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Day five of shutdown. TRANSCRIPT: 12/26/2018, The Beat w. Ari Melber.

Guests: David Frum; Alicia Menendez; Richard Farley; William Cohen; Anthony Brown; Melissa Murray

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: December 26, 2018 Guest: David Frum; Alicia Menendez; Richard Farley; William Cohen; Anthony Brown; Melissa Murray

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: That could have been a whole lot better. Happy belated festivus, everyone. Now if we could only get our festivus poll outside 30, the truth be told the tree becomes the festivus poll for everybody who works in this building and crises all the crowds that comes to Rockefeller Center.

That is all for tonight. That`s my grievance. We`ll be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.

"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: It is the first day back after Christmas. The markets were open, the government is closed, and the Trump cabinet looks more and more vacant by the day.

Tonight, we have a lot to cover, believe it or not. Nancy Pelosi clapping back against the Trump shutdown. Trump claimed he`d keep Defense Secretary Mattis until February. Remember that from last week? Well, now he`s given up on that.

Also visiting Iraq today with Pentagon leadership in doubt. Also, new clues about that mystery subpoena and controversies over Trump`s acting attorney general misstating his record. So a lot of news in what would otherwise be a quieter holiday week.

But we begin with the Trump-made chaos roiling Washington and Wall Street. Many people are nervous, that includes insiders, lobbyists, and also elected Republicans. One retiring Senator speaking truth to Washington. Her name, you may have heard, is Claire McCaskill.

And she just did something that frankly most U.S. senators in both parties avoid. She basically dished on what she says her Republican colleagues say in private, that Trump is not acting rational and things could get a lot worse.


CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Now, they`ll tell you if it`s just the two of you, you know, the guy`s nuts. You know he doesn`t have a grasp with the issues. He doesn`t -- he`s making rash decisions. He`s not listening to the people who know the subject matter.

But in public, if they go after him, they know they get a primary and they know that`s tough. I think history will judge some of my colleagues harshly that they didn`t stand up to this president.


MELBER: Just pause and take that in. "The guy is nuts." That`s a retiring U.S. Senator in a very red state. If you believe her, if you don`t think she`s just making that up, then the assessment of people on the president`s own side about where he is going into what`s going to be divided government with a shutdown federal government, it`s a chilling assessment. That`s from his team.

And then on the other team, incoming Democratic Speaker Pelosi holding firm, blasting Trump for exploiting fear and scare tactics and trolling Trump with some of his own medicine, mocking him for turning the border wall into "a beaded curtain or something."

Five days into the shutdown. No signs of a solution here tonight, folks. And when President Trump was fielding questions about the shutdown during his visit to Iraq today, he stoked the idea, the expectation of a long-term shutdown.


REPORTER: How long do you think the shutdown will last, Mr. President?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever it takes. I mean we`re going to have a wall.


MELBER: Whatever it takes. Now, some will see that as another off the cuff remark from this president. But we`re already seeing indications it goes deeper.

Let me report them for you. The Trump administration now formally citing the potential of a long-term shutdown in court, arguing Trump shouldn`t have to face scrutiny for any gifts he may receive from foreign governments while the government in this country remains shut down.

Meanwhile, of course, there are others feeling the impact of Trump administration chaos from the shutdown to the attacks on the fed which Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has been trying to address with a flurry of calls to bankers. Markets have been roiled, crashing as you see there right during the shutdown and Christmas.

Tonight, I can report they`re also rebounding. But few are betting on long-term stability. And while the markets are just one part of the economy, the jitters do seem to reflect the Trump administration that is receding before our very eyes.

Think about how many parts of the Trump administration are MIA right now. We have an acting attorney general and an acting defense secretary who Trump said could be "acting" for a long time. We have an acting chief of staff. He won`t even commit to holding that role long-term. We also have an acting Homeland Security Department, Deputy Secretary.

You know the term acting, was the main definitions, temporarily doing the duties of another person or, of course, performing in a theatrical capacity. Now, Donald Trump`s main occupation before this job was the second definition.

He acted as the character of Donald Trump. We all know that by now. He played that part all the way to the White House. But he does show very little interest in the daily obligations of this job. So he doesn`t even line up replacements for top appointees that he planned to remove for months that we all heard about with endless leaks and tweets like Jeff Sessions and now Jim Mattis.

And here we are, the president oversees entire federal agencies led by acting directors, maybe indefinitely, while tweeting about being all alone in the White House during a shutdown of his own making while visiting troops who are, of course, led right now tonight by an acting defense secretary during their activities. And huddling -- Trump huddling with his acting chief of staff.

And you put it all together, you get to a question that is uncomfortable for anyone rooting for the U.S. government to succeed, to remain open for business, let alone progress. If the top cabinet posts make this look increasingly like a permanently acting administration, at what point do we just have an acting president? And what are we going to do about it?

