Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 22, 2019 Guest: Matt Miller; Berit Berger; Barbara McQuade; Chris Van Hollen; Michael McFaul, Eleanor Clift, Jack O`Donnell
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: He just started a new job as senator. But don`t forget, that was when he was running for senator. He said, you know, "My favorite meat is hotdog, by the way. That is my favorite meat." It seems like the most important job qualification to me is you got to like the product that you`re selling and Mitt Romney loves the product.
Anyway, that`s all we have for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.
"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now. Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. Thank you very much.
We have a lot of ground to cover tonight. A top diplomat overseeing Russia resigning after GOP senators strike a deal to soften sanctions on a Russian billionaire linked to both Putin and Paul Manafort.
Also, as Mitch McConnell stands by Trump`s shutdown, we go on the ground to see pressure building in red states over this issue. Later, a BEAT exclusive, an executive who ran Trump casinos says you have to understand Trump`s bankruptcy mindset to get where we`re headed in this shutdown fight.
But the top story tonight is a White House on edge. A new book dishing on the chaos Trump aides now anonymously trashing Rudy Giuliani and a new report from "ABC" that almost as soon as Trump won the race, a star apprentice executive producer, you may have heard of, Mark Burnett, was trying to link a Putin affiliated American banker to Donald Trump`s transition team.
Now, this attempted meeting did not go down, but congressional investigators honing in on the goal and why Russia and rubles seemed to always be such a high priority. This report has not been confirmed by "NBC NEWS".
Then the president`s criminal defense lawyer for the Russia probe back on the dancefloor doing the Giuliani walk back. He`s gone from saying Trump talked to Cohen about a Trump Moscow Tower to claiming that was some kind of hypothetical to now saying if they did talk about it, that wouldn`t be a crime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, DONALD TRUMP`S LAWYER: Understanding that they went on throughout 2016, weren`t a lot of them, but there were conversations. Could be up to as far as October, November. Our answers cover until the election.
TODD: So just to clarify, talks of Trump Tower Moscow went as late as October or November of 2016?
GIULIANI: Could be, right.
TODD: Even in some form?
GIULIANI: Could be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Could be. Giuliani also doing a meandering interview with the "New Yorker" that is making some waves. And I want to be very crystal clear about it. The key to decoding this kind of Giuliani interview is to ignore the talking points and focus only on the secrets Giuliani seems to spill by accident.
It is like The Romantics famously said, I hear the secrets that you keep when you`re talking in your sleep. Well, Giuliani spilling some secrets here. He mentioned secret tapes and whether St. Peter will ultimately think he lied for Trump at the gates of heaven. Let me take a quick look with you.
On the tapes, Giuliani says he listened to tapes to fact check some recent media articles and then tries to take it back saying, "Well, I shouldn`t have said tapes." And then, when asked about lying for Trump, he says, "Well, I`m afraid it will be on my gravestone."
Rudy Giuliani, he lied for Trump, adding "Somehow, I don`t think that will be it. But if it is, so what do I care? I`ll be dead. I figure I can explain it to St. Peter." Getting pretty deep there.
Now, as we say around here, Giuliani gonna Giuliani. But even someone inside the Trump administration now says they`re over it. And this is a current Trump aide talking about the Giuliani dance. The senior administration official says basically "Rudy Giuliani`s public comments are not helping." And they question why he keeps going on TV if nothing good can come of it, "don`t do it."
I`m joined now by Barrett Berger, a former U.S. assistant attorney with both the Eastern and Southern District of New York where there`s been a lot of action. And Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor, and Matt Miller, former chief spokesman for the Justice Department in the Obama administration. Greetings to all of you.
Matt Miller, do you think there are secrets that can be found as Rudy does these interviews and what does it tell you that Trump aides are starting to pipe up about it?
MATT MILLER, FORMER CHIEF SPOKESMAN, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: You know I think it`s very difficult because you never know when he`s telling the truth or not. I think it`s pretty clear at this point, Rudy Giuliani, his best days as a lawyer are behind him but he`s actually worse as a public spokesman.
And when you watch his interviews, the thing that is striking to me, it`s one thing to go on television and make admissions that are damaging to your client that happen to be factually true. You sometimes let a bad fact slip out publicly. It is another thing to go on television and make admissions about your client that may not even be true.
This example of saying the discussions continued as far as November, October, November of 2016, an extremely damaging admission for Donald Trump, but it may not be true and that`s the public record we have seen in the case that seems to indicate those discussions ended in the summer of 2016.
So I can understand why other members of the Trump legal team or other members of the Trump communications team would be upset with Giuliani, because he takes opportunities, you know, takes moments like this weekend when "BuzzFeed" had this story knocked down by the special counsel`s office should have been a win for him and he goes out and creates not just one but two, three entirely new damaging news cycles about stuff that may not even be true.
