Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: November 30, 2018 Guest: Kim Wehle, Ralph Peters, Irvin Nathan, Boris McGiver
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: If it`s Sunday, it`s "MEET THE PRESS" on NBC. We will be talking a lot on the Russia connection, plus the president`s big meeting with China. Will it help or hurt the American economy?
"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now. Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. Thank you very much.
We are covering a lot of news tonight. Donald Trump overseas right now with world leaders but unable to escape the political and legal firestorm back home here in Washington. You could see Donald Trump standing in a line with Vladimir Putin today but forced to call off their planned sit down after these revelations that Michael Cohen was working with the Kremlin on potential business in Moscow.
Also later tonight, a BEAT special report. What happens if Donald Trump just defies the subpoenas from the new Democratic House next year? Well, there`s actually something pretty major the Democrats can do about it. I have original reporting on what might be the most significant congressional fight of 2019. That`s later.
But we begin with the growing heat on Donald Trump in this Russia probe culminating in pressure now hitting Trump`s family. Also, Paul Manafort`s lawyers today facing off with the Mueller team in court. This was a new and separate proceeding. This all coming out of the way that Mueller yanked and blew up the plea deal because he says, as you may have heard by now, that Paul Manafort kept online.
So one of Mueller`s top lieutenants Andrew Weissmann says that Manafort could even face new and separate charges. Meanwhile, Mueller reportedly accusing Manafort of lying about things like his business dealings and his foreign outreach.
Now let`s be clear, a lot of that sounds bad but in our legal system, nobody just takes Bob Mueller`s word for it. Today, a judge explained exactly how it`s going to go down, ordering Mueller`s prosecutors to basically prove that case, that bad stuff about Manafort with details and turn them in by December 7. And the judge would scour those arguments for potentially months because Manafort won`t under this plan actually get sentenced until March.
Meanwhile, new reporting that Mueller`s asking witnesses about Ivanka Trump and Don Junior`s role in, yes, the Trump Tower Moscow project, and investigators have clearly gotten their hands on some hot e-mails which show Cohen talked to Ivanka and Don Junior about this very controversial and much lied about the project. And then Ivanka then recommended a specific architect for it if it were to happen.
All of that has forced Donald Trump to change the story he`s had about this that has been going back for years. He`s now claiming he just lightly looked at doing deals in Russia, which is a major upgrade from "No dealings".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we`ve stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s a lot of nos that are not nos. And Cohen meeting with Mueller`s team on seven different days we now know in the last three months alone about 70 hours and he clearly would have given up a lot more information than what was just released in that relatively spare piece of charging materials that we got yesterday.
Now, Donald Trump didn`t even know about those meetings until the guilty plea dropped. So that means, to be clear, that Donald Trump doesn`t probably have much of an idea of what else Cohen told Mueller about Trump`s ties to Russia unless some of it was leaked back through that Manafort double-agent thing, we`ll see. And then Donald Trump probably doesn`t have a lot of insight as to why the Russians were -- well, will he find out why they were so eager to help him?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: They`re doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump. Now maybe because he has praised Putin, maybe because he`s said he agrees with a lot of what Putin wants to do, maybe because he wants to do business in Moscow, I don`t know the reasons but we deserve answers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The answers keep coming in, and we`ve got some professional answer givers to join me here in Washington this Friday night. "Washington Post" Columnist Eugene Robinson, Eleanor Clift, Washington Correspondent for the "Daily Beast", and former Federal Prosecutor Kim Wehle who worked on the White Water investigation. Kim, is there any crime that you see in this horrific national security scandal?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, with respect to the president, we don`t really know. There could be a conspiracy to defraud the United States that involves the Russians. We already know there`s an indictment against several Russian operatives. We could have some additional campaign financial violations. We could have foreign corrupt practices problems if there was a quid pro quo.
Look, across the legal landscape of the United States, this notion of getting goodies for favors is something that the emoluments clause doesn`t like, the securities clause doesn`t like it, the foreign corrupt practices act doesn`t like it. When presidential candidates announce that they`re going to run, they have to disclose information. So there are lots of places in the law where this is a problem and, of course, the politics of it are problematic and all of it I think clearly bears on an impeachment question.
MELBER: Well, and that is an extra-legal or constitutional version of this. The other question I want to go to you before we brought it out on the law is when you list that off, that`s a target rich environment of basically federal crimes you`re talking about. Do you view those as directly in the collusion of investigation that Mueller was assigned or do you view those as equally legitimate for him to pursue but basically arising out of collusion?
