Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 14, 2019 Guest: Eliot Engel, Jelani Cobb, Neal Katyal, David Corn
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: All for tonight. We will be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.
"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now. Hi, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Katy. Nice to see you as always.
TUR: I was told that we weren`t allowed to do this today.
MELBER: We are. We have a very heavy show. So I was being nice to you but I don`t have time for the full banter.
TUR: No awkward handoff. Ari Melber, take it away. You have a great show. Everyone stick around and watch.
MELBER: Thank you, Katy Tur, as always. And good being on your show earlier today. Always great to see you in person.
TUR: It was great to have you.
MELBER: Let me tell you why I don`t have time with Katy. It is a simple reason. Tonight`s top story is as clear and stark as it is disturbing. The FBI is formally probing whether Donald Trump is a Russian asset, and there are new reports about Trump tampering with potential evidence and witnesses in that very probe.
Any news outlet reporting those kinds of bombshells is putting its neck on the line. So it`s notable that these reports are coming from the two most respected newspapers in America, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post."
This is not normal news and this is not a normal night. So we have researched, reported, and booked a special show for you tonight. We`re going to be joined in a few minutes by one of the most powerful new House committee chairs to learn what that coequal branch is doing about all these developments on this important night.
Later in the hour, President Obama`s former supreme court lawyer who wrote the rules governing the Mueller probe joins me on this and the hearings in the Senate tomorrow, which could actually determine the entire future of the Mueller report.
First, here are a few of the fact shaking the Trump White House right now. In those hectic days after Trump fired James Comey, FBI officials were so concerned they began investigating if he was working for Russia and that is different from the known probe into obstruction because of its criminal aspect.
A confirmation that the FBI essentially viewed Donald Trump`s behavior as suspicious from a counterintelligence point of view. All of that in "The New York Times" report and they also note that the agents there were as aghast over Donald Trump`s now infamous admissions to Lester Holt about the probe as many of his critics were.
So that`s the core of "The Times" story, which was so damning that Donald Trump had to respond to it both yesterday and again today, which I`m going to show you. But first, just consider tonight, let`s do this together. Let`s consider how far we`ve come and not in a good way.
It was July 2017 when many people thought that it seemed potentially exaggerated or partisan for Hillary Clinton`s former running mate, Senator Tim Kaine to say that Trump campaign`s actions potentially raised a treason investigation level set of questions. And last year, people also were skeptical when former CIA director John Brennan was talking about Trump`s treasonous actions taken in the pocket of Putin.
Now, both of those treason quotes are from Trump critics. So you can factor that in. And then consider again as we look at how far we`ve come tonight when that same line was actually crossed by a respected news outlet, not a critic, but a news outlet.
On July 18, 2018, you`re looking at the front page of "The New York Times" raising the issue of Trump treason. Right there on the debate on the front page. That had never happened before, a line crossed.
But Trump`s most fervent supporters still argue, well, that`s just more Trump criticism from the press. And they would argue the U.S. is not yet at a place where asking if Trump works for Russia is a reasonable inquiry. And they`d say that`s why you only hear the question from critics or from parts of the press, but certainly not from Republicans on the record or "Fox News". Until now.
That line has now also been crossed. These reports so significant, so detailed, so unassailably unignorable, they can`t even be ignored on "Fox News". And given the chance to deny it, there you had the president not denying it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANINE PIRRO, HOST, FOX NEWS: Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it`s the most insulting thing I`ve ever been asked. I think it`s the most insulting article I`ve ever had written.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It took two more days for Trump to say formally no.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, yes or no, have you or are you now, have you ever worked for Russia? Yes or no.
TRUMP: I never worked for Russia and you know that answer better than anybody. I never worked for Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s the Russian asset side of the story, the president addressing it today. Then there is the alleged cover-up. "The Washington Post" reporting that after one meeting with Putin last year, Trump confiscated his interpreter`s notes from the meeting and told the interpreter not to discuss what happened with his own employees and aides in the Trump administration.
The only thing the interpreter was able to confirm was that when Putin denied the Russians meddled in the U.S. elections, Trump responded, "I believe you," which is familiar from another meeting a year later in Helsinki.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have President Putin. He just said it`s not Russia. I will say this. I don`t see any reason why it would be. President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Strong, powerful. We also know that after Helsinki, Trump aides could not get a reliable readout of that meeting either, and no detailed records of Trump`s face-to-face interaction with Putin at five other locations.
