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Mueller's office breaks silence. TRANSCRIPT: 1/21/2019, The Beat w. Ari Melber.

Guests: John Flannery, Barbara Boxer, Margaret Sullivan

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 21, 2019 Guest: John Flannery, Barbara Boxer, Margaret Sullivan


KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: And that is 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. Thank you very much.

We are covering a lot of stories this hour. Donald Trump getting panned by the left and the right for his offer to try to end the shutdown on his terms. We also have a special report that we've been working on for a while on THE BEAT tonight. I'm going get into new evidence about what Trump actually does throughout the day, why it's so problematic for America, and why his calls for executive time need more scrutiny.

We're also going to drive into the controversy of Bob Mueller doing something he rarely does. I'm sure you heard about it by Friday night, rebutting a specific article that "BuzzFeed" report on Michael Cohen. So all of that tonight. We have a lot. I'm very happy to be back with you.

But we begin with this new reporting about how explicitly the Trump administration's actions are helping billionaires tied to Vladimir Putin. "New York Times" reporting late today on a deal to weaken sanctions on a Putin-linked oligarch is actually far worse than everyone thought.

And as you may remember, a lot of people in the Congress thought it was terrible. The secret document shows that the deal would actually free this Putin oligarch from hundreds of millions of dollars of debt and give him and apparently his allies more control to important parts of his company.

Now, instead of punishing this oligarch, the Trump administration is essentially, according to this new material, helping him. Meanwhile, the Russian at the center of the Mueller probe, pop star Emin Agalarov who, of course, worked with Trump Jr. on the Trump Tower meeting, this is new and interesting, he says he is canceling a planned trip to the U.S. because of Bob Mueller.


EMIN AGALAROV, RUSSIAN POP STAR: Due to circumstances beyond my control, I'm forced to postpone my scheduled U.S. and Canadian tour. Basically, I have been put in this position against my will.


MELBER: Agalor -- Agalarov's lawyer, I should say, telling NBC this is most definitely linked to the Russia probe. Because while they're happy to speak to Mueller's team, what they don't want is to be subpoenaed or held under a material witness warrant. So a lot of moving parts there.

And then you have Rudy Giuliani doing something we've reported on before, the Giuliani dance. He is now apparently trying to backpedal from comments he made this weekend that appear to suggest as a factual matter that Rudy wanted the world to know Trump was involved in talks for Trump Tower Moscow right through the election.


RUDY GIULIANI, DONALD TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: Well, it's our understanding that they went on throughout 2016, not a lot of them, but there were conversations. Can't be sure of the exact dates. But the president can remember having conversations with him about it. The president can also remember --


GIULIANI: Yes, probably up to -- could be up to as far as October, November. Our answers cover until the election.

TODD: Talks of Trump Tower Moscow went as late as October or November of 2016, even in a -- in some form.

GIULIANI: Could be.


MELBER: Yes. Could be. So that's either a huge deal. A lot of papers treated it as such. He is the president's lawyer.

A big article in "The New York Times." Giuliani appearing to admit that, saying Trump told the Moscow folks that these discussions would go from the day he announced the run for president to the day he won. There is "The Times" story.

So then you get the 180. Trump, of course, had repeatedly claimed throughout 2016 nothing to do with Russia, no deals in the works. So if you stop there, that's already problematic for them.

Then you have, as I mentioned, what we call the Giuliani. Because late today, right in our newsroom, here we go again, let me read to you. Rudy Giuliani saying the statement on Trump and Cohen's discussions were hypothetical, not based on conversations he had with the president, did not represent the actual timing or circumstances of any such discussions.

We have a lot in the program, as I mentioned. We begin appropriately with Attorney Maya Wiley, a former counsel to the mayor of New York City and a civil prosecutor in the Southern District which prosecuted Michael Cohen, and former Federal Prosecutor John Flannery.

I often start with Maya because I like her a little bit more than you, even though I like you both. But the reason I want to start with you, John is you have given a very strong view of Rudy Giuliani's lawyering. And this isn't the only thing we're going to discuss in this block but we start here with again the dance and the walk back. What do you think is actually going down?

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it's the Rudy stare and two-step. We have a precedent for how this is going down currently. You remember when we had the September 2016 meeting with Cohen and Trump, discussing the payoff for the ladies, if you will.

And first of all, both Trump and Rudy were on the same page and they said, "Oh, yes, we just structured the deal. People do it all the time." Rudy lost his job at his firm. Then they did the 180 and they said, "No, no, no, none of that happened. And it turned out, because of tapes and other things, that they had in fact done it.