MELBER: Did you just -- you put your finger on it. I mean you have done this kind of work and it is difficult sometimes to walk the line of being accurate but also secretive about open investigations.
You did it for the DOJ. Other folks do it when they`re on the other side of these probes. This could have been a time where the news and the headline tonight is still the fallout from Mueller rebutting a public media account. We covered that story last night. But instead, you`ve got headlines and banners across TV screens about Rudy talking about his gravestone saying maybe he lied for Trump.
MILLER: Yes. Look, I think there are a few problems. One is he doesn`t have a very clear command of the underlying facts. And when you go out and you try to talk about an event, about events without having an understanding of the facts with something that is so important and where the facts matter so much as they do in this investigation, you`re going to make mistakes.
The other thing is that he seems to have no concern about the fact that he might say something that contradicts what he said previously, what his client said previously. And he makes this kind of off the wall statements like this statement about what will happen when he dies and goes to heaven.
You would expect an attorney in that situation to say no, I`m not worried about that. I never lie on behalf of the president because my client did nothing wrong. I expect him to be fully exonerated. It`s pretty odd that he said the opposite of that.
MELBER: Let me go to Barrett and say I want to get into what your argument would be to St. Peter if you ever have that situation. But before we get to that, witness a "Fox News" anchor basically piling on Rudy, and then Don Jr. piling on Cohen here. We`re seeing some of the problems in this type of public defense. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, HOST, THE INGRAHAM ANGLE: When was the last discussion about this Trump Tower deal? Because Rudy got everybody really confused, I have to say?
DONALD TRUMP JR. DONALD TRUMP`S SON: I don`t know. I don`t talk about things that I don`t know about. We don`t know anything about it. Ultimately, it was Michael Cohen essentially trying to get a deal done. He was there for a long time, he wasn`t exactly a deal guy, didn`t bring too many to the table. So I don`t think anyone took it all that seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What do you see happening there with a witness or potentially more than a witness in Don Jr. talking about Cohen who, of course, may have more to say in public?
BERIT BERGER, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes. And I have to say I actually, in some small way, agree with Trump Jr. in that statement that you shouldn`t go and publicly talk about things that you don`t know everything about.
I mean, there`s no need for Giuliani to be giving public statements at this point. He really -- and I think many lawyers would agree that the best way to let the facts talk is in court, when there`s actually facts, when you can do it in a sort of controlled environment.
I think what we`re going to see with Cohen is a very different approach when he`s testifying. You`re going to see this in a controlled environment. It`s going to be very prepared. It`s, of course, going to not cover everything he knows about because there`s going to be some areas that are probably still the subject of ongoing investigations so he`s not going to give into that.
But you`re going to see a much different type of statement than you see from Giuliani. Cohen is not going to get up there and ramble on for, you know, an hour about things that he doesn`t know anything about. It`s going to be much more carefully controlled and obviously, in response to questions from the Congress.
MELBER: And you worked in the office that Rudy used to run when he was U.S. attorney. What do you think of Matt`s point that he`s just not, according to some analysts, as good at lawyering anymore?
BERGER: Yes. I mean look, it`s not open heart surgery. But even in the law, precision matters. It`s important to be careful with the facts. It`s important to be careful with the law. And if you`re not going to do that, you shouldn`t be talking.
MELBER: It`s not open heart surgery. But if you go in to operate on the heart --
BERGER: A hundred percent.
MELBER: -- and then you just remove the liver and you never do anything to the heart, I mean that`s the level of mistakes that we appear to be seeing. Unless -- and we have debated this with our folks, unless you see this as some grand strategy.
But I think Matt`s point that Rudy has taken everyone away from a winning argument and back into a losing one is striking, and it comes at a time that we may be in -- we don`t know but we may be in the homestretch of this whole probe. Is this Rudy`s closing argument?
BERGER: This is exactly right. They had a win there. They had a win with the special counsel`s office coming and disputing "BuzzFeed`s" story. And Giuliani`s statements really changed the focus of the conversation.
And it changed in a direction that`s not really good for the Trump legal team at this point, which comes back to my point of there is no obligation for him to be making this kind of statements right now. Especially when they were sort of on the wave of this good news story. It seems that it would be, you know, wise counsel to limit his statements to legal papers.
MELBER: Barbara, your view on any of the above.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think one of the reasons that we`re seeing Rudy Giuliani fumble the message on this is it`s a real hot potato. He knows that this is a very significant matter. I think there are some clues out there that let us know that this is a really important issue.
Number one is Michael Cohen`s guilty plea. He had already pleaded guilty to eight counts in the Southern District of New York, and Robert Mueller insisted that he plead to an additional count about lying to Congress about Trump Tower in Moscow. That tells me that they`re paving the way to have him cooperate against others who may be implicated in that as well.
