Cohen speaks after testimony. TRANSCRIPT: 3/6/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Joe Crowley, Val Demings, Michael Caputo, Robert Greenwald, JuanitaTolliver, Isaac Mizrahi

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Served Alaska in the House for more than 70 percent of the time it`s been a state.  And I think he has a bumper sticker in his car that says "My congressman can beat up your congressman."  I half kid on that.  I think I only half kid.

That`s all we have for tonight.  We`ll be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.

"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.  Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chuck.

We have several developing stories on THE BEAT tonight.  There are suggestions of more evidence against President Trump.  Michael Cohen walking out of private hearings.  This was moments ago where he testified against the president he used to serve.

There is also a question will House Dems go full Mueller when dealing with witnesses who defy them?  I have a report on that later tonight.  Plus, the story breaking late today, the DNC making a move against "Fox News".  The party chair says tonight there are new reports that prove "Fox" has become Trump`s state T.V. and they won`t do business together.  It`s a big political story.  I want to get into that a little later.

But I begin with Michael Cohen wrapping up his fourth appearance just this month on Capitol Hill.  Here he was moments ago, recapping his hearings, including eight hours today alone.  And he discusses whether the Democrats, in charge, do accept the testimony he gave against Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP:  The hearings went very, very well.  I believe that all of the members were satisfied with the statements and the responses that I gave to them.  I told them that any additional information that they would want, they should feel comfortable to reach out to my counsel and I would continue to cooperate to the fullest extent of my capabilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Completing that House cooperation today which we should note, today is actually Michael Cohen`s original scheduled date to report to prison.  Now, a former federal prosecutor representing Cohen told us in our reporting this week they do hope this cooperation, all of it together might reduce his jail sentence.

This week, he`s also been hit with leaks from all sides.  Some allege that he could have misled Congress about pardon discussions.  Tonight, a report that Trump`s lawyers may have crossed their own line when reaching out to Cohen.

Now, the worst leak for Trump could be this.  Alleged edits made to a document that became part of a crime.  Cohen`s now infamous 2017 statement to Congress downplaying the Trump Tower Moscow preparations.  And "The New York Times" obtained, look at it, more checks that Cohen says Trump used to reimburse him for those hush money payments including six signed by Donald J. Trump himself.

You could take the pattern together tonight.  Whatever one thinks of Michael Cohen, the march of checks and evidence and documents and testimony would appear to move this, according to any rational observer, away from a debate about him, about Michael Cohen and towards a debate about the evidence against Trump.

And then there is one more thing coming out tonight.  This report that I just mentioned, that hints at potential misconduct by Trump`s associates.  "ABC News" cites sources who say that in the crucial period after the feds searched Cohen`s office, lawyers linked to team Trump and Giuliani popped up and started pressing Michael Cohen to do a very particular thing, to stay in his joint defense agreement with Trump, even as his legal headache is multiplied.

And that they implied, "ABC News" reports, that if Cohen was loyal, he could increase his chances of a pardon down the road.  Now, let me be very clear about what we know.  It can be an abuse of power to trade a pardon for some sort of obstruction, a crime.

That was literally in the articles impeachment against Nixon.  Now, Trump`s lawyers know that.  And you`ll see this story doesn`t say Donald Trump personally made this offer, but rather that some intermediaries implied it.  The kind of move which, again, is exactly how Cohen said Trump operates, by pushing people implicitly while trying to avoid getting in trouble.

And then, of course, if you follow the news, you may notice an echo here and it`s a bad one for the White House because this whole report tracks exactly what we saw play out in public when Paul Manafort claimed to remain in a joint defense agreement with Trump`s people even after he pleaded guilty, which is usually a legal impossibility.

In fact, when Rudy Giuliani was out there claiming that they still were having good talks with Manafort after he flipped, a lot of people said another Rudy gaff.  But here is what you`ve got to remember as we deal with all these weird stories.  Sometimes what looks like a legal gaff is actually a tell.  Mueller went on to bust Manafort, took away his plea deal for exactly those kind of shenanigans.

Now, we don`t know at all, we don`t know if that is what these anonymous lawyers were aiming for, but we do know one thing that does look pretty serious.  Cohen testifying under oath that the feds are probing his last contact with Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE:  And what did he or his agent communicate to you?

COHEN:  Unfortunately, this topic is actually something that`s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York and I`ve been asked by them not to discuss and not to talk about these issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  I`m joined by Maya Wiley, former counsel to the mayor of New York and a civil prosecutor in that same Southern District handling Cohen`s case and former New York Congressman Joe Crowley.  Good evening to you both.

Congressman, how serious is this?

JOE CROWLEY, FORMER NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN:  I think this is incredibly serious when you start to link the cryptic messages that the Trump administration through his attorneys were trying to really convey to Michael Cohen that if you stay under the tent, we can still keep this, keep this down.  And if you play along, there may be a possible pardon down the road for you.  To me, it`s very clear that that`s what the intention here was.

MELBER:  And when you combine that with what has been in the piling up of the evidence, I want to read something totally bizarre to you for your analysis.  You`ve been around the Congress and been around a lot of politicians in both parties.

One of the reasons that people around Trump say he`s more likely to run for reelection, even as there`s all sorts of controversy is "he privately predicted Trump will choose to seek a second term, in part, because of his legal exposure if he`s not president."  Have you ever heard of anyone running for that reason, Congressman?

