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FMR. SDNY Chief fired by Trump on The Beat. TRANSCRIPT: 3/19/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Berit Berger; Preet Bharara, Neal Katyal

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Here`s what I`m trying to figure out with that one though, guys, what superhero character does John Cleese play?  I mean I love Mason Fawlty Towers but I don`t remember that being a superhero show.

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

"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.  Ari is my superhero.  Hello, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Oh, that`s nice to hear.  You know some superheroes, it depends on how it goes.  Harvey Dent, a sort of natural superhero until he became something else so.

TODD:  And then you write another comic book and then he can be a good guy again.

MELBER:  You know my origin story is I was bit by a radioactive spider in a law library.  And that`s why the show -- our show feels like more than an hour because it`s -- that`s why.

TODD:  You got me.  You win.  Ari got me today.  I`m the speechless one.  Good show.

MELBER:  Thank you, Chuck, as always.

We do have, we think, a pretty good show we hope to make for you tonight because tonight, I`m very excited.  My interview with the only prosecutor President-elect Trump met with and then fired months later, Preet Bharara, someone you may have heard of.  He is here for first time ever tonight on THE BEAT.

But that`s not all.  Later, I will speak to the lawyer who literally wrote the special counsel rules about some of the biggest stories hitting us tonight.  Bob Mueller`s old boss, Rod Rosenstein, staying on at the DOJ after, you may remember, he himself had implied he would leave by this month.  And that was why they reported as one of the signs that the Mueller probe would be winding down because of signals that Rosenstein would handle the end of the Mueller probe before he left.

Now, the news is Rosenstein says he`s not going yet.  And that means, according to those signals, Mueller would appear to have work left to do.  So you can imagine how everyone who is charting into the Mueller probe finds that interesting.

The news comes as we`re learning brand new details about the scope of the investigation into Michael Cohen, newly released search warrants and there is still, even as we get these search warrants, that we don`t know.  Something that we tend to do more and more these days is show you that while we have a transparent court system that released some of what the feds got out of Cohen, some of it remains, to this very evening, redacted.

I have experts to explain exactly what and why and what that might mean.  Now, the judge ruled to basically keep details of "ongoing investigations sealed."  That makes sense but we are getting details about what Mueller got, what he had, what he was interested in, in order to surveil Cohen in the first place.

How it all went down, July 2017, nine months before the raid on Michael Cohen`s home and office, and they were searching his e-mails going all the way back to January 2016.  Mueller`s team later getting warrants for his entire iCloud account and a different e-mail account which took them back to 2015 e-mails.

And then we learned that the feds also looked into potential crimes that Cohen -- and this is really, really important -- crimes that he was never actually charged with, let alone pled guilty to, like acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign power.

Now, I want to be clear and I want to be fair.  We don`t know why that came up at the time and whether that was something they were considering charging him with.  That`s not necessarily what it means but we do know Cohen was involved in things that had some foreign connections like, I don`t know, the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations or the $1.5 million he got from a company famously tied to a Russian oligarch.

So what does it all mean and why is it coming out tonight?  I`m very thrilled to tell you that before we get to my other big interviews, I have two real all-stars right now.

Berit Berger is a former federal prosecutor in both the Southern District where this case was, and the Eastern District where they got El Chapo, and a whole lot of other people.  And former Watergate Special Prosecutor Nick Akerman.  Nice to have you both here.


MELBER:  I know you`re always excited when we get this.

AKERMAN:  I love that stuff because it shows me all kinds of little tidbits that are interesting.

MELBER:  So here you go.

AKERMAN:  Thank you.

MELBER:  I know you already read it.

AKERMAN:  I have.

MELBER:  What were the tidbits that --

AKERMAN:  Well, I think the first big takeaway on this is that Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are under investigation.  The only reason that this has been redacted is because of an ongoing investigation.  The two people that we know that the U.S. attorney`s office is looking at is Donald Trump and his son.  So, this does not augur well for either of them.

MELBER:  You were going to say -- and I`m going to have Berit respond.  You were going to say you have enough evidence there, to be sure -- not that you want Donald Trump Jr. under investigation in SDNY, not that you think it`s warranted but that you say that proves it`s already happening?

AKERMAN:  I think it`s happening because those are the two people that are potential subjects of this investigation that are so obvious.  I mean, when you look at what the evidence is, now there are two witnesses that could testify against Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr.  It`s Michael Cohen and it`s the fellow from the "Enquirer".

And then you`ve got documents that back it up, whether the checks that were signed.  You`ve got a tape that corroborates him.  And even better, you`ve got Donald Trump`s kind of shifting statements on where he was on this whole thing.

First, he had no idea who Stormy Daniels was.  He didn`t have anything to do with it.  Well, he might have had Cohen do something.  I mean he`s got so many statements.

Now, when you put all that together, I mean the hardest part about that prosecution is picking the jury because you just can`t find a fair and impartial jury so easily in a couple of days.  You`re going to take a three-day trial and turn it into two or three weeks just picking the jury.

BERIT BERGER, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  Well, look, Nick has been doing this for a lot longer than I have so.  I don`t know that I have the same level of confidence that the people that are the subject of the redactions are the president and his son.  However --

MELBER:  Well, we could disagree agreeably here.  Actually, we pride ourselves in that.  You have profound professional respect.

