Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: February 11, 2019 Guest: Shelby Holliday, Melissa Murray, Sally Kohn, Bethany McLean, Anibal Romero
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: You and I both know that any of those titles could pass for a political memoir and that is the problem, people. We deserve more than platitudes and buzz-worthy market-tested Yakety Yak (ph).
Shouldn`t we expect more of our politicians? Shouldn`t we expect more of ourselves? If you agree, you can read all about it in my new book, "The America, My Unique Journey Promise Dream." Sure to be a bestseller.
That it is for tonight. We will be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.
"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now. Ari, you`re going to buy the book, right?
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Journey makes me think of the famous song "Don`t Stop Believing."
TUR: Yes, we talked about that on the top of the segment.
MELBER: Also a reasonable song. Have a great Monday night.
TUR: Bye, Ari.
MELBER: New reports that Trump ally, David Pecker was so concerned the "National Enquirer" might be former lobbying on behalf of the Saudis that his company asked the DOJ if they should register as Saudi lobbyists. That is a story we`re going to get to later tonight. Most media outlets never have to ask, are we Saudi lobbyists?
Also later, we`re going to have new links between that story and former Trump aides Roger Stone and Carter Page. Plus, Donald Trump heading down to Beto Country in El Paso as congressional Republicans keep bailing on his wall.
And my special report on Mueller`s attack dog prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, inside the tactics he uses to make people flip, and what it means for the Mueller probe. So we have all of that for you on a packed show this Monday night.
But we begin with new clues about where Mueller`s investigators are headed. Now, this is not a disclosure that Mueller`s team wanted to make, the clues that we have. But in order to defend their new charges against Paul Manafort in court, Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann laid out a key theory that the "heart of Mueller`s probe" is still looking at a potentially illegal deal between Russia and Trump aides.
Here is the line that is getting attention. Weissmann saying Manafort`s alleged lies go "very much to the heart of what the special counsel`s office is investigating." In "The New York Times" reports, those comments indicate Mueller`s still open probe is pursuing the central question of whether there was some kind of deal between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Now, this is important because it reveals a Mueller prosecutor under oath recently, not way back in the day, but recently saying this is the focus of the probe. We`re also hearing more about a Mueller-related arrest, Maria Butina, the Russian, who pleaded guilty to acting as an undeclared Russian agent. Now speaking out from prison to detail what happened when the FBI raided her home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES BAMFORD, JOURNALIST, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Was there pounding on the door or --
MARIA BUTINA: Huge. I mean very loud.
BAMFORD: Did they yell FBI or just --
BUTINA: Yes, yes. They told me, "FBI search warrant." I was completely shocked. So they pushed me in. They realize that I`m wearing an apron. Me, baking banana bread. That was the picture.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was the picture of seemingly normal person baking banana bread. Butina is clearly using her words to pursue the same strategy that you see on your screen which Roger Stone used through his dramatic video leak, trying to draw some sort of sympathy or even outrage over law enforcement tactics, which according to experts look pretty typical.
Stone could face a ruling this week on whether he will be gagged as Mueller`s team has requested. Meanwhile, the parallel investigations in Congress gearing up with Democrats in charge. The House Intel Committee chair making it clear that they will follow Trump`s money even if Mueller doesn`t.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If the special counsel hasn`t subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, he can`t be doing much of a money laundering investigation. That red line has been enforced whether by the deputy attorney general or by some other party at the Justice Department.
If we had waited to do any of our investigative work for the Mueller investigation, we would have been waiting a year and a half. And we have a separate and independent and important responsibility. And that is to tell the country what happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What happened. I`m joined now by NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray and Shelby Holliday who has been reporting on the Mueller probe from the start for "The Wall Street Journal." Good evening.
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Good evening.
MELISSA MURRAY, LAW PROFESSOR, NYU: Thank you.
MELBER: What do you think of these clues which a lot of legal experts have been parsing?
MURRAY: So there is a lot here. All of it, speculation at this point but lots to say about sanctions, lots to say about Crimea and the Ukraine, and lots to say about Russia and trying to get out of the thumb of American sanctions.
MELBER: And when you look at that, I mean when he says at the heart, is that potential overdoing it? Or is he saying basically, look, we care more about Manafort`s lies not just because we`re tough and they have that reputation, but because we think he may be lying for ongoing aspects of a deal that could be ongoing collusion?
MURRAY: That seems to be the implication, that there is more to this than we initially thought, and that is an ongoing deal between Manafort and the Russian contacts in order to get some kind of push from the Trump administration on some of these aspects of the Russia relationship.
HOLLIDAY: Well, it`s certainly ongoing because when you look at this transcript, there is still a lot of stuff that is blacked out. So things that we aren`t allowed to know about. Even though the government didn`t necessarily want us to know about any of this, we got some hints, and it was not just about this Ukrainian peace plan, which to many is code word for lifting sanctions.
