Democrats launch new step. TRANSCRIPT: 02/01/2019, The Beat w. Ari Melber.

Guests: Paul Butler, Morgan Pehme, Shelby Holliday, Ro Khanna, Juanita Tolliver, Laurence Leamer, Royce da 5`9"

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: February 1, 2019 Guest: Paul Butler, Morgan Pehme, Shelby Holliday, Ro Khanna, Juanita Tolliver, Laurence Leamer, Royce da 5`9"

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: But this Sunday, it`s "MEET THE PRESS" on your local station. Senator Sherrod Brown, my exclusive guest Rick Scott, the new Republican senator from Florida.

"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 big Friday show tonight. Democrats launching the first hearing about demanding Donald Trump`s taxes since they took subpoena power. A Democrat leading that effort is here tonight.

Plus, a famous name joins the 2020 race. Senator Cory Booker is running and blasting what he calls Trump`s great shame.

And a major in controversy, a photograph on the Virginia Governor`s Medical School yearbook page. This is a Democratic governor. It shows a man wearing blackface next to another man wearing a KKK robe. It`s a breaking story and we have that later in the hour.

But we begin with the indicted former Trump Aide Roger Stone. He was back in court today facing a judge who is considering a gag order, a decision that could seriously upend this case. What would that mean?

Well, today the judge stressed if she does rule to gag Stone, he still has free speech rights to discuss, like, immigration or foreign relations or even Tom Brady, she mentions, but not discuss this case. The judge also made some comments that seemed to lean against Stone noting "This is a criminal proceeding and not a public relations campaign."

But Stone is arguing he must mount exactly that kind of PR campaign to defend himself and to prevent people he says from thinking any silence would mean that he`s guilty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER STONE, LONG-TIME TRUMP ALLY: I believe that in the current atmosphere when one is accused of wrongdoing and one has no response, he either is not available or doesn`t comment, there is a presumption of guilt that perhaps is unfair but very real.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: We`re also learning today that Bob Mueller`s team is game for an October trial. The judge says summer might make more sense. Stone left the courtroom and again flashed his Nixon victory sign.

And in this new interview with "The New York Times," meanwhile, Donald Trump is insisting he never talked to Roger Stone about WikiLeaks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Did you ever talk to him about WikiLeaks? Because that seemed to be what Mueller - -

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No.

HABERMAN: You never had conversations with him?

TRUMP: No, I didn`t.

HABERMAN: OK. And did you ever tell him or other people to get in touch with him?

TRUMP: Never did.

HABERMAN: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Never did. That`s an interesting defense on the record. Then this interview gets really interesting. It touches on a huge question in the Russia probe. Could Donald Trump be a target? You may recall that was a sticking point in President Trump`s famous letter about firing James Comey where Trump oddly wrote to Comey that he alleged Comey told him I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation. Now, Trump claims Comey`s boss Rod Rosenstein has also made a similar claim to Trump`s attorneys.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HABERMAN: Has Rod Rosenstein given you any sense over the course of the last year about whether you have any exposure either in -- or there`s any concerns or whether you`re a target of either Mueller or --

TRUMP: Well, he told the attorneys that I`m not a subject, I`m not a target.

HABERMAN: He told your attorneys?

TRUMP: Yes. Oh, yes.

HABERMAN: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Oh, yes. Now, look, whether that claim is true or not, it`s fascinating. If it`s true, it means Mueller`s boss had some reason at some point to tell team Trump the Russia probe is not headed towards Trump. If it`s false, it means Trump is publicly misquoting Mueller`s boss, the person overseeing the probe which could get the attention of that boss, Rod Rosenstein, as well as Mueller himself.

Now, of course, cynics might say, "Hey, Ari. Trump is always claiming people told him he`s not a target, just like as we`ve just discussed he did with Comey. So what is all this?"

But note in the new interview, the same "New York Times" interview, Donald Trump doesn`t make that same claim or assurance about not being a target in another investigation, the one by federal prosecutors in New York, which some of Trump`s closest allies said very much this week they said it is a bigger threat to him than Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HABERMAN: Did he say that about the SDNY investigation too?

TRUMP: About which?

HABERMAN: The SDNY investigation. Because there`s two. There`s Mueller and then there`s the Cohen investigation. TRUMP: I don`t know. I don`t know about that.

HABERMAN: OK.

TRUMP: That I don`t know.

HABERMAN: Rod never said anything to you about whether you are a target at all in terms of what they were looking for on Cohen? Has that ever come up?

TRUMP: No. I don`t. We didn`t discuss it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m joined by former Federal Prosecutor Paul Butler, Morgan Pehme who directed the documentary "Get Me Roger Stone" which, of course, shows Stone`s long history inside the Republican Party and his long-time work with Donald Trump. And Shelby Holiday who has been reporting on Stone and the Russia probe and many of these key witnesses for "The Wall Street Journal."

Paul, what do you think of Donald Trump who cynics, as I mentioned, may say who cares what he says? But he`s got a very different answer there about being a target in the Mueller probe and what he`s been told versus SDNY. And do you believe any of it?

