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Former President to lie in state until Wednesday. TRANSCRIPT: 12/3/18, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Bill Kristol, Clarence Page, Brian Wice, Ted Lieu, David Kelley, Gerry Cohen, Mara Gay

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Appreciate it.  Our MSNBC coverage will continue right now with Ari Melber.  Ari, I hand the baton to you, sir.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you, Chuck Todd.  And good evening to those of you at home.  We`re going to continue some of this special coverage you`ve been watching at this hour.

This tribute continues here in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda to former President George H.W. Bush.  We have seen family members departed.  VIPs are, as you can see here, still playing their respects and members of Congress also filing out of this commemoration.

And so while we have a lot to get to later in the hour, we continue this coverage and begin with a panel that can reflect on what we`re witnessing.  Clarence Page from the "Chicago Tribune", Eleanor Clift from the "Daily Beast", and Bill Kristol who is Vice President Dan Quayle`s chief of staff in the George H.W. Bush White House.

Greetings to each of you.  Bill, your reflections, much has been said today about this man`s record, about his public service, about the obvious contrast to the current president.  When you look at this proceeding continuing here, which is up on our screen, what`s on your mind?

BILL KRISTOL, CHIEF OF STAFF OF VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE:  I guess I put it together with Senator McCain`s funeral a few months ago and I think about a generation that`s passing or has passed of people who did serve the country, in military service and so many other ways.

I came to Washington as a Reagan Republican.  In the old days, before your time, Ari, there were Reagan Republicans and Bush Republicans.  And that was considered as kind of a big split in the party and a pretty intense -- some intense loyalties, and feuds, and so forth.  And then there became George W. Bush Republicans and McCain Republicans.  And I was actually on the Raegan and McCain side.

So though I was honored to work in the George H.W. Bush White House and I think very highly of him as a man, as a president.  I was never really a Bushy.  You know, I was a little bit of suspicion by them to the degree they viewed me at all or cared about me at all.

But what strikes me compared to today is what they all have in common.  The Reagan Republicans and the Bush Republicans, the McCain Republicans, some were a little more conservative than others.  They had different views and some issues, but they all respected the country, respected the institutions, tried to live up to what they thought was a pretty impressive history and so a pretty impressive future for this country.  And that is, unfortunately, I believe a contrast with Donald Trump`s Republican party.

MELBER:  Eleanor?

ELEANOR CLIFT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST:  Well, I look at it as a bygone politics.  And as we remember George H.W. Bush, we shouldn`t forget that he changed his positions on some core issues.  He once called supply-side economics voodoo economics.  And as Chuck just pointed out in his show on the abortion issue, he did a 180-degree turn on that.

And I think he regarded that as accommodations that he needed President Raegan.  And the fact that George H.W. Bush entered that White House along with Jim Baker, who was his campaign chairman or manager, that was good for the country. And I think he drew a line between campaigning and what you do when you`re in a position of governing.  And that was very obvious in 1988 where his campaign was pretty vicious, the infamous Willie Horton ad.  He questioned Michael Dukakis` patriotism.  But then his inaugural speech, he promised to be kinder and gentler.  And Nancy Reagan reportedly wondered kinder and gentler than whom?  And maybe he was talking about himself actually because again, he drew that line.

Now he was president and all that other stuff was going to be behind him, and he was going to step up to the responsibilities of the office.  And he certainly did that with the tax hike, which really did set the stage for the balanced budget that Bill Clinton was able to achieve.  And that line no longer exists between campaigning and governing.

And I hope that we can somehow bring it back, that being a good leader doesn`t mean you have to stick with every word you uttered in the campaign, even when it was uttered as sort of a political necessity, that it`s OK to change your mind and it`s OK to take the risk of changing your mind.  And I think his career demonstrated all of that.

MELBER:  Well, as you say that, Eleanor and as we look at the flag-draped coffin, Clarence, one of the points that emerge is that George H.W. Bush is someone who, throughout his life, gave a lot of thought and energy to what public service meant, what did it mean within the obligations of national security, the military, and CIA, and how was the role different, as Eleanor emphasizes as a president, who in the best sense, a president can be freed by the office and just try to do what`s right.

I want to play a couple of other presidents reflecting on him.  This was from "60 Minutes" last night for your view, Clarence.  Take a look.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It`s been one of the great joys of my life, my friendship with him.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He was a good reminder that, as fiercely as we may fight on policy and on issues, that ultimately we`re Americans first.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I feel really good about People, if they analyze not only his accomplishments but his character, they`ll say, job well done, George H.W. Bush.


MELBER:  Clarence?

CLARENCE PAGE, EDITORIAL WRITER, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Well, I can`t argue with any of that.  But Eleanor picked up on an important point about George H.W. Bush.  He wanted to get the job done and would do what was necessary.  In the political realm, he wasn`t as agile as some of the other politicians around him.