But it was also about the sharing of polling data and there was a long exchange about this polling data being so complicated and so complex and so valuable. And the special counsel is talking about how it was passed off to a man that the FBI has assessed to have ties with Russian intelligence.
So there are a lot of themes I guess that were resurfaced in this transcript that we talk about in the media often, whether or not there is collusion, does this go to the heart of collusion, was it just a bunch of actors sort of unwittingly having contacts with Russians.
I think this really reaffirmed for a lot of people, that, wow, they`re still looking at this core question whether or not there was a quid pro quo to help the Trump campaign and relieve sanctions.
MELBER: And whether parts of that attempted quid pro quo were continuing after the election, which gets you into high crimes. It gets you into what the president is doing as president, not just what happened last -- in the years prior.
I wonder what you think of what lawyers call the materiality here, the idea that yes, they throw the book at everyone. But they had to prove basically that Paul Manafort`s lies were at a higher level than just lies, than just incorrect.
MURRAY: Yes. So is more than just sort of statements that are untrue or statements that are inadvertent and misleading. This is the fact that this is still ongoing, that so much of this has been redacted, and so much of it is still being talked about means this is going to the upper echelons.
And I don`t know where that leads. If it leads to person number one, who knows. But it goes deeper than maybe we even appreciated at first.
MELBER: And I think for viewers sometimes when we report on the little bits we get out of the Mueller probe, in a way they`re less exciting and they`re more carefully phrased than all of this other conversation. And yet they`re so much more important, because anyone can write or go on the TV or go on the Internet and say, "Oh, maybe there is collusion or it feels like a lot of collusiony things." This isn`t that.
This is one of their toughest Prosecutors, Weissmann, who I mentioned we`re going to have more later on the show, saying under oath that this is still going. And I put that to you in contrast to what you hear from some Trump defenders.
And I think some knowledgeable legal folks have been saying this before this new piece, which was well, if this is all they have on Roger Stone, they don`t have him on conspiracy, they don`t have him on something Russian, right. They only have one obstruction. Walk us through how this goes seemingly in the other direction.
MURRAY: So this is Robert Mueller. I was a Bay Area native for a long time. Robert Mueller has a great reputation in the Bay Area. He`s the former U.S. attorney there. He is a very, very careful prosecutor. And Weissmann is a very careful prosecutor.
So building a case like this requires time. It`s incremental. It`s not just here is a smoking gun and we`re done. So they`re clearly, carefully building a case, and there will be these little slivers.
It doesn`t seem like much at all. But again, it`s sort of like impressionism. When you get up close, you`re not sure what seeing. When you step back, ah-ha.
MELBER: Do you have a painting metaphor for this?
HOLLIDAY: No. But I`ll build on yours because it`s excellent.
MELBER: Because she is at a really good school. We`re just normal pundits here.
HOLLIDAY: And you know, rap words maybe will come to mind. But no, I think that`s a really good analogy. When you`re reading through this transcript, you`ll see that some of the information they got wasn`t until late last year. So they are building this methodically.
MELBER: Still going.
HOLLIDAY: A lot of people knocked this probe for being slow and long, but actually, they`re continuing to get information that proves to be very valuable. The last thing I would note that is really important in this transcript is the government is out there showing Paul Manafort not only lied about his contacts with the Trump administration, but he continues to lie about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik.
MELBER: Right, which goes to the question of --
MELBER: -- why do you continue to do that. I`m going to go to Eugene Robinson. It also raises the question of whether Rudy Giuliani style is more cubist.
HOLLIDAY: It`s a giant circle.
MELBER: I don`t know -- well I just don`t know enough about painting the plan.
MURRAY: Or Jackson Pollock, just throwing stuff at the wall.
MELBER: Just throwing everything.
MURRAY: Throw it all at the wall.
MELBER: I tell you what, if we have any viewers who know more about painting than us, or at least us, Shelby and I, tweet in @thebeatwithari.
HOLLIDAY: Please, help.
MELBER: What is the right painter to describe this probe? My thanks to both of you.
As promised, I`m turning to bring in Eugene Robinson to discuss the other big story, Trump ally David Pecker, the "National Enquirer" publisher who has now, we`ve learned, this is brand new, he actually asked the federal government whether his group had to basically register as Saudi lobbyists.
According to reporting from "The Wall Street Journal", NBC News has confirmed this, "Enquirer`s" parent company, "AMI", asked the DOJ, and we have the letter, last year whether they had to register as a foreign agent for the Saudis presumably because they had this feature celebrating Saudi crown prince through their glossy magazine.