We have a great panel here in our holiday week to get into this. "The Atlantic`s" David Frum who served in the White House as a speechwriter for President Bush and is the author of "Trumpocracy". Alicia Menendez, a contributing editor at "Buzzle". And Richard Farley, a "Wall Street" lawyer and the author of "Wall Street Wars, The Epic Battles with Washington that Created the Modern Financial System" bringing some financial chops to a time when Washington certainly is being heard. However, unhappily by the market.

Mr. Frum, I`d begin with you as a White House insider. How concerned are you about the acting nature of all this and does it reflect a fundamental lack of interest from this president?

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: It reflects something I think even more worse than what you just said, Ari. It is -- it reflects an attempt to circumvent Senate oversight. The reason you have acting secretary is because you don`t have somebody confirmable. To fill the job, you have to get a vote in the Senate.

It`s pretty clear even before the news about Mark Whitaker`s exaggerated athletic academic attainments that he wouldn`t be -- he would have a lot of trouble. He`d have to take questions. So you shut down Senate oversight by bypassing the requirement that cabinet secretaries serve with the advising consent of the Senate.

And this is becoming something -- I mean the chief of staff does not have to get Senate confirmed, of course. But if Mulvaney took the chief of staff full-time, he would have to vacate the OMB job and that does involve Senate questioning. And so it`s an attempt to circumvent those kinds of constitutional provisions.

MELBER: I appreciate the point that you add, which is that there are profound separation of powers issues raised by this as well. The kind of thing that any responsible leader of either party would say is something to avoid. And here as you say, the president may lean into it because of the total disregard for those kinds of rules and constitutional requirements.

Alicia, it`s not like many people including in the Republican Party didn`t warn about this. Jeb Bush is no liberal. He`s no member of the resistance. But when the Republican Party was debating this beyond ideology, he was one of the people I want to show for your analysis, who famously warned this would be chaos. This would be a vacant government. Take a look.


JEB BUSH: Donald, you know, is great at the one-liners but he`s a chaos candidate. And he`d be a chaos president.

TRUMP: Jeb doesn`t really believe I`m unhinged. Frankly, I`m the most solid person up here. The policies that we`ve suffered under other presidents have been a disaster for our country.


MELBER: That was a prominent one-time establishment candidate Jeb Bush, Alicia, saying basically chaos. Tonight, Claire McCaskill dishing that other Republican senators say "he`s nuts".

ALICIA MENENDEZ: I don`t know that declaring chaos makes Bush clairvoyant but it certainly was pressing in its own way. I mean, listen, when you get this to question of the fed, you may have investors, you may have politicians, you may have economists who disagree on how fast and how high the fed should be spiking interest rates.

What they all agree on is that the fed should be operating independently. And so this gets to the bigger question of Donald Trump not really having an appreciation for the fact that these agencies are supposed to operate independently, not understanding why he can`t just tell them what to do or why they can`t all be his fall guy.

And so we keep going back to this question we ask ourselves like every night, Ari, which is where are the grownups in the room? Who are the grownups? You see his economic advisers coming out trying to steady things, saying that the fed chair`s job is not in jeopardy.

And yet, you have to wonder if this is a threat that we`ll continue to hear. And as he continues to leave so many of these big leadership spots vacant, who will have his ear and who will be able to continue to level things?

MELBER: Richard, have you seen a president in your lifetime who`s caused more concern on Wall Street for no apparent reason?

RICHARD FARLEY, AUTHOR, WALL STREET WARS: Well, look, I think the arguments between presidents and federal reserve chairman are one of the great storylines of backstage conflicts in any presidential administration. No one has done it with quite the panache or extreme volatility that perhaps --

MELBER: Panache. Panache is a word. You will stand by panache?

FARLEY: Well, in a sense, yes. Although if LBJ`s tapes had been made public at the time, of course, a lot of panache to it as well. But there are two things going on here. When you boil it all down, you have got the markets responding with volatility, essentially because of two things.

The first is the federal reserve has to raise rates because they have to reduce the balance sheet in order to get the dry powder to come to rescue the economy when the economy starts to falter in a significant way. The economic activity has been very strong. If not now, when? So Wall Street is completely happy with what Powell is doing. OK.

MELBER: Are you --

FARLEY: Secondly --

MELBER: I`m going to let you finish but are you invoking Rabbi Hillel to justify the federal interest rate policy?

FARLEY: If I had any clue what the --

MELBER: If not now, when? If not now, when? If not me, who?

FARLEY: That`s not --

MELBER: If I am for myself alone, who will be for me?

FARLEY: Fair enough, yes. At least subconsciously.

MELBER: David, I may come to you after this. I`m giving Richard a hard time.

FARLEY: Now, secondly, the report card is coming due on the tax bill with the reduction in corporate rates and the encouragement of repatriation of overseas cash which was supposed to have significant impacts on corporate spending, investment, economic growth, and returns to shareholders.