And the other thing is if President Trump is continuing to negotiate a deal into October and November, when he`s telling the public he`s not, not only does it harm his credibility. But that means Russia knows he`s lying, which gives them leverage over him, who is about to become the president of the United States, to be used to coerce him, to comply with their demands.
So I think this is a very big deal and I think that`s why Giuliani is having so much trouble handling the questions.
MELBER: And Barbara, I want to get your view on some of these witnesses. You were on this program when one witness, Sam Nunberg, famously was saying he might defy the request to testify. He ultimately did.
Another set of witnesses that we`ve talked to are also going back and forth. Jerome Corsi is both suing the Mueller probe to some degree, civilly. He`s also, though, now saying he`s essentially cooperating and he has given testimony.
And then he -- the last time he was on the show, he said, "Look, he`s not going to get into a debate with Roger Stone." That`s also shifting in the news this week. Take a listen to what he is saying now.
"I`m done tolerating Alex Jones and Roger Stone`s lies and defamation. My lawyers are right. I never held a government job. I`m not FBI, CIA, or Mossad", doing a little Israeli intel there. "I never received hush money from Infowars. I`m not testifying for Mueller," which is to say cooperating but not going into court to implicate people. "I will take appropriate steps to protect my reputation."
I wonder what you think about this, because there`s a lot of different things that happened in high-profile cases, but this is, I think, yet and still unusual and how Mueller is handling continuing to get testimony from these individuals as they feud in public and continue to circle Roger, who reportedly has not gone in yet.
MCQUADE: Yes. You know, it`s easy to talk tough in the public and in the press. But when you receive a grand jury subpoena and the consequences of failing to comply with that subpoena are sitting in jail, then sometimes the path that you want to follow becomes very clear.
I think with Jerome Corsi, he`s the one who disclosed that he had received a plea offer from Robert Mueller to plead guilty to false statements relating to his conversations with Roger Stone regarding WikiLeaks. Robert Mueller would not have made that plea offer unless he was prepared to back it up with criminal charges.
So I think when he refused that, they told him well, the next step then will be indictment unless you want to change your mind. It appears now maybe he has done so and changed his mind and agreed to cooperate knowing that criminal charges may be the consequence if he fails to do so.
MELBER: Berit, I`m curious of your view of that. We`re very careful about ever discussing anyone as a potential target of a probe. But we have the written documentation that Barbara mentions, that Bob Mueller told Jerome Corsi, you`re a target, this is literally what your indictment will look like written out. Your analysis of where that heads and what the purpose of that is at this stage in the probe.
BERGER: Yes. I actually don`t think that`s so uncommon. I think prosecutors will often have a conversation with somebody that they`re trying to potentially sign up as a cooperating witness where they will lay out all the charges and say this is exactly what you`re facing.
And they don`t do it as a threat. They don`t do it as a scare tactic. It`s really so somebody has all of the information so that they can actually make an informed decision.
MELBER: And in your experience, how often does that result in the indictment if the people don`t play ball?
BERGER: Almost always. It`s very unlikely that a prosecutor would go through the trouble of, you know, drafting up a draft indictment or information, whatever the paper actually is that they were giving him, discuss the potential charges, have that cooperation conversation, and then just let it go. It`s not really how prosecutors at least that work at this level operate.
MELBER: Yes. And Matt Miller, in closing, I wonder, as we always try to assess what we have learned and what we could do better, with the smoke cleared a little bit from all of the Friday "BuzzFeed" excitement, what do you think is the most important thing for people who want to do this responsibly in the press or the citizenry and plenty of members of Congress were tweeting big if true. What`s to you the big takeaway there?
MILLER: Well, a few things. First of all, if you want to really rely on something, look for what`s filed in court. When people file documents in court if the government is willing to put the facts behind them, willing to put their reputations behind them.
And then when it comes to reporting, my clue for reporting is, look, the best stories will not remain what we like to call permanent exclusives. If you see a news outlet making stories--
MELBER: Permanent exclusive you`re saying, that`s a warning sign.
MILLER: Yes, a story that`s not matched by any other outlet. So when you see a major story move, wait to see someone else confirm it. And if you don`t, that`s when you might have questions about it. And we`ve had some other big permanent exclusives in this investigation that, you know, to this day haven`t been confirmed.
MELBER: Matt Miller, Barbara McQuade, and Berit Berger, thanks to all of you. I appreciate it.
Coming up, my exclusive interview with a former Trump casino exec speaking out about the cost of business with Trump and what it says about the shutdown and what Trump`s prep for two different State of the Union speeches may reveal about negotiations.
