2020 Democrats debate progressive ideas. TRANSCRIPT: 3/20/19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Melissa Murray, Elie Mystal, Sam Seder, Todd Gitlin, BrittneyCooper, Glenn Kirchner, Liz Plank

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  See, I knew you do what all of that meant.  Happy spring.

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

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

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Happy spring, Chuck.  I have one item before you go.

TODD:  Yes, sir.

MELBER:  I know you don`t know what I`m about to say.

TODD:  I do not.

MELBER:  I haven`t discussed with this you but you and your "MEET THE PRESS" team just won a Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.  Congratulations.  I know it was for your coverage --

TODD:  That was --

MELBER:  -- on climate change.  I actually pulled -- our team pulled a clip from your award-winning piece.  Take a look.

TODD:  Thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  We`re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it.  The earth is getting hotter and human activity is a major cause, period.  We`re not going to give time to climate deniers.  The science is settled, even if the political opinion is not.  And we`re not going to confuse weather with climate.  A heat wave is no more evidence that climate change exists than a blizzard means that it doesn`t, unless the blizzard hits Miami.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Congratulations to you guys and that`s such an important topic to dig into.

TODD:  Much appreciated.  You know, Ari, when you have an award with Cronkite`s name on it, it does mean a little extra something to you, I have to say.

MELBER:  Sure.

TODD:  This one means a lot.  And the whole staff, we worked really hard on that show, so it`s kind of nice to see it noticed.

MELBER:  Yes, I bet.  I mean he`s probably someone you may have looked up to.

TODD:  No.  It`s just the whole thing, to get -- like I said to have the -- to have it acknowledged by the folks who give out a Cronkite Award does give it that -- you feel like, you know, the whole goal was, in this day and age, say what you see, right?

MELBER:  Right.

TODD:  This is on everything we do.  Whether it`s climate change, whether it`s Donald Trump, whether it`s the Democratic Party, stop rounding the edges.

And you know, we`ve -- look, we`ve all rounded the edges over the years when we`ve reported certain things.  I think this straightforwardness is, say what you see.  And that`s the bottom line.

MELBER:  And then people could do what they want with the facts.

TODD:  Exactly.

MELBER:  Congrats to you and your whole team.  I know you`re proud of everyone who worked on it.

TODD:  I am.  Thank you, Ari.

MELBER:  Thank you, sir.

TODD:  Yes, brother.

MELBER:  We turn now to tonight`s news.  We have several big stories in this show.  Now, we`re not covering President Trump attacking the family members of his own aides or disrespecting the late Senator John McCain.  Those are stories that Donald Trump clearly wants everyone to focus on.

We haven`t covered those here on THE BEAT this week and we`re not covering tonight.  Instead, we have some stories tonight on the Trump administration cracking down on key protections for victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery.  We have a report on how ideas for radical reform are going mainstream in the current political moment and what that means.

And we begin right now with a topic that Donald Trump often tries to overshadow with those other antics that I mentioned.  The topic is the grinding progress in the Mueller probe, as Trump`s closest advisers, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, await their next trials.  And as Washington remains on edge over where Mueller is headed and if he`s nearly finished or if his prosecutors are busy with the press of other work.

That`s the reason one prosecutor sided for a delay in a different case.  Whatever Mueller does next, the facts show he has already produced one of the most effective far-reaching probes into a White House in history.  Six Trump advisors already indicted in just over two years, a higher rate, as you see here, than literally most other presidential investigations.

And as Manafort awaits another trial in New York, Mueller has also scored one of the longest prison sentences stacked against any other probe again of any White House.  So keep that factual record in mind right now.

This historic indictment rate, as you witness Donald Trump`s new claim today, that he welcomes any new report or information from Bob Mueller, even if it might further implicate Trump`s team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Do you think the public has a right to see the Mueller report?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don`t mind.  I mean, frankly, I told the House, if you want, let them see it.  Let it come out.  Let people see it.

That`s up to the attorney general.  We have a very good attorney general.  He`s a very highly respected man.  And we`ll see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Everyone knows good cop, bad cop.  This is kind of good president, bad attorney general.  Donald Trump now claiming he`s fine with the public report, but it`s the other guy who will decide and maybe he`ll decide something that`s unpopular.  Maybe that other guy, that bad attorney general, I`m saying colloquially like bad cop, will decide not to release Mueller`s findings.

You`ll note this is the exact same spin that President Trump used about whether he would sit for a Mueller interview in the first place.  He claimed in the Rose Garden that he was game, only his lawyers, bad cop, might hold him back.

Donald Trump, as you probably know, never actually stepped up to face Mueller one like, say, President Clinton, who did face questions after a long battle, or President Bush who faced Prosecutor Pat Fitzgerald after a negotiation that he would do it face-to-face, but not under oath.