WEHLE: Well, to your point, the referral from Rod Rosenstein to Mueller is quite broad. The rising out of it would clearly encompass all of that. But to me, what came out, if you read carefully the information that Mueller issued with respect to Cohen, you can see in the e-mails that are documented in that information, this is not just Mr. Cohen talking, linking the president and communications with the Russians relating to the Mosco deal during the campaign.
MELBER: But business crime that may not be "Collusion".
WEHLE: Well, collusion is not a crime. Conspiracy is a crime. But collusion is like what the shorthand people are talking about for this connection between the Russians and the election. As far as the crime, it would have to be what we know is a conspiracy, a meeting of the minds. And any showing of intent is very difficult.
MELBER: So that`s crime. I want to talk to you, Eleanor, about lies which are bad for democracy and bad for national security even when they are potentially lawful. It has been said that Donald Trump lies so much that that`s just his thing. He doesn`t care about the truth. But what we just showed, Donald Trump changing the story suggests that he does feel the need to revise. Your view of that.
ELEANOR CLIFT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, the fact that he covered this up, he knew that there was something that didn`t sit quite right with what he was doing, and so he lied consistently. And now he`s faced with a plea agreement that everybody can see where a person acting on his behalf, working with the top aide to the Russian president was offering a $50 million suite on the top of Trump Tower.
Now, I don`t know how you define bribe, but that comes awfully close to it. And the president is now saying, well, he wasn`t sure he was going to win. There was a good chance he wouldn`t win. He had to pursue his business opportunities, there was nothing wrong with that.
MELBER: And let me push you on that.
CLIFF: And so he might be right.
MELBER: Let me push you on that. There was a former Trump aide today who said you don`t know Donald Trump at all if you think he would have ever accepted the recommendation to give away a $50 million suie in gift.
CLIFT: Well, he wouldn`t be giving it away, he`d be getting something in return. So I think they`d be weighing carefully the risk-benefit. And that`s what he`s been doing ever since he`s entered the campaign and every day he`s been in that White House. He measures the risk versus the benefit. He wasn`t going to meet with Putin at the G20 Summit -- oops, yes, he is going to meet. The Russians owned him. They have owned him since the early `90s where the only money he could get was from Deutsche Bank which has a well-known reputation for acting as the financial conduit for Russian oligarchs.
And I think it`s fascinating that the Germans raided Deutsche Bank this week and I don`t know what`s going to come out of that. But a friend of mine who works in finance says there`s a saying that things happen gradually and then they happen all of a sudden. And it feels like that`s the phase we`re in.
MELBER: And then you go to the building behind us, Eugene and it has become commonplace to normalize the Congress as a failure that doesn`t do anything. I`m not interested in using that as the premise. I go from the premise that the Congress has oversight responsibilities, has investigative responsibilities, and you look at the Russia report that came out of the House, which I`m going to read to you for your analysis, on this very issue.
It asserts that Michael Cohen Attempted to reach out to members of the Russian government, to make that very project proceed. But apparently, it didn`t have any direct points of contact, and that it doesn`t appear Cohen ever received a response. What does it mean for that building there that that`s the Republican conclusion that in the light of day by Mueller now we know to be false?
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the Republicans were clearly determined to find that there`s nothing here to see, folks. You know, nothing really happened. Now, that -- in fairness, that`s what Michael Cohen told them, right? And so he lied. Now, they didn`t go out of their way at all to test those lies and to try to, you know, as Mueller did, to find out that, you know, that he wasn`t telling the truth.
And they certainly didn`t go where Eleanor suggests Mueller may be going, to look at this at the whole nexus of relationships between Donald Trump and Russian oligarchs and billionaires and people connected with Putin over the years. And how much they`ve spent buying luxury condos from him and where that money came from and was it cleaner after they bought these apartments? You know, that`s something I think Mueller was looking at.
MELBER: And Eleanor, I want to ask you about the way Donald Trump is reacting to all of this. You know, there`s much has been made of what a TV presidency this is, but Washington has been a TV town for some time. When you were on the McLaughlin Group and those of us were growing up watching it, that was where the table was set. And the only thing that`s changed is it`s just happened faster and more constantly.
And so with that in mind, I read to you the reports about Donald Trump watching TV, and it says every time he sees Michael Cohen on TV, he grows aggrieved. And Cohen is now seen as an existential threat at much or more so than the Mueller investigation itself because when Trump sees him on-air he knows that this was his fixer for so many issues.
CLIFT: Well, and he says that Michael Cohen is a weak person. Michael Cohen is lying. At the same time, Rudy Giuliani who`s speaking on the president`s behalf as his lawyer said that the president`s answers in his written document to Mueller line up with what Michael Cohen said. Now, I`d like to see that released, if this White House really wants us to believe this president has any credibility.
