IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Sen. Cory Booker on The Beat. TRANSCRIPT: 3.25.19, The Beat w/ Ari Melber.

Guests: Eric Holder; Gene Rossi; Jay Sekulow; Cory Booker

CHUCK TODD, HOST, MTP DAILY:  Well, that`s all we`ve got for today.  It`s been quite the 96 hours and it`s going to be quite the week up ahead.  Thanks for watching.  I really appreciate it.  I hope you watch tomorrow.

In the meantime, "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening and welcome to a special edition of THE BEAT from Washington on the first workday since the Mueller probe ended with no chargeable collusion and an open question on whether Donald Trump obstructed justice.

My exclusive guest tonight is former Attorney General Eric Holder who served under President Obama and is on THE BEAT tonight for his first interview since the Mueller probe ended.  Thank you for being here.


MELBER:  Before we get to your assessment of all this, what does it mean that this probe ended with 37 indictments?  What did they find?  What did they not find?

HOLDER:  Well, they certainly found -- the headline is that the campaign was not colluding with Russia.  But I think it also found, very significantly, that the Russians in two ways tried to influence our election, both through the use of social media and through hacking.

And, you know, that, Ari, takes me back to Helsinki.  That is a consistent finding with what the intel community has been telling the president over these many, many months.  And I think about him standing there in Helsinki, in spite of the fact that he had this information from the intel community and essentially saying that I believe this guy, and pointing at Vladimir Putin, as opposed to the people who are sitting in front of me, the intelligence community.

Bob Mueller has really put in terms that are not intel speak a very compelling case, that the Russians, in fact, did that which Donald Trump has seen so reluctant to admit.

MELBER:  Does the lack of the conspiracy indictment clear Donald Trump of collusion?

HOLDER:  I think it does.  I mean on the basis of what I have seen.  I have not seen the Mueller report.  But certainly, on the basis of the letter that Attorney General Barr put together, it would seem to me that that is a substantial finding there.  And I think it`s good news for, you know, for the president and for his campaign.

MELBER:  Good news for the president.  Now, before we turn to obstruction, let`s talk about the letter.  All we have today is the four-page Barr letter, not the Mueller report.  What does it say to you that Barr`s letter never quotes even a complete sentence from the Mueller report, let alone a paragraph?

HOLDER:  Yes, it`s a little troublesome because there are -- you look at the letter and you`re trying to figure how much of this is Barr, how much of this is Mueller, how much of this is based on the Mueller findings?

I think it all points to the fact that at the end of the day, Congress, the public are going to have to get access to the Mueller report.  And then also, I think hear from both Bob Mueller and from Attorney General Barr.

MELBER:  When you were attorney general, would you ever get prosecutors providing information without a charging recommendation?

HOLDER:  I was attorney general for six years, third longest-serving attorney general in the history of the United States.  I never received anything from a prosecutor --

MELBER:  Never?  Never once?

HOLDER:  Not once.

MELBER:  So what does that mean about what Barr says Mueller has done so far?

HOLDER:  I think that what Bob Mueller was doing there was presenting something as best he thought he should do under the obligations that I think he faced.  I think he was taking into account the Justice Department regulation that says you cannot indict a sitting president.

And I think that really changed the way in which Bob Mueller conducted himself, conducted his probe.  I mean I`ve known Bob Mueller for 30 years.

MELBER:  You hired him.

HOLDER:  I hired him in the U.S. attorney`s office in Washington, D.C., saw him go into one of the toughest parts of Washington, D.C., make homicide cases, made him U.S. attorney in San Francisco.  He is the assistant attorney general for the criminal division.

This is a guy who has the ability to -- and the constitution to make tough decisions.  So the fact that he did not make a call here I think is an indication that he did what he thought he was supposed to do given the strictures that he was under.

MELBER:  Well, let`s get into it with those structures.  Barr asserts without quoting Mueller that essentially, by not giving a charging recommendation, it lives it to Barr to determine whether Donald Trump`s conduct constitutes a crime.  Is that right?

HOLDER:  I don`t see that.  I don`t see that at all.  It would seem to me that the more logical thing to do would be for Bob Mueller to have made these factual determinations.  And then for the attorney general to receive those and say full stop, and think about where this information then needs to go.  And from my perspective, it seems that it needs to go to Congress.

MELBER:  So when Barr in his letter suggests this is up to him, is he right or wrong about that?

HOLDER:  I think he is wrong.  I mean I think he is taking on too himself a role that has not typically been used by people in the position that Bob Barr has had.

MELBER:  You mention typically.


MELBER:  For your analysis, let`s look at the Nixon example where the Prosecutor Jaworski had a probe and did not offer a conclusion on obstruction, saying he would allow "the House to determine what action was warranted."

In the somewhat controversial Ken Starr example, he did not formally offer a conclusion on obstruction, noting it was not the role of his office to determine whether the president`s actions warrant impeachment.  Is Barr through his letter violating those precedents?

HOLDER:  Yes.  That`s kind of a strong term, violating those precedents.  But I think he is acting in a way that is inconsistent with those precedents and I would say inconsistent --

MELBER:  Is he departing from those precedents?

HOLDER:  He is certainly departing from those precedents.  And I would say he`s acting in a way that`s inconsistent with the best practice.  It would seem to me that having received the information in the way that he did from Bob Mueller that Attorney General Barr should have taken that information and then packaged it in the appropriate form and sent it to the House for consideration.

MELBER:  Do you know why he would be taking that approach, if as you say it`s so unusual?

HOLDER:  I don`t know.  And that`s one of the things, one of the reasons why I think his testimony before the House, Bob Mueller`s testimony before the House, the examination of the report is so critical.  It seems hard for me to imagine that Bob Mueller asked Bill Barr to do this.

That seems -- because that would be Bob Mueller shifting the responsibility from making the call to the attorney general, and that`s just not the way in which Bob Mueller is wound.  That`s just not the way he is wound.