So he would somewhat awkwardly go to things like the Willie Horton campaign back in `88 and the Clarence Thomas appointment and other moves that went farther to the right than he normally would have gone.  But he did because he could see where the party was going to enough of the degree that he knew in order to succeed, he had to accommodate them.

But he also fell into that trap of promising no new taxes but the prudent side, that intelligent pragmatic side of him told him we do need new taxes in order to respond to the needs of negotiating a tax bill on Capitol Hill, and balancing the budget.  He very courageously shifted direction on that.  The tax increase came but the right wouldn`t forgive him.

Newt Gingrich and other new conservatives rising up exacted their revenge.  They did not support him with any particular vigor in `92.  Pat Buchanan rose up and ran against him, Ross Perot ran against him.  All of this weakened his presidency and enough that his re-election chances collapsed.

So I think he was an important transitional president.  He didn`t run with the idea that he was going to usher us out of the Cold War but that was kind of what happened.  It began in the Reagan administration, but after the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War was ending, he brilliantly negotiated through many of the pitfalls that could have occurred but didn`t occur because of his stewardship.  I think he`ll be remembered as a very important transitional president.

MELBER:  Bill Kristol, we are going to keep our eye on this.  We`re also going to turn to some other topics because there`s a lot of news tonight.  And I have some special guests later tonight on the news.  Before we turn to other topics, I do want to give you the final word, Bill.  What would you say to our viewers, who are younger, who didn`t actually live through this Bush Senior presidency, maybe they lived through W?

What would you say is important that we remember as we use this kind of remembrances as a time to understand history may be a little bit better, or be on the news but look back?  What should we and younger viewers, people who didn`t live through this, know about George H.W. Bush?

KRISTOL:  Two things.  I mean the personal dignity with which he held the office, the letter he wrote to Bill Clinton, being an example in his post- presidency.  Just the sense that the institution was more important than the man.  He insisted that President Trump is invited to this funeral.  He did not have a high opinion of Donald Trump but he thought, you know what, I`m a former president.  If I -- when I die, presidents should all be there to show the kind of continuity of the office.  So a real or deep respect I think for institutions for our history of the country.

And secondly, I do think people should study those two years, basically from November `89 when the Berlin Wall fell until December, Christmas of `91 when the Soviet Union collapsed.  Really, one of the most impressive two years of presidential leadership in foreign policy and national security I think in the country`s history.

Building on what Reagan had done, building on what President Truman, true Raegan had done to bring it to a peaceful and successful end, the Cold War, that`s a really important thing.  And it was not -- I was -- in the middle of it, I was sort of in the White House as a minor player during those times.  It wasn`t obvious it was all going to come out so well, and not every problem was solved but that`s a really -- that`s worth some study, I think.

MELBER:  I appreciate that.  I think our viewers do as well.  And as I mentioned, we`re going to keep an eye on all this and update throughout our coverage here, going into tonight and tomorrow as America mourns a president.

Panel stays with me.  I also want to tell viewers what else we have tonight because there is a lot as I mentioned.  Later tonight on THE BEAT, I have an exclusive interview with James Comey`s lawyer.  This is days before Comey will go ahead, he had a breakthrough, and he will go ahead and give this new testimony to House Republicans this week.

And Comey, of course, significant in other legal ways.  He`s obviously a key witness in the Mueller probe.  We`re going to get into all of that.  It will be the first time his attorney has been on THE BEAT or been on TV in a while.

But I begin with some of the other revelations that are coming out of the Michael Cohen news.  And a strong hint of more developments to come.  Cohen`s lawyer arguing in a new filing that his client actually shouldn`t get any prison time at all.  That`s despite a series of crimes that he`s confessed to and these new lies about the Trump Tower Moscow project.

Now the reason could be very relevant to what more we`re going to learn about this investigation of Trump world.  Because the filings show that Cohen`s cooperation did not just begin and end with Mueller, which alone would be a big deal.  He also has been talking to other investigators about potentially other criminal activity.

He reveals that in addition to meeting with Mueller`s team a full seven times, he also met with, and even provided documents to the New York State Department of Tax and Finance, and the New York State attorney general`s office about their investigation of the Trump Foundation.

And then this tantalizing detail we wanted to bring you.  The filing says Cohen consulted with Donald Trump`s legal counsel while preparing for what has now been confessed to be criminally false testimony about this Moscow project.  Now, counsel is, of course, a term of art.  It can only be a certain number of people, but it doesn`t say that person`s name or whether that person asked Michael Cohen to lie on behalf of the president.

And that brings us to another big question in play tonight.  How much did Trump know about Cohen`s lies to cover this Moscow project?  And did that give the Kremlin any leverage over Trump?


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK CITY:  The fact that he was lying to the American people about doing business in Russia and that the Kremlin knew he was lying gave the Kremlin a hold over him.  And one question we have now is, does the Kremlin still have a hold over him because of other lies that they know about?  It may be that it`s because the Kremlin has leverage over the president, which is a terrible thing, if true.