I guess I can`t even use that word in the same sentence with Trump. But they want to prove something, that they are telling a story that their supporters will believe. That this was a business opportunity, there`s nothing untoward here, and he was entitled to do this. And now he`s being pushed around by this weak person who`s telling lies because he doesn`t want to go to jail. And probably going to find --
MELBER: And the Trump narrative, at least for his fans, he`s really good at picking people. He picks the best people, but also some mysterious process constantly delivers him really weak liars who constantly turn on him. It`s just that`s how it works.
ROBINSON: That he hardly knows or he barely met. But, you know, Michael Cohen could turn out to be for prosecutors the gift that keeps on giving, and not just Mueller but the Southern District of New York, the Manhattan District Attorney`s office. It`s not hard to imagine years` worth of work that could be done by prosecutors investigating the Trump organization`s finances with, you know, Michael Cohen as kind of the, you know, the guide to show them the way.
MELBER: So this is Friday night`s news in Washington, and we`ve done the law, the lies, and the Congress. What I want to do now is actually take a moment and look at where we are on this Friday night with the whole week. Because I will be the first to admit sometimes we are always chasing the latest in this very unusual political environment and we miss the larger context.
And so for that, I set aside a little time to bring in one of our friends and a long time analyst, Howard Fineman, here at MSNBC. With a very particular brief, sir, which is not the last six hours or the last 24, but how do you make sense of what is turning right now over the last week or two because I feel something happening?
HOWARD FINEMAN, POLITICAL ANALYST, MSNBC: OK. Well, if I was at the old "News Week Magazine" with Eleanor Clift, we would right now be discussing what the cover line was, and we thought we were doing the first rough draft of history week by week, so you came to the right person, Ari. My cover line would be individual one, which is what Donald Trump is described as in the recent Mueller findings.
He`s individual one now not just as president but individual one at the absolute center of everything else that is going on legally. When he answered some questions in writing, he put his own first draft of history on the books legally. The problem he has is that Robert Mueller has spent the last year and a half gathering facts designed to assess the credibility and the truthfulness of what Donald Trump said in those -- on those pieces of paper.
And because I think there are going to be major conflicts between that, between the president`s story and everybody else`s story, that makes him in this story of the week in a way we`ve been covering over the last year the slow gathering process of Mueller working from the outside in and from the bottom to the top. We`re now reaching the top of the mountain and there sits individual one.
MELBER: And so when you see the president react this way on the scale of premeditated, canny, ready for everything because he`s conned a lot of individuals over his whole life. He`s a guy that would pay out $50 million for Trump because, at the end of the day, he had a plan to get out from under it or do you see someone who`s overreacting emotionally?
FINEMAN: Well, I`m a pretty experienced Trump watcher. I covered him some when he was out and about in New York as a businessman and toying with politics and I know people who were trying to get him involved in politics. And I saw him on the campaign trail a lot in 2015 and 2016 and I`ve spent time with him and I think his confidence is shaken.
And I thought that when I saw him yesterday on his way to the helicopter giving one of the most confused and out of balance and unconfident answers that I`ve seen him giving by way of explanation of what the news that had come out that day. And I think the fact that we`re talking about the very innermost circle, not just Manafort, not just Stone, but now Jared Kushner and now even his daughter Ivanka surfacing in some of these questions, that`s got him off his props.
And the other thing is this. Don`t forget at the beginning of all this, Donald Trump said, look, look at this if you want, I don`t like it but stay away from my business. My business is the red line here. Remember, he drew that red line early on.
That line has been obliterated because the whole Mueller theory from the beginning has been to look at the financial relationships of Donald Trump and Russian oligarchs, as Eleanor was saying, to look for motivation for collusion, cooperation, whatever you want. And now he realizes that every last thing about his business going back years with the Russians is going to be out there for public view at some point between now and a year from now.
MELBER: And you raise a more profound question, which is what happens to a confidence man when he`s out of confidence?
FINEMAN: Well, I think we`re getting close to seeing that. And I think if Rudy is telling him, Rudy Giuliani is saying, "Don`t worry, we got this", I think at this point Donald Trump doesn`t think anybody`s got this. And the more he talks about weak people around him, the more I think in a way -- Donald Trump psychology here, he`s worried about his own ability to stand up here. The pressure of the presidency in any circumstance is almost beyond anybody`s ability to bear. With this kind of scrutiny coming down on him now, it`s going to be interesting to see what he himself is made of.
MELBER: And lighting round in a sentence or two, same question. If he is a con man and a confidence man, how does he go forward now?
ROBINSON: I think it`s all about the family. I think the threat to Don Junior, to Ivanka, drives him crazy. I think he will do anything.