Not just Hamburg, but the dinner there when they spoke with only Putin`s interpreter doing the translating, their Helsinki conversation where no one but Trump and Putin and the translators were in the room, and these two world leaders conversations at other events like the G20 in Buenos Aires last month or Vietnam last year.
This isn`t normal. This is suspicious. The more we learn, the more suspicious it gets. And Trump is willing to take the heat for acting this suspicious and take the heat for openly discouraging witnesses from cooperating with law enforcement which has more and more people, including now in this new like, more people at "Fox News" asking why.
We begin tonight with Maya Wiley, former counsel to the mayor of New York City and a former prosecutor in the Southern District of New York and a former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, both analysts for us.
Maya, what is your reaction to this set of bombshell reports?
MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: My reaction is that this is not just unprecedented. It`s extremely dangerous.
And part of why it`s extremely dangerous is that we are not as a country, not as a whole, not as a nation of people who puts country before party asking, demanding that we get a formal accounting, that we get a commitment that there is going to be a public accounting to determine whether or not - - we don`t have to all agree whether the evidence is sufficient at this point, but whether or not we have any reason to be concerned that the single most powerful person in the country may be compromised.
That is -- this is uncharted territory for this country. We should take it very seriously. Even for those who support Donald Trump, if you support Donald Trump, you should want transparency.
You should want his name cleared. You should stop calling news outlets names rather than addressing the facts. You should stop, absolutely stop suggesting that Mueller`s probe should not be protected by legislation. And we should stop having a conversation that suggests that it is somehow inappropriate for the Congress to exercise some oversight to enable the American people to understand what`s happened.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: So I think Maya is absolutely right. And what`s so startling about this new reporting over the weekend is that the FBI thought that there was sufficient predication to open a counterintelligence investigation into the president.
Counterintelligence cases are different from times when the FBI investigates a criminal case. Then they`re looking to see whether or not someone has violated a specific criminal law. But in counterintelligence cases, they`re looking to see whether there is a threat to our national security.
And as Maya says, uncharted waters when you`re talking about the president, the head of the executive branch, because the Constitution simply didn`t contemplate a president who would be either a witting or unwitting agent of a foreign power. There was enormous sensitivity for the FBI to take this step, which they knew, they had to know would have been very inflammatory at some point.
They had evidence, some of which we`ve seen now, thanks to this reporting from "The Times" and "The Post," but I feel certain a great quantum of evidence, most of that iceberg is submerged below the water. "The New York Times" story says nothing has ever publicly been disclosed that links the president despite opening the investigation.
That reporting doesn`t rule out the fact that that evidence exists. I think the country and the president is due for quite a reckoning when all of the facts are disclosed.
MELBER: Joyce, "The New York Times" article goes through part of, as you say, what the FBI was looking at to reach this conclusion. What more do you think they would have needed?
I mean it doesn`t seem that simply the removal of an FBI director would take you to this level. Although as noted, that firing was rare and done in an odd way, there are past presence of removed senior officials in all sorts of ways.
VANCE: That`s right. And counterintelligence investigations aren`t meant to be opened and shut with a conclusion reached. What they`re really doing is they`re looking for information. They`re identifying a threat and they`re trying to neutralize that threat.
So they can go on for many, many years. It`s not as simple as looking at one event, but that one event might have been particularly telling, especially in light of what happened after Jim Comey was fired, where Russians were invited into the oval office with no American press involved.
We learned about the fact that Ambassador Kislyak was there from the Russian press. And that sort of incident when you layer them one on top of the other would give the FBI reason to continue to investigate. We don`t know if they at some point reached a conclusion and decided that their concerns had been ill-founded and there were no problems, or if they ultimately concluded there was more of a threat.
But like you say, one event in and of itself doesn`t make these investigations, and the FBI would have had just a serious quantum of evidence over a long timeline to get there.
MELBER: And Maya, I want to draw you out on sort of the way the president has handled this. Because it has become something of a pattern now where people see reports that are distressing, that might have had a big impact on other presidents and that feel like they just grind on.