PAUL BUTLER, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN LAW SCHOOL: I don`t believe the president in part because he wasn`t coherent even yesterday. At first, he said that Rod Rosenstein had directly told him that he was a target. And then he said, "Well, maybe he told my lawyers." And the reporter asked, "Well, when?" He couldn`t remember.

So there`s a specific definition in the Department of Justice handbook which I looked at every day when I was a prosecutor. A target is someone who is about to be indicted. The specific phrase is when the prosecutor has substantial evidence linking him to the commission of a crime.

Almost certainly, in the Southern District, Donald Trump or Individual A as the prosecutor there likes to call him is a target of that investigation. In fact, the only reason he wasn`t charged with campaign finance violations along with Michael Cohen is because he`s the president of the United States.

MELBER: And why do you think Donald Trump is always bringing up whether or not he`s a target? You know, there`s other ways to handle this which is I didn`t do anything wrong, we`ll let the investigation play out, they`ll find the facts. Instead, he`s always, like, "Yo, I sort of interceded and I had an inappropriate conversation and I was assured I`m not a target.

BUTLER: Yes. Maybe because he did do something wrong and he doesn`t want the investigation to proceed. So this is a way of really embracing his formal status as president as a defense since he knows better than anybody else that the policy of the Department of Justice is that a sitting president can`t be indicted. After office is another thing.

MELBER: Morgan, when you set out to make the documentary of Roger Stone, you obviously knew he would be a central figure as the potential agent or linchpin to collusion and would be indicted and this would be keeping you busy, right?

MORGAN PHEME, DIRECTOR, GET ME ROGER STONE: Well, no, not at all.

MELBER: You saw all that coming?

PHEME: In 2011, I had my crystal ball.

MELBER: But you set out to profile someone that many of us, that Shelby knows, that I know as a reporter side, that Paul knows on the legal political side because he`s always around. And you have a portrait of a man there.

And while he`s criticized for many things, in some ways, the documentary is at least sympathetic or shows some of his what we would call strengths. One of them is certainly persistence. I mean anyone who knows Roger knows that.

Let`s take a look at that, his resilience, how he identifies that with Nixon and think about that in this battle today in the Mueller courtroom. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STONE: His greatest single quality is resilience and that`s the purpose of my tattoo. It`s not an ideological statement. It`s a reminder that in life when you get knocked down, you have to get back up off the canvas and keep pushing, get back in the game.

That`s the story of Nixon. A man is not finished when he is defeated. He`s only finished when he quits.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: How does that apply to the Stone we saw in court today fighting any potential gag order?

PEHME: I mean Stone is as tenacious as they come. He is not going to -- even if he is convicted, he is not going to give up. He`s going to fight this tooth and nail to the bitter end. And if he were to go to prison, he will come out of prison a firebrand and fight it, re-litigate it all over again.

MELBER: Do you admire that?

PEHME: I think it is one of the characteristics of Roger that has kept him so important in our politics for so long.

MELBER: Because he does not go away.

PEHME: He does not go away. He is the cockroach of American politics.

BUTLER: But he`s looking at 10 years if he`s convicted, at least, which means he will be 77. So we`ll see how much of a firebrand he is then. That`s why I think he`s probably going to make a deal.

MELBER: You think he could crack?

BUTLER: He doesn`t have a defense, Ari. The defense to false statements is I told the truth. And Robert Mueller has a whole cadre of text messages and e-mails which suggests that Roger Stone did not tell the truth.

MELBER: Shelby, in that line, let`s look at what Paul Manafort said that I think a lot of the folks on that side of the team probably wished he didn`t say which is that Stone and Trump are so interconnected, you can`t even tell them apart. I say this to you for your analysis on a night when Roger Stone`s involvement is being limited as Donald Trump rushes to "The New York Times." I guess they`re not fake news tonight.

SHELBY HOLLIDAY: Right.

MELBER: And he`s trying to convince "The New York Times," you know, he really doesn`t know much about what Stone`s up to. Take a look at Manafort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Roger`s relationship with Trump has been so interconnected that it`s hard to define what`s Roger and what`s Donald. It would be clearly a Trump presidency. I think it`s influenced by Stone philosophy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLLIDAY: So I have to say when I watched your documentary for the first time, I actually wrote that quote down along with the few other quotes because it just blew my mind knowing what we know and seeing where we are now that Paul Manafort and Donald Trump are the two people in your video that are speaking on behalf of Roger Stone.

That quote is very interesting and it`s true. Roger Stone has known President Trump for more than 40 years. He`s been at his side for some of his most pivotal decisions and moments in life, especially when it comes to politics.

I think that Stone will continue to fight. And I think he plays this public, private persona very well. We were reading accounts in court today where he was pretty quiet, he sat there with a pretty straight face, but we saw a press conference yesterday where he`s out there saying, "My only crime is supporting President Donald Trump" which is obviously not true. That`s not what he`s charged with.

But he has all of these talking points, you know, the deep state is out to get me. He doesn`t want to talk about the charges. He wants to talk about the raid on his home, the use of force, all of these things that are inappropriate and being done to him.

In many ways, he`s very good at making himself look like a victim. And I think that is in part why he`s able to raise money for his legal fees and get writers to write on behalf of him. He works with all of these little Infowars` writers who will write stories that he wants to write.