MELBER:  Terrible if true.  Donald Trump tweeting this frustrated response.  He wants his ex-lawyer to go to jail.  I want to bring in Criminal Defense Attorney Brian Wice, who joins our panel of experts on more than one story tonight.  Brian, what is the process that Michael Cohen`s lawyers are doing here through this side of their case for leniency and how much do you think it matters?

BRIAN WICE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  I think it matters tremendously, Ari.  Look, like any other defendant who has pled guilty to serious federal crimes, his lawyers have a mandate to paint him in the light most favorable to the prosecution team so that he doesn`t do a day in prison, which I think is highly unlikely.

But I really think what matters, in this case, is how we have seen the president react.  Because this president, like a mob don, sees the world through the very narrow prism of two kinds of people, stand up guys who respect the code of omerta (ph) and rats.  And I think on one level, this president despises his former conciliar, his hit man because he didn`t take his first pinch like a man.

On the other hand, this president, and for very good reason, absolutely fears Michael Cone because Michael Cohen is really the triple crown of cooperators.  The U.S. attorney`s office in the Southern District, the special counsel in the New York State attorney general`s office as you so aptly pointed out.  And he knows, he the president knows that Michael Cohen is the one guy, who not only touches the president but touches la familia as well.

MELBER:  Yes.  I mean Bill Kristol, a lot of these things are serious.  But to put a light touch on it, if you imagined Michael Cohen`s Google calendar, it`s just popping and bells ringing all the time.  You can`t keep straight all the different legal meetings he`s doing.  I would suggest either that he, you know, stoked a lot of interest in what he had to say, or the other reason would be a lot of different investigators figured out that Donald Trump has a criminal liability of some kind, and that Cohen was a guy who was knowledgeable and willing to talk.

How do you put that in the context of Donald Trump as Brian says, acting so blatantly lawlessly in his reaction today, literally praising people who are resisting investigators like Roger Stone while criticizing Cohen?

KRISTOL:  Yes, I think it`s fear more than anything else.  I mean he knows what Cohen knows.  Cohen could know all kinds of things, ranging from financial stuff obviously to possible Russian collusion, to possible obstruction of justice.  Trump kept talking to Cohen from 2017, I guess maybe even into 2018 as I recall.

We`ll know much more about this as we learn things from Robert Mueller and others.  But the degree to which Trump fears what Cohen.  And he attempted therefore denigrate -- just denigrate and sort of attack Cohen, I mean he does show I think the fear of Cohen.  And then that incredibly explicit urging of Stone basically not to cooperate with a lawful federal investigation.

Think about that for a minute.  He`s the president of the United States.  He`s in charge of the overall executive branch.  The Department of Justice is part of him.  I don`t really remember this.  I mean Nixon did this privately, quietly.  We learned from the tapes in the oval office.  Even then, he was a little cautious in how he framed it.

You know, it was even one that you knew you couldn`t really do this but, you know, maybe it wouldn`t be such a bad idea if they didn`t find out.  Everything right here, they`re national security reasons, they shouldn`t know about this burglary, whatever.  Publicly, to tell someone don`t cooperate in effect.  Not in effect, I mean just tell him don`t cooperate - -


KRISTOL:  -- with a federal investigation.  I mean think about that for a minute.  What does -- how could any -- what does that mean?  I mean how do you say that?  How can someone who himself is confident of his innocence or confident that the truth should come out or wishes the truth to come out say that?  So he doesn`t want the truth to come out.

Why doesn`t he want the truth to come out?  Well, maybe he cares about some other people that might get implicated.  But I think mostly, he cares about himself and he thinks the truth will not be good for him.  And I think what we`ve seen over the last week is the truth is a lot closer to coming out.

MELBER:  Right.  And that goes to the mood coming out of the White House.  Eleanor, listen to Peskov from Russia putting up a new kind of argument about all this.


REPORTER:  You obviously realize that this was coming from the office of the candidate, of a candidate for the American presidency.

DMITRY PESKOV, PRESS SECRETARY FOR THE PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA:  Every week, dozens and dozens of foreign businessmen are approaching us, mentioning possible investments, searching for contacts.

REPORTER:  But this is different.  This is from the lawyer --

PESKOV:  Well, for us it`s not different.


MELBER:  Eleanor?

CLIFT:  This was a full Trump family affair.  They wanted this project.  They pushed for it.  They had the highest contacts in Moscow.  And now they`ve got Michael Cohen basically squealing and the president is tweeting.  If we uncovered these tweets in a secret cable, we would say we have a smoking gun.

MELBER:  Right.

CLIFT:  He`s doing it all in the open on the theory that if you do it in the open and you`re not hiding, it can`t be witness tampering or obstruction of justice.  Now, he`s building Mueller`s case brick by brick.  He`s building that wall around himself.  And I think Mueller`s got the goods and Cohen is the gift that keeps on giving.