I think the way to read Rudy is to take the admissions for what they are and rely on those and --

MELBER: What are they? That's the whole problem. You don't have to be a lawyer. You're sitting at home on Sunday. You're watching "MEET THE PRESS" with Chuck Todd doing a great interview --

FLANNERY: It's done.

MELBER: -- and you have the admission.

FLANNERY: It's done.

MELBER: The admission of conversations up to election day. And then tonight, you have a lawyer being a lawyer and saying well, I was reserving the prospect that that could have happened but I wasn't making a factual assertion. So I ask you, lawyer to lawyer, which is it?

FLANNERY: Well, I think that -- this is the way I think you look at it. You look at what Cohen said back at the time of the plea, and you see the groundwork to say that we have the Trump project, the tower if you will in Moscow, and his testimony before the Senate and that he was regularizing it to fit what Trump wanted.

Now, you have these admissions that take it further. So what is the story? Well, on February 7, if Cohen goes up to the Hill, that would be the questions. If he's allowed to talk about anything that happened offshore. And that's where we stand I believe.

So it's an investigating you'd want to -- you also have to ask, is Rudy waiving privilege as he did back with the tape recording by disclosing what his client's position is. He also --

MELBER: Well, that's also Odd. But let me bring in Maya because now we're five minutes into the show and I'm still a little confused. I like to keep it real and be honest. I'm confused. I'm going to show -- this is the last Rudy bite I'm going to show. Here is a sound bite of Rudy on "CNN" also this weekend. Take a look.


GIULIANI: As far as I know, President Trump did not have discussions with him. Certainly, had no discussions with him in which he told him or counseled him to lie. Obviously, you have this hatred for the president.

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, THE LEAD: But you just acknowledged that it's possible that President Trump talked to Michael Cohen about his testimony --

GIULIANI: Which will be perfectly normal.

TAPPER: But you just acknowledged that President Trump might have talked about his testimony.

GIULIANI: And so what if he talked --

TAPPER: Well, is it not --


MELBER: Dealer's choice. I mean all of this.

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Well, first of all, I really expected a rap lyric for this one, Ari. So I just want to say, I'm a little --

MELBER: You're disappointed?

WILEY: I'm a little disappointed.

MELBER: Well, it's not over yet. If you're using music or poetry to understand the world around you, that presupposes you've come to an understanding. And I am being real with the audience and everyone here. I am not sure whether we're witnessing Rudy Giuliani messing up or what I think John was getting at, which is it was like what he did on Hannity, then he was parceling it out.

Any matters -- this is not feed or this is not entertainment, it matters what the criminal defense attorney for the president under criminal investigation who has a new attorney general coming in to deal with the Bob Mueller probe and a lot of other stuff that went down on Friday, it matters which thing Rudy is doing.

WILEY: He could be doing both.


WILEY: Because he could be doing the latter badly. So -- because if you listen to what Rudy Giuliani said to "The New York Times," he essentially made himself a fact witness because he said the president told me that he was having discussions from beginning to end.

Those are also inconsistent with some of the statements that he was making Sunday. So he's made inconsistent statements. He suggested that he's had conversations that you could argue make it difficult for him to preserve attorney-client privilege, at least on those conversations.

Now, I'm not saying we know that for a fact or that the Mueller team would do that because that would obviously be a big eruption. I'm just saying it's so sloppy. It's so poorly done, doesn't mean it won't be effective from the spin management.

MELBER: And because Donald Trump has already given written answers to Mueller, wouldn't any competent lawyer know what the timeframe was if whether it was election day or October or earlier? Why not stick to the story that was given to Mueller?

WILEY: Well, exactly. Because remember, he also makes clear he has -- he knows those answers, he talks about those answers to the Mueller questions in terms of the timeframe. So the fact that he's all over the map suggests I do believe he was trying to do spin control and that some of that spin control was trying to inoculate what was going to happen on February 7.

He spent most of his time trying to say Cohen is a liar. Well, Cohen has lied. The difference between Rudy Giuliani and a Michael Cohen is Michael Cohen has admitted it.

MELBER: Right. And being a lawyer for Donald Trump carries with it those risks. Both of you, stay with me. We're about to bring in another guest and look to some of the politics.

The comments here about Trump Tower Moscow directly contradicts, as we've been discussing, what Donald Trump had said throughout the campaign, no deals with Russia.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia. And even for anything, what do I have to do with Russia?

I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, OK? I promise you I never made, I don't have any deals with Russia.