Also, I`m going to go one-on-one with a top Democratic senator on Trump, the Kremlin, and these Russia sanctions as we get new clues tonight from the Supreme Court about the mystery grand jury case that could be linked to Bob Mueller.
I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching "THE BEAT" on MSNBC.
MELBER: Tonight, there`s a critical national security question. Why is the Trump administration working so hard to line the pockets of a Russian oligarch with links to both Putin and convicted former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort? The administration now officially easing sanctions on Oleg Deripaska.
You`ve heard of him. He`s the Russian tycoon. He was in touch with Manafort during the campaign. Lifting the sanctions gives him potentially a windfall estimated to hundreds of millions of dollars. This is literally the opposite of what Trump said that he was all about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sanctions as soon as they very much deserve it. We will have -- that is a question. There has been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Not exactly. And Donald Trump couldn`t ease these sanctions on his own. He needed at least some Republican senators just to hang with him, and these eight senators later applauded for it on Russian State TV.
I am joined by Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen who teamed up with a Republican for a bipartisan bill on potential Russia sanctions last year.
Senator, good evening. Let`s start with plain English. What did the Senate and the Congress want to do, and what is Donald Trump`s administration Done to prevent that?
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, originally, the Congress on a bipartisan basis pushed the Trump administration, kicking and screaming, I should say, into imposing sanctions on Russia, including Russian oligarchs. This, of course, was an attempt to punish Russia for its interference in our elections which, of course, President Trump has always contested.
But finally, they did something. But it`s clear that they have been just looking for ways to relax those sanctions and that`s exactly what they did on Deripaska, a major Russian oligarch very close to Putin. They relaxed the sanctions on him. This is a big win for the Kremlin.
Now, we tried to stop it in the Congress. There was a big vote in the House of Representatives. Democrats and Republicans voting no. In the Senate, we also had a majority voting no, but we did not get that magic number of 60 out of 100 senators --
MELBER: And let`s pause on that.
VAN HOLLEN: -- and that`s why Russian TV is applauding those Republican senators.
MELBER: Applauding them. And I just want to be clear, Senator, and understand because you`re hitting such an important point. What you`re saying tonight, if folks are just catching up is, a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate wanted to keep tough sanctions on this person. And a minority of the Senate is basically filibustering, basically saying they won`t allow a floor vote.
VAN HOLLEN: That`s exactly what happened the other day. We had a window of time in which the Senate could act. We brought up the proposal to prevent President Trump from loosening the sanctions on this Russian oligarch, but a minority of our Republican colleagues stopped it. And therefore, did a big favor to President Trump. And in doing so, gave a big win to the Kremlin and Putin.
MELBER: And before I get to some other stuff I want to ask you about, I hope you`ll forgive me for asking a leading question. I admit I`m doing it but --
VAN HOLLEN: All right.
MELBER: -- what is so darn important that those senators want to literally filibuster to help this Russian billionaire? I mean this is not a constituent. This is not one of these, oh, there`s a rich oil executive in Texas and they care about it.
What, for any reason, justifies that to prevent what would have been otherwise just as you say a normal vote where the majority might have actually gotten tough on this guy?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, this was an all-out push from the Trump administration. They sent Treasury Secretary Mnuchin down to the Hill just before the vote to say that President Trump really wanted to loosen the sanctions on Deripaska.
And what we see is what we`re seeing far too often, that Republican senators, at least enough of them, fell in lockstep with President Trump and did the president`s bidding. And in doing so, gave this big win to Putin and the Kremlin.
It was a very shameful day. You`re right, it got lost in the news. I`m sort of glad you`re covering this. There was want a lot of attention given it to at the time but that is exactly what happened.
And so the signal that the Trump administration sent to Russia and President Putin is, you know, all the sanctions we put on, we were just looking for our first opportunity to roll them back. And we all remember President Trump way back when he met in Helsinki with Putin, he sided with Putin on the whole issue of election interference.
MELBER: Right. And this is -- people can disagree or reserve judgment on what may be found out about collusion and the investigative process. That`s over there, right. What you`re outlining here, what we`re talking about is the active current blatant public siding with these oligarchs and foreign powers.
Stay with me, Senator. I want to also bring in someone you know, someone you have done oversight with, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
Ambassador, I want to play another diplomat, Wess Mitchell, who has resigned from his post dealing with Russia for the Trump administration. Here`s what he said at his confirmation for both of you. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
A. WESS MITCHELL, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EUROPEAN AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS: The Russian government must understand that a return to normal relations will be impossible as long as it attacks its neighbors, abuses its people, and attempts to undermine confidence in America`s institutions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A slightly tougher pose or stance than what I was just discussing with the senator. So Ambassador, while this individual was not a household name, says he`s leaving for personal reasons. Your view of that departure and what I was just discussing with the Senator?
