Ari questions Michael Cohen's lawyer. TRANSCRIPT: 02/07/2019, The Beat w. Ari Melber.

Guests: Nick Akerman, Caroline Polisi, Lanny Davis, Jackie Speier, Alicia Menendez, Stu Zakim, George Yin, Andre Leon Talley, Lizz Winstead

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: February 7, 2019 Guest: Nick Akerman, Caroline Polisi, Lanny Davis, Jackie Speier, Alicia Menendez, Stu Zakim, George Yin, Andre Leon Talley, Lizz Winstead

ALEXI MCCAMMOND, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Questions. It seems like he`s having trouble figuring out how he`s going to answer things which suggest

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: I have to say here, I think he`s an untested guy. I don`t think he realizes the basso (ph) that he is running into.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, PRESIDENT, VOTO LATINO: Are you going to popcorn?

TODD: Alexi, Mike, Maria, thank you all. That`s all we have for tonight.

We`ll be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.

"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" literally starts right this second. Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. I want to hold you over because we were all watching your interview.

TODD: OH, great.

MELBER: It was very interesting. I want to play for your analysis one part that jumped out to us. Let`s all take a look.

TODD: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: The president spent a lot of time using the "S" word, socialism and socialist.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: Oh, yes.

TODD: It was a not too subtle -- I don`t know whether it is a dig or enhancement. I`ll let you decide.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I was flattered.

TODD: You have said you`re a Democratic socialist. Can you be Democratic socialist and a capitalist?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think it depends on your interpretation. So there`s some Democratic socialists that would say absolutely not. There are other people that are Democratic socialists that would say I think it is possible.

TODD: What are you?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think it is possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: She thinks it is possible. What struck out to you about that?

TODD: I would just say the fact that she accepted the premise of the question and answered it and sort of thought it out. I mean this, Ari.

MELBER: Yes.

TODD: What was refreshing is a politician -- she could have given a very talking pointy answer, but she -- clearly, she`s thought about this. She could have easily said, look, everybody wants to do name calling and try to avoid it. I give her credit for not avoiding it. She believes in it.

And the one thing I took away here from the entire interview is, look, she isn`t going to be easily placated. I think, you know, there`s no doubt she may learn the hard way the ways of Washington but she isn`t going to be easily persuaded to go along and get along. And I look at it and say there`s nothing wrong with that, that`s how you get things done in Capitol Hill in the long run.

She is an interesting long-term -- for somebody that`s always portrayed being impatient, I actually think she has an impressive long view of what she thinks her role is now. I found it smart that she views the green new deal as an organizing tool. She is not saying they`re passing legislation tomorrow --

MELBER: Right.

TODD: -- which is a way of setting expectations more realistically.

MELBER: Yes. And when you look at the progressive economic base of the Modern Democratic Party, right, everyone who`s followed this remembers there was Bernie before he had the crowds and Bernie after, what everyone thinks of him.

And AOC, at least digitally, comes in with the crowds. She doesn`t have to wait --

TODD: That`s right.

MELBER: -- the way Bernie did to say, look, I have a following. There`s at least part of the party that thinks this stuff.

TODD: And what`s clear to me is that she`s going to have an impact on this presidential primary campaign and the presidential race. Now, what that is is up to her. In many ways, she can have as much power. She can have a lot of power if she chooses to use it. I don`t think she`s decided yet but the fact that she`s already got them all trying to get on her green new deal tells you they care what she thinks.

MELBER: Right. They want to be on her on the green side, the good side. It`s an AOC primary, at least a pre-primary. A very interesting interview. Chuck, thanks for sticking around extra with me.

TODD: You got it, brother.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

We have a special edition of THE BEAT lined up for you tonight. New evidence coming off the Michael Cohen raid and his Legal Adviser Lanny Davis is here live a little bit later.

Democrats also making it official today, they will try to get Donald Trump`s secret tax returns. Two exclusive guests join me on that story and the paradox of Trump`s promotion and secrecy.

All that is happening amidst the first oversight clash between the Trump administration and the new Democratic majority on Capitol Hill tonight where House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler may uncork one of the very first subpoenas against a top Trump official, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker in this fight over testimony regarding the Mueller probe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If Mr. Whitaker appears in the hearing room as scheduled and if he provides direct answers to our questions, then I have no intention of ever actually issuing the subpoena.

If he refuses to answer questions that he ought to answer, then we will have the tools we need to ensure that we may adequately meet our own responsibilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I don`t know how this is going to shape up, but we do know it is very likely the final scuffle over Whitaker. I can report that tonight because today the Senate moved forward on his replacement.

Bill Barr was a party line vote. Every single Democrat on the committee voting against him, citing those hearings you may recall where he just wouldn`t give a very straight answer about releasing any future Mueller report.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Will you commit to making any report Mueller produces at the conclusion of this investigation available to Congress and to the public?

WILLIAM BARR, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am going to make as much information available as I can, consistent with rules and regulations that are part of the special counsel regulations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Democrats also doing more than just opposing Trump nominees, holding this hearing today about getting Trump`s tax returns and also probing his personal finances, one likening it to an MRI for any Russian financing that benefitted Trump, including they want to look at "extraordinary series of cash purchases Trump made in the decade before his campaign."