MELBER: Giuliani, though, this weekend saying quite clearly Trump was working on this deal with the Russians and Democrats got interested.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: That is news to me and that is big news. Knowing that the Republican nominee was actively trying to do business in Moscow, that the Republican nominee at least at one point had offered, if he built this building, Vladimir Putin a free penthouse apartment. And if those negotiations were ongoing while up until the election, I think that's a relevant fact for voters to know.


MELBER: Jason Johnson joins the discussion, politics editor for "TheRoot". Good day to you, sir.


MELBER: Let's start with where Congress fits in. And I want to read to you the other reporting here. If you put aside all of the lawyers and just go to American interests, reading from this "Times" report, the way they've negotiated, the Trump administration, this deal for this billionaire could lend ammunition to criticism. They let a Kremlin-allied oligarch off easily, "The Times" writes tonight, or they were outmaneuvered by a sophisticated legal and lobbying campaign funded by his companies. Certainly, the latter has happened in Washington before when you're dealing with rich people.


MELBER: What does it tell you that here we are learning more about the way the Trump administration is letting off this Putin oligarch and Congress, to be clear, has a majority in both Houses that wants to stop this. It's only that there are enough Republicans to filibuster it that it wasn't stopped yet.

JOHNSON: Right. Well, the larger question that we have here now, Ari is we can no longer say that there is no connection between the president of the United States and Russia. There are too many people involved.

You've got his son meeting in Trump Tower with Russian representatives. You have this sort of deal with an oligarch. You have Manafort handling polling information. You have Rudy Giuliani saying that he was still conducting deals at this point.

So the question for Congress, certainly on the Democratic side in the House, is not whether or not Trump is connected to Russia anymore, it's what direction these connections are going and whether or not they rise to the level of impeachment. And the way -- and I have to mention this because this is the legal part and the political part.

Every single time Rudy Giuliani goes into the air, every time he says something wrong, every time he walks back, the guy's got more steps back than James Harden. It's ridiculous. Every single time he says something, he gives more fuel to Democrats to go to their constituents and say, "See? This is an issue we should be focused on."

Because the thing that the Trump administration wants is they want Democrats to not want to go near impeachment. They want it to be politically poisonous or dangerous. But whenever Rudy Giuliani speaks and whenever Trump makes these kinds of deals and when they're revealed, it makes a winner for Democrats running for president in 2020 or even just the Congress now.

MELBER: And do you think -- and again, on the legislative side of it, which involves politics, do you think the Democrats are hitting the sanctions stuff enough? We all get why the more complex it becomes, the harder it becomes. But when you have several Republican senators, I believe a count of 11 joining the Democrats --


MELBER: -- to say don't let this Putin guy off the hook, that seems pretty clear.

JOHNSON: Yes. It seems pretty clear. But also, it speaks to what is going to happen down the road. If you got 11 Republicans who had already broken, what happens when the Mueller report comes out if the entire report comes out?

You're going to have more people added to that group of 11. You're going to have more people who say not only should we not let this guy off on sanctions, maybe we should increase the number of sanctions. And that cage when it gets rattled is just going to make things more and more difficult for the president.

Look, I think at this point, you've got Republicans, not just the Republicans are like, "Hey, I'm going to state that Hillary Clinton won or I had a rough race last night." You're going to have Republicans saying, "I don't want this dragging me down in 2020" and that's what the president has to worry about.


FLANNERY: Well, I think we give too much patience to whether or not we should be calling foul. I mean Trump has shown himself to be Putin's tool, his lackey. We see it when he appears with him. We see all the things that squeeze him, all the different lies he's told, a hundred contacts and so forth.

And I got a little concerned when Rosenstein had a conversation apparently with the special counsel's office about how to handle the "BuzzFeed" article when there are elements in the public domain that shows that that direction does make sense. Although --

MELBER: Well, why would that -- I'm almost out of time but why would that concern you?

FLANNERY: Well, because I --

MELBER: The deputy attorney general is overseeing the probe. It appears, according to Mueller's spokesperson, that something was stated about what Mueller has that they want the world to know they thought was mischaracterized or inaccurate. What's wrong with that?

FLANNERY: Well, where do you draw the line? Inside there is an investigation and it's kept secret. And this was the error in my opinion of Comey with Hillary Clinton. He shouldn't have been talking about some of those things. Putting aside --

MELBER: But when Comey did that, it's not like it had any other negative impacts.

FLANNERY: Well, and some say --


FLANNERY: You're setting me up, right?

MELBER: I winked to you through the camera. I don't know if you could see it or not. I've never done that before.

FLANNERY: No, I can't see it because this camera is just a little black round thing in front of me.

MELBER: I should say, but Maya, the Comey thing, it worked out fine.

WILEY: Yes. I would direct everyone to all the polling to show the impact of Comey's decision.