CROWLEY:  Usually, if you have issues of credibility and ethics, it`s really a reason not to run for public office.  And here you have the president using unethical violations or criminal violations as a reason to run for president.  It is absurd and unheard of in the American body politic.  But today, Ari, it seems that just about everything goes.

MELBER:  Yes.  And you`re saying that`s a bad thing.

CROWLEY:  Yes, I think it`s a terrible thing, to use the office of the presidency to cover your tail, to use the office of the presidency to prevent investigation of criminal activity I think is just absurd.  And really, I think the American people are going to start to really come around to understanding exactly what`s going on here.

MELBER:  Yes.  And that sourcing from "The Times", Maya is, of course, people who are close to Trump.  That`s not critics.  That`s not a sort of negative fan fiction of, oh, I know why he`s running.  I don`t like him the way some critics would say.  Those are the people according to "The Times".  And they have to corroborate that, they don`t just print that, around Trump.

And then you square that with what Mr. Cohen`s lawyers are alleging, that this all matters because it implicates Donald Trump and a crime in office.  Take a look at Lanny just last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANNY DAVIS, LAWYER FOR MICHAEL COHEN:  There is literally no way to dispute that he committed a crime.  He not only wrote a personal check, but they invented a cover-up story that it was a retainer check.

There was no retainer agreement.  It was a scheme concocted by Michael, by Donald Trump, and by Mr. Weisselberg as a way of avoiding tracing the payoff money, the hush money to Stormy Daniels.  The prosecutors and the U.S. government said that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MAYA WILEY, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY:  Well, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it`s probably a duck.  I mean I think that`s what we`re talking about here, right?  And I think what`s true about what Lanny Davis is saying is if the evidence establishes each piece of this, right, and what prosecutors have to do is make sure they have corroborating evidence that substantiates each piece.

And what we`ve seen is pieces, right, when Michael Cohen says here`s the check he signed.  Here`s the check he signed in 2017 when in 2018 he was claiming he didn`t pay me at all.

I mean, yes, it doesn`t look very good for Donald Trump.  What I find most astounding about the conversation about running for president in order to stay out of jail, if that`s true and that sourcing is true, is it ignores the New York State attorney general.  And it ignores that part of what Michael Cohen came forward with to Congress last week which New York State is looking into is the question of insurance and taxes.

And that means the potential for state crimes of insurance fraud or tax fraud, we don`t know enough yet there, but there`s certainly the possibility that there are criminal violations at the state level, and he would not be immune from indictment by the Justice Department if it`s not the Justice Department indicting.

MELBER:  It`s well put and very interesting.  All of this, to both of my guests, makes me wonder what was it like in those Cohen hearings today.  Both of you stay with me.

I`m going to bring in someone who was in the room, Florida Congresswoman Val Demings who serves on the House Intelligence Committee and was there for Michael Cohen`s private session today.  Thank you for joining us tonight.

REP. VAL DEMMINGS (D-FL), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  Ari, it`s great to be here.  Thank you for having me.

MELBER:  What do you see is significant on the presidential side?  Meaning this is the current president, how is he governing whether or not the House ultimately decides there is an abuse of power, as distinct from I think what everyone saw Michael Cohen testify to was all kinds of terrible -- allegedly terrible stuff if you want to be charitable in the hearing last week.  But what do you see as important about him as president?

DEMINGS:  Let me just say this.  Mr. Cohen, Michael Cohen was extremely cooperative today as he was the first time we interviewed him, as he was in the Oversight and Government Reform hearings.  Yes.  And the more I hear testimony from Michael Cohen, look at physical evidence, and talk to others -- you know, there`s been a rumor that the president had no idea that he was going to win the election.

I believe that that -- I believe that more and more, the more I listen simply because I don`t believe there is any way that the president would have run believing that he would win and not knowing that there would be an oversight, particularly from Congress.

We`re particularly looking at obstruction of justice.  We`re looking at abuse of power.  And if it`s true that the president did not expect to win, he had no other choice but to try to discredit the Department of Justice, to try to discredit the judiciary, to try to discredit the media.  And so it`s just been an interesting time.

And as I said, Michael Cohen was extremely cooperative.  He provided the documents that we requested or agree to continue to try to do that.  But we have a lot more work to do.

MELBER:  Do you see the issue at this point as an investigation to determine if Donald Trump obstructed justice, or an investigation to determine the nature of a lot of obstruction that occurred in public and whether and if the House should take extraordinary measures about it?

DEMINGS:  You know, there is so much here.  And, look, I never expected as a member of the Intelligence Committee or Judiciary to be in this place, but we play the hand we`re dealt.  And there is just so much information that is being thrown to us.

But I believe that the president -- you know, it`s interesting to watch him say publicly, for example, that he fired Comey, Director Comey, because of Russia.  It`s almost like a person who believes if he commits a crime in public that it somehow has less meaning.

And believe me, we are going to continue to aggressively investigate the president, those around him.  As I said, we are particularly looking at obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and other inappropriate behavior, criminal behavior --

MELBER:  You think he did obstruct or we don`t know yet?

DEMINGS:  Well, we are piecing the puzzle together.  And as I said, every day, it seems like we are getting more and more evidence that points us into a particular direction.

MELBER:  Before I go, I`ll give our colleagues a yes or no.  Congressman Crowley, your view, he did or didn`t?

CROWLEY:  I think there is ample evidence now that he attempted to cover up his dalliances.  And those checks are there.  I know that Mr. Cohen`s credibility was an issue.  There`s a rehabilitation of that.  I think he`s got a good distance to make up for that.

MELBER:  Maya?