And that`s what the market is looking for now. They`re saying it`s been long enough. Is it, in fact, happening?

MELBER: But do they like the way Trump talks? Is it helpful?

FARLEY: In that tone? No.

MELBER: Tone, shutting the government down.

FARLEY: Government shutdowns I think are overstated in terms of their impact on the economy and the political lessons from shutdowns can be mislearned. If you remember, the 1995, `96 shutdown which was the template for shutdowns where the Republicans get blamed with the Democratic president. Obviously now, we have a reverse. But that was more because the Republicans were blamed for politicizing the shutdown.

If you recall, Bob Dole was running for president in 1996. And Newt Gingrich was jockeying for control of the party.

MELBER: Right. It came off as it was sticking to the president.

FARLEY: They were using the shutdown for political purposes. Not because they were blamed for causing the shutdown.

MELBER: David, Jerome Powell, panache, David Frum, Rabbi Hillel, take your pick.

FRUM: Here`s the point about these shutdowns. And this goes to your point at the very beginning about chaos. Shutdowns happen for a rational reason. They`ve been happening more and more frequently since the 1970s. They`re tests of strengths.

The two parties have different views about, at any given moment, about what they can accomplish. One of them is usually more mistaken than the other. And so they shut down the government to test public opinion and to see who will the public will back?

MELBER: Do you think that Trump is doing that knowingly?

FRUM: No. And that`s why this one is so different because -- usually because the shutdown is the byproduct of a political test of strength. Trump has no agenda here. He has no end game. He has no strategy. He has no tactics.

He is shutting down the government because he enjoys the chaos. He`s been talking about shutting down the government for a year because the shutdown is not the means to a political end which is the test of strength. It is the end itself.

The shutdown creates the chaos in which Trump imagines that he will thrive by looking. Partly because he needs it. Partly because he can`t imagine any other way of functioning. And partly because it`s a way, an escape for him from the dreary tedium of governing which he doesn`t like to do.

MELBER: Let me go to Alicia. Go ahead.

MENENDEZ: Yes. I`m just curious based on David`s analysis though. I mean I think there`s another analysis out there which is that Trump is doing this in order to show a show of strength to his base who he believes is really rallied and motivated by this call for a border wall. And he at least believes that this narrative plays out well for him.

He says, "Look, I went to the mat. I did everything I could do. I shut down the government over this. And Democrats just wouldn`t give me the billions that we agree we need in order to get this done." I mean I do think he believes that there is a benefit for him at least as it pertains to his base by looking as though he was very strident on this questionable border wall.

MELBER: Right. If he can convince them that that is really what`s going on. David pointed out why some of that may be the emperor having no clothes when it all shakes out.

My thanks to David, Alicia, and Richard for joining me. I`m about to go to a former defense secretary to get into some other parts of this. Trump had a surprise visit to Iraq today as we mentioned. He said he`s not in any hurry to name a new defense chief and that the acting defense secretary could be there for "a long time".

Trump`s Iraq visit comes after booting, of course, Secretary Mattis two months early. He had quit in protest over Trump`s policies including reportedly Syria. Now, there`s this quote here of Trump saying, "I think a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking on that issue".

Mattis out early. Trump grew "increasingly angry" with the criticism overall of this on TV. Mattis had written this letter warning a storm clouds looming. Meanwhile, here`s Trump today.


Trump: If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price. So we`re not the suckers of the world. We`re no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren`t looking at us as suckers. We`re respected again as a nation.


MELBER: I`m joined now by, as promised, William Cohen, former defense secretary under President Clinton and Congressman Anthony Brown, a Democrat from Maryland, also an Iraq War Veteran. My thanks to both of you.

Secretary Cohen, I want to begin with you. Obviously, given your deep experience here and for our viewers, I want to play a little bit of the history. Your address when you were sworn into this same post two decades ago.


WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: American leadership remains essential to defend our global interest and to maintain our nation`s indispensable role as the world`s greatest force for peace, prosperity, and freedom. The American people have entrusted us with the care of the nation`s greatest treasure, the lives of our young men and women.


MELBER: That`s how you approached the post. I wonder your views tonight now that we`ve had a little bit of time to digest Secretary Mattis`s departure, his concerns over Syria policy, and the larger point we`ve been discussing at the Pentagon and elsewhere which is whether it`s good for the federal government to have so many acting officers for so long.

COHEN: Well, the president has shown disrespect for his military advisers, disrespect for the FBI, for his entire intelligence community, for the Justice Department. So there`s no lack of disrespect on his part, the demonstration of it.

As a result of that, you`re having these positions which are going unfilled because the president feels that he knows more than anyone else and that he now feels free and liberated to make decisions without the benefit of having some wiser shoulders and sources around him.

