, tell the president no.  That`s what the McGahn friendly leaks argue that McGahn did although Trump has continued to privately discuss the matter of trying to get Comey and Clinton jailed according to that same New York Times report.  It is not enough tonight to take solace that some of these barriers will automatically continue to hold or to wax poeticly about how we have a strong system and it can`t happen here. 

Remember, that very phrase isn`t supposed to be taken literally.  It was Sinclair Lewis`s famous warning about how a conman populist demagogue could win an election on fear and nationalism and then turn the U.S. towards authoritarianism.  Anything can happen anywhere.  And just because Trump attempted this and was thwarted does not mean this is anywhere near over. 

The very White House lawyer who stops Trump from the plot, of course, has now gone from this White House.  Don McGahn yet another Trump a turn to Bob Mueller witness.  And while some of the walls may close in legally on some of the people, there isn`t any evidence in this reporting that Donald Trump is going to change who he is on these issues.  He told us who he was during the campaign running on jailing Hilary Clinton and now through this reporting, he`s told us again who he is in office.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  One of the most important lessons I ever learned.  When people show you who they are, believe them. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes absolutely.  If a person says to you I`m selfish, or I`m mean, or I am unkind --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Or I`m crazy -- believe them.  They know themselves much better than you do.


MELBER:  The great Maya Angelou, believed them.  Donald Trump showed us who he was when he tried to order an illegal prosecution just like he showed us who he was when he pledged that`s what he was going to do.  And now is the time for everyone in and out of government to decide what we`re going to do about it. 


MELBER:  We turn now to what this bombshell story means that Donald Trump tried to order the prosecution of James Comey and Hillary Clinton while in office, potentially the most significant legal scandal to hit the White House at least since he fired Comey triggering the Mueller probe.  I`m joined by a former U.S. Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal.  He actually wrote the rules that continue to govern Mueller`s power and is one of the most perfect people we could have on this reporting.  Neal --

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  Well, first of all I was just watching your reporting and I want to thank you for it because you know, we all know Donald Trump has constitutional amnesia but all of us suffer a little bit of amnesia because Trump keeps on doing crazy things, unconstitutional things, whether it`s attacking Mueller, whether it`s you know, what -- he`s doing firing tear gas at the border children or so on.  And it`s hard for us to remember this New York Times article from last week which is you`re absolutely right, a bombshell.

I mean, when -- I`ve been at the just Department twice, both times there was one thick red line you knew never to cross which is to allow the White House any input into criminal prosecutions.  Why?  Because the power of a prosecutor is so awesome, so mighty, they`re literally putting people in jail.  And you never want the President to be or his folks at the White House to be dictating those prosecutorial decisions.  And that is how the Justice Department has worked up until now. 

MELBER:  It`s so foundational that sometimes like other premises that we don`t want to question that much, we don`t talk about it that much, but yes, within the board of the United States prosecutors are the people who decide whether people have their lives destroyed, their liberty taken, and in some cases whether they are through a process killed, executed.  This abuse was grounds for impeachment against Nixon.  Of course, he ultimately resigned but I want to read from those articles for your analysis where it said, Nixon knowingly misused the executive power interfering with the FBI as well as the special prosecution force, the DOJ, also threw in the CIA.  How does that quasi-precedent if you will govern analysis of what`s been exposed about Trump?

KATYAL:  Yes, you know, you`re exactly right.  There are two precedents really for what Trump is doing, one is Nixon and the other is Putin, either of that.  And you know, Putin does this to his enemies as your piece described and Nixon tried to do it which is why the White House Counsel, Donald Trump`s top lawyer said if you do this Mr. President it`s going to lead to a trigger impeachment.  I mean that is remarkable.  I mean that`s Trump`s own guy saying it.  Not just singing but writing it down in a memo to the file because he was so worried about what would happen.  I mean, that`s an extraordinary thing.

MELBER:  You mentioned White House Counsel McGahn, who are the people that are supposed to check a present?