MELBER: Right.

WILEY: Can we just -- just one thing I want to make sure we don't lose here, because the Emin Agalarov thing is actually a big deal. And the reason it's a big deal is because in a "Forbes Magazine" interview in 2017, what Emin Agalarov said is "I still talk to Donald Trump. We still have family relationships. And he takes care of his friends."

And when you think about him refusing to come and not wanting to submit himself to these conversations --

MELBER: Right.

WILEY: -- you have to wonder what that following of the money is going to look like. And remember, VT Bank, that's the bank that if we want to get into the Deripaska, who by the way was owed money by Paul Manafort, Deripaska, part of the reason this is a sweetheart deal for him is because he gets to get rid of debt by giving stocks to VT Bank. That is one of the banks that Michael Cohen was going to look to for financing --

MELBER: Right.

WILEY: -- for the tower.

MELBER: Well, and that's the point that the Trump administration has turned this into a deal that potentially seems, according to "The New York Times," to benefit that person. Maya, you wanted a reference. How about please don't throw me in the sanctions briar patch.

FLANNERY: That's not rap.

WILEY: That's not.

MELBER: It doesn't have to be rap.

WILEY: Kanye, come on. Kanye.

MELBER: Please don't throw me in the briar patch, these sanctions. Oh, these sanctions netted me from a business perspective 200 Ms. Not bad.

I got to fit in a break. Maya, John, and Jason, thank you for a lively panel.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

MELBER: Coming up, we have a lot more. My special report on a Trump scandal hiding in plain sight. A shutdown of his own schedule and presidency. I'll explain.

And then, yes, we're going get into Bob Mueller doing what he rarely does, sending out a spokesman to rebut an article on the record. And some prescient comments from Mueller all the way back in 2008.


ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Today, we are part of a never-ending news cycle, one that spans the globe. When a story is filed, that one story posted on the internet may be picked up around the world.


MELBER: Ain't that the truth.

And later, AOC gets Cardi B's back to clap back at a "Fox News " debater.

Also, Trump showing signs of pressure as he tries to make some kind of deal on Immigration. And later on this MLK holiday, I'm going to show you part of a very powerful and rarely seen interview with Dr. Martin Luther King.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: And so emancipation for the negro was really freedom to hung. It's a cruel justice say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And many negroes by the thousands and millions have been left bootless.


MELBER: All that tonight. I'm Ari Melber. You're watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER: Let's reset. There is a new Congress. We're about two years into the Trump presidency. The government is shut down for the longest period ever. And Donald Trump's attempt to be a deal maker on the border wall has run into a wall of its own.

Speaker Pelosi rejecting this new offer he made that would grant some undocumented immigrants a type of temporary relief from deportations to get money for the permanent wall.

I'm about to be joined by a political icon from California who knows these issues and is friends with Speaker Pelosi, worked with her for years, former Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.

Here's some more of the details though. Trump's offer was getting panned not only by Pelosi but also some media supporters on the right. Ann Coulter saying, "We voted for Trump and got Jeb."

Congressman Steve King not exactly leading much of anything these days tweeted out in all caps, "NO AMNESTY." And then Breitbart which, of course, used to be linked to Steve Bannon who worked for Trump saying this was "three-year amnesty."

Trump's, again, apparent deal-making is not working that well. Take a look at how it played in "SNL" roasting Trump.


KENAN THOMPSON: Nancy, how are you feeling tonight?

KATE MCKINNON: Perfect. Just normal. Not like drunk on my own power or anything.

THOMPSON: Let's see what's in your briefcase, Nancy.

MCKINNON: OK. $1 billion and you say "Nancy's my mommy."

ALEC BALDWIN: It's not $5 billion and I need $5 billion because that's the first random number I said. No deal.


MELBER: I'm joined by former Senator Barbara Boxer, also host I should mention of "The Boxer Podcast". Thanks for being here tonight.

BARBARA BOXER, FORMER SENATOR: Thanks for having me, Ari,

MELBER: Let's start with the joke that may be true. "SNL" positing that Donald Trump came to this random round number with no real plan or logic and is pushing for it at the very time that he has less control of the Congress. He could have done it in the last two years.

What is your view of where we go from here? And explicitly, as I mentioned, your knowledge of your colleague Speaker Pelosi and how she is going to approach this.

BOXER: Sure. Well, "Saturday Night Live" uses a sense of humor to make a really important point, but we'll leave the humor to them. I think they always hit the nail on the head. And I was parodied by them a long time ago. But the talking --

MELBER: Wasn't that in the -- a parody of you in the Condoleezza Rice confirmation was that, right?