We even reported that Robert Mueller was investigating a story he planted about his alleged backchannel, Randy Credico. He has a media operation and he knows how to spin things better than anyone else. So I think it will be fascinating if there`s no gag order. I mean, you know, continue to see classic Stone. But even if there is a gag order, I think he will have a way of getting his narrative out there even if he`s not the one doing it.

MELBER: In fairness to Stone and any defendant, whatever one thinks of them, don`t you think there`s a good argument against a gag order, Paul?

BUTLER: Well, what the judge said is that he`s welcome to say whatever he wants in private and other people are welcome to say whatever they want in public. It`s just that Roger Stone and his lawyers need to be circumspect.

MELBER: Let me push you on that. This isn`t a normal case. It is obviously all being covered every night. All of us in the media are covering it. The political forces are debating it back and forth.

Why should Stone who has his neck in the potential meat cleaver here be the one who`s not allowed to mount a public defense?

BUTLER: The concern is about infecting the jury pool which would mean that he might not get a fair trial. Right now, Roger Stone is acting as his own hype man. And again, he`s going to the court of public opinion because I don`t think he has a defense in the court of law. But to Shelby`s --

MELBER: I feel you on that and you never want to be your own hype man.

BUTLER: Yes.

MELBER: You`re the one to do the verse and you want someone else to --

BUTLER: Exactly.

MELBER: -- echo it. But, you know, except Busta Rhymes. He would famously record his own echoes and that was like a signature style. But I`m going to keep pressing you on behalf of Roger Stone`s argument which is the Mueller folks put out on Friday what they were doing. Certain cameras showed up there and the raid and it`s all out there.

So if you`re worried about, yes, tainting the jury pool, which I take your point, you always make serious legal points, is a real legal concern. He would argue his lawyers can argue to this judge they`re being tainted in the other direction already.

BUTLER: Yes. So what we have is two values that are in some tension. One is his -- the necessity of him having a fair trial and the judge`s duty to ensure that that trial is fair. The other is his First Amendment right to express himself and so the judge balanced that.

She I think will almost certainly slap a gag order on him. She --

MELBER: You predict a gag order?

BUTLER: Absolutely.

MELBER: And that`s what happened to Manafort. Do you have a view of whether this could (CROSSTALK)?

PEHME: I think this is really shrewd of Roger, right, because if he has a gag order imposed upon him, it will play into his narrative of him being persecuted by the government.

MELBER: Right.

PEHME: And he --

MELBER: Do you have a view of whether it`s a fair thing to do?

PEHME: I don`t think that there should be a gag order on him. I think he should be able to express --

MELBER: So you think there`s a good argument for it but you`re against it?

PEHME: I am not a legal expert but what I should say is --

MELBER: It`s never stopped anyone on television before, Morgan.

PEHME: Well, I try not to speak about things I don`t know. But all I can say is that Roger has already made his point to the public. He`s made this argument about him being persecuted by the deep state and he`s also made a very pointed statement to the president saying, "We did have many conversations. I may speak about that at one point."

MELBER: Right.

PEHME: And so I feel like he`s made his case. A gag order will only help him.

HOLLIDAY: I don`t have a take on the gag order but I do think that he -- like I said he`ll continue to get his narrative out there no matter what, even if it doesn`t go through him. I think his comments about the president, you played a clip on your show earlier this week, he seems to know that President Trump told Mueller that the two never discussed WikiLeaks.

And President Trump told "The New York Times" he never discussed WikiLeaks with Roger Stone. If that is not true, that would be such a strange thing for both of them to lie about unless there`s more there. Because the president has said, there`s this journal reported with Michael Cohen, "I didn`t make the payment, we didn`t talk about it". And then it comes out in plea deals and reporting that they actually did discuss it and President Trump ordered him to go make this payment to a porn star.

If that`s the case in the Roger Stone saga, we have no idea, we have no evidence proving that it is, that would suggest it would play out in a similar way that the Michael Cohen plea deal played out.

BUTLER: What Shelby told us earlier, I think you actually do have a perspective. Because you said essentially that Donald Trump, the president of the United States, is auditioning for the role of Roger Stone`s hype man.

Again, the president yesterday complained about the circumstances of Roger Stone`s arrest. So the judge I`m sure would love to gag the president of the United States. She can`t do that. So he could continue to serve that hype function.

MELBER: Is that a legal fantasy fiction part of this plot? That`s one thing I can legally say is unlikely to happen.

HOLLIDAY: Well, don`t forget the tweet from President Trump that encouraged Roger -- called Roger Stone or praised him for having guts because he said he would never testify against the president. So President Trump has already weighed in on this.

MELBER: Well, I think that`s where there`s some overlap. You have the gag order. They`re going to be watching it closely. It matters a lot.

But what you guys have both said that`s significant is you have people in power in the White House and now Roger Stone not saying we`ll tell the truth because it`s good for us but rather we`re going to criticize law enforcement and avoid testifying as if that is a good thing. And if you don`t have anything to hide, that never makes any sense.

Shelby Holliday, Morgan, and Paul Butler, thanks to each of you.

Coming up, Cory Booker jumps to the race for president. And look at this roll out. It`s all happening right now. What it means for a race that keeps getting a lot more candidates.