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, I don`t know the actual reasons for his departure. He said publicly he`s leaving to spend time with his two kids. I accept that and respect it.
But I think what`s really important is he laid down the predicate there in that clip you played. Those are the things that Putin`s doing, sanctions were imposed because he did those things. And if he doesn`t change that behavior, sanctions should remain in place.
And the fact that they removed these sanctions on Deripaska`s companies suggests that there was another reason why they did it. They didn`t do it in response to Putin changing his behavior because Putin hasn`t changed his behavior.
MELBER: Exactly. And again, you`re both so clear on this. Let me read from some of this coverage. We were told, as you say, by the administration that when they announced they were lifting the sanctions, it cast the move as being, quote, I`m reading, tough on Russia and on that oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted.
In fact, we see he`s freed up from hundreds of millions in debt and has the majority ownership of his company. So where do we go from there, Ambassador? What is the real reason?
MCFAUL: Well, I`m glad you remind everybody watching, because the Treasury has said they have changed the behavior of Mr. Deripaska as if that`s an argument for lifting sanctions on him. But, in fact, what he did -- I know Oleg Deripaska. I have dealt with him.
He was trying to get off the sanctions list in the Obama era, by the way. It came up time and time again in meetings that I was in. What he`s done is just restructuring of the companies slightly below. He still controls all of his companies. He got $200 million in debt relieved. That is a win for Oleg Deripaska. There`s no other way to put it.
And in return, I want to emphasize, Putin didn`t leave Crimea. He didn`t promise to not intervene in our elections in the future. He didn`t do any of the things that the Trump administration told us they were sanctioning him in the first place.
MELBER: So I give the final word to Senator Van Hollen who, as we have reported, has been certainly banging this drum for a while. Your final thoughts, sir, and should we leave -- is this a bummer? Do we leave downcast or do you have any other optimism or hope for the viewers?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I had some optimism in the House vote because it was a significant bipartisan vote. What this tells me is what we have known from the beginning. That only bipartisan support in Congress can keep the pressure on Russia through these sanctions.
This administration never wanted to impose these sanctions. They were pushed to do it. And now what we see is every time they get a chance, they`ll try to relax them in order to help Putin and really do his bidding war.
So I hope that as Republican senators who were aiding and abetting the president in relaxing the sanctions hear from their constituents that they will learn that this is a bad idea to work with the president against the sanctions, which as the ambassador pointed out, and I want to thank him for all his efforts on this, was a concession given without getting anything in return.
In fact, it helped Deripaska in a big way. And the Russians took no steps to address the concerns that we raised.
MELBER: And you both have been clear about that. There`s plenty of things to debate in American life but we are witnessing the Trump administration failing its own standard, retracting what it said it was going to do on the toughness, and that leaves everyone asking why.
Senator Van Hollen and Ambassador McFaul who have worked on this a lot, thank you both.
MCFAUL: Thank you.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.
MELBER: Meanwhile, Republican senator confronted a town hall over this ongoing shutdown. Pressure building. We`ll get into it when we`re back in 30 seconds.
MELBER: You ever get invited to a party and then you get disinvited and you say, "Well, I feel like I`m still, you know, broadly invited, I`ll show up anyway"? Well, Donald Trump moving forward with that kind of approach to what has been, we have reported, a somewhat petty back and forth between him and the speaker over the State of the Union.
This is now we`re down to a day -- a week out from today, I should say. The reality show presidency though always comes with a twist. They are now preparing for a potential different venue and different audience beyond Washington.
You can look at the Beltway fight between Trump and Pelosi as one of personalities. You can also look at it as all the broader things we have been covering. We have a deadline tonight for federal workers, if there`s no decision by midnight, and we don`t expect one, they`re going to miss another two weeks of pay.
Mitch McConnell though says today they`ll put up a kind of messaging bill that would reopen the government based on Donald Trump`s offers this weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI: We`re optimistic that he might be reaching out to open up government. But then we heard what the particulars were, and it was a nonstarter, unfortunately.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: What we have here is just another one-sided, partisan proposal from the president. If anything, it`s even more radical. (END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Republicans are worried about being backed into a box given the Trump said he would own the shutdown. And you look at places like this is right outside Senator Lindsey Graham`s office in South Carolina. Protesters talking about the government being held hostage, other protests in Mitch McConnell`s office, and then take a look at billboards going up in his home state of Kentucky. And then there are for many heartbreaking stories of constituents back home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do something. Don`t do what the party wants to do. Do something that helps me as your constituent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get down, get busy, and do your job. Get this shutdown ended so we can get our money.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s already had an impact. You know, I don`t know how long I can stay afloat.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`ve pawned everything that I can imagine and now I`m just at my wit`s end. I just need for us to get back to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Republican Senator Joni Ernst confronted my constituents at her town hall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am deeply ashamed that we have, at the moment, federal employees in soup lines and trying to find food for their families while they`re still working. And I wonder, how in the world anybody in the Senate can defend that?
SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: I don`t -- I don`t think we can. I`ll be honest.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President is having a tantrum.
ERNST: Well, the President is in D.C., Pelosi is not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I am joined by the Reverend Al Sharpton, Host of "POLITICS NATION, President of National Action Network and he was just huddling with many leaders in the party at the Martin Luther King celebrations that your organization holds, and The Daily Beast`s Eleanor Clift. I wonder, sir, if we could start there. I know you had Joe Biden and many others and you see this is coming back to the Congress. And the short run, Trump, Pelosi personalities, in a long run Mitch McConnell is a co-equal branch, is he going to do anything to reopen the government or not?
AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: It doesn`t appear that way. When you see the bill they`re talking about bringing up which is basically what President Trump proposed in his speech Saturday night if you want to call it his speech, it is not a movement to really relieve government workers. I think people need to realize we`re not talking about Democrats or Republicans, we`re talking about people that work for the government. Some that do things that secure us like TSA workers, like air traffic controllers.
And to play them like they`re pawns in a chess game between one side or the other rather than that they`re human beings at American citizens that serve the American government and you don`t care they`re about to go into 32, 33 days tomorrow of not being paid than something furlough is as bad as insensitive as you can get.
MELBER: And Eleanor, for the members of Congress who want to just wait around and hope the sticks to Trump, I want to show you the polling. We talked about so many issues that are roughly 50/50 or split. This just isn`t one of them at this point. When you look at who`s responsible to shut down in these recent polls, you have overwhelmingly Trump of the Republicans and only about under a third, 31 percent, 29, 36 do you get the Democrats.
Another way to say that, Eleanor, is that the people blaming the Democrats is smaller than even Trump`s historically low approval rating. So there are people who are with Trump on other things who are like well, yes, but I kind of still blame him for this, maybe because he told them to.
ELEANOR CLIFT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: The Democrats are defending a principle here that you don`t negotiate with terrorists when they`re holding hostages, and the President is holding the government hostage. So I think the Democrats are on the right policy ground although usually in those hostage negotiations there`s something going on under the table and I`m hoping that they will get to that point between the two sides. And I think the Republicans are feeling the heat.
MELBER: Like under the table, like Donald Trump slipping a long memo he wrote to Pelosi, a policy memo. What`s going on under the table?
CLIFT: I don`t think that counts. That was a publicity stunt. I mean, I think Democrats are still hoping that they can -- I think the vice president is probably the point of contact here for the Democrats. And they`re trying to get McConnell to offer a bill that would just open the government until February 8th. That would allow the government workers to get their paychecks.
That would allow President Trump to have his grand evening of the State of the Union, and then they could either get back in the sandbox so maybe some of the emotion will have been drained because these polls, the President does read polls. He knows he`s losing he`s very frustrated. He just doesn`t know a way out. I`ve often thought that the state of emergency --
MELBER: When you say the rates falls. Do you mean he watches his polls on T.V. or do you mean he reads polls?
CLIFT: Well, he watches polls. Well, he doesn`t -- he`s not into the you know, the underlying data but he sees --
MELBER: You don`t see him in the Crosstab page 20?
CLIFT: No, not in the crosstabs. But he knows that he is not winning and you know, all of the documentation about his psychology is that he needs to win. And the country is waking up. You know, at Watergate, they didn`t really start impeachment hearings until Saturday night massacre and they got bags of mail that were -- there were so many that Congresspeople couldn`t open the doors to their office. This is obviously before cell phones.
You now have people calling, you have indivisible and the other groups in the resistance saying call your senator. Even if your Senator agrees with you, they need to know --
MELBER: To know that is -- and Rev, you know, a lot of things go to defaults. So you default to the story is the speaker and the President or the Congress and the White House. I think -- because I know that we keep it real around here, this is also a story about classism. And people in the White House saying well, we`ll keep getting paid or we have money and these other people aren`t going to get paid. They have to go without their check, work without their check even, but they`re going to announce well later eventually we`ll pay them back.
And doesn`t that expose the fact that it`s all a farce? If you`re going to pay someone in six or eight weeks, some people can get by two months and that`s fine, and a lot of people can`t. So isn`t there something classist about saying to those people who`ve done their part, who go to work, who have public service jobs, who pass their background check, well, because you`re lower-class basically you`re going to get screwed royally by this shutdown. Isn`t that just a moral failure by the president?