And yet the very fact that this has punctured what may be a universe or a bubble of "Fox News", as I`ve argued tonight itself is interesting and telling. The president also responding to it point by point at times after delay.
I want to play for you also in that interview his attempt to say well, this is just like how he deals with other high-level foreign meetings. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I met with every leader just about individually. I meet with Modi. I meet with -- in Japan, I meet with Abe. I meet with all of them but nobody says anything.
But I meet with Putin, they make a big deal. Anybody could have listened to that meeting. That meeting is open for grabs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Some of what`s there is just obviously a lie. The whole point is it`s not open for grabs. I didn`t know that was an expression. I think up for grabs is more of what I think --
WILEY: I think it`s what "Access Hollywood" taught it is.
MELBER: Wow, I hadn`t made that literary connection. But beyond word choice, what do you think of that defense and what he`s doing and the fact that he feels the need to mislead or lie about saying this is basically like other meetings and it`s always the reaction to Russia, not the fact that it always seems to come back to Russia.
WILEY: Part of the reason that Donald Trump has a problem now is because he has a history and a pattern of lying. So -- and this goes I think back to the same question that you asked Joyce, which is if you look at what the FBI knew and was witnessing, it was, first of all, witnessing a candidate that clearly as we know had business dealings and was going after business dealings in Russia and publicly telling everyone who asked that he was having no business conversations with Russia.
We know that was a lie now. We know that from Michael Cohen that he was directed actually to pursue lines of business, at least until June and looks like even into the fall of 2016. You have him being briefed by the FBI about the activities and the potential for infiltration of his campaign by Russians.
He had seven people having contact with Russians during his campaign. The FBI asked him to -- and the campaign to let them know about contact with Russians. As far as we know from the record that we`ve seen, that did not happen.
Then, of course, you have the fact that not only his campaign manager -- right, the person who was chairing his campaign changed the Republican platform in a way that was beneficial to the policy interests of Russia. You then also had the fact that Michael Flynn, who was his advisor, lied about having communications about sanctions in Russia with Ambassador Kislyak again.
I mean we don`t even have enough time to go down the list both of facts that in and of themselves give us a whole public mountain of information that actually makes it clear that the FBI was right to be concerned at the point he then fires Comey and says it`s about the investigation.
MELBER: Says it`s about the investigation and then holds another private meeting not with Putin, but with Russian diplomats to say this has eased the pressure off him and only allows the Russian press to cover it. It`s overwhelming when you put it all like that.
Maya, thank you and stay with me because I want to bring you on one other item later in the show. Joyce Vance, thank you as well. Appreciate it.
What I want to do now is turn, as promised, to an interview with a House Democratic chair. The Dems are in the majority and they are moving to investigate many things including these new reports.
Now, Eliot Engel, the incoming chairman here, the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee is saying there will be a panel to investigate all of these encounters with Putin and Trump. And there are reports today who`s also considering whether to subpoena Trump`s interpreters to learn about those meetings.
I`m happy to say tonight on THE BEAT is New York Congressman Eliot Engel, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. A busy day for you. Thanks for joining me tonight.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY), CHAIRMAN FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: My pleasure. My pleasure.
MELBER: We went through some of what you`ve reportedly been doing. In your view, was this story, when you read it, a surprise to you and what are you going to do to get the interpreter to provide information to Congress?
ENGEL: Well, of course, it was a surprise. It still is a surprise. I still pinch myself to think that this is really happening. And I think that the president would want to cooperate to clear himself if indeed he feels he needs to be cleared.
We have had difficulty with the Russians since they interfered in our election for president in 2016, and we know they interfered in trying to help the president. And what happens now, of course, is the president is cozied up to Putin all the time since he`s been president. And it makes you scratch your head and think there is some kind of nefarious connection.
When you add the fact that apparently, the president tried to hide notes that were taken of his encounter with Putin when only the two of them were in a room, it just makes you think again. There were too many things going on at one time to just walk away from this and say, well, they`re all coincidences.
So we`re going to look at it and we`re going to make a judgment accordingly, but I want to just say that the House is the branch of government, the legislative branch of government. And we have checks and balances and we`re supposed to get involved in such things.
MELBER: Well, the big check, Congressman, as you know is the subpoena power. If this interpreter does not show up voluntarily, are you prepared to subpoena the interpreter?