MELBER: And does it concern you that what appears to be, according to Mattis and others, a kind of a breakdown to the process? You don`t have to be, I think, a foreign policy expert to know there are plenty of folks who might be sympathetic to a goal of drawing down troops in Syria depending on how it`s done. But are very concerned that so many of your former colleagues, so many experts say there`s not really a responsible process in place under this president.

COHEN: To both the timing and the way in which it was done. The timing was curious because the president had suffered a very bad week. Number one, he had his former national security adviser be lectured by a sitting federal judge, accusing him of betraying the country. Then we had the dissolution ordered by New York authorities of the Trump Foundation. And then we had the resignation by his secretary of defense.

So all of that comes at one time. And so I think the way in which it was done, namely, it was very impromptu. There was no inner agency process. There was no forewarning to our allies, those who are committed to the fight against ISIS. There was no sharing of the information with the chairman of the joint chiefs as such he was not involved in the decision- making, as far as I know.

And so it was a decision made in the wake of all of the bad news. And I think the president said, "Look, I`ve been saying this. I`m going to do it now. I don`t care what others think about it. I don`t care what the allies think."

And I think that`s a very destructive and un-presidential thing to do, to do something by impetuosity, to respond without thinking it through in terms of the timing. There`s a legitimate discussion to be had about whether we should be there for how long.

But the way in which you downsize, the way in which you remove our troops over a period of time to allow for their safety and for the safety of those they leave behind, not to mention the betrayal of the Kurds who are left behind to defend themselves against the Russians, against the Iranians, and against the Turks, that`s what`s irresponsible of this decision. Not whether or not we should eventually come out but how we come out and when we come out and the manner in which the decision is made. Those are very troubling.

MELBER: Congressman?

REP. ANTHONY BROWN (D), MARYLAND: Look, I`m troubled as well. You don`t have to be an expert in foreign policy to know that the process stinks. It appears as if the president was on the telephone with the president of Turkey who said, "Hey, I`ve got this." And the President Trump decided that we would completely withdraw troops in Syria.

There`s no evidence that the president considered options, that he understands the ramifications. I have a lot of questions. Number one, if you say that ISIS is defeated, what`s the criteria that you base that on? Number two, given the work that has gone into having our partners pay for many of the essential services that go to the towns and cities in Syria that have been ripped by war, are our partners going to continue to pay for those essential services?

What about the continuation of U.S. air strikes which have contributed to a lot of the destruction in Syria? A lot of unanswered questions. The process simply stinks.

MELBER: Congressman, given what Secretary Cohen just laid out on the Syria issue, many people remember in the election -- midterm election timed deployment of troops to the border regarding the so-called caravan, are you concerned that this president may be using the troops for political purposes?

BROWN: I`m very concerned about that. And I think troops also are concerned and that`s why the president`s approval ratings among active duty military is at an all-time low. The president has talked about using the military for a nationwide parade in the nation`s capital. Sending troops to the southwest border when there isn`t a real threat, not the kind of threats that you see in Afghanistan or Syria.

And so troops get it. They`re knowledgeable. They have access to information. And but for the recent visit with the first lady and the president in Iraq today, he`d gone nearly two years without visiting troops in the combat zone. So there`s a real disconnect between this commander in chief and the men and women who raised their right hand to serve our country.

MELBER: Well, both of you have that distinction. And we wanted to listen and learn from both of you as these serious and profound questions are raised about the process and the outcomes, particularly in the Middle East. So Secretary Cohen and Congressman Brown, thanks to both of you.

BROWN: Thank you.

COHEN: Sure.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Up ahead, the Mueller mystery building. Justice Roberts` now involved in the secret case. And this is the year I want to explain all the evidence of why Trump`s political nihilism hit a brick wall.

Tonight, I have a special break down with at least 18 ways 2018 held Trump accountable, and some news you might want to know about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We`ve got that for you later. And a fallback holiday special tonight, Maya Wiley with the musician ASAP Ferg.

A lot to get to. I`m excited. I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER: You know with Trump`s shutdown and the holidays, it would be easy to miss this news. Chief Justice John Roberts has been on kind of a tear. He just ruled against Trump`s immigration policy siding with Justice Ginsburg, to block an effort to limit asylum for some immigrants.

And now, he`s actually wading into this ongoing mystery subpoena fight we`ve been talking about. You probably heard about it. It`s reported to be Mueller-related. Now, this would be the first time Mueller`s work is potentially reaching the Supreme Court.

This is Chief Justice John Roberts new order. He is delaying the penalties here for that mysterious unnamed foreign company that`s currently resisting a subpoena, and he`s now giving this deadline of December 31st for a response. So what I have here, what I want you to see, we don`t usually see, which is a Robert`s order that might be for Mueller.

Now, what happens next? We have no idea. That`s basically what you need to know legally. It could get resolved by the lower court. This company could get punished for its resistance, meaning the Supreme Court wouldn`t actually take the case. Or John Roberts and the Supreme Court could hear the whole thing.