MELBER:  That is really striking coming from you as an attorney general, one of the few people who has been in those shoes and understands what is unusual here.  And as you say, someone who knows Bob Mueller so well.  You hired him.

And I want to show you a little bit of a younger Eric Holder giving a tribute to Mueller on his retirement as FBI director.  Take a look.


HOLDER:  In every endeavor, Bob`s skill, his intellect, his excellent judgment, his humility, and his natural sense of leadership were on constant display.


MELBER:  When you think about that, do you think it`s possible we would later hear Bob Mueller`s view of this, either through what he wrote in the report and whether this was intended for Congress, or a rebuttal to what you say is Barr departing from precedent this weekend?

HOLDER:  Do I think that we would hear from Mueller?  Mueller, I think what we heard from Mueller was him doing what he thought he was supposed to do, given the parameters within which he was working.

He is a dedicated civil servant.  He is an ex-marine.  He follows orders.  He understands the mission.  He completes the mission.  And I think he completed the mission in the way that he thought he was supposed to do it.

MELBER:  Preet Bharara was a U.S. attorney who you also oversaw.

HOLDER:  Good man.  Good man.

MELBER:  I want to play for you what he is saying about this because some are putting this on Barr, as you just did.  He seemed to accept Barr`s explanation, even though we haven`t gotten the Mueller report and saying Mueller is abdicating his role.  Take a look.


PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  My first reaction was it seems to be an abdication of a responsibility.  You give a case to a special prosecutor, a special counsel for that person to make a prosecutive decision.  He did not.  So he punts to Congress, and then sort of Bill Barr runs on the field, takes the ball, and runs it in for a touchdown for the president.


MELBER:  Your reaction.

HOLDER:  I respect Preet a great deal, but I think he is wrong there.  I mean I think Bob was faced with just a couple of possibilities.  Given the fact that he could not indict, he had the possibility of declining prosecution, and he thought there was too much evidence I think there to decline.

If you look at the letter.  The letter talks about he is not exonerating anybody.  So he is not in a position to decline the case.

The only other option that he had was to put this case in as good a form as it could with the expectation that somebody would do something with it.  And if past precedent is any guide, that would be the attorney general or somebody in the Justice Department shipping out that which he put together to Congress for consideration.

MELBER:  When you look at the letter, there were two very negative things about obstruction for Donald Trump that Barr felt the need to include.  One, that there are other secret actions that Mueller uncovered that Trump took that go to the obstruction analysis, and he didn`t release what they are.  And two, as you just mentioned, that Mueller did not exonerate Donald Trump on obstruction.

Given what you just explained to us, how are we supposed to interpret Barr including that negative information while going beyond Mueller to say he doesn`t think Trump committed obstruction?

HOLDER:  Well, I think in some ways I think the attorney general is maybe trying to cover himself so that he can say I was pretty fulsome in the letter that I prepared.  And in spite of that fulsome nature in which I described that which Mueller did, I made the determination that there was not a basis to proceed.

From my perspective, the fact that he says that there is information that we don`t have access to, that the president is not exonerated means that there has to be, as there has been, an examination by Congress to make a determination about whether or not further action and what kind of further action is necessary.

The injection of the attorney general to come in, especially this attorney general, after that 17-page memo or whatever it was he wrote some months ago before he was attorney general, I would think that given that history and this determination, I would have been a little hesitant if I were Attorney General Barr to make the determination here.

Now, I think he attaches Rod Rosenstein to the determination but I don`t think that is sufficient to get me or I think many other people beyond a concern that the appropriate process was followed.

MELBER:  That`s significant coming from you.  I mean it sounds alarming I think for people listening to you as an attorney general with knowledge of this saying, number one, this is never how prosecutors submit information.

And number two, the precedent, whether you like the findings or not, has always been that if there is a potential high crime by the president, it`s the Congress who deals with it.  And that`s interesting because we`ve heard from Ken Starr on this show about that.

And although I think the two of you may disagree about much, you seem to overlap at least on the fact that, yes, it is Congress, not an A.G., even one like yourself or Bill Barr or others who decides this.  Take a listen to Ken Starr.



KEN STARR:  I`m saying the House of Representatives took the evidence and said we have a duty to do what we feel obligated to do.

MELBER:  Well, you -- that`s what you had them do.

STARR:  The statute -- it`s no longer a defect that Bob Mueller has to live with is that the statute set the bar very low for providing information that may constitute grounds for impeachment.


MELBER:  Isn`t that what obstruction by a president would always be about?  Not prejudging the Mueller report, which we haven`t seen, but the process is the House decides what to do about it if anything.

HOLDER:  Sure.  And obstruction is the thing that certainly brought down Richard Nixon.  It is something that the House is institutionally familiar with.  But let me be very clear.  I don`t want to say -- I don`t want people to leave with the impression that I`m saying that Bill Barr has done something that`s inconsistent with his duties as attorney general, that he is doing something in a way that I`m questioning his integrity.

I think what I`m concerned about is that he has this really expansive view of executive power, the power of the executive branch.  And my concern is that that might have somehow infected his decision about how he was going to handle what he got from Bob Barr.

MELBER:  Understood.  I haven`t heard --

HOLDER:  From Bob Mueller.

MELBER:  From Bob Mueller.  I haven`t heard you speak to his integrity at all, but I`m hearing you say, echoed by the history we just showed and people like former Prosecutor Starr that the notion that this would be wrapped up by the attorney general is odd, just as Janet Reno did not resolve the Clinton issue.  Attorney General Richardson did not resolve the Nixon issues.

And so Barr, as you say, is putting it in a maximalist position.  There is one other thing about all this that I`ve got to ask you.

HOLDER:  Sure.