CLIFT: I think he thinks his main risk is impeachment and it isn`t. Because unless you have 20 Republicans in the Senate, forget about conviction and being tossed out of office. So I think that`s misplaced and I think he spends his days escaping. He was tweeting and watching television at the G20 Summit.
MELBER: Which you don`t need to go to the G20 Summit for. You can just stay home.
CLIFT: Right. Well, and he actually stayed home from the Christmas tree lighting the other day. That seems a small thing but what other president has not taken part in the Christmas tree lighting?
MELBER: In a sentence or two?
WEHLE: Well, I teach Constitutional law and I think the question comes down to accountability here. We also have Whitaker not putting the brakes on this process. It looks like the Mueller investigation is going on without his interference. That`s really important. And the second piece is we now have a Congress that`s going to flip and we might see more perjury investigations in that regard.
MELBER: A lot here on this table. Eugene Robinson, Kim Wehle, Howard Fineman, thank you very much. Eleanor Clift, you are back for a special Fallback Friday at the end of the night. It`s Friday, we still have a little fun.
Coming up, the Kremlin saying that Trump and Putin will meet after all. What does that mean? Meanwhile, Russian military intel also newly linked to that Trump Tower Moscow fiasco.
And later, my special report on how House Democrats can use the courts in any Trump battle. This is an original and exclusive reporting. And yes, a Washington Fallback Friday. We`ll have all the details. Look at that. It`s going to be fun.
I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: Crime is in the news so much these days, it is easy to start to think that the only big political scandals are those involving crimes or alleged crimes. But as President Trump attends this G20 Summit in Argentina tonight, and here he was near Vladimir Putin after they announced they wouldn`t meet, consider that even if Trump`s lies about doing business in Moscow are not proven to be crimes, they are still a massive scandal implicating U.S. national security. With Kremlin veterans Shepherding Trump`s aides on the deal, "The New York Times" reports today and Russia and Trump coordinating their false cover story.
So right now, let`s dig into the national security. I`m joined by retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters. And Colonel, I want to share with you a colleague of mine`s breakdown to this, Rachel Maddow explaining why this is a huge problem for the U.S. regardless of the legal piece of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: What we now know, what Mueller knows is that the president during the campaign in 2016, he was secretly trying to arrange what would probably have been the largest business deal of his life in Russia through direct contact with the Kremlin. He was trying to do this business deal while the Kremlin was orchestrating a military intelligence attack by the GRU on our election to help Trump win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You hear that description?
RALPH PETERS, FORMER LIEUTENANT COLONEL: Yes.
MELBER: Let`s assume for the sake of argument that it all proves to be legal. What are the national security implications in your view?
PETERS: Well, first of all, I`m the wrong guy to ask because I believe that treason is illegal. And to me, this is treason. Ari, short of nuclear war, general war, I can`t imagine a more serious national security threat than a U.S. president who is compromised or a candidate for the presidency compromised by the most hostile foreign power we face.
Now, all of that said, if there`s ever a film made about the Trump administration, it`s got to be done by the Cohen brothers because this is going into the realm of the absurd. Today was the first time I actually laughed out loud, I literally, over this whole mess when I found that the Trump gang was trying to work this deal in Moscow through a Russian spy general named Shumkov (ph), General Shumkov. In the shades of Doctor Strange (INAUDIBLE). But on a saner side of things, this is how you do things in Russia and they were clearly trying every track.
And I think it`s because Trump`s ego got so involved in this Moscow project, it became his great white whale. He began to buy or seduce his way from Scotland to Atlantic City and back again but he couldn`t crack Moscow.
MELBER: Well, you`re saying that this is like the Cohen brothers` movie and that the tide it all to gather this tower was so central. I`m wondering if then whether Trump Tower Moscow is the rug in big Lebowski which really tied the room together.
PETERS: That`s an insult to a very nice rock. I think the dude knows what he`s talking about.
MELBER: The dude?
PETERS: Yes, he did. But I think it is. I mean he seems to have become truly obsessed --
PETERS: -- with getting a Trump Tower in Moscow. And to that end, he lost perspective. Because one thing he always had through all his bankruptcies, he had some perspective on what made sense business wise. It was at the point, it appears that Trump Tower Moscow wasn`t even making good business sense, but he had to have it. This is a fam femme fatal he could not capture or my prefer, the great white whale he could not find.
MELBER: Well, you`re referring to the potential erotic overtones of the skyscraper. And there are these people who become obsessed with having the tallest building and I don`t know where that comes from. It`s not necessarily more profitable just because it`s taller. We`ll leave that for people to consider.
PETERS: It suggests an inadequacy to me.