And the tabloid now apparently was trying to use this as some sort of sweetener to get money from the Saudis. Now, the question that keeps coming up is after Jeff Bezos has now alleged that Pecker was trying to blackmail him with explicit photos, he also said in that sort of Blockbuster unheard of a blog post that there was "a Saudi angle" that was pushing the tabloid to go so hard after Bezos. Now Pecker is breaking his silence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELKAN ABRAMOWITZ, ATTORNEY FOR AMI CEO DAVID PECKER: The story was given to the "National Enquirer" by a reliable source that had given information to the "National Enquirer" for seven years prior to this story. It was a source that was well-known to both Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Pecker speaking through his lawyer, playing a lot of this down. Meanwhile, there are sources telling "The Daily Beast" that that individual, Michael Sanchez who is a Trump world associate was the brother of Bezos` girlfriend, and that he would have given the couples` text to the "National Enquirer."
I go to Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist for "The Washington Post." I`m also going to play just not with sound, but a little visual that you were in "Saturday Night Live" this weekend on this very story.
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes.
MELBER: You could see there without sound, you can see your likeness. How did you feel?
ROBINSON: It`s surreal, surreal. And by the way, that`s the painting school I think that Giuliani is in, it`s surrealism. It`s pure (INAUDIBLE). But it was a surreal feel. I`ve never been parodied on "Saturday Night Live" before. Honored that it was Kenan Thompson who I think is ridiculously funny.
MELBER: Very talented cast member there playing you. And as you say, melting clocks all around for the Trump era. That makes sense to me. And again, it`s not my area of expertise.
There is so much in this story packed in. I just caught viewers up here over the weekend on a little bit of the latest including the "Enquirer`s" defense here of something that is terrible, no matter what, if as alleged this type of blackmail.
But their defense is however terrible it may look, it is not the international Saudi intrigue that was alleged. You, of course, affiliated with "The Washington Post", we mentioned. Bezos is the owner there. But walk us through your view of all of this.
ROBINSON: Well, first of all, if you read Jeff Bezos` blog posts, I think everyone has by now, what he describes is, seems to me, a base, an attempt at an extortion. It has nothing to do with journalism.
And I just thought -- every time I talk about this, I make it clear. This is not the way journalists work. This is the way mobsters and racketeers work maybe and extortionists, but not journalists.
That said, there is this mysterious sort of suggestion of a Saudi angle. As you know, "The Washington Post" has been at odds with Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi leader over the killing of "Washington Post" Columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
And even before that, the Saudis apparently had a thing about "The Post", not just because of Khashoggi, but because of other things "The Post" has written about. So there`s this -- was this in any sense some sort of proxy fight between Bezos and the Saudis or did the Saudis see it that way?
MELBER: Well, and can I just -- can I raise the obvious here?
MELBER: - which is not meant to be overly complimentary to you or your colleagues at "The Post" but just the obvious takeaway. Here is a brutally murderous regime that does all sorts of controversial things to its own people, on human rights, and as "The Post" has documented on Khashoggi. And they appear, at a minimum, very shook and impacted by just the power of the words in the reporting from this paper.
ROBINSON: Absolutely. I mean one thing we`ve learned about MBS, as he is known, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia is that he is really touchy. He is very thin-skinned. And Jamal Khashoggi got under his skin, "The Washington Post" got under his skin, just for writing the truth, writing about what he was doing and what his regime was really like. And it was counter to this image he wanted to project.
Now we don`t -- we know that there was this weird relationship between the Saudis and David Pecker`s "AMI" to the point where "AMI" had to inquire whether it should register as a Saudi agent. So we know these connections. We just don`t know how all the parts worked together if they all worked together and whether --
MELBER: And that part --
ROBINSON: That, we`ll have to find out.
MELBER: That part which is new tonight is so bizarre.
ROBINSON: Isn`t it?
MELBER: You know this is not every day that self-declared media companies check in with the feds to say, "Hey. We might be Saudi agents." But, hey, we aren`t doing anything that would substantiate that. and that`s why I think this is another piece of the riddle.
And viewers will remember, this is the same law that got people like Mike Flynn in trouble. This is a law that the feds don`t always use but recently have been willing to.
Let me read so folks understand for your analysis, the "Enquirer" basically tells the DOJ it has this special edition on Saudi Arabia but they say that they didn`t get foreign funding, that they were not "approached" by foreign officials, and thus this was a business decision.
Does that make sense? If all of that is true, why would they be even asking?
ROBINSON: Exactly. Why would they even ask the question? I`ve never heard of any media organization asking that question, are we operating as some sort of foreign agent?
This is completely new. This is completely alien. But it certainly suggests that they protest too much in this filing, in this question. Why would you raise the question if you didn`t think there was something more than innocent in that relationship? And I don`t know the answer to that question.
MELBER: Right, right. And that is a super intriguing part of this. Eugene Robinson, as always, thank you for coming on THE BEAT.
ROBINSON: Great to be here, Ari.
MELBER: Coming up, Donald Trump plowing all kinds of time into watching television and tweeting his critics who say he spends too much time watching television and tweeting at critics. New schedules leak showing even more executive time.
I`ll be joined by Sally Kohn, making her debut on THE BEAT live next.