MELBER:  And I just don`t know what happened here.  I`m curious if you do.  There is a requirement under the rules that Congress should be notified about the decisions about who to charge and not charge.  And on Friday, Barr said he was going to do that as soon as this weekend.

Does this letter constitute that?  Because it seems to deal very hermetically with a few things but doesn`t in any way tell Congress about the other individuals or other issues under investigation that were declined to be charged.  Does that requirement still have to be met by the attorney general?

HOLDER:  Yes, I think it still has to be met.  And I think it`s -- it was anticipated that that would be met by a fulsome disclosure to Congress about the things that you have just mentioned and all the other things that Congress needed in order to make a correct decision as to what actions should be taken with regard to a president who was under investigation.

MELBER:  It sounds like Eric Holder, former attorney general of the United States tonight is saying the conspiracy collusion aspect of this is clearly over based on what Mueller has done, and the obstruction questions are just beginning for analysis.

HOLDER:  Oh, I think the obstruction questions, I certainly would agree with your characterization of my views on collusion.  But with regard to obstruction, I think we`re really at the beginning -- maybe the middle of this whole process.

Findings have been made.  We need to see what those were.  We need to see exactly what was the nature of the interaction between Bob Mueller and Bill Barr.

And then we also need to understand how was it that Bill Barr reached these conclusions.  What were the things that he went through?  What laws did he apply?  What rules did he apply?  How did he interpret the appropriate rules and statutes?  How did he apply the facts?

This is just, you know, a four-page memo that makes some really consequential determinations.  And it seems to me that the American people and Congress are entitled to hear substantially more than simply this document.

MELBER:  Former Attorney General Eric Holder, thank you so much for coming on THE BEAT tonight.

HOLDER:  Good to be here.

MELBER:  Appreciate it.  Really good to get Eric Holder`s views here.  He broke some news as we just heard.  And I`m about to get into it.

Let me be clear about what jumps out to me.  The former attorney general breaking with Mr. Barr in saying he was wrong in the way he handled this letter, that it was selective, that the Mueller report should come out.  That is something, of course, that we`ve heard from other Democrats, not just former Attorney General Holder.

And then also just there at the very end, he was just telling us, well, he thinks, Eric Holder thinks that this new letter from Barr in addition to its other problems also doesn`t even satisfy the DOJ rules about explaining all the people he declined to charge.

We have a big show tonight, including as you can see on your screen presidential candidate and Senate Judiciary Member Cory Booker.  Also, a special interview with me tonight.

But right now for more on this news, I bring in former Federal Prosecutor Gene Rossi.  Thanks for being here.


MELBER:  You listened to the attorney general there --

ROSSI:  I did.

MELBER:  -- making news.  Let me play very briefly the first point he made that he thinks Barr is fundamentally wrong in part of the way he is handling the Mueller findings.  Take a look.


HOLDER:  I think he is wrong.  I mean I think he is taking on to himself a role that has not typically been used by people in the position that Bob Barr has had.


MELBER:  That`s a big judgment coming from a fellow attorney general.

ROSSI:  It is.

MELBER:  Do you agree?

ROSSI:  Yes.  I want to say Eric Holder signed my certificate to be an assistant U.S. attorney.  I`m very proud of that.  He is much more diplomatic than I am.

I think that this letter is completely tainted for one reason.  When Bill Barr Sua Sponte became the Al Hag (ph) and said I`m in control and I`ll decide the obstruction issue, he should have recused himself on that issue because June of 2018, he already showed his cards and made a determination, his prejudice against the charge.

So using a football analogy, that`s what Preet did.  I want to use a basketball analogy.  We have a jump ball.  We`re giving to it Bill Barr who is taking the ball.  He already decided the possession arrow.  That`s wrong.

MELBER:  Well, on that -- let`s dig into that.

ROSSI:  Yes.

MELBER:  Because as I show, there are people like Preet Bharara and other experts who -- this is all new.  This is all unfolding here on Monday, Sunday into Monday.  They think maybe Mueller did leave this up as a jump ball.

Eric Holder is saying tonight here making some news that it may be Barr whose making it look like a jump ball, and that was not Mueller`s intention.  Take a look at that point, again, breaking news on THE BEAT just now.


HOLDER:  It seems hard for me to imagine that Bob Mueller asked Bill Barr to do this.  That seems -- because that would be Bob Mueller shifting the responsibility for making the call to the attorney general.  And that`s just not the way in which bob Mueller is wound.


MELBER:  Is it possible that the entire Mueller report would present a very different picture than the Barr summary that Mueller did not leave it up in the air, but rather maybe was sending it somewhere other than Barr`s desk?

ROSSI:  Given my feelings that this is a tainted letter, the answer is yes.  I find it hard to believe that Robert Mueller, one, did not make a recommendation yes or no, and/or said, "You know what?  It is a jump ball, but I think Attorney General Barr, I think the Congress should decide that."

You had up Leon Jaworski and also the Ken Starr.  I agree with that.  Maybe Mueller said let Congress decide.

MELBER:  You`re a prosecutor.  We`ll put it back up on the screen.

ROSSI:  Yes.

MELBER:  This is what everyone is now debating and what the Democrats in Congress may get into.  We`ll put up on the screen the precedents, Nixon and Clinton.

Walk us through what we see here.  Basically, they both said it was Congress to make the decision on obstruction.

ROSSI:  Absolutely.  And it`s possible that Robert Mueller was looking at those documents and said you know what?  It`s a jump ball.  Let them decide.

But I`ll guarantee you right now, he did not want Bill Barr to make that decision.  Because that June 2018 memo, I`m sure Robert Mueller read it, and there is no way he would allow Bill Barr to decide the jump ball on such an important thing.  It`s too important for the United States.  We need to know the meat on the bones.

MELBER:  Very interesting coming from you, in getting your analysis.  We have a lot more, including a lot of views and a player on this in the Congress tonight.  That`s why I`m going to keep moving.