MELBER: To you, an inadequacy. Well, that you see potentially manifesting. I want to play for your analysis Donald Trump in 2016 because one of the problems with this is now all of these lies even when exposed, they still played a role in getting him where he wanted to go at the time.
And so now we can look back with more clarity, knowing what we know tonight that he was actually pursuing this deal, that he was directly involved in it, that Michael Cohen was talking to the Kremlin about it, that Ivanka Trump was talking about picking the architect. And here is Donald Trump on the campaign trail and here is him praising Putin as he seeks Kremlin help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He`s running this country and at least he`s a leader unlike what we have in this country. Putin comes out and he said, "Donald Trump is brilliant. He`s doing an amazing job and he`s leading the pack." OK, that`s nice. Putin says very nice things about me. I think that`s very nice. It has no effect on me other than I think it`s very nice. If we get along with Russia, that`s very good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Was he speaking for American interests as a candidate who wanted to run this country then or was he speaking for his secret personal interests?
PETERS: Well, he`s certainly speaking for his personal interests. But there are two groups of Trump supporters that continue to bewilder me. One is it the fundamentalist Christians who follow this false messiah but we`ll set them aside for a moment. What about all the red cap people, the people who were professed patriots who believe that Donald Trump is a patriot? Ari, can your viewers really believe, can any of them believe that Donald Trump really puts his country first?
I go back to a line Grace Slick sang in her song Rejoice after. She sang I`d rather have my country die for me. To me, that is Donald Trump. I personally do not believe he would sacrifice his life to save the lives of 330 million Americans. He`d put himself first. I think he`d put himself before his wife.
This is a man who has no value system, who lives totally in the moment. He`s infantile. It`s about immediate satisfaction. And so the Americans who have deluded themselves that this man who is trying desperately to collude with the Russians, not always succeeding but doing his best to collude, who worships dictators and murderers and thugs, that this man is a patriot, I`m sorry, I don`t buy it.
MELBER: It means a lot coming from you as someone who has taken those risks. It also speaks to his canny strategy, because this is a man who`s used the word nationalism to try to get people to criticize him on the idea that he puts America too first, when in fact, as you just exposed, that wasn`t what he was doing during the campaign with what we`ve learned.
I`m going to see you again for Fallback Friday. Your debut on Fallback Friday. I`m looking forward to it.
MELBER: Thank you, sir.
We`re going to do a special report as I mentioned with an exclusive guest on the key to the Democrats` legal fights with Trump when we`re back in just 30 seconds.
MELBER: Elections have consequences and the record-breaking Blue Wave is changing who runs that building behind me tonight. Democrats will not only control what bills come to the floor, but they will have new powers of course to investigate the Trump White House. They`re already 85 issues Dems want to probe like Trump`s ties to Russia where Adam Schiff plans to push the White House harder than Devin Nunez did and swampy corruption with incoming oversight chair Elijah Cummings says he will root out.
But Trump doesn`t follow norms we know that. What if the Trump administration just defies these new Democratic Chairs? Well, that`s where subpoena power comes in. And these Democrats say they will use that power if need be.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: We will make sure that Matt Whitaker immediately, one of the first orders of business will be to invite him, if necessary, to subpoena him to appear -- to appear before the committee.
MELBER: I`ve spoken to a senior Democratic source on the Ways and Means Committee who says tonight breaking news they do intend to request President Trump`s tax returns.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I want to hasten subpoenas. They go to the very heart of our democracy and protecting that democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So, in each of those examples forcing Whitaker to testify, getting Trump`s tax returns, demanding information from Trump aides to protect democracy, the Democrats will make demands to the Trump administration. It can cooperate, or it can refuse. And after a refusal well that`s where the key legal fight comes because to enforce a subpoena these Democratic chairs, they can`t just act all on their own. They need the expected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to use her power on behalf of the House to sue the Trump administration to enforce these subpoenas. And this is key when dealing with any resistant White House.
I mean, Congress when you think about it, they can -- well, they can throw all the letters and subpoenas they want at a White House. But to enforce the subpoena, to deploy the prospect of criminal contempt or even jail, well, then a Speaker has to deploy the House`s General Council and take it to court. The Trump White House may be target-rich but Pelosi and that council, look, they`re not going to file a hundred lawsuits over resisted subpoenas. That wouldn`t even be responsible. It would certainly undercut their credibility in the federal courts in Washington and potentially the Supreme Court where these battles can be decided.
So when January comes, Pelosi and her counsel are going to be making some very big decisions about which subpoenas and which demands are worth fighting over, Russia, the Trump Organization, Trump`s tax returns? And remember all those debates over Pelosi`s experience? Well, these intricate battles they`re not always front-page nightly news kind of stuff. This is backroom stuff but she has done it before. And when she did it before, she won.