Now, Trump is protesting that these are not fair investigations but instead a kind of an abuse of the entire process to target him politically. Well, today, the speaker who has been getting under Trump`s skin suggested that is a cynical view of the process and she argues it is not only wrong but revealing Donald Trump`s own cynicism because she says he is actually projecting his view of law and order.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I am not commenting on what the president has to say about our work. I always think whatever the president says about us, he is projecting his own unruliness. He is a projector. We will not surrender our constitutional responsibility for oversight. That would make us delinquent in our duties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m joined by former Watergate Special Prosecutor Nick Akerman and Criminal Defense Attorney Caroline Polisi who represented George Papadopoulos dealing with the Mueller probe.

Nick, is he a projector? And what do you think is important about these probes alongside what Mueller is doing?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think they`re important as a supplement to what Mueller is doing. And I think they`re being careful not to actually step on Mueller`s toes or into his investigation.

But there are pieces of this that are clearly congressional responsibility. For example, the emoluments clause basically says that Trump can`t get benefits from any of his businesses from foreign powers without the consent of Congress.

So Congress has a major role to play in that. Congress is also looking at what he has done in the past in terms of his involvement with the Russian government.

There have been allegations made. There`s been concerns made that Trump is a puppet for the Putin government. And the idea that he had $400 million in cash to throw around to buy properties certainly goes to the congressional oversight to determine exactly what his relationship is with the Russian government.

That`s the job of Congress. That`s what our checks and balances are all about, having another branch of government that`s going to ensure that Mr. Trump is playing by the rules.

MELBER: From an investigative view, does this look like a rich avenue to you or does it look like overplaying their hand if Mueller doesn`t get into this stuff, what are they going to get really?

CAROLINE POLISI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, REPRESENTED GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS: Right. I think Nick is right that Congress shouldn`t necessarily step on Mueller`s toes. But if you think of it in terms of a Venn diagram, I think there are two separate endpoints that they want to reach, right. Mueller is only looking at potential --

MELBER: I thought Venn diagrams are always overlapping.

AKERMAN: That`s right.

POLISI: No, there`s a lot of overlap.

MELBER: You`re talking about two diagrams.

POLISI: Two diagrams. No, one Venn diagram but it`s -- there`s an overlapping.

MELBER: What`s the overlap?

POLISI: Well, criminal behavior is different than just a conflict of interest. And often times, just a plain old conflict of interest will not be charged criminally unless there`s a quid quo bribery involved.

MELBER: Right.

POLISI: So that`s a different standard than Mueller is operating from here. So Congress has the ability to look for those plain old, just conflicts of interest that potentially Trump is beholding to the Russian government for, something that`s not as blatantly obvious as, say, a criminal offense. Yes, exactly.

MELBER: So I mean -- yes. I want to make sure we`re getting --

POLISI: Yes.

MELBER: Can we get this? We`re pushing it. So you`re saying there`s what`s bad and then there`s what`s illegal and then there`s in the middle - -

POLISI: That`s exactly right. And you could do the same thing before impeachable offenses and illegal offenses.

AKERMAN: I didn`t (INAUDIBLE), you can have it.

MELBER: You know what, you could take it.

AKERMAN: But this could be our Constitution --

POLISI: Yes.

AKERMAN: -- which could be the emoluments clause that could come into play.

MELBER: You`re really -- why are you so hot on that now? That`s been kicking around for a while.

AKERMAN: Well, I think it is really important. Because no other president has ever been accused of violating the emoluments clause, making a profit on government service, from foreign governments. I mean that is a big issue. It has to do with a conflict of interest with the Saudis, with the Russians, and Qatar. I mean there`s a whole host of countries that he has been dealing with that are flocking into his hotels just to, you know, curry favor with the president.

MELBER: And there`s few things more swampy than letting anyone, foreign or domestic, but in the emoluments case, foreigners buy their way in to influence what the government is supposed do on behalf of Americans.

I want to play an exchange from "Fox News" where Judge Napolitano, who you know, sort of lightly pushed back against a little conspiracy theory they had of saying, "Well, maybe Trump should just investigate the investigators." And he explained there`s actual rules required to do that. But take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN KILMEADE, CO-HOST, FOX & FRIENDS: Well, why not investigate Adam Schiff? Why not investigate Maxine Waters?

AINSLEY EARHARDT, CO-HOST, FOX & FRIENDS: They could. Couldn`t they?

KILMEADE: How did they become rich?

ANDREW NAPOLITANO, JUDGE: Well, I don`t know the answer to that.

KILMEADE: Why not investigate them? There could be no reason.

EARHARDT: They could.

NAPOLITANO: Because the Democrats control the Congress and they won`t investigate their own.

KILMEADE: Does the president have an attorney? Why doesn`t the president just run a private investigation on Adam Schiff?

NAPOLITANO: Well, the president would -- if he is going to use the power of the government to do anything, has to do it through the DOJ and there has to be evidence of some criminal --

KILMEADE: Not the other way around?