KATYAL:  So there`s two people really at the top of this, that`s the White House Counsel, the top White House lawyer, and the Attorney General.  Now, both of those people have been removed by Trump, Jeff Sessions, and Don McGann.  Now, neither of them are Louis Brandeis or some great figure but boy compared to the replacements, Cipollone and Matthew Whitaker, I mean these guys look like legal giants like Oliver Wendell Holmes. 

I mean those -- the two new people are put in there for one reason and one reason only.  They`re lackeys, they`re nobodies who will do the President`s bidding and that is just an extraordinarily dangerous thing.

MELBER:  So let`s remove the T-word and the personalities and in closing get your legal analysis of if you have a report that a president tries to abuse the powers this way, is that alone a high-crime?

KATYAL:  100 percent.  It doesn`t matter whether the president is a Democrat or Republican.  The word begins with I and it ends with T.

MELBER:  Yes.  And that`s where we are and this was a story that as I say should not be lost because of the timing around the holiday or anything else.  It seems to me as bigger than firing Comey. 

KATYAL:  Absolutely.  This is not about politics.  This is about the rule of law at its most central essence which is are we going to be governed by standard principles or are we going to let a president corrupt it and say I can go after my enemies, I can go after someone who might testify against me like Jim Comey.  This is tragic. 

MELBER:  Neal Katyal who knows these issues well and has practiced law at the highest level the Supreme Court, thank you for being here.

KATYAL:  Thank you.

MELBER:  I appreciate it.  Coming up, a new controversy shaking up the politics in all of this this week, the Mississippi runoff Senate race, a new fear among yes, some Republicans on the eve of that big vote. 


MELBER:  We`ve been reporting on law, immigration, now we turn to some politics and new numbers that show this blue wave, the power of Democrats to retake the House bigger than previously reported.  That`s a theme that`s been repeating.  Democratic House candidates have now according to the latest numbers won an 8.8 million vote margin over Republicans nationwide.  That`s actually the largest margin of victory for either party ever in American history and it`s also larger than what is considered a giant marker which is what Democrats want in the wake of Nixon`s criminal Watergate scandal, those other midterms.

Overall, this is a chart we`ve shown you before and it also keeps going up.  Democrats have now gained 39 seats in the House and the election, well, it`s not over.  Tomorrow, Mississippi voters go back to the polls, they have this runoff in that type Senate race between a Republican incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy.  There has been a string of controversial comments from Hyde-Smith in this race including what she later defended as a "joke about public hangings" not often known as a punchline.  And that has this deep red Mississippi seat potentially in play.

Republicans reportedly now nervous about a repeat of what happened in Alabama where a Democrat who was a huge underdog Doug Jones beat out the Republican favorite in that Republican State Roy Moore.

Now, the most recent poll though tells a very different story, a ten-point edge for the Republican there but now an internal Republican poll also recent shows the lead down to five points which many consider striking distance when you remember that Mississippi went for Trump by almost 20.

Now, later this hour, guess what, Donald Trump goes to Mississippi where he believes he can have a positive effect Hyde-Smith and getting her across the finish line.  She also sort of apologized last week to "anyone that was "offended" by some of those comments" but for the most part she has been sidestepping all the important questions about what she`s said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator, you stood inside of Jefferson Davis` house and you said that this is Mississippi history at its best.  Senator, what did you mean by that standing inside of Jefferson Davis` house and saying that Mississippi --

SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI:  Thank you all for being here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator this is -- a third of your electorate is African American --

HYDE-SMITH:  We`re feeling great.  Thank you all for being here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But Senator, you`re running to be the U.S. Senator of the United States, Senator.  Senator, you`re running to be the U.S. Senator.  Why not talk about race? 


MELBER:  That is what not answering questions looks like.  Tomorrow, we`ll all see what the voters have to say.  Also, I have one more thing to tell you when we come back.


MELBER:  A lot of stories are developing in Washington right now and tomorrow we`re going to get a couple of interesting views on them I think.  Congressman Hakeem Jeffries will be in the building talking about the blue wave and what Democrats are going to do with their new power.  And on the other side, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has a new book and he`s out to settle some scores and I`ll be asking him the tough questions.  That does it for me.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.