Gene Rossi, I always appreciate you being a part --

ROSSI:  Thank you.

MELBER:  -- of our expertise and the reporting we draw on.  Now coming up as promised, a lot more in this show.  I will go live one-on-one with Senator Cory Booker, his first time on THE BEAT as a 2020 candidate.  And he has questioned Donald Trump`s new attorney general already once.

Will Bill Barr and Mueller be called to testify before Congress again?  That fight is already getting a lot of attention tonight.  We`re going to see whether the Mueller report will become soon public.

I`m Ari Melber.  And you`re watching a special edition of THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER:  Welcome back to a special edition of THE BEAT.  We have a lot of breaking news coverage and special guests, I might add, as we look at Bill Barr`s treatment of the Mueller report.

Now, in moments, as promised and as we`ve indicated on our screen, I will be joined by Senator Cory Booker.  He is a presidential candidate.  He is a member of the Judiciary Committee who could be in a position to face off with Trump`s Attorney General Bill Barr again or even Bob Mueller himself.

But first, I want to turn to a very special guest, President Donald Trump`s personal attorney Jay Sekulow, who joins me on a newsworthy night on THE BEAT.

Good evening.  Thanks for coming on the show.

JAY SEKULOW:  Thanks for having me, Ari.  I appreciate it.

MELBER:  Your view of what Bob Mueller found regarding no chargeable collusion.

SEKULOW:  Well, I`m going to say before we get to the no chargeable collusion, I`ve watched former Attorney General Holder and Mr. Rossi, your last guest.  And you`ve conflated the independent counsel statute, which is what Leon Jaworski and --

MELBER:  Sure.

SEKULOW:  -- and Ken Starr were operating under.  Hold it.  Ari --

MELBER:  Jay, here`s what I`m going to do.  I`m going to let us get into obstruction.  I wanted to begin with something I thought you would be very interested in which is I want to make sure --

SEKULOW:  But I want to set the record straight.

MELBER:  Let me promise you this.  I will reserve time for you to address anything you want to say about that.

SEKULOW:  Great.

MELBER:  But as the moderator, I`m going to begin with something I thought you might want to even talk about but that I`ve --

SEKULOW:  Go ahead.

MELBER:  -- posed as the first question and I will save time for that rebuttal to Mr. Holder.  I promise you.

SEKULOW:  Thank you.

MELBER:  Now, walk us through your view of no chargeable collusion, sir.

SEKULOW:  Well, I mean, it`s very clear.  The position that we`ve advocated since the beginning and that`s clear in what has been released is that there was no collusion.

There was no evidence of collusion and there was no evidence of anybody associated with the Trump campaign engaged in collusion with the Russian government or people affiliated with the Russians.  That was crystal clear.

So that was the basis -- by the way, Ari, you know this.  That was the basis upon which this investigation started was this whole collusion issue.

What was the Russian engagement or lack of engagement during this campaign cycle?  And specifically, as it related to the president and the president`s campaign.  And the special counsel said there was none.

MELBER:  And so on that, given that that would be by most accounts good news for your client, President Trump, how do you explain how many misstatements and falsehoods there were?

Other people as you know were convicted of obstruction, related crimes, and lying to the feds.  That`s not in doubt.  How do you explain all of that now that you have this result that would seem to be positive on the lack of conspiracy?

SEKULOW:  Well, that -- individuals that were charged or pled or were convicted were charged with crimes unrelated to the issue of collusion with Russia.  Most of the charges were what`s called processed crimes.  That`s lying to the federal officers, tax evasion, FARA violations.  So those are very different.

There were no charges.  Interestingly, if you look at all of the indictments that were issued here, there were no indictments that made an allegation of collusion with the Russians or Russian government officials.  So I think that the indictment spoke for themselves in that sense.

And apparently -- and we haven`t seen the report obviously.  We`ve seen what`s been put forward in the summary letter that the attorney general issued, that there was no collusion.  And that`s crystal clear.

MELBER:  Now you wanted to get into the obstruction part of the discussion --


MELBER:  -- including what Attorney General Holder, former attorney general, said.  Let me play some of Attorney General Holder and get your response.  We`re going get this clip of it.

Because basically, one of the most interesting things that the attorney general said, which relates not only to your client, the president of the United States but relates to who should be the decision maker on issues of obstruction --


MELBER:  -- is whether that`s something that the attorney general handles or the Congress.  Take a look.


HOLDER:  He`s certainly departing from those precedents.  And I would say he is acting in a way that`s inconsistent with the best practice.

It would seem to me that having received the information in the way that he did from Bob Mueller that Attorney General Barr should have taken that information and then, you know, packaged it in the appropriate form and sent it to the House for consideration.


MELBER:  Do you dispute that that is how obstruction issues were dealt with in both the Clinton and Nixon precedents?

SEKULOW:  Yes.  No, I don`t dispute that`s how they were dealt with in the Nixon and the situation with President Clinton.  But what the attorney general and Mr. Rossi fail to recognize is that those investigations operated under an independent counsel statute, Ari.  That is markedly different than that law sunset.

Bipartisan Republicans and Democrats did not want that law to continue after the investigation of President Clinton.  So what replaced it was a special counsel regulation.  And the difference between Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr was they reported to judges and panels.

Here you have an interdepartmental Department of Justice situation.  The special counsel is not an entity unto himself.  The special counsel reports to the attorney general of the United States.  That`s different.

And then there is a specific regulation that governs what confidential report is delivered not to the United States Congress, but a report that first goes from the special counsel to the attorney general.  And the attorney general then makes a determination pursuant to the regulations as to what should be released to the United States Congress.

I also think it`s not right, you have given me the opportunity and I appreciate it, to --

MELBER:  Sure.

SEKULOW:  -- criticize both Bob Mueller and the attorney general for what they wrote when we haven`t seen the report.  So everybody`s jumping.  And you`ve got to give --

MELBER:  Well, that`s hardly -- I understand what you`re saying.