In fact, when Pelosi was Speaker in 2008, she made history with the first order to the House Counsel who you see on your screen there to formally sue the Bush administration on behalf of the U.S. House over yes, defying a subpoena. The conflict was something that could play out again with this administration because it involved Bush officials refusing to testify citing executive privilege which is something, of course, Trump has already instructed some aides to do even when facing a Republican House on Russia.
Pelosi combated that move by instructing her House Counsel to sue on behalf of Congress. And the issue in that very case may also sound familiar. It involved criticism that that White House was trying to politicize the Justice Department after Bush officials mysteriously ousted seven federal prosecutors Dems investigated and subpoenaed to get answers and then the Bush cover story started to fall apart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White House officials struggled to contain the fallout from the story as it became clear that it was the White House that first suggested firing the country`s top prosecutors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And that fallout wasn`t very well contained. The White House, they kept initially trying to defy the House requests the key staff testify as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sealed his own fate in a disastrous hearing where he claimed under oath that he couldn`t remember anything.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: I have no recollection of the meeting.
JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: It`s not that long ago, it was an important issue, and that`s troubling to me.
GONZALES: Senator, I don`t think -- I don`t know the decision was made at that meeting.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: How can you be sure you made the decision?
GONZALES: Senator, I recall making the decision for -- I recall making the decision.
GONZALES: Sir, I don`t recall when the decision was made. I don`t recall him speaking to me about that, sir.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: It didn`t happen, it did happen, or you don`t recall? You can`t remember that conversation?
GONZALES: Senator, I don`t -- I don`t think that conversation happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It was so bad that Gonzales face calls to resign from both parties.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM COBURN (R), FORMER SENATOR, OKLAHOMA: I believe that the best way to put this behind is your resignation.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: I urge you to reexamine your performance and for the good of the department and the good of the country step down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That congressional and public pressure ultimately pushed Gonzales out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alberto Gonzales leaves a Justice Department that by his own admission was demoralized. For the past six months, he`s been hammered by calls for him to resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So that was part of a victory. But Democrats in Congress still wanted to get to the bottom of the scandal of what really happened. So Pelosi kept up that lawsuit to enforce the subpoenas against White House officials. It was a chief of staff and White House counsel while the White House resisted and claimed as I mentioned, executive privilege, they said that should trump any congressional demand.
So who was right? Well, this is pretty important right now. Pelosi`s aggressive legal strategy took that case to court where the House won. A federal judge ruling that the subpoena was valid. Those aides should testify, that they did not have quote absolute immunity from Congress in the subpoena dispute. And providing something of a roadmap for House Dems if the Trump administration tries to defy their demands next year. Because Trump well he`s not a typical president. No other president has fought this hard to hide what you see there, his tax returns.
So if Democrats use the federal law empowering the House to demand his tax returns from the Treasury Department and the secretary there defies that law and that request, well then Dems may need Pelosi to get the House Counsel to sue over it just like her past House Counsel Irvin Nathan led that victorious fight I`ve been telling you about to sue the Bush administration over those subpoenas.
Now, this is all off stage and a little in the weeds but sometimes the most important action in this town is off stage and in the weeds. And to know how these fights will unfold next year you have to know how Pelosi and her counsel think, how they strategize this stuff which make that lawyer I mentioned Mr. Nathan a pretty fascinating backroom player right now. I wonder how he would advise the Democrats in all this.
Well, wonder no longer. I`m very excited to tell you tonight our exclusive guest on THE BEAT is former Counsel to Speaker Pelosi, Irvin Nathan. He was also the first House Counsel to take a White House to court over this kind of subpoena, the case I mentioned that he won. First, thank you so much for coming on THE BEAT.
IRVIN NATHAN, FORMER COUNSEL TO SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: I`m honored to be here. Thank you.
MELBER: I`m happy to have you.
NATHAN: Thank you.
MELBER: Let`s start with this. If the Trump administration resists new requests or subpoenas from the Democratic House, what are the keys in in your view to winning that battle from your experience?
NATHAN: Well, the first thing let me say that I think that the incoming Democratic chairman of the committee -- and I know most of these like Nadler, and Schiff, and Cummings, I think they`re going to do an excellent job in having the hearings and they`ll get witnesses, third-party witnesses, say like Michael Cohen or other co-operators so they`ll have a full set of information to provide and there`ll be very good hearings.
But the question you raised is what if you subpoena high White House aides or White House documents and they who don`t have much respect for the rule of law refused to comply with the subpoenas. There are actually three ways to deal with a recalcitrant witness. One, is to have the sergeant-at-arms of the House go out and arrest the person, put them on trial in the House, and keep them in --
HAYES: In the House basement jail.