MELBER:  Well, Clarence, I think Eleanor raises an important piece of this, which is I guess Donald Trump is lucky that in Twitter`s terms of use, they don`t have a strict ban on tweets that appear to simply obstruct justice, which is a felony.

PAGE:  Well, Twitter is a dangerous instrument in the hands of somebody who is naturally self-destructive.  And President Trump has indicated that he`s pretty self-destructive when it comes to his own reputation and when it comes to covering his own tracks if you will, and protecting not just himself but his family.  And I think that`s what really seems to have gotten him agitated in recent days, as members of his family have come under closer scrutiny with deals like this proposed Russia tower.

That`s the sort of activity that is naturally suspicious.  And he`s so accustomed to trying his guilt or innocence before the public, that jury of the public if you will, particularly his base.  I think he lost track of the kind of legal liabilities that he`s building against himself.

MELBER:  Well, the discussion tonight with the three of you plus Brian who joined later is a real compare and contrast of two different presidencies.  I think that`s fair to say.  My thanks to Clarence, Eleanor, Bill, and Brian for being part of this coverage.

CLIFT:  Thank you.

MELBER:  Coming up, why Donald Trump`s new praise of Roger Stone that we`ve been discussing is so legally problematic.  We get a view from Congress, Ted Lieu is here tonight.  And as I mentioned, I will have an exclusive interview with the lawyer for James Comey right before this high-stake showdown with GOP lawmakers.  That`s happening now this week.

And later, Trump`s repeated false claims about voter fraud for years.  There are new allegations that emerged about a different type of fraud that allegedly helped a Republican win a very close race in North Carolina.

All that, plus, I have an announcement that I want to share with you that I`m very excited that has to do with culture.  And that`s later in the show.  You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER:  Donald Trump has gone back and forth on whether a pardon for Paul Manafort is on the table.  Today, Trump raising eyebrows with some pretty poignant comments about another Mueller target, his friend and long-time advisor Roger Stone. Now, Mueller has been investigating what Stone knew about WikiLeaks and whether they released hacked material that the Russians had, which he appeared to know about before it ever became public.  Here was Stone this weekend.


ROGER STONE, LONG-TIME TRUMP ALLY:  There`s no circumstance under which I would testify against the president because I would have to bear false witness against him.  I`d have to make things up and I`m not going to do that.


MELBER:  Stone being pretty clear there, he`ll never testify against Trump.  And today, Trump responds saying, "Nice to know that some people still have guts."  Now, legal authorities, including former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal responding by saying, "That kind of phrase in this specific situation of this potential target could be criminal witness tampering."

Let`s get right to it.  Congressman Ted Lieu for the Judiciary Committee is here.  Good evening to you.  Is this, in your view, potential witness tampering?

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA), JUDICIARY AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEES:  Thank you, Ari.  Let me first say my prayers are with the family of President George H.W. Bush.  In regards to your question, I`m a former prosecutor.  I can tell you that witness tampering statute is very broad.  You can violate it merely by attempting to corruptly persuade another witness from attempting to testify.  It looks to me in this case that Donald Trump is attempting to persuade Roger Stone to keep him from testifying.  If I were Special Counsel Mueller, I would have exhibits that simply have Donald Trump`s tweets pasted on a page.

MELBER:  And we put that, as you put it broad statement on the screen, you think this does induce false testimony?

LIEU:  I think it`s an attempt to persuade Roger Stone to not testify.  That by itself would violate the witness tampering statute.  It could also violate a separate statute, which is obstruction of justice, which simply requires again Donald Trump to merely attempt to influence a federal investigation with corrupt intent.  A lot of this centers on the intent of Donald Trump.  I think it`s pretty clear what his intent is, it is to protect himself and his family and that is corrupt intent.

MELBER:  We played a little bit of Roger Stone.  I want to play some more for you because on the actual substance, we`re talking about the compliance with the investigation.  Now, the underlying substance, it`s an open question whether this guy was hyping and self-promoting and exaggerating what he had or whether he did have the goods.  Here is his defense this weekend.


STONE:  I had no contact with Assange.  Going back to the e-mail, I think those have been mischaracterized, saying that these dumps are coming, turns out to be completely incorrect.  They don`t come in early August as predicted by Mr. Corsi.


MELBER:  Do you think that holds water?

LIEU:  Not at all, Ari.  If you look at the Russia investigation, Michael Flynn lied, Michael Cohen lied, Paul Manafort lied, Roger Stone`s story has been all over the place.  I don`t see why we need to agree with his version at this point in time.  I think he`s not telling the truth.

MELBER:  And what about the notion that other people may have matched Michael Cohen`s now admitted lies about Trump Tower and thus also lied to Congress, is there anyone else that you think has that situation or may have lied to the House or Senate?

LIEU:  We will know starting this January.  The Democrats in the House gets subpoena power.  We can actually conduct investigations that Republicans refused to conduct in the last two years and we can subpoena witnesses, subpoena documents, and we`re going to know if people lied to Congress.