BERGER:  Obviously, obviously.

MELBER:  Nick just made the case that this shows Donald Trump Jr. is under investigation.  Do you disagree?

BERGER:  Look, what I think this shows us is that nobody that has been involved with this at all should be sleeping well tonight.  Because what those redactions mean is that there is ongoing legal peril for anyone who touched this scheme.  So whether that is the president, whether that is his son, everybody who had any kind of a role in that is still a subject.

MELBER:  Let`s reflect on the way you`re putting it because I think that`s really interesting.  There are so much hype and buzz and noise.  You`re saying, again, this, as several ongoing investigations mean other human beings in legal jeopardy who are presumably as or more important than Mr. Cohen?

BERGER:  Yes.  I mean one of the reasons that I say this chosen formed by the judge`s order in ordering what could be redacted.  One of the things that the judge said was what could be redacted was things concerning ongoing investigations or subjects of those investigations.

MELBER:  But to be clear and to be fair to Donald Trump Jr., whether people criticize him or not, you are not as convinced, as I understand, as Mr. Akerman that this means Don Jr.?

BERGER:  I think we don`t know what we don`t know.  It may very well be those two.  There may be very well other people that were associates that played a role in this that we just don`t know who they are.  I will tell you who does know who they are, the Southern District of New York.

And if they are being investigated by the Southern District of New York, information is being redacted about them, in no way should they be sleeping well tonight.

MELBER:  Well, the more we talk about it, and both of you know it, the more it seems like the SDNY is not something to mess with.


AKERMAN:  Definitely not.

MELBER:  Look at what Mr. Cohen was still publicly doing on behalf of Donald Trump when we now know he was under the surveillance.  July 11, "So proud of Donald Trump Jr. for being honest and transparent.  The nonsense needs to stop."

A couple of weeks later, "Thank you.  We all need to support our @POTUS, @realDonaldTrump, and the administration.  And at the end of the month, while he`s under this surveillance, "Reminder, Donald Trump Jr. won.  Wake up #hater."

AKERMAN:  Well, I think the other thing that`s really important to take out of all of this is the length of time that this investigation took just to get a search warrant on Michael Cohen.  I mean this was practically a year.

People are so concerned now that why is this taking so long?  Why doesn`t this happen like reality T.V. where you see what happens the very next episode?  I mean I think this is a good example of taking one investigation on one person, just to get a search warrant executed that took nearly a year, and people are still complaining, why isn`t this happening?

MELBER:  Well, it is --

AKERMAN:  Well, this gives you an idea of how important and difficult it is to do a thorough investigation.

MELBER:  It is like reality T.V. in one way, in the sense that it`s melodramatic, exhausting, and it won`t end.

AKERMAN:  Well, it will end.  It will end but it`s not going to end as quickly as people would like it to end.

BERGER:  I absolutely agree with Nick.  And this really is the gold standard of what a search warrant should look like.  I mean anyone that thinks that these are easy to get -- I mean we refer to it as a raid but this was a very methodical, very meticulous, and very precise application for a search warrant.

MELBER:  And to be clear, what you`re saying is if you don`t have the goods, a judge can just say no.

BERGER:  Exactly.  And it shows you that this was not something that the Southern District endeavored into lightly.  I mean you look at just the pages and pages of evidence that they had backing up their allegations that there was criminal activity afoot.

MELBER:  Right.

BERGER:  This is not something that was easy to get.

MELBER:  You look at the long arm of the law, as they say, and how central the SDNY is and it does make you more interested in what the SDNY chief was thinking and doing when Donald Trump took charge when they were having that private meeting at Trump Tower.

Will you stick around and give us reaction to the Preet Bharara interview?

AKERMAN:  Absolutely.

MELBER:  All right.  Nick stays.  We will see you again soon.  My thanks to both of you for the legal analysis.

Coming up, a special interview tonight.  Something we`ve never done before, the former head of SDNY, Preet Bharara is here.  We`re going to get into what happened, how he was fired by Trump, and what comes next.  Everything on the table.

I`ll also be joined by the man who literally wrote the rules for Bob Mueller later on the show, Neal Katyal back on THE BEAT to talk about what`s next in the Mueller probe.

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


MELBER:  President Trump`s legal problems increasingly involve one of the most powerful U.S. attorney`s offices in the world, the prosecutors with jurisdiction over Trump Tower and everything in Manhattan, SDNY is the office which indicted Michael Cohen and is probing if the "National Enquirer" illegally boosted the Trump campaign.

Americans are learning more about this office.  But as a litigious New Yorker, Trump has long known about hiring a former SDNY chief for his Russia defense, Giuliani, and Trump zeroing in on the SDNY chief who was in the job when Trump took office, Preet Bharara.  The only U.S. attorney summoned to Trump Tower during the transition where Trump personally asked him to stay in office and then called him repeatedly.

Bharara, so uncomfortable with that potential pressure, he stopped returning the calls and Trump fired him later along with 46 other prosecutors from the Obama administration.  It was during that Obama era that Bharara gave us a rare look inside the famed SDNY office and we spoke about his team interrogating mobsters, indicting gangs, terrorists, bankers, and politicians.