WILEY:  Yes.  I think there`s certainly evidence to suggest that I think it`s premature to say whether there is evidence to prove it from a legal standpoint.  One question I wonder if Congress is asking and getting answers to from Michael Cohen if he wanted to -- if he wasn`t trying to win, why did he cover up the affairs in order to --

MELBER:  Right.  Well, given that he says -- Cohen testified about also discussing with the first lady, there may have been multiple issues there.  Congresswoman Val Demings, fresh from those sessions today, thank you for making time.  Congressman Joe Crowley, great to have you on THE BEAT.

DEMINGS:  Thank you.

MELBER:  Maya, always great to have your analysis.

CROWLEY:  Thank you, Ari.

MELBER:  Coming up, a key Mueller witness is actually here tonight to talk about these House investigations and cooperation.  Later, I`m going to fact check today`s very important hearings on Trump and immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS), CHAIRMAN, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE:  Are we putting children in cages?  I just want you to admit that the cages exist.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY, HOMELAND SECURITY:  Sir, they`re not cages.  It`s a detention space --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  We`ll bring you the facts on that.  And later, the DNC rejecting "Fox News" for any presidential debates in 2020.  And then later, Designer Isaac Mizrahi and our own Craig Melvin are here to talk politics, fashion, and what it`s like to dress, yes, Michelle Obama.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  A new escalation tonight in the battle over House Dems demands for more evidence from 81 Trump associates ranging from the president`s top aides and children to more witnesses like Michael Caputo, a former Trump advisor who`s lobbied for a foreign power on behalf of Russian energy conglomerates and who has done a hat trick talking with Mueller`s team and addressing both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

He`s never been accused of misleading investigators.  And tonight, Caputo is saying why isn`t all that enough?  He suggests that Chairman Nadler review his past transcripts before these committees and move on.

Now, some outlets have reported that means Caputo won`t cooperate with the Democrats.  Caputo says it`s not the whole story and he`s claiming his own past cooperation.

I am joined now by former Trump Campaign Aide Michael Caputo.  I should mention, of course, it`s Ash Wednesday.  And former Watergate Special Prosecutor Nick Akerman.  Good evening to both of you.

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  Hi.  How are you doing, Ari?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE:  Good evening.

MELBER:  Michael, let me ask the question that the House Dems are asking, a lot of people around the country are asking.  Why not go back in, tell the truth, and move forward?

CAPUTO:  First of all, I want to correct, I never lobbied Congress.  Certainly, not for a foreign power.  So I don`t know where you get that.  I`ve heard it before.  It`s patently false.

MELBER:  Well, we`ve had you on before.  I didn`t --

CAPUTO:  Right, I didn`t catch it the last time.  Yes, I didn`t catch it the last time.

MELBER:  Well, you and I have spoken about it.  You lobbied on behalf of Russian interests.  Give us the best precision language.

CAPUTO:  I didn`t lobby.  I didn`t lobby --

MELBER:  You advocated for Russian interests?

CAPUTO:  I did a press conference for "Gazprom-Media".  I didn`t lobby for the Russian government or lobby any government or any foreign power in this country.  I`ve never done it --

MELBER:  You`re saying -- right.  And I don`t mean to mislead.  But when you and I talked on the phone, you mentioned, well, it makes sense they want to to talk to you because you worked, you said, for folks tied to the Kremlin.  I mean that`s what I was referring to.

CAPUTO:  No.  I said I advised the Kremlin.  I lived there for seven years.

MELBER:  Yes.

CAPUTO:  I was sent there by the Clinton administration to meddle in Russian elections.  I`ve never lobbied the American government on behalf of the Russian government.

MELBER:  So not -- yes.  Not a registered lobbyist.

CAPUTO:  No.

MELBER:  But there is not a debate about the fact that you did a lot of stuff back then for Russia.

CAPUTO:  No doubt.  No doubt.  I can understand why they wanted to talk to me.  That`s why they`ve interviewed me three different times now.

MELBER:  Well, let me get to the point here that -- you make a point that I think a lot of people could think sounds reasonable.  You`re saying you`ve talked to the House already.  Why do you have to talk again?  Explain.

CAPUTO:  Right.  Well, first of all, when I was invited to speak to the House Intelligence Committee, two years ago coming up soon, I asked to be able to do that in public.  And when they refused to let me do it in public, I agreed to do it anyway voluntarily.

And I asked them to release my testimony to the public.  They refused to do that as well.  The same thing went down with the Senate Intelligence Committee.  And, of course, the Mueller team, they do all of that in private.

But eventually, at some point in time, they`re going to have to stop asking me to testify.  This would be the fourth time I`m asked the same questions all over again.  And from my perspective, it`s a perjury trap.

MELBER:  Before we get to the perjury trap House, as some call it, I`m going to bring in Nick.  One more thing for you on this to be clear for the record because all this matters to a lot of people.

CAPUTO:  Right.

MELBER:  Let me read from what they`re asking you about.  They`re asking about the June Trump Tower meeting, the contacts here with the Russian Federation and Trump associates, contacts from January 2016 with Manafort, Gates, Kilimnik, who of course a big deal, and other figures.  It is your contention tonight that you have addressed all of that already?

CAPUTO:  Yes.  My attorney, the former New York attorney general responded to that within 24 hours and told them I have --

MELBER:  Got it.

CAPUTO:  -- none of the documents they`re asking for.

MELBER:  Let me bring you in, Nick.  What do you think of these arguments?