And if you`re thinking OK, Ari, it`s kind of weird that we know so little about this case. You`re right. It`s not normal to keep an entire case sealed. It`s not normal to shut down not only a courtroom but a whole floor of a courthouse just for the arguments. And it`s certainly not normal to have a completely sealed case potentially before the Supreme Court.

One law professor today saying there`s no record the high court has ever heard an entirely sealed case before all the justices. So let`s go to NYE Law Professor Melissa Murray who has worked in that court, clerking for Justice Sotomayor. We thought you might be the right person to walk us through this. Thanks for being here.


MELBER: Do you agree this is weird? Yes or no.

MURRAY: Oh, it`s super weird. Everything in Washington is weird. This is not unusual.

MELBER: Weird these days. Let`s start big picture. When you look at Roberts saying this. This doesn`t tell us everything. It just tells us they`re taking some time. What do you think comes out of this and how Mueller-related does it look to you?

MURRAY: So everyone seems to think it`s related to Mueller. We actually don`t have any confirmation that it is. This is all coming from a Politico source that happened to be at the courthouse when someone was requesting information about the special counsel`s latest filing. So we don`t actually know that it`s related to Mueller but it looks like it might be.

I think what the chief justice is doing here is simply trying to sort of get a gauge of what`s going to happen. They`ve never had a case like this where they`ve had to shut down everything, have the oral arguments in a completely closed courtroom. This is super unusual.

So one of the things I think might be happening is trying to figure out what the court is going to do. Are they going to take this case? Are they going to do it in a sealed courtroom which has never happened before? Or are they going to do something like what they did in 1971 in the Pentagon Papers case which is to actually have the oral arguments in an open courtroom but have the litigants file their papers under seal?

And so I think they`ll do something like that. And they`ll decide whether they`re going to actually take up this case under those conditions or different conditions or not at all.

MELBER: Interesting you mentioned that Preston. And that case obviously had U.S. national security interests at stake. This one has something that`s secret. We don`t even know why. Then it has this foreign country aspect which takes it to this international flavor or international panache, to use a word that`s been surfacing on THE BEAT tonight.

I wonder with your experience in the court though, this is not a court, the Supreme Court, that is considered chill about how they release information. I mean they get down to we`ll release transcripts and we`ll do audio but only later. We won`t do video. I mean they are very precise about this. So what would your best guess, having worked there, about how they`ll do this if they take the case?

MURRAY: So the first thing, they don`t have videotape recordings as other courts do. They do everything through transcripts. And you`ll later find out about oral argument.

But they are a public court. They are a public forum. And they will be very attentive to the fact that this is a case that many people are looking at. There`s a lot of public interest in this.

And I think they would be reluctant given past president to do something where the entire proceeding would be completely kept --

MELBER: So let`s play that out. Let`s say it is Mueller and Mueller wants it totally blocked because that`s what they got with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the second to the Supreme Court. You`re saying that John Roberts in the Supreme Court can come in and say, "No, Mueller, we`re actually going to open part of this up?"

MURRAY: Well, I think they would weigh whether what would be disclosed in oral argument at the Supreme Court which is often legal questions, it`s not factual questions, would be something that would either compromise national security or compromise the ongoing investigation and they would weigh those things in deciding on whether or not to have an open courtroom or simply to allow the litigants to file their papers under seal and keep it off camera.

MELBER: And based on the filings, whoever this prosecutor is, what do you think they`re pursuing here from a state-owned country A entity?

MELISSA MURRAY, FORMER LAW CLERK FOR JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I would be -- I`m not a prognosticator on these things. I would have lost a long time ago. I said Hillary Clinton was going to win. But with this foreign country --

MELBER: Did you say she`s going to get more votes or that she was going to win?

MURRAY: All of the above.

MELBER: Because you know --

MURRAY: I may have won on one of them. I`m half right. But with a foreign country involved, this clearly has something to do with a foreign company that`s perhaps controlled by a foreign government. And that might have some severe repercussions for the United States in terms of national security or in terms of this investigation that`s been going on about foreign infiltration in the election system.

MELBER: Professor Murray, we appreciate your expertise as well as your care in not going beyond the known facts because there`s a lot we still don`t know but we`re watching. Thank you very much --

MURRAY: Thank you.

MELBER: -- for being on THE BEAT. We also have some news we wanted to share on the same related topic. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now officially recuperating at home. She had that cancer surgery, was discharged from the hospital yesterday.

And then now I want to tell you why you should stick around. Have you heard this thing when people say maybe nothing matters and no one`s held accountable in the Trump era? There`s a reason people say that. It`s often people who want to get away with things. And I have a special argument for you tonight about why that was proven wrong in at least 18 ways this year. My breakdown when we`re back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER: As 2018 comes to a close, we have a wide-ranging special report for you tonight. It`s about debunking something I hear more and more from people lately. This disappointed lament that in the Trump era it really feels like nothing really matters.