PREET BHARARA, FORMER SDNY, AUTHOR, DOING JUSTICE:  No one is above the law.  Our unfinished fight against public corruption continues.  You should stay tuned.

How common is corruption in New York?  It seems downright pervasive.

To stop possible ongoing fraud, to encourage other potential victims to come forward and to protect client assets.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL:  Preet Bharara, not only was he a staff aide to Senator Schumer, he was confirmed unanimously as the U.S. attorney here in New York City.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW:  And now something has happened.  And apparently, he`s out.  In addition to Preet Bharara`s reputation for aggression in prosecuting public corruption, it may be that his jurisdiction here matters.


MELBER:  Preet Bharara, the former chief prosecutor at SDNY joins me now.  We`re going to get into all of it when we are back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER:  Joining me now for THE BEAT interview is Preet Bharara, out with a new book today, "Doing Justice, A Prosecutor`s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law."  Bharara is the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

We last spoke on air in 2015, while he was in that post.  And today is his first time back on MSNBC since that interview.  And a lot has happened since then.  Thanks for being here.

BHARARA:  Thanks for having me.  That was quite a nostalgia trip.  Walk down memory lane.  Thanks for the memory.

MELBER:  Anything jumps out to you?

BHARARA:  How young I looked.

MELBER:  What was the hardest case you indicted as the top prosecutor for New York and the hardest case you didn`t indict?

BHARARA:  One of the hardest things to do is walk away from a case.  At the end of the day, it shouldn`t be that hard to make a decision to go forward or not because you either have the evidence or you don`t.  in some cases, they`re hard in terms of how much labor it takes.  Some of the public corruption cases took a lot of folks working around the clock for a long period of time to make sure that they got the job done.

MELBER:  Let`s talk public corruption.


MELBER:  I`m going to show folks some of the evidence you guys had.  Video of actual people meeting and taking bribes.  This is surveillance video of cash bribes that were in Manila envelopes, secret hand-offs, hotel rooms.  This was hot stuff.  And you upset a lot of Democrats with those cases.

BHARARA:  Yes.  It`s an apolitical office.  And as people think about this SDNY now, it`s much in the news because they`re overseeing the Cohen investigation and prosecution.

The people there, we don`t know what their political affiliations are.  They don`t care about political affiliations.  We prosecute a lot of Democrats.  We prosecuted people who were powerful, who were not powerful.  It didn`t matter.

MELBER:  That could surprise some people who look at you now as a big hero to some in the resistance.

BHARARA:  Yes.  I don`t consider myself to be a member of the resistance.  But I do consider myself to be as now a private citizen and I have a voice and I express myself.

And I have some things to say about the president of the United States because I think he is doing things to undermine the rule of law.  And I think he`s doing things that undermine people`s faith in various institutions, like a lot of former government officials are doing, both Democrat and Republican, I might say.

MELBER:  You mentioned the president.  That is how many people know you.  And you really stood up to him in a way that others have struggled to.

Let`s look here for those who may not recall your journey through this Trump era.  Take a look.


DEMARCO MORGAN, CORRESPONDENT, CBSN:  U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been fired by the Trump administration after refusing to resign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  One of the most prominent from the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara has just tweeted that he did not resign.  He was fired.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Preet Bharara who was just fired as the federal prosecutor in New York.

JEANINE PIRRO, HOST, FOX NEWS:  Preet Bharara was among 46 federal prosecutors fired by the White House.


MELBER:  What did you learn in that experience and what concerns you about the president`s approach to the rule of law?

BHARARA:  Well, I don`t know how much people remember, but it was an unusual thing for me to be asked to stay.  I didn`t expect to be asked to stay for another term but I was, in a personal meeting with the president, even before he decided who was going to be his secretary of state and I think maybe even secretary of defense, but I`m not sure.

So it was a great honor in a sense that you had the next leader of the United States of America deciding who he wanted to have in this position as the local U.S. attorney in New York.  Then he proceeded to call me time after time.

MELBER:  Well, before we get to the calls, you said it was a great honor.  I want to get into this because, as I mentioned in the intro, I`ve interviewed you before.  I, like many lawyers, think of you as this pretty incredible prosecutor.

So in that spirit, I want to dig into that evolution.  You`re talking about this November 30 meeting.  No president asks people to come during the transition and stay on.  Let`s look --

BHARARA:  Or even after.  I never met with President Obama.  He never called me.

MELBER:  And Obama was the one who put you in this powerful post.  Let`s look back.  I think it`s useful, what you said that day in the Trump Tower lobby.

BHARARA:  I`m enjoying all these clips.


BHARARA:  President-elect asked, presumably because he`s a New Yorker, and is aware of the great work that our office has done over the past seven years, asked to meet with me to discuss whether or not I would be prepared to stay on as United States attorney.  We had a good meeting.  I said I would absolutely consider staying on.  I agreed to stay on.


MELBER:  Did you know, coming down from that meeting why he was so interested at the time in New York prosecutors?

BHARARA:  No.  And I can`t say for a fact that I know now.  I mean I have some suspicions.

MELBER:  Preet.

BHARARA:  I can contract to it.

MELBER:  Preet.

BHARARA:  I only make allegations based on firm evidence.  But common sense is an important part of the thinking process.