AKERMAN:  Well, I think my real question, Mr. Caputo is, as I understand it, May of 2016 which is a critical date, it`s a month before the Trump Tower meeting and June 9, it`s right after the documents are stolen from the Democratic National Committee, you`re approached by some Russian national who basically offers to provide information to you about Hillary Clinton in return for $2 million.

I mean, have you been questioned at all by any of the committees on that issue?

CAPUTO:  I was questioned by the Mueller investigation about it and I supplemented my testimony to the House and the Senate on that.  And that entire episode, according to my attorney, who is former U.S. attorney, former New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco, that whole exchange with the Russian national who is working for the FBI, and offering information not from the Russian government, but from a Ukrainian national who worked for the Clinton Foundation, was not responsive to the request.  If you read my request --

AKERMAN:  But wait, what evidence do you have that this person was working for the FBI?

CAPUTO:  Oh, my goodness.  Are you new to this thing?  Really, I mean --

AKERMAN: I`m asking you what evidence.

CAPUTO:  I can tell you, I told everybody nobody seems to be interested in it.  Go to democratdossier.com.  I have a 17-year history with this guy working for the FBI.  He signed an affidavit --

AKERMAN:  What federal evidence do you have --

CAPUTO:  Hold on.  Let me honest -- let me answer this.  In U.S. federal court, he signed an affidavit saying he worked for 17 years as an FBI informant.  I also have copies of nine of his FBI informant visas, S-type visas and he still sits in America today.

It`s not a question as to whether or not this guy was an FBI informant.

MELBER:  Right.  But Michael, what`s interesting --

CAPUTO:  The question is whether he was the day he decided to have lunch.

MELBER:  What`s interesting here also is, in fairness, you`ve provided all those answers to Mueller.

CAPUTO:  Right.

MELBER:  And I want to be clear with viewers.  Some people might not like that you chose to support Donald Trump, but you did.  In fairness, Mueller hasn`t, to your knowledge, to our knowledge, reported wise, found anything wrong with that contact.  Is that correct?

CAPUTO:  That`s correct.

MELBER:  So when you told them your answer to that, what was your senses of how they viewed that meeting?

CAPUTO:  I think they viewed it as something they already knew about and they were rather disappointed that I told them about it.  I thought at the time that it looked like a perjury trap in and of itself.  But I was fully honest to the Mueller team.  And when we left that day, they said there was no need to talk to me again.  They never called me before a grand jury.

MELBER:  And the last thing I want to ask you about, again because we like to go to people who are directly involved in this.

CAPUTO:  Sure.

MELBER:  It`s important.  Is, you were saying here, I`m reading from what you`re telling the committee, "You`re not in possession of any documents relating to any contacts, 2015 to 2017, involving Russian federation officials, agency, and intermediaries, and Roger Stone.

CAPUTO:  Right.

MELBER:  Now as you know, there were people like Roger Stone who were ultimately indicted, in part, on saying no documents.  I mean that was the claim that Mueller got him on.  You`re certain on this?  You standby this?

CAPUTO: No doubt.  Roger Stone never discussed WikiLeaks, D.C. Leaks, or any of the other organizations he`s accused of talking to.  Never discussed those with me.  I didn`t know about it until I read about it in the media at all.  So I`m completely in the clear on this.  I have no legal exposure.

MELBER:  And, Nick, a final thought.  I`m going to move you on from -- and I know you like to cross-examine.  I`m going to move you on from that.

A final thought, when you see what`s happening here in this playing out, is this the best way for the House Dems to pick up or do they risk doing a bit of a retread?  Which again, whatever one thinks of some of these officials, there is the argument here and that`s why we want to hear it, that they say, look, I`ve already given you that.

AKERMAN:  Well, I think that`s right.  But I think he just also, Mr. Caputo, admitted that he was not questioned by any of the committees about this incident in May of 2016.  It may have been supplemented by an attorney.  But the fact is they have the right to question about that.

If you`re on one of these committees, even if you`re in the prosecutor`s office, you`re going to look at what the prior testimony is.  You`re going to look at what hasn`t been asked.  And I can`t -- I don`t know why they would waste their time going over the same material unless there is something new that they want to show him about that same material.

MELBER:  Yes.

AKERMAN:  So I think his complaint is well taken.  But the question is, has he really provided everything that they`re interested in?

MELBER:  Michael, can we end on a high note?  Did you hear that?  Nick Akerman said that something you said was well taken.  Well, I know you guys disagree about a lot of this.  And Nick, you think there might be further indictments.

AKERMAN: Absolutely.

MELBER:  And I bet, Michael, you might not.

CAPUTO:  Well, I don`t know.

MELBER:  We don`t know.

CAPUTO:  I mean I don`t think the Mueller investigations -- I think they`re on the way to the end of the road.  The question is what happens with the House Judiciary Committee.  Listen, they told my attorney they would like me to come in or asked if I would come in.  My attorney said you`ve got to be nuts, why would you come and testify again.

Here`s the thing, though.  As probably one of the most marginal characters on that list of 81 people, if they`re looking for me to come in, they`re looking for all 81 to come in.  It`s going to be a long, long year.

MELBER:  Well, I was ending on a high note that you guys are agreeing on a little something.  You`re not marginal.  You`re a guy who worked for Trump and had contacts in Russia.  And as we`ve said, is not accused of wrongdoing.  That`s not marginal though.  That`s in the heart of what a lot of people are probing.

I want to give a special thanks to both of you.  There aren`t enough conversations in my humble opinion like this on the facts in these open cases.  Nick Akerman and Michael Caputo, thanks to both of you.