SEKULOW:  You`ve got to give Bill Barr credit.  He received the report on a Friday and returned something to the public what were called principal conclusions in 48 hours.  Now, everybody moves off the narrative.

MELBER:  So let`s take both pieces, Jay.

SEKULOW:  You move off the narrative --

MELBER:  No, let`s take both pieces --

SEKULOW:  Go ahead.

MELBER:  And if you`ve seen THE BEAT, you know we will deal fairly and you will get time.  You`ve raised two points here.  One, your rebuttal to Holder and others about the historical record and two Barr time --

SEKULOW:  Yes, nothing personal.  It`s just -- it`s just what the law --

MELBER:  No, I got you.  Not personal.  So let`s take each of them.  First, on the historical precedent, you are alluding to the fact that there is a different governing authority here.

SEKULOW:  Which you know, right?

MELBER:  Which I know, yes. 

SEKULOW:  Right.

MELBER:  Hold on, hold on.

SEKULOW:  And the reporting authority is different.

MELBER:  Jay, I know we`re both lawyers.  I`m going to finish the question and I will let you answer, all right.  So given that different historical precedent though, are you suggesting that obstruction by a president, any president is no longer the province of the House Judiciary Committee?  I mean the Constitution did not sunset along with that federal law.

SEKULOW:  No.  You`re conflating two separate issues.  You asked me if the reporting process and your previous guest said that the Attorney General, in essence, was derelict in his duties by engaging in what the statute demands.  And that is a confidential report initially between the special counsel and the Attorney General.

You then take the issue of obstruction which by the way, if you read what Bill Barr wrote in his letter, what did the special counsel say?  I don`t think this is any great you know mystery.  None of us have seen the report, but what does he actually say?  He said that these issue of obstruction presented difficult questions of law and fact.

Well, if you have a difficult question of law and fact -- he didn`t say the president violated the law in fact, he said the opposite.  There`s no statement about violating the law.  He said it`s not an exoneration which by the way, they don`t exonerate.  As you know I prosecutor either makes the case or does not.  So what you have there is a rebuke --

MELBER:  He`s said quote --  if we`re going to quote the letter -- you`re quoting Barr quoting Mueller.  He`s says "difficult issues," not -- that`s the sentence, "difficult issues."  We don`t know what else was around the sentence.  I take it as of this hour you as the defense attorney with the president have not seen the Mueller report, neither have I, and neither have most people other than Barr and a few DOJ folks.

So let`s get it on record here before I turn to Senator Cory Booker who`s on the Judiciary Committee and other guests in the show.  Let me -- let`s get it on record.  What does no exoneration on obstruction mean to you?

SEKULOW:  It means that -- no, what does no crime meet also.  They could -- the special counsel --

MELBER:  I don`t know.  When you say no, I know what you mean.  It says no exoneration and I`m giving you a chance to say what does that mean to you?

SEKULOW:  Ari, read the whole sentence.  What does the whole sentence say?  What does it say right before no exoneration?  Read the sentence.

MELBER:  We could put the whole -- we could put the whole thing on there.

SEKULOW:  Put it on screen if you want.  Let`s do it.

MELBER:  While this report does conclude that the President committed a crime --

SEKULOW:  OK, there you go, number one.

MELBER:  -- it also do not exonerate him.  Yes sir.  So what does "not exonerate mean to you?"

SEKULOW:  They didn`t make a determination.  That`s all it means.  They did not find the find the President committed a crime.  They did not make determination.  What do they do?  They either -- for whatever reason they had internally, they had a discussion, they decided that it was not going to move forward as a crime.  It says while this report does not conclude the president engaged a crime, it doesn`t exonerate.  Now, the exoneration is interesting --

MELBER:  And because -- let me push you a little bit on this.  I`ll give you a chance to respond.

SEKULOW:  Absolutely.

MELBER:  Because as you and I know and as we`ve reported, so viewers know, the standing policy of the Justice Department under administration`s in both parties is not to indict a sitting president.

SEKULOW:  Hold it.  No, that`s not fair because Bill Barr said --

MELBER:  Jay, you`re -- Jay, I`m going to let you respond.  Let`s keep -- this let`s keep pleasant.

SEKULOW:  Go ahead.  Your show.

MELBER:  I`m going to finish and then you get to respond.

SEKULOW:  Your show.

MELBER:  So given that, is your view that Mueller should have given a recommendation if it was for potential obstruction and you don`t indict, doesn`t that go back to the Congress?  You`re response.

SEKULOW:  You read what the Attorney General wrote.  He said the determination was not based on the existing Department of Justice policies regarding what issue.  The issue of you can indict a sitting president.

MELBER:  Barr`s view, not Mueller.  Barr`s view.


SEKULOW:  Barr is the Attorney General of the United States.  The Deputy Attorney General of the United States --

MELBER:  Yes he is.  The lawful Attorney General. 

SEKULOW:  Hold it.  The Deputy Attorney General in the United States is Rod Rosenstein.  The office of legal counsel is part of the Department of Justice and Bob Mueller is part of that same Department.  So they did not determine that there was a crime committed nor would they quote as you said exonerate.  What does that mean?  They could not make a determination.  That`s what it means.

But what then happens?  It then goes to the Department of Justice for review under the regulations and that`s the decision they make in accordance -- in accordance to with the law.

MELBER:  Well, let me put it very simple because we both -- there`s things we both don`t know.  Let me put it very simple.  I`m not trying to get you, Jay.  I think you`ve got a pretty good --

SEKULOW:  Well, you really -- Ari, listen, with due respect, I do watch your show.  You are conflating -- you conflated the independent counsel with the special counsel and then you conveniently leave off where it says the president -- we`re not accusing the president of a crime, a minor thing you leave on.