BOXER: They did. They did.

MELBER: Was it good? OK. OK.

BOXER: And it still holds -- oh, it's hysterical. I mean it's hysterical. It still holds up and it cracks me up. And, of course, at that time it was rare for one woman to go after another woman. Anyway, you can do a whole throwback on that someday.

But let me just say where I see we're at, to try and just give people who are watching a sense of this. You know, when you're a legislator, and you're in a circumstance like this, and we've been in it before, what's important for sure some way to bridge the gap between the sides. But also, you have to think if the precedent-setting nature of what you were doing.

And if we say to Donald Trump, you know, keep the government closed. Boy, he's got the art of the government shutdown down. If we let him keep that government shutdown only to win when he says he wants the same thing he asked for before the shutdown started, it's a precedent setter and it's a bad one.

It means that any president can take one budget item or one policy like declaring war, who knows, and shut the whole government down. But I have to say this, getting back to why President Trump says he's doing it. I think it's about, you know, a broken campaign promise.

But put that aside. He says he wants to make us safer. So how does he make us safer? By shutting down so much of the government. And we now have people who are involved with flight safety and they're not getting paid.

Food safety, border safety, financial protection, consumer protection, even cleaning up toxic waste. Superfund sites have stopped. He is putting us in danger.

So we have to end the shutdown, take his plan, fine, put it on the table, take Nancy's plan, Speaker Pelosi's plan, take Leader Schumer's plan, take Leader McConnell's plan, let's take a look at all the plans, McCarthy's plan. And then let's do what we know how to do, which is legislate.

MELBER: I guess part of what I'm curious is how do you deal with having an endgame for someone across the table who may have no endgame. And let me play for you Donald Trump again talking about the speaker, and they've been going back and forth.

I've noted there has been some pettiness on both sides. But here he is talking about the speaker in a way that doesn't feel like it's getting close to a deal.


TRUMP: It's not personal for me. She's being controlled by the radical left, which is a problem, and, you know, she is under total control of the radical left.


MELBER: Where does she go from here with this?

BOXER: Well, you know you're losing when you have to start saying things like that. So he is clearly losing. Let me tell you what the end to me looks like.

When he is totally down to 34 percent approval, 35 percent approval, he's going to come to his senses. Or I will tell you the Republican Party is done for. And I don't say that with glee. You know, when I started out, the two parties were about equal in size. Now they are going downhill and it's very, very sad.

And I will tell you, people are suffering and there could be a terrible thing that happens because let me say this, if you're going through the airport, as many of us do, and you have a TSA agent who is just so worried because they're worried about their children, they're worried about their rent, something could slip through.

What about the air traffic controllers? They're balancing everything at once. You need people feeling good about their work, taking pride in their work. This shutdown is endangering us.

MELBER: Right.

BOXER: It is the real emergency. It's turned into the emergency.

MELBER: No. And you're putting --

BOXER: Not the border wall, not the border wall.

MELBER: And you're putting faces and stories on why it affects people's real lives which is different than some of the rhetoric. I also want to show you one more thing when we think about how the debate plays out and how things are changing.

BOXER: Sure.

MELBER: There have been all sorts of fighting online. People talking about this on social media. We noted last week that Rapper Cardi B blasted Trump over the way he shut down the government.

Then this weekend, there was a "Fox News" personality, Tommy Lawrence, slamming Cardi B and saying, "Oh, the latest genius political mind to endorse the Democrats." Cardi B went right back at her and said leave me alone. "I will dog walk you."

And then getting back to Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defending Cardi B, noting they're both from the Bronx and saying "Why do people think they can mess with Bronx women without getting roasted?" I wonder what you make of what is a shift in the discourse and also we're seeing women in power, women in culture standing up and having these debates.

BOXER: Sure. Well, this isn't about Bronx women or Brooklyn women. I was born there. It's really about the state of the nation at the moment. And certainly, a rapper has a right to say what she thinks and so does "Fox News".

But guess what? I don't care. What I care about is the fact that we're in deep trouble. People are having horrible times. About a third of the federal workforce, they're veterans, and many of them decided they wanted to continue to work for their country once they stopped doing their duty in the Armed Services.

And so they wanted jobs that were not stressful, that they could make their contribution. They're getting PTSD, some of them. This is a national disgrace what is happening. It's pain.

And it isn't just 800,000 and that's a lot of people. It's their families. So let's say the average family has three people. So you've got to say three times.

MELBER: Right.

BOXER: And what about the little businesses all over next to the National Park Service? I didn't mention the parks that are being overrun with unsanitary conditions, some of them are closed. Here in California, it means a lot to us to have our beautiful parks.