Plus, later, my special report on the man called Mueller`s pit bull, Andrew Weissmann terrifying some defendants. Other lawyers, those say he goes too far. And Trump and Beto O`Rourke holding dueling rallies near the border. I`m going to speak with an immigration lawyer who actually represents undocumented workers that were with, guess who, the Trump Organization.
And we will, of course, talk about the moment at the Grammys, Michelle Obama`s big, big surprise appearance. That`s later tonight.
I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: The current president of the United States does not spend much time in the office or much time doing traditional work. We know this from the recent leaks of Donald Trump`s own calendar showing 60 percent of Trump`s daily schedule reserved for time where he avoids meetings or assigned work in order to watch TV and takes phone calls.
The White House dubs it "Executive Time". Now, four more of these daily schedules have leaked showing Trump`s workout routine in the very week of the State of the Union. And half of those days filled with, well, the same amount of free executive time, including seven hours of it, the very day of the State of the Union.
Now, soon after this news was discussed on "Fox", Trump tweeted about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
"Axios" publishes more of President Trump`s private schedules. The document dump coming hours after the acting White House Chief of Staff said they are close to finding the source of the leaks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Donald Trump seems wounded by this release of his schedules, which actually when you think about it seems to confirm there is something to hide. After all, any good self-promoter would want to embrace attention for any internal document that might show hard work or a grueling schedule.
Trump appears to actually be aware that these schedules show the opposite. And this is deeper than mere time management. Trump has failed to do basic parts of the job of the president like fill presidential appointees after two years on the job, which shows that even on matters that could serve his base, Donald Trump can`t seem to find the time or the energy to even staff his own administration.
Joining me now is a political commentator and activist Sally Kohn. She is also an author of the book, "The Opposite of Hate, A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity." And I happen to know you as someone who does work hard.
SALLY KOHN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean I do try but as do you, clearly.
MELBER: Well, what do you make of this part of the presidency? I`m not talking about his ideology. I`m not talking about the way he disparages people and all these other things that get so much attention. What about the fact that he is not going to work that much?
KOHN: Well, I mean those other things that we talk about are actually incredibly important, right? And let`s be very, very clear here. I`m more worried, and I think we all should be about what Donald Trump actually does when he is working than what he is doing with his massive amount of executive time.
MELBER: Are you as a critic happy that he is not filling those posts for example?
KOHN: Heck to the yes. I mean I`m happy he is just doing nothing for at least 50 percent of his day. By the way, that mean --
MELBER: Are you pro -- wait a minute.
KOHN: Wait, wait, wait. That being a part we`re missing in this is for the first data dump, it showed 60 percent of his time is executive time. And so then there is a new leak after they say they`re going to get the leaker, this new leak is like the nanny-nanny boo-boo of leaks. There is a new leak and it`s now down to 50 percent.
MELBER: Fifty percent, right.
KOHN: So Trump is, I guess, he`s making an effort here.
MELBER: Let me get my headline straight though. Are you pro executive time?
KOHN: I am pro Donald Trump doing whatever it is he is doing that is keeping him from further causing a train wreck that is his presidency.
MELBER: Well, then let me show you --
KOHN: I mean we`re not sure. I don`t want him to work that hard.
MELBER: Let me show you for very different reasons -- we like to find overlaps here. For very different reasons, some of the folks at "Fox News" also feel warmly about him, I think for different reasons. But take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA MACCALLUM, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: It sounds a lot like work. I mean he is reading the papers. He does watch a lot of television.
HOWIE KURTZ, HOST, MEDIA BUZZ: Who cares how he runs his schedule as long as he gets things done?
GREG GUTFELD, CO-HOST, THE FIVE: Do more of it. Have more executive time, I say.
JESSE WATTERS, CO-HOST, THE FIVE: Listen, whatever the president needs to be president is fine. He came from an unstructured atmosphere.
ERIC TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP`S SON: The guy is the hardest-working person there is. And what, just because you don`t have a scheduled event? Oh, come on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOHN: I mean look, I`m half joking, but I am actually being serious. I really don`t want him to work that much harder. Can you imagine how much worse it would be if he did?
Now that being said, what does disturb me -- and let`s be clear, as your clip show, this is a little bit of partisan theater here, right. It`s not like the internal schedules of past presidents, including Barack Obama were that chock a block with activity, right? So a lot of this is private. The details aren`t shared even internally and that`s, in a way, as it should be.
Now, the problem is what we know Donald Trump is doing with his time. For instance, he is not taking intelligence briefings. He`s not taking a daily -- even George W. Bush took a daily intelligence briefing in the whole briefing. Trump wants the mini cartoon version and he only wants it every couple of days. That`s a problem.
In the week of the State of the Union when there are lots of global threats brewing that he fearmongered about during his talk. He spent less time in intelligence briefings than he spent with Steven Miller, the alt-right architect of all of the fearmongering and anti-immigrants stuff going on in our country.