MELBER:  I appreciate your rigor.  So this is so fascinating.  Walk us through how you go from that lobby to his phone calls to the concern, as you say, not proof, but the concern that he was inappropriately reaching out to this office.

BHARARA:  So in the meeting, it was -- we shook hands.  He looked me in the eye and talked about the great work of the office.  I made clear that we`re an independent office, we`re not political.  I bilaterally said -- I made a point to say that in the meeting.

And there was nothing especially peculiar or unusual in the meeting other than the fact that he asked me for my phone numbers which is kind of odd because someone must have had them because that`s how I got there.

There`s an assistant, Rhona Graff, who now people maybe know her name because it`s been mentioned.  And I left the meeting.  And then a couple of weeks later, the president-elect called me.

Though I would have expected him to be very busy.  He shot the breeze with me for five minutes.  I reported that contact to my deputy and some members of my staff and also to the transition, the Trump transition team.  Those responsible for DOJ.

And he called me again two days before the inauguration.  You would expect him to be very busy, working on his speech.  He didn`t say anything untoward, didn`t ask me to do anything inappropriate.  I returned the phone call because he was not yet the president and I advised people about it.

MELBER:  And at that time, he was not calling, to our knowledge, any other prosecutor in the country?

BHARARA:  I don`t believe so.  No one has come forward.  He was just calling me.

MELBER:  He was just calling SDNY?

BHARARA:  He`s calling me.  And I didn`t know him personally at all before I met him on November 30.  So it seemed odd to me.

And know people suggested that Donald Trump doesn`t know about protocols and he`s new to all this.  I know a lot more about his habits with contacting people and going sort of around proper protocols than we knew back then.

But as I`ve often joked, my father is a retired immigrant, Indian-American pediatrician from New Jersey and has not read the DOJ guidelines and not familiar with Department of Justice protocols and he said to me, "I don`t like that he`s calling you."

MELBER:  He had a feeling?

BHARARA:  He had a feeling because it`s odd.  Why -- I wasn`t flattered by it.  I thought it was odd.  I would have -- this is before we knew all about executive time and he had plenty of opportunities to make phone calls.

That was still all well and good.  And then the president was inaugurated.  He took office.  And now, he`s the actual president of the United States.

And then almost exactly two years ago on March 9, he called.  The White House secretary called and said, "The president of the United States would like to speak with you.  Can you return the call?"

Now, I thought it was different.  Now, we actually have a Senate-confirmed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to whom the call would have been expected to be made if it was going to be an innocuous call.

There was no heads up about it.  There was no indication of what the topic would be.  You start to worry about things that were going on in the world.

There have been calls from various sectors to investigate things like the emolument clause and other things.  I, obviously, had jurisdiction, that office has jurisdiction to various aspects of Donald Trump`s life, including his business, Trump Organization, Trump Foundation, various properties, et cetera.

And now for him to be calling, with my not knowing what it was about, when there are these protocols in place that say you cannot discuss an enforcement matter, the White House can`t discuss it with anyone other than the attorney general and maybe the deputy attorney general, I didn`t like it.

MELBER:  Were you concerned he could have an elicit motive regarding investigations that touched on his world?

BHARARA:  I was, either in that call --

MELBER:  You were?

BHARARA:  -- or some future call but I was mostly concerned at the appearance of it.  Especially since the president himself had gotten elected, in part, by going at rally after rally, complaining about this informal meeting between Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch on the tarmac.  Remember that?  And nobody knows what was said there.

And the president himself, Donald Trump himself, said they must have been having an elicit conversation.  It must have been about the Hillary Clinton investigation and that was wrong.

MELBER:  So you`re raising such an important point here, which is that while there are critiques of Donald Trump that allege that he is not that informed or not that good at this, your concern was that he might be very informed and trying to cultivate you or involve you in something that you viewed as potentially improper?

BHARARA:  Yes.  I had come to that conclusion over time and the months since.  But in that moment, we actually considered -- and it sounds not as crazy as it did back then because now we know about Michael Cohen recording the president and Omarosa recording the president, we considered.  And we have this competing --

MELBER:  You considered what?

BHARARA:  Taping the president in that phone call.

MELBER:  You considered recording the president if you had called him back?

BHARARA:  Yes because I wanted to make sure because I had a certain amount of mistrust.  It was an odd phone call to be making.  It would be my word against his if he decides to say something inappropriate, which I didn`t necessarily know was going to happen.

MELBER:  I mean this isn`t in the book.  This is pretty interesting.

BHARARA:  Yes.  You know, that`s why this whole debate about whether Rod Rosenstein was joking when he said I`ll wire up against the president or not sort of rung in my ear a little bit.  And I tend to believe that he was not joking because there`s been a certain kind of conduct that happens.

And when you`re used to seeing someone tell untruths about what happens in a conversation and you care about your own integrity, I don`t want anybody to say, "You had some side conversation with the president of the United States."

But -- so we didn`t do that ultimately.  We thought that was a bridge too far.  We talked about it for --

MELBER:  But on that point, you and your Deputy Joon Kim and other sort of nonpartisan prosecutor experts viewed that as a potentially acceptable way to guard against an improper contact, had you gone forward with the call.  Would you need legal authority to do that?