And Donald Trump is also bringing up today the last time he did talk to Bob Mueller face to face.

TRUMP:  The day before he was retained to become special counsel, I told him he wouldn`t be working at the FBI.  And then the following day, they get him for this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  That`s actually interesting when you think about it.  Why is Donald Trump talking about this right now today?  And I want to be clear, we were just talking to Chuck about what`s true and what`s not. It is true that Donald Trump asked Bob Mueller to come on down to the White House in those hectic days right after he`d fired James Comey and that Mueller reportedly showed little-to-no interest in that job.

And then in that same week, Rod Rosenstein was urgently searching for someone with the statute to be the special counsel to investigate collusion in the wake of this firing and Rod landed on Bob.  And that was a full 22 months ago.  And Mueller and Trump haven`t faced each other since.

The closest Mueller has come in person to Donald Trump was probably this now-famous chance overlap between Mueller and the president`s son at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.  That`s Don Junior in the hat.

Now, why does the president have his last face-to-face meeting with Bob Mueller on his mind today?  And will Bob Mueller end his probe without any further indictments?  And why is the president emphasizing someone else, Bill Barr, will decide whether to release Mueller`s findings?

Well, to put a twist on a classic piece of wisdom from Christopher Wallace, if you don`t know, now you don`t know.  Because I`m going to be honest with you, only Mueller knows tonight what comes next and only Trump knows why he`s going down memory lane and hedging his bets on his newly installed attorney general.

Let me bring in a power panel, NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray.  Elie Mystal, executive editor of "Above The Law" and a man who is infatuated with the Southern District of New York.  And Sam Seder, host of "The Majority Report" radio show and a student of many White Houses, including several Republican White Houses.

Why do you think, first and foremost, Donald Trump is reminiscing about the last time he was eyeball-to-eyeball with Bob Mueller?

MELISSA MURRAY, LAW PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY:  This is straight out of the Trump playbook, delegitimize everyone who has an opportunity to delegitimize you.  So if you make it sound like there was some kind of cozy relationship with Mueller and then Mueller becomes the special counsel and then drops this report, suddenly there`s a huge base that already is ready to discredit the Mueller report, who has an even bigger reason to do so now.

ELIE MYSTAL, EDITOR, ABOVE THE LAW:  Yes, I think that`s right.  I mean his whole game is to move the goalpost.

He wants to make it seem like we`re waiting for Mueller to update Wikipedia as opposed to potentially bring indictments against him and his family.  So he`s just trying to move the goalpost to some other place in the future.

MELBER:  But that`s a mood thing.  I mean what you`re hitting on is there`s all the evidence in the law.  I just went through some of it.  People should know the indictment rate.

It`s pretty bad-looking, although it doesn`t mean that Donald Trump did anything criminally wrong.  We have to wait and see.

MYSTAL:  Right.

MELBER:  But what you`re talking about is the mood.  Forget all the facts.  The mood is, oh, Bob Mueller is just some guy and he`s got some report.  Does that really work?

MYSTAL:  Yes.  I mean I -- you`re saying it exactly right.  We don`t know and I`m not trying to come up here and lie and say like I`m not, you know, friends with Bob Mueller.

 But it feels like something must might have happened with Bill Barr because there`s a -- because when Trump kind of explodes like this and there`s been this recent change in the person in charge of the entire Justice Department, I wonder if Barr said something, some kind of conversation, something happened, that made Trump kind of even more head up and worried about the upcoming report.

SAM SEDER, HOST, THE MAJORITY REPORT:  Or maybe more confident in some respects, that it could be coming.  But again, it`s not going to be my decision as to someone not seeing it.

I mean I think from the beginning, this has been a political process, right?  Because there is at least within the White House, I think a confidence that no one can bring an indictment against the president.  And so, this is a political process and Donald Trump plays to his base.

And in some respects, in the same way, that he hopes that the attorney general is going to give him cover.  He`s giving cover for the Republicans in the Senate, because it`s up to them, ultimately, if they basically say, like, there`s a problem here.

And as long as Donald Trump is out there fomenting this, I guess, skepticism amongst his base, those senators in the -- those Republican senators in the Senate, they`re protected.

MYSTAL:  Misinformation, amongst his base.

SEDER:  Right.

MURRAY:  Fake news.

MYSTAL:  Yes.  But I think the other issue here is that I think you`re exactly right, Trump is very confident he cannot be indicted, but I still come back to the kids.  I don`t see how this ends without really dealing with his children.

His children have not been interviewed, they can be indicted, we don`t know if they will be or not.  I don`t see how any of this ends without Mueller either interviewing the children or indicting the children.