EARHARDT: What`s the --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: So a little less about how it works.

AKERMAN: Well, that`s exactly how it works. But this is exactly what Nixon did. I mean he ran investigations on people because he had an enemy`s list that people he just didn`t like politically, he felt that were people that were against him politically.

You don`t start an investigation just because somebody is investigating you. I mean Adam Schiff is carrying out his normal constitutional responsibilities. He`s supposed to be looking at things like this.

MELBER: Right.

AKERMAN: You don`t go tit for tat on this just because I`m being investigated, I`m going to investigate you. A criminal investigator comes up with some kind of at least probable because or reason to believe that a crime is being committed and that`s what starts an investigation.

MELBER: Well, and doesn`t this bring us full circle with Speaker Pelosi`s critique, which is there seems to be a real abiding cynicism among some of these individuals that look at all of this as a kind of a targeting game, and not something where there`s actual evidence that leads to the investigation and whatever findings come out of it.

POLISI: Yes. And we saw that initially in sort of the witch hunt narrative and that has to do again with the Mueller, probe. And now it is being sort of deflected onto Congress as presidential harassment.

So it is kind of victimhood that he is playing, that he is being investigated for things that maybe he shouldn`t -- he`s not -- he shouldn`t be held accountable, that everybody else --

MELBER: Right. It`s more rhetorical. Caroline Polisi who has litigated with the Mueller probe.

POLISI: Yes.

MELBER: And Nick Akerman who is obsessed with the Mueller probe. I appreciate both of you being here.

I turn now immediately to someone you may have heard of, Lanny Davis who has been Michael Cohen`s legal adviser, a judge ruling today the feds will be releasing some of the materials that are pertinent to the raid on Cohen`s home and office. Lanny, thanks for being here.

LANNY DAVIS, LEGAL COUNSEL TO MICHAEL COHEN: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: What is the meaning of that decision? What might we learn out of it?

DAVIS: I really don`t know other than to describe that Cohen family and Michael`s relief that a lot of personal items, including children cell phones, and lots of non-legal items were seized and he has been asking for them back.

Especially since if he`s going to be going to prison, there`s a lot of personal effects before he leaves his family. So I`m sure he`s relieved at the said decision. I believe it should have happened before now.

MELBER: One of the things I`ve noticed in watching some of the Mueller developments since we last spoke, you had Roger Stone complain about the way he was raided and treated and Trump and some of his allies really jump on that.

Your client, Mr. Cohen, even before he pled, had publicly said that he found the FBI agents professional. He didn`t go that route. What do you think of the sort of selective outrage by some of the folks caught up in this probe about law enforcement techniques?

DAVIS: Well, first of all, you`re correct. Michael Cohen not only hasn`t said the criticisms that we`ve heard from mister -- I don`t know if Mr. Stone has criticized but others have about the raid. But he actually thanked the FBI agents for courtesy and offered them cups of coffee.

He`s a lawyer and he respects people that are professionally doing their job. One of the first things Michael said to me during the weeks leading up to his decision and my decision to go public on July 2nd last year is when he said that when Donald Trump started to attack the FBI and the intelligence community, he recognized that it is one thing for Mr. Trump to be erratic as a businessman. It is another thing for him to attack the institutions that are the basic framework of our republic and he respects the FBI greatly.

MELBER: I want to push you on the process here which I know you don`t fully control. But we have gone I think in fairness from talk of a public blockbuster John Dean style hearing to then a closed hearing to now a delayed closed hearing. I want to play for you Congressman Schiff on that postponement and get your response to all of it. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIFF: Look forward to his testimony on February 28th and Mr. Cohen has been fully cooperative with us and we hope and expect that will continue. But we felt it was in the investigation`s interest that we postpone to that date.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: He says investigative interests to postpone. Can you speak with any more detail why it was postponed and whether it will be postponed again? Is February 28 a hard date now? Are we going to have this happen before, of course, the other deadline of Mr. Cohen reporting to prison?

DAVIS: Well, first of all, there`s nobody who is more professional and I think makes me proud to be a Democrat than Chairman Schiff. And he`s always conducted himself in a balanced and fairway and he has treated Mr. Cohen that way. I believe he will treat the Republicans on his committee that way as compared to the way he was treated when the Republicans were in the majority.

So what he said was correct about Mr. Cohen respecting him and cooperating with him and expects to appear on the 28th, although nothing is certain as we would say tonight that it is likely but not certain that he will appear and express himself publicly as opposed to Intelligence Committee which has to be in classified.

MELBER: When would the public one be?

DAVIS: That would be probably late in February before Mr. Schiff, not quite certain. But I can say tonight that we`re likely but I can`t say definitely because --

MELBER: Just so I make sure I understand -- and I`m going to bring in a member of Congress as well. You`re saying it is more likely than not that Michael Cohen would publicly testify before a different committee or different body --

DAVIS: Yes.

MELBER: -- before February 28?

DAVIS: And very specifically the level of cooperation and trust that he has developed with Chairman Elijah Cummings who is a man for almost a half- century, a leader of the civil rights movement, a minister in his church in Baltimore, and I`ve heard him preach.