AKERMAN:  Thank you, Ari.

CAPUTO:  Thanks, Mr. Akerman.

MELBER:  Yes, sir.  And we are back in 30 seconds with something very important, a grilling of Donald Trump`s border czar today, what she got wrong, why it matters.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  Juror drawing the line tonight formally rejecting "Fox News" request to moderate a debate in 2020.  The party blasting "Fox" for "inappropriate ties to Donald Trump".  The DNC Chair Tom Perez saying, "Look, the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates."

Now, that may sound obvious to some liberal critics but the DNC is actually breaking ground here.  They`re using their role as a national political party to go after a media entity for getting too close to becoming, as recently reported in "The New Yorker", "state T.V."

I want to get right into this with Robert Greenwald, director of the documentary "Outfoxed, Rupert Murdoch`s War on Journalism", and Juanita Tolliver from the Center for American Progress Action Fund.  Good evening to both of you.

Robert, you`ve been working on this issue a lot.  What do you think of what it means the DNC draws this line tonight?

ROBERT GREENWALD, DIRECTOR, OUTFOXED, RUPERT MURDOCH`S WAR ON JOURNALISM:  Well, obviously, it makes sense to draw the line.  I mean why would any Democrat want to support what`s essentially become the media arm of Donald Trump, which is "Fox"?  And I take news off.

"Fox" is performing an incredibly valuable function.  It`s enraging his supporters.  It`s giving them a reason to keep supporting him.  And its business model is now based on lies and distortions.  So I think they did the right thing and I think it`s important that everyone keep focused on what would Trump be like if there was no "Fox".

MELBER:  Well, the issue -- isn`t the key issue here, not just what would Donald Trump be like if there wasn`t a conservative megaphone because people can have whatever views they want in the media.

Isn`t the core issue that Perez is hitting tonight the fusion of government, the fact that it`s not "Conservative", but that it is loyal to the state? I mean, I`m going to play for both of you the Hannity-Trump appearance together which looked like two people working together not journalism.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I`m going to start by saying Sean Hannity, come on up, Sean Hannity.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL:  By the way, all those people in the back are fake news.

And the one thing that has made and defined your presidency more than anything else, promises made promises kept.  Mr. President, thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Robert and then Juanita.

GREENWALD:  Well, it`s a merger.  It`s no longer merely a propaganda arm, it`s essentially a merger between Fox and Trump.  So this should be no doubt in anybody`s mind that Democrats and people are interested in facts should not be in any shape or form supporting or encouraging this media arm.

MELBER:  Juanita?

JUANITA TOLLIVER, CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND:  Yes.  I think this energy flows both ways between Fox News and Donald Trump.  And what we`ve seen especially in an example like the government shutdown is if Sean Hannity says go-hard, hold the line, Trump does just that even to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of federal employees.  And then when Sean Hannity said this is a lost cause, Trump within hours ended the shutdown.

So yes, that mutually beneficial relationship where Fox News is advancing Trump`s agenda and where Trump is easily swayed by the media outlet really just emphasizes Tom Perez`s decision and statement that they are incapable of holding a neutral and fair debate with their candidates.

MELBER:  And Juanita, how important is it that -- what the Democrats are saying is this is for how they choose their nominee in a primary.  It`s not an edict that they`ll never talk to Fox News or go on or make their case to the American public, but more the idea that the way fox news runs now, it doesn`t make sense to let basically what they`re calling a Trump operation have sway over who their nominee is.

TOLLIVER:  That`s exactly right.  And I think there -- the other point to that is it`s pretty unlikely that viewers of Fox News are the voters who will be selecting the Democratic nominee.  If this is about selecting the Democratic nominee, recognizing your audience, and really leveraging that as you go into these debates is important.

Now, is there some wiggle room here where Fox could be represented by a host who may be somewhat have a reputation of being impartial like a Chris Wallace who has engaged Democratic 2020 potentials like Senator Gillibrand or Senator Klobuchar, I think there is space for Fox to be represented but it does not make sense for the network to host a debate in and of itself.

MELBER:  So Robert, final question to you is where does this all come from?  A lot of stuff gets covered is coming out of Washington or what the parties and politicians do, and this has been something in the Democratic grassroots for a long time.  It was a big debate at Netroots Nation, there were Obama activists who about it in later years given the way he was treated.  Do you view this as Tom Perez following grassroots efforts including your own?

GREENWALD:  Certainly, the grassroots pressure has been critical here and it`s been critical for 12 years ago when we did the Outfoxed movie and helped stop the Democrats from doing a debate that Nevada Democrats were going to support.  And pressure, pressure, and pressure, it works and continues to work.  It will always work.  And also I would be remiss without calling attention to Jane Mayer`s brilliant article in The New Yorker which points out by the way Fox had the Stormy Daniels story and didn`t release it.

MELBER:  Yes.  And we have that up on the screen.  We mentioned at the top Perez citing that article as the latest impetus.  Although from what we can tell, there`s been a lot of grassroots action before then laying some groundwork which is why we want to talk to both of you about it.  Robert and Juanita, thanks so much.

GREENWALD:  Thank you.

TOLLIVER:  Thanks for having me, Ari.

MELBER:  Absolutely.  Coming up, the story I was mentioning.  Donald Trump`s border chief forced to answer tough questions on children in cages.  We`re going to fact-check later.  Paul Manafort facing his final reckoning.  We`re going to preview the sentencing that could give him an effective life sentence as soon as tomorrow.