I'll tell you something, you know, this is a question of being smart, doing the basic job, and all of this stuff and the jokes and the songs, it's all fine and everyone has a right to do it in their way. My way is to talk to people. And what I'm saying is we have a national emergency now, and it is the shutdown.

Just a couple of days ago, we had a lot of illegal immigrants burrow underneath a barrier, OK. And that's what they did. We know that the drugs are coming in at the legal ports of entry. These are where -- that's where we have problems. And the other thing I'd say as some supporter of mine wrote me and said, you can go to a local Home Depot and get those magnetic handles that you can climb over this supposed steel slatted fence. That's ridiculous.

MELBER: Or as Trump once said --

BOXER: Open up the government.

MELBER: Yes, he once said, or a rope which you know, ropes are something people can get hold of. Senator Boxer, always appreciate you joining us on THE BEAT.

BOXER: Thanks.

MELBER: Thank you. Up ahead we're going to get into the fallout from Bob Mueller correcting BuzzFeed. Also, news about our Trump lawyers reached out to Mueller. But first, we turn from the federal workers going without pay to the head of the federal government barely working. My special report on Trump's light schedule and what it means when we're back in 30 seconds.


MELBER: Now we turn to a BEAT special report on a potential Trump scandal hiding in plain sight. The government has been shut down for 31 days but there's mounting evidence the President Trump's workday has been shut down far longer. Stretches of time when he avoids doing most of the work of the presidency, what you're about to see is actually central to this era and how Trump approaches this job.

We're seeing a new low in presidential work ethic in contrast to recent presidents who kept far busier schedules.



BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, nothing truly prepares you for the demands of the Oval Office. Until you've sat at that desk, you don't know what it's like to manage a global crisis.


MELBER: It's now clear Trump was not prepared for the demands. As a candidate, he pledged hard work stamina and no more golf.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love golf. But if I were in the White House, I don't think I'd ever see Turnberry again. I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off.

To be president of this country you need tremendous stamina. You have so many different things you have to be able to do and I don't believe that Hillary has this stamina.

If you don't have the stamina, and if you don't have the -- whatever that is that you have to have, the country is in trouble.


MELBER: Tonight we can report Trump is failing his own stamina standard in at least three ways. First, he comes in late and golf's a ton. Second, when he does arrive he spends a lot of time watching T.V. instead of working. And third, he's failed to choose many key appointees. Take a look at Trump's official schedule here. He hasn't shown up for a single meeting before 10:45 a.m. all month. And several other days, the very first item on Trump's schedule was at 2:30 p.m. or even 4:00 in the afternoon.

This is normal for Trump, it's not normal for any other president. We compared other periods when Trump's schedule was available like last October to Obama's scheduled on October 16. Trump didn't even start his day in the Oval Office until after 11:30 a.m. on average. That's over an hour after Obama's average start time around 10:15, not a lot of stamina. But another way to put this data simply is Trump only made it into the Oval Office by 11:00 a.m. less than once the week, 18 percent of the time, while Obama was in by 11:00 a.m. most of the time 72 percent.

Or you can forget other presidents and compare Trump's workday to like everybody else because while the federal government in Congress and Wall Street and most employed people have been at work for about two and a half hours coming in at 9:00, Trump is just getting started. Most Americans work longer hours than this low-energy president.

So if you're watching this and you have a day job, the odds are you work longer hours than the president. And we checked and Trump kept up this summer Friday's schedule not only during the shutdown but also during October as America was rocked by those assassination bombing attempts.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Explosive devices sent to a number of Democratic leaders and public servants who've been critical of President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are people that are very angry at these people because of what President Trump has said.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: This has been a rough day from the democracy, rough day for American politics.

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: We need to track down this bomber because it's more than just the envelopes.


MELBER: While that was going down, Trump never had anything on his schedule before 11:00 a.m. all week. One day, he didn't start until 1:00 p.m. So that's all about how Trump shows up late. Then there's what he does once he's in the office. The answer is often absolutely nothing. Trump will block out time to watch T.V. and hang. This is known as executive time like one of those days during the October bomb scare, Trump had "nine hours of executive time."

This involves unstructured time Trump spends tweeting, phoning friends, watching T.V. This is basically Trump's version of Netflix and chill except he does it alone and prefers cable news to stranger things or reruns of the office. Now, Trump aides say even though he may be at home or in the office during executive time, it involves work because he calls staff or colleagues.