And somebody who empathizes with Michael Cohen`s fear and his family`s fear when the president of the United States launches all the power of the presidency, the bully and the bully pulpit using Twitter to call him a rat for telling the truth while praising people who refuse to tell the truth. And that word rat has a special meaning when you`re in prison.

His so-called Lawyer Rudy Giuliani associated his father-in-law with the mob because he said on a rival network, "Well, after all, he is from Ukraine." And what Michael Cohen has realized, that Chairman Cummings, if he testifies, will protect him with the cloak of fairness and we hope that there is more effort by the institution to protect him against a bully and someone acting like a mobster who happens to be president.

MELBER: Stay with me. I know you wanted to get that out. I want to bring in, as promised, Congresswoman Jackie Speier who serves on the Intelligence Committee.

Congresswoman, what do you think is important about this? And do you have any interest beyond your committee in Mr. Davis saying tonight here on THE BEAT, on this show, that he expects Cohen to testify publicly as well at the end of February, that we may actually get that final hearing we`ve heard so much about?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I think it would be really for the benefit of the public and for Michael Cohen himself, the opportunity to speak to the American people about what went on during his 10 years in service to Donald Trump of the Trump Organizations and what he did in anticipation of that campaign for the presidency.

I think the public would like to know and I think Michael Cohen has been very clear in his efforts of wanting to come clean on everything. And I credit Lanny Davis with helping him through that decision making.

MELBER: And do you think that the hearings we have been hearing about basically this week that are wider than the legal process, financial leverage, other things that may be perfectly legal but problematic, what is the timeline for that? What are we going to learn from that process? Or is that going to be a lot of sort of private investigative work that takes months or years to come to fruition?

SPEIER: So Ari, what we`re doing on the committee is what we wanted to do during all of last year but were shut down by the Republican majority. It is important for the Intelligence Committee and for the American people to know to what extent Russia was engaged with then entrepreneur Donald Trump, and the many projects that he had around the world.

And was there -- and the big question is, was there a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? Was there money-laundering going on? And I think those are questions that need to be answered. And it will help us understand why the president has been engaged in a bromance with Vladimir Putin for so long, why he tears up the interpreter`s notes, and then make sure there isn`t an interpreter around when he meets with Vladimir Putin.

He is the president of the United States, for goodness sakes. I mean it is time for him to put the country first. The emoluments clause I might add is not just the emoluments clause in terms of foreign money coming in, it is also an emoluments clause that applies if the president is making money off of events or properties in the United States where he is profiting from being the president. And that`s why having his tax returns becomes so important.

MELBER: Right. It`s almost as if all the secrecy and all the looming foreign questions come together as you put it in your answer there. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thank you very much. Lanny Davis, making some news tonight, thanks to you as well.

SPEIER: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Coming up, the Democrats are now bringing down the gavel in their first bid to get, as mentioned, Trump`s tax returns. I have a key witness who was at today`s hearing. You won`t get that anywhere else.

And later, AOC pushing a new topic to the front of the political debate. We`re going to tell you why her critics seem so upset.

And my fact-check on Donald Trump`s claim that "Republicans never," never investigated Barack Obama like this.

And later, very surprise -- very excited I should tell you, Andre Leon Talley and Lizz Winstead will be here talking about a subject that I think you almost never hear discussed. We`ll explain. That`s ahead.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Since Democrats won back the House, there`s a lot of political news these days that`s not about Donald Trump. And that includes today`s rollout by Democrat rising star AOC of economic and environmental reform liberals are calling the "Green New Deal" which is driving some of her critics mad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STUART VARNEY, HOST, FOX NEWS: How about the green new deal? That`s a top-down socialist revolution. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants a select committee for a green new deal. As "The Wall Street Journal" says, that`s like a Soviet five-year plan.

MARIA ELVIRA SALAZAR (R-FL), FORMER CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We have to be very concerned that one of the major parties, political parties in this country is trying to glorify the benefits of socialism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t even think this will get through the House of Representatives, this uber progressive health care for all agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: AOC hitting back on all of that with two rallies today plus her appearance last hour with our own Chuck Todd. She argues Democrats can`t just focus on picking a 2020 candidate right now. They have to push original plans on jobs, taxes and climate change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OCASIO-CORTEZ: We are going to transition this country into the future. Today is a big day for people who have been left behind. There`s no combatting climate change without addressing what has happened to indigenous communities. We should do it because we`re an example to the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: This is a confrontational type of politics designed to start a conversation. AOC backers are saying tonight it is working. And across the country, #GreenNewDeal is now trending on Twitter, A medium often dominated by Donald Trump`s insults and gimmicks.

AOC also rebuffing critics who said she should have been "smiling more" at that State of the Union address. She`s now saying there was little to smile about at what was an "embarrassment of a speech."

Let`s get right to it with Alicia Menendez, co-host of "Amanpour & Co." on PBS and a contributing editor at "Bustle". Good evening.

ALICIA MENENDEZ, CO-HOST, AMANPOUR & CO: Hey, Ari.