And a yearbook controversy now surrounding the Democratic Governor of Virginia, a person in blackface, another in a KKK robe. You`re looking at that new photo. We`re going to explain.

Also, Democrats making the first move towards demanding Trump`s tax returns. We`re all over that story. Plus, later, an insider`s view of how this fight over Mar-A-Lago formed the Donald Trump we`ve come to know.

And at the end of the show, a special Fallback Friday. Watergate Prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks and Royce Da 5`9" together again or together for the first time. You decide.

I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: As the shutdown fades, Congress is kicking into high gear, Democrats agitating now for Donald Trump`s tax returns.

And tonight, we can report the first hearing on his taxes is now set for next week. This is in a key committee where the chairman actually has the legal power to extract anyone`s tax returns from the Treasury Department. Now, this battle could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Another Dem chairman threatening to subpoena Trump`s Homeland Security secretary if she won`t testify by the end of the month. Another planning to grill Trump`s acting attorney general on any potentially secret talks about Mueller.

And another, Elijah Cummings who, of course, has been leading the charge on Michael Cohen`s testimony, now investigating who got security clearances in the Trump White House and why, including probing the situation around Michael Flynn who famously got his clearance despite those suspicions in a later indictment, as well as Jared Kushner.

I`m joined now by Congressman Ro Khanna who sits on the Oversight Committee as well as the Budget Committee. Thanks for being here. What do you see is important about these investigations? What would Americans stand to learn?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA), OVERSIGHT AND BUDGET COMMITTEES: Ari, thanks for having me on. It`s about transparency. The president`s tax returns are needed to see if there are conflicts of interest.

And this goes back to the 1920s. This is not a technical law. We passed this law to give Congress the authority after the Teapot Dome scandal when Harding`s administration was engaged in bribery and Congress couldn`t get the tax returns of these people who were committing fraud. And that`s why we passed these laws.

You have something similar going on now. The administration is passing massive tax cuts. And we need to know what the conflicts of interest are.

MELBER: I hear you talking about conflicts and about getting people the information. And I wonder if you think that some of the emphasis on the crimes, some of them proven. And all the intrigue around the Mueller probe is distracted from I guess what you`re saying and what some Democrats argue would be important for oversight which is that far lower than the criminal standard, there`s a bunch of other stuff that might be technically legal but isn`t necessarily good for the public interest.

KHANNA: Absolutely. What we`re talking about is not just the crime. I mean Bob Mueller is doing, he`s indicted as you know 34 people and he can figure out the criminal investigation. But Congress has an oversight function.

You have an administration has provided a massive tax cut to corporations and businesses. The American public has a right to know what the financial interests are of the people who are passing those policies. We have a right frankly to have the tax returns of Howard Shultz when he`s going to run for president or anyone running for president. That`s the oversight of the United States Congress.

MELBER: Well, you mentioned Schultz. I mean one of the things that exist in current election law is a lot of information about donations but not as much required information about these candidates, about the tax returns which everyone remembers from Donald Trump.

Or even requirements about health which in this day and age seems like something that at least with some balancing of privacy, there ought to be some way to find out a little more about people who run. Do you agree with that? Is that something that should be legislated?

KHANNA: I do agree with that. Look, until Jimmy Carter, you go back after Watergate, every president was transparent. Because no one thought after Watergate that you could get away with the type of lack of transparency that President Trump has.

And Trump has really pried the norms. And so we need to make sure that doesn`t happen again. We have a right to know. If you`re not going to be for the tax increases on the billionaires, why you`re having that policy and how you stand to benefit? In many ways, our government is like it was in the 1920s where you had rank corruption. And what people want is transparency and reform.

MELBER: OK. So let me put it like this. Everyone listening to this interview might say you make a lot of good points. Does everyone agree on the taxes? Well, we know that not only Trump`s opponents but a larger share of Americans, 60 percent say yes, you might as well at least obtain the tax returns to see what`s in them.

And yet after three plus years of this discussion, if you go back to the campaign, as you know, the chairman of Ways and Means hasn`t taken this move. What is the delay? What is the wait for?

KHANNA: I think he should take the move. I don`t think we need to establish legal precedent. All the precedent is there. We passed this law a hundred years ago. It was to deal with corruption.

And here`s the thing, this is not a right or left issue. The issue is reform. People are sick of the conflicts of interest. They want transparency. They want to know when you`re taking --

MELBER: Right. But what I`m pressing you on is, if what you`re saying is true, why hasn`t it happened yet? Because it doesn`t take a vote. He can just -- the chairman can just send the request.

KHANNA: You`re absolutely right. And I`m part of the Progressive Caucus and we`ve sent the chairman a letter saying do it. Make the request.

I mean I agree with you. I don`t think we should be dragging our feet. And, of course, I respect the chairman. It`s his decision and I believe he should do it.

MELBER: Interesting. So you think it`s going to take more public pressure though to maybe get that action?

KHANNA: I think we don`t need to be as cautious in this. I think most Americans are with us. Look, having impeachment hearings, that`s a much different matter and we need to wait for Mueller`s report. But on taxes, I don`t see why we`re waiting. I think we should be making that request.