MELBER:  But at this point, you don`t have the view yet of whether there is anyone in that group?

LIEU:  Not at this point.

MELBER:  Congressman Ted Lieu, appreciate you joining us very much tonight.

LIEU:  Thank you, Ari.

MELBER:  Now I turn to something I told you I was pretty excited about, my exclusive interview with James Comey`s lawyer ahead of Comey`s testimony to Congress this week, the firing, the interactions with Trump and a whole lot of what comes next when we`re back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER:  Jaime Comey and House Republicans just made a breakthrough in their standoff over the former FBI director`s testimony.  He will address the House GOP Committee this Friday, which means Republicans can grill him before they lose control of the House gavel.

And the context here is critical.  After two years in power, why are House Republicans pressing this fight against Comey right now?  Republicans on the Judiciary Committee want Comey to only appear initially they said in a closed session and Comey went to court to argue everything should be out in public.

Comey`s lawyer says the public hearing would combat any GOP efforts to peddle a distorted partisan political narrative about the Clinton and Russia investigations through selective leaks that Republicans might do about this week`s hearing.

Now, the news tonight is that the content of this hearing, the words themselves, will be public.  Comey`s side, according to this new agreement they reached, will get a transcript of the hearing within one day that can then be released.

Now, why is Comey so skeptical about all this? Well, consider it was just 13 days ago, November 20, when "The New York Times" exposed the bombshell that Trump personally demanded a criminal investigation of Comey and that`s so blatantly unconstitutional.  His own lawyer warned Trump it could lead to impeachment.

Now at the time, we reported on why that type of plan would be wrong and dangerous, very few elected Republicans spoke out against it at the time.  And then, get this, it was the very next day that House Republicans formally subpoenaed Comey to testify about Clinton and Russia and secret.

So at the very time that Trump is exposed for trying to illegally target and apparently intimidate the former FBI Director, a key Mueller witness to potential obstruction.  House Republicans jump in to set up this secret interrogation of that same witness.  That`s one reason why this week`s fight matter.  It comes out of this whole brawl.

Comey`s attorney, David Kelly, even told the judge that Comey does welcome the opportunity to publicly testify as he`s done numerous times, he just doesn`t want Republicans twisting his words from a private session.  And that`s where this gets really interesting because think about it.  Over the past two years, when James Comey has testified to Congress in public, it`s mattered.  It was at a Comey hearing that the Russia probe was first officially revealed.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR:  I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government`s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia`s efforts.


MELBER:  That was a big deal.  And it was at another Comey hearing that so angered Trump because the then FBI director addressed some of the criticism of his own impact in the 2016 election.


COMEY:  Look, this was terrible.  It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election.  But honestly, it wouldn`t change the decision.


MELBER:  Now, everyone can debate whether Comey`s right about his view there, but the reason we can all debate it is because the witnessed showed up and talked under oath in public.  So yes, it does look pretty suspicious that some Republicans don`t want any of this in public this week. They want to talk to Comey in secret at the same time that Trump is busted for trying to target Comey.  Now, when the president is trying to get you indicted in jail and members of Congress our subpoenaing you to force you to testify in secret and Bob Mueller`s interviewing you as a key witness, you need a good lawyer even if you`re James Comey who is an experienced lawyer.  You need someone who can litigate and maneuver through those forces Mueller, Trump, Congress.

So it`s notable that Comey didn`t tap a typical Washington counsel to handle these battles right now.  He tapped a former federal prosecutor and not just any prosecutor but its former deputy at the Southern of District of New York, David Kelley, who you can see here.  That lawyer actually took over for Comey when he was promoted to Deputy Attorney General in the Bush administration.  So Kelley ran that same office SDNY.  That`s the office you might recognize because it`s where Michael Cohen is currently being prosecuted.  A powerhouse office that`s also been run by some of the most recognizable lawyers in the country.  You can see in that same room was other people and others include Rudy Giuliani and Preet Bharara who held it until he was fired by Trump.

Now, in this post, Kelley also took some heat for pretty major cases ranging from terror at the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to a case that has echoes of the Mueller probe that you can go to jail for lying to prosecutors.  That`s where Martha Stewart ended up.  So I would argue there`s a few better guides right now to where this Comey legal battle is headed.  Then his counsel and replacement at the Southern District, a man who rarely does T.V. interviews, attorney David Kelly who is live on THE BEAT.  I should mention, I also used to practice law with him until 2013.  Thanks for being here.

DAVID KELLEY, LAWYER OF JAMES COMEY:  Nice to be with you, Ari. 

MELBER:  You are right in this fight with James Comey this week.

KELLEY:  We are.

MELBER:  What got you to this breakthrough compromise with House Republicans and is it clearly good enough in your view?