Tonight, I want to show you how this year actually proves things do matter, facts matter, democracy matters, accountability matters. And I want to observe for you there are reasons we keep hearing that nothing matters. One is those people trying to get away with things, they need everyone to think nothing matters and to give up. Another reason is why it`s called the Trump era.

Presidents do impact the culture, and this is the first President in the modern era who`s not steeped in any public service. And it shows this is a self-promoting businessman who thinks not in terms of service or public interests, but in the deeply disturbing premise that everything is a game.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do understand this all basically a game. We`re all here to play the game and we`re all hopefully going to play it well but some people obviously can`t play it well.


MELBER: Donald Trump also says this is basically his coping mechanism explaining over a decade ago that he handles stress with this kind of emotional nihilism saying, I try to tell myself it doesn`t matter. Nothing matters. If you tell yourself it doesn`t matter, like you do shows, you do this, you do that, then you have earthquakes in India and 4,000 people get killed. Honestly, it doesn`t matter. That`s how I handle stress. He once told Larry King.

And Trump also obviously projects this approach into a kind of political nihilism insisting not only that nothing matters to him, that`s his opinion, but he claims nothing matters to anyone. Now, on some political issues, he did prevail. Trump did not win the most votes in 2016, but the voters who did back him in the electoral college must have felt it didn`t really matter what he might be hiding in his taxes.


TRUMP: The other one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, OK. They`re the only ones. But no, I don`t think so. I won. I mean, I became president. No, I don`t think they care at all. I don`t think they care at all. I think you care.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: He`s not going to release the tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn`t care.


MELBER: And if people didn`t care about that, Trump wants us to believe they don`t care about anything. And this is kind of a mood that makes a mockery of exposing any wrongdoing in the Trump era. A mockery that`s so glaring it`s become a punchline to what our honestly quite serious confessions of wrongdoing sometimes revealed in plain sight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought I did it because of Russia. I thought he`s investigating Russia, I don`t like that, I should fire him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then you`re just admitting that. Wait, so did I get him? Is this all over? Oh, no, I didn`t. Nothing matters. Absolutely nothing matters anymore with him.


MELBER: Absolutely nothing matters anymore. You`ve heard that. But this is bigger than even fact-checking or how many Pinocchio`s Trump gets in the newspapers. We all know corruption and abuse thrives in any institution where truth and accountability can be negotiated away. Which is why throughout history autocrats built their power with public displays of a triumph over anything that would hold them accountable.

And not just political opponents that`s one layer, but also trying to show that the facts and the law themselves don`t matter in their society. Now, I want to be clear, no one is banning books right now in America, but we do know autocrats abroad, they don`t just stop with the press, they try to control and crush even peaceful responses to government like art, books, cartoons, that`s how this works. And you don`t have to be a supporter of these tactics to end up echoing them or reflecting some of their goals.

In fact, this is what I want to talk to you about this night. This whole enfeebling dangerous idea is to wear down once engaged citizens like maybe you and to grind up people like maybe me, what one political operative one`s called the reality-based community. And so what I`m about to show you right now is an echo of this problem. I`m not saying the people you`re about to see want it to be this way but watch as some people fall into Trump`s trap.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The thing with Trump is it doesn`t matter what he says. His people are going to love him for it anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can never prove he was wrong, but it doesn`t matter, and that`s why it feels so silly.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The kind of unofficial slogan of a lot in this campaign has been nothing matters, right? People say nothing matters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s ridiculous. 2016 is a year of nothing matters.

KIRSTEN POWERS, POLITICAL ANALYST: Look what Donald Trump has done in the short period of time that now we can literally sit here and say nothing matters. Nothing matters.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: This is why the President acts as if he is living in a perpetual ten minutes of time where nothing matters.


MELBER: We can sit here and say in repeat that nothing matters and many of those people, of course, have a broader record than just the soundbite. But we can also choose not to ever do or say that. We can choose to report our own original work to focus on facts instead of spin. And let`s be clear some of this talk and our media-political culture actually combines two of the most corrosive parts of our discourse. One echoing politics is just a savage game, not a democracy with rules. And two, focusing on media predictions about the future instead of fixating on the facts about the President.

And some of the same people predicting Trump will get away with things because nothing matters are yes, some of the same people who got their election predictions wrong.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can Donald Trump in a general election?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On my view is no but we`ll see.

There`s not a blue wave that sink. And in fact, the Republican enthusiasm is as good or higher than the Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought Cruz is the most talented of these Republican politicians.

Tonight, there was some hope that the Democrats would have a wave election. There`s not going to be a wave election.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT: If somehow Trump pulls a miracle comeback here which would take a miracle at this point, then obviously this party can do what he wants with it.