So that`s the kind of thing that actually disturbs me is what he is doing when he actually is working as well. But there is no question, this is a dumpster fire of a presidency, and this for those of us who already believe that on substance just goes to prove it on style.
MELBER: And you agree with all your "Fox" friends then?
KOHN: Well, I don`t -- I mean this is always the paradox of Trump, right? It`s like I don`t want the -- and Stacey Abrams said, "I don`t want the presidency to fail."
KOHN: But I certainly don`t want the president who is so hell-bent on caging children, stoking Islamophobia, undermining women`s rights, destroying the environment. I don`t want him to succeed. I don`t want him to put his nose to the grindstone and work even harder on that agenda. He is having a destructive enough impact as is.
MELBER: Right. Well, no, I think you mark it interestingly and I think people have a range of views of trying to understand this. This isn`t a story where you just have an automatic reaction.
Sally Kohn, I`ve known you a while around media and politics. Thanks for your first time on THE BEAT.
KOHN: Nice to see you on.
MELBER: I`d love to you back.
KOHN: Wait, hang on, I`m going to show the mug.
MELBER: It`s a big mug. I`ll look. That`s an enthusiastic guest right there. We`ll have Sally back soon.
Up ahead, Donald Trump is heading to the border tonight. I have a lawyer who`s represented 25 undocumented immigrants who say they`ve worked at Trump properties.
But first, this is when I don`t think you want to miss. In 30 seconds, I explain the star Mueller prosecutor who Trump allies fear the most.
MELBER: The federal investigations have ensnared many of Donald Trump`s most senior aides. And as prosecutors probe deeper into the remaining senior aides, as well as the people at the Trump Org, some of the names that are left in both worlds are obviously Donald Trump`s own family.
Now, many prosecutors are actually especially cautious when it comes to splitting families against each other in a probe but not this one. The hardball federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, many call him Mueller`s legal pit bull. And some of Trump`s most enthusiastic legal defenders have tougher words for Weissmann than even for his boss, Bob Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNEY POWELL, AUTHOR: I`ve called Mr. Weissmann the poster boy for prosecutorial misconduct.
JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: He has chosen his Jack the Ripper-like leader Andrew Weissmann.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST FOX NEWS: Guess what? Weissmann is a legal nightmare. Weissmann, guess what? He is a legal tyrant.
JAY GOLDBERG, DONALD TRUMP`S LAWYER: Andrew Weissmann is a very, very powerful weapon in the government`s arsenal. I don`t like Andrew Weissmann heading this prosecution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was Trump`s former lawyer. He doesn`t like it. Well, that brings us to tonight`s special report, the reason why team Trump fears Weissmann, and what it actually says about the future of Trump`s family and how the probe may reportedly look at people as it draws to a potential close.
So let`s get into it. Weissmann is known for tough and sometimes controversial tactics. Lately, Trump allies have seized on, for example, this new footage of Roger Stone`s home raid to try to impugn this investigation.
Well, it was a Weissmann operation that first deployed a predawn raid back on Paul Manafort`s home in July of 2017.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With absolutely no warning, FBI agents showed up before dawn to search the suburban Washington, D.C. apartment of Paul Manafort.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL: Raiding a home in the middle of the night is an indication of a very serious criminal case and criminal investigation.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: The Justice Department guidelines require agents to pursue evidence by the least obtrusive means possible. Sending armed agents to his bedroom door in the middle of the night is not the least obtrusive means possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And Weissmann honed his hardball strategy in one of the most far- reaching, aggressive, and actually controversial prosecutions in modern American law, the Enron investigation.
That probe was high stakes because President George W. Bush had deep ties to that Texas energy company. And so his DOJ tried to show there would be no favoritism. So they appointed a special task force run by the FBI director at the time Bob Mueller.
That was Bush`s proof this was going to be a tough probe. And then Mueller needed a point man to show it was going to be a tough probe, and he chose Weissmann to lead a, "elite" team of FBI agents and federal prosecutors to investigate and prosecute any crimes related to Enron.
Now, what was true then is very relevant now in the Mueller probe. Picking Weissmann meant you would get very tough prosecution and maybe controversially so because he is widely known for being effective and controversial. And that is based on three major tactics.
Keep an eye out for these as we see where this whole thing goes. One he super sizes even seemingly small offenses to play hardball. Two, he has managed to flip even hardened criminals into cooperating witnesses. And three, he charges targets that many prosecutors actually avoid like entire corporations or defendant`s own family members. I repeat defendant`s own family members.
Now, those first two tactics are pretty widely used. The third as you may know isn`t. And during the time that this Enron prosecution was going on, there was a top DOJ official James Comey, someone who of course is relevant now in the Russia probe as a DOJ official who stood up to Trump which we know the president didn`t like.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: James Comey was unfair to the people of this country. I think what he did was a disgrace. I think he goes down as the worst FBI director in history by far. There`s nobody plus.