MELBER: What do you think of AOC sort of using what is a lot of buzz about her to drive this policy conversation tonight?

MENENDEZ: Right. This was always the question about her as a candidate, how she would transition into becoming a legislator. And I think we`re getting an answer to that today. She understands the platform that she has. She has 2.8 million Twitter followers. She`s used that platform to amass support for things like the Green New Deal, also abolishing ICE, Medicare for all.

And if you really look at this, Ari, I mean, listen, it is a nonbinding resolution. It is more than anything else. It is not going to create any new programs. What it does, even if it were to be passed through the House, is it`s a declaration of support for things that need to be done in the next few years.

And that`s what she`s good at doing. She`s good at saying, "Hey. Let`s commit to these as priorities as a party."

MELBER: Yes. And as you say, that`s something that they talk about in politics is messaging legislation. But the Republicans have really dominated with messaging to the point that even the stuff that`s not popular still gets talked about a lot. I mean Americans have heard a lot about the wall.

What do you think about the way she`s doing this and the socialism part which I was just discussing with Chuck Todd in this interview, is something where what everyone thinks of it, she`s not running from it? She doesn`t have that thing of seeming afraid of what she`s done in the past or what she`s associated with.

And for your analysis on that point, let me play her talking about her past support of Bernie here in that interview. Take a look at AOC on Bernie Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: You felt the Bern last time. You`re still feeling the Bern?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I mean I love Senator Sanders. I think he`s great. And I think in terms of like an endorsement, I joke, I say don`t ask me until the day of the primary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Alicia.

MENENDEZ: I mean I think I would love to hear more from her about how she believes that capitalism and socialism can exist side by side and what that actually looks like from a policy perspective. But the reason that people are talking about her and the reason that people are afraid about her is because she`s wildly effective. She`s Jujitsu`d Republicans in terms of taking their strategy around messaging and applying it to some of the issues that she cares about.

So I mean that is her strength. I think the question is whether or not she will be able to turn that into policy initiatives but already the fact that she has people talking about these things, she gets to count as a win.

MELBER: Alicia Menendez, thank you very much.

MENENDEZ: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Up ahead, as promised, we go inside Donald Trump`s secrecy from tax returns to catch and kill stories. I have exclusive guests, two of them, when we`re back in 30.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Democrats taking their first step today to get Donald Trump`s infamous and secret tax returns, using the power of the gavel to hold a hearing in the House. Now, Republicans argue this is a double standard because Congress was not applying this to other candidates, a point that granted us some logical problems because recent presidential candidates had already, of course, released their taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAY LAHOOD, FORMER SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: White Water was an independent counsel investigation, correct? During that time, do you know if the Ways and Means Chairman asked for the president`s tax records?

NOAH BOOKBINDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS: I don`t know but I believe the president voluntarily disclosed them.

LAHOOD: The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee has never asked for that with an ongoing independent counsel investigation?

REP. THOMAS SUOZZI (D), NEW YORK: Did President Clinton voluntarily disclose his tax returns?

THORNDIKE: Yes, every year that he was in office and while running.

SUOZZI: So there would have been no need for an -- for the Chairman of Ways and Means to ask for his tax returns despite the fact there was an investigation going on?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The key Chairman on this issue Richard Neal using today`s hearing to try to show that the House is doing this they say, for oversight reasons not some kind of payback. Now, if the House has to take the Trump administration to court over the ultimate tax request, well, that Chairman will need Speaker Pelosi`s support. Here`s what she said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think overwhelmingly the public wants to see if the President`s tax returns. And so they want to know the truth, they want to know the facts and he has nothing to hide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And think about the big picture here. Donald Trump talks about his wealth constantly and he seeks publicity constantly. But his tax secrecy is ultimately a huge contradiction in plain sight. A man who asked reporters to cover his finances won`t release the evidence of his finances. A man who seeks attention obsessed with keeping secrets which is why the feds are also probing how he used his power over the National Enquirer to both promote himself and keep those secrets using the tabloid, we`ve now learned, to buy and kill bad stories.

A longtime executive with The Enquirer company says Trump should be "very nervous about those kind of secrets that the tabloid still knows." That quoted exec is Stu Zakim who joins me now, as well as George Yin, the former Chief of Staff of the House Joint Committee on Taxation, a witness for today`s hearing making the case the Democrats do have this power. Hey, everybody.

STU ZAKIM, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDIA INC.: How are you doing?

MELBER: Good. When you look at the secrecy part, it was quite a revelation that Donald Trump had this stranglehold over the Enquirer to keep his secrets which is not what we think of as their main job. What else do you think is important in that story?

ZAKIM: Well, first of all, you have to look at the relationship that he had with David Pecker who owns the Enquirer based on friendship. And as we`ve known before, Pecker takes care of his friends. So there was a long history of that relationship. And as the campaign advanced, then there were more stories that were being subjected to The Enquirer because they do pay for tips, they were very selective. They were able to give a heads up and handle it the way they did.

MELBER: You say something important. People love to blend all media, but all kinds of media organizations whatever you think of them, most of them have rules but they can`t do what you just said which is buy those tips.