And there may be calls but we also checked and there is plenty of T.V. watching. What Trump sees on T.V. he will then post on Twitter. So if Trump staff are trying to hide his T.V. watching with executive time, he actually ends up telling on himself by tweeting Fox News items in nearly real-time. Like a border patrol shoutout that got a Trump tweet within the same hour.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From a border security perspective, 2018 is shaping up to be a great year.


MELBER: Or when Trump walked back his administration's support for Republican House vote on surveillance, because he saw it criticized on Fox News. Part of an executive time session where he clearly was not on the phone with his colleagues in Congress.


ANDREW NAPOLITANO, SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST, FOX NEWS: I don't understand why Donald Trump was in favor of this. His woes began with unlawful foreign surveillance and unconstitutional domestic surveillance.


MELBER: There are more examples like that and that's when Trump claims to be on the job. Then there is his record-breaking self-enriching promotion of his golf courses. After two years, Trump has played about 138 percent more golf than Obama. And you know too much golf is bad for a president because Trump said so.


TRUMP: Obama ought to get off the golf course and get down there. I mean, he's played more golf than most people on the PGA Tour. Everything is executive order because he doesn't have enough time because he's playing so much golf.

I love golf. But if I were in the White House, I don't think I'd ever see Turnberry again. I just want to stay and the White House didn't work my ass off.


MELBER: That's false. Trump has been back to Turnberry three times as part of those 166 days golfing at Trump properties. He's also averaged 80 more days golfing than Obama when you compare that at first two years in office. Fox News has not come down on Trump for this hypocrisy. That would require addressing their own.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: The leisurely life of our 44th president, the man who will no doubt set records for the number of rounds of golf played while in office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama, you have a problem. You have a problem with golf and it's getting weird.


MELBER: Then there is the third way that Trump is a president missing in action. His failure to fill these posts that only the president can fill. A third Pentagon's jobs vacant. 43 percent of jobs empty at the State Department. That includes 25 ambassadorships. Forget hiring the best people. He's not hiring any people.

TRUMP: I know the best people. I know the best managers. I know the best dealmakers.

I have the smartest people in this country lined up.

I'm going to get the best people the job. I have great people working at the White House. They don't get enough credit. I have something tremendously talented people.


MELBER: For two years in now, we can count it up. Donald Trump won't do the work of vetting and picking people for these key posts. And some things can't be hidden by executive time or blaming Washington. These vacancies are key. They exposed how when a task is left up to the president, it doesn't get done. Trump's low-energy governance means the chief of staff and four cabinet level agencies have no confirmed leader, plus this 37 percent a federal post vacant, plus key posts handling nuclear defense, nuclear energy, homeland security, health care for military officials, food safety, and North Korea.

You look on your screen, those are all each one of those important posts vacant because only the president can do it. And more broadly, this means less accountable staff make bigger decisions because the President refuses to do the work. So you see those headlines about momentous decisions sometimes falling to anonymous staff from when to drop bunker-busting bombs to how to order killings via drones, that all falls into the bureaucracy.

The point here is not ideological. If you oppose Trump, you might be happy that he's not making these decisions or picking more people in his image. If you support Trump, you might be upset that he's so uninvolved, he's not putting his stamp on so many powerful posts. This is deeper than that. This is about the risk posed by the president who's essentially MIA overseeing a personally MIA cabinet, managing what are now hundreds of MIA post in our federal government which is of course currently completely shut down.

This is important amidst all the other stories. This is the risk of mixing inexperienced apathy and arrogance in the White House. The inexperience was obviously known. Trump never did public service before he ran for president. The apathy was part of Trump's con. He claimed he'd quit golf and work hard and maybe some believed him, he's hasn't done either. And the privileged arrogance is wearing thin.

Trump likes to act like it'll all work out when the pain is borne by other people. But those other people now number in the millions from this shutdown as I was just discussing with Senator Boxer. Many people want to divide us by ideology or identity or location. This boils down to whether you care about the U.S. government or not. If you do, then left or right, you might be wary of giving the keys to someone with no experience or demonstrated service.

Just like if you care about the Super Bowl, you don't take the ball from Tom Brady and give it to a disrupter who's never thrown a game before. Or if you care about your heart surgery, you don't roll the dice on someone holding a scalpel who's not actually a doctor. You take it all together, being president is harder than football or surgery. If you had any doubt, just look at what happens when you put someone in charge with no experience.


MELBER: New fallout tonight over Bob Mueller issuing a rare response to that BuzzFeed article that reported Michael Cohen had told Bob Mueller's team he was ordered to lie to Congress by Trump and that Mueller would have evidence of that. Let's be clear, while that BuzzFeed report dominated the news on Friday including I should mention right here on THE BEAT, it was being covered everywhere but then Mueller in a very rare move released an official statement saying that the core of the BuzzFeed report was "not accurate."