And then later, Michelle Obama, the politics of fashion and a whole lot more.  I am psyched to tell you designer Isaac Mizrahi and "TODAY" show`s Craig Melvin are going to be here together later tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  Somewhat like Republicans are now rejecting President Trump`s claim that border crossings are some kind of national emergency teeing up a vote the could mark his biggest rejection yet from his own party.  While today lawmakers absolutely grilling Trump`s hand poked -- handpicked Homeland Security Secretary to reject her claims that might have supported this "emergency."

For example, while most terrorists reached the U.S. by plane, the Trump administration had falsely claimed terrorism was a huge problem at the southern border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We have terrorists coming through the Southern Border because they find that`s probably the easiest place to come through.  They drive right in and they make a left.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think most of these were being stopped at our airports, is that correct?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY:  Yes, sir.  The majority were through the air environment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Through the air environment, maybe that`s some kind of bureaucratic code designed to lessen the blow of contradicting the president who appointed you.  But the air is not the land on the southern border.  Terrorists are not rushing the southern border.  Now, when it comes to drugs, when those do head for the U.S., it`s typically through the organized ports of entry which handle cargo, not smuggled through land areas that where Trump wants to erect this law.  Under questioning today, Nielsen admitted that too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  A big majority of the big drugs, the big drug loads don`t go through ports of entry.  They can`t go through ports of entry.

NIELSEN:  The majority of the drugs continues to come through the ports of entry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Now, those are some of the perceived threats.  Then there is the amount of southern immigration itself.  In the current era, border crossings are at historical lows dropping since a peak, look at this in the early 2000s.  You can see right here just how low immigration is a historical level.

What you`re looking at matters because it shows immigration at the southern borders way down.  That doesn`t resolve legitimate debates over immigration policy but it does debunk Donald Trump`s lies designed to scare people about the idea of historically rising immigration.

Now, Secretary Nielsen stressed that on a monthly basis apprehensions were up in February then dodged on Trump`s other claims.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM LANGEVIN (D), RHODE ISLAND;  What the president said was not accurate was it?

NIELSEN:  I apologize I don`t know the full context of that.  I just don`t know the context of his statement, sir.

LANGEVIN:  I was just trying to get a yes or no.  It seems self-evident to me.

NIELSEN:  I just -- I just don`t know the context of his statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  There is no context that can rescue Donald Trump`s false claims on this one.  Illegal border crossings way down over the past two decades.  The facts matter.  You need to know all this.  Secretary Nielsen already knows it and we have a lot of evidence Trump does or should know it.

Today`s debate over these facts actually cuts to something much deeper, the very morality of the Trump administration`s extreme measures on immigration.  If people learn these facts immigration down, no national emergency, well, people may be less likely to support the president seizing emergency powers to try to spend your money on things he wasn`t authorized to spend, let alone tolerate the administration`s extremists treatment and caging of immigrant children which has been widely condemned as human rights abuse.

Today, Democratic lawmakers press Nielsen on that.  Keep in mind, this became a cross-examination over the word cages.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), MISSISSIPPI:  Are we putting children in cages.  I just want you to admit that the cages exist.

NIELSEN:  Sir, they`re not cages.

REP. BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN (D), NEW JERSEY:  What is a chain-link fence enclosed into a chamber on a concrete floor represents to you?  Is that a cage?

NIELSEN:  It`s a detention space, ma`am, that you know is existed for decades.

COLEMAN:  Does it differ from the cages you put your dogs in when you let them stay outside?  Is it -- is it different?

NIELSEN:  Yes.

COLEMAN:  In what sense?

NIELSEN:  It`s larger.  It has facilities.  It provides room to sit, to stand, to lay down.

COLEMAN:  So did my dog`s cage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  So these cages are a little larger than what people use for animals.  This is a debate about a lot more than words and facts.  This is the federal government today.  The Trump administration defending a larger cage for yes, innocent children.  You have the facts.  Let`s hear it again along with what it looks like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NIELSEN:  Sir, they`re not cages.

COLEMAN:  Does it differ from the cages you put your dogs in when you let them stay outside?  Is it -- is it different?

NIELSEN:  Yes.

COLEMAN:  In what sense?

NIELSEN:  It`s larger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  We have a very special fall back tonight.  Wait till you see who is here.  Our fall back is mixing up politics, culture, and fashion, as we`re joined by award-winning designer Isaac Mizrahi who`s trend-setting fashions, are worn by star from Nicole Kidman, to Julia Roberts, to First Lady Michelle that`s once stunned a plum colored Mizrahi dress to the State of the Union, the ultimate endorsement.

Mizrahi, I should mention also a judge on Project Runway all-stars and he has a new memoir out I Am.  We`re counting growing up as a gay man in a Syrian Jewish Orthodox household.  And we`re also joined by another Syrian Orthodox Jew.  A man who is something of a fashion icon in our newsroom where the standards are admittedly lower, "TODAY" show hosts and NBC Correspondent Craig Melvin who also anchors the 11:00 a.m. hour on MSNBC and has interviewed everyone from Bill Clinton, to Nikki Haley, to Richard Overton, the oldest living veteran in America.

CRAIG MELVIN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Who we`ve recently lost, actually, but yes.  Those are nice introduction, Ari.

MELBER:  I was just thinking about the work you`ve both done.

ISAAC MIZRAHI, FASHION DESIGNER:  Did you interview Michelle Obama though?

MELVIN:  No, not on camera.

MIZRAHI:  I won.