SHARPTON: It is a moral failure. It is classic classism. And you can take a quote from the president when he was addressed by the press going out to a Marine One one day and they said, well, what about the people that are suffering? He says, oh, I`m sensitive to them but they can adjust. Well, they cannot adjust. And it shows that you`re dealing with people that don`t know what it is to not have money to buy milk for their children, their babies, people that can`t put gas in the car because that`s the only way they --
MELBER: And Rev, as you put it, if this were a movie and the President had gone into super debt year after year and been bailed out by banks while other people, real people who have debt never get that opportunity, and then he goes around and says do you tighten your belt. I mean, it would be -- it would be too grand the hypocrisy for a Hollywood movie.
SHARPTON: You can`t tighten your belt when you`ve been left standing in your underwear. And that`s what he has put 800,000 federal workers in that predicament as well as the subcontractors and the contractors. And to tell them that is not only insensitive, it borders on just political ruthlessness and I think that`s where we are now. This has become ruthless.
MELBER: Eleanor, final word.
CLIFT: Well, a study was done a number of years ago that a large proportion of the American population doesn`t have enough cash on hand to be able to fund a $500 emergency and we`re seeing that a play out. And where are the lawyers and the lawsuits? The 13th Amendment banned slavery in this country, it also banned involuntary servitude. And I think people going to work and not getting paid and you know, that should at least be grounds for a lawsuit.
I mean, everybody`s got to get engaged in the in this battle because what`s going on, a president really working against his own people, shutting down his own government for -- to fulfill his own narcissistic needs is just something that should not happen --
MELBER: It`s an interesting question you pose. If we have lawyers or other activists watching, I`d be curious about what people think the answers may be. Eleanor, what`s you`re -- are you on Twitter? What`s your Twitter handle?
MELBER: @EleanorClift or @TheBeatWithAri, give us your brainstorms because maybe we`ll follow that up in a segment.
MELBER: We see a lot of lawsuits in the Trump era. We haven`t seen a big one on involuntary servitude and if this thing goes months or years as the President said literally, well, there you go.
SHARPTON: And constitutional issue because what she raised is involuntary servitude and slavery. To make people work when you don`t intend to pay them or you`re not doing anything to practically pay them is the definition of slavery or involuntary servitude.
MELBER: Well, there`s an old saying, the offices of Sharpton and Clift LLC open for business.
CLIFT: OK, all right.
MELBER: I appreciate both of you.
CLIFT: We pay the minimum wage, federal minimum wage.
MELBER: I appreciate both you.
SHARPTON: And we pay.
MELBER: And you pay at all. I`m going to mention "POLITICS NATION" on the weekend at that new time 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Don`t miss it every weekend, Rev, friends of THE BEAT. When we come back, a former Trump executive speaking out on how Trump is running the country like he ran his failed casinos "into the ground." My exclusive interview with that exclusive guest next.
MELBER: What Donald Trump`s recurring problem seems to be his employees. They know him best but they constantly come out to condemn him. Last week it was Michael Cohen, tonight former White House aide dishing the Trump administration`s out of control. Or in business, there`s a former associate Jack O`Donnell. He recalled the time Trump punched a hole in the ceiling angry that it wasn`t high enough.
Well Mr. O`Donnell joins me tonight, the former president of Trumps Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, a property that made a lot of money before ultimately going bankrupt. Critics say Trump left others holding the bag.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Atlantic City, I made a tremendous amount of money in Atlantic City.
Atlantic City, you`re using that hundreds of companies that I`ve opened have thrived.
Atlantic City, you read about Atlantic City. I made a lot of money in Atlantic City. I mean, I made a lot of money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: You read about it, just depends on how much you read about it. O`Donnell says it was short-term profitable but long-term horrible with all kinds of problems. And after O`Donnell left, the casino did file for bankruptcy closing in 2014. Now, to be fair, that is just one of Trump`s Atlantic City properties. He was affiliated with a total of four there. And the company operating all of them went bankrupt multiple times.
With me as promises Jack O`Donnell, the author of Trumped: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump. Thanks for being here.
Great to be here, Ari. Thanks for having me.
MELBER: You bet. What do you see in the Trump you know from business and bankruptcy in what is now the longest shutdown in history?
JACK O`DONNELL, FORMER PRESIDENT AND COO, TRUMP PLAZA HOTEL AND CASINO: Well, he`s negotiating very similar with today with what he did with his banks. He has a strategy number one which is see if you can get your opponent to negotiate against themselves so say very little, in the little that you say would be no, no, no. And that`s what he`s doing first off. Because that -- negotiating 101, if you can get your opponent negotiating against themselves, constantly making offers, you`re in a position of strength.
The other thing that he tries to do is he tries to -- he becomes agreeable at some point because he`s very good at the backend negotiations. And what I mean by that is he makes deals sometimes that he has no intention to keep and then after he reneged on his deal or he defaults on his notes, he then pits the lawsuit against the individual and they wind up settling.