KELLEY:  Well, it`s not the best but it`s pretty close.  You know, I`m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  What Jim is trying to do here, he was -- he recognizes the oversight function of Congress and he has tremendous respect for the institution.  But what he wanted to do was not a disservice to the public and he didn`t want to engage in a disservice to a lot of the witnesses who appeared in these interviews before he wanted to be transparent.  If you want to know about these investigations, great.  Let`s talk about it publicly.  And that`s what this fight was about.

What we achieved -- you know, we were running into an uphill battle on some of the legal issues and that became clear to us particularly in the hearing on Friday, so we struck an accommodation with the House Judiciary Committee on --

MELBER:  You were afraid the judge was going to order Comey to testify no matter what.

KELLEY:  I wasn`t -- look, Judge McFadden gave us tremendous hearing but there is some good law in their favor.  We think we had some really strong legal arguments.  But at the end of the day, I think we probably would end up going up on appeal. 

MELBER:  The core of your argument though is the fear or belief that these House Republicans are trying to rig the hearing.  Do you -- do you and James Comey still have that view?

KELLEY:  What`s interesting that there have been people including the President talks about there being a rigged process.  This is -- this has been an investigation.  I mean, we have been really caught our investigations so much as it appears that the two committees conducting the investigation have reached a conclusion and then say let`s bring some witnesses in here and we`ll do it in private and we`ll take snippets of their testimony, will mold it into a mosaic that fits our political narrative, our partisan narrative and that`s what we`re going to release to the public, not the unfiltered testimony.  And Mr. Comey`s view was I don`t want that.  I don`t want my testimony twisted in that way.  Let`s talk about this and it`s an important debate to have but let`s do it publicly and that`s what this argument was about.  Now --

MELBER:  They`re pressing your client now, your friend and client James Comey, at the very same time that we are learning that the President United States wanted to have him criminally investigated.  Does that enter into this -- does James Comey viewed that as improper and potentially unconstitutional tampering with a witness?

KELLEY:  Well, we don`t -- we don`t really look at it from that perspective.  We look at in terms of pretty some simply.  This is not a friendly deposition where --

MELBER:  I think -- Dave, I think that`s an understatement. 

KELLEY:  Now, look, the I`m not going to get into a discussion about whether it`s obstruction you know.  And Jim has already talked about situations publicly about where there might have been obstruction of justice and Bob Mueller is looking in --

MELBER:  Yes, but I`m going to -- I`m going to press you on this council to council.  If firing an FBI Director to impact an investigation may be an element of obstruction, and that`s under investigation, certainly trying to investigate indict and jail an FBI director to affect investigation is worse.

KELLEY:  Well, then you have to figure out -- you know, we talked about collusion whether or not there`s collusion between the committees and the White House in terms of putting this kind of pressure.  We don`t go there.  We`re not going there. 

MELBER:  You don`t go there for strategic reason.

KELLEY:  Well, we`re not going there for a lot of reasons.  But let`s just -- what we want to do is if the country wants to have a debate about these investigations, by golly, let`s do it, but let`s do it out in the open.  And all this other you know, white noise in the background and trying to put words in his mouth, what we`re trying to do is prevent that from happening. 

MELBER:  When you look towards Friday, what are Mr. Comey`s goals then?  What good can come from this?

KELLY:  Look, what good can come from it is trying to get the facts out there in the open.  And I think there`s going to be a lot of attempts to put words in his mouth, a lot of attempts to hit him with you know, compact, compound questions and put answers in his mouths that would fit this partisan mosaic, and we just have to be very careful to not permit that to happen and be very clear about what the facts of the investigation are.

MELBER:  Let me play Mr. Comey when he did speak -- this was to George Stephanopoulos I believe, about the issue that`s back in the news this month whether the Russians have something on President Trump.  Take a look.  Let me read you what he said.  We were looking for the video.  He says, I think it`s possible the Russians have something on Trump.  I don`t know.  These are words I never thought I don`t know about a president but it`s possible.  Is that something that from your view of the case Bob Mueller is also looking at?

KELLEY:  I would -- I would guess so.  I mean, I think that the purview of that investigation is quite broad.  I`m certainly not the person to answer that question.  I think -- I think Bob and his folks are probably looking at all those things.

MELBER:  Well you`re, a person answer because you represent James Comey and you`ve been a federal prosecutor, you know Bob Mueller.

KELLEY:  If I was -- if I was in his shoes, that`s what I`d be looking at.

MELBER:  You would look at that.

KELLEY:  Yes. 

MELBER:  Do you see -- and again I`m not asking you for the things you can`t get into, but when you see the way these prosecutions have moved forward, and now you have people like Cohen coughing up more, you have people like Corsi that look close to Stone.  Do you see Bob Mueller moving towards the heart and the conclusion of this probe?

KELLEY:  It`s hard to say.  And you know, look, he`s done an awful lot.  And what`s really interesting, you have Congressman Gowdy who spent several years trying to get an investigation, spend tens of millions of dollars on Benghazi and came up with nothing.  And in a fraction that time Bob Mueller has come up with upwards of 30 indictments.  So I think -- I think that`s an interesting dynamic to these hearings.