NATHAN: Well, there`s not a jail there.
MELBER: That`s not going to happen.
NATHAN: That`s not going to happen for a variety of reasons. It`s not --
MELBER: That`s not going to happen.
NATHAN: That`s not going to happen.
MELBER: Keep moving forward.
NATHAN: OK. The second way is to ask the Department of Justice to prosecute under a statute that makes contempt of Congress a felony and that`s not going to happen either because the Department of Justice is not going to prosecute when the administration is calling the shots. And so the only option left is the option that Nancy Pelosi led when she was the Speaker and the Bush administration as you`re describing and that`s the go to court and seek an order compelling compliance with the subpoena. And obviously, it`s fair do that, put you in contempt of court, and then you could be in --
MELBER: Contempt of court means you could go to a real jail.
NATHAN: A real jail, exactly.
MELBER: So, what is the key here given how many areas there are? Do you - - what advice would you give your former boss Speaker Pelosi who knows all about this if they want to get ahead of it?
NATHAN: Well, in the first place you need to set the information and you get prepared for it. You need to make a record that you`ve tried to accommodate the person and you know, and you have votes in the House to compel compliance, to have contempt, and then to authorize litigation.
MELBER: So you have to give them a chance. You have to go and say --
MELBER: -- we want the tax returns day one, by this date they refused, here`s a subpoena, they refused, then you take them to court.
MELBER: Which area would you hit on based on your experience?
NATHAN: Well, you need to -- you need to show a good predicate for going to court that you`ve exhausted --
MELBER: Now, would you -- would you go after your tax returns? Would you go after Trump Org? Would you go after do the Russian stuffs? You can`t do everything at once.
NATHAN: No. You have to prioritize. You have to decide what`s the most important. And I wouldn`t presume to tell the House what is the most important thing, but you need to keep it to one or two items that you want to obtain.
MELBER: So, while I have you -- I want to -- I want to ask you one other thing.
MELBER: Speaker Pelosi knows all about this because you work with her.
NATHAN: Yes, she does. Yes, she does.
MELBER: Is she thinking about who to put in this role in what kind of strategist?
NATHAN: I believe she and I believe -- first of all she`d be the best candidate to be Speaker. I don`t really understand the opposition by the Democrats. She`s very experienced, very savvy.
MELBER: Well, who do you think she`s going to pick for this role?
NATHAN: I have no idea. But --
MELBER: Have you spoken to her -- have you spoken to her team?
NATHAN: I have spoken to her team. I know they have a lot of very good candidates and they`re thinking about a really experienced litigator for the --
MELBER: And how soon do you expect that we could see a court battle like this begin?
NATHAN: I think it should begin very quickly because my point is litigation takes a lot of time and we got very lucky in the fight with the Bush administration because it was in 2008 and we got an order in the summer of 2008 and a new administration came in in 2009 and wanted to work a compromise and we did that. But if they had the chance to take an appeal and to pursue the appeal to the end and go to the Supreme Court with it --
MELBER: They could have dragged it out.
NATHAN: They could have dragged it out for more than two years. And that`s why I think the House needs to start this very promptly after it comes in in January.
MELBER: So your takeaway is that the Speaker who you work with can get right on this so that they lay a foundation to then get to court. You also -- I`m going to fit in a break, but you are also that rare bird in Washington, a Washington lawyer who says that your victory which was precedent making was lucky. A modest lawyer in Washington.
NATHAN: Thank you. Thank you.
MELBER: Mr. Nathan, thank you for joining us on THE BEAT and tell us about your work. Very interesting. We will be right back with "FALLBACK FRIDAY."
MELBER: It`s Friday on THE BEAT so it`s time to fall back. Joining me tonight Actor Boris McGiver from Netflix House of Cards, a show that I`ve made a guest appearance on before where he plays Tom Hammerschmidt the Chief Editor of The Washington Herald.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS MCGIVER, ACTOR: I need you to float something out for me. Keep it to slow glide.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you want me to say?
MCGIVER: You picked it up here in the office, it`s not confirmed, but it seems like a story. Go ahead and print it. And I had no idea you`re doing this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And I`m joined again by retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters. I should mention he`s published over 30 books but also in the 1960s he was a punk rock guitarist and he had a photo with the lead band of Leather Witch, is that right.
RALPH PETERS, RETIRED ARMY LIEUTENANT COLONEL: Leather Witch, yes.
MELBER: Leather Witch, pretty cool. And the Daily Beast`s Eleanor Clift who`s only written six books, you`re no Colonel Peters but also as I like to mention famous from her time in the McLaughlin Group and his cameod as herself in the movies Independence Day as well as Murphy Brown. There`s the Peters shot. That`s you.