MELBER:  Well, the children may have one of the better defenses of anyone mixed up in some of these meetings you probably shouldn`t have gone to, which is, "I don`t know what I`m doing."  That`s a defense, which is different than, I`m here to commit, Melissa, an overt act as part of a conspiracy.  Those are different things.

MURRAY:  Those are very different things.  And I think this is a group of individuals whose especially well-suited to launch an ignorance defense.  That said, there are some telling tidbits that have come out over the course of this investigation that lean more toward a concerted effort to do things that would help out dad rather than just mere ignorance.

And I think that really might be the worry.  And even if he`s not going to be indicted, and he may well run again so he can`t be indicted for another four years, if that`s the possibility, but I do think the children are ones that could be implicated and incriminate.

MELBER:  And Sam, what candidate or president hasn`t said at one point or another, I want to run for office, not only to serve, not only to try to connect with the American people, go around the country and meet them, but to try to run out the statute of limitations on my criminal liability?

SEDER:  Right.  I`m afraid of those handcuffs, as I attempt to walk on that helicopter and fly away.  I mean, the thing about the kids, though, we`re presuming that their jeopardy lies only with the Mueller investigation.  But I think that anything that we`ve seen in the past couple of weeks --

MELBER:  hold on.  Who`s we?  Who`s we?  I know "we" doesn`t include this guy.  Do you ever watch THE BEAT?

SEDER:  I do.  I do.

MELBER:  Elie Mystal -- I`m going to let you finish and then he`s going to potentially respond, you`ll decide.  Elie Mystal is obsessed with the criminal liability in New York and why were these materials redacted this week if not for an open investigation that involves crimes, that involve the Trump Organization.

And I can say crimes there.  A viewer sometimes may say, I`m still parsing.  I can say crimes there, because there`s a confessed 2016 election crime involved in the 2016 actions by the Trump Organization and fraudulent checks.

SEDER: Right.  Well, I mean that`s the point.  As you know, Cy Vance drops these indictments on the day that Manafort is getting sentenced and it comes out of the blue, right?

I mean who knows what else is in the wings?  Either the Southern District of New York or I mean theoretically, it could be the AG`s office in New York state, or out of the city.

So there`s -- and maybe there are other jurisdictions outside of New York.  I mean, so, it`s not just the Mueller probe that I think is -- that provides some jeopardy maybe for the rest of the organization around Donald Trump.

MYSTAL:  I mean this goes to a general point here.  The Mueller report, whenever it comes out, is not the end of these investigations into Donald Trump.  The Mueller report is actually the only way to be the beginning of further investigations.

I think one of the things that happened within the last hour or so is that Hope Hicks, Trump`s kind of personal pants ironer, she agreed to voluntarily turn over documents to the House Judiciary Committee, so like that`s happening.

MELBER:  Well, and she`s a serious professional who served in the government and served in the campaign and has not been accused of wrongdoing.  I think she`s a lot more than a pants ironer.

MYSTAL:  I don`t -- I feel that because she is turning over these documents, they mustn`t be very interesting, because one of the things that the House Democrats haven`t done -- and we don`t usually talk about like where the Democrats are on this.  But one of the things they haven`t done is that they haven`t issued subpoenas yet.

Right now, the Democrats are still in this kind of fantasy world where they`re playing nice and they`re like, oh, Mr. Trump, can you please give us your documents?

MELBER:  But that`s also the best legal strategy to go to court and not look too hectoring right out the gate.  I want to get all of you on the other news that we got, which is it has been fascinating to see career prosecutors basically come out over the months and say, we had to change the fundamental way we did our jobs when we got a sense of how Donald Trump was trying to cultivate us or even potentially improperly interfere.

Preet Bharara was here last night and he basically said Rod Rosenstein, he doesn`t think was joking.  And that it was reasonable and a potentially good idea to consider recording the president.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  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 has been a certain kind of conduct that happens.

And when you`re used to someone -- seeing someone tell untruths about what happens in a conversation and you care about your own integrity, I didn`t want anybody to say you had some side conversation with the president of the United States.  So we didn`t do that, ultimately.  We thought that was a bridge too far.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY:  I think this only goes to show how unorthodox this entire administration has been.  Like I mean everything has been unorthodox, from the way they came in, from the inauguration, how they set up the administration, and now this.

Like it`s not business as usual.  You`re dealing with a whole group of people who are more attuned to playing the New York real estate game than they are actually about the playing the game of government, right?

So this is, they don`t know how to do things by the book.  They`re uninterested in doing things by the book.  They don`t care about the book.  They know how to get things done in New York, brass knuckles, sharp elbows, but they don`t actually know how to abide by the rules.

And the reflection is that you see career prosecutors who have to play by the rules.  Actually, having to think about how far the rules might be expanded in order to accommodate the gross capaciousness, the expansiveness with which this administration runs itself.