ZAKIM: Absolutely. In the Enquirer, however, has prided itself throughout its history of paying for tips.

MELBER: Some people say that`s how they know about the Martians who landed here.

ZAKIM: You mixing it up with the Weekly World News but it`s the same --

MELBER: Actually, I`m making a joke.

ZAKIM: OK. But the Weekly World News -fee well news always got credit for that. Nevertheless, that was another AMI title.

MELBER: I mean, you see it`s a joke because there are no Martians.

ZAKIM: Well, I don`t know.

MELBER: Or do we know. We`ve gone off the rails.

ZAKIM: We`re going off the rails.

MELBER: Tell us about the hearing today and whether the Democrats can really do this.

GEORGE YIN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, HOUSE JOINT COMMITTEE ON TAXATION: Ari, thanks a lot for having me. The Democrats and the Republicans have the authority to obtain the tax return information of any taxpayer including the president. So the answer is yes, they do have the authority.

MELBER: They have the authority because this law is pretty clear-cut even though it hasn`t been exercised partly because the point we explored at the top which is the release of taxes. Go ahead, George.

YIN: Yes. So on the contrary it actually has been exercised very recently both in the House in 2014 and at the Senate in 2015.

MELBER: But not for a sitting president, no?

YIN: Not not for a sitting president, although there was a release of information using this authority relating to President Nixon in 1974.

MELBER: You`re the guru. I`m going to play a little more of what you were teaching the committee as well as us here but -- and some other folks from today`s hearing. Let`s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YIN: There may well be useful leads that you could pick up from the tax return information.

NOAH BOOKBINDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: How would the President`s own tax interests be affected by the changes to the tax law he`s made.

THORNDIKE: Most presidents have put their assets in blind trusts so it`s not clear whether or not the president would even be aware of what those conflicts might be.

BOOKBINDER: This President has had extensive business dealings with foreign interests. That`s something we can learn more about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A lot of important avenues there. Let me put it to you like this. If somebody watching was assured that Donald Trump`s taxes are actually boring, that they don`t have any great clues for Mueller or these Russia questions, what would still be in your view the good argument for America? Why should the rest of us care to have them released under the authorities as you say that exist under the law?

YIN: Well, I think it`s important to understand there really are two authorities. One is to obtain and then second possibly to release for public disclosure. I think there are a lot of reasons why the Committee might want to obtain the information, among other things simply to check to make sure that the IRS is doing an appropriate job in auditing the returns.

There`s actually history on the IRS not having done an appropriate job during the Nixon administration and it`s quite understandable that if your boss, your supervisor is the returns that you have to audit, you can -- you can imagine that somebody might decide to go easy if you will.

MELBER: Yes. Very good points and ones that I think the voters may care about. When we go back, Stu, to this safe, this infamous safe, what do you think is in there? Do you have any evidence or knowledge to tell us why people say yourself included that Trump should be nervous about it?

ZAKIM: I have no evidence of a physical safe but let`s look at what the Enquirer does. They collect secrets. They publish a very salacious publication and secrets of what sells on the newsstand. So they have secrets about a lot of people whether in a physical safe or a digital safe or somewhere under lock and key.

MELBER: Or a conceptual safe.

ZAKIM: A conceptual safe.

MELBER: But is this stuff -- given everything that`s come out of Donald Trump, is this more of the same or do you think this company that you work with might have stuff that really is of a new nature about Trump?

ZAKIM: Well, at this point, nothing embarrasses this guy. So you know, in a usual situation with the Enquirer does have might have created some damage. But look what happens now. Nothing sticks to him. So he does have stuff to fear of, but however, what happens to that information when it comes out?

MELBER: But yes. If nothing is fixed to him then why would -- why do you think it`s nerve-wracking?

ZAKIM: Well, it`s a media story so we know that you have the 24-hour news cycle now we have to keep feeding it. Nevertheless he can come back and make it a story as he does all the time. It just -- it`s just something that never ends I guess is really the bottom line.

MELBER: Yes. I mean, I don`t think we know what the future brings. I think if the right facts come out and then people will use them to understand the world around us. I mean, it`s not the media cycle for its own purpose, it`s whether there`s stuff out there taxes or otherwise, it doesn`t matter, or maybe as I -- as I stipulated, George, maybe the taxes would be boring, it won`t hurt them, and it`s just a question of whether the government wants to use this in congressional oversight. Georgia and Stu, thanks to both of you.

ZAKIM: Thank you.

MELBER: Coming up, Fashion Week is launching today and we`re talking political fashions from Lincoln to Mueller with Vogue icon Andre Leon Talley and Comedian Lizz Winstead. But first, I have a fact check as promised on Donald Trump claiming the GOP never investigated Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Congressional oversight is a key part of checks and balances in our government. Most people know that. You may recall Republicans went big on oversight during the Obama administration. Their oversight chair famously touting plans for hundreds of hearings promising even seven a week times forty weeks if need be including issues like Benghazi, Fast and Furious, Solyndra. All of that the context for something we need to report for you tonight, a false claim by Donald Trump who now is saying that Republicans "never did this to Obama when it comes to oversight."