Director Comey was very unpopular with most people. They had the very poor performance on Wednesday. That was a poor, poor performance.
He was grandstanding all over the place. He`s a showboater.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That same Comey that the president didn`t like, well, history has thrust him as a key figure into this probe where Weissmann works, and Comey was quite public at the time in his praise for Weissman. I`d like to thank Andrew Weissmann.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: I`d like to thank Andrew Weissmann, Deputy Director of the Enron task force who`s standing around the room someplace.
I want to thank and congratulate Andrew Weissmann, her deputy.
Let me thank the Enron task force in particular Andrew Weissmann who is the head of our Enron task force. He and his brilliant team were in Houston today where their hard work continues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And you can see Mueller off to the side there while Comey talks. He often avoided those microphones. Now that hard work as Comey put it led to some hard calls like whether prosecutors should single out just bad employees or indict entire companies. Now, that`s controversial because if it sends the company to jail, well you can think about it. It`s like the company goes out of business and innocent people lose their jobs.
But Weissmann`s team decided that the evidence of a criminal enterprise in the Enron case was so strong, forget it, they would indict the entire accounting firm, Arthur Andersen that served Enron. And they initially won that case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Arthur Andersen accounting firm was found guilty in a Houston Texas federal court today of obstructing justice in the Enron investigation.
ANDREW WEISSMANN, AMERICAN ATTORNEY: This case was really about a simple principle which is when you expect the police, don`t destroy evidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, that actual indictment was controversial for the very reasons critics warned about. Thousands of employee employees did lose their jobs when the company shuttered. And after that conviction, ultimately the Supreme Court unanimously overturned it, a legal ruling that part of the strategy just went too far. Indicting entire corporations is one thing, indicting defendants families is another.
Now, in general, federal guidelines do discourage prosecutors to use tricks to pit family against each other. There`s also a spousal privilege which generally protects a spouse from being forced to testify against their partner.
Now Weissmann didn`t break those explicit rules, but let`s be clear he took an aggressive stance by indicted the wife of chief financial officer Andrew Fastow on a misdemeanor when Fastow was resisting pressure to plea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WEISSMANN: Today the Enron task force`s continuing investigation has led to the unsealing of three new criminal indictments and a six count indictment against Lea fastow. As the indictment charges, she and her husband and others were part of a conspiracy to maintain control of an asset that Enron had but couldn`t keep in name.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, that was hardball. Miss Fastow wasn`t exactly running Enron. She wasn`t widely considered a major player. Reuters reported that Weissmann was trying to gain leverage from indicted the wife in that case. Eventually, Fastow did plead guilty turning over documents that proved Enron was participating in accounting fraud and that the CEO knew about it. In other words, Weissmann and Mueller, the folks playing hardball, they would argue they got where they needed to go. And those documents were crucial to the case.
Weissmann had no reservations about pursuing someone that he thought was guilty and could help the case. Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade says Mueller`s team may also be looking at statutes that are used against mob bosses to sweep up potentially family members involved in a conspiracy if they are. In other words racketeering potentially against Trump`s family.
Now Weissmann did some of that kind of prosecution with Enron. He`s also known for dangling the threat of even more jail time to keep people in check and casting a wide net. 114 people he named as unindicted co- conspirators. But then again, remember, critics point to the Supreme Court`s unanimous rebuke of Weissmann as a sign that these tactics have their limits.
And you could argue that those critics have a point because if this hardball were deployed against you or your family members, you might think it was pretty unfair.
On the other hand Weissmann`s defenders say, this is what they have to do. They`re not dealing with normal people who are complying. They`re only using these tactics with people who systematically commit alleged crimes and then commit new alleged crimes to hide their old crimes. The kind of a rabid blizzard of crimes and cover-up designed to defeat the one lawful force that would exist to catch them.
And faced with that Wiseman who again at the time was working under Mueller supervision, his argument is look, we`re going to come hard at the cover-up just as hard as we`d come at the original crime. In fact, Weissmann at the time was arguing he was basically up against a criminal enterprise.
Whether he faces one today of course is an open question. We`re not reporting that tonight. But he`s already part of a team that has indicted people on obstruction crimes and cover-up which include as you know the President`s campaign chair, deputy campaign chair, national security adviser, longtime lawyer, and longest-serving political adviser, many unsimilar cover-up style crimes.
And there`s one thing that Weissmann`s critics and allies agree on. If you remember nothing else, we all know this. This pitbull prosecutor that miller tapped Mr. Weissmann and his team, they`re not even done sifting through the rubble.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WEISSMANN: The Enron task force is continuing to sift diligently through the rubble that was Enron piece by piece, scheme by scheme and lie by lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I am now joined by acclaimed business journalist Bethany McLean, a Contributing Editor of Vanity Fair, author of several books including the Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron. You`ve been at this story from the start. Thanks for being here.