MELBER: Understood. And I just want to press you on that nuance, make sure I understand where you are coming from. It is a hot issue. And as you said, what`s in there could be a huge deal or nothing. If there`s nothing to hide, you can look at him and move on.

Congressman Khanna, thank you for being here.

KHANNA: Thank you, Ari, for having me on.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Up ahead, some breaking news that is rattling politics. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam now releasing a new statement addressing the image you see on your screen, these controversial photos that he now concedes are from his medical school yearbook page. We have that whole story for you.

Also, Senator Booker jumping into the race with a blistering attack on Trump when we`re back in 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: The other top story tonight. A former mayor, the first black U.S. senator from New Jersey and a very famous Democrat now running for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Instead of shuffling more children into cages and coffins, where we see the faces of our leaders on television and feel pride, not shame. Together, we will channel our common pain back into our common purpose. Together, America, we will rise.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D) NEW JERSEY, RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT IN 2020: I`m Cory Booker and I`m running for president of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It`s official. Senator Booker spoke in North today to outline his agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOOKER: My parents` generation knew that if we came together, blacks and whites, Christians and Jews, we can upend Jim Crow. We used to be a people that can point to the sky and look at the moon and change it from dream to destiny.

There is no Republican or Democratic way to get there. You definitely don`t get there by fighting each other and beating each other down and dividing people against themselves. We did those things because we found our common ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m joined by the "Root.com`s" Jason Johnson, a political science professor and the Center for American Progress Action Fund`s Juanita Tolliver who worked with 2016 candidates at the new non-profit -- I should say the new profit organization. Thanks to both of you.

Jason, what does it mean to have Senator Booker in this race now?

JASON JOHNSON, ROOT.COM: It means we have one of the biggest names in the race that we were waiting for. Senator Harris is relatively new. Senator Warren has been around for a long time.

But Senator Booker has been known for the guy who can bring a crowd. He can bring the boys and girls to the yard. He`s had celebrity girlfriends. He`s been here. He`s been there. So this is a big name.

Even though right now Senator Booker hasn`t necessarily been doing well in some of the early polls, he has the ability to absolutely transform what this race is looking like for several reasons. Number one, not just because he`s an African-American male. Two, he`s the only person who`s joined the race right now who has true executive experience as a mayor.

He can point to places where he initiated policy and actually made a difference one way or another. He also has the opportunity to sort of play up the fact that he`s worked for Republicans and he`s made huge and sort of dynamic performances in Senate Judiciary hearings.

So I think he`s going to be a formidable candidate. I don`t know that he`ll be the nominee. Time will tell. But he`s definitely shaking up this race.

MELBER: Juanita, take listen to Booker and some of these other candidates who have jumped in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOOKER: When the commander in chief speaks, they become poisoned. They give license to bigotry and hate in our country.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Speak in a way that is about inciting fear as a distraction from the fact you`re getting nothing done except helping the richest people and the biggest corporations.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D) MASSACHUSETTS: He can whine, he can lie, he can tweet until his thumbs fall off, but we`re going to keep fighting back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What do you see in these early entrants that might be somewhat different than Democratic Party races in the past and certainly seems like a lot of Progressives getting in early?

JUANITA TOLLIVER, CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: Yes, I think this is a prime example of a couple of candidates who are not afraid to take Trump head on. And I think that`s something that voters are going to be really interested in seeing who can body the president, who can really call out some of the questionable racist things that he does or says and the values that he reports directly while also presenting a positive vision related to economic reform as well as political reform.

MELBER: Yes. And you mention economics. I mean Cory Booker is certainly on the left on a bunch of social issues, on criminal justice reform. And then on economics, he has been a little more center-left I guess and certainly talked about, you know, being friendly towards Wall Street and innovation and job creation.

Chris Christie is someone who is in his state and they have, despite being really polar partisan opponents, they`ve had a kind of a reasonably warm relationship, at least by the standards of today`s fighting. Take a listen, Juanita, to Chris Christie on Booker`s bid to Trump today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Talented, smart, articulate. I think he`s got a legitimate chance to be a serious potential problem for the President in the general election. If he goes way wacky left, then he`s just going to be another one of those people and he won`t be able to distinguish himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What do you read in that coming from such a big Trump ally, Juanita?

JUANITA TOLLIVER, CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: I think it`s a really -- highlights the fact that there`s an opportunity here to paint a picture about how Trump has really screwed over American workers, how he`s really prioritized the wealthiest of the wealthiest and corporations through every piece of legislation. Let`s be real. The Trump tax bill is the one and only thing that he really has as far as legislative victory thus far and Cory Booker has an opportunity here to paint that picture.

That does not require what Chris Christie is talking about wacky left. No, that is just real facts about Americans struggling to meet their basic needs, Americans living paycheck to paycheck and there`s an opportunity here to really dig into that.

MELBER: And before I go back to Jason on a couple stories we promised to get to because it`s a busy Friday night. Juanita, I also just wanted to broaden beyond the Democrats in asking what do you think about what we are in week one of Howard Schultz`s flirtation? This is a person is well --

TOLLIVER: Oh, gosh.

MELBER: Go ahead. You seem ready. Go for it.

TOLLIVER: Come on.