MELER:  Jay, Jay, Jay, save the media criticism for when we`re not doing the interview.

SEKULOW:  No, no, this isn`t media criticism.


MELBER:  The full screen -- the full screen -- you want to -- you want to get into --

SEKULOW:  We already did.

MELBER:  -- and you can tell the president this.  The full screen up on the screen that we prepared for this interview has the entire quote, so what you just said was inaccurate and I`ll leave it at that.

SEKULOW:  No, you -- when you -- let`s play the tape back, Ari.

MELBER:  I`m not going to do a Trump media debate with you, Jay.  I won`t play the tape back but I`m not going to do it in this interview.

SEKULOW:  Play the tape back where you did not say -- where you only said the "did not exonerate," you did not say not -- the president not guilty of a crime.

MELBER:  Because I`m asking -- I`ve been reporting that all weekend, sir.  I`ve got a backup on the screen.  I`m not doing that to undercut you.  It`s just the fact is we have the entire quote.  We deal with context here.  Now, Jay, before I let you go -- and viewers might wonder why you -- why you aren`t more excited about the good part of this which is the --

SEKULOW:  I`m excited about all.  It`s a great day for the President, a great day for the country.

MELBER:  Right.  So before I let you go and I turn to Senator Booker.  Let me ask you this final thought which is why do you think the Barr felt the need to go farther than Mueller on the obstruction issues?  Why not leave it the way it is, notify Congress under.  As you say the DOJ rules written by Neal Katyal that are different than the underlying federal statutes they used to exist, why did Barr go further?  it was good for your client Donald Trump but was it necessary if the Mueller report left it good enough?

SEKULOW:  Here`s the -- again, Ari, with due respect.  You are conflating independent counsels with special counsel.  Bob Mueller works for the Department of Justice.  He doesn`t report to a three-judge panel.  It`s a completely different system.  It was eliminated the Independent Counsel Statute and Ken Starr was under it.

MELBER:  Sure.  But Barr didn`t have to --


MELBER:  -- the Mueller report without this extra letter.  You would acknowledge that.

SEKULOW:  He did in conjunction with the Office of Legal Counsel and the Deputy Attorney General, do what the Attorney General of the United States is supposed to do as far as an interpretation of the law or a theory of a case.  That`s actually that simple.

MELBER:  I will -- I will say this while you and I may disagree about your assessment of THE BEAT or how much conflation is going on my mind, I appreciate -- I appreciate on a big news night, I appreciate you coming on THE BEAT.

SEKULOW:  Thanks.

MELBER:  We gave the Attorney General Eric Holder his view, we give you your time, and I really appreciate it.

SEKULOW:  Thanks.  I appreciate it, Ari.  Thank you.

MELBER:  Jay Sekulow, lawyer for the President of the United States.  We turn now to the other big interview tonight.  Yes, I told you we have a lot of interviews.  I`m very excited to tell you along with the others, U.S. Senator Cory Booker`s here.  I could see him right now in our Washington studio, his first interview since Mueller submitted the final report to Mr. Barr and Mr. Barr released this controversial letter.  And there`s also signs of news on the Hill when we`re back in 30 seconds.


MELBER:  Welcome back.  Breaking news on Capitol Hill moments ago.  I`m holding the letter that just came out and has signatures of six different Democratic committee chairs and they`re pushing Bill Barr demanding he submit Mueller`s full report, no exceptions to Congress by a deadline of April 2nd.

This is fast movement on the story that`s been unfolding ever since Mueller formally finished his probe on Friday.  I`m joined by a senator with a big view and a big role in this, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey for his first interview since the release of Barr`s now quite well known for page set of highlights, according to him of the Mueller report.

Senator Booker is a member of the Judiciary Committee.  He is also running for president.  He even questioned Mr. Barr during those confirmation hearings.  Senator, thanks for joining us on this big night.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY:  It`s good to have you.  You have been doing a lot of hours and probably a little sleep.

MELBER:  That`s true.  Does that mean you`re watching T.V. while you`re also out in the trail?  You follow the news?

BOOKER:  I have had you on the background of many a room that I`ve been in.

MELBER:  So much to talk about but let`s start here.  Mueller finished Friday.


MELBER:  Barr took charge of this process and at least the public perception of it over the weekend.  This would look to be what your colleagues in the House are calling for.  Breaking news, these six signatures saying, give us the Mueller report by April 2nd or else.  Is this the right call?  what else needs to happen in your view?

BOOKER:  So first of all, it`s a chorus of people that have been calling for this, even people for more less partisan, independent backgrounds, they`re saying this is something that should be released to the American public.  Considering the resources and money, and just for the sanctity of the judicial system.  There`s a lot of suspect right now to show that this process was fair and transparent.

This is a really important step in that process and there`s a lot of us myself included who don`t want to draw conclusions yet until we`ve actually seen and read the report.

MELBER:  Does it trouble you that Barr went through a 22-months investigative product over the weekend and released quotes without any of them being a full sentence?

BOOKER:  I`m deeply troubled by Barr himself, one of the reasons I voted against him.  I mean, he came out before he even saw the Mueller report with conclusions about this investigation which I think taints him.  He should have recused himself in my opinion.

So I have a lot of problems with Barr seeming to try to be a filter for a report that allow us in Congress who ultimately according to the Constitution, should be making some of these big decisions.

MELBER:  You say this is the Congressional call.  This was what Eric Holder was saying too.  And I think a lot of folks have been following this and waiting to see what Mueller did and there wasn`t a lot of thought about well, who would the ultimate umpire be.

Now we seem to be in this huge debate where Barr says he`s the umpire.  We just heard from the president`s lawyer who came on THE BEAT.  I`m glad he did.  He has a very different view which is the A.G. should be the umpire.  Let me play for you what Eric Holder was telling us tonight that Jay Sekulow was I think it`s fair to say, I try to be fair, somewhat exercised over.  Is that fair?