MELBER:  You`re saying Bob Mueller has proven much more effective than some of the House Republican.

KELLEY:  I think it`s indisputable frankly.

MELBER:  What does James Comey do when this is all over?  Because other than the book he`s been pretty quiet.

KELLEY:  Well, he`s doing a lot of speaking.  He speaks a lot about the book.  He`s on a speaking tour.  And look, he takes -- he takes life in five five-year chunks.  And there`s always a new adventure, a new endeavor, and I think he has a lot to share with the public and he`ll be doing that in the years to come.

MELBER:  I saved the hardest question for last.  Are you ready?

KELLEY:  I don`t know.

MELBER:  One of the things that is most difficult to understand about Mr. Comey who was obviously very smart and has a great record is that in the book and in his work he has continued to maintain he has zero regrets whatsoever that he would do nothing differently.  You`re here as his representative.  You know of colleagues that you respect, people out of the Southern District, people out a DOJ, people in the legal community across the spectrum has I said there are certainly things he could have done differently in the way he ran 2016.  Do you think that that bears some greater reconsideration for him?

KELLEY:  Now, let me just say two things.  The way Jim looks at things and I think some of it is -- the others and that have held that often in Southern District, there are -- there are important decisions but there`s not a lot of hard decisions.  And the reason is because they make those decisions from your heart.  You decide what you what you`re going to do because it`s the right thing to do.  You don`t make those decisions because of any sort of political influence or any sort of political considerations.  And so that`s why I think he`s going to stand by the decisions he made.

I think if you were to look back on this thing, lots of people can second- guess what he did but that was a 500-year flood.  You know, it says -- it`s just not something that`s come up before so let all those -- all those folks decide they would do it differently.  If he was to look back on it, might he have said some things differently, maybe, maybe not.  And that`s - - you know, he`s set that forth in the book and I`ll let him speak to that.  But in terms of the decisions he made, no doubt.  He`s solid on that.

MELBER:  And do you expect any big news to come out of Friday?

KELLEY:  I think if there`s big news that comes out on Friday, it`s because -- it would be that the Republicans have tried to go ahead and twist things and get ahead of the eight-ball.  And what we`ve done is set up some conditions that interview, to really try to prevent that.

MELBER:  David, you are right in the middle of all this.  People don`t get to hear directly from you very often.  I appreciate you coming on THE BEAT.

KELLEY:  Thank you.

MELBER:  David Kelly.  Coming up, was it a stolen election in North Carolina?  This is an important story when we come back.


MELBER:  Now we turn to an important revelation of alleged election tampering in North Carolina`s ninth district with a twist.  The apparent fraud helping the Republican candidate Mark Harris.  The state`s Board of Elections voted twice last week to not certify the election results.  That`s rare because of these allegations of tampering specifically with absentee ballots.  Voters have filed now affidavits about strangers coming to their door to do what would be a legal ballot collection.  And in two counties in question, there are much higher than normal percentages of absentee ballots mysteriously that were never turned in.  And minority voters in those counties disproportionately impacted.

Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by only nine hundred votes and the claims of fraud may even potentially do a whole new election.  We wanted to get you all the details on this and we are joined from Raleigh North Carolina by Gerry Cohen, a former Special Counsel for the state`s General Assembly, and here with me Mara Gay.  Gerry, what happened?

GERRY COHEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL, NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY:  Well, there`s been allegations of fraud and mail and absentee voting in Bladen County in both the May Republican primary and the general election.  And just in the last half an hour the Wake County that`s Raleigh District Attorney is announced she`d had -- she`s had an active criminal investigation on this since the May primary.  That news just came out a few minutes ago.  It`s alleged that perhaps absentee ballot applications were fraudulently obtained, ballots were taken from voters, and destroyed or marked for a certain candidate.  There`s an unusually high number of black and Native American voters in that area who applied for absentee ballots and never returned them like 60 percent versus 17 percent of white voters, letting people think that perhaps there was an active attempt to steal ballots from Democratic voters and return --

MELBER:  Right.  And we could -- sometimes our breaking news comes right here from the newsroom tonight, breaking is coming from you on the ground.  You`re saying that the very thing we`re discussing whether people went to people`s homes and broke the law is now a matter of a criminal probe. 

COHEN:  Yes.  Lorrin Freeman, the District Attorney in Wake County, that`s our capital County on a referral from the district attorney for Bladen County announced this evening she`s been conducting a criminal investigation into this since the May primary.

MELBER:  Mara?

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  I mean, I think, first of all, this is extremely disturbing and it`s good that the results have not been certified this we need to get to the bottom of what actually happened here.  I think it`s striking though that this is actually historically speaking the kind of voter fraud if you want to call it that, that we`ve seen which is actually voter suppression.  And so that`s what this looks like it may turn out that that`s not the case so let`s get the facts and let that lead us wherever.