MELBER: I saw a head roll, I`ll stop the intro.

TOLLIVER: Even Bloomberg knew not to pull these stunts. And, honestly, one lesson that we`ve learned especially in 2016 is that an independent candidate who picks off two percent, maybe three percent of voters can be a major spoiler. So Schultz needs to have several seats, take a note from Bloomberg here and just bow out now.

MELBER: Let me read to you on that point briefly what we`re seeing in reporting from inside Shultz`s land that he`s "freaking out about the criticism" at least according to a Fox Business report that he was "surprised the Democrats didn`t like this" although he`s running against Democrats. I don`t know why that`s a surprise. And he`s "potentially rethinking his aspirations," Juanita.

TOLLIVER: It sounds like someone who didn`t give a genuine thought before he put his neck out there.

MELBER: Snap. Snap. Juanita, I think this is your first time on THE BEAT. I appreciate you coming on.

TOLLIVER: Yes. Thanks for having me. I`m looking forward to visiting you again.

MELBER: We`d love to have you back. What I`m going to do is turn a page from politics to civil rights. Jason stays with me. This is a story I mentioned at the top of our show. This is a photo that is now confirmed from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam`s 1984 Medical School yearbook page. As you see, it has this highly offensive image of a man in blackface standing next to a person wearing a KKK robe. The photo first obtained in a story from The Washington Post from a library maintained by a Virginia school.

Now, moments ago Northam, a Democrat, has confirmed he is in the photo. He says this is racist and offensive. He does not identify in his new statement that we got literally minutes ago which person he is in the photo. I`ll read to you. Northam saying, "I`m deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt, that decision caused then and now." Then being 1984.

Jason, your view of what this photo means and the implications for people in Virginia as well as around the nation when they see someone who`s now in this position of power having done this.

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THE ROOT.COM: Ari, I`ll start by saying happy Black History Month, everybody. This is going to get really interesting. First off, I found the parsing of Northam to be interesting. He`s like I`m in the photo but he doesn`t say am I the guy dressed as a Klan member, am I the guy in blackface? It`s like am I R Kelly, am I, Harvey Weinstein. Like neither one of these is particularly good.

You also have to consider the fact that his lieutenant governor is Justin Fairfax, one of the most quietly powerful and influential lieutenant governor`s in the country right now. So this is going to be very difficult for Northam to explain. It`s going to have a lot to do with his credibility. If other things come out, this will damage his ability to properly legislate.

I also think this. This is indicative of how terrible the op research is of the Republican Party. How are we finding this out now when the selection happened so long ago? So there`s a lot to go through this. I don`t know that Northam will be able to survive this kind of scandal because this probably won`t be the only thing that comes up.

MELBER: Right. And you`re saying it may be a touch point for a lot more questions that reveal other things.

JOHNSON: Yes.

MELBER: Dealing with just this when you when you look it is not as if doing a bad thing is anyway mitigated or fixed by how long ago, but different politicians of different ages have talked about growing and evolution in certain ways. How bad is it that 1984 to many people does not seem like a time where photo makes any sense even though it would be bad in any time?

JOHNSON: Yes. I mean, it -- this is not, Ari, this is not ancient history. You know, a lot of us were actually alive at this point in the 80s. But you have to remember, and this is I think something that Americans tend to want to forget. You know in 1983 and 1984, the Dukes of Hazzard was still on. You got a car called the General Lee that kids were still playing with on the playground.

So to a certain extent, Northam`s behavior really may not have been out of the mainstream for people in the military, out of the mainstream for people of his age at that time, that doesn`t mean it`s appropriate. He can say he`s learned his lesson. I don`t know that the state of Virginia voters will be that forgiving. And more importantly, it`s only if this is a one- time thing.

If this opens up a door to discussions about other behavior that he`s engaged in, if other pictures like this show up, again, it erodes his ability to have any sort of credibility. And I say this again. His lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax just made news just two weeks ago by standing down from the Senate when members of the Senate attempted to sort of celebrate the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, what Justin Fairfax says about this could literally be the future of whether or not Northam keeps his job.

MELBER: Jason Johnson steeped in so many of these issues as well as obviously some of the intramurals in Virginia which aren`t always national news. I appreciate your views on this story, sir.

JOHNSON: Thanks so much.

MELBER: Thank you, Jason. Now up ahead, we take a turn. We`ve got Jill Wine-Banks along with rapper and songwriter Royce da 5`9" for a very special "FALLBACK FRIDAY." But first, inside Mar-a-Lago, a special report on what exactly goes down. An author and reporter who`s been all over the stories with me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: President Trump arriving Palm Beach tonight heading to Mar-a-Lago. This is for the first time in 68 days. Trump had avoided flying south during the shutdown apparently to avoid criticism about being there and emphasized the point by talking up his loneliness in the White House.