BHARARA:  You put a lot of qualifiers in there.  It`s something we discussed and talked about, did not think it was appropriate, did not think it was the right thing to do so we didn`t do it.

MELBER:  But when Rod Rosenstein discussed that in the meeting, your point is that is the kind of thing that you think prosecutors can legitimately discuss?

BHARARA:  I think it`s a general matter so long as it doesn`t violate some law and in New York, it wouldn`t violate a law.  If you have a concern, and we all know people like this, a concern that someone will not be truthful about the conversation later or you want to protect both the integrity of your own reputation and another person`s reputation, there are a number of things you could do.

You know this.  You`re a practicing lawyer.  You either take contemporaneous notes as we know that everyone who`s dealt with the president does or you think about a recording.  I want to make clear, we talked about it for three or four minutes and then said that`s crazy, I`m not going to record the president of the United States and decide not to call.

MELBER:  Did you have anyone check the legal authority for it?

BHARARA:  We discussed it amongst ourselves and thought it`s not a proper thing to do so we didn`t.  I think the interesting part of it was, that was an impulse that we had and ultimately decided the best thing to do was not to return the call unless we know what it`s about.

I returned the call of the secretary and said -- by the way, I did -- after also consulting with Jeff Sessions` chief of staff and said you agree with me, do you not, that it`s odd and inappropriate for me to have a direct conversation with the president.

MELBER:  And that`s important.  We can corroborate that because as you well know and our viewers may recall, the e-mails about your effort to check in with your own boss as a Trump DOJ corroborate this.  Did you get any guidance back that you thought was helpful or valid from them?

BHARARA:  Yes.  They were in total agreement.

MELBER:  So Trump`s own appointed DOJ folks said, "Yes, don`t call the president"?

BHARARA:  Yes, until you know what it`s about and until we can figure out whether it`s proper or not.  And again, by the way, this was not just for my protection.  This was for the protection of the president too.  Because if he was going to be making innocuous phone calls, at the time I didn`t have reason to think that there was a hundred percent chance he`s going to be saying something inappropriate.

I now have now a different view of that over time but it was for his protection also.  And then I think the department, his own appointed people realize this is not going to look good for the president.  If it looks like the president was reaching out -- as now we know he has done in other occasions, by telling Jim Comey once in a private conversation to lay off Michael Flynn, conversations he apparently had more recently with the acting attorney general Matt Whitaker about getting my successor to recuse him -- to unrecuse himself in the Michael Cohen case.

These are the kinds of conversations that have happened since and reporting that`s happened since that makes me more comfortable with the decision I made not to return the call.

MELBER:  Do you think there is strong evidence of the elements of obstruction on behalf of the president at this point in the public record?

BHARARA:  The way you ask that question, I would say yes, there`s -- I think there`s strong evidence based on the circumstances that I`m aware of.  I don`t know everything that Bob Mueller knows.  And I don`t know what other arguments have been made.

And I haven`t looked closely at the law as it relates to the particular things that they have found.  But yes, I think there`s good evidence.  Yes.

MELBER:  If defendants like Roger Stone or Rick Gates were, say, poor minorities charged in New York, where would they await trial?

BHARARA:  Well, depending on the circumstances, depending what they could put up, they might be incarcerated pending trial.

MELBER:  And a lot of poor people are.  And in New York, a lot of them are at Rikers.  You describe this in your book as a broken hell hole, set by violence, violating the rights of people who are just presumed innocent and awaiting their trial.

But more importantly, you`re not someone who is just criticizing this.  You have been working on this for some time.  And I want to revisit the conversation we had several years ago discussing Rikers.


BHARARA:  Some of the most vulnerable people in society, you mentioned them, are young people, 16, 17, 18-years-old who are thrown into Rikers Island.  And as we demonstrate in the report that we issued and further in the lawsuit that we brought against the city, some of them are treated very, very, very harshly and very poorly.


MELBER:  As a prosecutor who puts away bad guys, why was that important to you?  And is Rikers getting any better?

BHARARA: So those are both good questions.  I come -- I`ve come to believe that if you believe in a just and fair society -- and I talk about what I think justice means and fairness means in the book, It`s called doing justice, that the prosecutor must care about the prisoner in the same way that the rich must care about the poor, and the healthy must care about the sick, if that`s the kind of world we want to live in.

And I think it can be the case that you forget that the prosecutor`s job doesn`t necessarily end at the time of sentencing.  And the thing among the most proud of accomplishments of my office was bringing these lawsuits against the city of the Department of Corrections because Rikers Island was mistreating adolescents at an alarming rate, was using violence at an alarming rate.

MELBER:  I think it`s so important and in such a big part of your record which people may miss and yet it`s such an important area for reform.  We should note in some areas though Rikers violence rates risen by about nine percent, it seems to be an intractable problem.  Is there anything real concrete they should do right now?

BHARARA:  So there`s been a movement to consider shutting it down and starting fresh with a new culture.

MELBER:  But you`re saying it may be time for New York`s leaders to consider closing Rikers.

BHARARA:  Yes.  And I think people are discussing it.

MELBER:  You talk so much in the book about the import of judgment and being careful and being restrained.  And given the great powers you wield it.  But then in a medium that the president uses and where you are read more widely than perhaps a nonfiction book, we`ll look at some of the tweets which certainly kick around telling the president --

BHARARA:  Oh no.