MYSTAL:  Yes.  But this is why we fail, because Preet didn`t actually record him, right?  People keep -- they`re so desperate to go by the book that they keep not prevailing to understand that Donald Trump does not care about your stupid book.  And at some point --

MURRAY:  But the book still exists and will exist long after Donald Trump.  If we throw the book out now, we`re not going to have a government.  We`re going to have an autocracy.

And that`s the point that Preet is making.  You still have to abide by the book, even if this guy is not.

MELBER:  I think that`s an important debate you`re having.  I think it will continue.  There`s also a question of whether the book will exist or will the book be replaced by Twitter and no one will read anymore and our society will slowly but surely crumble.

That`s one of the questions.  I`m going to fit in a break.  Melissa, Elie, Sam, my thanks to each of you.

Coming up, exclusive news on a story that we broke right here on THE BEAT about the reporter who says "Fox News" buried her story in Trump hush money payments during the election.  Investigators in Congress could be very busy.  I`ll explain.

And my special report on Trump pardons and what happens when Mueller does turn in his findings.  We have a full breakdown.

And that`s not all.  Political candidates, you may have noticed, are embracing some ideas that used to be called radical from scrapping the electoral college to exploring new solutions to slavery.  We`re going to get into that with a very special set of guests.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  The emerging debate among Democratic candidates running to replace Donald Trump is increasingly described as moving to the left as the majority of candidates now agree on policies that were seen as really only for the most liberal challengers, even just a few cycles ago.

Democrats backing universal government health care, publicly funded tuition, government-backed childcare.  And while those are progressive policies, it might be too limiting to view these shifts on ideology alone.

The current political era also shows much more interest, I think you`ll agree, in big ideas that would require some sort of radical or systemic change.  Ending the electoral college, a historical product of slavery, or reforming voting rights fundamentally or changing how democracy works, or even changing the rules for how many people are allowed on the Supreme Court.

You may have heard about that this week.  That`s a change that America deemed a radical power grab when FDR once tried it.  But from Martin Luther King to Gloria Steinem, a lot of social justice reformers argue you have to change society`s premise of what`s possible before you get into the talk about ideology or policy.

Now, in a very different way, I think everybody knows Donald Trump tapped into some idea of disruption with his supporters.  He proudly breaks norms.

And today`s resistance organizers are not saying they should echo Trump.  Don`t get me wrong, and Twitter, don`t come for me.  But some are looking at this disruptive moment and saying there is a political courage and a radicalism that actually pre-dates Trump, which can capitalize on the mood of what are clearly unusual times with implications that could go way beyond any Democratic presidential primary.

To dig into this, we have two special guests, people who know a little something about radical movements.  Todd Gitlin was a leading activist in the 1960s, organizing with the famous Students for a Democratic Society, a protest movement that was a major part of the opposition to the Vietnam War and lumped in a lot of other big advocacy issues on racial justice and civil rights.  He teaches at Columbia University and is a well-known author.  Rutger`s Brittney Cooper is a scholar and author focusing on black feminism and other social movements.

Thanks to both of you for doing this.

BRITTNEY COOPER, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY:  Thanks for having me.

TODD GITLIN:  You bet.

MELBER:  There`s a lot going on in the world and in the news tonight.  And we don`t have to do this conversation and we could talk about the candidates straight up and we want to learn about them.  But you`re both here because I want to take the thesis I just laid out and ask you what you see out there.

COOPER:  So as you said, this fervent -- this ferment of social activity really comes about in all of the protests that have marked this decade of the 21st Century.  We began with Occupy.  We began with Arab Spring.  We moved on to the Movement for Black Lives.  And then we moved to the Women`s March.

And so there has been a push to the left.  And in fact, some of the election of Donald Trump is about a reaction to this perceived push in social movements for us to finally get progressive on racial issues, to finally get progressive on women`s issues.

And so now you have candidates who are using this opening.  What they see with Trump is that we are in a position as a nation where we have to make a choice which direction are we going to go.

Are we going to be a nation that does not embrace the future, that closes our borders, that becomes increasingly insular?  Or are we going to be a nation that really tries to strive for our highest democratic ideals?

GITLIN:  I think it`s not just a move to the left.  I think it`s a move toward taking the fight seriously.  I think the Democrats mostly think now that what was the consensus through the last two Democratic presidencies was mild, was meek, was easily cowed, was economically not progressive, was fearful, was worried too much about what Mitch McConnell would think or what Chuck Schumer would think, for that matter.

And the old consensus, the economic consensus is broken.  People are now not wanting to stand up to Trump.  That`s not necessarily left-wing, because most of the party, I think, would agree.  Women`s equality, yes.  Most of the party would agree that we need medical care to complete the Affordable Care Act process.