Now, critics have also arranged for Trump to be greeted by a new billboard on the motorcade route roasting him and the Republicans for being cozy with Russia. I`m about to be joined by someone who wrote the book on Trump in Mar-a-Lago exploring how Palm Beach is sometimes a bit of a safe space for Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just this past weekend, you had a big party in Palm Beach. Take a look at the monitors if you will.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump is (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For an older person, he`s very attractive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Mar-a-Lago has also had its share of controversies. There was, of course, the six-foot-tall portrait of Donald Trump that he used charity money to buy. There was the four Mar-a-Lago members who`ve been tapped for ambassadorships raising cozy questions, plus three club members who have secretly shaped Trump`s policies at the V.A., and the time that Trump began negotiating what appeared to be an attempt to solve an international crisis with a Japanese prime minister in the middle of the Mar-a-Lago dining room.

This was also where Trump established his deep ties to the National Inquirer for years. They had their headquarters nearby. And as Leamer writes in this new account, it`s where Trump developed a sort of rough-and- tumble set of political instincts. He dealt with local elites in the 80s and 90s. He played hardball and he tried to remake the property into what he believes it represents today.

Here is Laurence Leamer and the book is, of course, Mar-a-Lago with a very sharp -- very sharp black cover here, really stands out. Tell me and us what it means that Donald Trump has put so much of his energy into this real-world property because we know a lot about branding and hype and things that he runs from. Trump University no longer exists. This is a thing that tonight he`s physically at.

LAWRENCE LEAMER, AUTHOR, MAR-A-LAGO: This is his spiritual home. He has to be here. The frozen wasteland of his life in Washington, he wants to get away from that. And all these days away I think was emotionally devastating for him. At Mar-a-Lago, look what he`s done to people. He gets you to -- when you when he asks you, how am I doing, you`re supposed to say great. Wherever he goes, people are standing up and applauding him.

He needs -- he needs that constant attention. He needs to be constantly celebrated and that`s what Mar-a-Lago is.

MELBER: So you know why that -- you know why that sounds very odd is because he`s the President of the United States. So if for someone else Mara-a-Lago was the biggest thing they had, anyone could understand -- I mean, Cheers, if you remember that great show, you want to go to the bar where everybody knows your name, whatever your politics, right. But he`s the president. I mean why does he need to go back to this so-called refuge or safe space when he has other trappings of power far greater than a resort that he refurbished?

LEAMER: Because that hunger he has and the ego of his. And this is the one place where he -- where he`s really safe, where these people that will indeed celebrate him. I mean, as life closes down on him in Washington, and as it will these next few months the difficult time he`s going to have to -- he`s going to have to have, it`ll be -- it`ll mean even more to him. He loves this place. He sits -- I`ve been -- I`ve sat there about ten feet away from your dinner. He sits there for three hours on the veranda having dinner with people coming up him -- to him all evening long. He just loves this.

MELBER: He loves that. Let`s take a look a little bit more at the footage of this institution that you profiled.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems like a marriage made in heaven when Donald Trump purchased the Mar-a-Lago estate. Its furnishings and staff and some real nice beachfront property for about $15 million. But then the New York tycoon discovered that his new estate lies in the flight path of the airport and he was told that his helicopter is too big to land at Mar-a- Lago.

MELBER: There were several controversies like that in several ways that he used as you report, brass knuckle tactics to deal with local rules, local officials. Did he develop in your view any skill set there that was more political than people realized? Because back in 2015, plenty of people made the mistake of underestimating his political abilities.

LEAMER: Well, he learned the crucial skill set. Look, he took on the establishment, this (INAUDIBLE) place, home of the American elite, he came in there. This brash guy who probably belong more on Miami Beach than Palm Beach. When he wanted to start this club, they didn`t like this. There was going to be a club in which it would be open to Jews and blacks and anybody. And these people in the island didn`t like that and he had to fight them.

He took on what he considered an entrenched corrupt establishment and he beat them. He fought in every way possible way with legal fights, name- calling whatever, and you learned many of the techniques that when he ran for president were invaluable to him.

MELBER: Yes. And he seemed to also make all sorts of fake alliances that he was willing to discard. Before I let you go, I got to ask you the big question. How is the food there?

LEAMER: The food is mediocre but you don`t get to say that.

MELBER: Mediocre.

LEAMER: You got to tell him it`s great, everything is great.

MELBER: What`s the worst -- now you`ve piqued my interest, Laurence. What`s the worst dish that you`ve eaten at Mar-a-Lago?

LEAMER: Well, the wedge salad is not great and the chocolate cake is -- they have to have dentists on there to take care of the cavities after you eat the cake.

MELBER: The cake is underwhelming.

LEAMER: Yes.

MELBER: But too sugary at once.

LEAMER: Too much sugar. But you don`t say that.

MELBER: Which we call -- we call that not worth the calories.

LEAMER: Right, exactly.

MELBER: Well, Laurence, as you understand, we get to the big issues here.

LEAMER: Right.

MELBER: Laurence Leamer, thank you very much. Now, as we turn to something that we could all use this Friday night. What do you get when you combine Royce da 5`9" and Watergate Prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks. They`re both with me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Time now for a special edition of "FALLBACK." I`m joined by Royce da 5`9", a Rapper and Songwriter featured on the Billboard 100 hits song Not Alike. He`s worked with Grammy Winning rapper Eminem. Royce da 5`9" calls Eminem his mentor and also featured Eminem in his song and music video Caterpillar debuting in May. And also here with him, former Watergate Prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks, the first woman ever to be general counsel for the army and also first woman Executive Director of the American Bar Association. Two ballers together and fall back.