MARIA BARTIROMO, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: So you think there won`t be a blue wave.

ROLLINS: I predict it at this point in time. And I`ve been doing this for 50 years, I don`t predict -- there`s no blue wave.


MELBER: Now, if all of that is wrong, and what`s right, well the evidence this year shows many things actually do matter especially facts and carefully exposed facts about the federal government. Time and again this year it was reported and truths exposed about the government that led to change including major change. That`s part of why there`s so much turnover in the Trump cabinet and why the courts have been so busy and why yeah there has been so much news.

Now, some of these stories fade precisely when the facts matter and things get fixed because then the problem fades too. So, in the spirit that things matter, here is some of the evidence from this year alone. It was investigative reporting by a host of outlets that exposed ethics allegations about several people Trump tapped to run key agencies.

They were ousted over those allegations that include Tom Price and Scott Pruett and Ryan Zinke. Asked those agency heads if facts matter. And in that battle between journalistic facts and John Kelly`s denials, well journalism matters. Trump paid Rob Porter rousted after those allegations of domestic abuse.

Same for the battle of CBS`s 60 Minutes versus Trump`s nominee to be Drug Czar. The news magazine exposing conflicts for Tom Marino, he was out of a job two days later. It`s not just about journalism either it was the raw public reality of children`s split from their families that forced Trump to acknowledge the facts as he retracted part of that zero tolerance border policy because reality matter.

And when Trump wouldn`t back down, others made him. Judges blocking parts of Trump`s immigration policy on sanctuary cities. Information mattered more than partisanship in the red state of Alabama where a bipartisan coalition defeated Republican Roy Moore, not because of party but because of the information revealed about sexual misconduct allegations.

Facts also mattered as Trump continued his habit of bilking charities, something veterans objected to back in 2016. It was this year Trump lost all of the remaining charity money at the Trump Foundation. Prosecutors want a deal requiring approval for any remaining donation. And that`s actually the last thing the Trump Foundation gets to do because this month New York prosecutors formally shutting it down.

Then there`s the law which still matters in the Trump era. Bob Mueller indicting 33 people involved with election meddling, obstruction, and more. Meanwhile, inside the White House rules do matter because they help block Trump`s request to fire Mueller. His lawyer stopping that effort, and then telling Bob Mueller about it. And then his own lawyer blocking Trump from trying to order illegal investigations of Hillary Clinton and James Comey.

Trump was also blocked from an illegal request to have the FBI investigate journalists. That`s a potentially impeachable abuse of power just as a judge blocked him from afar pettier attack on reporters that illegal effort to revoke a press pass.

We`ve seen facts matter in how the U.S. handles bigger problems abroad. The U.S. punishing Saudi Arabia over the killing of a Washington Post reporter and dissident and sanctioning Russia over the occupation of Crimea.

And then there`s how you are showing all of us that things matter because if you voted this year, you were part of a surge that was not a 10 or 20 year high, but a 50 year high for Midterm voter turnout. That`s not nothing and that was despite the message that yes maybe nothing matters and many efforts to try to suppress the vote.

In fact, when it comes to item on this list, to paraphrase Drake, we cannot complain. We cannot. We don`t even know how many things to list. We forgot it`s a lot. This list is way bigger than whoever happens to be president. It`s a small and maybe an incomplete reminder of a broader truth that in a democracy things matter when we make them matter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you get involved, and you get engaged, and you change some minds, and you vote, something powerful happens.


MELBER: The first step to that power is believing you have power. The first step away from it`s being told, you don`t have power, that nothing matters. And on that point about power, our final word tonight goes to Eleanor Roosevelt who said no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. And as we reflect on quite a year, it`s a fitting thought for the new year. Don`t let anyone tell you nothing matters because you will decide if it matters to you.


MELBER: And now we have a special holiday edition of "FALLBACK" on THE BEAT. You know what time it is. I`m very excited to tell you I`m joined for this holiday "FALLBACK" by a musician and rapper ASAP Ferg who`s collaborated with some of the day`s biggest artists including Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, and Future, and it`s been advocating as we`ve mentioned for the release of Meek Mill who is now out of prison. Their song trap in a dream is over six million views on YouTube. And also with me Maya Wiley, the former council of the mayor of New York City and MSNBC Analysts. Nice to see you both here.



MELBER: Maya, holidays, who needs to fall back?

WILEY: The New York-New Jersey Port Authority. For all of us who have to go through that tunnel from Brooklyn to Manhattan --

MELBER: I`m looking at it. Looks -- what am I looking at?

WILEY: OK, all right, I do teach at an arts institution and I would like to say that "Holland Tonnel" add tonal is not really a good sound for the holidays. Why the tree is not over the A and it`s over the N. And I don`t even know why there`s an O over a U. It`s confusing. It`s bad. It`s bad graphics and it shows what arts education used to be mandatory in the public schools.