MELBER:  You have the right to remain silent invoking the powers you once yielded that would be used against a criminal defendant -- and he`s not been charged with anything -- you yelled at him in all caps, get off my lawn to make fun of his all caps.

BHARARA:  Yes, but in response to what was his all caps.

MELBER:  You see it right there.  The rigged corrupt media is the enemy of the people.  And you replied get off my lawn.  And here`s one more.  Why do people think he keeps his promises?  #Sumacumliar, also about the president.  Why use that voice there when you stress care and consideration in these other mediums?

BHARARA:  Because I`m a private citizen and because it`s Twitter.  And you know, I had a Twitter -- I had the first Twitter account of any United Sates attorney in the country.  And go back and look at the Twitter account when I was the U.S. Attorney and I had a public office and had a responsibility and I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and I was a public figure.

Every single tweet was vetted by multiple people.  They didn`t go off in a barrage on Sunday morning during executive time, and I was very careful about it.  On Twitter, you can have some fun if you`re a private citizen.

The idea of comparing the ludicrous nonsense filled rapid-fire, obnoxious, you know, ethically challenged tweets that this president, the sitting president of the United States who oversees all the ethical structure, all the Department of Justice, all the rule of law apparati -- if that`s the plural of apparatus -- in the world is an interesting comparison.

So I think you know, every once in a while, I`ve said this on my podcast, stay tuned time and time again, we have this constant conversation with people who are on Twitter, is it a good forum, is it a  --is it a bad form.  And I think that a lot of good things that can happen on Twitter from time to time.  You can get carried away.  I don`t think any of those -- I don`t --

MELBER:  You stand by --

BHARARA:  I stand by those.

MELBER:  You stand by those tweets.  Do you think the President`s tweets are an embarrassment to the country?


MELBER:  Let me play one of your rock heroes.  You know, we do a little music around here.  This is a good shout out.  I`m just -- because I would -- anyone -- if Mike Pence --

BHARARA:  This might be my favorite thing here.

MELBER:  If Mike Pence got this shout out, I would report it and be happy for him.  I`m happy for you.  Bruce Springsteen at a show on Preet.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, SINGER:  This is for Preet Bharara.  One, two, three!


MELBER:  That begins our lightning round.

BHARARA:  Can we -- can we play that a few more time?

MELBER:  Favorite Bruce Springsteen song.

BHARARA:  Thunder Road.

MELBER:  Best venue to see Bruce at live.

BHARARA:  There, Stanford, Connecticut.

MELBER:  Best Bruce lyric that applies to life or law.

BHARARA:  Poor man want to be rich, rich men want to be king, king isn`t satisfied until he rules everything.

MELBER:  How about that?

BHARARA:  It`s not bad.

MELBER:  That`s really solid.  This is why you watch Preet Bharara.  We`re going to do now lightning round in one word.


MELBER:  Or as close to one word as you can.  Describe your old boss Eric Holder.

BHARARA:  Committed.

MELBER:  Your old boss Loretta Lynch.

BHARARA:  Dedicated.

MELBER:  Your predecessor Rudy Giuliani.

BHARARA:  Changed.

MELBER:  Your old boss Chuck Schumer.

BHARARA:  Hardest-working man in show business.

MELBER:  Your deputy from that same SDNY office Joon Kim.

BHARARA:  Great man Robert.  This is not hard.

MELBER:  Robert Mueller.

BHARARA:  I`m trying to get the right word because I have a lot of words for Robert Mueller, hero.

MELBER:  Andrew Cuomo.


MELBER:  We don`t do passes in a lightning round, Preet.

BHARARA:  He`s the governor.

MELBER:  President Donald Trump.

BHARARA:  He`s the president.

MELBER:  And our last question is our most ridiculous but it does come from our research of you, your son according to you after looking at some of your tweets said daddy your rapper name is Just Ice, why?

BHARARA:  Somebody had tweeted, you know, Preet, what`s your rapper name?  And I thought it would be an interesting thing to discuss with the family.  Some people got upset that like why are you tweeting from the dinner table.  But I was trying to interest my teenage children in a conversation with their boring father.  So this is might be an interesting thing to talk about.

And we came with various names.  We`re not -- they`re not very good and my son looks up and he says Just Ice which is a play on justice, which is also in the title of my book.

MELBER:  And the book is --

BHARARA:  Doing Just Ice.

MELBER:  Doing Just Ice -- I didn`t know I was reading the book this whole time.

BHARARA:  It`s Doing Justice.

MELBER:  I`m so embarrassed.

BHARARA:  Which is -- which is a form of drug intake apparently.

MELBER:  The book is Doing Just Ice or Doing Justice: The Prosecutors Thoughts On Crime Punished from the Rule of Law.  It comes out today.  Thank you for coming here, Preet.

BHARARA:  Thanks, Ari.

MELBER:  I appreciate it.  We just covered a lot of news including Preet Bharara just telling me about how he considered secretly taping Donald Trump in his defense of Ro Rosenstein.  Nick Akerman is here with a lot of analysis and reaction when we come back.