BETHANY MCLEAN, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, VANITY FAIR: Thanks for having me.
MELBER: In your view with the long I of history, what did Mueller and Weissmann learn through the hardball tactics of the Enron probe?
MCLEAN: Well, I think that in some cases they`re necessary and helpful. Of course necessa y and helpful as you pointed out depends on which side of the aisle you`re sitting on. But it really turned out to be pivotal in the case of Enron. The ability to convict Jeff Skilling rested on Andy Fastow`s testimony. And if faster hadn`t cooperated eventually with the investigation, its -- history would have been different.
MELBER: And that`s a lot of history. You`re saying though, Fastow`s cooperation was a product of why it`s been going after family?
MCLEAN: Well, Fastow had been indicted and was refusing to plea until Weissmann indicted his wife in a superseding indictment that brought additional charges against Fastow and others, but also included his wife. And given that the couple had young children at that time, it could have meant that they both would have been away in jail with no one home to care for their children, and it`s indisputable that after that Andy Fastow did plead guilty.
And when he pled guilty, this document turned up that was one of the clearest indications of accounting fraud at Enron and a key link to showing that Jeff Skilling knew about the accounting fraud. And until that point, the document hadn`t turned up. The only copy of it was in a safe deposit box that Fastow said he and he and his wife found when they visited their bank after he had pled.
MELBER: It`s fascinating and you put your finger right on the details there. So what you`re saying is on the one hand this was key to securing a conviction that many legal experts and certainly people concerned about corporate fraud I thought was a very good thing. The Hardball got them that. And the other, you`re talking about tactics that to many people if you were -- knew those folks who were friends with them, you`re talking about the legal equivalent of orphaning their children.
MCLEAN: Right. It`s unquestionably a hardball tactic. I don`t think Lea Fastow would have been charged if it hadn`t been for the possible benefit she could -- she could bring and putting pressure on her husband. Her wrongdoing was minimal especially in the scope of what what happened it at Enron.
MELBER: Well, this is -- I want to --
MCLEAN: So clearly -- it was clearly a tactic.
MELBER: Before I lose you, I want to play one more thing which is this is part of why some of trumps allies are so obsessed with Weissmann. Donald Trump`s longest-serving lawyer Jay Goldberg who served before Cohen told us on this very show that they had some sort of special arrangement. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JAY GOLDBERG, FORMER LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: Mueller has agreed not to have Weissman involved in any investigation of the president. That a little known secret, but I found that out.
MELBER: Who told you that?
GOLDBERG: Somebody on the President`s staff.
MELBER: That was a White House lawyer or a staff --
GOLDBERG: Yes, a White House lawyer.
MELBER: Was it Ty Cobb?
GOLDBERG: Well, yes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: A little deposition tactic there. We don`t know if that`s true. We just know that Trump`s former lawyer there Jay Goldberg asserted it. Does that sound like something Weissmann would agree to base on your knowledge of his record?
MCLEAN: No. That that does not sound like it would be true to me. And just to put this in broader context, by the way, these cries of prosecutorial misconduct, prosecutorial overreach, they happen in every single trial. This one in the Enron case are just a lot more high-profile than most trials but it`s not like it`s new.
People in the defense seats are always screaming that the prosecution is overreaching. So by no means is this -- is this some kind of fresh accusation.
MELBER: Yes. Bethany, you make such a great point which is many, many a criminal defense lawyers has tried to put the rest of the system on trial because they can and it doesn`t involve dealing with the evidence against their client. As you say, if the viewers aren`t following every trial in the country, they might think oh, this is -- this only happened with Mueller, Enron, and Russia, and as you say not really. You were there from the start, your award-winning book. I really appreciate you coming on THE BEAT to tell us about it.
MCLEAN: Thank you.
MELBER: Thank you, Bethany. Coming up, some Democrats are directly trolling the president with his border trip and protesting Trump`s appearance in El Paso. I`m going to speak to a lawyer for undocumented immigrants who says they worked at Trump properties.
MELBER: Shaping up as Beto versus Trump tonight. The president heading to El Paso, Texas. Democrat Beto O`Rourke leading a march to protest against the wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BETO O`ROURKE (D), TEXAS: We will meet lies and hate with the truth and a vision for the future from the U.S.-Mexico border, El Paso, Texas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump invoked El Paso at the State of the Union because there was a barrier built near the city in 2008. Now, after the barrier was installed, violent crime increased slightly by about five percent which is why the local officials just officially declared their opposition to Trump`s "lies regarding the border." It`s hard to get people mad for declaring their own City is safe but Trump did manage to do that because it was a false claim in the State of the Union.
Critics also saying Trump`s immigration rhetoric is pretty hollow given these new reports that Trump`s own company deployed undocumented workers from Costa Rica to New Jersey. This is from the Washington Post, and it went back as far as 2002. And the Washington Post sites over a dozen sources, 16 workers and all who say the Trump Org managers knew.