MELVIN:  That`s right.  You do.  You know what, you won before that.

MELBER:  Well, a lot of people would say you won because having the first lady, any first lady go to the State of the Union with your dress, before we do our fallbacks, what was that feeling like?

MIZRAHI:  It was crazy.  I was at dinner during that time.  I was -- had this very important dinner that had been pre-scheduled and someone called in the middle.  I just literally left the restaurant without telling people and I went home to watch.

MELBER:  So they didn`t tell you the White House in advance, hey, she`s wearing --

MIZRAHI:  No.

MELBER:  Is that -- am I saying this right?  She`s wearing a Mizrahi tonight.

MIZRAHI:  They never let you know.  She did it a few times.  She wore my clothes a few times and every time it was a big surprise.

MELBER:  Craig, what are you wearing?

MELVIN:  Right now?  It`s a brown suit with some subtle blue stripes that I`ve probably had for seven years.  Isaac, I apologize.  But I got to be honest with you.  If I`d known that I was going to be sitting right here, I would have put on something nicer.

MIZRAHI:  Something like Prada or something right?

MELVIN:  Yes.  Is that -- is that who you recommending for me?  Who do you wear?

MIZRAHI:  This is from a guy called David August in Los Angeles who make --

MELBER:  You don`t wear your own stuff?

MIZRAHI:  No, I don`t.

MELBER:  So you`re right here -- you`re not wearing any -- the only Mizrahi here is what`s inside the suit?

MIZRAHI:  Actually the shirt is Mizrahi.

MELVIN:  That`s Mizrahi.

MIZRAHI:  And the pants are Mizrahi.  But the jacket, you know, tailoring is like --

MELVIN:  Can I touch it?

MIZRAHI:  What?  The shirt?

MELVIN:  No, no, just the jacket.

MIZRAHI:  The jacket.  You can touch anything you want.  Please.

MELVIN:  This is really nice.

MIZRAHI:  It`s really nice.  He makes good stuff.

MELVIN:  Do you wear sweat pants?

MIZRAHI:  I do, yes.

MELVIN:  Because you know, Lagerfeld, when he died, that was one of his famous quotes.

MIZRAHI:  Oh yes, you give up the --

MELBER:  Do you want to just come sit over here?

MELVIN:  I know.  I`m sorry.  It`s hard for me not to ask questions.

MIZRAHI:  You`re both really pretty, OK.

MELBER:  Thank you.

MIZRAHI:  See?

MELBER:  Thank you.  Thank you for saying that.  It`s not that it`s a competition, it`s just he has what`s called anchor-it is and it`s very useful if you`re -- you don`t even know what you`re doing.  You walk around, you sit down at a dinner party or a T.V. set and you start interviewing.  And he`s very good at it, that`s why he`s a "TODAY" show host.

MELVIN:  I`m sorry.

MELBER:  It`s just something that happened.

MELVIN:  I apologize.

MELBER:  You almost wonder if it`s leading to an awkward silence.

MELVIN:  I`m amazed that millions of people are watching the show.  I`m amazed that thousands of people watch the show.

MELVIN:  Do you know like beats -- he like beats CNN every night.

MIZRAHI:  I couldn`t resist that.  I couldn`t resist that.

MELVIN:  He beats CNN.  People watch those.

MELBER:  Thank you.  That happens to be a fact.  We deal in facts.  Thank you for spotlighting positive facts.

MELVIN:  We do.  Facts matter.

MIZRAHI:  That was also just a joke.

MELBER:  You guys are tremendous.  This could be -- this could be the show.  You know when Seinfeld, when he says this right here, this is the show.

MIZRAHI:  I feel like we have a chemistry.

MELVIN:  We should do a show together.

MIZRAHI:  What is this?

MELVIN:  Fashion in politics.

MIZRAHI:  Abbott and Costello?

MELVIN:  Let`s do it.

MELBER:  I love it.  Having said that --

MIZRAHI:  I think we should.

MELBER:  Having said that, Isaac Mizrahi, who needs to fall back?

MELVIN:  Oh here we go.

MIZRAHI:  OK, my first fallback is the manhole rat.  You know the manhole rat?

MELBER:  Tell us.

MIZRAHI:  It was a rat that got trapped I think it`s in Germany.  And the thing is there are these pictures of it -- and at first you go yes, I don`t want to look at the pictures.  But then you look at the pictures and they`re so cute.  Like this little rat --

MELBER:  The fireman or the rat?

MIZRAHI:  Because I had this whole turnaround about like you know, I love dogs, I love animals.  I kind of don`t like -- I don`t work with furs anymore.  You know, I can barely eat a steak, seriously.  So I had this whole thing about like animals.  And then I thought no, but rats I don`t care.  Rats are just dirty, they`re awful.  And then I saw the pictures of the rat, and then I kind of loved the rat.  And then I said to myself no, stop the rat.  Just stop the whole thing.

MELVIN:  You fell for the rat?

MIZRAHI:  I felt bad for the rat.  It`s a very cute series of pictures.

MELBER:  And wasn`t it unfair for the President to call the witnesses he disagree with rats?  I mean, when rats, as you point out, can be such a delightful little creature?

MIZRAHI:  That`s right.  Absolutely.  I also love the fact that the rat got so fat that he -- you know what I mean?

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER:  I don`t know about -- you know, you`re in fashion.  I don`t know that he was fat.  Maybe the rat was just getting to the body weight that felt comfortable for him.

MIZRAHI:  That sort of his goal weight.  Exactly.  It`s the rat`s goal weight.