MELBER:  The former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York telling MSNBC tonight he considered secretly recording President Trump after President Trump`s repeated phone calls to the prosecutor.  This was the interview we just conducted.  The sitting federal prosecutor Preet Bharara moved to consider well we should note is an extraordinary act taping a sitting president without his knowledge, showing concern that was evident in multiple prosecutor`s minds at the DOJ when Trump first took office.

And we want to note this news that we just broke does echo he`s explosive account of another DOJ official Rod Rosenstein who had discussed recording Trump after a different firing of James Comey.  Everyone remembers how that account seemed to rattle DOJ and we should point out Rosenstein largely pushed back.  He said any comment attributed to him was essentially sarcastic.

Well, tonight, Bharara disputed that account.  You just saw it if you`re watching THE BEAT.  He told me that he thinks Rod Rosenstein was dead serious and it would be reasonable to consider taping President Trump. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BHARARA:  In that moment, we actually considered -- and it sounds not as crazy as it did back then because now we know about Michael Cohen recording the President and Omarosa recording the President.  We considered it.  And we have this competing --

MELBER:  You considered what?

BHARARA:  Taping the president in that phone call.

MELBER:  You considered recording the president when -- if you had called him back.  Yes.  Because I want to make sure because I had a certain amount of mistrust.  It was an odd phone call to be making.  It would be my word against him if he decides to say something inappropriate.


MELBER:  I`m joined by former federal prosecutor Nick Akerman.  What did you think of Mr. Bharara`s views there?

NICK AKERMAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  I totally agree with him.  I mean, I think if I`d been in that same position, I would have felt the same way.  When you`re a prosecutor, I guess when you`re always looking for the best evidence that`s out there, it`s a tape recording.  And if you want to protect yourself and make sure that you can prove what happened, it`s a tape recording.  And it`s something that we used in the U.S. Attorney`s Office all the time.

MELBER:  Did you ever tape any of your supervisors?

AKERMAN:  Never.

MELBER:  Did you ever tape any of your subordinates?

AKERMAN:  Never.

MELBER:  So it is something you use more against subjects than against the normal colleagues.

AKERMAN:  That`s right.  Normally you use it when you have a cooperating witness that you`re going to have go out there you want to make you can corroborate them because normally these corroborating witnesses have criminal backgrounds.

MELBER:  What did you think of Bharara not only defending the judgment attributed to Rod Rosenstein but going farther than Mr. Rosenstein who is currently still in the Trump administration and saying no, I bet Rod was serious.

AKERMAN:  That very well could be, although you don`t know.  I mean, Rod Rosenstein was in a totally different atmosphere, very much like I experienced after Archibald Cox, the Watergate prosecutor was fired where people just vented, sat around the table for a day.  I may remember this happening.  And people came up with all kinds of crazy things.

I could understand how that might happen in the Rosenstein situation.  But this one I can also understand where you`re sort of being played by the president, by Trump, who`s calling you up.  I mean, what possible good motive does he have to be calling you on a regular basis?  I mean this is unheard of.

MELBER:  Unheard of.  He mentioned that he never heard from President Obama who literally appointed him to that powerful post to begin with.  What do you say though to the critics of the Justice Department and the career prosecutors who point to Rosenstein`s remark which is part of why he backed off the alleged remark, or this account and say this shows they`re out to get Donald Trump?

AKERMAN:  I don`t think it`s out to get Donald Trump at all.  I think the concern was the Donald Trump is out to get them in some way.  And I think that certainly Preet Bharara`s reaction was to try and protect himself.  I mean, I think that was obvious.  It`s even unusual when the Attorney General calls the U.S. Attorney.

MELBER:  Right.  I mean, it`s just -- it`s so huge and that`s such an interesting piece.  Also curious your view as a prosecutor, you Bharara, all these folks are known for putting people in jail.  What did you think of his rather unusual call to say Rikers Island has gotten so bad it should be shut down.

AKERMAN:  Well, I think he`s right.  But you know what`s interesting?  There`s one person in the Trump administration who may wind up there and that is Paul Manafort.  If Donald Trump pardons Paul Manafort and then he has to stand trial for the charges in New York which he`s just been indicted on, he`ll be sitting in Rikers Island awaiting trial.

MELBER:  Right.

AKERMAN:  So the irony --

MELBER:  And that`s a -- that`s a rough place.

AKERMAN:  That`s right, it`s a tough place.

MELBER:  He had said he was getting VIP treatment elsewhere.  Look, a lot in that interview I wanted to get some of your reaction.  Nick Akerman, thank you for being here twice in one night.

AKERMAN:  Thank you.

MELBER:  Up ahead, there`s the other big news Rod Rosenstein saying he will remain at DOJ.  Speculation, that could have implications for Bob Mueller.  While Elizabeth Warren is calling to eliminate the electoral college, a lot of stuff to get to with the former Acting Solicitor General of the United States Neal Katyal when we come back.


MELBER:  And we`re back with a very special guest Neal Katyal who wrote the special counsel rules at the DOJ as former Acting Solicitor General and has many other legal accolades.  Good evening.


MELBER:  As you may have heard, there are legal scholars running for president these days, and that makes for interesting ideas.  Check out what Senator Elizabeth Warren pushed just last night.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, my view is that every vote matters.  We can have national voting and that means get rid of the electoral college.


MELBER:  Can we get rid of the electoral college?  Should we?