ROYCE DA 5`9", RAPPER: 1-1/2 baller.

MELBER: Great to have both of you.

ROYCE DA 5`9": Thank you for having me.

MELBER: Royce, who needs to fall back?

ROYCE DA 5`9": I think people need to fall back from publicly -- I say, black people, people within our culture, publicly condemning Travis Scott.

MELBER: For the Super Bowl performance.

ROYCE DA 5`9": Yes. I think division itself is our problem. I think we need to figure out a way to unify. And I think just publicly condemning him is just further added to the problem.

MELBER: And is he a singer or a rapper, that`s the big question.

ROYCE DA 5`9": I think he`s wanted a new fusion.

MELBER: Fusion.

ROYCE DA 5`9": One of the new fusion guys. This shows evolution.

MELBER: They let Drake do it. Jill do you want to comment on any of that before we move on.

JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Only when he said evolution because that`s what caterpillar is partly about, isn`t it, evolution? That`s why I`m wearing a caterpillar.

MELBER: You got a shout out pin. What pin are you wearing, Jill?

BANKS: I`m wearing a caterpillar for Royce da 5`9".

MELBER: I love that. Go on.

ROYCE DA 5`9": I love that.

BANKS: OK, so in terms of "FALLBACK" for me --

MELBER: Yes, who`s your "FALLBACK"?

BANKS: I would say the entire press team for the White House, Sarah Sanders particularly, but everyone who speaks on behalf of the President, I guess that would include Rudy Giuliani who are constantly saying no collusion, no Russian contacts, and it`s a blatant lie. How long do people have to listen to them saying there was nothing when the evidence is so obvious?

MELBER: You know, hip-hop has a lot to teach about the process of criminal law.

ROYCE DA 5`9": Yes.

MELBER: And the Trump folks have violated a lot of the crack commandments. I mean, fake news, they get high on their own supply, and you know never mix family and business. It`s the whole Trump thing.

ROYCE DA 5`9": Interesting.

BANKS: Yes.

MELBER: I`ll give you guys my fallback. It`s a light one but it is important. I want to tell the company Spangler that`s now in charge of Valentine`s sweethearts to fall back. They are not going to have production ready of the sweet hard candies for this year`s Valentine`s Day. This is and we look this up the first time in over 150 years. Have you ever given a sweetheart to anyone?

ROYCE DA 5`9": I have probably about the third grade. But I do love reading the messages on them. it`s great.

MELBER: Yes.

ROYCE DA 5`9": I`m a word -- I`m a words guy so definitely.

MELBER: Who else needs to fall back Royce?

ROYCE DA 5`9": I think everybody needs to fall back from assuming that this new Pusha T tweet has to be about to Drake situation. One thing I know about Push is he`s not going to let anything negative affect his bottom line. I know him personally. He`s really -- he`s a smart guy.

MELBER: Jill Wine-Banks, wasn`t it Pusha T who said caviar facials remove the toxins?

BANKS: Taking up Russia, of course.

MELBER: How so?

BANKS: Caviar, facials --

MELBER: Oh caviar!

BANKS: Caviar and facials brings us right back to where we are.

MELBER: Or maybe you just always have Russia on your mind.

BANKS: I`m afraid I do.

MELBER: Jill, who else needs to fall back?

BANKS: I would say Roger Stone and all of his cohorts need to fall back. They need to start telling truth.

MELBER: Does it surprise you how many of these political figures seem to tell on themselves the evidence against them is their e-mails in their text?

ROYCE DA 5`9": It doesn`t surprise me. Rappers do the same thing.

MELBER: Jill Wine-Bakes with the great pain Royce da 5`9", thanks for being here.

ROYCE DA 5`9": Thank you for having me.

BANKS: Thank you.

MELBER: Absolutely. Now, up next, Donald Trump trying to explain new public statements about the Trump Tower Moscow project.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Donald Trump pressed by New York Times reporters and here`s a key headline where he was forced to address revelations from the Michael Cohen plea deal about pursuing Trump Tower Moscow right in the middle of the 2016 campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, Can we clarify the Trump Tower Moscow proposal, right? There was this discussion. And we`ve learned since the last -- since the campaign that this went on longer through the campaign than we had expected --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So let me tell you about Trump Tower Moscow. This was a very unimportant deal, OK. This was a very unimportant deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You told people you didn`t have any business there and people might have --

TRUMP: Well, that wasn`t business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn`t that misleading to say --

TRUMP: Peter, that wasn`t business. That was --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you were pursuing business, right?

TRUMP: I had no money invested.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now we`re going to depend on what the meaning of business is. Let me tell you one more thing. We had a great time with Royce da 5`9 and Jill Wine-Banks but I also had a longer extended interview with him. We talked about the personal meaning behind his video Cocaine along with why he thinks people should be very careful with drugs, his work with Eminem.

The entire interview here is up on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages @THEBEATWITHARI. I hope you`ll check it out. As I mentioned, in particular, the discussion of addiction may interest people.

Now, that does it for THE BEAT tonight. Thank you for watching as always. I`ll see you Monday back here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. But right now "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END