Let's get into what went wrong. I'm joined by Margaret Sullivan, a Media Columnist for the Washington Post and former Public Editor of the New York Times dealing with the media and when the press makes mistakes. What did the press do wrong here?

MARGARET SULLIVAN, MEDIA COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Well, you know, there's some thought we don't know here. There are some things we do know. We know what the BuzzFeed story says. We know that the editor of BuzzFeed Ben Smith is standing by it as are the reporters so I think we have to keep that in mind. And we know that the Special Counsel's Office has issued a statement that some people think is very carefully parsed and some people interpret it as a complete knockdown of the story.

MELBER: Well, wouldn't a better article have managed to include some response or discouragement from the Special Counsel's Office had they had a more full discussion of what the claim was going to be.

SULLIVAN: So we've now because of Washington Post reporting actually seen the e-mail that was sent to the Special Counsel's office from Jason Leopold, one of the BuzzFeed reporters. And you know, I'm not the first to observe but I would agree that it was very general. It was short. It was not a sort of no surprises. No, because it didn't fully explain what the story was going to be. So I agree with you. And I think it's important to say that if it had done that, this would not have probably not have played out the way it has.

MELBER: Let alone be a costly error.


MELBER: Bob Mueller himself has discussed something that many people who report on the law and investigations know which is this is different than other areas because so much secrecy is required. So it can be difficult to even get a background or off-the-record rebuttal of no that's wrong. Take a look at earlier Mueller talking about that.


ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: With freedom of the press comes an inherent tension between government and the media. Those of us in government appreciate that tension as one of the positive aspects of an open and a free society. Although I sometimes have to remind myself of that when I do pick up the newspaper in the morning and read some of the stories that have been written about the Bureau.


SULLIVAN: Well, you know, there is an attention between government and the press and that is a good thing. That doesn't mean that when there's a story that's disputed that it is fake news as the president was trying to say.


SULLIVAN: And that's -- you know, there may well be things in the story that aren't right although Ben Smith would say that's not the case. But what it isn't is trying to falsify something and I feel confident of that.

MELBER: You think -- you think what we would call the secondary press which is all the Web sites that respond to the article in this case from BuzzFeed and all the television reporting that responds, did we overdo it in response.

SULLIVAN: Yes, I think so. You know, everybody said if true, if true, but nevertheless, it dominated -- it dominated the news all day. And that's you know, it was -- it was too much. But you know, we don't ever seem to really learn that lesson.

MELBER: Well, isn't that a lesson we learned originally from the Grateful Dead on Shakedown Street. Maybe you had too much too fast.

SULLIVAN: Very true. The Grateful Dead are wise.

MELBER: And it applies to --

SULLIVAN: Well, look, you know --

MELBER: -- risky as well as salacious stories that haven't necessarily been fully vetted, although that's part of the process. The other part is Ben Smith and others were interviewed on air which then becomes the story as well.

SULLIVAN: Right. And it's interesting to see you know, there -- one of the reporters has said we're getting more information and that this is true. So you know, I haven't fully made my mind up about how this is going to come down but we're going to know soon because Michael Cohen is going to testify publicly before the Congress on February 7th and then we're going to know a lot of the answers.

MELBER: Well, Margaret Sullavan, I appreciate you being here as a bit of an ombudsman and I also appreciate you leading by example. You are being measured even in reacting to what may have been an overreaction. Thank you for being here.

SULLIVAN: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: I'm fitting in a break because then I want to show you all on this MLK Day an important video of MLK.


MELBER: Today millions of Americans are reflecting on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And to do that we want to share a powerful clip from Dr. King in an interview so we can hear his voice tonight as he educates a reporter on the impact and lingering effects of slavery and segregation in America.


DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., MINISTER AND ACTIVIST: America freed slaves in 19 -- I mean, in 1863 through the emancipation proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, but gave the slaves no land on nothing in reality and as a matter of fact to get started on. At the same time, America was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest which meant that that was a willingness to give the white peasants from Europe an economic base.

When white Americans tell the Negro to lift himself by his own bootstraps, they don't owe -- they don't look over the legacy of slavery and segregation. It's a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself as own bootstraps.



MELBER: Before we go, I want to tell you one more thing. Tomorrow on THE BEAT, I will be joined by an executive who ran one of Donald Trump's casinos back in the `80s with insights on the image, the manufacturing, the talk of deals and how it all really went down. I am excited about that. I hope you'll join us 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. But don't go anywhere because "HARDBALL" is up next.