ASAP FERG: That tree is supposed to be with the A, and I`m like --

MELBER: Yes, I mean, this is one of the things where somebody got really enthusiastic about the decorations which is cool but just sort of plastered them up.


MELBER: ASAP, who needs to fall back in your view these holiday season?

ASAP FERG: SantaCon. Like there`s so much people get locked up trying to play Santa Claus, again drunk running the streets and going crazy.

MELBER: You see some of this footage where it starts out fun and people are dancing but then we`ve seen it get pretty rowdy, We`ve seen Santa`s fighting.

ASAP FERG: Yes. This reminds me of Trading Places. Remember when the duo was like drunk and like pulling our hands and turkeys out of his stomach. Yes. It`s crazy.

MELBER: So your view is this -- SantaCon has gone a little too far.

ASAP FERG: It has gone too far.


ASAP FERG: Kids don`t need to see Santa Claus like that.

MELBER: It is funny, right? I mean, everyone could be Santa Claus. I`ll put that on record. But I`m just saying, anyone could be a Santa Claus --


MELBER: But once you put on that Santa Claus uniform, you kind of want to bring you know, some propriety to it.

ASAP FERG: Right. You got to -- you can -- you got to get to save going. You got to get the white beard going.

MELBER: I have a holiday fall back. And again, in my spirit of inclusiveness, I`m down for whatever you want to celebrate any which way. But I do think it`s a little bonkers that people are claiming it`s hard to say Merry Christmas and there`s actually a conservative pack, a political action committee for Trump that`s thanking him for bringing a Christmas. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every day Americans are standing up to thank President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, President Trump, for letting us say Merry Christmas again.


MELBER: Yes. I`m just going to say fall back to that pack and it`s safe to say Merry Christmas. It`s also safe to say Happy Hanukkah. It`s also safe to just say Happy Holidays if you don`t have a holiday.

WILEY: Or you could just say Happy Chrismukkah.

MELBER: I like that. Chrismukkah.

ASAP FERG: Chrismukkah. Yes.

MELBER: Maya, who else needs to fall back?

WILEY: All right, anybody who gave somebody`s children a Yellies needs to fall way back. And you know who you are. There is simply no parent on this planet that wants their child to get a toy that runs by screaming at it as loud as you can.

MELBER: That`s wild. So that`s -- who thinks up an idea like this? Like -- because the kids -- walk us through this Maya. The kids like it, right?

WILEY: Well, kids like to scream. And you know what, there is a place for that. Kids should get to run around and play and make noise and have fun, just not at my dining table --

ASAP FERG: At my house.

WILEY: -- screaming at the top of their lungs inside. You know, I was wondering if maybe this was a plot to try to get kids to think about running for political office.

MELBER: Because they would just get that loud.

WILEY: Because they would be trained.

MELBER: Where volume is rewarded.

WILEY: Where volume is rewarded.

MELBER: Well, I got to ask you both, Maya, first. What do you think is the best gift you can give someone on this holiday season? What`s on your list?

WILEY: You know, to be really honest, I need more earrings. I don`t have enough. Because I only have --

MELBER: You want some jewelry.

WILEY: No. But I think the best gift that anyone can give is actually the gift that people don`t know they need.

MELBER: What does that mean?

WILEY: So figuring out --

MELBER: It`s getting deep.

WILEY: -- what people really need. Because a thing is often not the best gift.

MELBER: Best gift to give or the best gift you`ve ever gotten?

ASAP FERG: Well, I heard from like from a friend yesterday because I`m like going through this right now with the family trying to figure out every he wants and needs, and like you really have to listen to the conversation. Like she said, you have to figure out what the needs are. So like that family that`s getting new apartments and cribs and stuff like that. They definitely going to need like a sofa.

MELBER: Right. So look at what`s going on in their life so it`s tailored.

ASAP FERG: Exactly.

MELBER: I think yes, I think a gift that conveys real thought about someone and not just you grab that`s always nice. Maya wants earrings. You are known to be pretty good with the jewelry.

ASAP FERG: Yes, man. I may have to highlight Tiffany`s for you.

WILEY: Oh my god.

MELBER: And my last question is you know, ASAP Mob, your collective has a lot of members. Is there ever a time where we might see an ASAP Maya?

ASAP FERG: Oh yes. ASAP my deep.

MELBER: Pretty good. If we had the air horns I would -- I would have them in. Maya Wiley, ASAP Ferg, I wish you both Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. And to everyone at home, thanks for watching a special "FALLBACK" edition.


MELBER: We had a lot of fun here with ASAP Ferg and Maya Wiley. And I want to show you what you see on the screen which is I taped a much more extensive interview with ASAP Ferg and we posted it now so it is available. If you go to our Facebook page, you can find that whole interview and a lot more. We`ll be right back.