Now, I`m joined now Anibal Romero, an attorney who represents 25 undocumented workers who served at Trump properties. This is so important. It`s obviously super hypocritical. Like in the Hollywood movie, your character wouldn`t be believable because your job is a little too easy politically. So walk us through what this means. Why should everyone believe these workers? Are they truthful and where do you go from here?
ANIBAL ROMERO, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: Right. So I now represent 25 workers who work at four different golf clubs. What they are telling me is that they were hired as undocumented immigrants. Some of them management helped them obtain these fraudulent documents, others -- I have a gentleman I represent, he was told to go find better fake looking documents because the original ones that he provided weren`t good-looking enough.
MELBER: Is there any written evidence from that at the time?
ROMERO: Well, we have been in contact with the FBI, we`ve been in contact with the New Jersey Attorney General`s Office and the New York state authorities. We`ve actually sat down with New Jersey Attorney General. We submitted documents. We have pay stubs. And what the workers are telling me is that I represent 25, but what they are saying is that there were hundreds of undocumented immigrants working for the Trump Organization. This is a federal crime.
MELBER: Right. And you -- look, you`re an advocate so you represent these folks.
MELBER: But the wider reporting from people who don`t have a side in this does seem to reinforce your story line. Reading again from this Washington Post stories and they`ve really been all over this. A police report showing the club`s head of security was told back in 2011 about an employee suspected of using false identification papers. So how high does this go? You know, is this something that was just local because there`s a lot of use of undocumented labor in this country as we all know or did it go higher.
ROMERO: Sure. Right. So what my clients are saying is that supervisors knew, managers knew, the general manager knew this. That is why we`ve been calling for a complete and thorough federal investigation. We are certain if the Department of Homeland Security were to conduct an investigation, they will see -- they will review business records and they will find that there were hundreds of undocumented workers.
I`ve seen pay stubs as far back as 2001. Some of these people have been working there 16, 17 years. And again, in one case Victorina Morales who was the first woman to come out. She said that management helped her obtain these fake documents.
MELBER: So as you know, in the debates over the war on drugs which is complicated, one of the things that has gotten more understanding is if there`s an overwhelming demand inside the United States then that demand will be met, right? It`s kind of a market thing not that you encourage people to break the law. Is part of your argument basically in this case exposing that as with the war on drugs, as long as the American economy has this demand, then it doesn`t make sense to only blame the people who are coming in to serve the --
ROMERO: Absolutely. Look, there are 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Most of them are good people, they`re decent people. They`ve been paying taxes. They have clean criminal records. And that`s why I think it`s important for Congress to really sit down and look for a solution here. We`re dividing the country over an issue that really is laughable. They`re here, they`re working, they`re good people. And the criminals, yes, let`s get rid of them right? They`re only a few, right?
MELBER: We wanted to talk to you because you`re putting your finger on something important which is if the only infraction is working for the Trump Org or working for an American company that`s in cahoots with you, that seems a little different than other types of crime that may genuinely scare Americans. Anibal Romero, thanks for telling us your case..
ROMERO: Thank you very much.
MELBER: I really appreciate it and we`re going to keep an eye on it.
ROMERO: Thank you.
MELBER: Up ahead we take a turn to something you got to see. Michelle Obama back out on national T.V. with that Grammy appearance, and one of the surprise we want to share with you.
MELBER: One of the most popular guests at the Grammy awards last night was a surprise appearance by Michelle Obama, the former First Lady. She`s known as a big music fan and she spoke about how music can unite us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY, UNITED STATES: Whether we like country, or rap, or rock, music helps us share ourselves, our dignity and sorrows, our hopes and joys. It allows us to hear one another, to invite each other in. Music shows us that all of it matters, every story within every voice, every note within every song. Is that right, ladies?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Mrs. Obama was flanked by several female artist on a night when the Grammy has gave out awards to female soloists. Now we`ll be back with one more thing, news on the 2020 candidates Senator Klobuchar.
MELBER: Some more news before we go. Senator Amy Klobuchar entered the race as you may have heard Sunday in the middle of a blizzard. And there was Twitter attention from non-other than the President Donald Trump. So take a look at this. Some relevance sound from Trump in 2000 talking about his view in campaigning in that kind of weather.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, the other night I was sitting at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach Florida watching television and I was watching Gore on a freezing evening knocking on a door saying hi, I`m the vice president and I love your vote and he`s freezing. And I`m watching McCain and I`m watching Bush and they are all working so hard and I say, you know, it`s not such as easy life they have as I`m sitting in you know, 75-degree weather. It`s a different kind of work. I work up here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Yes, he does. Senator Klobuchar will join none other than Rachel Maddow for a live interview at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. I wouldn`t want to miss that. That does it for THE BEAT. I`ll be back at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.
And "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