PETERS: Hey give a juvenile delinquent a Les Paul Gibson and tell me -- tell me that guy didn`t knock out the galas in front row.
MELBER: I`m just going to say this is an all-star "FALLBACK." Boris, who needs to fall back.
MCGIVER: Oh gosh, first of all, thanks for having me on. I feel like I`m way out of place here but I think this -- the critics of Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez need to fall back a bit of on how they criticize and the way to criticize her. They`re just looking silly and stupid because she`s attempting to do exactly what she was brought there to do and they`re criticizing her for doing it and now and they`re just looking silly and --
MELBER: And talking about how she looks or dresses --
MCGIVER: It`s absurd. It`s absurd. The criticism is absurd. At least gives it -- make it substantive but then they`re doing that.
MELBER: Fall back. I hear that. Colonel?
PETERS: You know, I`ve got to be a downer because my "FALLBACK" is John Bolton. I could lie personally, but this week here is callous and idiotic comments would ask had he listened to the murder tape, the Khashoggi tape. Well, he said, well I don`t speak Arabic and why should -- what do I learn? Ari, you learn a great deal from listening to the dying screams of somebody being tortured to death, to listening to the gloating of the executioners. And so, I was utterly repelled by that. We all need to hear that tape.
MELBER: I appreciate you bringing that and I`m going to say on behalf of the "FALLBACK" panel, that`s going to be I think the most serious place we go. Eleanor, can you lighten us off on this Friday night. Who needs to fall back?
ELEANOR CLIFT, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, light you up, but I have to start with the Problems Solvers Caucus which is really --it`s 14 members of Congress mostly representing swing districts, and they are objecting to Nancy Pelosi and they`re creating problems by carrying their fight beyond the point where it makes any sense. She`s going to be Speaker. But I had another more personal problem this week.
MELBER: Let`s hear it.
CLIFT: These Problem Solvers --
MELBER: (INAUDIBLE) getting personal.
CLIFT: Well, that is I`ve had cats all my life. My father had a Delicatessen. We had a working cat all the time, so I`ve always had cats. I`ve never had a cat that couldn`t regulate its appetite. I now have two fat cats. I adopted them from a rescue organization. One --
PETERS: These are actual cats?
CLIFT: -- actual cats and they were big when I got them but they`ve gotten bigger since April. One now weighs in at 17 pounds and one at 15 pounds.
MELBER: And you`re telling them to fall back.
CLIFT: I`m telling them to fall back and I`m telling the pet food manufacturers to fall back. You can find the calorie count if you have excellent eyes and a magnifying glass and there are like 87 to 100 calories in the little tiny can --
MELBER: Well, Eleanor, when you --
CLIFT: They eat four cans a day.
MELBER: -- when you say -- when you say fat cats need to fall back, you sound like Elizabeth Warren and I think you`re talking about Wall Street.
CLIFT: Oh, I like that.
MELBER: That was -- Boris, that was a joke.
MCGIVER: I love that.
CLIFT: Yes, innately opposed to fat cats.
MELBER: It was a political -- it was a political joke. It just didn`t happen to be funny and that`s OK.
CLIFT: Right. that`s OK.
MELBER: Boris who needs -- who else needs to fall back? You have another?
MCGIVER: Yes, I do. Actually, I`ve been thinking about the Payless and its ad campaign that they did recently a few days ago when they formed a new brand called Palessi. You hear about this?
MELBER: I only see the headline. It`s a fake pop-up?
MCGIVER: Oh, my God. Yes, fake pop-up and they opened a store that I think was on -- I forget what brand of clothes. That`s -- forgive me, I think this is an L.A. somewhere, and they invite all these very rich -- oh yes, there it is. They invited all these very rich fat cats to come and buy their shoes for -- that`s worth $20.00, $35.00 bucks for hundreds if not thousands of dollars. And I say to these people with a little bit too much money on their hand and not really enough important things to do, fall back.
MELBER: Fall back. And we -- because -- and the name-brand culture stuff and the overpriced luxury fall back. I love it. I love this panel.
CLIFT: It`s trying out to be rebranded by Trump.
MELBER: Well, maybe you`ll be busy with that at some.
MELBER: All right, fit in a break. Boris, Colonel Peters, Eleanor, my thanks to each of you. And I want to mention, of course, you can always binge-watch House of Cards on Netflix. We will be right back.
MELBER: That does it for this episode of THE BEAT live from Washington. I will see you back here I hope Monday night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, but don`t go anywhere because "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Surrounded, let`s play HARDBALL.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END