I think most Democrats and I think most of the country would agree that climate change is real and humanly caused and needs to be addressed forthrightly.  So this, I think, is a new -- is a moving of the center of the Democratic Party.

MELBER:  Right.  And Brittney, I don`t know if you ever heard this, but there are some people in American politics who say, slavery was a long time ago.  Why are we still talking about it?

And there are many answers, more than we`re going to get to in this segment.  But one reason is, we still pick our president based on a white power slavery system.

COOPER:  Absolutely.

MELBER:  Take a look at how mainstream it`s become for big Democratic Candidates to call for an end to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have to recognize that everybody did not start out on an equal footing in this country.  And in particular, black people have not.

JULIAN CASTRO, FORMER HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY:  This country should resolve its original sin of slavery through reparations, for people who are the descendants of slaves.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have to invest in those communities that have been so hurt by racism.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It`s time to start the national full-blown conversation about reparations in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER:  I love it.  Look, part of the challenge, if you think about the electoral college system, let`s remember that in the 21st Century, Republicans have only won the popular vote in one presidential election and that was 2004.

Democrats won the popular vote in 2000, 2008, and 2016.  And yet we have had half in half in terms of who actually gets to run the country.  And so there is an actual pragmatic reason that the Democratic Party needs to embrace removing the electoral college system, because the country is telling us that they might actually be more to the left than we think.

But because of entrenched power on the right, we can`t actually govern in ways that are progressive.  So that is the thing that makes me optimistic.  I`m less optimistic about the reparations conversation.  In part, because while this country certainly owes African-American people reparations, I think that we have to be very clear that this is not like cutting checks to individual black people, right?  But really is about investing in a set of social policies that try to rectify generational inequities.

And I think that while the country is progressive, as you say, Todd, on things like climate change and health care, or can be, folks become very upset when we start talking about racial justice issues.  And so I think we have more work and more building to do, so that people can think about what it means to rectify these old centuries` worth of injustice.

GITLIN:  Well, I think as Elizabeth Warren put it right.  She said it`s time to start the conversation.  I think most Americans don`t understand that a lot of the inequality, racial inequality in America is a matter of government policy in our lifetimes.

COOPER:  Right.

GITLIN:  This is not just from slavery.  This was a matter of government policy --

COOPER:  Right.

GITLIN:  -- about housing segregation, and so on.  But I think that it will be clear that the consensus position in the Democratic Party will be that a majority will want to see racial justice, but doesn`t want to feel that they are being taxed for it.  They want to see that it`s a matter of general good.

MELBER:  And they want to have a system here where these ideas are debated on their merits and not crowded out, I think, by an establishment that says, that`s not practical or that can`t win, because, again, they`re looking at a world where it`s like a lot of things that aren`t practical seem to be happening every day.

I would love to have you both back to continue this as we look at where it goes.

COOPER:  Absolutely.

MELBER:  Todd and Brittney, thanks to both of you.

Up ahead, an exclusive report on the story that we broke right here, the "Fox News" reporter will now be able to speak to Congress about alleged burying of a story that involved Michael Cohen`s crime in 2016.

But first, my special report on Bob Mueller and Donald Trump`s indicted allies and potential pardons when we`re back in 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  Bob Mueller`s racked up a historic number of indictments and his work isn`t done, meaning, anything could happen in the future.  But when Mueller`s findings do come through, that is when a lot of, historically, the big fights begin.

We know that at the end of this kind of special counsel probes, whether it is an appointed prosecutor or someone like Mueller who operates inside the DOJ, afterward, people in the president`s circle, a lot of other things tend to happen.  Another chapter.

The question is whether the president will use what is a lawful power, the power to pardon.  Consider that the new attorney general has in previous Republican administrations been involved in overseeing exactly that.  It was in 1992 that Bill Barr supported George H.W. Bush`s very controversial decision to pardon, count `em up, six different Reagan officials indicted throughout Iran-Contra.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A deal by the Reagan administration to free hostages in Lebanon, sell arms to Iran, and divert profits to the Nicaraguan Contras.  Today, it ended.  President Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger, accused of lying to Congress and five others in the scandal.  Bush called it an act of healing. The Iran-Contra prosecutor called it the completion of a cover-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In light of President Bush`s own misconduct, we are gravely concerned by his decision to pardon others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  That was controversial but at the time it was considered lawful.  Barr later discussed this saying I didn`t oppose any of them.  I favored the broadest.  And then he continued to say look, there were some people arguing just for Weinberger and that`s one of the people indicted.  And he said no, in for a penny, in for a pound.