KATYAL:  So you know, I had the office next to Elizabeth Warren when I taught at Harvard Law School and she`s a very smart person and I think on this she`s right.  So the electoral college I think there`s two problems with it.  One is it sorted history.  Its roots are literally the roots of slavery.  That`s where the electoral college arose from back in 1787 as part of the great compromise and other things.  And it`s really was designed at its founding to be about protecting slavery.  So it`s one problem as the sorted routes.

And the second is where we are today as a country.  Where we are today as a country, Ari, is not thinking about ourselves as Coloradans or Marylanders or whatever but as United States citizens first and foremost.  And the electoral colleges I think something that unfortunately splinters the country part.  It gives lots of weight to a few states, not as much to others, and it`s a system that I think it`s time has come and passed and it`s time to get it reformed.

MELBER:  So you basically draw out the history that it was to perpetuate white power and a structure based on slavery.  It also seems fairly bonkers for a democracy, a self-proclaimed world leader on democracy to have the system that seems to routinely result in the runner-up becoming president right?

KATYAL:  Not routinely.  It`s still a rare thing.  But yes, it obviously happened with President Trump who likes to pretend that he has some sort of popular mandate.

MELBER:  I take -- professor, I will take -- I`ll take your correction.  You`re right.  I over-spoke.  Not routinely but of the last four presidents, the two of them at one point were elected this way.

KATYAL:  Yes.  So it`s a real -- you know, I think the recent history points to a real damaging thing about the Electoral College which is it really does have impact you know.  It`s one thing if it just seemed like this quirky thing from back in 1787, it doesn`t matter to us today.  But you know, as the recent election shows, it matters hugely.

I mean, President Trump lost the popular vote, and now he`s careening around pretending that he somehow want it.

MELBER:  What does it mean that we see these reports initially That Rod Rosenstein was going to stay on the job until Mueller finished.  Now he`s staying on the job but we don`t know if there`s a link.

KATYAL:  Yes.  I mean, we keep on hearing predictions of Rod Rosenstein`s demise.  He`s going to leave, he`s going to resign.  You know, when the wiretap stuff came out about him possibly taping the president, he was going to resign the next day.  This is kind of like the Mueller report.  I mean, we`re told that`s going to happen the next day, the next week, or so on, and it doesn`t happen.

So you know, it just underscores the basic you know, truth which I live by which is you know, don`t predict the future.

MELBER:  You`re saying this is the H.R. version -- this is the HR version of Mueller report speculation?

KATYAL:  Exactly.  Exactly.

MELBER:  I know that you are waiting to come on and so we had a lengthy back-and-forth that I know you saw some of with former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara.  I`m just curious if anything that he said jumped out at you.

KATYAL:  Yes.  I mean, the one thing that jumped out at me was that he had thought about recording a conversation with the President of the United States and he was saying so had Rod Rosenstein.  And that`s pretty remarkable because you know, I`ve had a bunch of different jobs at the Justice Department.  I have to say was it`d be unthinkable to record my superior.

Just like -- you couldn`t tell me something that I would believe less than that.  And I know Rod and I know Preet, and I suspect they have the exact same bones in their body about this.  So the idea that these two men and you just heard Preet break this on your show for the first time to my knowledge, that Preet said I`m worried enough about this that I have to record -- possibly record the president.  That just tells you all you need to know about the President of the United States.

MELBER:  It is remarkable.  And you mentioned, I hadn`t heard him lay it out with this detail and getting Rosenstein involved.  He alluded to it I think on his podcast when he had initially spoken about leaving.  The book which I just finished really doesn`t deal with this section.  So as he`s now talking to folks, were getting more details, he also sort of said he thinks Rod walked back off something that he actually was serious about.

KATYAL:  Yes.  So I mean, all of this I think is fodder for further discussion but I think tonight`s news is -- that you broke is really significant because this is another window into what is Donald Trump really like behind closed doors.

MELBER:  Right, and what moved people to this degree.  Neal Katyal, thank you as always.

KATYAL:  Thank you.

MELBER:  We`re going to be back with one more thing looking at updates to these Democratic probes in Congress.



REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  I`m encouraged by how much information we`re getting, how many people are responding.  A lot of people have responded.  A lot of entities have responded.  Some have said that they`re going to, that they want to work with us.  Some have said they will respond if we give them a subpoena.  And we`ve got responses from surprising people like for instance Steve Bannon.  We sent a few thousand documents.


MELBER:  Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler right there talking to our own Rachel Maddow about the cooperation that they say they`re getting from these probes.  Now, there are new details coming in today on the Judiciary Committee`s demands for the information sent to a number that`s become a little famous at least among those who follow these things, the 81 Trump associates that range from the people you just heard like Steve Bannon to organizations, to Julian Assange.

Politico now has account and says they`ve obtained more than 3,000 pages from Trump Inaugural chairman Tom Barrack alone.  More than 2,000 as you just heard there from Bannon, as well as other voluntary submissions from the NRA and former Trump aide George Papadopoulos, all interesting leads.

Before I let you go, let me tell you tomorrow on THE BEAT, we`ve got some great guests including Professor Melissa Murray, Elie Mystal on New York prosecutions and Sam Seder.  That`s our show.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.