BOOKER:  I think that`s very fair.

MELBER:  Someone exercised.  This was what the attorney general from the Obama administration said.  Take a look.


ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  He`s certainly departing from those precedents and I would say he`s acting in a way that`s inconsistent with the best practice.  It would seem to me that having received the information in the way that he did from Bob Mueller, that Attorney General Barr should have taken that information and then you know, packaged it in the appropriate form and sent it to the House for consideration.


MELBER:  Is Barr basically trying to do your job, the Congress` job for you?

BOOKER:  Again, I have a lot of suspicions about Barr who`s already spoken to these issues before even saw the report.  So again, I worry about that filter.  And secondly, I think Barr has characterized something in a piece of paper that almost seems to be handing the president talking points and did a job that we should be able to do as Congress by looking at this report.

MELBER:  So looking at you as a talented and distinguished attorney, not just also a senator and presidential candidate, was this letter, is it too early to say or do you think this letter was bad lawyering that it was more P.R. than an investigative product?

BOOKER:  I think the letter came from somebody who was already suspect that should have recused himself.  Number two is he`s drawing conclusions with no evidence whatsoever.  He`s not -- how did he come to these conclusions?  How did he -- what facts is he basing his conclusions on?

These are -- really raise a whole lot more questions than it actually does answer.  And it should be turned over to the public and to representatives of the public to begin to go through.  And I am very much looking forward to having come before the Judiciary Committee Robert Mueller.  I think he should sit before judiciary committee in the Senate and he should go as well as to the House.

MELBER:  So even -- that`s interesting.  Even if you get the full Mueller report which this new letter as of 6:30 p.m. Eastern is the House chairs demanding it and putting forward a process.  You`re saying Mueller should still testify under oath.  Should that be in public?

BOOKER:  I absolutely believe it should -- the aspects -- we`ve done this before.  There are aspects that should be in public and then clearly there might be some things that should be in private.  But you know, this is -- this is not the end in any way to what`s going on.

You mentioned one of Donald Trump lawyers.  Well his private lawyer has been indicted and so has his campaign manager and his deputy campaign manager.  Even his son that was exposed for lies saying that we didn`t meet with people from Russia when it turns out he did.  There is a lot going on here and Mueller has spent months and months and millions of dollars going through this.

Now this is a part of a longer process that`s going to be investigated by Congress understandably so as well as the Southern District.  We see investigations going on literally from coast to coast.

MELBER:  Now is that just on the remaining criminal questions including whatever happened in New York and obstruction as you -- as you put it which is Congress`s ambit, or do you see collusion is still an open question?

BOOKER:  Well, again, what legal term are we using here for collusion and what exactly went on?  And this is again why there are fact patterns and evidence in that report that should be presented to Congress for us to draw our own conclusions.

MELBER:  Well, let me press you on that because I think in the case of the Mueller probe, Bob Mueller did not find a chargeable collusion conspiracy.  That much we know and let`s look at -- Senator Booker, I don`t know if you`ll get like Jay Sekulow on me.  I don`t know.  We`ll see what happens.  For a guy on a good news day, he had his feelings.


MELBER:  But I want to press you on this, sir.  Here`s what -- how you described it as recently as 2017.  Take a look.

BOOKER:  Please.


BOOKER:  Look, we`re at a point in American history where we`re seeing a lot of dots that are -- that seem to be directing us towards a real problem and potential collusion because there continues to seem to be smoke that might result in an actual fire.  In other words, real collusion going on between us and the Soviet Union.


MELBER:  Real collusion going on.

BOOKER:  First of all, besides the fact that I do the flashback there and called it the Soviet Union not Russia.  I`m glad you just gloss over that and give me an ask.

MELBER:  Well real collusion going on, you said.  Do you now have to revise that to say not chargeable collusion?

BOOKER:  Again, when I have an Attorney General who in my opinion is suspect filtering a report that I have not seen, I`m not willing to conclude anything yet based upon a letter that he wrote.

MELBER:  So you -- but let me -- let`s ask.

BOOKER:  Press me.  Yes, press me on that.

MELBER:  But Bob Mueller didn`t charge anyone for conspiracy collusion on the election.

BOOKER:  Right.

MELBER:  So you know that at the criminal level, Bob Mueller is now done.  He`s not doing the probe anymore.

BOOKER:  Bob Mueller is a soldier that knows that his department has set a sitting president cannot be charged, could not be indicted.  And so again, I think that this is -- this is an issue for Congress.  Let`s look at the fact pattern.  Let`s look at the report and come to our own conclusions.

MELBER:  OK.  So let me ask you it this way and then I`m going to move on.  One more.  If somebody then says well, Senator Booker is advocating Congress do over Bob Mueller`s collusion probe, what is your response to that?

BOOKER:  No, my response to that is I`m not going to make any conclusions until I`ve read the report.  Not at all.  I think that we should read the report.  Congress should have access to it.  I think it should be made public before we draw any conclusions especially those who are being filtered through an attorney general who has said, who`d written, before he even saw the report about issues of collusion.

MELBER:  Now, I`m going to ask you the same question I asked the President`s lawyer tonight.  And I think we always learn more when we hear from everyone.


MELBER:  The question I posed to him was when Bob Mueller says Donald Trump was not exonerated of the crime of obstruction, what does that mean?

BOOKER:  Again, I haven`t read report so I cannot say exactly.

MELBER:  Is it bad for Donald Trump?

BOOKER:  I think head for him not to exonerate him, it really raised -- should raise a lot of concern for a lot of people.  And for a President of the United States to behave like he did, to even tell us that he`s firing an FBI director because of the Russian investigation, all this points to possible -- the behavior that could possibly be considered obstruction.