It wasn`t of course just in that Bush-era that you had pardons after a probe.  This is pretty important as we look to whatever happens after Mueller finishes.  President Ford and Reagan, they pardoned three people related to Watergate of course including Nixon.  Bill Clinton pardon one person connected to Whitewater.  And George W Bush used his pardon power to commute Scooter Libby`s prison sentence when the Valerie Plame case was all done and finished.

He didn`t pardon him.  Bush basically thought that would be a bridge too far even for him and that was after his White House Counsel advised against it Libby had never even accepted responsibility for his crime.  Sound familiar?

Well, anyway, we also know that turned into a big fight.  Scooter Libby had been in Dick Cheney`s view a loyal aide and he was employing bush to go further and issue the full pardon.  President Bush never yielded which is pretty interesting when you think about how history looks back on these things.

Nobody thought Libby would ever get the full pardon.  And then years later Donald Trump who`s known to have feuded with the Bush family suddenly took this interest in the case and issued a full pardon for Libby for those obstruction crimes.

Why would Donald Trump pardon a Bush aide when again you have this antipathy towards the Bush family?  This is a really important context.  They ran each other -- against each other of course, in the primaries.  They didn`t support him when he ran in the general election.

Well, a lot of legal experts and frankly political experts close to the whole thing say the only thing that might override Trump`s distaste for you know, the people that he ran against like the McCains and the Bushs of the world that didn`t support him would be to send a message, a wider message in the Mueller probe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE:  It`s very clear that this is a message he is sending that you can commit crimes against national security and you will be pardoned.

NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST:  A pardoned for someone like Scooter Libby to prepare them for the pardoning of everybody in Donald Trump`s seemingly corrupt criminal enterprise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  That there`s a colleague who knows something about the Bush world as well.  Now, I want to be clear because we`re talking about this in the context of what the law is not what you might like it to be.  Presidents have this power to issue pardons and they can do almost anything with who they choose.

But that doesn`t mean there`s no such thing as the abuse of the pardon power.  You may have heard the phrase abuse of power.  This can include it.  President Nixon was accused quite credibly of dangling pardons before defendants to try to get them not to "rat on him as Trump would say.  His White House Counsel then warned him that itself could backfire and be part of a Cobra.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  You know, the Watergate hearings just over.  Hunt now demanding clemency or he`s going to blow, and politically it`d be impossible for you to do it. 

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  That`s right.

DEAN:  I`m not sure that you`ll ever be able to deliver on clemency.  It may be just too hot.

NIXON:  You can`t do it until after the `74 elections.  That`s for sure.  But even then, your point is that even then you couldn`t do it.

DEAN:  That`s right.  It may further involve you in a way you shouldn`t be involved in this.

NIXON:  No, it`s wrong.  That`s for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  It`s wrong.  That`s for sure.  That`s a sitting president talking about what he would be doing would be wrong on tapes that of course well, you`re hearing them, they later came out.  And do the House Democrats think?  They used that tape you just heard, that evidence, that pardon dangling against Nixon in their draft articles of impeachment saying he offered favored treatment in return for false testimony.

And that brings us back to today.  And what does President Trump want to do if he contemplates dealing with the end of a Mueller probe, these sitting indictments, and whether he wants to lawfully use the power or risk as Nixon did potentially abusing the power.

To get right into it, I want to bring in former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirchner.  Thanks for joining me.

GLENN KIRCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Thanks, Ari.

MELBER:  We don`t know if we are in the ninth inning or the eighth inning or the seventh inning but we have a lot of evidence we`re not in the first inning.  If Bill Barr oversees multiple pardons as he did in the Bush era, would that be perfectly fine?

KIRCHNER:  You know, it wouldn`t be perfectly fine.  It might be an authorized exercise of presidential power.  But I still maintain that if you grant a pardon for your own corrupt purposes to perhaps dissuade somebody from providing evidence that would incriminate you, it`s really not a lawful exercise of the pardon power.

MELBER:  And you know who you agrees with you?

KIRCHNER:  I`m sorry?

MELBER:  You know who agrees with you?

KIRCHNER:  Who?

MELBER:  Bill Barr.  Let`s take a look and get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT:  Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipients promised to not incriminate him.

BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  No, that would be a crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KIRCHNER:  I`m with Bill Barr.  And I know a lot of people already have taken this wait-and-see approach when it comes to Bill Barr.  I have been hopeful that Bill Barr is not the kind of person given his long career both in and out of government that is going to be willing to die on Trump Hill.

He knows Bob Mueller well, has known him for decades.  Their families are close.  And I can tell you I learned how to be a federal prosecutor from Bob Mueller to know the man is to respect him and to understand that his heart is absolutely in the right place and he stands squarely with the rule of law and the American people.

So I do look back at the Iran-Contra pardons, and that gives me pause.  I think it gives a lot of people pause.  But I think that was a different time and I`m not -- listen, as a career prosecutor, one thing I really don`t like is pardons because it undermines the hard work that law enforcement and prosecutors do to win righteous convictions.