MELVIN:  Were you concerned about body shaming the rat?  Is that what I just sensed there?

MIZRAHI:  Exactly.

MELBER:  Look, if animals have feelings.  When you prick them, do they not bleed?

MIZRAHI:  Totally.

MELBER:  That`s a Tevye reference.

MIZRAHI:  It`s actually a Merchant in Venice reference.  It`s a Shakespearean reference.

MELBER:  Well Tevye remixed it.  And I always quote -- I quote hip hop which is always remixed in an earlier art form.  Tevye remixing Shakespeare but we`ll take it.  We`ll take it.

MIZRAHI:  OK.

MELBER:  You`re more knowledgeable, you`re more literary.  I read your New York Times --

MIZRAHI:  Oh, you did?  The book?

MELBER:  I`ve never seen so much book bragging in a sense --

MIZRAHI:  Come on.  I know.  But you know what, that was like a questionnaire that you fill out.  So literally took me days.  It was like - -

MELBER:  It took you days?

MIZRAHI:  I was writing the gossip--

MELBER:  You know what it says in there -- and I`m not trying to give you a hard time.  I`m honored you`re on THE BEAT.

MIZRAHI:  Scare me.  Scare me.

MELBER:  They say what`s on your nightstand and he says, the complete works of Shakespeare.  And I thought, are they?  Are all of them on your nightstand?

MIZRAHI:  Wait a minute.  Excuse me, guys.

MELVIN:  How large is your nightstand?

MIZRAHI:  And by the way, I have a big nightstand.  I`m sure you`ve heard a big nightstand what that means.

MELBER:  It means --

MIZRAHI:  Large nightstand.

MELBER:  It means you read a lot.  It means you read a lot.

MIZRAHI:  But they`re not only -- they`re not just a big volume of it, it`s the actual separate plays because the big volume is unwieldy and sometimes I like to pick up.

MELBER:  This is true because we do -- the fact that I like you and I like you a lot.  That`s why I`m thrilled you`re here.

MIZRAHI:  I love you.

MELBER:  I love you.  You know what, I love you.

MIZRAHI:  I love you unconditionally like a mother loves their child.

MELBER:  Wow, like a Jewish mother?

MIZRAHI:  Like a Jewish mother, exactly.

MELVIN:  Why do you have lighters on your desk here?  What is this, 1968?  What are you --

MELBER:  That`s a BEAT lighter.  We also have BEAT wine glasses and MSNBC moms.  I want to move to my fall back and I`ll give you a little spoiler.

MIZRAHI:  Sure.

MELBER:  It involves a guest who`s in the show right now.

MELVIN:  Oh, no.

MIZRAHI:  Come on.

MELBER:  And it`s fashion related.  And it is -- let`s see it.  Craig Melvin high school outfit. 

MELVIN:  That`s -- you know what --

MELBER:  That needs to fall back.  Craig, we give you the floor and then Isaac, you can evaluate. 

MELVIN:  Here`s the thing, Isaac, OK.  No wait, you just said you did judge people.

MIZRAHI:  No, I`m not judging.

MELVIN:  Those are eyes of judgment.

MIZRAHI:  Here`s the thing.  What I wonder is like isn`t a fallback supposed to be something that people are like actually talking about an into and whatever.

MELBER:  Everyone is talking about it tonight.

MELVIN:  If you were in 1994, everyone was talking about that.

MIZRAHI:  Oh, they were?  OK.

MELVIN:  Yes.

MIZRAHI:  Well, it`s like that thing in Mean Girls was like fetch, like stop trying to make fetch happen.  I think you should stop making that photograph happen.  You should stop trying to make that happen and then we won`t have to make --

MELBER:  So that -- your view is that outfit from Craig`s what senior year is not fresh.

MELVIN:  That was -- no, that was not from my senior year.

MIZRAHI:  I don`t know why -- I don`t know the plaid thing you have --

MELVIN:  I was in middle school, Isaac.

MIZRAHI:  It`s all right.

MELVIN:  But there`s some things  that --

MIZRAHI:  Was it -- was it something you were forced to wear, like the plaid, it`s the school plaid or something?

MELVIN:  No, I remember -- I remember this -- I picked that up because I was --

MELBER:  You look like you were feeling yourself.

MELVIN:  And you told me that I wasn`t fine that night at the prom, you would have had to fight me.

MIZRAHI:  Well, can I tell you something?  This is not just flattery.  Like you are fine now and you were not as fine in college -- high school.  I swear to God.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MELBER:  And I think we`ll leave it there.  Thanks to you guys, Isaac Mizrahi and Craig Melvin.  You can catch Isaac on his new tour one-man show, I&ME and his new memoir as I mentioned is I Am.  We`ll be back with a preview of Paul Manafort getting sentenced tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  Some more news heading into tomorrow which may provide according to what we know the longest, harshest prison sentence yet for anyone caught up in the Mueller probe.  President Trump`s former campaign chair Paul Manafort will be sentenced in his first sentencing.  This one in the Eastern District of Virginia.  There he could face up to 24 years in prison.  And that doesn`t count of course that he has a separate sentencing in a whole separate jurisdiction in Washington.

Now we`re going to have special coverage on MSNBC as well as on THE BEAT tomorrow.  I will be joined by one of Manafort`s former business associate who knows how he works Congressman Jackie Speier from House Intel, David Corn who`s been in the dossier and all over the story and strategist who worked against Manafort in 2016 when he was doing some of the stuff. 

That`s our show.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now. 

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