ENGEL: Well, no decisions have been made. Obviously, we`re still in the beginnings of it. Congress is first putting together the committees. We don`t even know all the members on. But we`re going to look at all aspects.
I would think a subpoena would be a last resort, not a first resort. I would hope it wouldn`t have to get to that. I would hope that there is cooperation. The American people have the right to know.
MELBER: Other than what we`ve learned, do you feel that this is the end of the Putin meeting story or is there more information that you would expect may come out through your investigation through what appear to be congressionally related leaks as to what the FBI`s general counsel had said regarding the other thing, the probe that was looking at whether the president himself, weird to say, hard to say perhaps, but the president himself was a national security threat to the United States.
ENGEL: Well, I would find that hard to believe. I think most people would find it hard to believe. And I think it would be in the president`s best interests to come clean and release whatever papers he has. You know, there has been -- since the election of 2016, and since Trump became president, there`s always something about him with Putin.
President Trump has criticized our allies and friends, has criticized the NATO alliance, has criticized all kind of things that various presidents have just taken for granted and the American people have taken for granted. But when it comes to Putin, he is cozy with him. It really makes you think.
And the more we hear about this, the more we think that what else is there that we don`t know about.
MELBER: Right. And while I have you, given that you run this most important Foreign Policy Committee, these reports that John Bolton was soliciting potential plans to attack Iran, your response.
ENGEL: Well, I think the United States needs to be careful before it involves itself in other wars and other attacks. I think that we`ve learned our lesson. We should have learned our lesson.
I don`t think the American people want any kind of prolonged difficulties that would come with such an attack. I happen to think, by the way, that leaving Syria was a mistake. And I have trouble in general with the foreign policy of this administration, which I call fly by the seat of your pants foreign policy.
There is no consistency to it. Leaving Syria leaves our allies really in jeopardy, and it certainly leaves our friends, the Kurds who have fought side by side with us in great jeopardy. So I think that that`s something that troubles me a great deal.
MELBER: Well, a lot of big and troubling questions here about U.S. foreign policy in this administration right now. You`re the one in the driver`s seat in the House with the new chair, and you`re saying the subpoena`s at least on the table but not a first resort on the Putin translation issues.
Chairman Engel, thanks for joining me tonight.
ENGEL: My pleasure.
MELBER: Appreciate it.
Coming up, Democrats warning Trump against trying to intimidate witnesses after he goes after Michael Cohen`s family. Some say that could be a crime.
And I`ll break down a hidden link between Trump`s attempts to keep the Putin talks secret and the false cover story about the Trump Tower meeting. Also, what did the FBI really know about these links to Russia? I have the DOJ official who wrote the rules for Bob Mueller.
I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: The other top story coming out of Congress tonight is truly concerning. The chairman of the top House committee`s warning the president against committing the crime of witness tampering, telling Trump federal laws prohibit efforts to intimidate or pressure witnesses against testifying. The unusual warning is a response to Trump attacking his former lawyer, Michael Cohen`s family in this interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He should give information, maybe on his father-in-law, because that`s the one that people want to look at. And I guess he didn`t want to talk about his father-in-law. He`s trying to get his sentence reduced.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Democrats say that may be a crime because threatening a witness`s family to shape testimony is witness intimidation, a familiar crime from mafia circles and mob movies, from John Gotti to Frank White. And as once explained by Christopher Wallace, family threats can work. Wallace recounts his court appearance saying, "At my arraignment, note for the plaintiff, your daughter is tied up in a Brooklyn basement. Face it, not guilty. That`s how I stay filthy."
Now, that is gangster. It is illegal. And while Wallace was telling stories, this is what Democrats say they`re concerned Trump is actually doing, especially given his public calls for other witnesses like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort to avoid giving testimony.
I`m joined by "The New Yorker`s " Jelani Cobb. Is the president being gangster?
JELANI COBB, THE NEW YORKER: I think it`s his rendition of what a gangster would be. And this is kind of a fun exercise to think about how much of the president`s public pronouncements could be interchangeable with the voiceover from Goodfellas.
It`s that kind of narrative of like your father-in-law, maybe we can look into that guy and so on and the implicit threats that are in here. And so I mean I think it`s part of a bigger pattern.