But I think people might have looked at the Iran-Contra pardons as some -- now I don`t say I agree with this, but some Republicans who got caught up doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.  So maybe people could swallow those pardons.

I don`t think anybody can accuse this president of being a Republican doing the right thing for the wrong reasons so I am hopeful that Bill Barr will be the standup Attorney General that we all hope he will be, will give Mueller the leeway to do what he needs to do to finish things up, issue the report and let the American people see the results.

MELBER:  Former Federal Prosecutor Glenn Kirchner breaking it down, thank you.

KIRCHNER:  Thanks, Ari.

MELBER:  Later tonight, we have some exclusive reporting on the future of that NDA testimony, a story we`ve been breaking right here.  And up next, I want to show you why Donald Trump is wrong and hypocritical on human trafficking and what`s important in protections for these victims.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  Now, we turn to an important report the Trump administration might not want you to hear about.  This administration is cracking down on key protections for victims of human trafficking.  This is an international crisis that impacts 40 million victims annually they call it modern slavery.

And while the human rights and immigration rules are key here, President Trump has actually mostly invoked these victims as props for a wider immigration agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  (INAUDIBLE) could be human trafficking.  The come and they grab women, the grab -- they put tape over their mouths, they tie their hands, and they go right over that border.

They have tape over their mouths, electrical tape, usually blue tape as they call it, it`s powerful stuff.  Not good.

Women are tied up.  They`re bound, duct tape put around their faces, around their mouths, in many cases, they can`t even breathe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  The President gives those speeches and has used related powers of his office to draw attention to this issue.  He declared January is national slavery and human trafficking Prevention Month.  He also created an interagency task force on this issue.

Now, with the right policy, those other steps could be constructive.  But tonight, I`m reporting for you on the fact that the Trump administration`s actual policies and protections for these victims are lacking and that has more impact of course than words.

Let me mention one basic point as well.  Protecting victims of sex trafficking isn`t historically in America been an ideological issue.  Administrations from both parties have recognized these people, foreign- born people seeking asylum as worthwhile candidates for something called a Human Rights T Visa.  And it provides victims a safe haven and potential work in the U.S.  Yet President Bush create a version of this visa and President Obama continued it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  One of the ways traffickers keep women and girls in slaves is by telling them they will be arrested and deported if they try to run away.  We`re removing that tool of coercion by treating the victims of trafficking not as illegal aliens but as refugees.  They should find the protection and generous heart of America.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`re working to simplify visa procedures for T Visas so that innocent victims from other countries can stay here as they help us prosecute their traffickers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER:  Over the last decade, more than two-thirds of those applications have been approved.  Those people that Bush said our people, not illegal aliens, well a lot of them got visas.  And since taking office, the Trump administration is reversing this trend.  Take a look at the rate of visa approvals for trafficking victim applicants since 2014.

Down to 60 percent in Trump`s first year in office and now falling all the way to 43 percent last year.  You see the trendline.  This is a major drop.  And since 2005, visa denials remained rather steadily after an uptick in 2015.  Last year you had more applicants denied visas than any year since 2005.

So the result is you have the number of approved visas hitting under Trump this seven year low.  And that`s not all.  A backlog of pending applicants doubling from two years earlier to a record high.  Translation, the problems getting worse and the Trump administration is getting worse in dealing with the problem.

And it goes beyond visas.  Look at this.  Last November, the Trump administration put out a notice telling these victims they might have to go through deportation proceedings in immigration court if they`re denied their visas.  So if the victims do apply for help and they`re denied which you can see is more likely, they`re not lawfully in the U.S.  They can face this additional punishment.

This is a fear tactic that actually Bush was speaking about in 2004.  How traffickers use the fear of that deportation to prevent these victims again, these millions of global victims of sex trafficking from ever running away in the first place.

The New Yorkers reported on this and talks about authorities ask that the victims provide further proof they were trafficked in order to qualify for protections.  And when it comes to prosecuting the traffickers, the Washington Post reporting in 2017, new cases opened by the DOJ against the traffic was falling from the previous year.

Putting an end to human trafficking has always been a bipartisan goal since as I mentioned these policies got going and Trump has claimed to be a crusader.  But we`ve been showing you here how he`s working against these victims.

Now, we did reach out and we got USCIS responding to this, that those who are denied a T Visa are summoned to court on a case-by-case basis they say.  The Trump administration telling us they can appeal negative decisions and they still have their right to due process.  And we want to include as always their view of these facts.

But Donald Trump`s desire to clamp down on the border is sidelining these people who are actually suffering some of the worst crimes known to man in the world.  And again it`s not Democrats or Republicans with different views about the wider immigration debate which is a big debate.