The facts matter though and while they don`t mean every precedent should be repeated, there is a lot of relevance for Donald Trump`s claim because Democrats haven`t gone anywhere near yet the hardball that that GOP Congress played against the Obama administration and its Attorney General for example Eric Holder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You either got lied or you were grossly incompetent in your actions.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our Attorney General but it is important that we have proper oversight.

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: You don`t want to go there, buddy. You don`t want to go there, OK.

GOHMERT: I don`t want to go there?

HOLDER: No.

REP. TIM WALBERG (R), MICHIGAN: You`re well-known in this town for not reading memos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many more Border Patrol agents would have had to die as a part of Operation Fast and Furious for you to take responsibility?

HOLDER: I think that`s a beneath the number or count.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Those battles, they went well beyond words. The House took the unusual and severe step under Republicans of voting to declare Holder in contempt. And you may remember Benghazi which Republicans in Congress argued showed mismanagement by the Obama administration and a cabinet member who was running for president.

Now by the time the GOP was done it had ensured Congress investigated Benghazi longer than its spent on the 9/11 attacks. Eight separate congressional probes over 30 hearings including an 11-hour drilling for Clinton.

So when you watch that record, keep in mind the House`s own probes didn`t find any "wrongdoing" when they were done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who else was at your home? Where you alone?

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: I was alone, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole night?

CLINTON: Well, yes, the whole night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And here`s basically what happened to their requests. They were torn up.

CLINTON: Well, that`s just not true, Congressman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Chairman, what are the most important new things you learned today?

TREY GOWDY (R), FORMER REPRESENTATIVE, SOUTH CAROLINA: I think some of Jimmy Jordan`s questioning. Well, I don`t know that she testified that much differently today than she asked previous time she`s testified.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, defenders of those probes say no matter what they found, it`s part of Congress`s job which is a potentially sound argument although you have to remember as well that one of the top Republicans running the caucus at that time Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy went on to concede that the whole Benghazi investigation was actually about lowering Clinton`s approval numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee, what are her numbers today, her numbers are dropping.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: You may say the shoe is on the other foot although we have to wait and see what the Democrats do with these House investigations. As a final thought, President Obama rarely lashed out in public about those probes but he did offer this comparison recently. This is after he left office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Washington, they have racked up enough indictments to field a football team. Nobody in my administration got indicted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And coming up, we turn to something we could all use right now. We`re going to tackle a topic almost never discussed in politics. I`m bringing on fashion icon Andre Leon Talley and our friend Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: As long as there`s been cameras, image has mattered in politics. And as a new crop of candidates emerges to challenge a president obsessed with imagery, there`s no doubt voters will be looking at them as well as listening to them. So we want to dig into the look and the fashion of these candidates and given the long-standing gender imbalance of these exercises, this segment tonight will exclusively focus on the fashion of male candidates and public figures.

Joining me now to all-stars. Fashion legend and former editor at large of Vogue Magazine Andre Leon Talley and the co-creator of The Daily Show Lizz Winstead. Thank you both for doing this.

LIZZ WINSTEAD, CO-CREATOR, THE DAILY SHOW: I`m not a fashion icon? I feel sad.

MELBER: You look like a fashion icon.

ANDRE LEON TALLEY, FORMER EDITOR AT LARGE, VOGUE MAGAZINE: Lizz, you look like a fashion icon.

WINSTEAD: Thank you.

MELBER: Let`s get right to it. Cory Booker, Andre, this is what you see with Cory Booker in a suit. What do you think?

TALLEY: Stately, sort of Ivy League Preppie. He could be a Yale professor of politics.

MELBER: Lizz?

WINSTEAD: I see a guy who said I`m going to wear a black suit and a black tie and call it a day.

MELBER: And not think about it too much which is a kind of a choice in and of itself.

WINSTEAD: It`s a privilege.

MELBER: Let`s go to Biden, Andre. Biden is looking a little more dapper there.

TALLEY: Everyone doesn`t mind a traditional suit and he does traditional the best.

WINSTEAD: If you took off his head and replaced it with the head of anybody who works on Wall Street or the remaining men in the Senate, you would have that outfit.

MELBER: And that`s the thing. Men across fields get to do that.

WINSTEAD: Yes. Again, yes. Your blandness is your weapon.

MELBER: Now, here`s someone who`s less bland -

TALLEY: Bland as a weapon, I love that.

MELBER: Look at Bernie Sanders. This is how he looks coming out. A little scrappy but normal suit.

TALLEY: A little chaotic especially the -- he has not heard of the term metrosexual.

MELBER: Now, check this out. Balenciaga modeling a Bernie Sanders outfit. Is this fashionable? Balenciaga basically dipping into the volunteers grassroots. Look.

TALLEY: I must say, it`s a cool look.

MELBER: They took the script there. Compare that to the yard songs.

WINSTEAD: Like it was the Bernie Sanders supporter, not Bernie Sanders. I`ve never seen Bernie Sanders in the --

TALLEY: I love the shirt, but --

WINSTEAD: No.