MELBER: Right. And it`s easy -- to your point, it`s easy to agree on a price if you don`t intend to ever pay for it. That would seem to be in this in this situation in pinning in the shutdown on the -- on the workers let them pay for it for however long. What do you think about his view of negotiating a with Speaker Pelosi? Do you think anything about her bothers him?
O`DONNELL: Oh, I think it`s very perplexing for you know, for Donald to be -- have a woman sitting across the table on such a big visible issue. I think it would be much easier --
MELBER: Your think from your time working with him that he`s specifically bothered by the fact that this is a woman in power?
O`DONNELL: Oh, absolutely. He was very sensitive even to promotions of women within the organization. I promoted a woman to the first vice president of marketing in Atlantic City and the natural -- the position that she had replaced the individual was on the executive committee. So I just assumed that she was going to go on the executive committee. I put her around the executive committee and he almost had a heart attack. He was like I have a woman on my executive committee, and it was troubling for him.
So I`ve seen it firsthand. And of course, today, we`ve all witnessed his comments, his sexist and misogynist comments. So he hasn`t changed you know over the years, Ari, not at all.
MELBER: Let me play for you what he said at the time. You know we always get all sides in here and he`s claimed that he wasn`t really in debt the way people said and they`re really you know, Forbes and these other groups are after him. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It says that you have a debt of about $3.2 billion and that you`re losing money at the rate of $40 million a year. True?
TRUMP: Forbes has been after me for years, consistently after me. They took properties and devalued the properties. They say the Plaza Hotel is not worth what everybody knows it`s worth. It`s a total hatchet job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What do you view as the lessons for the Congress, either party, and folks watching this shutdown and his behavior and figuring out well, OK, what`s the solution?
O`DONNELL: Well, listen, the solution here is to really negotiate. But you know, Trump has a long history particularly with debt as you`ve just you know, displayed where it means nothing to him. And so -- and so this - - I mean, this is complicated it`s really two issues, but he has -- listen he -- my business was the most successful business that he had. We made over a hundred million dollars in free cash annually. And it should have been, his casino interests in Atlantic City should have been the greatest success story in the history of gaming. And yet because of his reckless spending, he crushed that business.
I think he`s doing the same thing with our country if you just look at the deficit spending and the debt load that he`s continuing to pile on. And the workers are going to suffer from this. You know, he will take advantage of this opportunity in my mind because I don`t think he`s really believed in the infrastructure of the government for a long time.
MELBER: But you think Speaker Pelosi bottom line can`t fold on the hostage-taking and the spending?
O`DONNELL: Well, I think she -- I think she can`t fold on this. I think she`s got to stay tough with him and you know, just you know, just stick to her guns. Now, I think she should compromise to some extent and I think she needs to start talking his language. I think if you start -- because listen, Ari, you know this better than anybody. A perception is his reality. And if they can carve away to get a perception that he`s getting what he wants --
MELBER: Give him some kind of off-ramp so that people -- the workers can get paid and the government can open.
O`DONNELL: Yes. Even through contingencies of some sort or performance issues and in the future but get these people paid, I think he will go for it. I think he will move if they start to talk his language a little bit.
MELBER: My last -- we`re out of time. My last question is did he ever get Mexico to pay for any of the buildings you guys built?
O`DONNELL: No, I don`t believe so.
MELBER: I just want to check because I now there`s some confusion about that.
O`DONNELL: Thank you.
MELBER: Jack O`Donnell, thank you for your unique insights having been there. Up ahead, there are new clues in this mystery Mueller related case that many people think is Mueller related going to Supreme Court, next.
MELBER: New clues tonight in this Mueller related mystery case that went all the way to the Supreme Court and is shrouded in secrecy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: There`s something going on in the Special Counsel`s investigation right now that is a complete mystery.
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC ANCHOR: Mueller`s team at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to hear a mysterious argument about a witness defying a grand jury subpoena.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: The talk of Washington ever since an entire floor of a courthouse was cleared out two weeks ago --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Today we know a bit more about the mystery. There was a heavily redacted as is the case these days. Petition filed with the Supreme Court so we can see parts of it we learned. Country A is a company wholly owned by a foreign state. Corporation was served a subpoena and they admit they are a witness, and this is key, a criminal investigation.
Now which one? We just don`t know but we can see this pressure that the corporation is facing. Prosecutors are pushing for $10,000 a day. If they don`t comply, that adds up in the court, bumped it to 50,000 a day, a big deal. Prosecutors have one month to respond to today`s petition.
MELBER: One more note. It`s Mueller related. I want to tell you that tomorrow we have something very special we think unusual related to the Mueller probe and we`d like you to see it. It will be on the show tomorrow 6:00 p.m. Eastern. That`s all I can say. Don`t go anywhere.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END