He is a construction guy from Queens. He has certainly been in contact or come into some circles in which there are people from organized crime. And just by the nature of that business and the time in which he was involved in it, then there is the lingo, the kind of tough guy act that he puts on, you would never know that he was a kind of wasp upper-class scion. You would think that he was from a very different part of Queens than the one he grew up in, Jamaica Estates.
And then he is using this language. He is calling Michael Cohen a rat and saying what about your father-in-law and all these other kinds of things as if they were just taken verbatim from a gangster movie or the Tony Soprano guy to American governance.
MELBER: And so this raises the question, is he gangster or is he just a studio gangster?
COBB: I`m going say this is a studio gangster. Presumably, the studio is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
MELBER: And he`s looking at someone in Michael Cohen who clearly rattles him. This is an individual now who has lost a lot, who is looking at years in prison and is speaking to the Congress under oath in February before going to prison scheduled for three years in March.
And so he seems to then say, as you put it, learning from his environment or his notions of how it might be out in the stree, that maybe the last thing he can do to someone who doesn`t have much to lose is actually threaten their elderly father-in-law. But it`s a threat coming from someone who does run the federal government and has an FBI and a DOJ that does still report.
COBB: Exactly. The kind of irony of this is, of course, because of "The New York Times" reporting, we`ve learned a great deal about Mr. Trump`s family and their financial dealings and the way that they are connected to the various questions about his taxes and his tax background. And so it`s the kind of projection.
And there is another kind of contextual point about this, outside of the popular culture one and the historical one. In those articles of impeachment that were drafted against Richard Nixon, we often talk about the obstruction of justice quite a bit. We don`t talk about the contempt of Congress one.
And so in doing this, he`s not only witness tampering, but he is directly violating the separation of powers and interfering with a congressional witness.
MELBER: Leave it to a New Yorker writer to go that deep in the history or in the crates, if you will. We have some of that I`ll put up here in both the Nixon and the Clinton cases, which are different presidents, you have witness tampering as one of the articles.
COBB: Right. That`s right. And so it`s kind of like stepping over tripwires after tripwire after tripwire. It`s also telling that this letter was sent not only by the chair of oversight, not only by the chair of intelligence but by Representative Nadler, who is the chair of the Judiciary Committee.
And so this is a kind of subtextual -- there are lots of other things that are going on. On just the language of saying hey, knock it off, this person is a witness whose about to give testimony. But if we`re thinking about this in a kind of subtle shaded way, there are all sorts of other implications and also some other messages you would pick up by that.
MELBER: Right. And which the investigative committees came out together to warn about. From Frank White to the White House, Jelani Cobb thank you for being here. I appreciate it. Up ahead, Donald Trump`s meeting with Putin, the link to the Trump Tower meeting, also Mueller and the FBI`s concerns. The DOJ official who wrote Mueller`s rules is here when we`re back in just 30 seconds.
MELBER: You heard the news we`ve been talking about it tonight. The FBI so concerned by Donald Trump`s behavior in office they began investigating whether he was literally working for Russia. The New York Times reporting all of this really got heated after Donald Trump`s Russia thing comment to Lester Holt and firing James Comey. The actions here are of course a pattern. You had a day after the Comey firing, Russians in the Oval Office, no U.S. press allowed and Trump says Comey is a nutjob and great pressure was taken off by the firing.
We also learned Trump floating the idea of giving Putin potentially a $50 million penthouse had they built that Trump Tower in Moscow back in 2016 and he didn`t hide his request to Russia on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was a huge deal when it happened. What we now know because of the Mueller probe and the speaking indictments that he`s released is that Russians then made their first efforts to criminally hack Hillary Clinton`s servers that day. And then you add to that over a hundred contacts between Trump`s team and Russia linked operatives and the Trump team trying to cover up every single one of them.