It is Donald Trump not protecting these victims and then using their own horrific stories to push his separate agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER:  The nab women, the grabbed them.  They put tape over their mouth.

Electrical tape, usually blue tape as they call it, it`s powerful stuff.  Not good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER:  The problem is powerful but the facts indicate President Trump is actually undercutting the very protections for those victims that he keeps invoking his props.  Presidents of both parties have long stood united in this basic human rights policy and we are talking about people about potential immigrants who suffered unimaginable tragedies seeking, I think it`s fair to say this, seeking one of the best things that America can offer at least on its best day, protection and asylum for the needy.

That protection, those visas matters a heck of a lot more to I think those people than any political speech.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  Breaking news and we have an exclusive update to a story we`ve been reporting on.  The former Fox reporter who claims that the network spiked her big story on Stormy Daniels helping Trump basically avoid a bad story during the 2016 election, well, that reporter has begun cooperating directly with Congressional investigators.

Sources are telling us former Fox reporter Diana Falzone has now turned over at least some documents that had been requested by the Democratic Chair of the House Oversight Committee.  And she will soon schedule an interview which means she`ll talk to them about what happened.

I`ll notice we have before that Fox News has denied her claims on the record.  Liz Plank joins me.  She`s host of Vox Media`s Consider It and has been on the Stormy Daniels reporting from the beginning on this show.

LIZ PLANK, HOST, VOX MEDIA:  Yes.  I call my job the Stormy Daniels Beat.  That`s how I want to be referred to.

MELBER:  That and more.  NDA`s are controversial but they are not all the same, and there can be employees who have an NDA that doesn`t imply any untoward conduct.  Well, what do you think about this step where this report is still bound by the India with Fox News but Elijah Cummings is apparently -- we may not learn but he`s going to learn what she says happened.

PLANK:  Right, absolutely.  Look, NDA`s have as you know a purpose but NDA`s for journalists I think are actually bad for journalism as an entity.  It`s bad for journalists and I also think it`s bad for the you know, American public because there`s a lot of information that they have a right to know about that they might not know about if these NDA`s continue to go on in media.

I also would be remiss if I didn`t mention the comedic timing of Donald Trump calling Kellyanne Conway, the husband from hell -- husband from hell the day that we you know, might become clear -- it might become clear that Donald Trump actually paid off to women he had affairs with to prevent that information from leading to his wife and asked Michael Cohen to lie about it to his wife.  It`s pretty -- isn`t it ironic don`t you think?

MELBER:  Alanis?

PLANK:  Morissette, because I`m Canadian, I have to bring up Canadian artists.  Yes.  I think it`s ironic that he`s calling Kellyanne Conway`s husband the husband from hell when Donald Trump -- it may become clear that he should be getting the husband of the year award.

MELBER:  What do you think of Nancy Erika Smith who is Falzone`s lawyer and was a lawyer for other Fox former employees including Gretchen Carlson.  She seems to be -- and she`s appeared on the show, no secret, but she seems to be finding different ways to push back within the law at what Fox has tried to do with non-disclosure by definition is keeping secrets.

PLANK:  Right.  And it`s not just Falzone`s lawyer, we also have Stormy Daniel`s lawyer who you know, went on the record who has the receipts saying at least from his account that the you know, Fox News reporter reached out with the amount with the corporate names and even with the dates of the affair so there was a lot of information that the reporter knew about and that would have you know been enough to be a story I think for a lot of editors -- from a lot of editors perspectives.

And so and so yes, it`s not just from Diana Falzone`s point of view that we`re going to be hearing this, it`s also I think from Stormy Daniels` lawyer as well.

MELBER:  Right.  And as you say, all of that comes together to find out how many different entities were burying this or not and if the Cohen part was illegal was anything else big.  I mean, that`s the part that goes why it`s bigger than a so-called media story.

Liz Plank, thanks for coming through.

PLANK:  Thank you, Ari.

MELBER:  And up ahead, a revelation about Jared and Ivanka Trump before we go.  That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER:  We covered a lot of ground it felt like tonight including looking at the way the Trump Administration is undercutting those protections I mentioned for victims of sex trafficking.  It`s one of the many stories that goes to how the Trump Administration does messaging versus looking at what they`re actually doing.

In that vein, I`ll tell you that tomorrow the journalist and author Vicki Ward will join us to talk about the special aide that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner rule in the west wing.  She argues as a journalist they are actually "more dangerous than most imagined."

We`ll also be joined by a friend of the show Art Of The Deal Co-Author Tony Schwarz and we`ll have anything that happens of course in Washington or Mueller land tomorrow as well.

That does if for THE BEAT.  Thanks as always for spending some time with us.  We`ll be back at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. But don`t go anywhere, because "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

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