MELBER:  Interesting.  And that`s as you`ve been saying throughout this interview in it and from before today to be fair, that`s for Congress to bear down on.  I mean Attorney General Holder telling us tonight, he views this as the beginning of that.  And I think that`s true regardless of whether one looks at a Mueller law or a Ken Starr law, the Constitution gives Congress that oversight.  I want to turn to another issue that you have worked on --

BOOKER:  Can I just --

MELBER:  Please.

BOOKER:  It`s really important that we as much as we can separate politics out of this.  There are a lot of people who have been hurt by Trump by his rhetoric, by his policies, that want to drive him from office.  But this is a I think a sacred constitutional moment for us where we should be examining the President on the accusations that have been made.  That the reason why we founded this report was very serious and we should look, was their obstruction, was their collusion based upon the facts and the evidence.

So I just think that as much as this it`s hard to have a conversation in this town without people talking about politics and we`ve seen the absurdities under what Secretary Clinton for example of which the Republicans in Congress were behaving whether Benghazi hearings, e-mail hearings that were well beyond the pale.  But in this one, in my conversations with other Judiciary Committee members, there seems to be a sobered examination of what is really going on here.

And do we have at the higher highest levels of our country someone who already has seen a lot of people around them, personal lawyer, campaign staff, senior up foreign policy advisor be indicted for serious crimes.  We have not seen this level of corruption going on around an individual president for decades and decades, probably around the time than you and I were born.

And so this is -- this is very serious especially because what we do know as attorney general reiterate -- former attorney general reiterated here on the show, an ongoing attacks on our democracy by Russia, ongoing attacks, and we`re going into another election.

MELBER:  Before I lose you, I do want to turn a couple other issues.  This one obviously super important. 


MELBER:  But you`ve done a lot of work on criminal justice reform.


MELBER:  And in Barr`s hearings, you had an exchange that was important about incarceration, about the underlying racial inequities, and his defense that the tough-on-crime agenda he led in the old days was important to reducing crime, he said.  Take a look.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES:  My motivation was to provide safety in these neighborhoods.

That crime rate has gone down.  The drug penalties as I said very high in draconian in and in some cases that might have been necessary, but I supported revisiting the penalty structure.


MELBER:  Was that an acceptable defense to you?

BOOKER:  No.  Some cases, that would have been necessary.  We have declared war on the American people.  War on drugs is a war in the American people.  Federal prison population since 1980 alone has gone up 800 percent disproportionately poor, addicted, mentally ill, and overwhelmingly minority.

No difference between blacks and whites for using marijuana, dealing marijuana, but African-Americans almost four times more likely to be charged for that.  And don`t think this is not big things.  2017 alone there were more marijuana possession charges in all violent crime charges in total.

What has happened in America since 1980 and that what he`s talking about what he`s done has been perhaps one of the most devastating things, cancer in the soul of our country.  Why?  Well, our infrastructure crumbled.  We were building a new jail or prison every 10 days from the time I was in law school to the time I was married in Newark.

We`ve had Villanova report that we`d have 20 percent less poverty in America for incarceration rates were the same as our industrial peers.  And when it comes to racial inequities in this country, there`s a reason why Michelle Alexander called it the new Jim Crow because it has so devastated black and brown communities that we have more black men in prison today than all the slaves in 1965.

MELBER:  Right.  It`s remarkable.  Before I let you go then, in a word or a sentence, what is the issue policy or priority that separates you most from other Democrats in this presidential field right now?

BOOKER:  I have a record for bringing people together to solve the toughest problems whether America see passing criminal justice reform.  For me this is a moment in America where we have persistent injustice.  And the way to solve that especially in the Democratic Party, not just talking about who we`re against or what we`re against, we`ve got to start talking about what we`re for.

Not just beating Republicans, our party needs to be defined as having the ability to unite Americans to solve persistent injustice.  That`s why I have a call to create what King called that more beloved community.  We really need to talk to fight to do that and that`s really my purpose for running.

MELBER:  Senator Cory Booker, we`ve spoken about some of these issues before.  It`s your first time on THE BEAT as a presidential candidate.  I hope we have you back.

BOOKER:  I hope that -- you know, I`m a little disappointed you didn`t give me one lyric from one -- I mean, come on, not even Don`t Believe the Hype for crying out loud after that last interview you had with Trump`s lawyer, Don`t Believe the Hype.

MELBER:  Are you applying Chuck D to Jay Sekulow.

BOOKER:  I am exactly doing that.  I`m sorry I had to go there.

MELBER:  Well now -- you know, it`s a serious news day.

BOOKER:  It`s a serious news day.

MELBER:  Is there --

BOOKER:  But sometimes when you have public enemy who seriously was talking about fighting the power before --

MELBER:  Fight the power of THE BEAT.  You brought it up.  Is there a member of the Trump administration that most reminds you of Flavor Flav?

BOOKER:  The fact that this is a president is often having his policy defined by pop icons in the like is -- probably says it all.

MELBER:  It says it all.

BOOKER:  It probably says it all.

MELBER:  Senator Booker bringing up the -- bringing up the Public Enemy and getting to a lot of issues, I appreciate you --

BOOKER:  I appreciate you very much.  I look forward to be back on.

MELBER:  Thank you, Senator.  Thank you.  Up ahead, what does happen to the Trump aides who are awaiting sentencing or prison or trials?  The Mueller cases aren`t over.  We have that update next.


MELBER:  We`ve had a lot going on but as promised I did want to tell you one more thing.  Up ahead we`re going to have a quick announcement about the man who helped launch the entire Mueller investigation.


MELBER:  Quite a busy night.  As we like to say around here, can`t stop, won`t stop, and so I want to tell you tomorrow night we have a special guest, the man who Bob Mueller`s investigation found unwittingly helped launched the Russia probe, former Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.  He`s here tomorrow on The Beat in his first ever interview on MSNBC.  But don`t go anywhere right now because HARDBALL with Chris Matthews is up next.