According to a Washington Post account, Donald Trump also dropping sanctions on a Russian oligarch who is close to both Putin and Paul Manafort if you`re playing conspiracy bingo. Manafort offering Deripaska those private briefings as part of the 2016 campaign outreach. These sanctions that were lifted were explicitly imposed and Trump defied his own U.S. military advisers and removing the U.S. troops from Syria which of course also benefits Putin. And we also know that Russia interfered in the election and goes on to interfere and later Midterm activity but there has been very little action on that from Trump`s administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE ROGERS, COMMANDER, U.S. CYBER COMMAND: They haven`t paid a price, at least that`s sufficient to get them to change their behavior. We`re taking steps but we`re probably not doing enough. If we don`t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue and 2016 won`t be viewed as something isolated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump casts himself as a street fighter. So why does an America first self-declared America first president not fight on Vladimir Putin`s on the other side of the street. We just put it up, the foreign adversary interfering in elections. Putin accused of killing critics and Donald Trump never has a tough word for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that`s a good thing. Getting along with Russia is a good thing. I think I could have a very good relationship with Russia and with President Putin, and if I did that would be a great thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you say Vladimir Putin is a friend or a foe?
TRUMP: Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Not a bad thing. Well, let`s bring in our guests as promised. Neal Katyal is as a former U.S. acting Solicitor General and wrote the rules for this Mueller probe, Maya Wiley a former U.S. Attorney -- assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District. You look at the case laid out there. Of course, that goes to the suspicion so the facts can be relevant to the investigators. When you looked at these new reports, how do you think they relate to Mueller`s charge and where we`re headed?
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, UNITED STATES: You know, they`re concerned, really gravely concerning. And I do think that they`re exactly the types of things that Mueller has been looking at for two years. I would add to what you`re saying one other important thing which is every time Russia comes up there`s a lie by Trump and the Trump campaign folks. I mean, it`s almost like you`re doing a Microsoft Word Auto replace and replace Russia with lie, and every single time.
And most significantly the Trump campaign was warned and Trump himself was warned in August of 2016 by the FBI. The FBI went to them and said, look, we think the Russians are going to infiltrate your campaign. What do they do? Nothing. They told -- the FBI told Trump back then. If the Russians try and do something, tell us about it. Nothing, zero. And then when asked about it, the Trump campaign and the Trump folks lied about their contacts. And that`s why you have indictment after indictment by Mueller.
So you know, you think happens for the Mueller probe because without it we wouldn`t know all of this stuff. We wouldn`t know that Manafort, the President`s you know, campaign chairman is you know, in cahoots with the Ukrainians and Russians. We will know that Michael Flynn is in cahoots -- the President`s national security advisor was in cahoots with Russia. So all this is really, really important.
MELBER: When you put it that way, that goes to how the investigation has moved forward. We`ve talked tonight and I think ever since these bombshells broke, a lot of people have been talking about wow, this feels like another line crossed. On the flip side, you`ve worked inside the Justice Department in Maine Justice in Washington. This isn`t the type of stuff Bob Mueller wants out in the papers at this point in the probe.
KATYAL: Oh absolutely. And that -- but I do think it`s not just a line as cross the line has been blown to smithereens. I mean, you know, the President of the United States under active investigation by the FBI for being a Russian asset, I mean this is you know, the stuff of fiction novels that you know, usually get rejected by publishers is being too unrealistic. And I think you know, as we look toward tomorrow and the bar hearings in particular, we have a lot to worry about.
I mean, Barr promised today, he said, I won`t interfere with Mueller. Do you make that promise about the Southern District of New York investigation about Michael Cohen when those prosecutors for the first time in decades have said a sitting president order the commission of crimes?
You know, I think there`s a lot to be worried about and particularly with Barr`s kind of extravagant kind of -- kind of ridiculous views about presidential power.
MELBER: Well, that goes to also the timing. We are learning these things when tomorrow is as Mr. Katyal points out ground zero for the actual under oath commitments that will form the baseline for the future of the Mueller probe.
MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And you know, the question is we`ve come to a point in this country where our politics are so broken, where the idea of actually working together across any partisan lines fundamentally just to protect the rule of law -- we`re really not talking about something deeply complex, I mean where those lines and boundaries are. But it is critically important that we have an attorney general that recognizes his job is to the United States of America not to a sitting president.
MELBER: Well, and you say that and you both bring it up and this goes to something we`ve been reporting on and now that we have both of you here, since you wrote the rules I`m curious what you think of the corollary to the -- to the Nixon case which was as we all know at least as a lot of lawyers know, all about the Senate really taking a firm view of defending the independence there.