MELBER:  But you`re saying, the category here, and this is about potentially suppressing a democratic or African-American voice is not individual people dressing up to go vote, it`s other people coming to stop the voters.

GAY:  That`s right that is the history of voter suppression that we have in this country and this tracks with that.  I mean -- and if you think about the way that the Voting Rights Act has been decimated essentially by the Supreme Court and by state like North Carolina that have not protected the vote in counties that would suppress it, this is the result of that and this is the real problem in the country.  Not hordes of Americans who aren`t qualified to vote voting. 

And I think I`m glad we`re having this conversation because I actually -- I highly doubt that this is the only County in the country in which there are irregularities.  And I don`t want to speculate about how widespread this is but I would just say that we have -- we have a history in this country of suppressing specifically black voters and that`s the real problem so let`s get to the bottom of it.

MELBER:  Right and that is a potential crime, it potentially affects who`s in office in the North Carolina.  It`s a place where they`ve had a lot of marching, a lot of grassroots protests on these very issues so it`s important to keep the light shining on it.  I want to fit in a break so Mara Gay and Gerry Cohen, thanks to both of you on this issue.  Coming up, why Stephen Colbert is talking about a Roger Stone associate, presidential pardons, and THE BEAT all at once.  We`ll show you that next.


MELBER:  There`s plenty of serious stuff going on today but I do want to show you at least one potentially funny thing and that is Stephen Colbert reacting to a Roger Stone associate who you may recall made some news on THE BEAT.  Jerome Corsi admitting to me that he helped Roger Stone lie to Congress, that he might die in jail, and then saying something else that he brought up which caught Stephen Colbert`s eye.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN:  What is the point of Corsi self-incriminating T.V. appearance?  Well, it turns out Corsi`s performance might just be for one viewer.


JEROME CORSI, ASSOCIATE OF ROGER STONE:  I`m not counting on Donald Trump for anything including a pardon that.  That`s not the basis on which I made my decision.  I don`t --

MELBER:  Why are you bringing up a pardon in a T.V. interview?

CORSI:  Well, it`s -- everybody -- you were talking about it before, everybody --

MELBER:  But I didn`t ask you about the pardon, you`re bringing up a pardon.

CORSI:  I`m bringing it up because I want to make it clear that I don`t expect one, I`m not asking for one.


COLBERT:  Yes, pardon me.  I beg your pardon, I`m not asking for a pardon by repeatedly bringing up pardons.  Pardon?  Also, you know who I love?

Dolly Parton.  Just so talented. 


MELBER:  If you can make the point as well as he does, but there`s something serious here which is auditioning for Trump pardons may continue to be playing out publicly in real time.  As we`ve been reporting a night Roger Stone saying he`d never testify against Trump and now Trump responds by praising Stone`s guts stoking new speculation tonight about whether this is all a public discussion of a later pardon reward.

Now Stephen Colbert matters to a lot of people because that`s the way a lot of people learn from pop culture.  That brings us to something I mentioned earlier tonight, a little announcement that we want to share with you.  I am thrilled to tell you that we are launching a brand-new series called Mavericks with re Melbourne.  It features in-depth interviews with artists and musicians of course and other innovators who are breaking the rules in some way and figuring out how to pursue progress and success.  So let me tell you about our first episode which launches tonight online.

I speak with Actress Chloe Grace Moretz.  She`s the star of over 60 films including Kick-Ass and horror films like Carrie and Let Me In, and she`s got a new film called The Miseducation of Cameron Post where Chloe takes on the very controversial practice of gay conversion therapy.  A very problematic thing which as you may know has been linked to people around Mike Pence.  We went up to the roof at 30 Rock and talked about the movie, about her activism, about how Hollywood is changing for women today and how she defied conventional wisdom in her own career and why horror films keep us coming back.


Stand and identify within your insecurities, identify within your strangeness and wear that as a badge of honor because that`s what makes you unique. 


MELBER:  -- talked about her view that fear can be liberating which is one of the many things we talk about.  I want to show you where you can find this.  The interview debuts tonight.  You`ll see right here and you can see the entire discussion on Hollywood for feminism and a whole lot more  I do hope you`ll check it out.  Now, up next we have news on why tomorrow could be the biggest day yet in the case against Michael Flynn.


MELBER:  You want to know what news will break tomorrow?  Well, I have one clue.  Tomorrow we`ll be filing Michael Flynn sentencing memo so we`ll learn at least some clues about how valuable how Flynn`s cooperation has been thus far and Michael Cohen sentencing memo which we`re reporting on tonight. 

Well, we`re going to get a lot more details on the reaction to that on Wednesday.  We already know that Mueller speaks primarily through these filings in action so you`ll going to get more out of the filings than just about anything else from the Special Counsel`s office.  We`ll bring it all to you 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow plus whatever else breaks.  But don`t go anywhere right now because "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.