TALLEY: And a vest, a sleeveless vest and a hood.

MELBER: Well, Andre, isn`t fashion sometimes conceptual?

TALLEY: Of course, it`s always conceptual. You`re always conceiving and conceptualized void and vortex of flat glamour, I guess it`s a glamorous look for a young Bernie Sanders supporter.

WINSTEAD: Are you saying fashion begins at conception? That is good to know.

MELBER: What about that Obama choice?

TALLEY: Coat, it could be -- it could be more hot. More people should wear those light colored suits. How cool is that. That is not a mistake. That is a man who is confident.

MELBER: What about that Obama jeans though?

TALLEY: Obama jeans are always cool.

WINSTEAD: No, that`s not cool. That is a false statement. That is a false statement. But I have to say about the suit. That is the one time or one of the few times that men were railed upon for their fashion. This amazing tan suit --

MELBER: That was the one time.

WINSTEAD: -- that I was like, that suit is hot. And then I listened to this weird going on and on about the tan suits.

MELBER: I want to talk about prosecutorial stylish contrast with you.

TALLEY: Yes, please. Show me.

MELBER: One of the most pivotal men in Washington, dress is the most boring. Bob Mueller, what do you think?

WINSTEAD: Anybody who can wear a crisp white shirt every day doesn`t have to wear makeup. Because every woman knows if you`re putting on any kind of foundation, it gets inside of the shirt and that is again a privilege Robert Mueller doesn`t have to worry about.

TALLEY: Yes.

MELBER: Let`s go -- let`s go a little more old-school. Abraham Lincoln, remembered for many things. Let`s look at this.

TALLEY: Extraordinary, extraordinary. That long coat, not this short suit thing, this long red and gold British style look and stovepipe hat.

WINSTEAD: He`s battlefield ready.

TALLEY: Extraordinary. Come on.

MELBER: Now, Trey Gowdy leaving Congress, Lizz. You flag this for us. We pulled it. What`s going on here.

WINSTEAD: There`s so much going on here that I don`t know where to start. It`s as though Roger Sterling was swallowed by Trey Gowdy and then Trey Gowdy jumped into David Burn`s suit and started melting as he walked down the steps.

MELBER: Is this a good look when you`re leaving?

TALLEY: This is not a good look.

WINSTEAD: When you`re coming or going or --

TALLEY: I will say, this is -- this is a person on borderline meltdown. To say he`s leaving, doesn`t quite know what we was about, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.

MELBER: Benghazi or been gone. I guess the question here Andre is loosening a tie in politics and in life --

TALLEY: It`s not going to work.

MELBER: It can connote a chillness, but here it seems to connote more of - -

WINSTEAD: Walk of shame.

MELBER: More of like giving up.

TALLEY: Chaotic.

WINSTEAD: Yes. This is a walk of shame.

TALLEY: Chaos, chaos in his head.

WINSTEAD: All he needs behind him is that woman from Game of Thrones screaming, shame, shame.

MELBER: Well, Lizz, I think you know -- Lizz, I think you know there`s no greater walk of shame than the walk of shame of a multi-year failed congressional investigation.

WINSTEAD: I believe that is true.

MELBER: Before I let either of you go, I do want to do some quick media feminist accountability.

TALLEY: Sure.

WINSTEAD: OK.

MELBER: What we have done today is but a tiny, tiny step in the other direction of what has happened for many years on many terrible media segments which is hassling people who happen to be women seeking or exercising power for their clothes. Let`s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She wore a very fancy outfit for a photo shoot and was called out by a lot on the Internet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She does work with the team and she is strategically picking every single thing she`s wearing to make a statement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most see her in a pantsuit, so many pants suits over the years.

GLENN BECK, AUTHOR, THE OVERTON WINDOW: Michelle Obama, did you see the dress she was wearing while she went down and toward the oil spill? Who pulls this dress out of the closet?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WINSTEAD: I think whether you`re talking about men or talking about women, you`re not talking about what they`re doing for you and the country and that is -- that`s why I love doing this segment because there are a lot of people that we look at tonight who had done terrible things to our country and who have done great things for our country and yet about the fact that their style is just so sad.

MELBER: We like learning here at THE BEAT and we`ve learned a lot from both of you tonight in an unusual segment. Andre Leon Talley and Lizz Winstead, thank you.

TALLEY: Thank you.

WINSTEAD: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: A firsts time for everything. And when we come back, breaking news about Jeff Bezos and the National Enquirer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Amazon Founder, Jeff Bezos just released a new statement that accuses David Picker who oversees the National Enquirer of "blackmail" and "extortion." Bezos making these new claims that he says lawyers for the Enquirer were threatening to release embarrassing or explicit photos of him unless he agreed to stop an investigation of them.

This includes in his account an e-mail allegedly from the National Enquirer to his attorney with a threat to post explicit pictures that allegedly came from Bezos and he wrote, rather than capitulate to this blackmail, "I`ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me." I should note, this is a breaking story. NBC News has not independently seen the letters nor gotten a response yet from AMI.

That is our show. "HARDBALL" is up next.

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