I want to play for you somewhat we what we saw there which was that that in a younger Robert Byrd saying they got the commitments they wanted and contrast that to today with what Senator Durbin says we need to see tomorrow. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: The forthright answers by Mr. Cox and by Mr. Richardson to the sharp questions from committee members assure us as well as we can be assured under these circumstances that the -- that the prosecutor will have full and complete authority and that Mr. Richardson will not attempt in any way to intervene.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Bill Barr had better give us some rock ironclad rock bottom assurances in terms of his independence and his willingness to step back and let Mueller finish his job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: How do you define that line of those assurances?
KATYAL: I think you know, this isn`t even close to the assurances that were given for Nixon, not even close. I mean, they`re actually the nominee for attorney general sat next to the special prosecutor at the hearing and said I won`t interfere. Here you`ve got --
MELBER: You`re talking -- I mean, just -- so you`re talking about what was then Richardson and Cox it`s sitting there in front of the cameras which today would be the equivalent of seeing Barr and Mueller tomorrow. We have no expectation that`s happening.
KATYAL: And not just Mueller but also the Southern District investigations. And you know, so it`s more than just Mueller. So that`s one thing. And then remember, you`re putting up there a nominee who William Barr who`s famous for his kind of really ridiculous constitutional views which are the president controls the prosecution power entirely.
So even his Barr has promise or even the paper it`s printed on because if Trump orders him to say shut down Mueller, shut down Southern District of New York, Barr has said in his own writings hey the Attorney General has to follow the president.
MELBER: You know, Maya, if you listen to the former Acting Solicitor General here, you almost get the impression that he thinks there could be more action for Donald Trump and people in his orbit in New York.
WILEY: I think we know that there`s going to be more action.
MELBER: We don`t know.
WILEY: We know that there`s going to be action, Ari. We don`t know what the action is.
MELBER: We don`t know in the way that we know that --
WILEY: You said action. We -- you -- look, we know that there`s ongoing investigation of the Trump Organization. We know that the -- it`s also, by the way, the Attorney General for New York State. And so it`s not only going to be at the federal level but the point --
MELBER: But Neal was saying that he doesn`t want Bill Barr to interfere with -- you used to work in New York that they may have more on what, on Trump Org, on the Trump campaign, on the money?
KATYAL: Right. And then yesterday, remember, Trump as you were talking about earlier, Trump -- he actually threatened Michael Cohen`s father who - - after Cohen`s cowlings testimony. And now that Trump defenders are saying, oh well, you know, every ordinary defendant complained about their witnesses and stuff like that.
But again, this is where Trump`s kind of crazy constitutional views backfire. Because he said I`m different than everyone else. I`m not an individual. I control the prosecution power. So the one guy who can`t actually say what was said yesterday as opposed to ordinary defendant says, Donald Trump, because he can wield the prosecution against Michael Cote.
MELBER: It`s so important. I have to fit in a break but I`m -- I am heading down to Washington tonight as I know you`ll be down there to see what transpires in the Senate hearing. This is going to be huge. Eternally grateful, Neil Katyal and Maya Wiley on this important part of the story. Up ahead, we are of course also in the midst of now the longest shutdown in American history. Do you want to hear some wisdom from Bob Mueller himself on camera about the repercussions? We`re going to play that for you want to come back.
Also, the Trump Tower meeting at the heart of the collusion question in the spotlight and David little skeptic Corn is here next.
MELBER: His revelations about Trump and his translators also shedding light on the Trump Tower meaning. Putin`s translator was the only one present at that Germany event in 2017, a meeting that occurred the same day The Times actually reached out for comment on a story that was about to break, the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
So it was on the flight home that Trump then personally dictated what would turn out to be a very misleading response claiming that was all about adoptions. Now, eleven days later, Trump talked about his dinner with Putin for the first time and claimed they talked about Russian adoptions. Let`s get right to it. David Corn is Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief and his new piece is called why Trump was always a counterintelligence nightmare. David, your response to the new reporting and the Trump Tower link and explain what you arguing in your new piece.
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Well, to talk about what you first put up on the screen there, Ari, it seems to me that that time frame when the Trump Tower meeting was coming out, there was a lot of pressure on Trump to come up with a cover story and he said that meeting was about adoption and he dictated his statement to Don Jr. which may get Don into a lot of trouble. He had his son lie about a matter that was under investigation and I am -- I gathering that Mueller is looking into that.
And then a few days later there`s a whole issue about hey, you had that meeting with Putin. What did he talk about? I got it, adoption, he reaches for the adoption, you know, a cover story once again. It seems -- now, we don`t know what he talked about in that meeting but we do know from the Washington Post reporting that he often has prevented other people in his own inner circle from learning what he talked about with Putin. Very troubling, very unusual, doesn`t happen when most presidents speak with foreign leaders including the leaders of Russia.
So it just seems to me like that became his all-purpose lie in that point in time. And in the piece I put out just an hour to ago, hot off the press although we don`t press this for this, I was basically saying that Donald Trump was a counterintelligence nightmare throughout the campaign because while Russia was attacking the United States and even when it became public through news reports and then later through the Obama administration releasing its finding that Russia was doing this, Trump kept saying it wasn`t happening.
He was, in essence, echoing what Putin was saying that is he was reiterating a communist Russian propaganda disinformation. And if you`re a counterintelligence person in the FBI or elsewhere, you look at someone out there repeating disinformation. That sends up red flags right away. Why are they doing this? Is there anything in cahoots going on here? Are they just repeating Russian misinformation, disinformation coincidentally?
And so that`s why from the very beginning of his general election campaign, Donald Trump was a counterintelligence concern.
MELBER: Do you think any of this coming out now is tied to what we`ve been reporting as a pivotal event and the Mueller probe tomorrow with the Bill Barr hearing?
CORN: I don`t know. There`s so many pivotal events happening and of course, there may be more pivotal events with more Mueller filings and whatever he`s going to do at the end of the investigation. The Barr event is obviously hearing which I`m glad you`re coming to Washington for we clear the snow for you.
MELBER: Thank you.
CORN: You know, it`s pivotal because this guy will be in charge unless he here accuses himself of the Mueller investigation as it comes -- as it seemingly comes to a close.
MELBER: When all the big calls -- yes, the big calls are going to be made particularly if it looks anything like pass probes whether that comes to what we learned, the reports or potentially any final indictments, the later indictments if there are more tend to be bigger than the first. David, I got to fit in a break. Thank you for joining us.
CORN: Good to be with you.
MELBER: Absolutely. The shutdown continues there`s new polling putting pressure on the White House. We also tonight for you have a big update on those BEAT wine glasses for MSNBC Moms. You have no idea what we learned about you all on Friday. We`re going to explain later.
MELBER: Bob Mueller stays on the job despite this government shutdown, but he has talked before about the cost of these kinds of cuts. Here was Mueller in 2013 talking about furloughs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: It is demoralizing when you are faced with furloughs, unable to pay your bills, working hard but the government has to furlough you because there`s insufficient money to keep you on in the position that you`re on. We take cuts elsewhere, but the furloughs is the last -- the last --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Supposed to be a last resort, he was saying in that testimony and that it`s a real emergency not a stunt. Well, that`s something to keep in mind as this shutdown grinds on, impacting real people, real life, and many real families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of the employees work double shifts and with no paycheck. So that`s a slap in the face.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m worried about the next paycheck, worried about time with my kids, what I can do with them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a soon whose college tuition coming due next week.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This shutdown couldn`t happen at a worse time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What happens when these real stories get out over time? Well, I`ll show you briefly, some polling that shows the White House concern, because 56 percent of people are blaming Trump or the Republicans for the shutdown, a much smaller share blaming the Democrats at this time.
Now, before we go, I got another thing I got to share with you. We see you, MSNBC Moms. What we learned about you and your love for wine and perhaps BEAT wine glasses next.
MELBER: So we have been hearing from you guys. On Friday, we debuted something different. These new BEAT wine glasses. A lot of you weighed in, including, yes, some MSNBC Moms. We saw how many of you enjoy THE BEAT glasses with your favorite wine. Here are just a few postings and the #MSNBCMoms made a strong showing on Twitter, awesome. Some of you got creative with your glasses and went homemade. We support that. Also, cost-effective.
And I can tell you our update. Because of you, we have sold out of these BEAT wine glasses in minutes. I didn`t even give the Web site on air, but you found it. They are out of stock. When they get back in stock, we`ll update so that you know. That does it for me. I`ll be in Washington tomorrow covering the Bill Barr hearings as mentioned. But don`t go anywhere now, "HARDBALL" is up next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END